Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Last-Year Travels: Porto and Lisbon, Portugal

Back in the frantic pace of a rain-lashed London, it's hard to imagine that this time last week I was skipping (read: walking at that extra slow pace only achieved by tourists) around a sunny Portugal, enjoying my first visit to Porto and my second to Lisbon.

Lisbon has changed a lot in the intervening seven years. It's certainly noticeably easier for tourists in regards to things such as finding good meals, although some locals we spoke to feared it was changing for the worse, becoming much busier, much dirtier. But, for now, both cities have so much to offer visitors. They're beautiful places to explore for starters, with brilliant museums and architecture, with beaches and spectacular scenery close by. There's some great shopping to be had in high streets not yet dominated by chains. And with specialities such as Port (obviously) and ginjinha, they're a great place to imbibe, relax and be merry.

Here are the rooftops of Porto in the historic Ribeira area of the city, a maze of twisting streets and steps with wonderfully seedy back stories. Today the story is that the riverfront is packed with visitors who take advantage of the stunning views as a backdrop to their food and drink. Across the river is Vila Nova de Gaia dominated by the very English names - Taylor's, Graham's - of the Port wine manufacturers' lodges. 

There's many more examples of stunning architecture to be discovered. The Art Deco Serralves Villa definitely falls into the category of my fantasy home.

Out towards Lisbon, meanwhile, the castles of Sintra verge on the fantastical, with the make believe views to match.

This was the holiday I also discovered I share my name with a glorified meat sandwich. This is the Francesinha (meaning little frenchie), a combination of ham, sausage and beef sandwiched in bread, covered with cheese and covered with a brandy-infused spicy sauce. And served with chips (these were half portions, apparently).

Lisbon's food scene has been enhanced meanwhile by the opening of the food court at the Mercado da Riberia - you could have another Francesinha, if you really wanted to, or speciality seafood, hamburgers, sushi and many tempting desserts (we may have been tempted).

Portugal does good drinking. Some of Porto's good bars are clustered around Galeria de Paris and Rua Cândido dos Reis, although at this stage of the holiday we were still struggling with the British vs Portuguese drinking hours so perhaps didn't explore as fully as we could. Last time we went to Lisbon, we hung around those lining the streets in the Barrio Alto. The crowds seem to have got younger (or - more likely - we got older), so this time our drinking seemed to be more centred around the formerly down at heel, you'd only go there to get the train to Cascais, Cais do Sodré. Above is one of the restored drinks kiosk in the area, adding prettiness and yet another opportunity to drink to the area.

And you could paint the town pink on this street, the Rua Nova do Carvalho. We really liked Sol e Pescais - a tiny bar packed with fishing equipment and tinned fish. Never has tackle seemed so hip.

Shopping in both these cities are great if you want a break from the usual chains. Porto's Livraria Lello & Irmão is the stuff of Pinterest dreams, regularly featuring on lists of the world's best bookstores. Photography is restricted to an hour each day, and it's so rammed with tourists there's no space for casual browsing. Nonetheless it's undeniably stunning.

The picture is taken in Ler Devagar in Lisbon's LX Factory - also a place with a claim to world beauty - a huge converted factory space with art installations and the chance to eat your dinner squeezed between the components of a printing press (surely the ultimate for any book geek). The LX Factory is a 19th century factory complex, now transformed into a hub for design and the arts. It sounds pretentious but it's delightfully laid-back, a great place to spend a sunny Sunday.

Talking of design, MUDE - the Museum of Modern Design and Fashion - has also opened in Lisbon since my last visit. Set within the sympathetically converted environment of what was once the huge main branch of a bank, there's an interesting changing rostra of exhibitions and a great display that gives the potted history of design in the twentieth-century, all for free.

There's plenty of opportunity to shop vintage too - pictured is Porto's lively fleamarket. I made a return trip to Lisbon's Outra Face de Lua too (where I previously picked up this dress and some deadstock Pop84 trousers this time). Also check out its neighbour Viúva Alegre (which translates as The Merry Widow, and comes complete with a cute cat!) and Ás de Espadas.

Perhaps the very best kind of holiday. And definitely with no need to heed this command, spotted from our hostel window.

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