Oporto

Oporto, or Porto in English, has become increasingly more popular than Lisboa (Lisbon). It is one of my favorite cities in Portugal, perhaps even in Europe. You can easily see the main attractions in a weekend if you don’t mind the hills. I adore this city because of its friendly people, delicious food, breathtaking views and peculiar street art. There’s a certain charm in the neighborhoods, buildings and street art. It’s not as metropolitan as Lisbon, but the views from Dom Luís I Bridge are unreal.

Landmarks
As always, I recommend a walking tour. They’re between 2-3 hours long and they’re free! You can pay a tip at the end based on what you consider appropriate. Some of the most memorable landmarks are the Dom Luis I Bridge, Lello Library,  São Bento train station, and the fanciest McDonald’s you’ll ever see.
OvelloIf you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll have a familiar feeling when entering  Livreria Lello. It is said that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Oporto after living in the city back in the 1990’s. In the books, she describes the library, where Harry buys his books before attending Hogwart’s, as a place similar to this Lello.

Lello is a small library that charges €4  for entrance, which can be validated towards a purchase. There will most likely be a line of people waiting to get in, which moves kinda fast, but don’t expect to take any pics inside without people in the frame.

Something else you’ll see if you’re in Oporto during graduation season, is that the University’s graduates wear a very similar black cloak to the one Hogwart’s students wear. Another J.K Rowling inspiration.

 

 

São Bento train station is beautifully decorated with hand painted blue tiles. There are about 200,000 blue tiles dating back to the 1900’s. The art in the station tells the city’s story. I remember one of the walls being about a foreign princess who was arriving in Oporto to marry the king. The Portuguese covered the roads in rose petals so the princess wouldn’t realize that the streets were actually covered in horse shit. And if you look at the images carefully you’ll notice small mistakes such as the foot of a horse pointing backwards. These elements make this art even more unique and prove that it was all hand painted.

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São Bento Train Station


Around the corner from São Bento, you’ll see the fanciest Mc Donald’s ever. This building used to be the Imperial Café in the 1930’s. It was restored by the city but no local business owner could afford it. Oporto’s administration agreed to sell the building to the well known fast food franchise under the condition of maintaining the building as is. The food and prices are the same, with a few Portuguese pastries included. If you’re into beautiful cafes, don’t skip a visit to Majestic Café or Café Guarany, both really close by and also totally worth a visit.


Food

An important dish from Oporto is the Francesinha, a calofrancesinharie overload type of sandwich layered with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (smoke-cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), fresh sausage like chipolata (thin and short sausage), steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce similar, in consistency, to gravy. It is typically served with french fries and a fried egg on top. The flavor of the sauce varied since every restaurant had its own recipe. An affordable restaurant near the river and the Dom Luís Bridge is Restaurante Verso Em Pedra. Expect huge portions. Big enough to share one Francesinha between two people since it’s such a rich dish.

Another typical Portuguese dish is the Bifana, basically a pork sandwich. The pork steak is seasoned and marinated for sometime, making it a bit spicy. The bread is a simple white bread roll, that ends up being moistened with the pork steak sauce. Apparently, the south of Portugal has a different recipe, where the pork is less spicy and tastes more like mustard. I personally detest mustard but love spicy food, so the version I tried in Oporto was not only delicious, but the meat was oh so tender and the bread was so soft and freshly made. It paired great with a Super Bock, a great Portuguese beer. Pictures don’t do this sandwich justice, so I suggest you try it before judging it by its basic appearance. A great place to try out this simple yet very tasty sandwich is Casa GuedesCafe Piolho also serves this delicious sandwich and other typical Portuguese dishes like the green vegetable soup served as a popular side dish.

“I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people
wanting to offer you the best, always.”

Portugal, in general, is also famous for its fresh seafood. Codfish (Bacalao) is the fish of the region and quite affordable. I had it mediterranean style (grilled) quite a few times and even had a waiter tell me once “I’m sorry but our fish is not too fresh today.” So I asked “Why? How old is it?” and his answer was “It was caught yesterday.” I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people wanting to offer you the best, always.

