OPorto-nity Awaits!

OPorto-nity Awaits!



After nearly 3 days in Madeira, we flew out on a late night flight back to the Portuguese mainland, arriving into Porto at midnight. Then Uber’ing straight to our lodgings at Ribeira São João Apartment in the city center, we arrived by 1am. I immediately fell in love with the city:



The next morning I quickly grabbed coffee at Café do Comercial in the neigborhood at 9am where lo and behold, I’d make sure to run into Vibhu, whom I first met in person 25 days ago on May 20th in NYC, before she’d catch her 10:25am train to Lisbon

Flippantly at the time when we had first met, we quipped then that “who knows, we might run into each other traveling,” not realizing a scheming universe always could make sure it would actually happen 25 days later.



I mean of all places to have a run-in, what better than a place like Porto? The city oozes with saudade:



So take your time wandering, especially in the alluring and evocative winding and hilly streets of Riberia.



19th century built Bolsa Palace is right next door:



And facing the palace is Mercado Ferreira Borgesa landmark building from the 1880s now converted into a nightclub and performing arts space.



A few paces away from both structures is the local’s favorite pasteis de nata at Castro:



Walking 10 minutes uphill and northeast along Rua de Mouzinho da Silveira, you’ll reach the decorative São Bento Train Station, which was formerly a monastery.



About another 5 minutes walk south street stands the 12th century Porto Cathedral:



The Cathedral is in the same complex as the former Bishops’ Palace of the Episocopal Palace. It became controversial for how lavish the residence became for the bishops as the rest of the city languished economically.



The cathedral complex faces the 16th century Convento dos Grilos across an overlook:



If you dig old bookstores, head up 10 minutes north from the cathedral for some Harry Potter vibes at the historic Livraria Lello. To set the record straight, the bookstore has no direct connection (the movies were never filmed here) with Harry Potter other than it was known that JK Rowling used to live in Porto while in an abusive marriage before leaving for Edinburgh.

You have to reserve ahead of time online to even get in (a minimum of a 5 euro entry per ticket, which can be used as a voucher towards a book at the gift shop; vouchers cannot be combined for a single purchase), let alone wait on the hour and half line. If you want to skip the line entirely, expect to pay up to 15-17 euros for a book you can then pick up at the store. We got lucky as we visited in the afternoon during lunch, so our wait time was only 20 minutes on the 5 euro voucher. They even give you umbrellas in line as protection from the elements!



This place is currently regarded as the beautiful and one of the top 3 bookstores in the world after Cărturești in Romania and Avid Reader in Australia:



After about 15 minutes at the Livraria Lello (it’s otherwise pretty small), walk 5 minutes southeast along Rua Das Carmelitas to Igreja dos Cléricgos, the world’s tallest building made of granite. For 6 euros you can climb the 200+ steps to the top for 360 views of the city, which I found to be similar to the views I got from Luis I Bridge and the countless elevated terraces around Porto:



The continuing along Rua dos Clérigos, you’ll reach Av. dos Aliados a few minutes away:



A little more north leads to the streets of Rua Santa Catarina, famous for eating, shopping, and churches with Azulejo tiles:



If you’re feeling peckish, there are numerous small dessert shops back in Ribiera. We picked out a special homemade nata dish at the oldest building in Porto:



And finally to the south of Riberia, you can walk along the top of Luis I Bridge for the views of Porto from afar:



Venturing further outside of Porto’s old city, we looked at the unique trees at Jardim de João Chagas. They’re not a native species but rather newer trees replanted within the old, dead trunks that swelled immensely from a tree-specific bacterial infection decades ago.



You may notice that across the street from the park, António de Oliveira Salazar’s unique “Lady Justice” statue stands imposingly outside the very un-Portuguese brutalistic architecture of the Tribual da Relacão do Porto. The statue is unique in that it has been redesigned without the typical “justice is blind” blindfold and the scales are tucked away at her side.

