#2022 | I’ll meet you at the (check in) aisle

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Around the world

Pleased to be reppin American Tourister this season, but more pleased to be ever embarking on new adventures with my partner in crime. Everyone is pleased, generally, except her husband, who complains that given Roz’s chronic inability to multitask, our multimedia affair (telegram, real life, whatsapp, instagram, onscreen) has led to her walking into walls and totally not hearing his questions to her, posed over dinner, where the chances of me sitting right at the same table is uncommonly high.

x
Jem

#2021 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Lisbon, Portugal

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Hey guys,

I was in Portugal for the first time in May for Gosia and Miguel’s wedding, friends from our Stuttgart days. Happy for them, but secretly, also, happy for me – for Portugal has long been on my bucket list! And hopefully, on yours too. Without further ado:

Getting to Portugal

We flew in and out of Lisbon because that’s where our friends were getting married, but I do also find Lisbon to be a great hub for Portugal – the airport is near the city center, which makes travel quite stress free, and many airlines fly there. Tickets can drop to about 800+ from SG if you’re flexible with dates, but we weren’t because of the wedding, so we paid about a thousand dollars for ours on Air France.

What you can do is track flight prices for your dates on Google Flights – and keep an eye out for flight deals in the months leading up to your trip. I suggest looking for flight deals and fares about 5 months before the trip. From my research, British Air and Air France had the cheapest fares from Singapore – though I definitely recommend doing your own tracking as they’re bound to change depending on season.

One thing to note. For some reason, the airport goes by a few names: Lisbon Portela, Lisbon International Aeroporto, Lisbon Humbert Humbert.. I mean. Humberto Delgado Airport. They are all the same thing. Lisbon only has one airport, with two terminals, so if youre looking to route to/fro the airport, just plug in “Lisbon Airport” into google and one of them should pop up.

Data/SIM Card

There are three main providers – Meo, Vodaphone, and NOS. The main question you’ll need to ask is whether you need calling capabilities or not: I don’t, so I opted for Data only cards.

Vodaphone Go – 15Eur for 30GB (15days)
MEO Enjoy (Connected Holidays Card) – 15Eur for 30GB (15days)
NOS Kanguru card – 15Eur for “unlimited” data, but they dont specify what point they throttle data speeds at (15days)

You can check out the coverage for each provider here on the Open Signal app. I didn’t want to go with NOS because the unspecified unlimited data was dodgy to me, and between MEO and Vodaphone, locals seemed to find the former to have better coverage, so I went with that. There’s only a Vodaphone counter at the airport, if you want to get a MEO card you’ll have to get it from any phone shop in the city.

They also have options for Data + Calls, which they market as the tourist option, but you get way less data for that, so be sure to specify that you want a data only card.

Cash or Card?

Lisbon is a very card friendly city – more so than in Thailand, for example, or Japan. Most places will accept visa or mastercard, but there will be the odd snack stand or small eatery that wont, so bring some cash on hand and always ask before sitting down if they accept card. There are a ton of ATMs everywhere, with fees ranging from 1-7 euros per withdrawal, so if youre running out of cash i suppose you can always draw money, though I’d still avoid this if posisble.

I recommend bringing a no-fee currency exchange card (because you’re going to be carding a lot of small purchases, like coffee and egg tarts), and then about 100-150 euros in cash for a 2 week trip. The no-fee card I use is YouTrip, which is free to sign up for, and by Singapore’s Ezlink company. I have zero affiliation with YouTrip but have been pretty happy with it so far (barring a couple of technical errors I’ll talk about in a separate post) so if you want to sign up KINDLY USE MY REFERRAL LINK so I can fund more of my Broke Student Guides hahahahaha.

A note on safety

There are policemen everywhere in Lisbon, and as a local told us, they’re there for our sakes. The increase in police patrols in the city can be charted against the rise in tourist interest in Lisbon, and it’s no coincidence! I have to say, I think it works – at no point did I feel unsafe in Lisbon, even though some smaller streets could be quiet and secluded at night. I met quite a few solo female travellers across Portugal, and we also attended a church in Lisbon, which specialized in helping migrants (it’s called Project Lisbon if you’re interested, and the church is Riverlife Independent). The internationals from Riverlife Independent also mentioned really liking Portugal because of how safe it was, which felt like a major vote of confidence. I think common sense rules still prevail – dont behave ostentatiously, dont leave your wallet and cameras on tables, etcetera – but overall, it felt like quite a safe place, and I think it’d be quite ideal for a girlfriends or solo trip.