Nightlife
Drinking in public is permitted in Portugal. Locals start and end the night by drinking next to the fountain with the two lions, Fonte dos Leões. You’ll find plenty of bars near this fountain. I recommend starting the night at Porto Tónico. I am not a fan of the Porto wine, since I find it to be too sweet for my taste, but Porto Tonics are delicious! They’re so refreshing, just the right amount of sweet and something you won’t find anywhere else. If you prefer craft beers, you’ll find a great place a 5 minute walk away called Catraio. On a sunny day, I recommend you enjoy a cocktail at the garden in Base Porto.
If you feel like dancing, I had a lot of fun at Plan B Club. When I went, they played electronic and Latin music. Even if you don’t enjoy dancing, you’ll be entertained by the laser show displaying several images, a very unique touch in my opinion. Although, a bit busier, I also had a lot of fun at The Wall. None of these clubs charged a cover and their mixed crowd, locals and tourists, made for a very interesting and fun night where I got to dance with people from different parts of the world.

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View from Gaia

Wine tasting in Gaia
Across the Duoro River you’ll find Gaia. You must hike up the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar. This is one of the best view points where you can appreciate the bridge and all of Oporto. When you cross the Dom Luis I Bridge, be mindful of the fact that you’re sharing the “road” with the tramway. Tourists stop anywhere along the bridge to take pictures without realizing how narrow the pedestrian path actually is once the train passes by.

Gaia,  is known for its vineyards and wineries along the river. As I mentioned, I personally do not enjoy Porto wine. I realized this after a 3 hour long wine tasting tour in Gaia but I truly enjoyed visiting the wineries. They’re all so different, some have terraces next to the river and one even had a rooftop bar and Virtual Reality set where you could “fly” above Oporto. Some of the most famous are SandemanCalemOffley, among others.

No matter what time of the year you visit, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy your time in Porto since it’s such a beautiful city with so much to offer. Even if the rain is pouring down, there are plenty of cozy cafés and restaurants to enjoy the local delicacies. Have fun and remember to always BE PRESENT.

 

 

 

 

Teide

Tenerife is known for its microclimates and diverse vegetation. Near the center of the island lies the biggest attraction of Tenerife, its volcano Teide, which you can see from almost any point in the island. This in itself, is a day trip or a few days trip if you are really into hiking. The regional parks surrounding Teide vary in a lot in views, vegetation, hiking difficulty, weather, etc. Most viewpoints are only accessible by car since there is only one “guagua” (bus) going to the cable car on Teide.

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Exploring Teide and its surroundings

How to get to Teide:
If you’re planning on making it to the peak of the volcano, you have to reserve a permit allowing you to enter the hiking path towards the peak. You need to reserve this at least 2 months prior to your visit. You can reserve it by clicking here.
If there are no more permits available and you really want to make it to the peak, you can book a tour with a third party, fyi… it’s a bit pricey. Tours to the peak are around €60. A company I recommend and have used before in other countries is Viator.
You can also go near the peak without the permit for €27 EUR roundtrip by taking the Cable Car. The officials instructions on how to get to the cable car by car or bus from either the north or south side of the island are here.  There is only one bus around 9am getting there, and the departing bus around 4pm. Details below.

Getting there by bus from the north side of the island: Bus Line 348  Puerto de  La Cruz – Las Cañadas del Teide (www.titsa.com). Departing: 09:15am from Puerto de la Cruz, with a stop in La Orotava, Montaña Blanca and Teide’s cable car. The return bus leaves from the cable car at 4pm (16:00)

Getting there by bus from the south side of the island: Bus Line 342 Playa de Las Américas – Las Cañadas del Teide (www.titsa.com). Departing at 09:15 am from Las Américas, with a stop at Los Cristianos at 9:30am. The return bus departs from the cable car at 3:30pm (15.30).

