Agness & Cez are two adventurous tramps and best friends from Poland. They call themselves tramps, because they live without permanent home and for under 25 bucks a day. While travelling the world, they find the time to write about it, share the tricks to do it cheaply and even help other people do the same.
Even the most prolific travellers will say that as much as they love to globetrot all over the planet, it’s always really nice to go home. As T.S Eliot said; “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Well said indeed, sir!
The Polish countryside – home, sweet home!
And so, following our physically exhilarating and exhausting excursion in the Costa Brava, we once again decided to return home to Poland to catch our breath and take stock of the travelling year so far. However, we weren’t alone, and our friend and fellow travel writer Lydia (who many of you may know by now) accompanied us back to the motherland, there to explore some of the sites and attractions of where we grew up. And in seeing something so familiar with someone else – you can view it through a different pair of eyes!
A Busy Year Thus Far
We’ve not been resting on our laurels this year, so here’s a quick summary of where we’ve been so far. With Lydia joining us for each trip, first up was a southeast Asian adventure in Thailand and Myanmar (Laos for Agness). The two highlights there were undoubtedly bathing with elephants in Chiang Mai, and finding a way to climb the temples in beautiful Bagan. Most recently, we all met up again in Catalonia, Spain, to enjoy a week’s adventure tourism – which included ticking skydiving off the bucket list – something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
Feeding the elephants in Thailand – an amazing experience.
Upon our return home, we’ve hopped all over the country, introducing Lydia to Warsaw, Krakow, Zagan, and the Tricity region of Poland.
The Salt Mines of Krakow
We paid a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which lies just outside of Krakow. Dating back to the 13th century, today it’s become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. It produced table salt until as late as 2007 and consists of about 300 km of tunnels, the deepest of which descends to 327 metres underground.
In the chapel of the salt mine – almost entirely carved out of salt.
Everything you see is hand carved – including some amazing sculptures from local artists. It’s a fascinating day out if you get the chance to visit.
There must be a sombre note when exploring Krakow and its surroundings, however, as everyone should pay a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau at least once in their lives.
“Work will set you free,” the most notorious gates in history.
The former concentration camp turned into a memorial and museum needs little introduction, at once a recognizable black mark on human history and the location of civilization’s darkest hour. It is a sobering experiencing when venturing beyond the barbed wire.
Lydia reflects outside block 16.
You’re likely to shed a few tears when paying your respects to the 1.1 million people who lost their lives here at the hands of the fascist Nazi war machine. You won’t believe some of the things you’ll see, and while it’s a hard place to visit – it’s an important visit too. It’s a reminder that we must never allow something like that to happen again.
This is my old stomping ground, where I grew up and spent most of my life. It consists of three main cities in the Pomerania region; Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia, all on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast.
Food, glorious food – Lydia tucks in.
And since I’m currently renovating my own home base, Lydia and I stayed at my grandma’s house, while Agness stayed at her mom’s house in Zagan (another city). Nothing beats a bit of home cooking!
Treats in the Mail!
Now, it might be a bit nerdy of me to say this, but there was another reason why I was happy to be home. I was geeking out at the prospect of something that had arrived in our mail. I made a beeline for the collection box to discover that GoCustomized had indeed sent what we were expecting; custom phone case for eTramping! I’d even ordered a design for Lydia’s blog too, and we were getting far too excited about them after tearing open the small package in the mail! It’s always nice to get a package, isn’t it? Just another reminder that you’re alive!
New phone covers!
We wasted no time in putting the covers on our phones before scooting around the region taking dozens of pictures. The phone cases are sturdy and really well made – mine had a photograph of the eTramping team high-fiving on a beach in the Maldives, and Lydia’s was a cool wooden case incorporating her logo.
If only I was better at taking photos!
The only downside was they’re quite hard to take off, but since we don’t change phone overs that often it shouldn’t really be a problem. We’re now the envy of travel bloggers everywhere!
Exploring the Baltic Sea Coast
So, with our trendy new phone covers firmly in place, I showed Lydia the delights of my home region over the course of a week. It’s a shame she can’t stay longer, but she’s a busy bee too and has to explore the world (Slovakia and Turkey now) while I’m continuing my relentless efforts at making my home a livable place.
If there’s one thing we’ve seen a lot of on the Epic Road Trip – it’s castles! As we mentioned in another episode, you might have thought we would get tired of them, especially after seeing Carcassonne in France and Cardona in Spain. But it would be a shame if we left Portugal out!
Not to be outdone, the Sintra region of southern Portugal is a municipality just outside of Lisbon, with castles and palaces galore situated in fairytale surroundings. Hans Christian Andersson lived in this region and was obviously heavily influenced by the beautiful, colourful architecture and landscape you’ll discover here.
It is well worth a visit, and with Epic Road Trip companion Lydia keen for more castle-bagging, we set about finding the best way to visit Sintra’s historical wonderland!
Where Were We?
Located just over half an hour’s drive from Lisbon you’ll find Sintra, a picture-postcard town set into the hills outside the Portuguese capital. Being so close to the city, Sintra exquisitely lends itself to day tripping, and many visitors do just that to explore its fairy-tale architecture and landscape.
