Portugal Road Trip - Porto to Lisbon

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Words & Photos by Nadine Wassenaar - @nadinealexandra
Born in Canada and raised on the prairies, I had always envisioned a life of travel and adventure in faraway countries for myself. Moving to Europe straight out of high school was a great blessing that allowed me to experience the things I had often daydreamt of. Based in Vienna, Austria, I was amazed at this new world of beautiful architecture and history, filled with quaint passages, cafes, and gardens.

 

While having Vienna as a base, I often made trips to the surrounding countries; it was amazing to me how one could travel a few hours in one direction and experience an entirely different culture and language. Having been inspired by my travels and new experiences, I set out to begin studying photography in Berlin, Germany. Fast-forward two years, and I’m currently staying in LA, temporarily working on my own projects. Today I’m fascinated by seemingly mundane places, and in love with harsh light and shadows.

Choosing to document my time in Portugal in film was a decision made for a combination of reasons; in part from my desire to become more familiar with it - I love film’s depth and grainy aesthetic, to learn to be more considerate with each shot I’m taking, and for the sake of simplicity and surprise. Once you’ve taken the photo, it’s done, that is the raw image you have to work with.

Traveling with a friend, our plan was to follow the Camino Way trail. From the middle, backwards. Carrying everything in our backpacks, we packed our tent, our cameras, clothes and a couple of books each. We hadn’t gone far out of Porto before our plans took on a shift (as the rest of our trip would); Originally planning our first stop to begin in Grijó, we changed our course and traveled towards the coast to the town of Espinho. After that we headed to São João de Madeira, Aveiro, Coimbra, Lisbon, Cascais, Évora, Sintra, and a few unknown towns in between.

What altered our plan in the beginning was the opinion of a few people we came across on our trek; Many of them curiously asked where we were going. After sharing our plans with them (to start in the small town of Grijó), they looked puzzled and ask, ‘but, why?’ and proceed to give their personal opinions on where we should begin our journey. When I say that they felt free to voice their opinion, I do mean in they did it in the friendliest way. The Portuguese are by far the most affable, helpful, and hospitable people I have ever met.

There were countless times when their warmth would reach us – from a woman madly waving her arms from across the street (not speaking a word of English, but finding someone who did in order to tell us that the road was a dead end) to the bus driver who picked us up in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain. People with whom we caught rides with shared their own stories, and people in the towns we visited were willing to help us find a safe place to pitch our tent. This general sense of hospitality and care for others in Portugal was something that struck both my friend and I. It surprised us every time, and we both agreed it was something that we wanted to take back with us to Berlin.

Among my favourite places visited were Espinho and Porto, along with the countryside along the way.

Ranking the second largest city in Portugal, Porto would be a contrast to the smaller cities we would later travel through. Porto was buzzing with countless people, shops and cafes. The city had a perfect balance of feeling remarkably charming and aged, yet still clean and maintaining an even mix of modern and old buildings. Again, the people were very friendly and hospitable; staying the first two night in an Airbnb, our host picked us up from the train station and brought us back to the place we would be staying, and offered us to use the two bikes she had in in her apartment. After picking up groceries and other necessities on the first night, we headed out on our bikes the following morning towards the coast.

Once there, we parked our bikes and explored the rocks and tide pools along the shoreline. The day consisted of a leisurely ride along the coastline, gradually following the Duero river and its’ inland curve towards city centre; by the late afternoon, we came across a wine shop with samples outside. We sat there for some time, sipping wine and nibbling on complimentary chocolate.

Once at the city center, we explored passages and then crossed the bridge to see the old castle. On the way home we rode/walked our bikes up through the city center, seeing intriguing shops and houses on the way back.  Our next and last day in Porto consisted of the same.

Another favourite place in Portugal was our surprising next stop; Espinho. Though it’s officially a city, Espinho had a small town feel due to the off-season calm, the place felt deserted. With dated buses and signs all around, it felt like we were stepping back in time; it was beautiful.  

First arriving on a rainy day, our first night was a bit rough – without realizing it, we set up our tent in a spot that would become a puddle overnight. Our first day in Espinho consisted of us drying all our belongings in the sun.

Later on we explored the town and walked the length of it along the ocean. While exploring, we came across a swimming pool; closed to outdoor swimmers, the pool was still open indoors. Since it wasn’t quite warm enough to go into the ocean, we decided to grab our bathing suits and go for a swim in the pool. Upon entering, we were welcomed warmly by two older women. They let us know that everyone in the pool had to wear swimming caps along with pool sandals. We had to laugh, because those were the last things we wanted to wear. After hearing that we had none, one of the women went to the back to see if she could find us something. She came back with two attractive pairs of sandals and head caps- we were all set!

Even though we were by far the youngest in the pool, (most people ranging around 70 years), we ended up swimming and chatting the whole afternoon away, then went out for a nice dinner to end the day. The next day we explored more of Espinho, exploring the small streets and shops. We stopped in small cafes filled with old people and ordered various delicious Portuguese deserts. These days in Espinho were my favourite, wandering the dusty city at our own pace with no sense of time.

I enjoyed each city we stopped in, but I also loved our time walking through the even quieter countryside towns. These towns were a curious combination of fancy housing blended with beautiful country-style houses. In a couple of the towns, we even found what looked like the common washing area, and often each house would having a concrete washing tub where people could hand-wash their laundry.

What made this trip so special and so memorable for me personally was the relaxed atmosphere of it; allowing myself to drift through new places without a time frame or worry. This was a very special experience.

Even though I’ve only given a few specific instances of what our time consisted of in Portugal, our whole trip was actually just that, wandering around with our cameras on foot or by bike, and it was beautiful. Rarely do we get to do that in our everyday lives and routines.

I hope it helps us realize that sometimes the best things while traveling are the simple things; depending on your interests, you might not find the need to visit every museum, go on every tour, or try every trendy restaurant. Walking the city finding hidden gems, getting to know locals (and most likely a piece of history along with it) is just as enriching an experience as hitting tourist attractions. Not only that, but it creates a space for you to have a unique experience based on your decisions and intuition.

I could easily write more about each unique experience that came our way, but instead I would like to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try it out for yourself. If you’re planning a trip or wanting to go somewhere – know that it mustn’t always cost a fortune or be a full-on scheduled vacation. 

If you’re planning a trip or wanting to go somewhere- anywhere- try something new and plan it differently than you normally would, or don’t plan it at all.

 

For the dreamer - For the adventurer