One day in Sintra … city of kings!

Sintra had not been on my original travel plans, but something I picked up on the way. It was anyway just possible after I completed the fisherman’s way quicker than expected. So why Sintra? Well, it’s basically a really nice town and world heritage site located about 40mins from Lisbon by train. A really worthwhile day trip I found – completely different from the outdoor experience of the fisherman’s trail.


Sintra’s charm stems from several royal estates and palaces that bring along a lot of history (full wiki info here). I visited palace of Sintra, the impressive Pena national palace (looks like a castle from a fairytale) and Monserrate (with it’s amazing gardens) – to do all at once is too much for one day unless you just want to race through the estates. You can visit them using the local bus services (EUR12,50 per day, see map above). I skipped the visit to mainland Europe’s westernmost point Cabo da Roca (see here) for reasons of poor weather … rain had really caught up with me after a sunny week … and it was foggy as hell.


Saxon Kings in Portugal

I was a little surprised to see the german royals of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld mentioned on a large board in Pena palace. Indeed, Ferdinand the nephew of the duke Ernest I. married the Portuguese queen Maria II. and rules Portugal until the country became a republic in 1910. Ernest is no nobody, having fathered Prince Albert who later married Queen Victoria of England and thus the progenitor of the current royal family.


Naturally, the downside is that Sintra attracts heaps of tourists, which impacts the atmosphere and most certainly the pricing – I felt like being back in London. It’s wise to get early to Sintra (before the train that arrives 11am) to see place like Pena before all the day trippers and organised tours arrive.

Pena national palace


Sintra Palace




And then it was time to return to a totally frozen London. The airport was pretty busy, but my own mood had picked up from what was a day of many thoughts for me. Back to winter sports and most importantly, Alex!

View from my house the next morning



Time for a Ginya

Lisbon: Notes from my afternoon tour

The bus over from Porto Covo took a good two hours, but was pretty convenient and had good speed, free wifi (Rede Expressos). It drops you in Lisbon Sete Rios station or the zoo to make it simple. There are good public transport links from  there. The weather was no longer stellar and hence I decided on a bit of culture by joining the free tour in Lisbon’s city center – usually a good, alternative view on the city.

We met 3pm at Largo do Chiado – not far from my favorite district, the bohemian Bairro Alto. While learning a ton about Lisbon & Portugal, we moved through the center, the castle and finally into the medieval district with lots of more traditional housing akin to time pre-earth quake (though mostly rebuilt). The guide was pretty detailed at times, but overall a very interesting afternoon that we concluded with a shot of Ginja liquor – tasty! I put a few bullets below with some interesting facts I picked up.


A few facts about Lisbon … (more on wiki if you like)

  • Oldest city in Europe: While not quite the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (as the guide claimed), it is the oldest in Europe. The oldest globally is Damascus (or whats left of it).
  • Oldest established borders since 1249 making it the country with the longest defined borders. 
  • 10 countries speak Portuguese: I was somewhat surprised to hear that so many countries speak Portuguese – be it some are very small. They are Brasil (207m people), Angola (29m), Mozambique (27m), Portugal (11m), Guinea-Bissau (2m), East Timor (1m), Equatorial Guinea (<1m), Macao (<1m), Cape Verde (<1m), Sao Tome and Principe (<1m). The countries span the entire globe of what used to be the first global superpower. 
  • Arabic influences: The moors (more specifically, their occupation) left marks not only in Spanish lingua, but also i Portugues with c8% of the vocabulary coming from Arabic rather than latin. For example, the algarve region simply denotes ‘west’ in arabic [pronounced ‘gharb’] – so al-gharb = the west. 
  • Vasco da Gama: Reached India in 1498 as the first European and still most famous Portuguese. His achievements were fundamental to make Portugal the first truely global empire. On my travels I have come across the Portuguese in many places uch as Macao and most recently in Bahrain (trading post & fortress). Nagasaki is another unsuspecting example of their influence – while the fishing village existed before, it was the trading the P. initiated that made it bigger.
  • Carnation revolution: Portugal was one of the longest lasting authoritarian dictatorships in the world. In 1974 it ended in a revolution with almost no shots leading the country into demoscracy and ending the disliked colonial wars for which many Portuguese men & youth were conscripted.
  • Lisbon earthquake in 1755: At 8,5-9 magnitude one of the most potent earthquakes ever recorded (top spot goes to Chile in 1960 at 9,4-9,6). I devasted Lisbon, but also many countries around. 15% of Portuguese population died & two thirds a of Lisbon’s inhabitants. The king, afraid it could happen again, lived in a tent for the coming 20 years. At the time it was considered divine intervention as it happened on All Saints day (1 Nov) where not only many people gathered in churches, but also lit candles – all of which made things worse. After the earthquake – the city was hit by a huge Tsunami wiping out those the seeked refuge near the water. It did, however, also inspire new techonology and ways to constuct a city (such as the Baixa district). Given large quakes happen every 250-300y, the next one is due soon.
  • Igreja de São Domingos: I only visited one church in Portugal (well, exclude those that are part of castles). It is right in the center of Lisbon and has now burnt 20 times. Appearantly, it was cursed to keep burning by a Jewish family following the Lisbon massacre outside the church (1506) killing thousands of Jews. The family relocated to Amsterdam and built the largest synagoge there (‘Portuguese synagogue’)
  • Orange = Portugal: In some langauges like Persian, Portugal refers to the country as well as the orange fruit. It was brought to Europe by, you guessed it, the P.
  • Codfish central: Lisbon & Portugal love theior codfish or Bacalhau as they call it. It usually comes in salted & dried form and features high & often in local cuisine.
  • Ginya liquor: A liquor made from sour cherries. Really tasty, so don’t miss to try one as you visit Lisbon.

Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Almograve – Vila Nova de Milfontes – Porto Covo

The last day for me on the trail had arrived – a total of 175km in a little more than 5 days. While there were still two stages to go (35km in total), my plan was to do a double today and move on to visit Lisbon and Sintra before heading home to spend time with Alex.

The first stage to Vila Nova de Milfontes went pretty quick. It’s just 15km and mostly on solid hiking path’. In fact, you get to the city already after 11km (so a bit more than 2h), but on the wrong side of the river. The ferry service wasn’t operating and hence left me no choice but to walk the 4km across the bridge further up the river.

Weather was still good though with a few more clouds. Rain was forecast for the coming days – an extra motivation to get the trip wrapped up. Rain is very much-needed, as the country already faces water shortages with reservoir levels running very low. A theme that echoed in several places i visited.

I reached Vila Nova right on time for lunch though I somehow managed to sit down in probably the only restaurant that wouldn’t serve food on that fine Sunday. Instead the waiter was busy grilling fish for himself in front of my nose. Well, I had my own food anyway ;o)

The final 20km stretch to Porto Covo was slow. The path was now mainly sand again. About two hours after Vila Nova I met a hikers going the opposite direction. It was now after 3pm and when they told me they had left Porto Covo 10am I figured I am in for a long day. However, the path soon improved as it led don from the cliffs onto the beach. On the wet bits you can walk pretty well actually.

Here I met a fellow hiker also Porto Covo bound. His name is Alex and he is from Sheffield where he deals in clothing though aims at minimising the time in England and rather prefers to spend time in cheaper places – sounds familiar.

Different to most hikers (e.g. 90% German & early 20’s), he is in my age category and has seen a few things in life. We had a rather entertaining and at times pretty deep conversation about life, relationships and the pros & cons of our lifestyle. Glad to have met him. He will be a few more weeks in Portugal – general direction of travel being North towards Porto.

After a short visit to a fortress on the way, we reached Porto Covo by 6pm – a pretty little town right on the sea. We checked into the hostel (‘Ahoy’), which had been recommended to us. Nikolai runs it and is super helpful setting you up and giving you some good tips. We were hungry and hit town for a bit of food (and, of course, a football game in the background). With us was a french fellow (Hughes from near Paris) who also stayed in Ahoy and so yet again the evening turned out pretty entertaining and let the pain in the feet disappear as if by magic.

And here I was. End of the trail. It was beautiful and one of the most scenic routes I have come across. Many amazing people, some interesting new knowledge and a good break from the troubles i encountered the last week. Buen camino!

Here the whole route from Cabo de Sao Vicente – 175km away


Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Odeceixe – Zambujera – Almograve (The German fellowship)

The morning started off pretty relaxed in hostel seixe. Hanna, who had stayed in the night before, was enjoying her morning coffee in the living room and slowly the rest of us got up. Only the manager Robert i didn’t meet. He and the Walz-Robert stayed out a little later and let’s say were in good spirits by the time they got home.

Hanna and Robert were headed for Sines that day while, initially, I started out by myself. I ended up taking the wrong way out of Odeceixe adding a few km (I missed a pretty large bridge that you need to cross as therre is no way to pass the river later on), but on the flip side bumped into Jenny & Lukas from Trier who left a little after me. Lukas just finished his bachelor and is now contemplating what to do next while Jenny is going into her second apprenticeship in summer and meanwhile doing a mix of small jobs & travel. We would walk the next two days together.

Once you get on the core part of the fisherman’s way (a typically 4 day march between Odeceixe & Porto Covo, see here) you follow more or less the coastline. The views are nothing short of spectacular as the ever-moving atlantic hits the steep cliffs and battles with the rocks sticking out in the sea. Some pretty big waves and that during again perfect weather on both days with clouds not to be seen anywhere. Not sure it would to be surfing these guys … better be a good swimmer and/or total lunatic!

