Cabo da Roca

Portugal: in Pictures

I must have been 18 or 19 when I picked up “Journey to Portugal” by Saramago from a bookshop and read his adventures across the country. My eagerness to go there kept growing as I went on reading Fernando Pessoa’s poetry at university. If you don’t know who Pessoa was please go on and read his work, you won’t be disappointed as he was one of the best authors of the past century. Fun fact: He had around 70 different heteronyms (kind of multiple personalities) and they all wrote in different styles and reviewed each other’s work… genius and madness! Pair these beautiful reads with a passion for photography and the temptation to tell the stories of A Journey through Portugal in Pictures couldn’t be higher!

Portugal will always have a special place in my heart, not only for the literary and cultural side of it but also because it’s the first stop of my “I’m going to quit my job and travel the world for a year” little plan, decision that was pretty easy to take after going to Burning Man (<- Click to see how that one went…). I also have to admit that the whole solo travelling idea scared me a bit and Portugal was a great first step as the friendliness of the people really wiped all my worries away. At the end of this stop I realised that paradoxically is pretty hard to be alone and to get bored when going solo, especially if you hang out with other backpackers and in hostels. I’ve met some really great people and I’m glad I’m still in touch with some of them and sure to meet them again.
A few quick facts before diving into the photographs:

  1. Portuguese People love to take it easy. Doesn’t matter if it’s a bar, restaurant, bank or post office. They take their sweeeet time… don’t get frustrated as slow life here is the norm and try to slow down and take in all its beauty yourself.
  2. Wine and food are really good. Although I still think Italian and Spanish cuisine are the best in Europe by far, I tried a lot of typical portuguese dishes and wine and really enjoyed them. Expect Bacalhao to have a very strong, salty, smelly, fishy taste. If you don’t know which ones to choose D’Bacalhao in Lisbon has little tapas of Bacalhao cooked in different ways and it’s good quality. Great way to sample this delicacy.
  3. Lisbon loves to party: I knew the Techno and raving scene in Lisbon was good but didn’t expect it to be THAT good! I went to Brunch Halloween, where Nina Kraviz was DJing and was hands down one of the best parties I’ve been to. Loved every aspect of it: Venue, Music, Company were all on point!
  4. I would live there. I found both Lisbon and Porto to hit the sweet spot in terms of size, nightlife, fun and culture. Barcelona is still top of the list for now but I wouldn’t mind a year or two in Portugal to learn the language and enjoy a bit of the slow life.

Where to Start? Lisbon, of course!

Being a nerd and Pessoa fan I obviously decided to start in Lisbon and right after checking in at my hostel I went straight to “A Brasileira” the coffee shop where good ol’ Fernando used to hang out and write. The cafe is in the very central Chiado Neighborhood and you can sit down and have a coffee with Pessoa…. well with his statue at least:

Lisbon – Alfama/Chiado

This city really is magic. It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and you can find examples of different architectural styles everywhere, from Romanesque and Gothic to Postmodern. One of the things that makes Lisbon special is the fact that it’s built on several hills. That doesn’t mean just that you’re going to do a leg and bum workout every day but also that the city is full of Miradouros or viewpoints that offer some outstanding views:

Miradouro in Portugal
A Miradouro in Alfama

Most of these beautiful viewpoints are spread across the Alfama neighbourhood, which is where I’d advise to start your visit of the city. The Alfama is a beautiful labyrinth of narrow streets, staircases and small squares, where you can find traditional Fado bars and admire some of the best street art in Lisbon.

Sometimes the only way to get from point A to B in the city is through long staircases of elevators and looking up can offer a different perspective of the symmetry and beauty of some of the constructions:

Staircase in Alfama

When strolling through the Alfama district you’ll notice that around the area there are still a lot of Remodelados, these are the old trams that rattle and screetch across the narrow streets of the city. If you want to experience taking a ride on one try to take the route E28, which will show you around the Alfama district and some of the historical landmarks. (expect the trams to be packed with tourists… like most places in the city)