With a cooler climate here than down at the water’s edge, wealthy types decided to spend a few pennies creating some exorbitant summer retreats here, which gives Sintra a unique and decadent architectural flavour. It’s colourfully diverse sights are masterpieces of inventive imagination, set into a hillside forest setting, which can keep tourists occupied for days.
Unfortunately, we were on limited time, but that didn’t stop us enjoying a wonderful day tour organised by Tinggly experience gift box. With so much to see in the region – you’re going to need to cram a lot in, so it’s nice that someone was on hand to plan an itinerary for us for once!
What to Expect
On the tour, you’ll be guided through the beautiful town of Sintra to locations of note, with plenty of opportunities to stop and take photographs while exploring this one-of-a-kind destination. The highlight, of course, is a visit to the magnificent Pena Palace (of which more anon) – with a delicious Portuguese lunch (not included in the tour) coming a close second. Seriously – the finest octopus I’ve ever tasted – despite the fact that typically I don’t like the octopus (thanks Lydia for forcing me to try)!
You’ll also be treated to a visit to the Cabo da Roca, which is the most westerly point in Europe, see some inviting sandy beaches, and have the opportunity to explore the charming harbour in the seaside town of Cascais. An added bonus is a visit to the “Devil’s Mouth” rock formation – to round out the trip with some impressive natural architecture too. Then you’re conveniently whisked right back to the front door of your hotel. The whole day lasts about eight hours – so wear some comfy shoes!
What Is There to See?
You’re going to get more 19th-century romantic architecture than you can shake a stick at for one thing!
Sintra was the first centre in Europe to showcase such artistic dwellings, with the bright buildings of Sintra town centre giving the impression of a box of candies, ultimately rewarding the area with UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995. There’s an abundance of green space and gardens – which are well taken care of and blend effortlessly with the architecture.
Interestingly, it was Sintra that blazed a trail when creating the marriage of home and garden, with the popularity of landscaping originating from the region. There are several palaces and castles to explore, all with their own individual style, but perhaps the finest of these though is the stunning Pena Palace.
The Pena National Palace
The jewel in Sintra’s crown is the beautiful, hotch-potch designed Pena Palace, which, along with the Castle of the Moors, is the number one reason you should pay a visit here.
A former seat of the Spanish monarchy, its random, multi-coloured mix of architecture make it a favourite for all the family, and it has become affectionately known as “the queen’s fart.” After visiting you can understand why!
It was originally a holy shrine and monastery before King Ferdinand II acquired the site and began the palace’s construction in 1842. A champion of the arts, Ferdinand set about turning his vision into the brilliantly creative, visual delight you see today. Imagine a large wedding cake decorated with random food colouring – that’s the Pena Palace!
It really is a spectacular attraction – but be warned that it can get extremely busy in the summer months. We were lucky to be viewing it in winter – with Lydia and I being the first visitors through the doors on the day!
Cabo da Roca and Cascais Harbour
After plenty of time to explore the palace, our next destination was the Cabo da Roca – which is famous for being the most westerly point in continental Europe. Here you’ll have a stunning, panoramic vista of the sea and Portuguese coastline, around 150 metres up on the top of windswept cliffs. The cape has a stone monument and plaque declaring its geographical position.
Our final port of call was a visit to Cascais harbour, located in the coastal resort town. Its 15th-century fort has been converted into a hotel, and the town has a reputation for being a playground of the rich and famous. Still, it was a very picturesque stroll and a nice, relaxing way to end the day. Again, we enjoyed being here in the winter – in warmer months the beaches would be overrun.
It’s All Over!
Our day tour exploring Sintra and its surroundings was a wonderful way to finish off the Epic Road Trip – but it’s strange to think of it as finally being over! Lydia and I have managed to cover some amount of ground over the past 19 days, a trip that has taken us from the south of France, into the Pyrenees mountain heights of Andorra, down through Catalonian Spain and finally to the coast of Portugal.
To celebrate, we enjoyed drinking Ginja from chocolate vodka shot glasses (a Portuguese lacquer), but our time on the road had come to an end – for now at least. Lydia was to return to Singapore while I drove my tenacious and heroic vehicle all the way back to Poland – there to plot our next epic adventure.
The Epic Road Trip is complete – so where should we go to next? Let us know your thoughts!
About the author: Julie Cao lives in Toronto, Canada and she has travelled extensively throughout Canada, the USA, and Latin America. Her travel blog Always On The Way focuses on destination features, travel stories, trip guides and tips, and road trips to lesser-known places. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you asked me which South American country is my favourite, it would definitely be Chile. The historical past, diverse landscapes, world-class attractions, welcoming locals, and the European flair has made me return there again and again. I originally planned to travel to Chile for one month, and then I found myself staying there for three months. As I have travelled extensively in Chile, I have learned a whole lot about the country. If Chile is on your list, here are 11 things you should know before your visit.
Santiago is Safe to Visit
Before my visit to Santiago, almost everyone I met told me Santiago is dangerous. Two British travellers even said that they did not feel safe on the subway and left the country shortly.
I visited Santiago three times, stayed in three different neighborhoods, and took the subway during the rush hour and nothing bad happened. All I experienced was people who genuinely wanted to help me and their passion to share the culture and information about their country with me.