The redesign became symbolic of the fascist style of justice that Salazar’s reign wanted to convey to his people: we’re watching you and it’s not going to be impartial.



I then walked south back towards the river into the former Jewish neighborhoods of Porto, situated by the Jardim Municipal do Horto das Virtudes:



Of note, the stray cats here are taken care of and have been trained so well by the neighborhood here that they’ve learned to do their business in the man-made drains:



Resting a bit in the afternoon, we then headed back out in the evening west, passing by the Casa da Musica:



…before finishing our trip with a splendid al fresco dinner at Em Carne Viva:



Most atmospheric dinner of the trip so far:



Let’s begin:



Arugula Bread and Vegetable Chorizo with Chickpeas and Spices Tapenade:


Vegan Francesinha:



Bulhão Pato Mushrooms – Shiitake and Marron mushrooms in a white wine, garlic, and fresh coriander sauce:


Spinless Tofu with seaweed “Lagareira” – Finely sliced grilled tofu with seaweed from the Atlantic, crispy bread topping with herbs, sautéed greens and roasted potatoes:


Spearmint Petit Gateau, Caipirinha Hail, Creamy Lime Ice Cream:


How this trip ends:



Returning to the USA (COVID-19)

While in Madeira 2 days ago (which was at the beginning of our 72 hour window on our return back to the USA), we scheduled a rapid antigen test beforehand at one of the pharmacies in the neighborhood. Many already have testing tents set up in front of them but they only take appointments, which you must arrange at the sponsoring pharmacy itself.



Timing our flight back to NYC to be 4pm exactly 2 days from today, we selected the 4:35pm time slot the next day (yesterday) to be tested. This way our tests could count not only for our return back to the States, but also our layover in Madrid beforehand just in case we wanted to leave the airport.



Then yesterday afternoon we checked in at the tent located about a 2 minute walk past the pharmacy in front of Sé Cathedral in Madeira:



They really go up there in that nose here! Our rapid antigen test results were ready within 45 minutes and we picked them up back at the pharmacy where we originally scheduled our tests:



Then I uploaded my test result to the new app Verifly so I can make sure I minimize the fuss on my way back to NYC tomorrow morning.





- At time of posting in Porto, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny


Madeira About You

Madeira About You


After 3 days in the Azores, I took the 8:10pm flight from Ponta Delgada to Funchal, arriving at 11:15pm local time.



As long as you upload a copy of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of your arrival, proof of recovery, or your vaccine card (which we did) on their travel portal madeirasafe.com, and show the nurses at arrivals the hard copies before you head out from the airport, you’ll get through. Otherwise be prepared to get tested before they let you out of quarantine.



It was a 20 minute and €30 cab ride from the airport straight into the city center of Funchal, where I checked in at The Marketplace by Storytellers at midnight:



Funchal is the capital and main city of the autonomous region and island of Madeira. And where Ponta Delgada had soulFunchal has attitude. The vibes here are so much more bustling than the surreal calm of The Azores, at least during daytime.



Because when night falls, it becomes a different animal:



Since my lodgings are located right across the street from the very touristy market hall Mercado dos Lavradores, that would be my first stop the next morning:



Sé Cathedral is a few minutes walk away:



I nevertheless began my first morning in Funchal with necessary coffee at Art Corner Café:



Eat all the local bread Bolo do Caco:



Next door you can orient yourself and where you really are at the Madeira Story Center, which features interactive exhibits of the island’s history:



After a stroll around town, take the Funchal Cable Car across the street from the Story Centre for 16 euros each way:



At the top you can stroll about the Monte Palace Gardens and the church at Monte.



You can also take another circular cable care back down to visit the Botanical Gardens below, or take a toboggan for a hefty fee down the hills:



Later in the afternoon we booked a fun last-minute 3 hour tour on one of Madeira’s Sidecar Tours, which picked us up in front of our lodgings at 2pm:



Our first stop outside of Funchal was the viewpoint over Camara de Lobos:



Further out west and you can’t miss the dramatic cliffs of Cape Girão; at 580m in height they are the tallest cliffs in Western Europe:



Free admission. Try (not) to look down!