Driving up Teide is like entering the Twilight zone. First you see palm trees, then pine trees and the closer you get to the peak, the more dessert vibes you get with so many huge rocks and succulent plants. I was at awe with all the sudden changes and beautiful landscapes. Another way of exploring Teide is by hiking the regional parks. I recommend Anaga Regional Park. There’s different paths you can take with a range in difficulty, length and views. You can inquire about the hiking paths in the Anaga information point. There’s parking for your convenience and an amazing view point from the parking lot. The main road to get there is the TF-12 road from La Laguna, which goes past Las Mercedes; and the TF-12 road from San Andrés, if you are coming from Santa Cruz. You can get there by private vehicle and by public transport.

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Mirador in Anaga Regional Park

There are also some stargazing tours around Teide at night. A local mentioned that it’s so clear, you can even see the Milky Way during the summer. If you decide to wait for darkness and enjoy this majestic night sky with its mesh of stars, I recommend you stay the night. The streets are not light and it’s quite dangerous driving down that windy road in complete darkness with opposite side traffic. A quiet and small, but nice hotel near the the cable car is Parada de Cañadas del Teide. It’s across the highway from some impressive rocky magma rocks with an amazing view. A fellow tourist mentioned how this specific area is popular because it’s the image seen in the old Spaniard bills. More specifically, the 1,000 pesetas bill.

Expect the climate to be cooler in the Regional Parks and near the peak. The higher up you go, the chillier it gets. Bring enough layers, water, snacks and a camera. Wear comfortable and warm clothes, as well as shoes with a good grip since you’ll be walking on gravel, rocks, etc. Cellphone service is spotty up there so I recommend downloading the map in your phone so you know how to get back. However you decide to visit Teide, I hope you enjoy this majestic location at its fullest. When you’re up there breathing the fresh air and gazing upon the stunning views, remember to be leave all other thoughts behind and enjoy the moment. Always be present.

Tenerife, Isla Canaria

It was December in Madrid and I decided to escape the cold winter by visiting my first Spanish island. I’ve heard great things about the weather in Tenerife and how it has micro climates, making it always beach weather. The more research I did, and the more advice I received, the more I realized this trip wouldn’t be as easy as other cities in Europe where I get to know the city, and see all that is worth seeing with a walking tour. There is no metro in the island, only “guaguas” (buses). These are reliable but since they connect long distances, they don’t run as often as city buses in big cities.

The island is divided by the north and south side. They’re so different it almost seems like a different island. Sometimes, I even forgot I was still in Spain, specially in the south, which is overflowing with tourists from England, Ireland and Russia.

Near the center of the island lies the biggest attraction of Tenerife, its volcano Teide, which you can see from almost any point in the island. This in itself, is a day trip or a few days trip if you are into hiking. Check out my blog post on Teide for advice on visiting this volcano.

North Tenerife
The neighborhood of La Laguna is a must when visiting the north side of Tenerife. It’s a short 10min drive from the North Tenerife Airport. You can get a taxi at the airport. It shouldn’t be more than 11. If you land in the southern airport, but prefer to start your trip in the north, here’s how to get from South Tenerife Airport to La Laguna: 
1. Take the 111 guagua (bus) to Santa Cruz. It costs approximately €9.
2. About an hour later, arrive at the bus station in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Take the 015 bus to La Laguna.
3. It’s a 15 minute walk to the Cathedral, a centric point in La Laguna.

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Stunning mural in San Cristóbal de La Laguna

You can quickly walk through the center of La Laguna around Iglesia de Concepción and admire the colorful aesthetic of the buildings and discover the street art decorating different areas of the neighborhood. There are so many restaurants and cafés in the area that your only concern will be deciding on one. At night, I really recommend El Rincón de TinTinthis is where the locals go enjoy craft beers from all over Europe at an affordable price. Some nights you’ll be blessed with great live music. I was lucky to have heard an amazing blues band.

La Laguna is known for its great hiking paths and because of it’s proximity to the beach of Las Teresitas within a 20 minute drive of the center of La Laguna. A beautiful contrast of mountains and beach which reminded me of California because of the succulent plants growing next to palm trees. I also recommend driving or hiking up to the view point, El Mirador Las Teresitas. Beautiful views, especially during sunset. It reminded of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

 

mirador las teresitas
El Mirador de Las Teresitas

Another short drive from La Laguna or Santa Cruz is Puerto de la Cruz; a stunning beach, popular by it’s black sand and lively boardwalk. This area is a bit more touristy. The restaurants and bars had an older crowd. Still, the exfoliating black sand was impressive, but I’m sure it gets really warm by absorbing all the sun rays in the summer.

