Time to Breathe. Portugal.

Last year I developed a really bad anxiety. It was hard to leave my house, go to work, sit in an office, see people… I thought every single time I would leave home I would die on my way to work. I could not focus on my work in the office, since I was already worried that because I didn’t die while getting there, it would happen on my way back. I was getting panic attacks just from thinking about having to speak to someone I didn’t know or even changing plans last minute. I can add so many different things to this list, but you already have an idea of what was going on. I felt completely paralised.

I was trying all the different things to help myself – meditation, CBT, counselling, yoga, gratitude journals etc. Nothing really made a difference. In late November, I was told to take some time off work, start the meds and chill. One of my colleagues advised me to get some winter sun somewhere outside the UK. My initial response was: I can’t treat this as a holiday! However, that night I got smashed (alcohol solves everything, right?..) and booked a very last minute flight to Portugal. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it since I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon. Well as you can guess, I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t make it.

I got to the airport just in time, booked some sort of accommodation for my first night in Faro while queuing to board the plane and I was off. I was freaking out – what on earth was I doing? What if I die in Portugal? What if I get panic attacks every time I go outside and I’ll have to sit inside my room all the time?

It turned out that leaving my usual environment was the best thing I could had done for myself. Finally, I had no responsibilities, other than to keep myself fed and enjoy the surroundings. I didn’t have to sit in my room feeling completely useless with no way out. I was still worried, but my mind was focused on different things and eventually I started feeling alive.

I spent my first night in Faro and caught the train to Lagos the next day. It was so quiet there! There weren’t any crowds and some beaches were completely empty. I walked a lot, I sat on the beach, read my book and breathed. I felt how more and more energy was coming back to me and I found myself finally smiling.

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I’ll share some photos, although perhaps don’t look at them if you feel sad about not being able to travel due to covid-19.

I met some girls on the beach who were also living in the UK and took a short break to get some sun. I could not believe it, I was talking to strangers and enjoying it! We spent couple of evenings together sharing the dinners and chatting. I was anxious and happy at the same time.

Four days passed quickly and I went back to the UK. Things weren’t back to normal, but the trip helped me to take a break from constant worrying and I felt slightly calmer when I returned. I think travelling helps to put things into perspective and reminds you that there is much more out there than just what’s going on in your head. And when you awake your senses (say with the cold ocean water) it doesn’t leave you any time to think, only time to feel.

Carrapateira

After couple hours of heading south of Portugal we exited the motorway and started moving towards the coast. The scenery was changing to something quiet and beautiful and it felt like we were heading to the place where I always wanted to be. We passed a few sleepy villages before finally arriving in Carrapateira, a stunning place on the west coast of Portugal. Our new house was 10min walk from Bordera beach and it didn’t take long before we were standing at the viewpoint, listening to the waves crashing and enjoying the afternoon sun.

We walked past someone’s self made caravan and I really wished he suddenly came out with a cup of hot chocolate and some chairs and we watched a sunset while sipping a hot beverage.

One of the best things about holiday in a hot country for me is being able to have the meals outside. Just need to mention that there is a great restaurant in Carrapateira called Micro Bar and they do the best burgers ever.

Anyway, we had a house with a bbq and some outdoor tables and chairs, which was perfect for enjoying the meals outside.

One afternoon we visited a market in the village nearby and picked some tasty stuff for grilling.

With a bit of prep later on we made the best dinner of the entire holiday. Happy life 🙂

I need to say that Algarve has some really nice walks, one of them being a circular walk called Pontal da Carrapateira that starts in the village and I would recommend it to anyone. Ten easy kilometers with the most stunning views of the coast. The photos will speak for themselves.

We also decided to explore a bit more out of Carrapateira and headed to Sagres to see Cape St Vincent which is the most south-westerly point of Europe. It’s got a lighthouse and really impressive views of the cliffs around as well as food trucks selling German Bratwurst (how random!).

I remember it was extremely windy there and I even had to put a pair of trousers on under the dress I was wearing. I hid them well in the photo below, need pretend it’s hot after all 🙂

The only real regret I have now is that I never tried surfing while in Portugal. Well at that point I still had a fear of water and it took me a while to overcome it, the story I will tell you in a future. But now, when I’m thinking about Portugal, it would have been an ideal place to surf. I’ll have to go back to this idyllic place with beautiful beaches, good food, powerful waves and stress free existence.

