Category Archives: Portugal

Surfing in the Algarve

Frances refused to let us leave Portugal without taking surfing lessons, so we finally found a place that would take us last minute: Discovery Surf School.

As we sat on the curb at 8:30 a.m., waiting for our instructor to pick us up, we ended up befriending a couple Cuban guys from Spain that happened to drive by and apparently stopped after being struck by our beauty.

Our teacher, Marco, finally showed up and it turned out we were his only students for the day, which was good in the end because it ended up being more like a private lesson rather than a class where an entire group of people are all trying to catch waves at the same time.

Marco sure has the gift of gab! He was very nice, but admittedly, I was hoping to sleep in the van on the way there. Apparently that was not an option (note to self: don’t go out drinking the night before a day of surfing lessons). We drove all the way out to Praia Amoreira, where there were good waves that day.

Praia da Amoreira

I was nervous about learning to surf, but it ended up being so much fun! I definitely recommend it as an authentic experience to have in Portugal, which is supposed to have some of the best waves out there. I even caught a few waves and actually got up on the board. And I have the video to prove it:

But it was beyond exhausting. All that walking into the ocean against the current, paddling, dragging the board around, jumping on the board and pushing yourself up was beyond my physical capabilities at the moment!

Heading back to catch more waves

When we got back out there after a lunch break, we were not being productive. I didn’t even have the energy to push myself up on the board anymore. I barely made it paddling back to shore! And that was the end of our surfing lesson.

I’m so glad we ended up trying surfing. It’s definitely a rush when you actually get up and ride a wave, even if it’s just a little baby wave.

On the drive back to Albufeira, guess who wanted to talk the entire time again? Thankfully, Frances kept the conversation going, asking a million questions about Portugal while I drifted in and out of consciousness. And she enjoyed his very surfer-esque philosophies on life.

Lesson learned: if you’re surfing in Portugal, put on sunblock – even if it’s cloudy. I was too lazy to put any on in the morning, and ended up with a sunburned face, hands and feet. Yep – the few areas that weren’t covered by the wet suit!

Real surfers at Praia Amoreira that actually went in further than waist-high to catch waves

Nightlife in Albufeira

Albufeira is one of those resort towns that is known for its nightlife. Naturally, we had to experience that, too!

We toasted the evening with a bottle of our new favorite vihno verde, Gatao, on our hotel balcony while watching the sunset.

Then we headed out to the strip for dinner and drinks. There’s basically one main street that’s lined with restaurants, ice cream shops and bars in downtown Albufeira (which was also just up the street from us). What we really wanted to eat was burritos, but no luck. So we went to a restaurant deceptively called La Bamba, and had pizza.

After pizza, we went bar-hopping. First, we went to Shooter’s but the crowd there was really weird – everyone was either really young or really old. Where are the people our age???

So we went next door to Matt’s. Good lord, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so old! I guess dancing surrounded by 16-18 year olds will do that to you. Are we too old for this?

We finally called it a night, since we couldn’t take it anymore. That, and we had to get up early the next morning for a long day of surf lessons!

Sunbathing in Albufeira

Our first full day in Albufeira, we got up bright and early at 7:30 a.m. to take advantage of the hot, sunny day. I was a bit jealous to still hear people partying from the previous night, but oh well. In the end, we ended up falling back asleep for a couple of hours. Oops.

Praia da Oura (towards the end of the day, when it's not as packed)

Finally, we dragged our butts out of bed and headed to the beach. Of course, as soon as we put down our towels, some big Italian family with umbrellas and rowdy kids sat down literally next to us. We very un-subtle-ey moved to a different spot.

Praia da Oura was just so packed with people and screaming kids (granted, it was a weekend). At one point, a little girl who was walking around screaming, came right up to my towel and stood there just staring at me. I was sure she was going to scream in my face, but she didn’t.

We took a swim in the ocean and after baking in the sun, gave up on the beach for a while. There was just too much going on, and the tide was coming in, shrinking the sand space and crowding people together even more. Not to mention that it was feeding time (for us).

