Tag Archives: Portugal

2008 Travel round up part 3: My Year in Photos

The final bit of my ’08 round-up is a quick photographic journey through the most memorable travel moments of the year. (In case you’re interested, you can see all my 2008 photos over at Flickr)

Wat Phou

January: Wat Phou

Wat Phou is an Angkor-era temple in southern Laos. It’s much less well-known than Laos’s other World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang, and hence gets much fewer tourists. It can’t compete in terms of size with Angkor Wat, but its beautiful hillside setting overlooking the Mekong and lack of crowds make it worth a detour.
Coffee beans drying

February: Coffee beans drying

Another Lao highlight was a visit to the Bolaven Plateau, home to most of the country’s coffee production. Everywhere we went we saw piles of coffee beans drying in the sun.
Crispy Frog

January: Crispy Frog

Moments later, I ate this crispy, deep-fried Mekong Frog, which is not something I ever expected to do. Surprisingly lovely. And no, it didn’t taste of chicken.
Stowe House

February: Stowe House

A beautiful, crisp, cold winter day walking through the grounds of Stowe House, some of the finest landscaped grounds in England.
Alpine view

March: Alpine view

I’d resisted skiing for years. Why did no-one tell me one of the best bits of the experience would be the breathtaking beauty of the mountains?
Bobsleigh!

March: Bobsleigh!

1500 metres downhill on the 1994 Olympic track. Over 100kph, inches from the ice. The best 72 seconds of my life.
Bounce

April: Bounce

You don’t need to spend a fortune on a bobsleigh run to have fun though: an afternoon bouncing on the trampoline at my sister’s house in Essex was nearly as fun.
Wet & windy Snowdon

June: Wet & windy Snowdon

Freezing rain and winds so strong you could barely stand up – but making it to the top of Wales’s highest mountain was worth it.
Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

June: Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

Before I did it, I thought 26 miles of hiking up and down three hills would be a bit tough. I ended up running the last few miles. And I even got a certificate to prove I’d done it too (I’m like a child when it comes to external validation).
My new favourite building

June: My new favourite building

The restored De La Warr pavilion is absolutely stunning, and utterly incongruous to find in town like Bexhill.
View over Glastonbury (madness not pictured)

June: View over Glastonbury (madness not pictured)

Even more fun than usual, thanks to the absence of mud and flooding. I’ll miss the madness in 2009.
the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia

July: the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia

Recovering from festivals by going on holiday straight after is totally the way ahead.
24 hours in Ibiza

August: 24 hours in Ibiza

…except it wasn’t even that. We spent nearly as long in Madrid airport as we did on the island.
Boat envy in Formentera

September: Boat envy in Formentera

Still, I made up for it by having a fantastic four days there the following month, seeing how the other half live. Although it did give me boat envy.
Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos

October: Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos

Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos, one of my favourite photos of the year. The town is pretty great too.
Faro - ghost town

October: Faro - ghost town

Unlike Faro, which was just plain weird. Also: I assumed Pigeon-racing was one of those weird eccentric English things. Turns out the Portuguese do it too.
Krakow market square

November: Krakow market square

We kept being told it was the largest square of its kind in Europe. We never did find out what that meant exactly. Lovely place to spend my birthday (although I think Uluru in 2009 may just top it). Just don’t mention the borscht.
View over Windermere

December: View over Windermere

If there’s been one thing that’s really stood out from my travels this year, it’s been falling in love with the mountains, and it’s certainly something I’ll be doing a lot more of in 2009.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented in 2008. It’s been a bit of a dry run while I get the hang of writing (the only writing I’ve done for the last decade has been on Powerpoint slides, which is really quite different) and posting pictures. Hopefully 2009 and the start of my long-term travels will make this an even better read going forward!

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Final thought on Portugal

I’ve now been to Portugal three times, and spent about three weeks there in total. I’ve seen a fair bit of the country (the Algarve, Lisbon, Sintra, Obidos, Fatima, Batalha, Nazare, Coimbra, Figueira da Foz), and I’m a big fan. When I get back I definitely intend to explore more, especially the interior, and Porto.

But there’s one thing that’s been consistently bad: the food. Other than fresh fish (which I’m not a huge fan of), and the heavenly Pasteis de Belem, virtually every meal I’ve had has been pretty ropey (and don’t even get me started on the salt cod). Most people I’ve spoken to who’ve been to Portugal feel the same.

Spanish food rivals Mexican as my favourite in the world. I don’t understand how theirs is so good, when their Iberian neighbour’s is so awful. Or have I just been extremely unlucky so far?

A Pastel de Belem, Portugals main culinary redeeming feature

A Pastel de Belem, Portugal's main culinary redeeming feature

Ghost Town

On the way back to the airport we decided to stop off in Faro, figuring the biggest town in the province probably had something going for it. Now, being October, we expected it to be a little quiet. As it turned out, quiet was an extreme understatement – it was like being in a ghost town.

The centre of Faro is still contained within medieval walls, and is very pretty, with whitewashed buildings, an old palace, cobbled streets and a pretty cathedral.

Faro Cathedral

Faro Cathedral


Despite all these sights, and the huge number of tourists passing through Faro even at this time of year (the airport was heaving), the town was empty. When we arrived in the main square, in front of the Cathedral, we were literally the only people there. It’s not very often you get somewhere like that all to yourself.

The rest of the town was much the same – more baroque churches, lots of buildings covered in Azulejos, and the novelty of seeing storks’ nests perched atop every tall building – and all empty (it was actually a little scary – we barely even saw any locals). It amazes me that so many people can go to a place and not actually spend any time exploring or checking out the history.