We eventually drove as far west as the viewpoint over the village of Ribeira Brava:



If you look far off in the right place you’ll catch a glimpse of the controversial sea bass farms here:



If you are in need of unique things to visit in Madeira, consider a 15 minute walk along the shore to the CR7 museum to look at all the medals and trophies Footballer Christiano Ronaldo, who was born and raised on this very island!



There’s even a life sized chocolate statue of him here. Why.



After a slow 2 days here and on our departure from Madeira (and eventually beginning our 48 hour window on our return back to the USA), we scheduled a rapid antigen test beforehand at one of the pharmacies in our neighborhood. Many already have testing tents set up in front of them but they only take appointments, which you must arrange at the sponsoring pharmacy itself.



Timing our flight back to NYC to be 4pm exactly 2 days from today, we selected the 4:35pm time slot the next day to be tested. This way our tests could count not only for our return back to the States, but also our layover in Madrid beforehand just in case we wanted to leave the airport.



The next afternoon we checked in at the tent located about a 2 minute walk past the pharmacy in front of Sé Cathedral:



They really go up there in that nose here! Our rapid antigen test results were ready within 45 minutes and we picked them up back at the pharmacy where we originally scheduled our tests:



Then I uploaded my test result to the new app Verifly so I can make sure I minimize the fuss on my way back to NYC.



In the meantime, next stop: Porto!



A word of warning: make sure you agree on the fare to the airport to be €30 from Funchal; ours insisted on the meter, which seemed shady since it’s usually a flat fare, and during which he then sneakily pressed a button on the meter that went from “1” to “2” and claimed there was a “night surcharge” (there isn’t, otherwise our fare getting in at midnight 2 days ago in the same yellow cab wouldn’t have been €30). The metered fare then began to accelerate at to double the original rate.

We would have ended up €45 on the meter but after a little internet sleuthing and catching him in the act, he relented back to €30, but then entered €40 anyway on the credit card terminal. The shamelessness. :/



- At time of posting in Madeira, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a


Extr-Azores-dinary: São Miguel

Extr-Azores-dinary: São Miguel



If you’re planning to visit anytime soon, don’t forget to fill out the required health screening info at My Safe Azores! If you can’t get a negative RT-PCR test for COVID-19 within 72 hours, they’ll test you when you at arrivals.



I planned it out where I’d get a rapid RT-PCR test literally 2 hours before departing from NYC so I could kill 2 birds with one stone: Not only did that rapid PCR to get me out of NYC and into Spain and Portugal, but even with having stayed in Lisbon for 2 days, I was able to rely on that same exact test barely within the 72 hour window to get into Azores as well — No need to retest. And with Madeira 2 days after, which only needs a vaccine card without a test, I minimize all the swabs up my nose to enjoy my time in Portugal.

Otherwise they’ll make you leave the long health inspection line for a rapid PCR test and then have you wait for your results before leaving the airport.



After arriving the night before from Lisbon into the Azores’ capital city of Ponta Delgada at 8:30pm, we took a cab (10 euro flat fare into the city) to my lodgings at one of my new favorite hostel (with my own private room) at Pé Direito.

And at the time of this posting, we currently have the WHOLE place to ourselves as nobody else is staying there. The front desk staff even let us be on our own, walking around the entire property without a care, and answering questions remotely via WhatsApp if we had any questions.

It’s also as central as you can get with staying in Ponta Delgada:



The vibes here in the evening have skyrocketed to the top of my list in saudade (fitting since that word is originally Portuguese) travel moments:



If you’re not familiar with this area, we are in the capital of The Azores, a chain of 9 volcanic islands administered by Portgual and located in the Atlantic about 950 mi from the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula.