Getting around Lisbon

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Traipsing around – the best way to see Lisbon

If you’re there when the weather is good, Lisbon is a supremely walkable city. Otherwise, they have their own version of the ez-link card, which to all my non-singaporean readers is a reloadable contactless transport card that you load with cash and use to travel around the city. Like the Oyster in London or Octopus in Hong Kong, etcetera etcetera.

In Lisbon, this is called the Viva Viagem card, and it’s a paper card that goes for 50c. You can get it at train /ferry stations and some pay point convenience stores, and use it on the metro, bus, tram, funicular, ferry and suburban train. I really recommend getting one because it makes each ride significantly cheaper than paying with cash on board (an option on the bus, trams, and funiculars).

You can pay per ride, per day, or per “zap”. Per ride it’s about 1.50Eur for a specific train journey, and per “zap” it’s approx 1.35Eur deducted from a bulk sum topped up into your card. There are several options for the day passes depending on whether you need to take the ferry or not.

Carris/Metro: €6.40
Unlimited travel on metro and Carris, including bus, tram, funicular and lift.
Carris/Metro/CP: €10.55
Unlimited travel on metro, Carris and suburban train (Sintra, Cascais, Azambuja and Sado lines).
Carris/Metro/Transtejo: €9.50
Unlimited travel on metro, Carris and ferry to Cacilhas (River Tejo connection).

The 6.40Eur pass is amazing value and I would really recommend getting it for at least one of the days in Lisbon because you can hit all the main attractions on that day, and then just walk around the city center for your other days. I wrote a separate post on what you can/should do on your 24 hour pass because this post was getting too long – please see the post here 🙂

There is also Uber – which is pretty affordable in Portugal. We took two ubers over our 14 days in Portugal, both in Lisbon. Once from the train station to our accomodation and once from our accommodation to the airport on the last day. Both rides were about 30 mins, and cost us approx 10Euros. You will want to consider this if you have a ton of baggage and your accommodation is far from the nearest train station because Lisbon is very cobbly and hilly. Actually, that makes the perfect segue to my next point:

Being kind to your feet

Part of Lisbon’s charm is that it’s built on a hill, which makes for the gorgeous winding views down to the water bank that its so famous for. But as with much of Europe, it’s also a cobblestone haven. Beautiful for the soul, tragedy on the soles. I thought that wearing sneakers would be good enough, but the constant uneven landings on the cobblestones kind of messed my feet up, and I somehow got injured in the last leg of my trip. Not by falling or tripping or anything, but I think my feet had just gotten fed up with all the bumping and the long and short of it was, I was limping the last 4 days of the trip. Turns out it was shin splints – which cost me $150 to diagnose at a 24hour clinic near my place, so get travel insurance. Seriously!! I cannot stress this enough.

If I were to return I’d definitely wear actual sport shoes – the kind with a very cushioned sole, to absorb maximum impact for the hours of walking. For reference, we walked about 20,000 steps a day according to my smart watch (htashtag samsung hashtag brand awareness hahaha), so believe me when I say the walking in Portugal was NO JOKE.

Because of the streets, I’d ideally also suggest that you pack light because its a real pain to drag/push your luggages on cobblestone.. but I dont see how that’s really possible if youre coming from Asia because chances are if youre travelling halfway across the world it’ll be a longer trip, and you’ll have all your clothes/ skincare/ etcetera. So in lieu of actually packing light, be mentally and emotionally prepared for the uphill luggage push I suppose.

Structuring your Lisbon trip

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Included in your 24 hour transport pass! The tram, not the boy.

As mentioned earlier, Lisbon is very, very walkable. If you’re there in the spring, when the weather is actually heaven on earth, flowers blooming, constant breeze, dry air, etcetera etcetera, you’re definitely going to want to walk the entire town because that way you can see as much as possible. Lisbon is divided into 3 main areas of touristic interest – Barrio Alto, the cool area, Alfama, the quaint (and often cheaper) area, and Belem, a little further out, where you can see the lighthouse and tower and all of that. The city wraps the sea so at some points you can walk down to the water to watch the sunset, which is super nice.

Because Belem is a bit further away – and of course you’re going to want to ride the very touristy trams and funiculars – you’ll get on their public transport system at some point during your trip, and that’s where their day transport pass comes in. I strongly recommend allocating one day as your Greatest Touristy Hits day and purchasing the pass for that day, and then covering the city on foot for your remaining days.

Again, this is the pass you want to be looking at:

Carris/Metro: €6.40
Unlimited travel on metro and Carris, including bus, tram, funicular and lift.

It can only be purchased at the metro stations, and once activated, lasts for 24 hours. So if you use it at 11am for the first time, you can still take a bus/train to a further out spot for breakfast the next morning for free (which is what we did). This pass is really good value because it includes the tram and funiciular, but especially because it covers the funicular. There are three of them around Lisbon, and a single ride will set you back almost four euros per person. This alone makes the pass worth it in my opinion.

