ON TRAVEL: I’m going away to Pasargadae

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I never read Road Dahl in school. Every so often someone tells me ‘you don’t know what you’re missing out’. But then again I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country.

Well, I grew up with Monteiro Lobato and many other great writers that many people have never even heard of. So who is missing out after all?

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The first time I moved to a new city was when I went to uni. It was unusual where I grew up to move to another city because we had a very good university there. But by then I was already way over it, so when the opportunity came, I hopped on a plane (or an overnight coach) and never looked back.

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There is a poem by Brazilian modernist Manuel Bandeira, loosely translated as ‘I will go away to Pasargadae’, about the need to escape to a new and exciting place, the place where you belong, a place which is not only better than here, but a place where you are a better person too. There aren’t many good English translations, but it starts:

I will go away to Pasargadae
There I am a friend of the king
There I will have the woman I want
In the bed I will choose

Full version in Portuguese here.

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This poem has followed me ever since I left my hometown for uni (12 years ago – ouch!).

It’s about finding yourself in a new place, where you live your life in your own terms. Sounds good to me!

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In the poem, Pasargadae is a representation of an idyllic place. In real life, it’s an ancient Greek city in Iran.

What’s the place where you’re at your best?

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(all photos from my trip to Lisbon, shot with this great Lomo redscale film).

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A WEEKEND IN LISBON: Green wine and yellow trams

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I was thrilled to be on the road again, especially since Lisbon is such a great place for a weekend getaway. We hopped on a plane on a Friday after work, and we got to the Portuguese capital just in time to hit the bars.

CASTELO:

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Praca do Comercio is the main square in the centre. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we climbed up the big arch at Rua Augusta to see it all from above.

From there we went to Castelo, a nice neighbourhood where you get great views of the city centre and the Tagus. The area is full of little winding roads and there’s also the castle (which gives the area its name) which is very nice.

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We walked all the way up there but you can take the traditional tram n. 28, although it can get very crowded on weekends. But even if you’re walking, follow the tram tracks and you will get to the main sights.

A bit further is Feira da Ladra, a flea market which is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with stalls selling all sorts of things.

This area is also full of churches and vantage view points, so you can easily spend a whole day there.

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For lunch we stopped at Princesa do Castelo, a veggie restaurant which was simple but very nice. Lunch for two including tip cost 23€.

BELEM:

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Belem is a great area where you will find some of the main historical highlights of Portugal.

We started at the Monument to the Discoveries, which celebrates the age of Portuguese exploration. This is one of my favourite things in Lisbon – the massive map of the world within a compass is very impressive, especially when you’re at the top of the monument.

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We then visited Jeronimos Monastery, which is a beautiful building full of history. The tombs of historic figures such as Vasco da Gama and Luis de Camoes can be seen in the church there.

Nearby is Belem Tower, the place where Portuguese ships would leave from to explore the world.

This whole area is really nice, especially when it’s sunny.

And you wouldn’t want to miss the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, the place where Portuguese custard tarts are originally from – it is a must see, and although the queues can be quite long, service is quick and these treats are truly delicious!

BY NIGHT:

There are loads of great bars and restaurants in Lisbon.

Around Castelo, we stopped for a drink at Cruzes Credo. The place is nice but the menu is not particularly veggie-friendly.

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Around Baixa, the pedestrianised area in the city centre, we stopped for a nightcap at one of the many bars. Most places around there look a bit similar and are quite touristy, but it’s still cheaper than London and many places are open till one or two in the morning. Rossio is another area full of traditional cafes.

Another nice place we visited was Bio, a nice veggie restaurant around Rossio. Dinner for two including a drink for less than 20€!

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But really the main area for partying in Lisbon is Bairro Alto. It gets completely packed at night, with bar after bar selling cheap beers and cocktails. Many of these places also offer live music.

We stumbled upon a bar called Spot, which was very nice (they were playing Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes when we arrived, so I loved it straight away), and we stayed there for the rest of the night.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Tap and Easyjet offer the best connections from London. The flight takes around 2h30. Book in advance as tickets are not as cheap as they used to be.
  • Transportation: The Metro system in Lisbon is very reliable and easy to navigate. The best thing to do is buying a reusable card from a self-service machine and charge it with some cash. You can use it in all public transportation, and it’s really cheap (the ride from the airport costs only 1.50€). Plus if you’re in the city centre you end up seeing a lot on foot.
  • Stay: We stayed at Artbeat Rooms (this was my second time there), which is ideally located in the city centre. Gosia, the owner, is great and very helpful. But Lisbon has many good options, with award-winning hostels at a good price.
  • Money: Lisbon is significantly cheaper than London, which is always good news. A beer costs around 2€ and a meal at a restaurant costs around 10€ per person.
  • Food: Traditional Portuguese food is not really veggie-friendly, but you can get great cheese and wine (who needs anything else?). We did our research through Happy Cow in advance, and that was very helpful.
  • What to see: We only went for the weekend, but you’d need a few more days to see it all. The Calouste Gulbenkian museum is supposed to be great. Further afield, Caiscais is a nice place for a day trip in the summer – this famous beach resort is only a short train ride away from Lisbon. Nearby Sintra is also very nice: this Unesco Heritage Site is home to two unusual palaces and perfect for a day out.

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This was our first break of the year. We had a great time in Lisbon – such an awesome city!

THE 5-MINUTE TRIP PLANNER: Lisbon

Portugal is mostly popular with the British because of its beaches, but Lisbon is a great place for a city break.

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There is a lot to see and do, from cultural attractions to a vibrant nightlife.

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And because of the mild weather, it’s a good place to visit for most of the year.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Easyjet normally offers the best prices, and you can go after work on a Friday to make the most of the weekend.
  • Stay: Lisbon has good options for accommodation at better prices than most European capitals. My recommendation is Artbeat rooms, an artsy hostel where each room is dedicated to an artist. They have the best recommendations of places to go, and it’s centrally located.
  • Do: Visit the Monument to the Discoveries and follow it by Jeronimos Monastery – it’s a great overview of the age of exploration and Portuguese history. Then recharge with a cup of coffee and a couple of custard tarts at the place where they were first made.
  • Drink: Stop at one (or a few) of the many bars and restaurants around Chiado and Bairro Alto. There are always new places to go for a glass of local green wine!

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The 5-minute trip planner: Planning a short trip in no time.