We talked about loads of things and found a common interest in fantasy movies – specifically lord of the rings. In fact, since Jenny also got herself a walking stick, we both looked akin to the wizard Gandalf (Lukas requested this reference … so here you go).

Distance wise I covered 22km on both days (the first including the extra km for going the wrong way). After day one, when we made it to Zambujera do mar, we were all pretty shattered. The nature of the path is pretty demanding for you walk often on sand. That slows you down quite a bit – on my estimates to about 3km/hour vs. my normal 5km/h walking pace. What slows you down further are frequent stops to take in the scenery – but thats why we are here after all.

Links to both sections on the official website

There aren’t too many stops on the way especially off-season – on day one we found one perfect cafe about 1/3rd of the way for lunch. Otherwise, better bring your snacks yourself. We reached Zambujar before nightfall and, after a welcome beer & a shower, enjoyed a Pizza before retiring in Casa da Praia. Ahh … if you are into nudism – there is a nudist beach just before Zambujar.

The next day started 5am for me, as I had to do my Russian homework still before my skype class with Daria. Next to our accommodation was a nice bakery for probably my best breakfast on the trail yet. Shortly after 9am we hit the trail towards Almograve.

The path wasn’t as sandy at the start (though it was later on) and we made some good pace. The only real stop on the way was Cabo Sardao (with a cheeky beer to celebrate half way) while otherwise there was no place to refuel. Well, we had our supplies ranging from apples/bananas to the dryest bread on earth and, of course, chocolate bars ;o).

Once in Almograve, we checked into a huge hostel (looked like some former military building now painted in white to me) and went shopping, as Jenny kindly offered to cook that night. Pasta with tomato, onion & cheese. It turned out pretty tasty and, over some local wine, got the conversation going quickly. We were joined by my room-mate Tim. He is from California and left his finance job for some travels before getting back into the job market. Another 10w lie ahead of him – enjoy!

While Lukas retired after dinner, the three of us headed over to a ‘bar’, watched Befica winning 3:1 and trying (hard) to have a conversation with an older local man. With little success admittedly. Portuguese is pretty hard and my spanish skills of close to no help (plus, they don’t seem to like the spanish too much – so keep it english/german ;o) Then it was time for a really cold nights sleep in the hostel – even two blankets were not enough!

And here the fellowship ended. Gandalf one continued to Porto Covo (aka mordor) while team Trier hopped on a bus to Lisbon (I still suspect they went to Isengard as I believe Jenny is Saruman in disguise). It was fun guys – thanks for the time on the fisherman’s trail & safe travels.


Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Arrifana to Odeceixe (… on the ‘Walz’ for an evening)

After the long 48km yesterday, I took my time to get going. Today my ambition was to reach Odeceixe some 28km away. That’s where the real fisherman’s trail would begin. Until then I continued on the historical way. The path took me through a few villages and mainly foresty areas, fields and along a canal towards the final stretch.

On the way, during a day yet again blessed with sunshine (one wonders if there even exists a portuguese word for cloud), I walked past trees full of oranges, saw lama’s (glady they didn’t spit) and a windmill in Odeceixe.

However, the real highlight of the day came later. In my hostel (‘hostel seixe’), which is owned by Matthias from Austria and run by Robert (originally from Leipzig), I met two German travellers – Robert & Hanna. They are both from Karlsruhe and currently on what we call ‘Walz’ in German. Essentially, 3y of travels once formal apprentice ship as say craftsman has passed (see below for more colour). Hanna is almost 4y on the road while Robert 2y.

Further, there was two friends from Trier (Jenny & Lukas) who alse stayed for the night. Over a shared dinner, Matthias with wife & daughter joined as well, we enjoyed some fantastic conversations and some really entertaining stories from all parties involved. Topics ranged from experiences on the road of our walz guys, surfer stories & so e of my own experiences. A large map on the kitchen wall helped to check out where each of us had been already. The  night went on for a bit for some of us (people on the Walz are never shy of a drink or two and the local bar was open late that Thursday evening …).

The “Walz” – a few points to note

  • Its a mainly German tradition dating back to the middle age where you literally work & travel
  • Going on travels around the country used to be a prerequisite to become a master (‘Meister’) of ones guild, now its voluntary though protected as immaterial cultural hertitage in Germany since 201

How does it work?

You start off with a travel book (Wanderbuch) denoting some of your personal details, education and people that vouch for you (your elders kind of). It also denotes the ‘no go’ area – a typically 50km circle around your home town that can’t be visited for the 3y period. Records of places visited and certificates of employment are entered. Usually an elder (craftsman already on the walz) picks you up and settles you in. Travels have to be exclusively on foot & hitchhiking (planes possible for intercontinental so sometimes frowned upon). You take no money with you, but you can earn normal wages on the way.

I have personally always admired this German tradition, but never had the chance to meet any in person. Now I finally have and think its bloody awesome! So if you meet one of these fellows … help them out. They will repay you promtly – with solid work & entertainment pure.