See my other blogpost: The Broke Student’s Guide: 24 hours in Lisbon for a breakdown of my suggested itinerary for your Greatest Touristy Hits day.

Onto general cost saving in Lisbon

Firstly, and most importantly, water in Lisbon is potable. You can drink from the tap, and there are also free water stations around the city (though they’re not signposted so if you’re not looking out for them you may miss them), this is what they look like:

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This one has a face, haha.

Because of this, water is chargeable at eateries or when you sit down at restaurants. I find this to be quite typical of countries where tap water is drinkable, and I do think it’s fair, because you can get water free if you need it, so its not like the eateries are denying a thirsty traveller their only right to water or something like that. It also discourages the purchase of bottled water, which I think is great!

You do a lot of walking in Lisbon, so you will get thirsty – bring a water bottle and refill it as you go to avoid racking up water-related costs.

Secondly, whenever you sit down at an eatery, the waiters will either serve you olives, bread, butter, cheese, or they’ll already be on the table. It’s easy to assume these are free because in Asia you’re always getting free table peanuts or whatever, but all these things are chargeable. Don’t eat them if you don’t want to pay for them. They’re not unreasonably priced, and several times I have opted to just pay for the bread and cheese (yum!), but you just have to know that they’re not complimentary.

Thirdly! Portion sizes in Portugal are huge. Seriously! Plus they eat five meals a day – breakfast at home, pastries outside, lunch, dinner, and supper with drinks. Food is a huge part of their culture, and for good reason – their food is delicious. The point is, order to share. Over-ordering is the easiest way to unconsciously rack up your costs, especially in a place where everything sounds good and smells better.

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EACH of these dishes were supposed to be for 1 pax. For the record, the rice alone felled both Shane and I. And for the olives/cheese/bread basket you see on the table – see point one

Fourthly! Okay, there’s no such word as fourthly. But the fourth point is – anywhere with a view will immediately hike up (ha ha) the prices of that establishment, and more often than not, offer food that is still good but not mindblowing. In fact, the least impressive meals we had were all by the river/ overlooking a beautiful terrain. Instead of heading to a rooftop bar or the like, I suggest heading to a miraduoro for sunset, then elsewhere for dinner. I elaborate on this more in my 24 hour guide to Lisbon, here.

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Five – do a free walking tour if you can. We didn’t get to do one in Lisbon because of time constraints, but we did in Porto, and really, really enjoyed ourselves. Also, at some point in Lisbon we were eavesdropping on one that was happening near us and it sounded super interesting!

Here are some free walking tour companies you can look at:

Sandeman Free Walking Tours
Chill-Out Tours

Please note – although it’s called a free walking tour, in Europe this really means a tips based tour. The tour guides normally only earn what they make in tips – they are not paid by the company, or government, or anything like that. I elaborated a bit more on this in my previous post: A Tale of Two Portos, but long story short, you must tip your guide. Normally you’re looking at 10 euros per person, or 15/20 if it’s excellent. This number fluctuates based on a variety of factors, like how long your tour is, how good your guide is, that kind of thing, but under no circumstances should you leave the tour without tipping, especially given that you’re benefiting from someone else’s time and work!

Wrapping up with some of my personal favorites

So I covered most of my favorite things in the other Lisbon blogpost already, but here are a couple of eateries that I loved, and that I couldn’t fit into that other post:

O Cantinho do Bem Estar
R. do Norte 46, 1200-283 Lisboa, Portugal
Octopus rice, Grilled fish, good wine. CASH ONLY.

ZAPATA
R. do Poço dos Negros 47, 1200-348 Lisboa, Portugal
Octopus stew. Various seafood items. CASH ONLY

100 Montaditos
Praça Dom Luís i 10, 1200-161 Lisboa, Portugal
A wide variety of 1-2 Eur sandwiches, extremely yummy, and a great way to have a budget snack!

I have also created a shared google map with pins of places I’d bookmarked in Lisbon and Porto, here:

I didnt go to all the places in that map, but they were all recommended or researched. I like to create a map with pins before / on my trip, so that whenever I’m free or at a loss for what to do, I can just look at the map to see if any pins near me, then wander in that general direction. But do bear in mind that these are all just suggestions. The best part about Portugal is wandering around and discovering cool stuff, so don’t rush to finish an itinerary!

And one tip, if you must

Burger King is good in Portugal but Macs is kinda bleh.