We relocated to the hotel pool which was much more peaceful, and stuffed our faces with cheeseburgers. Nothing like a good ol’ cheeseburger to fine-tune that bikini body! But, in my defense, I did swim a few laps in the pool afterwards. Then again, that only reinforced how out of shape I am.

Me in the Golden Beach Apartments pool

I baked in the sun for a surprisingly long time – and you literally feel like you’re baking. It’s unbelievably smoldering in Albufeira. But I was responsible (for once) and vigilantly applied my SPF 50 sunblock.

Algarve: Portugal’s southern coast

Waiting for our train to Albufeira at the Lisbon train station (Photo by Frances Uy)

Frances and I knew we wanted to end our Portugal trip in the south, since we were flying out from Faro. This southern region is known as Algarve and has many, many, coastline towns to choose from. Knowing our aversion to planning, we left booking our resort to the last minute – literally the day before we left Lisbon. The main towns we were considering in Algarve were:

  • Portimão
  • Vilamoura
  • Lagoa
  • Albufeira
  • Lagos

In the end, we decided to choose Albufeira for our Algarve stay. It seemed like the best balance of relaxing beaches and entertaining nightlife. Albufeira is a three-and-a-half hour train ride from Lisbon, so it was nice to roll through Portugal’s countryside for a few hours.

We arrived at the Golden Beach Apartments – and checked into room 13 of course. However, our room was awesome; a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen (perfect for making misto sandwiches a.k.a ham and cheese), balcony and living room. Plus, there was a pool, which comes in really handy when the beach gets overly packed with tourists and screaming kids.

Our view was of the ocean, over the rooftops of other apartments. It looks very mediterranean. At sunset, the sky is full of beautiful pastel colors. And when the moon comes out, it shines over the ocean and creates a glimmering path on the water. Most importantly, the apartment was literally up the street from the beach.

The view from our balcony at the Golden Beach Apartments

Lisbon’s nightlife

Our last night in Lisbon, we headed to Bairro Alto for a taste of the nightlife. As we tried to find a street our hotel receptionist recommended, Frances read one street sign and asked me if there was a street called [something] proibito on the map. I’m like, “Uhm, Frances…that’s not a street sign! That’s a warning sign saying something is prohibited.”

Lisbon's Bairro Alto

Regardless, we wandered the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto and eventually found a restaurant with an open table outside. I have to admit, this area completely reminds me of the Sol neighborhood in Madrid – complete with all-night partying!

But first, food. We sat down for another excruciatingly long Portuguese meal. Our food took forever! Every time the little bell rang that a dish was ready, we looked expectedly at the waiter. But alas, it was never our food. At least we had another great vihno verde, this time Gatao – complete with a cat on the bottle!

Gatao vihno verde...yum!

When we finally got up from the table, we sampled the local bar scene. Like Madrid’s Sol barrio, the streets are lined with little bars, from Cuban spots (where I had to show off my salsa moves) to Irish pubs to gay bars. I’ll spare the details of the evening, but by 3 a.m., after meeting a few characters, we were forced to jump into a cab and head back to the hotel.

Unfortunately, our cab driver could not find our hotel. Even the police officers he stopped to ask for directions couldn’t help. So we got an impromptu night-time tour of Lisbon by taxi. Eventually, we found our hotel and made it back, safe and sound.

Belem: Lisbon’s riverside attractions

We took a tram out to Belem, which is an area along the coast a little west of Lisbon, to see the famous tower. However, we got lucky because there were actually a bunch of things on our to-see list that were located there without us even realizing it!

We walked along the riverfront (in the scalding sun) and came across the Discoveries Monument, a white, stone monument to Portuguese explorers. It’s very characteristic, with historical figures lining each side, walking towards the water.

Discoveries Monument

Then we saw Belem Tower, which is absolutely beautiful. It’s a relatively small, white, beautifully sculpted tower, right off the shore – just far enough to be surrounded by water. The white stones surrounded by blue water, basking in glowing sunlight is so picturesque.