In fact, Santiago is one of the safest cities in Latin America and you can walk around in some neighbourhoods at night. Just keep your wits about you and do not show off your wealth and you will surely have a memorable visit.
Chile’s Spanish is Not as Hard to Understand as it is Made Out to be
Many travelers to Chile tend to get frustrated, as it is a different Spanish from the ones learned in school and other Spanish-speaking countries. Chileans have their own slang (for example, cachai?) and speak fast and with an accent. Their Spanish takes some time to get used to but it is not difficult to communicate with them as everybody says it is. Once you get used to their Spanish, you will find them cracking jokes and making you laugh all the time.
Chile Has So Much to Offer
Chile is the longest country in the world; it stretches 2,653 miles from the north to the south and only 110 miles from the east to the west, with the arid Atacama Desert and the Pacific Coast in the north, and mountains and valleys in the central, diverse landscapes in Patagonia, and ends its territory north of the Antarctic Circle.
For this reason, Chile has different climates, landscapes, culture, food, and topography in different regions. Each region comes with different cities and neighborhoods that allow you to learn different things about the country and find stunning places to explore. Chile is not a country where you can stay for a week and be done with it. It is a huge place where you travel for several months and still find yourself scratching the surface of it.
Be Prepared to Drink Lots of Wine
If you are a wine enthusiast, Chile is your paradise. With 2,700 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean, a central valley, and year-round sunshine, Chile has the resources and rich soil to produce wine with exceptional quality.
Some wines are fruity, others dry and herbaceous, and linger in your tongue for long. Concha y Toro, San Pedro, Lapostolle, and Santa Rita are some top Chilean wine brands. The best of all, wine in Chile is reasonably priced and a bottle can cost as low as $4.
Out of the Major Tourist Spots, Most Parts are Untouched
Once you get out of San Pedro de Atacama, Santiago, Valparaiso, Pucon, and Torres Del Paine, almost everywhere you go, you will see only nature and a few tourists and locals.
In Patagonia, you will be surrounded by mountains, glaciers, aquamarine waters, forests, and colorful houses without expensive tours and hordes of people. In Places like parts of Carretera Austral and Puerto Williams, you can enjoy incredible views with nobody around.
Chile is an Expensive Country to Visit
The common conception that South America is cheap to travel does not apply to Chile. In my experience, the food and transport tend to be expensive when compared to Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It usually costs $10 and more for a meal, and the fare for taking a long-distance bus is higher than its neighbor countries as well.
The expensive cost to travel in Chile is especially true in Patagonia where the population, food, and transport are scarce, so be prepared to pay a higher rate to eat, take the bus and the boat, and visit the national park.
Be Ready for the Different Climatic Zones Throughout the Country
Chile has several climatic zones. If you visit Santiago and Valparaiso, a shirt, shorts, and a jacket are enough to get around. When traveling through Patagonia, it can be sunny in one hour, raining in another hour, and the temperature is usually between 5-15 Celsius during the day and colder at night.
If you visit Torres De Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, or Puerto Williams, be prepared for wind gusts of up to 180 kilometers per hour – strong enough to blow a hiker away.
In Some Areas, Border Crossing to Argentina is Extremely Difficult
Chile and Argentina have had territorial disputes in the past. Although the situation has eased over the years, some borders between Chile and Argentina have imposed lots of difficulties for travelers who try to cross through.
The immigration offices between the two countries are miles apart, and the border in parts of Patagonia does not have public transport to go through so you need to walk or hitchhike. At the border between Villa O’Higgins and Argentina, vehicles are inaccessible and you need a combination of taking the boat, getting a horse, and walking 22-miles in the forest to get to the Argentinian side.
Chileans Usually Have Tea instead of Dinner
If you are invited to a local’s house after work time, do not expect to have a big dinner. Instead, you will find yourself having tea time with bread, coffee, and light refreshments. The portion of the food is light. If you are used to having a big dinner at night, be sure to eat something before or after tea time.
Pack your Own Food When Taking the Long-distance Bus
In Colombia and Ecuador, I got so used to the long-distance bus stops at the roadside restaurants that give passengers quality time to eat.
All good things must come to an end, and end they do with the arrival at our final destination on the Epic Road Trip, the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
We were based here for a couple of days as we took in the sights and enjoyed a day excursion to Sintra and its castles, but before we bow out on this adventure, you must join us once more for an educational and informative walking tour. It was to be the last time (for now) that travel companion Lydia would accompany me to explore a city, but worry not – because plans are afoot to meet up soon, and do it all again somewhere on the other side of the world! So, keep watching this space travel fans, and in the meantime, as ever, feel free to use our guide for strolling around some of the best sights this amazing city offers – with a couple of top tips on where to eat thrown in for good measure. But let’s work up an appetite first!
The Start Line
As we were staying at the comfortable and centrally located Good Morning Hostel, it is only fair that we begin our wanderings here. Lisbon is an ancient and culturally significant location, with a population of around 3 million in the metropolitan area. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and certainly the oldest in western Europe, as well as the only capital to be on the Atlantic coast. It sits at the mouth of the river Tagus on a series of rolling hills, with a history entwined with the sea, voyage and discovery.