Till next time!

x
Jem

#2020 | a tale of two portos

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Porto, Portugal

Because we had taken a walking tour in Porto the city split in two. There was the Porto we had learnt about, culturally, historically, through the eyes of an enthusiastic and underpaid woman in a red polo shirt, shackled to the city by familial connections despite her advanced degree which could be traded for a better life just a little down the railway line. Then there was the Porto which was a series of beautiful encounters, enchanting meetcutes, the Porto that caught us off guard at each sharp turn with bent sunbeams and street music. Perhaps being with someone you love adds a sort of hazy filter to the world, a filter that wraps your surroundings around you, bestows upon you a half-belief that the circumstance you find yourself in was made specifically for you.

We were hand in hand in the Museu Romantico, within the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a place seeded and tended to with the sole purpose of embodying romance, each birdsong and wildflower echoing in the faces of the bodies strewn haphazardly across the grass, in some peaceful measure of sleep or dreaming. We were wondering about the woman we had spoken to the day before, the enthusiastic and underpaid one who’d made an appearance in sentence two of this post, and how she dropped her old salary as a teacher in a conversation as if it were nothing. How as she explained the cost of living in Porto it slowly took on the shape of nothing. How in the cracks of her voice we heard a bittersweet love for the tourism that had elevated Porto, decrepit city of her childhood, to a point of interest, attraction, to the outside world, and the accompanying way it revised her critical self analysis of her home. The tourism that created a revitalisation of the city center, a city center the locals refused to set foot in because it was too run down and too seedy, that now had restaurants playing jazz and fado by the waters at one point five times the regular prices. The tourism that lifted their property prices, up up up, so that once upon a time, when her mother had told her: don’t buy that building, eighty thousand euros worth of trash, she had listened, and it created not only the most haunting missed investment opportunity of her life. It had created also the story compressed into anecdote for the same tourists who now moan slightly as she tells them the story of how she chose to rent, not buy, and that building she once passed over for eighty thousand euros which is now worth what, two million euros. Stories, anecdotes, that her tourists lap up, which on some level, she also laps up, as a tour guide.

At the start of every tour gathered under the statue of Pedro the fourth (or Pedro the first, if you’re Brazilian) she does that little speech where she reminds them that this is a free walking tour and they get paid by no-one, not the city not the company not the government, but they subsist off the tips of the tourists who decide how much their work is worth. So the stories she tells are not just stories of her life, they are also the stories that get reinvested in her tour track, that contribute directly to the enjoyability of her tour, of her repertoire, and ultimately of her take-home. There is no villain here, only the cyclical movement of life and economics. There is no villain, only players – the people who come, the people who go, the people who cannot. The tourists, of course, another key figure in the game, the ones that we are not unaware we are part of. Hand in hand in the Museu Romantico this is what we are talking about, for a while.

While we converse other things roll in my mind. I cannot stop thinking about the girl who had the piercing on the left upper corner of her lip. Who told someone else in the group that she had come to Portugal spontaneously because the city she had been travelling to was too expensive so she had to find somewhere cheap. Who said this kind of loudly, within earshot of the guide, who’s smile never slipped, within earshot of the Brazillions in the group, whose economy is also in a pickle, within earshot of an Irish man, who later shook the guide’s hand very passionately, saying he understood exactly what she meant, being priced out of a market you grew up in. The girl who for two hours and fifteen minutes was really super loud, but whose voice evaporated in the last twenty minutes. Did you see where she went I asked the boyfriend, did she stay till the end. But he doesn’t remember and honestly, I cannot say for certain either.

I cannot stop thinking about one more thing. The bright and hard way the guide’s eyes doesnt leave ours as she takes our tip in her palm, never looking down at it, slipping it immediately into her jean pocket. I watch her later as she greets everyone else who gathers around her to thank her for the tour, pressing crinkly notes of various colours and denominations into her hand. Her eyes never dip past a person’s nose.

Porto for us was split in two. New sense of life past the visitor-friendly veneer will do that to a city, close two or three fingers around a tourist’s heart. Still, as we think about this, we cannot help but marvel at the view. How beautiful the city is. How mesmerising. How very, very charming.

x
Jem

#2019 | The Broke Student’s Guide: 24 hours in Lisbon

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Lisbon, Portugal – a blur

Realistically, you’re not going to spend only 24 hours in Lisbon. But say you were just passing through?

First things first – whether you’re arriving in Lisbon by plane or train, chances are you’ll be close to a metro station. Get yourself the most basic 24 hour transport pass from the metro station machines, which give you amazing value for what they cover.

