If you didn’t already know (I only mentioned it a million times), I spring-breaked in Portugal last week! I had such an amazing time so naturally the post is ridiculously long. I apologize in advance but I really did a lot so it was hard to condense. If you want to know how it went, then read on!
EDIT: Now that I have my numbers crunched, my daily average budget including accommodation but excluding plane tickets comes to about €70 per day. When you exclude accommodation its about €36 per day. Just thought you all might want to know,
Basically, the entire day Saturday was spent either packing or in transit. I woke up pretty early to do some last minute chores and shopping in Frankfurt before heading to the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) to catch my 2 hour bus to Frankfurt Hahn. The flight was good but a bit long for the poor, Ryanair quality seats. Our descent to the island of São Miguel was pretty rough because the weather was garbage. A quick bus ride later and I was all checked in at The Nook Hostel in Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada (Sunday)
My first day was spent wandering the city. I ended up walking 7 miles (11 km) which is pretty impressive considering how small the city is. The city was pretty sleeping being that it was Sunday but that also meant that I was able to see the church service at Igreja Paroquial São Pedro. Other notable landmarks I saw included: the Church of St. Sebastian, the military fort/museum São Brás, the Botanical Gardens, the City Gate, and countless beautiful tiny winding streets.
The big thing to do on the island is whale watching with May being the best month to see the greatest variety of animals. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible, alternating between sun, light rain, pouring rain, and strong winds the whole day. This meant that no boats could go out which bummed me out pretty badly but also saved me about €50.
Monday started with a mishap (how fitting). I was somehow not aware of the fact that the busses depart from two different locations and ended up missing my bus. It was no big deal though. After a quick chat with the tourist center ladies, Plan B was ready for action.
Since there weren’t any more busses running all the way to Furnas that day, I could take the bus to Vila Franca Do Campo and a taxi the rest of the way which turned out to be €15 cheeper than if I had just gotten a taxi for the whole trip. In no time I was climbing onto a really nice, REALLY cheep bus. From there I took a quick peek inside Vila Franca’s main church before hopping in a taxi.
The taxi driver dropped me at some obscure hot springs on the outskirts of town which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If I had taken the bus as planned, it would have dropped me off at the main hot springs where I would have likely stayed and would have never seen the rest of the village. Also, the obscure one that the taxi driver dropped me at turned out to be much more legitimate looking than the main ones which have been turned into a swimming pool of sorts.
Either way, I meandered my way to the main hot springs, Terra Nostra, changed into my bathing suit and settled in for a few hours of absolutely nothing. Terra Nostra is a giant botanical garden with one giant hot spring pool and two smaller Jacuzzi-style pools.The big pool is an alarming brown color and leaves a rust colored residue on everything.
I think I preferred the Jacuzzi style pools better. I strategically positioned myself with my knees under the spouts and it really took the ache away. It felt good on my feet too except I ended up taking a hike afterwards which re-ache-ified them. Terra Nostra has the most immersive botanical gardens I’ve ever seen. It feels like you are walking through the most perfectly manicured jungle and Alice in Wonderland at the same time.
While the hot springs were nice, the best part of the day was the bus to and from Furnas. I took the route that follows the southern coast of the island on the way there and the norther coast on the way back and boy was it absolutely stunning the whole way. The countryside of São Miguel is breathtaking; from the volcano crater type mountainsides to the rugged coastline and every white washed building and lush green field in between. I know I fall in love with every place I visit but I really truly do love the Azores countryside.
Tuesday started very early with a flight off the island to mainland Portugal. I have to admit that after the breathtaking beauty that surrounded me 24/7, Lisbon seemed dirty, disorganized and absolutely stuffed with tourists.
Like always, I really didn’t know anything about the destination before I got there which usually works out just fine. However, I would highly recommend taking a look at city plans and attractions before arriving in Lisbon otherwise you are going to end up wandering up and down giant hills, lost. The thing with Lisbon, at least in my opinion, is that there is no clear “tourist” area. The attractions are mostly spread throughout a lot of residential areas so it’s difficult to just wander around an area and see everything. That said, when you do find something after wandering around for an hour, it feels so much more rewarding.