Me & the Belem Tower (ok, the water doesn't look that blue here, but trust me, it's beautiful)

The grave of the unknown soldier ended up being near the tower, too, so we stopped by. It was surprisingly modern in design,  and stood over a little pond whose water reflected off the glass on the monument. It’s the first time I’ve seen such a modern monument commemorating the grave of the unknown soldier in Europe.

Grave of the Unknown Soldier

At this point, we decided to sit and eat at a restaurant along the river. The view was beautiful and the atmosphere very relaxing, but the restaurant was seriously understaffed so we spent nearly two hours there for lunch! Most of my dining experiences in Europe have proven that there’s a different standard (more relaxed, much less rushed) of service in restaurants there, but this was a little too much.

After finally escaping the never-ending lunch, we dropped into the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – since it was free! Some cool exhibits we saw:

  • Os Gemeos: “Pra quem moralá, o céu é lá” a.k.a “A little boat inside a huge ocean.” These two brothers from Brazil paint and create installations that are described partially as graffiti. A couple of their installations literally took up the entire wall and were composed of paintings, doors and other objects collaged together on the wall.
  • “Algumas Obras a Ler” a.k.a. “Some Works to Read.” The intro to this exhibit on the written word claimed that the pieces would choose you, and this one chose me: John Stezaker‘s “A newspaper photograph and magazine photograph reconstruct one another.” The piece featured two photographs: one of a woman who had hung herself outside a building, and one of a tall, skinny blonde girl next to a sports car. Then, the artist featured various texts below each one as a commentary on society and as different ways to frame the photos. My favorite quote from one of the texts (under the hanged woman):

“Experience takes place before a curtain which conceals, and, if the world is the appearance of something behind the curtain of immediate experience, then, it is we ourselves who are behind the curtain.”

So, all in all, a pretty decent modern art museum experience considering my history with modern art.

Right next to the museum is the Jerónimos Monastery. It was a massive structure. Very long, with the bulk of it being fairly clean and simple, and then the chapel part being very ornate, its arches filled with sculptures. I think one of the most visual memories I have of Lisbon is all these white stone monuments next to that big, blue river in Belem.

Jeronimos Monastery

Then, we saw a Starbuck’s! Hello, coffee frappucino.

Live fado music in Lisbon

Frances would not let us leave Portugal without seeing a live fado music show. Fado is a well-known genre of music in Portugal, and is often characterized by a sad or mournful subject and extreme emotional evocation by the singer. It has typically been performed simply by a guitarist and a singer.

The typical picture of what a fado performance looks like, as depicted on my new shopping bag (thanks, Fran!)

We found a place with live fado music down a street in the Alfama neighborhood, behind the cathedral. It was an empty street with not much else around, but when you walked in there was this fancy cellar housing a restaurant. The traditional arched ceiling was very cool, made of some kind of stone or brick.

Inside the restaurant

I must admit, it was definitely a costly dinner between the fado show charge, a bottle of wine, appetizers and dessert. But the wine was so good! We ended up getting a bottle of vinho verde, which is a Portuguese type of wine that’s very clean, crisp and tart. My new favorite white wine.

The fado show was good, too. I wasn’t especially familiar with the genre of music, but I like it because of its melancholy tone and how it’s full of emotion. Plus, I love the simplicity and intimacy of just a singer and guitarist performing. The first singer of the night, Andre Vaz, was a really good-looking younger guy (who Frances promptly fell in love with). It sure wouldn’t be bad to have a Portuguese, fado-singing, hot boyfriend!

Next up were a couple younger female singers, but my favorite was the last woman, Maria Amanda. She was an older woman who performed with more soul and emotion, more that I imagined fado to be like. But I’d assume that kind of emotion and experience tends to come with age. Plus, she didn’t have this need to over-power the music with her voice and showed more vulnerability. Now, I just need to Google what the lyrics actually mean!

Oh, and by the way, Frances promised to write me a fado song – so get on that.