(Indie)Camping around Portugal – Part 2

WOOHOO! You made it halfway. Are you bored yet? No? Cool. Here is Part 2.

The highway into Lisbon was hectic. The lanes were the same width as the van with cars speeding and changing lanes everywhere. There was multiple exits lanes every couple of hundred metres which made making a turn-off or even just changing lanes in ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ near impossible. Of course I was at the wheel again, shitting myself. We dropped off the van at a camping ground on the outskirts of Lisbon and took a taxi to the Lisbon city centre. Pedro ‘the opportunist’ was our personal chauffeur and concierge for the evening. He told us that it was lucky we arrived this day as the next day there would be a taxi strike because of Uber. More on this craziness later. He also told us about the rates he gets for customer drop-off at venues. 10 Euro per couple at a restaurant and a crazy 20 Euro per person at a strip club. That would be 120 Euro for the six of us. The strip clubs are ‘making it rain’ for the cabbies! So every time we got in or out of the taxi he would joke and ask if we wanted to go to the strip club, probably somewhat hoping we would actually say yes. After we unpacked at our apartment we hit him up to take us to a local spot for dinner. I was mega skeptical at where he would take us, even though he thought ‘we were good people and wouldn’t take us anywhere he gets a commision’. Meanwhile, on the drive there he was on the phone organising a dinner drop-off for other tourists at a fancy place which paid him. He dropped us around the corner from a Portuguese chicken barbecue ‘hole in the wall’ which was packed with locals where no-one spoke english and drove off. The chicken here was finger-lickin good and super cheap. Well-done Pedro!

The next morning Cameron and Stef set off to Sintra while the rest of us stumbled out of bed and joined a walking tour that was in the square outside our apartment, coffee in hand. After a high-speed (motormouth) coverage of Portugal history we walked down the street opposite our apartment and found out we were in the nightlife area where the locals listen to bands in every bar and drink on the street (which we happily partook in that night). This area has the highest concentration of bars anywhere in the world! We then walked through the old Jewish Quarter of Alfama. This area has it’s own unique feel with it’s tight community, no cars, winding narrow cobblestone streets and water fountains used socially by all locals to shave and wash clothes. There are cookouts often and all you need is to bring some food to cook and you will be drinking and eating for free with the locals till dusk. There is an old lady who, if you knock on her kitchen window and she is home, will sell you home made sour cherry liquor for 1 Euro a glass. We ended the tour up on top of the highest point in Lisbon with a view over the entire city. In 1755 on All Saints Day, the city was completely demolished in an earthquake and the fire that subsequently followed. The city was heavily christian and had lit candles for the deceased and were in church praying when the earthquake hit. Unable to stop candles from overturning in their homes the city was set ablaze. Religion is such a fickle charade.

We asked the tour guide for a local place to get lunch and she told us of a place that was so local it didn’t have a name, only a street number. In typical Portuguese fashion the owner didn’t want to give it a name otherwise ‘it would get too busy’. Here we tried Vino Verde (green wine) for the first time and ordered a few of the house specialties. As we ate and drank we watched the news, with all the locals, the coverage of the taxi strike Pedro had told us about played out violently on TV. Uber cars driving away from the crowds of taxi drivers with smashed windows and dented panels. One Uber driver was stopped by the taxi mob which proceeded to rock the car and try to flip it on it’s roof. Military police with assault rifles were present and were moving in to quell the violence and try to open access to the airport again. Madness!! It suddenly made sense why Pedro was unavailable to pick us up around midnight the day before as he was ‘stuck at the airport’. We searched for him in the crowd of taxi drivers to no avail. I was sure he would be at the front swinging a bat or something.

After an unexpectedly boozy lunch, we caught one of the oldest, somehow still running, trams down the hill and out to the Lisbon Oceanarium. This is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. The main tank holds 5,000,000 Litres of water and houses over 100 different species of marine life co-habitually. The tank is large enough to allow pelagic swimmers to swim above bottom dwellers and simulate open ocean. Inside were sharks, rays, barracuda, grouper, moray eels, thousands of fish and a massive sunfish (think of how a 2 year old would draw a fish and that’s exactly like this fish, weird!). This thing was huge, over two metres long and weighing two tonnes. Around the main tank were 4 smaller tanks representing other ocean environments and their wildlife. In the pacific habitat there were two sea otters which seemed to be having an awesome time eating fish while floating on their backs and flipping through he water. Very much the dogs of the sea.

The final part of our visit to the Oceanarium was to the temporary exhibition wing. The exhibition, created by a famous Japanese aquascaper, is titled “Forests Underwater”, and was literally that. It is an artist interpretation of the tropicals forests underwater, combined with Japanese gardening techniques, this installation was a unique experience where you felt completely integrated with nature in a very still, simple but powerful way. It is the largest nature aquarium in the world, with 40 meters long and 160,000 liters of fresh water. Enveloping you 360 degrees, this installation really showed the beauty in nature, and imperfection.

