Monday, 22 August 2011

Places we stayed in Portugal

The world has changed since I last went backpacking. Once upon a time you just had to turn up and hope for the best that you'd find cheap accommodation for the night.

Now, with the internet, rock up to a backpackers hostel and you'll be asked if you made a reservation. All hostels have computers and really, well, you have no excuse!!

I didn't reserve anywhere apart from our first night in Lisbon, saying I was only one person and thus shitting it a little as my son and I staggered up the hill, staggered some more, got lost, staggered some more and hoped to God we wouldn't be turned away.

Johnnies Place, 18f Calcada de Graca. In the heart of Alfama, the old part of Lisbon, famed for Fado, Portuguese music.
16 euros, breakfast included. An english girl was there when I arrived and I asked if my son and I could sleep top to toe. If it wasn't possible, that was fine, we'd leave (my son looking shattered after his night's non sleep at heathrow..)
She phoned the owner and it was fine!!!! In a six bed dorm, we had the bottom bunk and I was too knackered to really register the kicks during the night!
This hostel was my son's favourite. It was also the only one to offer me my own bed at no extra cost if the hostel wasn't full the next night, but it was, but it didn't matter.

Sintra: Nice Way Hostel, Rua Sotto Mayor. 20 euros, breakfast included.
We were in a five bed dorm the first night but then I asked if we could stay a second and were fortunate enough to get a bunk in the ten bed dorm. Same price as it was a Friday night when room costs go up a euro!
You could eat an evening meal in this hostel for 8 euros. I asked if I could share a plate with my son because he doesn't eat much (check out the sizes of the half portions for kids, enormous!)
We had soup and a really nice sausage and spinach pie the first night my son didn't like and a kind of seafood paella the second night. Wine was free flowing and I got totally wrecked that first evening with an english guy staying there and some germans from my dorm. Managed to sightsee the next day...

Nazare: A family's home, 30 euros, everything included.
In the guide books it tells you that when you alight your bus in Nazare fisherwomen are there to try sell you a room. I was rather depending on this. It didn't happen.
At the bus station (one of those shed things, can't think what they're called) on the side of the road, my bus driver asked the ticket seller what I should do. The former had some English, the latter didn't. We were directed through a car park.. don't ask me, I didn't understand.

As we alighted the metro in Lisbon a woman had come up to me and my son to show us how to get to the bus station. When I told her we were going to Nazare she looked shocked and asked why? There were better beaches? "The women there, watch out, they will take everything from you. They'll offer you a room and then they'll take take take..."

Nazare is a story all by itself. Walking down the esplanade with my son, seeing these women, who would tout 60 euros a night, 40 euros a night tears pricked behind my eyes. I looked heavenward and implored arch angel Michael to protect us.

An old widow who'd said 40 euros then looked away stood up as I went to walk on and took us to see her friend.

Nazare was my very best and very favourite experience. Perhaps the hardest ones are.

Coimbra; Sofia Chill House hostel. Rua da Sofia 56 1st F. 18 euros with breakfast.
"Does your son want to play on the Wii?" said the woman who had the same name as him as we got there. "No, no don't say that to him," I whispered with a smile. "He won't leave this place to go see anything!"

This was the noisiest hostel, being on a street really close to town and only had one shower and two toilets for 18 guests. But, like all the hostels, the staff were great and fantastic at recommending places to go, places to eat, food or pastries to try, bars where they played Fado music for free...(I took my son, at 10.30 at night, no-one raised an eyebrow. Two other families were there with their kids.) My boy fell asleep so I stayed listening to the music until 1am before taking him home.. Which fortunately was just across the road.
This hostel was also not far from the bus station, where we schleped the next day, Britain bound boo hoo.

So there you have it, the places we stayed, guided by The Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide. Two books I must now dash off and return to the library, four days overdue!!

Don't be afraid to go backpacking in Portugal. It's a blast and the people you meet add the silver linings to your experiences.

I'm not sure how you'd manage the costs if you have more than one child but my guess is, the hostels would let your kids sleep top and tail in one bed. You'd have to look to see if guesthouses were a cheaper option. If I went to Portugal with a boyfriend, guest houses would be (the prices cheaper than a hostel for a private room)

Hostels are always the cheaper option for single people but with the advice you get and the other travellers you meet, many groups of friends were staying at them too.

My son didn't meet any other children in places we stayed. He got on really well though and the staff really enjoyed his presence (oooh!!!)


Frankie P said...

really sounds amazing and a great experience for your boy. My attempt at backpacking only lasted a couple of days as we got a really dodgy hostel in San Francisco, freaked me out a bit. I need to know i have somewhere to sleep at the end of the day..

So would you do it again, another country perhaps??

Stigmum said...

I would definitely do it again but knowing how the climate's changed, would I prebook places? Don't know! Some French girls were heading to the Algarve when I was off to Nazare. They had nowhere and the Algarves booked solid in summer, so the internet and guide books say. I said to them, feeling pretty terrified myself: "Don't worry. The universe has a way of looking after those who travel."
It certainly looked after me and my boy, I hope and I'm sure it looked after them.
Dodgy hostels are all part of it, which is why you must always carry a padlock and some kind of antibiotic cream!! Also, the backpacking culture is to move on quickly, hopefully to somewhere better! At least you tried it though! Some people never do!