This is the pass you want to be looking at:

Carris/Metro: €6.40
Unlimited travel on metro and Carris, including bus, tram, funicular and lift.

if you’re not staying the night, store your luggages away so you’re free to explore the city without baggage. Portugal is actually impressive with their luggage storage – where most places just have lockers, they have an airbnb sort of model for luggages. They’re living in year 3000! Here are some options:

1. Pre-booking luggage space

I LOVE this idea! Companies like BagBnB, Luggage Keeper, Luggage Hero, and Stasher allows you to connect with local shops, cafes, and other businesses that allow for luggage storage. If you book it online, you can usually use credit card/paypal, which is useful if you’re saving your cash for other things.

Things to note if you’re keen on using these services:

– They have varying insurance coverage from firm to firm – how much is your bag insured for?
– What time do these shops open – in relation to what time you arrive and intend to depart?
– Do they offer refunds if you decide not to use these services upon arrival?
– Read the reviews of the cafes/shops that you want to store your luggage with – Luggage Keeper and BagBnb lets users leave reviews of the bag storage services, so you get a sense of what to expect.

2. Using a locker

City Locker is their local Portuguese luggage locker company, with lockers in strategic areas around town. Their rates range from 4.50 to 8.50 eur per day, depending on your luggage size. Click here for the full price list.

3. Luggage Storage in the airport

There are 24 hour luggage storage areas in the airport (near carpark P2) and you pay for your first day – and when you return, you pay for any additional days you may have used. Useful if you arent sure how long you want to stay in Lisbon!

4. Luggage storage in the train stations

There are storage lockers in the train stations – you can view them on the CP website here – but you can only store your luggage for a maximum of 24 hours.

And now that you have the 24 hour pass, you can get your luggages to most of these places easily! Happily, most train stations in Lisbon have elevators, although they’re sometimes strangely hidden behind pillars or things like that. This makes it quite easy to move via the metro system with your luggage.

Morning:


10am
– Head to the super cool Barrio Alto region, specifically Time Out Lisboa to have your mind blown. Time Out has specially curated food markets in some major cities, bringing the best vendors in that city under one roof via an independent judging panel. My first time encountering one of the famous markets was in Lisbon, and it was incredible! The only problem you’ll have is deciding where to eat, because they all look and smell so good. Here’s what I had:

Manteigaria Silva’s tábua mista for charcuterie

This was an explosion of heaven in my mouth – I have literally never had a better charcuterie experience in my life. We were super lucky to be there during their anniversary, so they had a one for one offer on their 17euro tábua mista option, making this very value for money indeed. Tábua mista basically means a mixed board – they present to you their own selection of the best picks for that day, a little like a European, one platter version of the omakase. The first day we were there, the board consisted a cheddar, a goat brie, and another hard cheese I couldn’t identify. The second time we went back, the board was made of hard and semihard cheeses. The third time we went back, we went straight for our favorite cheese because we already knew what we liked and it was more economical to pick individual cheeses than get a board. Yes, that’s right – it was so good, we visited thrice.


Sweet dreams are made of cheese

Going off tangent for a hot minute – this was the cheese I fell hard for this trip: the Caprino de Odemira, a goat cheese done in the style of brie. It’s wonderfully soft and has a sharp, tart flavour, perfect for dipping or spreading. I don’t believe they export out of Portugal (or Lisbon, for that matter, as I didn’t see this anywhere else on my trip), which makes this a cheese I will pine for and recall fondly for the rest of my days.

Manteigaria Pastel de Nata

How can you come to Portugal and not have one of their egg tarts? The Portuguese egg tart differs from the Chinese ones in that they’re more custardy and sweet (as compared to our decidedly more tofu-like variant), and they have a flaky, not biscuity crust. They’re best fresh out of the oven, which means you want to have your tart from a place that is constantly making them, not ordering it off the shelf where it might have been perched for a couple of hours. Manteigaria in Time Out Lisboa has perpetual queues and an open kitchen, so you can watch them being made, and at the rate they fly off the shelves, you know the one you’re biting into has been baked within the hour. You can also have them packed – dont keep them in the fridge, eat them within 3 days, and yes, they’re flight safe, we tested!

Have your tart (1eur) with an espresso (70c) – it’s quite the match made in heaven.

Time Out Market Lisboa
Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-479 Lisboa, Portugal


Afternoon:

A mere 4 minute walk from the market you have what’s arguably the most scenic funicular of the three – Ascenso da Gloria. There’s also Ascensor da Bica and Ascensor do Lavra, but those are a little further away. Here you can start to make your 24 hour transport pass really work for you – the funicular is covered under your pass, which immediately gives your pass excellent value because it costs 3.60eur for a single trip otherwise.


The tram immediately becomes a photo attraction for everyone around when it stops at the top – for about 15 mins

I suggest you take the funicular up and walk down, because there are lots of really scenic photo spots and side alleys on the way down. Plus you can actually walk on the tracks down. (You’ll quickly find that roads and traffic lights function more as guidelines than hard and fast rules in Portugal)

The funicular runs every fifteen minutes, with one going up and one going down, so they do pass each other on every run which makes for a cute photo.