Azulejos & Graffiti, Faro

Azulejos & Graffiti, Faro


Storks nest on a church, Faro

Stork's nest on a church, Faro

Active in the Algarve

For some reason I’d written off the Algarve as being horribly overdeveloped tourist trap like the worst of the Spanish Costas. On absolutely no evidence whatsoever, just general snobbery about package destinations (says the man whose favourite place is Ibiza). Turns out I was quite wrong.

After a typically early flight from Gatwick we arrived in Faro, we were able to take advantage of the stupidity of all the other passengers – there was an enormous queue for the manual passport control, with electronic passport readers next door with no queue whatsoever, allowing us to skip right past them, straight to the front of the taxi queue and onto the station just in time to catch the train to Lagos.

Lagos itself isn’t the most beautiful town in the world (although it has its charms), but where it scores is with the coastline. Starting from the harbour there is a string of little coves dominated by huge golden sandstone cliffs, running all along the coast towards Sagres (formerly seen as the end of the world, before explorers headed out beyond them into the Atlantic in the 15th century).

Sandstone cliffs & stacks at Praia Dona Ana, Lagos

Sandstone cliffs & stacks at Praia Dona Ana, Lagos


The cliffs were fun enough to walk across on the first afternoon. Much more fun was tackling them on bikes. Only a week after my first proper ride in years, I found myself bombing along the coast on dirt tracks trying not to plummet over the edge. I’m now quite taken with this cycling lark, might even have to buy a bike before I go away. Although I probably need to learn to be a little more careful before tackling the ride down the world’s deadliest road in Bolivia next year; a couple of times I was a bit overambitious and came off the bike. It’s all worth it for the war-wounds though.
Always make sure youre going fast enough when cycling up a 45 degree embankment

Always make sure you're going fast enough when cycling up a 45 degree embankment

The other main activity of the weekend was less of a success. Despite my indoor course back in June, my first attempt at outdoor climbing was a bit rubbish. I just didn’t have the confidence to really commit to some of the tougher footholds (despite being on a rope). I have no idea why I’m happy to head downhill at high speed on a bike over rocks, ignoring the risk of being flipped over the handlebars, but worry so much more about falling while climbing, even though the rope means that’s much safer. Think I need to get some more practice in before next year (although despite being a rubbish climber, I still think the photos look quite impressive)

Me. Half-way up a cliff.

Me. Half-way up a cliff.

Top 10 Favourite Countries

I have no plans to make lists a regular feature here (even if people do love them apparently), but I thought it’d be worthwhile to list my favourite places over the next few days, so that I can revisit them when I get back in 18 months’ time, to see how these have changed. So welcome to ‘top tens week’. And if you find lists boring, normal service will resume next week.

1. Mexico

San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas

My trip to Mexico in 2007 first got me thinking seriously about taking a year off to see more of the world. I only saw a small portion of the country (the Yucatan Pensinsular, Chiapas, and Mexico City) but it was more than enough to make me fall in love with the place. Aside from the obvious bits – beautiful scenery, stunning beaches, Mayan temples – two things in particular help seal Mexico’s spot at the top of this list: the friendliest locals of anywhere I’ve ever visited, and best of all, the food. I don’t think I had a bad meal the whole time I was there. The only downside being that Mexican food in the UK now tastes like a very, very poor imitation (other than the terrific Mestizo). As I wrote in one of my earliest postshere, it’ll be the first stop on my trip, and I can’t wait.

2. Laos

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Luang Prabang

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Luang Prabang

Only narrowly beaten by Mexico, it was in Laos at Christmas that I decided for certain that I was going to head round the world in 2009. Everyone I met whilst there agreed it was the surprise highlight of South East Asia. Easily the most laidback country I’ve been to, it’s another place I’m heading back to, but this time for longer, so I can enjoy the relaxed pace of life for a while longer without having to rush.

3. Spain

I’ve had more holidays in Spain than any other country, and it hasn’t let me down once, and (along with the next country on the list) is one the only countries in Europe I can imagine living in. The Spanish lifestyle seems so much more civilised than ours back home.

4. Germany

I’m a little biased here – six years living there have left a special place in my heart for Germany (and the Germans). It’s pretty sad that a combination of history and stereotypes dominate the British perception of the country (although I suppose it could be a blessing in disguise…Germany is unlikely to ever end of overrun by the types of British tourists who have ruined large chunks of meditteranean Europe)

5. France

Beaches, mountains, great cities, fantastic food…France has just about everything you could want out of a holiday destination. What’s not to love? (Well, apart from the French themselves…)

6. Portugal

It’s remarkable how few tourists you come across when you get away from the obvious bits (Lisbon, the Algarve). They’re missing out.

7. Australia

The country is so vast, and I’ve only scratched the surface so far. If & when I get to explore the interior more, I can see Australia working it’s way further up my list. Although that won’t be next year – other than a brief stop in Melbourne, I’ve decided not to spend too much time there, as it costs a a fair bit more than everywhere else I’m going.

8. USA

Very similar to the above, there’s so much I still want to do in the US. But what I’ve seen so far, I love. The strangest thing about visiting is that it all seems so instantly familiar, thanks to a million Hollywood movies and TV shows.

9. Georgia

The highlight of my school trip to the then-USSR back when I was 13, which makes recent events all the sadder for me. It’s a truly beautiful little country, and I long to go back to see how much it’s changed in the last 20 years.

10. Azerbaijan

When I visited back in 1988, the combination of modern, brutalist Soviet & older Islamic architecture with deserts full of oil wells, made Azerbaijan feel a world apart from the other Soviet republics I visited, and far more exotic than anywhere else I’d been.

And the biggest disappointment? Well, mentioning this to most people in the UK appears to be tantamount to sacrilege, however my two trips to Italy have not overly impressed me so far. I think I’ve been unlucky, and missed the best bits to be honest, but on both visits I’ve found the locals to be less than friendly, and the cities lacking atmosphere.