Last winter I accidentally registered for Amazon Prime. This is how that “mistake” inadvertently shipped me to Portugal.
Here’s my story.
Day 1: I was in the honeymoon phase. 30 blissful days of discounted membership deals, finally ordering that 50mm lens I was dreaming about, and pre-ordering Rupi Kaur’s new book. There was also that huge free two day shipping perk. One month of instant satisfaction is all it took to forget what life was like before two day shipping.
Day 126: It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and my recent order list consists of Settlers of Catan, glow-in-the-dark stars and a pack of 1000 self-adhesive googly eyes. While looking through recommended items, I stumbled upon a world map with the perfect dimensions for that nook in my bedroom. Click.
Day 128: I was kneeling on my bed taping the corners of this world map to my wall. This was the missing piece to my bedroom and it looked so effin’ perfect next to my bed. If only I knew what every pushpin would eventually lead to. I spent the first 5 minutes of every morning drifting my eyes around the map, imagining what it would be like to wake up anywhere else. When I was ready for bed I would switch off my lights and lay in bed, staring up at the self-adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars I taped to the ceiling above. That’s when I would dream about falling asleep under the stars in places I’ve only seen in photographs. I dreamt of the glittery blanket of stars sparkling across the Gobi Desert. I dreamt about the milky way painting itself across the open skies above the Himalayas. I dreamt about waking up under any one else’s sky, even if it was just for a day.
Then one morning, like usual I woke up to my 8:43 alarm for another day of serving tables and/or making beds. I folded my arms around my pillow, wrapped myself into a nest of blankets and rolled over towards the map. My eyes wandered across this map just like every other morning but instead of aimlessly dreaming, they landed on a small country I never really gave much thought. Portugal. That’s it. Why? I have no idea but I need to go there.
And the rest was history.
So thank you Amazon Prime for inadvertently shipping me to Portugal, this post is dedicated to you.
My flight landed in Porto a little after midnight and I was greeted with a foreign Metro system and unforgiving rainfall. I pulled my phone out to get directions to my hostel only to find out that I forgot to download the map. I had a screenshot of the written directions but sometimes it really helps to have a clue about where you are. I caught the last train from the airport and got off at my stop. I’m all for getting lost in unfamiliar places, but situations like this can sometimes make you second guess your stubborn “HAH I don’t need a map” kind of attitude. I had my first wander around Portugal at 2am in the pouring rain. While taking cover under an awning, I met another lost traveler trying to figure out where Google maps was trying to take her.
“Can you help me?”
“I’m just as lost as you are”
The journey from the metro station to the hostel took a little over an hour. The following morning I asked the woman at reception how far the Metro is from the hostel, and she informed me that it’s only a 10 minute walk. I wholeheartedly support being confident in your navigational skills but in the case of finding yourself in a foreign country within hours of arriving, maps will be your best friends.
The city of Porto is a charming, antique town with narrow side streets separating the buildings dressed in handpainted tiles. If you like wine, this is the home of Port—a sweet, fruity red wine that is native to this region. Most days are spent wandering around 14th century squares, or exploring old churches with the constant break for a glass of port and a 2€ Bifana.
Attention Harry Potter fans: Did you know J.K. Rowling lived in Porto for a few years, and most of the Hogwarts architecture we all grew up loving was actually inspired by this humble little city? There’s a world famous bookstore called Liveria Lello that Rowling used to browse, and it is rumored that she based Dumbledore’s office off of the Neo-Gothic staircase that welcomes hundreds of tourists everyday. That’s right, you can step right into the inspiring walls of Dumbledores Office. We’re all familiar with Salazar Slytherin, the dreadful founder of Slytherin, right? Well it’s never been confirmed by Rowling herself, but António de Oliveira Salazar controlled the country as a Dictator for 30 years. Remember the cloaked uniforms every Hogwarts student had to wear? That dress code was inspired by the College students you’ll often see walking around Porto in between classes.
The laid-back Portuguese capital, Lisbon is the city that refused to let me go. I spent a full week simply walking around the old town, eating pastel de natas, and finding beautiful ocean vistas. Old town is a labyrinth of old, small houses winding around narrow alleys with streets that I could not wait to get lost in. Lisbon also has a music community. From the window of my hostel I was able to hear the music wrapping around the corner from the elevator. Live music has always been inspiring to me, so I collected my backpack and headed down there to get some writing done. What started out as a quick session with my notebook ended with befriending the musicians and tagging along as they went to other locations.
Southern Portugal is famous for its magical, sprawling coastline. The coast goes from sandy stretches of beach, perfect for sunbathing and floating around, to tall, rugged sandstone cliffs and grottos. I’ve always had an affinity for beaches with more than just a sandy shore, so the cliffs won me over immediately. The Algarve has many cities to explore depending on what you’re looking for. Faro is a small beach town known for its islands thriving with a diverse system of marine life and birds. From Faro you can catch a bus into Spain or head west along the rest of the Algarve. Albufeira is the Portuguese Myrtle Beach; I only spent a night. Lagoa is the closest city to the famous Cave of Benagil. I spent a week in the southwestern beach town of Lagos. Lagos is the perfect place to relax and unwind—embrace your inner mermaid, become a surf bum, or kayak through the grottos. The possibilities are endless. If you’re looking for a cheap breakfast spot, definitely check out Cafe Odeon. This quaint cafe offers a homey atmosphere served up with huge portions for under 4€. If you’re passing through Lagos and you’re looking for a hostel recommendation, stay at 17 Hostel. You will meet the owner Tommy and you will understand why.
Portugal, I am so happy I picked you. I have packed up all of the memories I gathered with you and I’m ready to embark on my next journey.
Balkan Peninsula, lets go.