The stories of a couchsurfer

A Review: Portugal

Parque da Casa Ventura Terra

So my time in Portugal has come to an end and, although I prolonged it as much as I possibly could, I must cross back into the Spanish lands and onwards to return to France.

Looking back, when I was about to do the opposite transition and go from Spain into Portugal there were a lot of unknowns. This is the big theme that came out of Portugal – it just wasn’t a country that I had really considered to hold any significance on my journey. It was always going to be visited at some point in time, but there was certainly no emphasis or grand importance to do so.

What followed was slightly less than a fortnight of immense discovery and enjoyment. Part of the enjoyment came from the discovery itself as Portugal continued to produce surprises one after the other. But there was definitely a large chunk of the enjoyment reserved for the people here who were able to provide it.

The Portuguese are extremely hospitable people and are therefore always willing to help. Their legendary thirst for discovery still exists and so are very welcome to tourists and travellers that are willing to share a story or two.

Perhaps for this reason, Couchsurfing was easy to do in Portugal. Granted, it took some time to find a Couchsurfer for Oporto, and even when I did he didn’t live in Oporto itself, but I also received an invitation to stay in Aveiro and found a Couchsurfer via invitation for Lisboa. Beyond this, there were many other Couchsurfers who offered to catch up for a lunch or a dinner instead because they were unable to host.

The Portuguese are people who enjoy living and certainly would qualify in the bon vivant classification. They enjoy company a lot and seem to always be organising or participating in some form of gathering, whether it be at the park, the beach or at home. But they also seem to be motivated enough to work. They find their passion early in life and stick to it, or at least attempt to.

So it is that Portugal didn’t at all appear to be in the midst of a devastating economic crisis. The systems were clean, well functioning and contained little luxuries that could be an easy avenue for budget savings.

But perhaps it’s a mentality difference that causes these problems. Walk the streets of the large cities and you’ll be hard pressed to avoid a bank, they’re simply everywhere. Lending has become the disease. The Portuguese receive money and they spend it, there doesn’t seem to be much of a culture of saving for a rainy day and so the shopping malls and train networks are modern but what the figures look like on the ledger of the finance department may tell a different story.

There are other factors at play too. Miguel, my host in Lisboa, laid the blame almost solely on the Portuguese themselves, saying that they should be more responsible and patriotic. He cites an example along the Portuguese – Spanish border where on the Spanish side the fuel was fractionally cheaper than the Portuguese side. The Portuguese travelled across the border into Spain to fuel up in order to save a few cents. The result was that all the Portuguese fuel stations close to the Spanish border have been closed and jobs were lost.

Appearances can be deceiving, and it’s no doubt that the Portuguese economic state is flailing. Their wages are much less than their other Western European counterparts and the cost of goods are much lower too as a result – which provides an advantage for the foreign traveler. How this may (or even whether it needs to be) remedied is beyond my understanding but for the short term Portugal seems to be in a well enough state. The tourism in Portugal from other Europeans is strong and continues to increase, so this may serve as some respite.

Naturally, Portugal is not the most gifted country in Europe, but given it’s small size it still manages to impress. Of great note are their beaches and although the westward facing beaches host the cold Atlantic Ocean, they do provide for some spectacular sunsets. I didn’t get the chance to explore, but I heard from many people that the beaches down south are just as stunning.

Portugal also contains an incredible amount of history. Lisboa has been found to be older than other more renowned cities such as Rome and Paris and there exist castles and remnants all over the country.

Portugal is well organised, relatively safe and abounds with natural beauty and stunning historical monuments. It would be a relaxing and enjoyable place to live and work, but it’s economic state is the major downfall, forcing wages too low to attract anybody outside of Portugal to come to work. Oleksiy, my host in Esmoriz, is a prime example of that. He chose to come to Portugal for the life, as he worked for himself and had external customers paying him.

Although I would very much like to return to this place to continue exploring and meet friends made, the reality is that there are much more countries to explore before I even begin to contemplate returning to those past visited.

In summary, Portugal completely surprised me beyond all expectations. For one reason or another my expectations were far too low and any other travellers visiting this part of the world and contemplating coming should not make the same mistake.

Portugal is well worth spending two weeks or so traveling.

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