I started off by walking the coastline by my hostel which takes you by Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square). From there I visited Panteão Nacional (National Pantheon), the Feira da Ladra (a flea market in the oldest neighborhood of Lisbon that’s been held since the 12th century), Igreja de São Vicente de Fora (Monastery of St. Vincent), and Praça da Figueira (Fig Tree Square?) with the Estátua de Dom João I (Statue of King John I). After that I had coffee and a traditional egg custard tart at the cafe Suiça. I finished the day off wandering through the shopping district where I stopped by the Inglot store to build my perfect travel makeup pallet. (Anyone interested in a post about that?)
After over 8 miles (13.5 km) of walking up and down hills, I was more than ready to finally head back to my hostel, Lost Inn Lisbon to check in and relax. The hostel is #3 in the world for their size and it shows. That night they had a free Sangria tasting and afterwards a group of Americans played some games and went out for a quick dinner/snack before bed.
Lazy Day in Lisbon
By the time Wednesday came around it was time to sleep in and have a bit of a lazy day. I had one errand for the day which was to buy my train ticket to Faro. This turned out to be more difficult than I imagined because the train station (an apparently entire Portuguese government) only takes American Express or cash, of which I was out of at the moment. What should have been an hour detour ended up being the entire afternoon of waiting on late buses.
By the time I had gotten to the bank and back to the station to get my ticket most everything (in terms of museums and attractions) was closed. I did somehow get to see a few things including the Natural History Museum (which was terrible btw) and a couple of viewpoints overlooking the city. I also stumbled upon the best mushroom burger of my life and a comic book store.
Lisbon to Faro
I checked out of the hostel and made a quick stop by the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (The National Tile Museum). It was really great but I guess I have a thing for tiles so it could just be me. I did a bit of shopping at a supermarket below the train station which was amazing! I have really missed my Walmart-style supermarkets where everything is all in one convenient location.
My train to Faro was beautiful. The countryside was gorgeous but maybe not everyones cup of tea. After 3 and a half hours on the train, I arrived at the southern costal town of Faro and checked into Hostel 33.
In case you didn’t know, I’m on a low-key mission to try McDonalds from every country I visit. The Portuguese version is definitely better than Germany but not quite up to the level of America in my opinion. They have some gourmet burgers on offer that look delicious as well but I opted for my standard McChicken.
Estói and a Boat Ride
I started my day in Faro at the bus station booking a ticket to the nearby village of Estói. I tried to see the Igreja Matriz de Estói (Church of Estói) but it was closed in observance of the Pope being in Portugal for his pilgrimage. That was a bummer but it’s kinda cool to know I was in the same country as the Pope (even if we were hundreds of miles away).
The next stop in Estói was to see the palace which has been recently converted into a super nice hotel. Lucky for travelers, they have left all the grounds free to roam. Just a short walk out of town are some old Roman ruins. It was cool to see so much tile still on the walls and floors after so much time facing the elements.
I had another traditional Portuguese lunch once the bus dropped me back off in Faro. I had a couple of hours to kill so I wandered through some gift shops, visited the Chapel of Bones, and grabbed a quick coffee before heading off to my boat tour. It was supposed to be a birdwatching tour but the tides didn’t cooperate. Nonetheless, it was super fun cruising around the Ria Formosa and they even took us out to the beaches so we could play in the sand a bit. That night I enjoyed a little tapas plate, beer and people watching before heading back to the hostel.
I almost missed my bus Saturday morning when my alarm didn’t go off but all was well. I made it with plenty of time to spare for my 8:00 am flight. Oddly enough, everyone at the hostel got an email saying to be 3 hours early for their fight because apparently security was going to be extra tight while the Pope was in the country. I did what they said and was way too early like I’d thought but better safe than sorry.
My trip home was uneventful except for a nice little shopping spree in the Faro airport. Somehow I had managed to make it through my entire trip without trying the famed Portuguese wine so I grabbed a little gift set and one with a pretty bottle to try when I got home.
Overall, I had a fantastic time. I am still in awe of São Miguel and Faro, their beauty and lovely atmosphere. I took way to many pictures and a bit of footage that I hope I can make somewhat of a decent video out of but the main takeaway from my trip was just how relaxed and simple life can be. Now it’s back to the old grind at work and a brand new set of classes.