It also boasts an amazing climate, a laid-back vibe and astonishing culinary prowess. But we’ll get to all that when our tums are rumbling!
The Monument to the Restorers
Right off the bat, as soon as you walk out of the hostel front door, you’ll see this impressive monument in an equally impressive square. It is a 30-metre-tall obelisk which commemorates the victory in the Portuguese Restoration War, and the square is dedicated to the independence of the country from the Spanish. Make sure you spend some time here enjoying the architecture around the square’s perimeter.
A short walk along Rua Romana and you’ll find yourself in another spectacular square. Get used to it – Lisbon has them by the boatload! This one is officially called Pedro IV Square and it’s one of the main public spaces in the city, where locals and tourists regularly converge.
It’s been a popular meeting point for centuries, and the café culture is strong here. You’ll find more stunning architecture and detailed, baroque fountains and monuments, set in an epically grandiose setting. It’s not to be missed on a visit to Lisbon – and it’s right on your doorstep!
San Justa Lift
Continue in the direction of travel and take Rua Aurea, and on your right-hand side, you’ll probably see a strange contraption poking out over the tops of the nearby buildings. With Lisbon being a city built on a series of hills, getting around has always proved something of a problem, particularly if you’re not up for climbing stairs. This 1902 iron elevator was an ingenious solution, and since then it has become a tourist attraction in its own right and icon of Lisbon. The San Justa lift offers some wonderful views of the city as well as a practical way of getting up and down between neighbourhoods. Be warned though – it can be very busy during peak times.
We couldn’t continue without a general word on the area you find yourself in. Baixa is a labyrinth of beautiful, marble mosaic, pedestrianised streets, with decadent, architectural facades on all sides and as far as the eye can see.
Many buildings in Lisbon were destroyed in the infamous 1755 earthquake here, but in this district, there are plenty original structures that remain. Rua Augusta is a particularly enjoyable street to wander down in the direction of the sea and one of the most popular avenues in the city – not least for its world-class shopping. Take in the buzzing street life with flower sellers, performance artists, buskers and more. For the daytime at least – this is where Lisbon comes to life.
Arco da Rua Augusta
At the end of the street, you can’t miss the ornate archway which will lead you closer to the water. It was built to celebrate the cities reconstruction after the earthquake, and visitors can climb the structure for a wonderful view of the surrounding neighbourhood and Commerce Square from the top. The enormous sculpture depicts Glory crowing Genius and Valour, and there’s an exhibition for those who want to learn more about the significance of this breath-taking arch.
Walking underneath the arch and finishing the Rua Augusta sandwich is the magnificent Praça do Comércio or Commerce Square. It’s an enormous river-front square that opens onto the mouth of the Tagus, and a place you could quite happily spend hours – especially if you’re blessed with the kind of weather Lisbon is famous for most of the time! There’s a seemingly endless selection of restaurants and café bars on the perimeter – but we’d recommend holding off until later as they can typically be quite pricey.
Don’t rush through here though – it’s a stunning place to walk around. One more great tip – even if the suns out, this place is open to the elements and the wind can be quite chilly, so make sure you pack a warm sweater just in case.
With the Tagus river in front of you, swing to your left and make your way to the Lisbon Cathedral. Known locally as “the Sé,” this is the oldest church in the city close to the historic Alfama neighbourhood. It was consecrated in 1150 but almost completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and rebuilt several times down the centuries. The iconic, twin bell towers and beautiful rose window are unforgettable Lisbon institutions and are best viewed when the sun is just dipping its head in the late afternoon.
Arco do Castelo
Continuing in your wander through the Alfama district and with a bit of luck you’ll stumble upon the Arch of Castelo. Not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name in the area – which is apparently very good – this delightful stone arch is your way-marker for knowing you’re heading in the right direction for Lisbon’s number one attraction.
Before you make the climb however and if you’re feeling peckish, Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest quarter and you can find some fantastic restaurants here. Try A Baiuca – Fado Vadio for traditional Portuguese cuisine while listening to Fado – the country’s unique musical genre.
São Jorge Castle
Nestled high on a hill overlooking the entire city and dominating the skyline from almost everywhere you look in Lisbon, is the São Jorge Castle, a Moorish fortress with links back to 48 BC. It’s a towering citadel with immensely fortified walls and it’s a lot of fun to explore!
As most people will tell you, it is particularly beautiful if you time it for when the sun is going down, and you’ll find it’s a popular spot for lovers of all ages to find their own secluded corner of the ramparts and watch the light change across the city. With plenty of open spaces and hidden nooks and crannies, this place has the potential to keep you occupied for hours – and kids especially will have a wonderful time scrambling over its old stones. Adults will pay 8.50 Euro per ticket while children under 10 get in for free.
In a perfect position in the shadow of the castle, you’ll find tram 28’s main stop. You might have to walk a little further, but trust us – it’s there. Tram 28 is a famous route that takes you round all the major sights in the city for a fraction of the cost of those big, red tourist traps on four wheels. It’s also particularly handy, as you’ll no doubt be feeling the ache in your poor little tootsies, and you’ll want someone to carry you home. Jump on this, and it’ll whisk you right to your next destination because as sure as you are tired, you’re..