After eating a few (…too many) Pastel de Nata travelling Portugal we found out about the one of the best Portuguese tarts. Pasteis de Belem has a permanent line out the door for takeaway and a 400 seat multi-room restaurant for dine-in. Those things were incredible and it was impossible to stop at one. I don’t often compare things to crack, not having tried it, but these were as close as I could fathom to it. The tour guide mentioned that you hadn’t ‘travelled’ Lisbon until you have had six of these. A feat which Matt decided too accomplish in one sitting. Needless to say some digestive issues followed.

After dinner Matt, Court and I headed out to take in some of the local culture. We payed next to nothing for 750ml of beer or mojitos (medium dink size option) and tons of live music. Blues, Jazz, Indie and Salsa coming out of every bar we walked past, beers in hand. It is odd seeing people walk past police while chugging a beer (Matt included). We hopped from bar to bar with beers bought elsewhere. The night was completed how a big night always is, by a Big Mac meal but this time it came with a beer. We stumbled home and excitedly woke up Talz to provide an update on our night, whether she wanted us to or not.

We had a later start the next morning, and wandered over to a cafe called Pop Cereal we had found the day before. Whether we had earns a treat or not, cereal for breakfast had never been so exciting. Picture a cafe full of pop art prints, colour everywhere and the entire back wall is shelving boxes of every cereal imaginable. From the menu you can choose house recommendations or design your own concoction. The equation to follow is 3 types of cereal with your choice of added extras like Oreos, coconut, Nerds, nuts and even a caramel flan for a “bottom of the bowl surprise”. This is topped off with your choice of flavoured milk. Holy Hell this was decadent and hello sugar high!

We found Lisbon was best enjoyed by wandering. It’s a friendly city, full of colour, life and vibrancy. The entire frontage of buildings are tiled with rendering being the odd exception to the rule rather than the norm. The tiles are all small, square and made and hand painted locally. Colour is a big deal in Lisbon, so are sardines, Pastel de Natas, moustaches and not working too hard. ^ We loved It!!!

Porto was the next and final stop in the camel camper. After a few hours of driving, we found ourselves in a bit of pickle. We had unknowingly driven into the incorrect toll lane and due to this mistake, even though the correct toll lane was literally the lane to our left, we were advised by the toll officer our poor choice would cost us a 70Euro fine. Munns’, the bloody champ, came to our rescue on this one. He jumped out of our van and schmoozed the cars behind us, using what I can only imagine was a stellar charades effort, to illegally reverse so we could avoid our fine and switch lanes. It was smooth sailing from here on. We arrived on the outskirts of Porto late at night and said a rainy and cold farewell to our beloved motor-home.

Porto started epically. 8am start for an all day wine tour into the famous Douro Valley. None of us were the drivers for the first time in a while so let’s just say, things got loose. We know what you guys are thinking and no, no one spewed. Joined on the practically private tour were two hilarious but odd Californian retirees. As the wine flowed so did our questions and drunken shock at our racist conservative travel companions. To put this into context the husband Ned claimed that Fox News was the only un-biased news in the US, in a conversation with Court he actually used the phrase ‘Black Sympathisers’, he doesn’t like Obama, supports Trump and loved Reagan. How many ways can you say Privileged White Folk? Needless to say that’s the point I stopped talking to old Ned. Court’s jaw was still on the flaw, brain function was slow by this point.

Porto, as you could guess, is the home of the fortified wine Port. The name is governed the same as champagne, where by only fortified wine made in Porto can technically be called Port. They were not happy that Australian producers are using the Port name on produce made in Australia. Litres of red, white and rose wine followed by litres of red, white and tawny ports were consumed, accompanied by local specialty cheeses, fish and stews. We also tried one of our new favourites, Borrachao, a portuguese pound cake soaked in port. We snuck a few sneaky roadies on the tour in true ‘uni-student on a bus’ style. Local, small batch, grand reserve wines and ports in water bottles passed around.

We arrived back at our apartment after dark, well and truly merry and in search of a venue to continue the good times. We found a bar which had a local Jam session that night and headed in to get some carbs and a front row seat. After an hour or so of pestering, two of the local musicians finally caved to Matt’s requests and agreed to play his song. So Matt and Cameron got behind the mic’s and lived out their rockstar fantasies, belting out none other than the Aussie karaoke classic ‘Khe San’. This was followed by a mad old portuguese man who looks and plays like Santana. This guy was working the ladies at the table beside us, dedicating songs and giving them mad sex eyes while fingering the guitar, and they were lapping it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took home multiple ladies that night.

The next day proceeded with alternating between feeling sorry for ourselves and packing for our trip back to Barcelona where the Camel’s were to part ways. It was a crazy ride and we loved every minute of it. It wasn’t without it’s hiccups but the time spent together was truly wonderful and it is a blessing for us to have friends so close that we could spend 5 weeks in each others pockets without a murder.

There is not much more to say about our final day with these guys, lots of tears flowed as we said our goodbyes. There was there was certainly an emptiness in Barcelona without them around to lead us astray.

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