Walk your breakfast off

Time to make your pass work for you again. Head back down to the busstop right outside Time Out Lisboa, and hop on the 15 (electric tram) or 728 (bus) to the Belem Tower. The Belem area is one straight coastline of beautiful sights, and you’ll want to take the bus to the furthest point (the tower) and walk back, ending up eventually at Pasteis de Belem. It’s a 1.4 km walk, which sounds very unreasonable for us tropical creatures, but once you realise how dry and windy the weather is there, it becomes totally manageable. As you walk, ponder how humidity truly has ruined us as Singaporeans…

The tower’s hours are 10:00 – 18.30 (Summer Months) and 10:00 – 17.30 (Winter Months). It costs 6Eur to go in, and 12Eur for a combined ticket with the Jerónimos Monastery. And on Sundays before 2pm – free! So you’ll want to be there during those times if you’re keen on going in. Otherwise, many people choose to just hang around the outside and sit by the coast to people watch.

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The Belem Tower and the Rose Compass mural

Along the coast, as you take your nice leisurely walk down the sea, you’ll also pass the Belem Lighthouse, the MAAT, the Rose Compass, and the very beautiful Jerónimos Monastery, which is actually breathtaking. The church is free to enter, though you’ll have to pay to go into the monastery itself. We were happy to just wander around the free grounds, so we didn’t go in, though if you want to, make sure to join the correct queue as there are a ton of queues with a conspicuous lack of signposting. Some are for ticket purchase, some are for entry after ticket purchase, some are people who are just confused.

You should end up at Pastéis de Belém, the most famous Portuguese egg tart shop in Lisbon, maybe all of Portugal. You’ll know it by the buzzy queues gathered outside. Don’t just blindly join the queue – the queue you see outside is for takeout only. Walk past it and go inside, where there’s another, much shorter queue for dining in. The takeout queue was monstrous, but I only had to wait 5-10 minutes to be seated.

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Best had when warm – so delicious!

Get the egg tarts (1,15eur) and espresso – then decide if this is better or the one at Mantegeria is.

The bus stop back to the city center is right outside Pastéis de Belém, so hop on the bus and head back to the Barrio Alto region. Take some time to wander the streets of Barrio Alto, stopping by the Pink Street (which used to be their red light district back in the day) and popping into Betrand, the oldest operating bookstore in the world. Don’t expect to purchase anything though – their selection is mainly Portuguese, and prices are understandably higher than usual. Still, it’s a really cool bookstore to see, if you’re a lit geek like me.


Mandatory shot with the Betrand exterior

Belem Tower
Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal

Pastéis de Belém
R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal

Bertrand
R. Garrett 73-75, 1200-203 Lisboa, Portugal


Evening:

Depending on what season it is, you’ll either have a good amount of time to wander around Barrio Alto before sunset, or have to head to a higher vantage point immediately. Skip the trendy rooftop bars, where prices are jacked and the food isn’t as good – look for signs pointing you to a Miraduoro instead. Lisbon is built on seven hills, and miradouro literally means viewpoint, which also means public access, which also means free!

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Sunset from the highest point in Lisbon

The Miraduoro da Nossa Senhora do Monte is where we found ourselves, the highest viewpoint in all of Lisbon, with a panoramic view of the city. It was super gorgeous, 10/10 would recommend.

Miraduoro da Nossa Senhora do Monte
Largo Monte, 1170-107 Lisboa, Portugal


Night:

After the sun dips below the horizon, head back down to Martim Moniz square in the city center, where you can now queue for the famous Ponto Inicial Trem 28, the star of all postcards postmarked Lisbon. I think dusk is the best time to take the tram because it is ridiculously crowded before that, with absurdly long queues. We’re talking 1-2 hours long! The Tram 28 queue + actual ride is also a hotspot for pickpockets, which is kind of a bummer. Much better to take the tram when it’s less crowded and you’ll actually get a seat – and it’s much more comfortable too when you can actually breathe, versus being pressed up against fifty other selfie stick wielding tourists. For some reason once it’s dusk, people stop queuing for the trams, which makes this a time efficient and very pleasant moment to hop on.

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It also gives you a different sort of photo from the usual daytime shot!

There are 2 trams you can take, the 28 and the E12. Take the 28. The 28 is an hour loop, and brings you through some very beautiful streets in Lisbon, whereas the E12 is much shorter. You can either take the tram for an entire loop, or choose to hop off at Miraduoro da Nossa Senhora do Monte Santa Luzia (right by Portas do Sol, another lookout point) in the Alfama region, to watch the night view of the city sparkle and melt into the sea.