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Sand art in Puerto de la Cruz


Garachico
is a small but pretty town known for its natural rocky pools, which were created by lava from the volcano. Worth visiting if you have the time. 
La Caleta, is another rocky beach worth checking out, but not somewhere where you could lay down in the sand since there’s an abundance of rocks.

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Jardin Victoria in La Orotava

La Orotava, is one of the cutest Spanish towns I’ve seen. You can do a DIY walking tour in about 2 hours. We started the day by parking near the houses then walking to the tourism office. There, we were provided a map with many landmarks that were walking distance from each other. Among them the Jardin Victoria, the museum Casa de los Balcones, and you have some amazing ocean views from Molino de Gofio. From La Orotava we drove up to Santa Ursula, less than 15mins away. We were hunting for the famous “guachinches”.

The Food
Eating at a Guachinche is the most local thing you can do in Tenerife. These are small restaurants in people’s houses. They have a set menu based on what they fished that morning and they’re located near the town of La Orotava, in San Ursula. There were also a few in La Orotava. I recommend a car for this trek since it’s high up in the mountain. There are many Guachinches in the area, the best way to decide on one is to ask a local. We heard several recommendations but opted for the only one opened on January 2nd.

Seafood is popular in Tenerife for obvious reasons. You can order a grilled-mediterranean style fish, or bathed in sauce. Rabbit seemed to also be a common dish in the north. The most iconic side dish is “papas arrugadas”, these are boiled potatoes with “mojo”. Mojo is a very delicious sauce that goes amazing with many things, especially seafood. There’s the green one, which is cilantro, garlic, oil and other spices. The red one tends to be spicier. Every restaurant seemed to have their own mojo recipe, encouraging us to try all of them. I apologize for not having any food pics, but my mind was focused on only one thing whenever food arrived. You gotta trust on this one, everything was delicious.

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Twilight in Costa Adeje, South Tenerife

South Tenerife
Costa Adeje is a popular destination in south Tenerife because of its abundance in beaches, as well as shops, restaurants and bars. Definitely a very touristy area. Never had I seen so many Irish people gathered together in the same place. Not even in Dublin! where I found a more international crowd. My friends and I walked into “Temple Bar” in Tenerife and we were the only two black haired people in that pub. We had a great time but we didn’t get to meet any locals in this area. Expect the same all over Avenida de las Americas, a popular strip that despite the tourist prices, it wasn’t as expensive as other main cities in Spain. You can find many British pubs and if you’re looking to dance the night away, there are many clubs in the area, among the most popular ones are Papagayo Beach Club,  TIBU, and Envy.

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Los Gigantes

Los Cristianos is another lovely beach frequented by tourists. It’s walking distance from Costa Adeje and Playas de las Americas.  If you have a car or the time to take a “guagua” to Los Gigantes I truly recommend it. The trip was easy and cost roughly 4 and took about 30-40 minutes one way. We took one big green bus from Playa de las Americas to the Los Gigantes bus stop. The cliffs, aka “Los Gigantes”, are huge and beautiful. I suggest walking up to the viewpoint, El Mirador Archipenque. You can also hike around the cliffs, but a tour guide is recommended if you’re not an experienced hiker. This whole neighborhood has many family-owned restaurants with authentic and delicious “mojo” recipes. We met the owner of El Pescador, an authentic Canarian restaurant with ocean views. He spoke about how he’s related to every staff member in the restaurant and how he’s daughter is teaching Chinese in the U.S. Quite an interesting experience. He definitely made us feel like another member of the family.

La Gomera is the closest island to Tenerife and can be visited in a day. You can easily see it from Los Cristianos beach in the south of Tenerife. The ferry departs from Los Cristianos port and arrives, an hour later in La Gomera. 2 companies connect both islands: Fred Olsen and Armas Naviera.

