Let’s continue our six airports, four flights, four countries and ten days adventure. To recap, we’d departed from Zagreb to Zadar by bus from where we flew to Marseilles. There we spent one night and two very interesting days on which you can read more in the previous Trip Report (French coast in between two flights). After the short visit to France, we continued our trip boarding the flight from Marseille Provence Airport for our first visit to the country that we had heard so much about – Portugal.
Flights and airport experience (and train)
We have departed from France on a late night flight from Marseille Provence Airport where we had landed 36 hours ago, the morning before. Flight over the Pyrenees was also my first night flight on Ryanair. Views did not disappoint – from the moon showing us the way over the mountains all the way to the other side of the peninsula and the coast of Atlantic Ocean. The landing was accompanied by the different kind of lights, the lights of a second biggest city in Portugal – Porto. That sight was my favorite part of that flight but also one of the best ones in my aviation ‘history’. There is something about flying over the sleeping city with each light showing its true size and awakens even during those late night hours. What a better first impression to a city or country? Just one of the reasons what makes flying unique and why I love it so much! Photo of this landing and more info about the flight alone you can find in already motioned previous Report, now let’s explore Portugal.
Flight vs. train experience: As previously mentioned, we decided to make the most of the Ryanair one-way flights booking with no extra fees and that way saved the money moving between two biggest cities in this country that we decided to visit – Lisbon and Porto. We landed in Porto where we spent the first few days of our visit and the return flight(s) was departing from Lisbon. That way we saved money and time having to travel one-way only between the two cities. The only thing left was to find a suitable and affordable one-way transport. Due to the size and influence of both of the cities, connection between the two is more than great. You just have to pick, from the bus, train, low-budget flights, rent-a-car… whatever suits you the best, money and time wise. My initial wish was to rent a car and have a small road trip along the way, however that option was by far the most expensive one. Due to the number of flights and airports we already had booked for this entire trip, even for an AVGeek such as me it was quite enough and we decided for the train option. Traveling by train in the countries that have well-developed high-speed system is such an experience and a pleasure. Rides are so smooth and fast that you feel like flying and you don’t lose the time at airports so it is often even a faster option (prices are similar to the low-budget flight with extra bag). Highly recommend this high-speed Alfa Pendular train line!
However, let’s get back to flying now. Our first return flight was departing from Lisbon Portela Airport – the most important international airport in Portugal and hub of their flag carrier TAP Portugal but also of Ryanair and easyJet. Despite of that, this airport has often come as a target of bad criticism as one of the worst airports in Europe, even the World. Personally I noticed the lack of duty-free shops for last minute souvenir shopping but also restaurants for a coffee or breakfast since we had a morning flight.
On the contrary, we had no problems navigating through the buildings, had a good view of the terminal and as the biggest pro I’d like to point out the connection with the city! This airport is one of very few ones so close to the capital city that it is connected by regular metro lines, no need for any shuttles, special metro or railway lines… All in all with a few souvenirs less in our bags we had no problems boarding our flight to Frankfurt Int. Airport.
In case you decide to pay a few euros extra for located sea reservation with the low-budget airline, my advice is to get the seats at the back since not only they’re usually cheaper but also your view won’t be obstructed by the wings or engines. Exactly that view is something I try to use up to the max by checking the usual route of the flight to see on what side will potential landmarks such as big cities, the Alps, interesting coast and landscapes be located. That’s how I discovered our flight would be flying over nothing less but Paris!
Seats were booked on the left side, window and middle seat and the result was panoramic view of the capital of France. Weather conditions weren’t perfect and Eiffel Tower did stay right beneath us hence out of the view but we still had an amazing view on the rest of the city and Arc de Triomphe as seen on the photo my sister took. Not long after, we have landed into Frankfurt after 3 hours of flight (4 counting the time difference). I’ve already had layovers on this airport but they were always connecting flights by the airline. This time making the layover myself, that wasn’t the case. That’s where the problem happened alongside with the advice I have for you.
BE AWARE: self-made layover at Franfkurt Airport
Upon landing we entered the terminal building for our 4 hour layover. We found our connection flight info on one of the screens where it even stated the departure was from the same terminal building, even the same gate section (E). Only the exact gate number wouldn’t be known up to one hour prior to the departure. With that info in mind and having our hand baggage right by our side we were happy that we won’t have to cross that entire airport to get to our next flight but instead we could do some duty-free shopping, eat some food and study instead. Only to find out once the gate number (1hr before the flight) was available that we’re lacking out of numbers (for instance, on our floor there was only up to E10 gates but our flight was on E20). That wouldn’t be such a problem if one could just get into the elevator and climb up a floor. However, in order to reach the floor above we had to leave the entire area all up until the check-in area meaning we had to go through boarding control and security check which on an airport as big as this one is… a process. Our no-rush-layover, planes spotting and shopping quickly turned into running around the building to catch our flight. My advice for the self-made layovers such as this one is firstly to always leave enough time between the flights for delays and unexpected situations such as this one. Secondly, if the lady in a duty-free shop says she doesn’t see your flight departing any time soon from that part of the airport, listen to her and start a search for your exact gate.
