To finish up our trip, on Monday, after exploring Porto, Braga, and Coimbra, we traveled by train to Lisbon, Portugal’s largest city.
Lisbon simultaneously holds the title of Europe’s second oldest capital and the newest city of any we’ve explored thus far in Portugal, although it’s still ancient by US standards. This is because it was almost completely redesigned and rebuilt after a 1755 earthquake measuring 8 to 9 on the Richter scale destroyed nearly 85% of the city.
Sebastiao de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal, is credited with spearheading the new design: replacing medieval alleyways with wide streets and plazas on a central grid, and also engineering buildings to collapse in on themselves in the event of another catastrophic event.
I think our favorite day for the most unexpected adventure in Portugal was our our visit to Sintra.
When I thought about a day trip to this UNESCO World Heritage area from Lisbon, I expected to take a train ride and then spend the day hoofing it from castle to castle. I hoped for good weather, but at this point in our trip, that was kind of iffy.
We had a couple of credits on Airbnb due to pandemic trip cancellations, as well as a gift certificate (which, by the way, is a FANTASTIC gift idea for the person who has everything and likes to travel), so we splurged on a Jeep safari.
The day started with a near disaster as our driver stopped to pick us up in front of our building in the middle of the busy Rua da Prata in rush hour, then gestured at us to jump in the car as the approaching traffic collectively slammed on their brakes.
At this point half of my freaking family (in particular, the two I would have expected to know better) darted across the road while all I could manage was to squeak out “bus!” by way of warning.
Our original plan was to rent a car in Porto, drive inland to Coimbra for a night, then drive further inland to stay at a mountain town called Monsanto for another night. After reading a few blogs, and then a few more blogs about the driving and parking experience in Portugal for the inexperienced, we decided to stick to places we could access by train and save our Portuguese countryside tour for another trip.
After seeing drivers thread the needle through the narrow streets of Porto, we were certain driving here might not be our thing, like, ever.
If Porto is any indication, humans have been working on the proper stair height for more than 2,000 years, and only just recently agreed upon a standard.
I never appreciated that standard until now. In this ancient town, you’ll find differences in height between flights located in the same building, and even stairs in the same flight. Aaand, fun thing about bifocals, they make me a lot more clumsy with stairs. Introduce a mask into the equation (which can make said bifocals easy to slip off), I’m a walking disaster waiting to happen.
Most days we’re averaging 40 to 50 flights a day, and while I’m glad to have the stamina, I feel like I’m missing a lot because I’m concentrating so hard on not falling to my death. Good thing I’m traveling with some patient people….
One of my favorite things about travel is stepping off an airplane and into a place where all the sights, sounds, and smells are unfamiliar. It’s kind of like ascending the first hump of a roller coaster. I’m excited and scared about what’s going to happen next.
Of course, it’s not until right at this moment I remember how this analogy breaks down when it comes to family travel. The arrival point is the funhouse-that’s-not-actually-fun part of the carnival, and for us it typically includes one kid who’s mad at me for “doing it wrong” (this trip: the way I rode an escalator), another who’s sulking and hangry, and an argument about which train stop will take us closest to our hotel, followed by a kilometer of dragging too-heavy suitcases over wonky cobblestones to lodging we won’t have access to for an indeterminate period of time.
Louis I Bridge, Porto, Portugal
Throw in a very near miss by about seven pounds of sea gull poop, and you’ve got the gist of the first half of our first day in Portugal.