We have finally reached the Portuguese capital and base for our next few days of travel – but the Epic Road Trip was slowly coming to an end. However, before we regale you with the last tales in this adventure, we must first share a word about our accommodation in Lisbon.
Eagle-eyed followers might notice that one of us eTrampers has actually been here before! Agness visited the Goodmorning Hostel back in 2014 when she was joined by her mom! This time it’s my turn, and I’m joined as ever by my ERT companion Lydia. As Agness wrote a review four years ago, it was only fair that I come and check it out for myself!
This was to remain our HQ until Lydia and I were due to part ways at the completion of our trip. So, is it all it’s cracked up to be? Has anything changed in what is a relatively long time in travel years? Was Agness right in her appraisal or does she get things wrong when I’m not around?! Here’s our new review of the Goodmorning Hostel, Lisbon.
The hostel is located right in the heart of the city, on Restauradores Square – which is worth a visit alone while being a stone’s throw from many other major sights and attractions. The entrance is actually located inside a souvenir shop – which is pretty handy for picking up a nice memento of your stay here – but not immediately recognisable from the outside.
Once through the door, be prepared for a little climb – but each step is humorously marked with the increments of -0.5 calories – and you’ll burn about 30 of them without your luggage. Thankfully, there’s a warm welcome waiting at the top!
Goodmorning Hostel has a colourful interior, with a bright and breezy feel and clean rooms. There’s some funky decoration dotted around too, and since Agness’ stay, the only real changes have been in redecorating a room here or there.
The chillout/common area is cool and there’s a boutique vibe that comes with some nice finishes touches, including inviting comfy sofas, artwork and informative notice boards.
It’s got a lot of character.
As you’re probably all aware, staff can make or break a hostel, turning a good place into a great one and vice-versa. Thankfully, the staff here are friendly and approachable, and provide you with everything you need to enjoy your stay.
They’re knowledgeable about what to see and do in Lisbon too, and are attentive to every guest ensuring there’s a great atmosphere round the clock.
Goodmorning Hostel has all the usual facilities you’d come to expect of a place with high ratings on Hostelworld and TripAdvisor. They have 4, 6, 8 and 10-bed dorms available, with female-only options included too. Double rooms are available as well – and many have views over the square, like the one Agness and her mum stayed in last time!
There’s a communal kitchen for guests use and clean shower and washroom facilities. Wi-Fi is free but can get slow when everyone is plugged in. Maybe everyone should get out more?! Make sure you bring your own padlock for the lockers too – but that should be a standard practice that everyone should know by now!
The free breakfast has everything you could possibly want to fill yourself up for a good day of sightseeing. It’s done in a buffet style with a member of staff serving hot sandwiches and waffles over the counter too – and all the Nutella you could possibly feast on!
Free walking tours and cooking classes are offered so you can explore the city and learn about Portuguese cuisine here. In the evening they organise games for the guests to meet, greet and socialise with fellow travellers, with the option of joining them on a pub crawl or staying in the hostel bar. We didn’t partake on this occasion – but you party animals out there will love it!
As with any hostel, the atmosphere can depend a lot on the type of guests that come through the doors, but there always seems to be a good energy during our stay. We felt there was a sense of togetherness and a spirit of adventure here – where you can make a hostel “family.”
It’s somewhere you could book for a couple of days and you end up staying a couple of weeks! Many online reviewers leave comments like “it’s the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at” and “don’t stay anywhere else in Lisbon.” We’re pretty sure you guys can make your own mind up though when you decide to pay it a visit!
Like Agness and her mom before us, we had a really comfortable stay here. They even remembered Agness staying from four years ago! We’re not sure what she did to make such an impression – but let’s just say the staff were being nice!
Following our encounter with rock-hard bread-cakes being hurled from the roof of a local church for the popular Festas de São Gonçalinho, we survived and decided to explore our current location on foot. We were in the beautiful seaside town of Aveiro, which has an extensive maritime history and has the enviable moniker the “Venice of Portugal.”
As romantic as this was, Lydia – my Epic Road Trip companion, decided that seeing the town on our own steam was a more productive – and slightly less embarrassing – use of our time here. So, we set our best feet forward from our home base and explored the town. So, it is our pleasure to share our experiences here.
Aveiro sits an hour south of Porto on the North Atlantic coast, and apparently famous for its production of salt and seaweed. Like our previous destination Salamanca, Aveiro is also a notable university town and the city itself dates back thousands of years. We spent two days exploring this delightful place and loved every second of it. So, here’s what you can see in the city centre.
Exploring the Waterways
The city is set along a lagoon known as the Ria de Aveiro, and it is from this that the canals and waterways are fed. Like its more famous Italian counterpart, Aveiro’s canals are regularly navigated by gondolas, only in these parts they are known as “moliceiros.” These brightly coloured boats were originally used for harvesting seaweed, which was in turn used to fertile the surrounding landscape.
Today, plentiful tourists more than keep them occupied and if you’re that way inclined you can board one and see the city from the water. Simply walking along the towpaths is still a great way to see the sights though. And the beautiful art nouveau architecture the city is famous for. However, at just 8 Euro for a 45-minute ride, it sure beats Venice for value for money on the waterways!