A bit stressed and rushed we managed to catch our flight back home. Just in front of us departed Croatia Airlines flight to Zagreb which was kind of hard to watch since our final destination was also Zagreb but with the budget option – Ryanair flight to Pula and then bus to Zagreb (Ryanair didn’t fly to Zagreb back then yet!). This flight was actually the first flight ever where I had to rebook the fully booked airplane tickets. The ticket I originally booked was from Frankfurt back to Zadar. However, some month prior to the trip Ryanair changed the entire flight schedules for the upcoming season. With the new flight times, we couldn’t make the connection flight; it was even overlapping with our first flight of the day from Lisbon. Only then I realized that they changed timetables for all the flights to Croatia and that now we could make it to flight to Pula instead.
I contacted their customer service via chat option about the problem and possible solution. Their answer was fast and very satisfying I have to say since just a few security questions and few minutes later I got the brand new tickets to my mail address with Pula as our new destination. Upon landing in Pula we knew we would be short on time between landing and catching the last bus to Zagreb that evening so we called and booked a private taxi service waiting for us and getting us to the bus station in record 7 minutes. The advantage of a small airport is a quick exit from the aircraft but from the airport building as well with no long queues for boarding control and the hand luggage only option helps you to exit even faster.
Porto and Lisbon in one week
Porto: Since this city is smaller one of the two, we decided to spend first 3 days of our one week visit here. In those 3 days we visited big sandy beaches of the Atlantic, famous bookshop Livraria Lello whose iconic stairs are believed to have inspired J.K. Rowling, habitant of Porto at the time, for her well-known magic stairs in her bestseller fantasy novels Harry Potter. Alongside all the cute, colorful tiled buildings and narrow streets of the city, the thing that absolutely bought me was the atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, the view of the city from town across the Duro river in the sunset is something breathtaking indeed. However, the atmosphere of the sound of guitar and young people chatting on the blankets filling up the green hills from where the mentioned view kicks in is probably one of the best and most relaxing memories I carry from that one but also all the other trips. This is a town with a charisma and a soul! It is also a town of cheap drinks option due to the amount of young population and students you can easily find 1L of sangria for 2€ in Erasmus bars. Marihuana is also decriminalized meaning it is legal in small amounts. Whether you want a good night out or to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and beautiful views, I highly recommend visiting this city where I can’t wait to go back myself!
Lisabon: Lisbon: As a capital city, Lisbon is definitely not a small and relaxing town such as Porto. However, its size and location offer a variety of new options and experiences. For all of those we had the 4 remaining days to seize. Some being the famous Belem and its tower in vicinity along the Tajo river, old part of Lisbon Alfama filled with small restaurants where during the evening plays Fado – famous Portuguese music genre. Trams are all around the city center with one standing out as the iconic yellow Tram 28. That part of the city we decided to sight see booking an electric tuk-tuk tour (cheaper seaway option) avoiding walking up and down these steep streets in already warm end of May and having so much fun with a local guide driving us around with local tips and stories – highly recommend.
We also visited the biggest indoor aquarium in the Europe, museum dedicated solely to their famous tiles that you can find on many facades. Something that you have to leave one full day for when visiting this area is visit to the protected region of Sintra, region of castles emerging from the woods with so much culture and then proceeding to the Cabo da Roca – westernmost point of continental Europe. The cliffs emerging from below your feet with waves from the Atlantic crashing against them with nothing but the open Ocean as far as your eye can see is a sight that will leave you speechless. On our way back to the city we stopped in one small fishing town Cascais. The atmosphere throughout Lisbon was colored in purple due to blooming season of beautiful Jacarandas trees with purple flowers. The only be aware thing I’d like to mention about this city but also the country generally is the mass tourism. Portugal lives of tourism and they are pros in tricking tourists. For instance, if you decide to listen to some Fado alongside some nice dinner one evening, be aware that various fees usually apply. Sometimes you’re notified about the fees when booking, while entering the restaurant but sometimes only when you open the menu and see that minimum order is 50€ per person because you enjoy Fado while eating there. As a student that budget being for a good couple of dinners instead you might want to leave but don’t be surprised if they try to chase you down the street and so on. Don’t take it personally, it’s the way they do their business but it’s also your right not to fall for all their tricks. One of the tricks being an authentic meal, or what it seemed to be at first, called ‘Iberian pork’ priced as a decent meal only to be served few bread slices with a bit of prosciutto on the side… All in all, every destination has its perks and downsides, downsides is good to be aware of and prepare yourself the best you can and perks such as natural beauty, worldly monuments, amazing ocean climate and location Portugal does not lack making it a definite must-visit destination!
TOP 5 MUST-SEE:
· Cape Roca (Cabo da Roca) and protected region of Sintra,
· One of many kilometers-long sand beaches of the Atlantic right next to the cities,
· Alfama – old part of the city of Lisbon filled with restaurants and Fado accompanied dinners,
· Belem tower and trying out local specialty Pasteis de Nata,
· Sunset over the city of Porto and Duro river from the town Vila Nova de Gaia (right across the river by the Ponte Luis I bridge).
More advices and fun facts about this trip but also my other destinations you can find on my instagram profile @preparefortakeofff.
Stay tuned for the next part of the trip! Until then travel safe and wish you a pleasant flight!