Hence this kind of weather:



After settling in with a dinner consisting of local cheese from the island of Saint George in the center square, the next morning we took a stroll to the iconic 18th century gates of Portas da Cidade, which we already loved looking at the night before:



It’s located right by São Sebastião Church:



At 9:30am we arranged for a 2 day tour of the entirety of Sao Miguel via our hostel, thanks to local Azorean and former pilot Bruno. He’s kinda like Sao Miguel’s mayor.



We began with a look back at Ponta Delgada being blessed by a double rainbow:



Then we took a short 5 minute hike to see the waterfalls at Povoacao:



Afterwards, we drove onwards to Ermid de Nossa Senhora da Paz for the rolling hills and the views of the cities at sea level:



After a quick pick-me-up at Quejaida da Vila do Morgano, famous for its secret recipe since the 16th century…



…we reached Furnas Lake (Lagoa do Furnas) by noon:



Furnas Lake is a giant caldera of an active volcano that hasn’t erupted since 1630, during which the Azoreans weighed the benefits over the risk at the time and built entire slew of cities here to guard themselves from the threat of piracy. Since then this entire area has been famous for geothermic hot springs:



The water here is naturally yellow-orange because of the deposits of iron-rich minerals that gets into everything, including your clothes. Don’t bring any white towels from the hotel unless you intend to pay for their replacement.



While here, feast on their uniquely flavored local stew that they slow cooked with volcanic heat — with no added water or spices mind you — in holes of volcanic soil they’ve dug into the ground for at least 6-8 hours.



Afterwards, take a walk around Furnas and examine all the increased volcanic activity that has been popping up the past few decades, and especially so in the past 6 months.



There’s so much volcanic activity lately they’re even cooking bags of corn in these geothermic pools to sell them on the cob for 1 euro each.



After about an hour here, we drove 20 minutes northeast to the Nordeste area and walked around the Cascata da Ribeira dos Caldeirõ complex of waterfalls, water mills, and streams:



Then we capped off our day with locally harvested tea at the tea factory Chá Gorreana:



The next morning we set out at 10am and took a quick peek at the gilded interiors of Igreja de São José:



Then driving on we passed by a series of ancient aqueducts that suggest there were civilizations that existed here well before the Portuguese…could it be the Romans?



These are views of Ponta Delgada from the west:



We then headed further west to Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a series of crater lakes surrounded by hills. Notice the two different color waters of each lake:



There’s also an abandoned luxury hotel at the highest viewpoint for those of y’all into urban exploration. Stop by now before it gets renovated as it just got bought out for redevelopment!



I also recommend heading to the very foot of the hills where the ASMR of rustling leaves and rolling hills could make you want to stay here forever, or at least until the next volcanic eruption:



If you snoop hard enough there’s a manmade tunnel that drains the lake into the sea when it gets too full. On off days you can walk the entirety of its 800m length. As they always say, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.



Then on our way to lunch back at Ponta Delgada, we stopped at Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado located by the town of Varzea:



After lunch we made a second attempt for a view over Fogo Lake (Lagoa do Fogo), for which we bailed yesterday due to some heavy mist and fog. I guess we lucked out today:



Then we returned to Ponta Delgada to the local city marketplace Mercado da Graça, where we bought and immediately feasted on local pineapple, passion fruit, canteloupe, 2 year old cheese from St. George, and tangerine liqueur.



An impromptu picnic ensued:



The highlight here is their local pineapple, which takes 2 years to grow and is currently the juiciest I’ve ever had.



After 2 full days with Bruno, we said our goodbyes and headed onwards to our flight to Madeira:



FYI, the lounge here as listed on Priority Pass at the time of posting…



…is another casualty of the COVID-19 era:



If you want to venture to the other islands of the Azores, you can take a flight out to Faial Island, also known for its massive caldera in the center:



A ferry ride away from Faial Island, Pico Island is known for its 2351m high mountain, the tallest in Portgual, which takes about 2-3 hours to climb for the very fit:



Finally, Terceira Island is famous for being the “Happiest Island” with its charming Angra do Heroismo:



- At time of posting in Ponta Delgada, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 76% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: misty, cloudy, RAINBOWS


Lis-“bon” There…But Haven’t Done That!