São Gonçalinho Chapel
We should note that not far from our location at the Aveiro Rossio Bed & Breakfast you can find the São Gonçalinho chapel. It is the building where everyone throws the cakes from for the Festas de São Gonçalinho. It’s worth a detour through the back alleys and mazy streets of the Rossio neighbourhood if you have time.
Art Nouveau Museum
As you begin to explore the canal towpaths, your first port of call upon leaving the Aveiro-Rossio B&B is likely to be the Art Nouveau Museum. You’re already in the beautiful Rossio quarter of the city, which is an amazing neighbourhood filled with art nouveau architecture.
And not least the museum itself, which is housed in the wedding-cake Casa Major Pessoa. The museum will give you an insight into this detailed and delicate artistic trend that spread from Paris and made it to Portugal in the 19th century. They even have a walking tour themselves – should you specifically want to visit all the art nouveau buildings in the region.
Directly opposite the museum, you’ll find the Jardim do Rossio, a lovely little tranquil garden you can while away the afternoon in. Hence, we’d recommend popping in on your way back from your walk.
There’s a play-park to keep any young ones entertained. And as well as being a great spot for a picnic, there’s plenty of highly rated restaurants in the area too should you feel like splashing out on some delicious Portuguese seafood. A great spot to forget about your troubles.
For those of you – like me – who have a sweet tooth, you’re going to delight at your next port of call. Aveiro is also famous for its traditional sweets, delicacies that are unique to this region, made from eggs and sugar. Known as Ovos Moles, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and fillings, all beautifully decorated and mind-blowingly delicious!
The Oficina do Doce (the Dove’s Workshop) is a fascinating place where you can watch these ‘sweet-eggs’ being made. You can, of course, sample them until your heart is content! Remember – there’s still plenty to see in the rest of the city!
Aveiro City Hall Area
Following the canal, a little further down you’ll come to a roundabout and opportunity to cross the water. From here you’ll make your way past the Aveiro City Hall. It is a beautiful building dating back to 1797 and overlooking a charming square decorated with mosaic circles.
Along the way you’ll be walking through delightful old-world streets, passing by the famous Misericórdia Church – which is adorned with blue and white tiles. It’s well worth peeking through the giant wooden door to see the lavishly decorated interior too.
Museum of Aveiro
You’ll cross through Santa Joana park to find the Museum of Aveiro, a 15th-century convent and home to a permanent exhibition of important sculpture, artwork and local crafts.
You can explore the convent itself too, which includes the tomb of Princess Saint Joana – whose name was given to the museum and park. She was the daughter of the first king of Portugal and you can learn her story here, as well as viewing some truly stunning exhibits in the collection.
The final location on the walking tour before you head for home is the city cathedral, known as the Church of St Dominic. It’s a beautiful 15th-century building with an ornate interior of carvings and statues.
The 10th of January saw us arrive at the seaside town of Aveiro, Portugal, our penultimate stop on the Epic Road Trip. We had crossed the border around 4 pm and arrived in Aveiro just after 8 pm, so it was a little late to be doing anything but locating our accommodation and hunkering down for the night.
Our base of operations for the next two days was to be the Aveiro Rossio Bed and Breakfast, which is such a charming little place we decided to give it an eTramping review.
As luck would have it, we just happened to be in town during a traditional festival – which is always a bonus when you’re travelling – especially if you get to experience something really unusual or unique.
Guesthouse staff informed us, therefore, of the Festas de São Gonçalinho, which was taking place over the next few days. ERT companion Lydia and I were keen to find out what was going on – but first, where exactly are we?!
Aveiro is a town on the north Atlantic coast, just under an hour’s drive south from Porto. We’ll be exploring the city soon enough, but right now we were exploring our accommodation – which is to be found about 1 kilometre from the town centre, but right where you would want to be.
It couldn’t be a better spot really, and it’s a great base from which you can explore the town and its surroundings.
Décor and Staff
The B&B was bright and breezy. Our rooms were comfortable, decorated in calming, relaxing colours. As you might expect from a Portuguese coastal property, there was a nautical theme running throughout which would be great for a stress-busting vacation!
Staff were very helpful, and as previously mentioned it was them that drew our attention to the festival. We have them to thank for the interesting experience to come! They speak English, Spanish, French and Portuguese too – which covers quite a bit of the globe so you should be in good hands here.
Each room comes with a flat-screen TV and cable channels, Wi-fi included and private bathroom with complimentary toiletries. There’s a communal lounge an TV area should you wish to mingle with other guests and be a little more sociable.
For those doing an Epic Road Trip like us, free parking is available a short distance from the property but note that this is not available for reservations. Now you can understand another reason that we like travelling in winter! Fewer people, more rooms available and free parking spaces!
The guest house lay on great spread each morning with something for all tastes. The selection of cold cuts, fruits, cereals and beverages is worth waking up and running down the stairs (lazing your way down the elevator) for as this start to the day will keep you ticking many times over.
We didn’t spend much time at home base, to be honest, nor did we much come into contact with other guests during our stay. The staff made it more than comfortable though, and it’s a real cosy place that perfectly suits couples for a romantic getaway.
A party place it is not – but then that isn’t what we were looking for on this occasion, so the atmosphere was just perfect.
Comfortable, clean, bright, great location and helpful staff. We’d probably book again just for the breakfast! The guest house is well worth thinking about if you’re ever in these parts – especially if you’re here during the festival we were about to experience.
The Feasts of St. Gonçalinho 2018
Stumbling on a festival when you visit somewhere new is always exciting and this was to prove no exception with the Feasts of St. Gonçalinho. But before we give you some insight into what went on, first, a little background is required.
St. Gonçalinho is the patron saint of Aveiro, and they hold him in particularly high regard in these parts. It was said that he had a good sense of humour and that couples would pray to him for fertility and single women would pray to find a husband.
Celebrations begin on the 10th of January each year and run for five days to honour the saint – the highlight of which is throwing hundreds dry, hard cakes from the top of a chapel to the waiting masses below!
It’s Raining Cavacas!
Cavacas is the name given to these cakes – which can be pretty hard indeed, and cause quite a sting when you catch one! Year after year, people gather beneath the São Gonçalinho chapel to try to collect as many of these cakes as possible.
And each year, people find new and inventive ways to snare them, including upturned umbrellas, shrimp and fishing nets on sticks, and even hockey goals. It’s not a bad plan either, considering these things rain down like stones and you’re going to know about it if one catches you on the head unawares!
The origins of the cement-like cake throwing are unclear, but please be warned that for a religious festival – it can get pretty violent. We were happy to catch three between us, and come away with our bones intact!
All Night Long
Apparently, the festival runs through the night, which makes us wonder who gets the graveyard shift on top of the chapel throwing Cavacas down to whoever might be around at 4 am in the morning!
We didn’t stay to find out – our cosy accommodation was calling, but it certainly had been an unforgettable day. Tune back in soon to see how we got on exploring Aveiro itself, and we’ll probably do you a nice little walking tour to go with it!
What’s the craziest festival you’ve ever been to while travelling? Let us know!
Alas, we have reached our final destination in Spain! Our journey towards the Portuguese border would naturally pass through the historic city of Salamanca, so it would have been rude not to pay it a visit. The old town is pretty much an open-air museum and has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1988. But perhaps it’s most famous attraction is the centuries-old university.
Dating back to 1134, the University of Salamanca is the third oldest in the world. It’s one of the main reasons why so many students and tourists alike visit these parts. As ever, Epic Road Trip compadre Lydia was on hand to join me in following in their footsteps. But first, after driving the 235 kilometres from Madrid, we had to start the day the right way – with an outstanding tapas breakfast. Our Spanish culinary experience has been exceptional – and will be tough to leave behind. Nonetheless, having been well fed and well-watered, join us on a rather educational walking tour of this beautiful, ancient city.
University of Salamanca
If you’re interested in studying the Spanish language – look no further. The University of Salamanca is the premier school in the world for learning the tongue. It has attracted students from far and wide since the 12th century.
But it’s more than just a centre of learning, as it’s one of the most beautiful buildings you’re ever likely to see. With an incredible, ornate façade that could keep you mesmerised for hours. Don’t miss the magnificent Patio de Escuelas – a renaissance and baroque courtyard at the heart of the university.
Old and New Cathedrals
Along with the university, a highlight of any visit to Salamanca is the old and new cathedrals. They are actually linked together, the eldest of which dates back to the 12th century, with the new version completed around the 1700s.
They’re both a mix of architectural designs and stunningly beautiful in their own right. And don’t miss their decedent and gilded interiors, including a sumptuous 15th-century altarpiece in the old cathedral. There are some wonderful city views from up here too.
Built for a wealthy businessman in the early 20th century, Casa Lis is a mansion of modernist design that was saved from ruin in 1981. It is now home to a wonderful collection of decorative arts. Moreover, it boasts over 2,500 eclectic pieces, including sculpture, glassware, ivory and bronze works.
It is known today as the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum. The building itself is a work of art, with a marriage of iron and hundreds of stained glass panels that make it worth the price of admission alone. Closed on Mondays, the museum has free entry on Thursday.
Convento de San Esteban and Convento de las Dueñas
If you’ve not yet had your fill of beautifully ornate façades, then head over to St Stephen’s Convent. This 16th-century Dominican monastery is sumptuously rendered and has an equally breath-taking interior with some noted sculpture and artwork.
Close by is the Convento de las Dueñas, a nunnery of Moorish-Christian design constructed in the 15th century. Both holy orders are still practising, but are open daily to visitors.
Torre del Clavero
Next on your route through the old town is a brief stop at the Tower of Clavero. It is actually all that remains of a stately home built in the 15th century.
It’s definitely worth a look as you continue towards Salamanca’s central square.
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor easily rivals that of its neighbouring counterparts. With an impressive arcade that runs on all sides and a total of 88 arches. As such, it is considered by many as the grandest plaza in Spain.
It was constructed in the 18th century with a Baroque design. Today it is the number one people watch destination in the city. As you might expect, the café-culture is strong here, and it’s the perfect spot to take a rest with a cup of Joe and watch the world go by.