TL,DR… Tenerife is amazing! Even if the flight is expensive, the island is not. The weather is great, even if the north was a bit chilly. Don’t be discouraged from learning that you either need a car or patience for the Guagua (bus). There’s something for everyone in this island, so I hope you you’re able to visit and enjoy every moment just like I did.

 

 

Day Trips from Dublin

If you’re spending time in Dublin, please check out my post on my quick trip to this amazing city.

There are a few options of day trips from Dublin, but the most popular ones are The Cliffs of Moher and the Game of Thrones shooting locations. The roads in Ireland are narrow, windy and foggy so renting a car is not recommendable unless you are accustomed to driving in these conditions. There are plenty of companies offering bus tours that include a brief visit to small towns along the way.  The prices range from €40-60.  Below is the research I did before going to the Moher Cliffs.

Get Your Guide Viator Finn McCool
– Moher Cliffs – Moher Cliffs
– Kilmacduagh Monastery
– Doolin Village
– Wild Atlantic Way
– The Burren
– Galway City – Galway City
– Galway
12 hours, 50 EUR
14 hours, 40 EUR
45 EUR

The differences between tours are minimal. I opted for the Viator tour, which turned out to be the same as Finn McCool since our buses had the Finn McCool logo on them, and the itinerary was the same as their website.

What you need to know:
No matter when you go, take a wind breaker or a raincoat. Umbrellas are practically useless against the strong winds nears the cliffs and beaches. If you go in the winter, there are not enough layers to keep you warm. Make sure you carry a beanie, gloves and boots. Your tennis shoes/sneakers/trainers, or whatever you want to call them, will get wet. Your chances of slipping in rocks or along the cliffs are larger with shoes that have no grip on the sole. Now, onto to the fun part…

monastery
The first stop was a quick one at the Kilmacduagh Monastery. An impressive and small cemetery next to the road towards The Burren. I personally enjoy visiting old cemeteries, especially medieval looking ones. This place is eerie and wonderful at the same time. It has a small church made out of stone. We were here for 15-20 minutes since the weather was bad. Strong winds and rain. You read about the monastery’s story here: http://monastic.ie/history/kilmacduagh/

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Fighting against the wind from the Cliffs of Moher

About 4 hours from departure, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher. The bus was already shaking from the strong December wind. We waited out the rain and wind inside the museum where you can take a green screen picture “in front” of the cliffs. Pretty useful since we didn’t get to spend much time outside admiring the cliffs. When we finally stepped out of the building and head towards the cliffs, I truly feared for my life. At first it seemed like a nice challenge to venture against the wind, but there were times when I thought that I would fly away. The wind pushed back even the strongest person. Imagine a 5 foot (1.5 meters) woman, fighting against mother nature for the sake of an adventure. The rain slapped your face repeatedly, still, we laughed at this situation and were grateful for a clear day. I was warned on the the biggest risk of visiting the cliffs… the fog which can impede you from seeing anything at all on certain days. So, I’ll take strong winds over fog since admiring those 300-million year old cliffs was more than words can describe.
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Three strong Latina warriors against that Irish wind

On our way to Galway City, we stopped by The Burren where the sun graced us with it’s presence. This beautiful place is a region in the southwest of Ireland known for the view below, a beach paved by limestone dating back to the ice age. Mind you step when walking in this bedrock of cracked limestone.
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The Burren

Not far from The Burren you can visit either Doolin Village or Galway City. I wish I would’ve chosen the tour stopping by Doolin Village since it’s known for its folklore and cute pubs. Galway is also charming small town but with more city vibes. For example, the mall. We spent most of out time in there due to the weather but there’s a small Christmas market, if you go in December. We explored it within 30 minutes or less. Here, I finally got to taste some authentic Irish coffee!
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The Christmas Market at Galway

No matter where you go, no matter the weather… remember to enjoy every sip of that Irish coffee (or Guinness), remember to take a deep breathe of that fresh Irish air and remember to enjoy every moment of your trip. It’s your time to make the most out of this adventure that you’ve decided to embark on. Always, be present.
irish coffee