Miraduoro da Nossa Senhora do Monte Santa Luzia
Largo Monte, 1170-107 Lisboa, Portugal

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Different types of view, hehe

Plus point – Alfama is an older, quainter, and altogether more affordable area for dinner. Our local friend told us that in Lisbon, food is good everywhere, but once the place gets popular it becomes more pricey. Dining in Alfama, all you have to do is follow your nose and duck into one of the homey establishments for dinner. Always, always ask for their wine menu – I didn’t have a single bad glass of wine in Portugal, and for that reason I slowly but surely graduated from a glass, to a decanter, to a bottle of wine with each dinner..

Dinner is a slow, languid affair, capped off with either a small glass of port (their region’s specialty, a deep, sweet dessert wine) or an espresso. At the end of it you can either head out for more drinks, or no, but from experience, over the course of dinner you feel a sense of great satisfaction and lazy happiness settle over you – and at that point, it’s not a bad idea at all to call it a night, and take a slow, relaxed amble back either to your accommodation, or to where your bags are stored, retrieve them, and leave the city, mildly regretful at not allocating more than a day there.

x
Jem

#2018 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Intercity Transport in Portugal

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Hey guys,

It’s me, back with yet another broke student’s guide inspired by my desire to move through Portugal on the cheap. I initially wanted to have this be part of an overall BSG for Lisbon, but the more I detailed the transport options the more I realised inter-city transport in Portugal really needed its own post. Yes, you can rent a car, but as with most of the world, manual cars are way cheaper to rent and us Singaporean noobs can only drive auto. Or is that just me? Anyway. Having to search for parking or ensure your hostel/airbnb/guesthouse offers free parking also seems like a bit of a pain, and although having the freedom to load up your bags and move in any direction is undeniably attractive, the car works out to be the more expensive option no matter how you look at it.

So we turned to looking at public transportation options, essentially: bus, train, and hitchhiking. I am a huge fan of organized hitchhiking as per my student days in Germany, but because people only list rides a couple of days before they want to go, it’s hard to do if you’ve got a fixed schedule. It was a lot easier when I was based in Germany and could just browse potential quick trips over the weekend, but coming long distance from Asia I wanted to have my accommodation all booked up beforehand so I ruled the option out this time. If you’re keen on exploring this option nonetheless, the website I use for hitchhiking / car sharing is blablacar.com.

IMPORTANT NOTICE BEFORE WE BEGIN

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For some reason in Portugal, most bus or train tickets come printed on what looks like receipt paper, which feels like a recipe for disaster. For this reason I prefer opting for e-tickets if possible (an option if you take the bus), but it’s not always possible. So be careful to store them carefully – don’t accidentally throw them away because a conductor will come and check your ticket on the journey!

Ok now that the PSA is out of the way:

Intercity Trains

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Taking the train is the most common tourist way to get around Portugal as it’s what we’re generally most familiar with/ believe to be the most reliable. There is a pretty extensive train network in Portugal, but if you’re planning Portugal as a stop in a multi-destination European expedition, please note that the Portuguese train system is almost completely isolated from the other European lines, with only one or two trains to Spain or something like that. So if you’re hoping to book a weeklong rail pass in europe and move around, it wont apply to the Portuguese leg of your trip.

So, Portuguese trains. Their intercity trains service the bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto, but to get to the smaller towns like Batalha, you’d need to take a bus. The trains are run by their state railway company CP – Comboios de Portugal – and you can check for tickets and schedules below.

Tickets and schedules: www.cp.pt

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Things to note: EN option on the top right
Select Train Times instead of Buy Tickets to see full train schedule

Not all the trains can be pre-booked. This is where it got a little confusing for me when I was researching/planning my trip, so I’m going to try my best to break it down. There are 4 different kinds of trains you can take:


R – Regional (stops at every stop)
IC – Intercidades (express)
U – Urbano (suburban trains for Porto and Lisbon’s networks)
AP – Alfa Pendular (express + expensive!)


Most Expensive
– Alfa Pendular (AP) and InterCity (IC) long distance trains. These are available to buy online, and require a seat reservation. You must print these tickets, or have them sent via SMS to your phone if you are able to register your phone with the website.

You should buy these in advance as they have major discounts up to 65% the earlier you get them, but do note the train schedules only come out 60 days before travel date so if you’re planning way in advance just keep that in mind. ALWAYS buy the tickets on the official CP.pt website as third-party agencies like EuRail or Rail Europe cannot issue seat reservations, and you’ll have to pay extra for them at the station anyway.