Portugal is generally a sunny country, which makes it a great escape from places where the weather is crap.. cough..cough.. talking to you, Londoners! But I found an overcast and rainy weather during most of my stay. In landscape photography overcast means dull skies and uninteresting shots but rather than taking it as a bad thing I decided to challenge myself and find new interesting points of view. Rain also means puddles and puddles mean… reflections! At the end the bad weather was a blessing since instead of the usual boring clear-sky-wide-angle shot of the iconic Pink Street I found a new perspective:

Pink Street in Lisbon

Lisbon – Belém

The foodies will know what Belém means… the neighborhood is home to the famous Pasteis de Belém, considered the best maker of Custard Tarts (Pasteis de Nata and gotta admit they’re pretty yummy… like… I-couldn’t-help-having-one-a-day yummy…

In Belém you’ll find the most important landmarks of the city: The Belém Tower, the Jeronimos Monastery and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of Discoveries), the latter is a monument celebrating the portuguese Age of Discoveries and is located where the ships departed to explore and trade, so I decided to use leading lines to render that movement and make the monument look like a ship about to sail.

Monument to Discoveries
Monument to Discoveries

Attached to the Jeronimos Monastery you’ll find Santa Maria Church. It’s a great example of Portuguese and Spanish 16th century architecture, its construction took a whole 100 years and the beautifully decorated interiors of the building offer a lot of ways to play with symmetry.

St Mary of Belem Church
St Mary of Belem Church
St Mary of Belem Church
St Mary of Belem Church

Sintra and Cabo da Roca

When researching things to do in Lisbon I saw a comment on a Reddit post saying: “The best thing about Lisbon is that it’s close to Sintra”. Sintra is indeed a beautiful town but its beauty is mostly aesthetic, it lacks the atmosphere, nightlife and creativity that only a city like Lisbon can offer. What Sintra doesn’t lack, given its size and popularity is a flock of tourists with their frigging selfie sticks. 2 days in Sintra are more than enough, 1 full day to visit the beautiful Palácio da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros and Quinta da Regaleira and one for a day trip to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe. Palácio da Pena, is a Romanticist style castle on top of a hill overlooking the whole town, considered one of the 7 wonders of Portugal and for good reasons! The Castle is part of a larger park that offers amazing views over the valley as well as a lot of gardens, small lakes and hidden paths. When I visited the castle was just a couple of days past Halloween and it was covered in fog, which gave it a beautiful, spooky and mysterious look:

Palacio Pena viewed from Quinta da Regaleira

Whilst up there I realised my camera battery was draining and about to die, so I decided not to focus too much on taking pictures of the castle and go to the Vale dos Lagos, hoping to use the last bits of battery I had left to get a long exposure of one of the ponds:

Long exposure in the Valley of Lakes (Palacio Pena)
Long exposure in the Valley of Lakes (Palacio Pena)

I then decided to give myself and my camera a little rest, walk around town and find some nice food (Go to Metamorphosis Restaurant in Sintra, amazing and not a tourist trap unlike a lot of places downtown). The second day in Sintra I decided to visit Quinta da Regaleira during the day and planned a little Sunset Mission to Cabo da Roca with a friend I made at the hostel. I managed to get some shots of the castle viewed from Quinta da Regaleira: The lush gardens of this building allowed me to frame the subject of the picture and the mist around it gave it again a really mysterious, magic look.

I was really lucky since the weather finally improved right when I arrived in Cabo da Roca and as soon as I reached the cliffs it was Golden Hour, which meant perfect lightning conditions to shoot the sunset. I decided to use my 12mm wide angle with a CPL and ND filter to get a few long exposure shots of the cliffs

Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca

I’m glad I wrapped up my portuguese adventure in the westernmost point of Europe, since I know that in a couple of month I’ll head to Asia for who knows how long and I won’t see the west for a good while! The next stop in Portugal was Porto unfortunately I had just a day to spend in the city and I regret not taking more time as I found it really beautiful but my flight to Marrakech and my first time in the African continent was waiting for me so had to go. I am writing this from a Riad in the Marrakech Medina, looking back at Portugal with a bit of Saudade (Nostalgia) but thankful for the amazing experience I made and the wonderful people I met.

How bout ya?? Have you been to Portugal? Did I miss out on something? Would you go?? Leave a comment and remember to check out for the BTS of my shots and my travels. Next stop: Morocco