Lis-“bon” There…But Haven’t Done That!


Yes I’ve been to Lisbon before! But that was back in 2011 after my first ever group monsoon and spent only 12 hours wandering. Didn’t even make it to Belem Tower then. So this is a return for a proper visit.



After our successful trip last month to Cyprus, I wanted to balance out the high with some solo travel: When I saw roundtrip flights between NYC and Portugal drop down to $340 USD all inclusive (for both flights!), I jumped right in, timing it to the reopening of the EU after the pandemic and before flight prices would rise. And what better way than with additional island hopping to Madeira and Azores via the mainland of Portugal for less than $90 USD per leg between each destination?



If there was a time to travel fully vaccinated and with a good deal, this is the time to do it.

After obtaining negative PCR tests the day before and boarding a 9pm Iberia flight from JFK to Madrid, I spent a 5 hour layover catching up on sleep at the Plaza Mayor lounge in Terminal 4 of MAD airport.



Then I boarded the 3:40pm Iberia flight onwards to Lisbon, landing at 4:05pm local time.

But before leaving, I made sure I picked up a pre-purchased 48 hour Lisbon Card for 34€ to save some money for the rest of my time here. It activates only when you first use it and is valid for a year since purchase, it’s hour to hour (so if I first used the card at 8am Monday, it would last until 8am Wednesday), and covers numerous admission fees at the top sites and most public transportation. If you missed getting a card at the airpot, you can also snag one at the Lisboa Welcome Center or Foz Palace.

Then catching an Uber at arrivals, we finally reached our lodgings at Porta do Mar in central Lisbon, a few paces away from Praca do Comércio:



And not even within an hour of landing in Lisbon, we ran into friends back home: Jinny and her friend Maggie, both of whom who had actually cancelled their trip to Portugal a few days ago, only to rebook it the next day on a whim and find us here. It was meant to be. We reunited with dinner at da Prato 52:



After a spirited conversation and 2 hours there, we headed up to the photogenic 19th century Santa Justa Elevador



… making it up the stairs and just in time for drinks at Topo Chiado before their 11pm curfew:



I struggled with not being able to sleep for more than 4 hours my first night before heading out again to meet with Jinny and Maggie for brunch. Thankfully I didn’t have to walk very far as I recuperated from jetlag:



After bidding them farewell as they headed off for Porto, we began our day at the Lisboa Story Center, located in Praca do Comércio. The admission fee is included in the card and expect to spend at least 45 minutes here learning about Lisbon’s history. It can be a decent a family-friendly (or cheesy, depending on the perspective) primer before you explore the rest of the city.



From here, I made a 4 minute walk uphill to the 18th century Saint Anthony’s Church (believed to be the birthplace of Saint Anthony):



…and across from the church stands the 12th century Lisbon Cathedral, which has been rebuilt numerous times in different styles due to earthquakes. The admission fee is not included in the Lisboa Card.



Another 10 minute walk up to the very top led me back to the 11th century Moorish built Castelo de Sao Jorge. Its admission fee is also not included on the card.



