Written by Swati

March 9th 2023

I’m fully convinced that people who live in places with nicer weather are better people. Never have I been smiled at on the street so often or found street musicians playing love songs from the early 2000s as the sun set. In the coastal cities of Portugal: Porto, Aviero, and Coimbra I see such an affection and pride for life. Life is art and art is the simplicity of life. Pastel de nata with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice first thing in the morning, the laughter of children tinkling in the background. In Portugal I see public displays of emotion for the first time in Europe, couples dance in the streets, babies waddle up to drop change in open guitar cases, others stroll by on daily walks, laughter in their eyes. How could life even be that bad with a protective blanket of sunshine over you?

I see a woman swipe away tears on the train to Aveiro, a connection on my way to Coimbra for a day trip out of Porto. White wired headphones in, I can only imagine what was floating through her ears. An old love song, reminders of a former flame, or a voicemail from a loved one thousands of miles away. Gentle waves lap at the shore out of the window, tenderness clouds her face. When our eyes meet she sends me a sad smile and I wonder what realizations she’s having on this train ride, where she’s headed, and what decisions she’s made recently that led her up to this moment. Accompanied only by a simple black tote bag, worn leather heels, and a swipe of red lipstick, she could be headed off to see the lake and decompress after a long work week or mourn a loss in her starched black dress pants. Maybe she hugged someone for the last time or hasn’t seen the sea in years and the fondness of it all brings tears to her eyes. This must be saudade. The longing and melancholy for something lost, something that may have never existed. 

Across from me a French couple does crossword puzzles together. If I was feeling any more adventurous I would’ve struck up a conversation but I’m too wrapped in scribbling down answers to Physics practice tests, sneaking in glances at the sea, and making up backstories for my fellow train dwellers. I love catching people in the midst of existence. Running to catch the bus, nodding off on early morning transportation, caught in the rain, burnt tongues from hot coffee, sticky fingers from melted gelato, widening eyes when realization hits. Struck by the humanity of it all I made the last minute decision to stop off in Aveiro and spend some time by the water before taking the next train out to Coimbra two hours later. With the lake a 30 minute walk away, I took a waterside stroll, saw Aveiro’s salt fields, and sat by the pier. On the way back to the train station I had bacalhau à lagareiro com batatas (cod with potatoes) and the blend of fresh caught seafood, homeliness of the restaurant, and kindness of the waiter made for an incredible meal. I was a bit rushed to get back to catch the train, but Aveiro was a sweet coastal town.

For Nature Enthusiasts: Portugal’s Benagil Caves

Friday, February 25, 2022 | Written by Claire

Blue. That was all I could see for miles. Perched upon a sea kayak along the Benagil Coast in Lagos, Portugal, I paddled with all my might against the roaring waves that trailed behind the wake of a passing speed boat. To my right was an endless stretch of glistening turquoise waters, while to my left, giant white cliffs loomed into the sky. As the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks grew louder, so did the sound of hundreds of seagulls and pigeons, circling above a giant chasm of rocky shores. The Benagil Caves is a sight that everyone must see at least once in their lives. Not only does the crisp, clean, water hold such depth and color, the caves themselves are canvases of natural forces carved out in circular patterns over millions of years. 

At the Benagil Shore in Portugual, there are things fit for everyone who wants to see its pristine beauty. For those looking for a more relaxed activity, sunbathing or swimming along the coast is always an option. Sands in Portugual are more rusty-colored and coarse when compared to the white-sand beaches, but they’re clean and toasty, just enough for you to get a tan. For those looking for better views off the shore with minimal effort, taking one of their boat tours is the best option. They have speed boat tours every hour and in small groups, they take you on a cruise through caves and water holes where people normally wouldn’t be able to swim to. While you might get a splash here or there, you might be able to spot a whale or two on your excursion and you’ll be returning with a camera roll full of beautiful pictures and great memories for sure. 

If you want an up close and personal look at caves, go sea kayaking with a guided tour. Those people can help you get to certain landmarks such as the crocodile rock while telling you stories about how the rocks formed. Not only do these tour guides help you dock your kayaks, but they’ll also help you get back on board in case you flip! Sea Kayaking is a great way to be immersed in the natural beauty while paddling close to the water without getting drenched in the cold waters during the winter. You’ll get an adrenaline rush from racing through the waves and get a waft of cool, ocean breeze while basking in the warmth of the sunlight. 

Finally, for the ultimate adrenaline rush and to fuel your love for speed, you can go mountain biking across the southern coast where you can ride along the top of the cliffs and get a stunning aerial view.  There are trials for experienced and non-experienced riders of all ages and rental companies are super accommodating. If you’re going during the summer, make sure you have a reservation as tourism in Lagos will skyrocket. Mountain biking will give your legs a workout for sure, but the ups and downs of the coastal trails will get you flying out of your seat at times, so be careful! If you’re worried about getting lost, they also have many guided tours as well. But if not, don’t fret. There is a special app where you can load a pre-marked trail onto your phone so all you do is just follow along the path and then you’ll end up where you started, safe and sound. Each bike also comes with repair kits, locks, helmets, and tire pumps just in case you get a flat tire along the road, so you’re well prepared to face whatever comes your way!


Views from Porto

Monday, October 25, 2021 | Written by Mira

After a pretty stressful morning including a 200-euro taxi due to a windstorm causing a cancelation of trains, we were in the air, headed to Porto, Portugal! Portugal was not on my wish list at the start of the semester, but when one of my friends asked if I wanted to go, I said why not! And I am so glad I did. 

 DAY 1

The Chapel of Souls with iconic blue tiles was our first sight emerging from the metro.

We landed around noon on Thursday and headed straight for our Airbnb area to have lunch and drop our bags. We had lunch at a small confeitaria, called Confeitaria Belo Mundo (Rua de Santa Catarina 542, 4000-446 Porto, Portugal), where I tried a Portuguese lanche; where a sandwich meets pastry. Compared to France, food in Portugal is quite inexpensive – my whole lunch was 5 euros!

Our Airbnb was in an area called Bolhão, filled with restaurants and shops. We walked around, weaving in and out of souvenir shops and local boutiques, and gaping up at grand cathedrals in awe. With iconic, intricately colored tiles, the building fronts were some of the most unique I have ever seen. We took Thursday kind of slow as we got acclimated to our new surroundings and just appreciated walking around with no set itinerary.

 DAY 2

On Friday, we had two plans: (1) Lunch reservations at 12:30pm and (2) Entry tickets to a bookstore with no set time. We started our day at 11am, and even with our lunch reservation quickly approaching, we decided to head out for breakfast – a pre-lunch treat. Over 120 years old, Confeitaria Do Bolhão (R. Formosa 339, 4000-252 Porto, Portugal) is a retro bakery with traditional Portuguese treats, including the Portuguese egg tart (pasteis de nata), which was a technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off in a recent season, pointed out by one of my friends.  The pastry is best enjoyed with cinnamon, which we actually forgot to add because we were too eager to try it.

Our breakfast/pre-lunch spread including the pasteis de nata.

 After our pre-lunch traditional Portuguese pastry, we headed for our lunch reservation to try a traditional Portuguese meal, a francesinha, a sandwich topped with melted cheese and drenched in sauce. We ate at Brasão Coliseu (R. de Passos Manuel 205, 4000-385 Porto, Portugal) because in our research, this place was recommended and had both the traditional meat version and an alternative vegetarian version. The francesinha was delicious and the ambience of the restaurant was immaculate.

My vegetarian francesinha with a cup of tea.

Our next stop was the bookstore, Livraria Lello (R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal) one of the oldest and prettiest bookstores in Portugal. Allegedly, this bookstore served as inspiration for Harry Potter, but according to some British people in front of us in line, that was just a rumor. Either way, the bookstore is absolutely gorgeous and has a massive staircase and striking architecture. It’s pretty small, so they limited the number of people inside at a time, but it is a must-see destination in Porto. 

 After the bookstore, we went down the street to a lookout point called Miradouro da Vitória. From here, you could see just how hilly the city of Porto is and how the sun glistened off of the Douro River. From the viewpoint, we continued our descent down the road to the river front, where we walked along the river to find a boat tour. At the port, we got tickets for a 5:30pm boat, which was incredible. We went up and down the river, almost to the Atlantic Ocean, and we got to see the sun as it almost set behind the horizon of the sea.

Impromptu photoshoot with this incredible background.

 After the boat, we had dinner at a restaurant on the riverfront, where we officially saw the sunset and the lights of the city shining brightly against the water. 

DAY 3  

We had a slightly earlier start today, and our goal was to explore the south side of the river. We stopped before the bridge at a coffee shop called Esquires Coffee Porto (R. de 31 de Janeiro 215, 4000-543 Porto, Portugal), for breakfast. 

This panorama!

As we crossed along the upper portion of the Luís I Bridge, we kept stopping to take pictures of the view. On the south side of the bridge was a garden, Jardim do Morro, with yet another postcard-worthy view. 

We took the cable car down to the riverfront, with even more exceptional views. There was a little market at the bottom with jewelry and souvenirs. We even found some street art, the Bordalo II half rabbit, made from pieces of scrap and materials from around the city.

Portuguese street art sculpture. Look closely and you can see the metal pieces!

Our next goal was to see the sunset at the beach. Porto is a little too in-land to walk to the beach, so we found a tourist office and asked what the best way to get to the beach was. She gave us a map with instructions (go up the hill to the bus stop and take bus 15) and we were on our way! We probably could have taken the cable car back up the hill, but why spend another 6 euros when you can walk up a giant staircase in a hurry? In hindsight, we probably should have figured out how to get to the beach before we took the cable car in the first place, so we could have bought a round trip ticket. Either way, we made it to the bus stop, and waited for the bus. Out of all my bus experiences in Metz and Tel Aviv this summer, this was by far the wildest, perhaps scariest bus ride I’ve ever had (this includes the time I was on a bus in Tel Aviv that hit a taxi). This normal-sized bus zigzagged around streets of suburban Porto which it arguably should not have been able to fit through. Pedestrians flattened themselves against the buildings to avoid getting hit. I guess the bus driver was very experienced, but I could not even imagine driving a sedan down these cobblestone suburban Porto-streets. 

The beach was everything we hoped it would be and more. We had a few hours to relax in the outdoor seating of a restaurant and watch the sun as it dropped to sea level. When the main event was about to begin, we went down to a walkway and sat on the edge. The sky lit up with reds, oranges, and yellows, and the sun illuminated the nearby clouds. Since being at GTL, I had yet to sit and really see a sunset. And in about 12 hours, we would see the sunrise from 30,000 feet. 

The sunset was still visible and the band was playing at the start of the bridge. Truly magical!

We caught the last bus back to Porto and walked back from the garden to our Airbnb. Before crossing the bridge, we walked up a hill to the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, a lookout point in front of a 16th century monastery. The sunset was still slightly visible from up here, and below us by the bridge, a band was playing Portuguese music. How was this real life? 

Spunky, Sassy, and Portuguese

Noa’s back – and keeping us up-to-date on her travels and all of the food and activities along the way! Check out her latest blog post on her best-planned trip yet: Portugal, where she met up with her best friend and enjoyed every minute!

It’s time to set the mood. Set your record player to play So Danco Samba by Antônio Carlos Jobim on a low volume, crank up the heat in your room to about 70 degrees, spray the Febreeze scent “ocean”, and let a cool breeze make its way through the window. Welcome to Lisbon, Portugal.

If you haven’t been to Portugal… go. I decided I was going to go quite a while ago when I saw round trip flights from Luxembourg for about 35 euros, and when checking the weather map of Europe, it was the warmest destination. Quickly after buying the flight I found a decently priced hotel and reserved it, knowing it wouldn’t be too difficult to find someone to go with me. The first person I called, was one of my best friends, Elle from CU Boulder. She’s studying Mechanical Engineering abroad in Ireland this semester, and we had talked a lot about how we need to see each other at least once (and I actually will be visiting her in April in Ireland as well!). It wasn’t hard to convince Elle, and it was lovely when I landed late at night in Portugal and made my way to the hotel that she greeted me with a big hug and a Big Mac in hand.

That night, we didn’t mean to, but ended up staying up until about 4am, catching up on everything and convincing ourselves that we would eventually go to sleep. We woke up pretty late the next morning so we took an Uber to the breakfast place that I had seen during my intense food research of Portugal. Most places don’t have Uber at all, and usually I prefer to walk, but I was pretty hangry, needed to get there FAST, and it was also unusually cheap. Normally I don’t do much research, if any, about a place (if you haven’t noticed) but this was my number one trip destination so I wanted to make sure we were well fed. And boy, were we well fed. The first brunch place we went to was called Nicolau and was right in the middle of downtown. I ordered Eggs Benedict with a Matcha tea latte, and Elle got a burger with a red bun. Not only was it the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had (I came back my last day and got it again), but it was so well-priced. That’s when we realized that Portugal is in fact one of the cheapest countries of western Europe. It wasn’t even that it was absurdly cheap, it was that it was just very very reasonable.

After brunch we adventured around and every building was noticeably more beautiful than the next. Each wall was lined with unique tile in the most vibrant colors that contrasted so well with everything else whether it was the flowers on the trees or the ocean in the distance. Elle and I repeatedly mentioned how happy we felt just walking and talking in this dream of a city. We visited Castelo de São Jorge which gave us an amazing view of Lisbon from the top of the hill and got to see a lot of peacocks parading about. After walking more throughout downtown we grabbed a cappuccino and an egg tart (a classic Portuguese treat) and then headed to get dinner at another place I had read about called Frangasqueira Nacional. This place is a hole-in-the-wall chicken joint, run by a spunky, sassy Portuguese woman who doesn’t have a care in the world. We met this man who has traveled and lived all over who gave us some reassurance that waiting for 35 minutes for our chicken was just what was going to have to happen, and it was worth it. I’m fairly certain that our chicken was ready after 5 minutes but the woman placed it on the side, helped 5 other customers before us, and kept making sarcastic jokes that were confusing but we laughed since she was what stood between us and our chicken. Either way it was probably the best chicken with garlic rice I have ever had. We ended up taking it back to the hotel and even though we ordered an enormous amount of food we ate it all immediately and it was only 11$ for an entire chicken and a large side of rice. So that was something else.

The next morning we woke up a bit earlier and walked to another brunch place called Fauna & Flora where we split an açai bowl, and I got an iced coffee with avocado toast and poached egg. The Portuguese win at brunch, I just will put it like that. The restaurant was near the beach, so for about 2 hours afterwards we laid in the sun and listened to a band play jazz music (bossa nova specifically). If you know me well, you know that this is genuinely one of my favorite and most listened to genres of music, so Elle got to see me feel so much joy that I knew every song they would play and could sing along.

Post-beach, we walked more around downtown and eventually had dinner at an indoor food market (similar to the one I went to in Amsterdam) where I had a burger (she’s back!!) and met some other girls studying abroad in Spain. Afterwards we sat at a nice bar and listened to more jazz music and then went home.

Elle left early the next morning back home, and while I was quite sad that she wasn’t with me anymore, I got my butt out of bed and headed towards a flea market. It was amazing! There were so many cool antiques and artists that were selling their work. I bought a scarf since my other one disappeared on my ‘night hike’ in Austria and wished that my mom was with me the whole time because it was right up her alley. Afterwards I headed back to Nicolau nearby to grab some breakfast and an açai smoothie before making my way back to the airport.

My whole trip to Portugal felt meant to be. Every single person was kind, the weather was absolutely perfect, the food unbelievable, and I got to experience it all with my best friend.

Excited to keep you all updated on everything! Time is going by so quickly and I am appreciative of every minute and every person who reads my blog.



Fall Break: A Week of Travel Adventures

A little #TBT for you – take a trip back in time with us to revel in Quinnell’s fall break travels to Portugal and Spain!

Running to catch trains, being gross from long travels, eating some of the best food I have ever eaten in my entire life, seeing architecture my eyes only ever dreamed of, and experiencing moments of a lifetime is what my fall break consisted of. In comparison to Georgia Tech’s fall break, it is actually a break, a week to just relax without having to worry about school. I really appreciate how during fall break, I was not required to do a lot of schoolwork and had time to get it done beforehand so I could enjoy my travels fully. And so for fall break some GTL students and I decided to take a mini-tour of Portugal and Spain.

At the beach in Porto, Portugal

The first stop on my fall break was Porto, Portugal. I arrived in the city around 8 AM and did the one thing I knew how to do best: search for food like the hungry college student I am. I was able to find a café that was open around that time of the morning and was able to eat a nice, hearty breakfast and get my daily intake of coffee. Porto was a lot different from I expected it to be. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the amount of Portuguese being spoken, however, something very unique to Porto was that since it is so close to France and Spain, there are many languages spoken there even though Portuguese is the national language. Some of the things I enjoyed doing in Porto were seeing the beach and watching my friends surf for the first time in cold waters, visit the bookstore with the red staircase that inspired the Harry Potter books, and eat traditional pernil con queijo sandwich from Casa Guedes. Porto was a lot windier than I expected, but so beautiful at the same time with the yellow and pink tones cascading through the hills on houses with red rooftops.



The morning we arrived in Lisbon was the day I got the workout of the century, as we woke up late to catch our bus to Lisbon, and all the public transportation was not running at the time. We only had 30 minutes until our bus would leave, and too many hills to climb in Porto to reach the very top of our destination. With a “we can do this” and fitness instructor enthusiasm we made it to the bus station just in time! Once we arrived in Lisbon, the city was full of food and beautiful sites to see. I believe the highlight of my time in Lisbon was getting to try the local fish and traditional custard tart pastries. A sight I could not miss while in Lisbon was the one from Castelo de Saint Jorge, as I was able to see a panoramic view of the entire city of Lisbon from one of its highest points and learn more history about the city as well.

Lisbon, Portugal

7AM flight to Madrid, Spain from Lisbon, Portugal

The next stop on my fall break trip was Spain! The country is absolutely gorgeous and a place I dreamed of going to since I was younger. I have always had a deep admiration and appreciation of Hispanic culture. Spain was a dream: I was able to visit Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona for a few days. On Halloween night, Valencia came to life with parties for college students and satisfied my paella dreams, as I ate two different styles of paella while I was in Valencia. By the time I reached Madrid, I was exhausted from traveling to so many places, and I was only halfway through fall break! In Madrid, since we arrived later in the day and it was raining, I did what most locals do during this type of gloomy day: I went to Primark! For those who may not know what Primark is, it is the store of your fashion dreams as everything has very low prices for pretty good quality. After shopping, I had some amazing tacos at Takos and the best churros and chocolate in the city. Lastly, I made it to Barcelona with the group I was traveling with. I would have to say that Barcelona was the highlight of my trip, as we spent the most time here, and I did not feel rushed to eat and see everything in one day. While in Barcelona, I was able to meet new people at the hostel we were staying at, take a walking tour in the city, see Gaudi’s architecture casually decorating the streets of Barcelona, and of course see the infamous Sagrada Familia!

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Overall, my fall break consisted of a lot of traveling, satisfying my hunger, seeing historical landmarks, and making new memories with fellow GTL students. From traveling to different cities in Spain and Portugal, I was able to see  how different each one was from the people, slight variations in culture, and food. I have gained a new perspective and appreciation of those countries from traveling there. When planning fall break, I would recommend making plans early to save money on travel, and to visit fewer places because traveling can be exhausting, and it minimizes all the things you can see and experience of each city.