Every time I return to the same streets, my eye always chances upon something previously undiscovered: a stunning view that had escaped my notice, a restaurant with a tempting menu or even a newly-opened art gallery. At first glance, though, Portugal is a country that seems to change relatively little: independent retailers selling homewares or religious paraphernalia sit alongside trendy boutqiues and international chainstores, bacalhau (salt cod) still features highly on menus, resisting cosmopolitan competition. Every town is speckled with crumbling facades, somehow adding to the country's low-key charm while also hinting at tough financial times.
|Evora's quiet streets|
Yet despite the tumbledown houses dotting the landscape and the occasional feeling that time has stood still, Portugal is developing. Lisbon and Porto boast cutting-edge galleries and museums, as well as impressive infrastructure installed in the run up to Euro 2004. The traditional and modern seem to coexist happily, resulting in an appealing fusion of old and new. In Porto, the slick metro glides across the top of the nineteenth century Ponte Luis I, depositing its human cargo high above the riverside Cais de Gaia. Making your way down the hillside to the swanky restaurants on the water's edge with their panoramic windows, you wind through quiet cobbled streets where washing waves in the breeze and cats lounge in the sunshine. Grocers shops and neighbourhood bars are the only businesses in these lanes; you could be in a small rural town anywhere in the country. Emerging on lively Cais de Gaia, you're plunged back into Porto: a low-key, laid-back city, but a city nonetheless.
|Ponte Dom Luis I seen from Gaia's streets|
It's just this blend of old and new, of calm and bustling, that makes me hope that I'll keep returning to Portugal for years to come.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about my experiences of travelling around Portugal by bus and train. For now, here are some photographs of the towns and cities I visited on my journey from north to south.
|The coast at Foz, Porto|
|Casa Serralves, Porto|
|Bom Jesus do Monte, near Braga|
|Coimbra's old town|
|The Convento de Cristo, Tomar|
|Church, Vila Nova Milfontes|
|The coastline near Lagos|
You may also be interested to read the article on Porto I wrote for The Travel Belles.