The AP/IC trains have a lot of different discounts that can be applied if the terms and conditions are right. For example: If you’re traveling between Tues to Thurs in a group of 3/4, the AP trains have bulk deals of 40/50% off your tickets. If you’re booking a long distance return trip of over 91km, you get 10% off. If you can prove that you are 25 or below, you get 25% off your train ticket prices. Etcetera. As there were only two of us and we are no longer young (FML), very few of these incentives applied to us.

But I personally find that because the above deals cannot be stacked (discounts dont apply in conjunction with other discounts, even if you qualify for more than one), the R/U trains are still cheaper most of the time.


Least Expensive
– Regional and Urbano trains. These have no option to pre-book, and they don’t require a seat reservation, so buy tickets at the station when you arrive. They are often significantly cheaper than the AP/IC trains, but because you cannot purchase them online, if you run a search using the Buy Tickets instead of Train Times option on the website, they wont show up, and you might end up accidentally buying the more expensive AP/IC ones instead.

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Sample schedule for trains between Coimbra and Aveiro

As you can see, only the AP/IC trains have the option to purchase on the far right. And even though there’s an early bird promo for one of the IC trains, it’s still 2 Eur more expensive than the cheapest R train. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up, especially if you’re going to hit a few Portuguese cities on your trip!

We didn’t take a single AP/IC train on the trip because 1. they were significantly more expensive and 2. the places we wanted to go to were all serviced by either buses or the R/U trains. I think the only reason why someone on a budget would pay for the AP/IC trains would be if they were super anxious about having everything booked beforehand – I’ll admit, I was a bit confuzzled by the fact that we couldnt get the R/U trains online (no forums or websites seem to mention why) and I was nervous about not being able to get tickets on the day itself. But we ended up winging it and it was fine.

Intercity Buses

Interestingly! Our Portuguese friends strongly recommended the buses, saying that they rarely took the trains unless absolutely necessary. There are a few bus companies, the most extensive (and therefore, tourist-friendly) one being Rede Expressos which has over 200 express buses zipping between cities multiple times a day. It also seems to have absorbed its main competitors, RENEX and Eva, so I suppose this would be the closest they have to a national bus service.

Website: www.rede-expressos.pt

It’s not a perfect booking experience – The website can be a bit finnicky, especially on desktop. Even though I used the English version of the website, I had some issues getting the locations to show up – Porto, for example, kept showing up as PORT, which was initially very confusing, and Lisbon’s Oriente station shows up as LISBON EAST. But I eventually circumvented this by downloading and using the myRNE mobile app, which I found much easier to navigate. It’s super convenient too, because then you can just present the mobile ticket on the app rather than looking for a printer to get the actual ticket printed.

If you have a Portuguese address and phone number (basically, if you have a Portuguese friend), you can sign up for the free Rflex membership which gives you discounts on your bus ride. I think we saved about 2 euros per ride, which adds up! Otherwise, if you’re 29 and under, you qualify for a youth ticket, which gives you a small discount as well, though not as good as with the Rflex card.

You can book tickets on the bus up to 30 days prior, and if you’ve accidentally booked the wrong time or have a change of plans, you can swap your tickets once for free at the station. They’re also very good with customer service – I had some questions about my ticket before getting to Portugal and didn’t want to place a long distance call, so I DM-ed them on Twitter and they replied within the hour.

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Twitter: @RedeExpressos

The buses were actually great. The seats were mega comfortable, and they were fitted with power sockets and wifi. We were super impressed by how comfy the buses were! You can also store your luggages in the bus, and although they technically have a 20kg limit, I didn’t see any bus drivers checking for weight.

The only things I would take note of during the booking process would be the station names and locations – they don’t always depart from central bus terminals, and in bigger cities they might have more than one departure point. In Batalha, for example, the Rede Expressos bus departed from this tiny bus stop in a small road, which had no signage for the bus company whatsoever, although the address matched what our tickets said. We basically sat there and hoped for the best. It all worked out in the end though!

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Basically

Which option you go with depends on what you prioritize. For me, it was cost – so I ran searches for both the buses and the trains between each city we wanted to visit, and went with whichever worked out cheaper for that leg. As a result, we did a mix of bus and trains on our trip – small villages like Batalha were only accessible by bus, and on occasion, the bus worked out significantly cheaper (14Eur for Porto to Lisbon, vs about 25-30Eur on the train). But because the buses have a minimum fare of 6 Eur, we swapped to taking the trains for some legs, like Coimbra to Aveiro (5,30Eur) and Aveiro to Porto (3,50Eur). It’s a little bit more troublesome, and requires a touch of faith that your trains will indeed have space for you even without an advance reservation, but this is the Broke Student’s Guide, not the Everything Is Easy guide – and in that spirit, I say to you: yolo.

x
Jem