Then I headed back down to sea level by Praca do Comércio and took Bus 728 for a 25 minute ride to Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon:



With the admission fee included in the Lisboa Card, it took about half an hour to explore the monastery in its entirety:



Next to the monastery is its accompanying church, which you can visit free of charge:



Across from the monastery at the Tagus riverfront, start your boardwalk at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, built to celebrate the Portuguese “Age of Discovery/Exploration” in the 15th to 16th centuries:



From there walk along the river past the unexpectedly diminutive Belem Lighthouse:



…and you’ll eventually reach the landmark medieval defensive tower and de facto symbol of Lisbon, Belém Tower:



If you’re looking for a cafe in the area, look no further than the original Pasteis de Belem:



If you ask me though, its mortal enemy and competitor Manteigaria has a better crust experience at the expense of the creaminess of the custard you’d get with Pasteis’:



And in the spirit of gastronomy, later that evening we snagged reservations at José Avillez’s Belcanto, with 2 Michelin stars and ranked the 42nd best restaurant in the world:



I went all out for its Evolution Tasting Menu, beginning with Elderini with lemon foam and zest, and paprika salt, Brioche with cod liver and trout roe:



Oyster and tuna belly tartare with borage



Golden sphere with foie gras and Port, Minced squid with roasted chicken skin, egg yolk purée and huacatay, Marinated and brasied sardine, bell pepper and eggplant (bottom 3):



Carrot and olive in different textures with pine nut milk and lupin bean “caviar” (bottom plate):



European lobster “Casear salad” with avocado, tomato water and, yuzu and truffle emulsion:



Springtime scarlet shrimp with shrimp head curry, green apple, green asparagus and coriander:



Creamy egg yolk with spring flavors and, chicken and mint consommé:



Hake in fig leaf with its ‘tongues’, Barbela wheat crunch toast with fig leaves, dried fig butter and cured ham:



Crispy suckling pig ‘sandwich’ with sarapatel paté, peppercorn sauce, orange purée, watercress emulsion and puffed potatoes:



“Bacon-from-heaven” and earth:



Strawberry-tomato textures (yes with real tomato!):



Petits fours:


The Vegetarian version of the Belcanto Tasting Menu


Explosive Olive, Brioche bun filled with eggplant caviar:



Golden sphere with hummus, Jerusalem artichoke with avocado and corn, Charcoal toast with eggplant, and bell pepper (top 3):



Carrot in different textures with cashew milk, olive and tangerine bonbons (top plate):



White asparagus with avocado, tomato water, yuzu and truffle emulsion:



Artichoke with spring flavors and mushrooms consommé (top plate):



Vegetable curry, green apple, peas and coriander (top plate):



Vegetarian “cabidela”:



Sweet egg cream and lemon:



The next morning to save us time, we arranged a bag pickup by Luggit from our lodgings; this way we could sleep in and leave later for Sintra, spend more time there (instead of returning to Lisbon for our bags), and then head directly to the airport afterwards where our bags would be waiting for us.

After getting our bags quickly picked up by Luggit without any drama (other than I slept through my alarm and made my keeper wait 20 minutes outside…sorry!), we took the hourly Linha de Sintra railway west from Rossio to Sintra, a 40 minute train ride away and also included in your Lisbon Card perks:



If you had to choose one castle out of the countless ones to explore in Sintra, choose the National Palace of Pena:



As my friend Sharon remarked, it’s “Disney World without Mickey Mouse.”



Each castle can either take an hour to explore (reading every exhibit and taking a ton of photos), or as little as 15 minutes if you’re not a big museum person. After enough spelunking they might start to blend in together, so unless you’re an expert in this field of Portuguese history and since most come to Sintra on a day trip, pick one or two at most to fully take in instead of trying to knock them all down in one day.



In the area I also recommend taking bus 403 (or an Uber) for a 40 minute drive away to the viewpoint and lighthouse at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost part of the main European landmass:



Afterwards given the convenient luggage service of Luggit that couriered our bags from our lodgings to the airport this morning before we left for Sintra, we saved ourselves a trip back to Lisbon and instead headed from Sintra directly to the airport. This trip took an hour from Sintra by means of public transportation, all of which included in the Lisboa Card.



After nearly 3 days in Lisbon, we are now about to board the evening 7:05pm Azores Airlines flight to Ponta Delgada in Azores.



- At time of posting in Lisbon, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 42% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny