Part 1 of Portugal in 10 days: A "Tour de Portugal" from Lisbon to Porto!
Every year I try to make at least one trip to some of the classic European holiday destinations. And last year my summer holiday trip was all about Portugal. Here is the first chapter a three-part story jam-packed with travel & dance tips!
I was lucky to have collaborating with me on this Portugal series a friend of mine & kizomba-dancer-teacher-extraordinaire Kirsi VanSol. Kirsi wrote specifically to you her fantastic kizomba tips to make sure you get the best of your holiday in Portugal! Scroll to the end of the post to see where you can dance in Lisbon!!
Portugal in a nutshell
If you’re looking for a piece of not only European but also American, African and Asian history, then Portugal is not to be missed. Portugal has made its mark on the world, and surely continues to do so. The small nation of 10 million people has a distinct character, forged by a colorful past of almost 900 years since its foundation in 1139 (350 years before Spain) and by the varied landscapes of the Western corner of the Iberian Peninsula.
Not completely unlike many other European countries, you can see everything from luxurious beach resorts, historic citadels, buzzing cities, calm rural towns, lush vineyards, flat farmlands, rugged hills, serpentine riverbanks and remote woods within Portugal's borders. But it all comes in such a neat, reservedly polite and manageable package. Distances are not long, roads are in a rather good condition, the infrastructure simply works and you can still feel & breathe a charm that has taken centuries to form. If you manage to compass through the entire Portuguese mainland, you still have a long way to go: whisk away to Portuguese islands! Try the Azores - in the middle of the Atlantic - or Madeira - on the coast of Africa.
Our journey in Portugal started - quite rightfully so - in Lisbon. Have I ever met a person who hasn’t simply fallen in love with Lisbon? Nope. And it would be extremely hard not to love Lisbon - the city is simply cute & adorable, but still carries a punch that will knock the air out of your lungs. In the middle of the city is the flat streak of land, Baixa, which is the commercial centre of the capital. But don’t expect a group of sleek skyscrapers; this “young” part of Lisbon was designed in the mid 1700s, after a devastating earthquake that flattened out much Lisbon of that time. Using a modern grid layout, Marques de Pombal designed a new type of Lisbon. During the past centuries it has obviously been rebuilt and refreshingly it doesn’t look new or modern at all, but beautifully pompous and ornate. It’s hard to miss Baixa, as it is indeed in the centre of it all.
My highlights of Baixa
- Praça do Comércio, the palace square. We stopped to have some drinks and ice cream, breathing some fresh sea air.
- Elevador de Santa Justa (Elevador do Carmo) is charming - you may notice the style of the “apprentice of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel” - and makes it easier to get around in the city.
- The buzzing Rua Augusta is great for getting the big city wibe.
- We lived in the lively area of Restauradores, which is great for finding a nice (touristic) place to eat, for shopping and general walking around.
For most, the area of Alfama is the main point of Lisbon. For many tourists, that is. On the hill east of Baixa is Alfama, which used to be a very exclusive are, now a slightly run down. But a visit to Lisbon is not complete without a tour of the Castelo de São Jorge. The stunning hilltop location is perfect for seeing the entire city and to learn more about its interesting history. The place itself had been left to ruins for a couple hundred years but has also in its nine centuries of history served as a residence for the kings, theatre, arms depot, prison and what not. Of course, I was there for the beautiful views. We made a long walk up there from Baixa, strolled around the walls of the Castelo and stopped for a chilled glass of Portuguese wine. Come there on a sunny day!
On the opposite side of the lower Baixa is another hill - from there you can find areas called Bairro Alto, Chiado and Carmo. We weren’t too worried about what to do and see so we randomly ended up there by jumping on the first tram we saw in Alfama. So the tram ended up making a little roller coaster-like trip down from Alfama, cross Baixa and up the hill to Bairro Alto; more specifically Chiado. Chiado is the more elegant part of this hilltop - Bairro Alto then is the Lisbon’s most famous destination for night-life. Bairro Alto was a clear choice for dinner that night. There you can also go dancing (kizomba!!) or listen to fado.
Down from Bairro Alto and Chiado, on the seaside, you’ll find the train station Cais do Sodre. More importantly, near there I found one of my favorite spots of Lisbon: Mercado da Ribeira. This old market hall has been turned into a foodie paradise. Just re-opened in 2014, there are tens of small restaurants on the sides of the spacious market hall and a sea of beautiful big wooden tables in the middle. Fancy trying a dozen different local foods in one go or have a big group and can’t decide on what restaurant would suit all? Come here! Great wine and cocktail bars serve drinks and oh the sweet selection of desserts… Also it’s open late! Once you’ve stuffed yourself with a tasty meal then stroll on the walk on the shoreline towards Praça do Comércio - before the square you’ll also find a few nice patches of grass where you can relax with a nice breeze of fresh air on a hot summer day.
There are plenty of activities and places to see closeby Lisbon if you get tired of the city life. You’re already on the coast so nice beaches are not far away (more about those in the next post!). But if you fancy for an inland detour then Sintra is a clear choice. Sintra is a picture-perfect small town and a UNESCO World Heritage site just a mere half an hour by train from Lisbon. That obviously means it’s a popular spot but surely makes for a great day-trip.
So we left the sunny Lisbon behind us and arrived to a cold and misty Sintra. Apparently this is not all that untypical for Sintra - the hillside location does attract and retain the clouds, but it didn’t make it all that un-chanting. There’s a few things I really enjoyed in Sintra;
- Quinta da Regaleira is an interesting palace with hidden doors, subterrain walks, ponds, wells and weird hideouts. You need an hour or two to really be able to see all of the palace and the gardens but it’s worth it.
- The centre of Sintra has some cute small alleys. On a summer day it gets packed with tourists so come early in the day or stay overnight to get a better idea of the place.
- There’s no place like Queijadas da Sapa (close to the train station) to eat the famous queijada pastries. So tasty and a cute cafe!
Dancing in Portugal
A post about Lisbon would not be complete in this blog without talking about dancing. If you're looking for Brazilian zouk in Portugal, I'm sorry to say there's not much on offer. But fear not, there's plenty of dancers in Lisbon! Portugal was the starting point of kizomba's European take over, and a hot-spot of kizomba clubs and events. When I was traveling in Portugal it was hard to miss the sensuous kizomba rhythm pumping through the speakers on random street corners, shops, restaurants, clubs... And I liked that! Unfortunately I'm no expert on kizomba. So I turned to someone who is! Thanks to Kirsi VanSol, who took the time to write the dance tips below, just for you!
Kiz Tips by Kirsi VanSol:
Portugal – European Mecca for kizombians
That kizomba is at its best in Portugal is no wonder – it is the new home to many Angolans and other Portuguese speaking Africans. The dance scene is vibrant; European kizombians mix happily with the native dancers in clubs all over the country. The main hubs of kizomba are Lisbon and Porto, with clubs here and there. If you are in Portugal, visit these cities and their clubs. They are worth it!
For the festival traveler, there are many kizomba events in Portugal over the year. Worth mentioning is LIKE kizomba festival every September in Lisbon area (next one held on 18-21 Sep 2015). This event is huge, well organized and super fun, with the best teachers and deejays on board. For the ”serious” dancers and those aiming to be teachers, there is the DMAES Summer bootcamp in Porto every August. The small, cozy Keta festival in Lisbon in July has gotten a lot of positive feedback for its high quality and charming atmosphere. Other kizomba events and festivals can be found on line, for example on festivalsero.com.
But if you are traveling to Portugal on a regular weekend, or during the week? No worries. If you are looking for dance classes, simply googling ”aulas de dança Lisboa/Porto/your city” will get you started. Asking the locals is my preferred choice. And if you want classes with a particular favorite teacher, you can try sending a message to them directly – most of them have a facebook presence and/or their own website with contact information.
Party! Party every night!
Lisbon’s best dance venues are located along the northern bank of river Tejo. Start at Barrio Latino, where you are sure to hear super deejays play the hottest kizomba, semba and tarraxinha tracks. Arrive before midnight and you might get a lesson from a local teacher, most of which are quite good! The easy price of 8-10 € includes teaching and some drinks, so you will get value for every cent! The system works so that you pay your ticket upon entrance, leave all your stuff in the guarded wardrobe (cost 1 €) and only need to carry your ticket with you. Your drinks are marked on it, and should you consume for more than the ticket allows (never happened to me, even when I had an occasional alcoholic beverage), then you just pay the difference when leaving. It is quite handy, as you don’t need to carry cash or cards with you all night.
Barrio Latino has two dance floors where on some nights the other floor is reserved for salsa. Ladies are invited to dance ALL. THE. TIME. No resting here! This is a place to make a local friend and get the scoop of the best parties! They know exactly where to be every night, so you get the most out of your visit.
One of the places they probably advice you to visit is B.Leza, a bit further down the river. A warehouse-kind of building, this place is another must-visit in Lisbon. Owned and run by some Cape Verdeans, this place has an authentic palops atmosphere with superb live music. The band will play African music from kizomba to semba, funana, coladera and more. Between the sets the deejay plays hits and classics. The atmosphere is very down-to-earth and warm. This place is not just for the superskilled dancers, but the ones who are born to dance these dances as soon as they learned to walk. What they lack in technique they amply compensate for in authenticity. This is the place where I’ve had my most memorable night, dancing with people from all walks of life, to non-stop live music, performed by a group of superb musicians, and not getting a second of rest from all the eager dance partners waiting to dance with the blonde lady! This is as real as it gets. Be careful not to wear your best dancing shoes here. You can wear flip-flops, if you like, but something in between is probably the best.
Still further west is small African bar on a side alley not far from B.Leza is Sabura Bar. This cozy, small African bar has a very relaxed atmosphere, colorful walls and of course superb music. The deejays of Lisbon hold a very high class in general, and on any night you can be sure of quality music and mixing.
One more place to visit is Mwangolé Discoteka, the westernmost on the map of these four. Fancy decor, expensive drinks (all is relative, of course…) and fashionable people dancing with style. Dress to impress! If the doorman thinks you don’t have enough class, you will stay out. Mind your shoes!
Lisbon club culture starts to seriously get going around 1 am, but you can arrive at a party around midnight to get your bearings – or take that class! In any of these places you might run into your favorite teachers enjoying a night out, if they happen to be home for a few days. Please remember that they are partying as private persons and respect that. They are not working, and they may not remember you from that awesome class in that great festival two years ago. But if you ask politely, they will dance with you as any other dance partner.
As to inviting: ladies never need to invite a man in Portugal, really. You will be invited plenty, if you can dance even a little bit. The bigger problem may be in getting a break! Men invite, ladies accept, and everybody is happy.
Essential addresses: Kizomba clubs in Lisbon
Barrio Latino: Rua Pimenta 31 (1km from the metro Oriente)
B.Leza: Cais Gás 1 (near the metro station Cais do Sodré)
Sabura Bar: Rua das Janelas Verdes 22
Mwangole Discoteca: Rua Maria Luisa Holstein 15
Dancing in Porto
More Kirsi's kizomba tips coming up soon in Zouk The World's post about Northern Portugal & Porto!