Travelling Solo

Are you the kind of person who would never ever go to a restaurant or the cinema alone and has to be surrounded by people all the time? Or are you the kind of person who needs to introvert in your room to recharge and enjoy solitude a bit too much? I am the latter, more of an extroverted introvert. You might be wondering where this is going, just keep reading.

I don’t remember when my first solo travel was, but I just know I prefer travelling on my own (well, maybe until I find an adventurous soulmate who would do all the crazy stuff with me). I’ve only travelled with friends on a couple trips; it was fun but we had to compromise and it involved lots of planning (pain). There is also the possibility of ruining your friendship when you travel with even your best friends – I’m not kidding! I, am going to persuade you to travel. solo. For at least once, please, in your life, even if the idea scares the shit out of you. Or maybe you’re just uncertain and needed a push. But be careful, cuz it’s addictive.

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Travelling solo is challenging. I hope you have a good sense of direction or could at least read a map, okay don’t fret, there’s something called Google Map – it’ll be your best friend. When you are in a foreign place on your own, it could be exciting or terrifying. There is no one to depend on, you have to figure everything out by yourself: how to get from the airport to city centre when you can’t read the bus schedule, which platform is your train departing from that’s leaving in 8 minutes and the most important, what to order. My advice? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask the waiter what he/she would recommend. Ask the guy in the uniform who looks really bored to take a look at your ticket and direct you to where you need to be. Ask someone who looks like a local how to get to that secret lookout which is not on the map. You’d be surprised how helpful people are.

Travelling solo is not caring. This is my favourite thing about travelling solo! You don’t have to wait for your friend to get ready. You can sleep in and no one would say a thing. You can walk as much as you want without someone complaining that their feet hurt. You can eat whatever and whenever you like. You can stay as long as you want in that art museum. You can read in bed and not go clubbing. Basically, you get to do whatever you want. No compromising. No arguing. Just you (and your book).

Travelling solo is looking inside yourself. It’s a self-discovering journey. You learn so much about yourself, what you like and dislike. You test your limit; you’d be impressed by yourself at the end of each trip and feel like you’ve accomplished something. I often see “travel solo” on lists like “10 things you should do before turning 30” – it’s cliché, but I highly recommend doing it. 😉

Travelling solo is opening yourself up. I always stay in hostels because it’s cheap and I get to meet people alike and make new friends. This is when my extroverted self takes over. Pluck up the courage to talk to the person next to you, ask them how long are they staying, where are they from, where’s next, what have they seen/done or simply what are they drinking. The more you do it, the less awkward it’ll make you feel and it’ll get easier, trust me. I love talking with people from different culture and learn new things. I met a German police officer in Lagos, he was telling me about China lol When I click with someone, I’d suggest to explore the city together or meet for dinner the next day. You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you. 🙂

I can go on forever but I think I’ll stop here. Of course there are downsides, for instance no one to share food with, which means you can’t order a lot or try many different dishes/snacks cuz you can only eat that much. Safety’s another issue. Luckily, I haven’t had any bad experience travelling alone so far cuz I’m always very cautious. I might write another entry about how to travel safely, especially for women. That’s it for now. I hope you’re thinking about doing it! Do it. Do it. Do it.

Porto: City of Azulejos

I’ve never really thought about visiting Portugal until my friend sent me a cork postcard from Porto. My first encounter with Portuguese “culture” a.k.a. food was on a short trip to Macau, a former Portuguese colony an hour away from Hong Kong.

I am the laziest traveller cuz I don’t do any research prior to my trip; also because I didn’t have time as I was finishing my essay. I hope you’re not expecting to learn facts or read about Portuguese history in this blog post – cuz that’s what Wikipedia and Wikitravel are for – but there’ll be loads of pretty pictures and food recommendations I promise. Where was I, right, no research, it has its upside because the best way of exploring a city is to get lost in it!

I decided to fly into Porto only because it’s cheaper than flying to Lisbon, which worked very well for me because all the other places that I wanted to see are to the south of Porto. It was all sunny and warm in the UK the day before I left, so as you can imagined, I was a bit bummed when I arrived in cloudy Porto which later started to rain – I was planning on getting a tan 😦 But nothing’s going to ruin my holiday.

I arrived on a Sunday, so most shops are closed. I had my first meal in Café Luso (Praça de Carlos Alberto 92) and tried the traditional “francesinha”. It’s a sandwich layered with bread, ham, sausage, steak and covered with melted cheese and gravy served with fries – basically a heart attack lol Personally I didn’t like it, but I love trying local dishes when I travel, then you can tell people whether or not you like it and why.

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Porto is rather small, just the way I like it – everything’s within walking distance. Two days is more than enough to do all the touristy things on your checklist: Torre dos Clérigos, Ponte D. Luís I, Igreja de São Francisco (not that impressive imo) and Estação de São Bento (stunning!) to mention a few.

If you’re a book lover and are always drawn to bookstores, Livraria Lello is a must-go. It’s one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in the world. I’ve been told that it was frequented by J. K. Rowling when she taught English in Porto. It seems to me that everyone’s trying to make money out of Rowling, you know, this and the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh. I wanted to get an English translation of their traditional folktale, but sadly their English section is very limited (and disorganised; I started rearranging the books for half a minute and stopped when I realised what I was doing lol).

My favourite thing about Porto/Portugal is azulejo, their traditional painted tin-glazed ceramic  tilework. You can see them everywhere, less in Lisbon though. Blue is my favourite colour and I gasped a little too loudly when I accidentally found Capela das Almas 😮 São Bento train station is also known for its tiled panels.

Everyone has been to Lisbon, but Porto is so underrated. If you love wine, there are some great wine/port tour that I didn’t have time to do. I don’t think I’ve seen Portuguese wine in shops or on menus (outside Portugal I mean) but they’re really good and cheap! The river is so calming; the alleyways are full of surprises; Portuguese people are very friendly and speak good English (I’m so disappointed with myself for my Portuguese has not improved at all after travelling in Portugal for 10 days). I’m so glad that I’ve decided to see Portugal 🙂 Below are some recommendations:

Best sunset spot/view of the bridge and river: The Gaia Cable Car upper station, Calçada da Serra 143. It’s just right off the bridge on the other side. I didn’t pay to take the cable car, instead I just sat on the edge of the wall. If you’re classier than me, there’s actually a wine bar right next to it.

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Best sandwich shop: A Sandeira, Rua dos Caldeireiros 85. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Terrific lunch deal between noon and 3pm. Limited space though. Closed on Sunday.

Best seafood restaurant: Adega São Nicolau, Travessa São Nicolau 1. Mixed reviews online but I really enjoyed my 2-hour dinner with the view of the river. Good food, good wine and free port with dessert. Must make reservation in advance.

Best hostel: Gallery Hostel, Rue de Miguel Bombarda 222. Hostel in an art gallery, wonderful staff who gave me the most elaborated tour of the city on a map upon arrival, spacious and clean room with comfy beds and nice hot shower. Big breakfast included and also got a rooftop terrace.