Passing through Portugal like a local

As Easter came and went, I sat in shock at just how fast time flies. Literally more than a year ago I was in Portugal for Easter. More than a year ago! I vividly remember the departure day… running  through Bergamo airport like a mad person in an attempt to catch my flight.

You see, the family I was accompanying, unfortunately, had some issues at check-in with passports and permits. ‘Lei può andare’ (“she can go”) the rude Italian check-in lady kept saying, pointing to me. Should I stay or should I go? (Whoa, almost broke out into a song there). After lots of back and forth we reached a consensus and it was decided that I would go at it alone: the trip to Portugal they planned to go visit their friends.

So there I went. The gates were closing in less than two minutes and not only did I fail to checkin my bag due to the abovementioned drama and indecisiveness (one of my trademark qualities *coughs*), but the queue at security was looking worse than one in a supermarket when payday and pensioners day fall on the same day. Have you experienced that?

In very broken Italian I managed to convince about fifty people in front of me that I was going to miss my flight. And with some smiles and nods approving what I was about to do, I flopped my very oversized (and definitely overweight) ‘hand luggage’ over the railing and “mi scusi, mi scusi-ed” my way up and over barriers to where the man in front was holding my bag and waiting for me to go ahead of him. “Grazie mille!” I said with evident relief and a huge smile to the crowd. Not embarrassing at all… I still don’t quite get how I was the only person late and running for a flight – on Easter weekend?

My next mission: to distract the security guard so excellently that he wouldn’t notice my huge ‘hand luggage’. It was easier than I thought, perhaps because I didn’t hide my desperate face well-enough. He simply pointed to the watch on my wrist which I had forgotten to take off and put in the security tray, looked at my ticket, then at the clock on the screen, and then at me with a sympathetic expression that said ‘girl, you’d better run your… off.’ The security guard behind the computer obviously didn’t weigh the items on the conveyor belt, because he just gave me a friendly smile when I said ‘buona Pasqua!’ (Happy Easter) in an attempt to distract him from my suitcase as well. Then I grabbed my stuff and ran. All the while silently praying that my friends would somehow miraculously convince the authorities and make it onto the flight.

And by a miracle, they did. I won’t bore you with the details, but eventually, the check-in lady was in the wrong, so the cops escorted my friends through the back doors so they’d get on the flight in time.


And breathe.


A tad ashamed at my shocking general and geographical knowledge, or rather lack thereof; and the fact that Portugal had never really been on my bucket list; I started snapping away with my camera at Lisbon’s ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue and the Golden Gate bridge doppelgänger from the aeroplane window.

I had packed according to the weather forecast, which I suppose is a clever thing, but for some reason the weatherman is usually not a very trustworthy man and I was clearly hopeful when I saw the predicted ‘partly cloudy with some sunshine’ forecast.

Anyhow, Lisbon is a strange but wonderful city with the airport located right in the city centre. There has apparently been some talk about building a new one further out of the city in 2017. What’s also interesting is that there was no connection from the airport to the metro until about three or four years ago! Even when the 1998 World Expo took place in Lisbon, people had to figure out alternative ways to get from the airport to the nearest metro station or into the city. Now it’s a breeze – the metro is efficient and relatively clean (for a metro) and you can easily get to where you need to go.

We drove along the river and stayed on the west side of the bridge, heading for an early dinner (on European standards, that is) at a wonderful hidden little place called Chapitô a Mesa – actually part of the circus school. These types of places you only discover with locals, I tell you. We walked all along a cobblestoned street with a view of the bridge and the sea teasing us in the distance as we passed a building each time. As the sun started shying away, the roofs of the buildings and everything else adopted a warm, reddish colour. I was absolutely romanced by this city even though I’d only been there for less than two hours.


Like any big city I suppose, Lisbon has a lot of graffiti artists roaming about at night. I don’t really mind it I must say, as long as it’s art on old grey walls or steel shop-front doors, and not simply about vandalising a public space with unnecessary fat ugly letters and signs. But not these breathtakingly beautiful tiled buildings!

Oh, the tiled buildings… I was like a kid who had tasted their first ice cream. Greens and blues, reds and yellows. Various patterns and sizes all completing a stunning artwork. The saddest thing is that these days, the country’s architecture doesn’t include the tiles on the outside of buildings anymore. Needless to say, even though I’m super anti-souvenir, I bought a whole bunch of fridge tiles to stick all over my fridge back home in Cape Town.

After dinner, we made our way to Alcobaça – roughly 120km North of Lisbon. It was night so, unfortunately, I couldn’t see a lot of what was going on around us. Except for the random castle on a hill here and there.

A wonderful, warm Portuguese family welcomed us to their home at a ridiculous hour. A mother and father in their mid-60s, a grandfather somewhere in his deep 90s, and all of us chatting away in our own languages not really understanding each other no matter how hard we tried.

The rest of our time there we went around to a few surrounding places with the locals – eating and enjoying life like the Portuguese. It was heaven.

If you’re a true wanderluster, chances are your bucket list is probably as long as mine and, chances are, you struggle to prioritise where to go next that will be worth your savings and your unthinkable short leave period. Now that I’ve seen, tasted and fallen in love with this place quite unexpectedly, you can (if you trust me) shift Portugal up a few notches on your bucket list.

I’m not sure whether it’s the location, the architecture or the culture, or a combination thereof, but Portugal just has something sexy to it.

Here are some more pics from that trip for your enjoyment :)


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Have you been to Portugal? What were some of your favourite memories?

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