Wild Night at Praia das Macas

After spending a few days in Porto, Lisbon seemed expensive and too crowded so it became only a quick stop during the trip. Nevertheless, the city still surprised me with beautiful architecture, nice restaurants and it seemed to have a cracking nightlife. I only explored it for a day and the next day made a quick stop at the famous Pasteis de Belem to enjoy probably the most expensive Pasteis de Nata in the country.

Praia das Macas was supposed to be just a base for seeing Sintra, however it turned out to be one of the main highlights of this trip.

After a quick stroll on the beach and some unexpected photo opportunities, we found out that the whole village was heading to the party and it was going to be epic. We obviously couldn’t miss the opportunity and decided to join in without really knowing what was going on. The event was held in a place called Clube de Praia and we had to pay 20 euros or so to get in which also included food and couple of drinks.

When we arrived the party was already full on. It turned out to be the surfing season opening party and there really seemed to be everyone there. There was music playing, the whole pig being grilled in the terrace, loads of side dishes to choose from and to my surprise, the free drink I could get was Porta 6 wine! I love that wine and frequently drink it in Scotland, so it was a nice surprise to see them sponsoring the event. Once everyone finished eating the dancing started and it was fabulous to see kids dancing with their grandpas to some D’n’B tunes!

It was an awesome night with loads of dancing and wine involved and even two different rooms with good music selection. They even had a raffle which was impossible to win unless you spoke some Portuguese. Also, to my surprise, they started another bbq around midnight.

I got home late and felt happy 🙂

Next day I made it to Sintra to see Quinta da Regaleira, which has amazing underground tunnels, but for some reason I can’t find any photos of the place! Anyway, the civil engineer in me was happy to visit the place, but the crowds around the place and the horrific parking made it barely worth it.

Porto

I remember sitting in a metro heading from Porto Francisco Sá Carneir airport to the city centre, listening to a strange language and thinking of how this beautiful mix of sounds came together. Probably due to my lack of history knowledge, I didn’t expect Portuguese to sound anything like what I was hearing, but that was a great incentive to do more research about Portugal during my trip. It was only one of the surprises that the country kept throwing at me while I was there.

I got out of the metro on a Friday night, with streets full of people and restaurants still busy serving evening meals. I spotted this lonely dog in the car, staring at the beautiful pieces of meat hanging inside the restaurant and people enjoying each others company. When you are a dog, you don’t have a freedom of choice, you can’t get your wallet out and buy a piece of ham. Appreciate your freedom, humans!

The next day I opened the curtains of my hotel room and decided it was time to go out and enjoy life.

I also took a photo of the same window from outside just to remind myself there are always two sides of everything and you can never tell which one is more beautiful until you see them both.

Once I got outside, an engineer in me took some time to admire the city’s bridges. The most famous one is Dom Luís I bridge which crosses Rio Douro in order to take you to Vila Nova de Gaia with loads of beautiful port wine cellars.

Another amazing thing you can do in Porto is a tour of the arch of Arrábida Bridge, which is the only bridge arch you are allowed to climb legally in Europe. You will get a harness and a great guide if you google Porto Bridge Climb and book their tour. Recommended!

Right, if bridges are not your thing and you prefer looking at buildings, you will be spoilt for choice in Porto. I was slightly surprised that so many of the buildings were looking a bit forgotten and screaming for some renovation work, but one of the locals suggested I should have seen the place before ryanair started flying to Porto. I guess cheap flights to this beautiful place will hugely change the city’s face.

If you want to admire Portuguese azulejos (various ceramic tiles that turned city into a piece of artwork in my opinion), Porto is perfect for that. You can head to Sao Bento station that loads of tourists do or wonder around the city and wait to be surprised. You won’t be disappointed!

Another beautiful thing about Portugal is it’s amazing food and I won’t keep taking about it, but some of the seafood I tried was absolutely amazing. Also, I remember one night my friend was telling me about this amazing white wine sangria he tried in one of the restaurants and we absolutely had to have it. Being a bit tipsy, we showed up at the place not realising they were closing and asked for the best sangria in town. Even if they were closed, not only they made us the drink, but also gave it to us for free. Portuguese hospitality at its best.

What else can I say, Porto is an amazing place that didn’t yet feel ruined with tourists. It’s got plenty of character and will keep your senses exposed to plenty it’s got to offer.