The House of Shells
For a unique and quirky attraction, don’t miss the popular House of Shells, a 15th-century building that houses the city library. Its façade is decorated with over 300 sandstone shells – as you might expect considering its name. It represents the symbol of medieval pilgrims travelling the way of St James.
There’s a delightful inner courtyard you can also visit, but the building is best visited on a sunny afternoon. Then, the light plays with the sandstone decoration. Unfortunately, we were all out of luck with this weather!
Real Clericía de San Marcos
Just before you come full circle you’ll discover the beautiful Clericía Basilica. It is a 17th-century baroque church which offers some wonderful views of the city from its central transept.
With Madrid in our rear-view mirror, we turned north onto the A-6 and headed in the direction of Segovia – a lesser known jewel in the crown of the Iberian Peninsula. Lydia (my travel companion while Agness was still on a different continent) and I were slowly getting over our recent bout of flu – no thanks to our last accommodation which for some reason didn’t have any heating in the dead of winter. We were now on leg 9 of the Epic Road Trip, our destination being just over an hour from the Spanish capital.
Segovia is a historical and cultural revelation. This walled city is relatively small (only around 55,000 population) but packs a big punch when it comes to sights and attractions. With its abundance of ancient architectural wonders and fully deserved UNESCO world heritage status. It’s also steeped in myth and legend, reputed to have been founded by a descendant of Noah in 1076 BC. What is true though, is the beauty you will experience on our little walking tour – in a city that really shouldn’t be overlooked when taking holidays in Spain.
If there’s only one thing you see when you visit Segovia – you’d better make it the famous Roman aqueduct. It’s a symbol of the city (displayed on the coat of arms) and rightly so, arguably the most impressive and well-preserved construction of its kind in the world.
And it truly is breath-taking – the pictures on a cloudy day don’t do it justice! Built way back in AD 50, it has two tiers of a colossal 167 arches and runs for 894 metres. It is still standing strong like it was built yesterday (it has actually been restored down the years). Even more astonishing is that it was constructed without any cement from over 20,000 granite blocks. Some of the best views of this marvel are to be had from the old town.
The Old Town
Look no further for your fix of ancient city charm than the narrow winding streets and corridors of Segovia’s old town. Make your way through from the aqueduct and get lost in a maze of delightful architecture and public squares. You will be surprised at every turn.
Don’t miss the Casa De Los Picos – a unique 15th-century building with an interesting façade. The Plaza Medina del Campo with its beautiful fountains, monuments and medieval architecture. The Museum of Contemporary Art is close by if you fancy pausing your tour of the streets. And there are some fantastic bars and eateries for you to take a load off in the afternoon and people watch. We didn’t do that though – it’s probably best in the summer!
Continuing up through the old town and you’ll eventually reach the Plaza Mayor, which, as you might expect, is the main town square. It’s a beautiful example of focal elegance, where you’re likely to find many people wiling away an afternoon.
Don’t miss the charming town hall with colourful flags, the surrounding arcades, coffee shops, and the central bandstand. The flagstone square is the hub of the old town, but perhaps most notable for its view of and proximity to Segovia Cathedral. Which is one of the reasons you came here in the first place!
One of the last true Gothic cathedrals, this enormous structure sits at the highest point in Segovia’s old town. It was constructed over 50 years from 1525 but it used to be located elsewhere. And was moved to this location when it was destroyed by the Comuneros during the revolts against the rule of Charles V.
Segovia Cathedral is an architectural masterpiece designed by Juan Gil del Anatanon and it boasts breath-taking internal and external views. Especially if you’re willing to climb the 100 metre tower for an unparalleled vista of the town. Its stained-glass windows are also a highlight – as is the decadently carved, ornate altarpiece. It’s particularly beautiful when visited at night.
Door of San Andres
A visit to a walled city isn’t complete without a visit to the walls themselves – and the Door of San Andres provides a unique and alternative view – what it’s like to actually be inside them!
Restored in the 16th-century this town gate is the access to the Jewish Quarter of the city. You can visit guard’s rooms within the walls and climb to the ramparts for some more stunning views over this medieval delight.
Casa del Sol – Museum of Segovia
Another one for the history buffs is the Museum of Segovia, which dates back to 1842. It’s a wonderful collection of archaeology and fine arts, with some fascinating artefacts and paintings. They provide an educational insight into the city and its surround.
It has an extensive collection of Roman and Visigothic remains, as well as religious exhibits and art. It’s a small museum in a blink-and-you’ll-miss its location. But many visitors cite it as being a highlight of their visit here. If you can’t afford the fantastic 1-euro entry fee – it’s free on Saturdays.
As if we hadn’t quite had our fill of castles on this trip, our final destination – and yours too – is the famous Alcazar of Segovia. It’s a dominating castle-palace with a fairy-tale exterior. Yet another one that claims it was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.
And like the other examples making the bold claim – it’s got a decent case. An ancient fortress of the Spanish kings, it dominates the landscape perched high on a rocky crag. It’s not too dissimilar from Edinburgh Castle – interestingly a city which Segovia is twinned with. It dates back to the 12th-century and for 9.50-euro general admission, you can gain access to many of its stately rooms.
The Giant Bauble
With our visit coming on the back of Christmas, there was a giant bauble sitting in front of the aqueduct, which made for an interesting photo opportunity.
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