My road trip in Portugal, what to see and what to eat

Let me start this long-ish post with a strong statement: Portugal is a wonderful land. The food is awesome, the people beautiful and the rhythm of life is relaxed—just what I needed to recharge my batteries. My husband and I did a road trip in Portugal lasting eight days, from Porto all the way down to Lisbon.

cascais, portugal, road trip in portugal

Cascais waterfront, pano

Here are some of the highlights worth mentioning about our trip. The section at the end of the post shouts out my top 3 places where to eat during a road trip in Portugal. All the places we’ve been plus tips can be found in my Foursquare account, while the majority of the pictures are taken from my Instagram account. Franz has put together also a wonderful Instagram feed about this road trip. Enjoy!

Road trip in Portugal, places, checked in, foursquare

What to see in a road trip in Portugal

PORTO – Day 1

porto, portugal, panorama
Porto is a city that grew in me with time. The more I strolled around, the more it conquered me. It’ll do it with grace and calm, with the Ocean breeze and the Douro river lazily flowing by, the good food and the amazing wine. It’s quirky and serene at the same time. And it’s full of smiling people.

GUIMARÃES & BRAGA – Day 2

We rented a car and headed to Braga, but we stopped in Guimarães first. I particularly enjoyed the castle where I had a little accident with a helmet–you need to watch it!

Braga is a very lovely city. At the end of a desert road we took under a hot sun, we stumbled upon this forgotten church—Nossa Senhora Do Sameiro—a surprising hidden gem.braga, church in braga

We then climbed the hill to visit the Santuário do Bom Jesus, a cool oasis overseeing the town. Definitely a place to see when in Braga.

AVEIRO & COIMBRA – Day 3

A cloudy and chilly morning jeopardised my impression of Aveiro. Its canals leading to the bay and then the Ocean reminded me of Amsterdam, but with the Venice gondola boats. We didn’t check the beaches but I’ve been told they’re very pretty.

My feeling is that Coimbra maybe had a huge exploit at some time between the Seventies and the Eighties, and the tourism is still living and surviving after that. The city centre is clung to a high hill, and the narrow alleys gave us some shadows to rest from the hot sun. The famous university and the cathedral are at the top of the hill.

coimbra, university square

Every time I’m in surrounded by white buildings on a white ground my eyes close down and I get blind! It took me twenty minutes to take this pano of Coimbra law school square, but it was worth my time! We also crossed the bridge and visited the Santa Clara monastery, which looks like it’s not as popular as the city centre among the tourists. In Coimbra I had the best food of the all road trip in Portugal—see below for details.

TOMAR – Day 4

tomar, templar town, mystery portugal

Despite its bright light and colourful alleys, Tomar is quite a mysterious place.

Founded by Templars, you can feel this vibe whilst wandering around the centre.

The Convent of Christ (Convento de Cristo), then, is literally the cherry on top.

We spent more than four hours in the convent, and we took so many pictures!

This place is very fascinating. In there I also had an idea for another side project of mine, which is taking pictures of fire extinguishers in public places—you may want to check that out!

We had dinner in a Medieval restaurant which was amazing.

Tomar definitely wins the “Best town experience” award of my road trip in Portugal.

SINTRA & CASCAIS  – Day 5

Sintra is renowned for being such a gem. I can’t say it’s a lie, though it didn’t impress me as much as I expected. The town is pretty, but it’s heavily tourist-oriented. We skipped the visit of the Palace, which probably would make Sintra earn some more points in my chart, but Franz and I had better plans.
We crossed the Sintra and Cascais park – which is a huge protected green area, and we headed to the coast through a breath-taking panoramic road with typical fishermen and seaside villages.

Cabo da Rica, westernmost point of Continental Europe, portugal

This might be just another pic of sea and green meadows, but it’s not.

This is Cabo da Roca, actually the westernmost point of Continental Europe. Who knows how many explorers and dreamers have imagined what there could be beyond that horizon! 

Cascais is a lovely, relaxed town where people from Lisbon and surroundings typically go to sunbathe.

The vibe is the beach-holiday-mode one: I can totally picture myself lying under the sun on the beach at days, and strolling in the town centre while having an ice cream at nights.

There’s nothing super attractive about this city (ie museum, artistic point of interests etc), but if you want to feel the real relaxed Portuguese vibe, that’s the place to be.

LISBON – Day 6-7-8

If you ditch all the museums as we did (the weather was too glorious to stay indoor!), you’re a good walker and don’t have many days to spend in Lisbon, you may want to allocate two days for the visit of the city, and then use another day for Sintra and Cascais. 

S. Jorge Castle, training, no excusesIt’s safe to say that Franz and I have walked nearly every inch of the Lisbon city centre and beyond—Franz’s interesting Fitbit stats will be out soon!

Talking about having a relaxed holiday and staying active at the same time, this is a picture that well represents our state of mind about it. Being fit is not something I aim to look pretty, it’s a mindset. No matter where I go or what I’m doing, I always find a good excuse to let my body breathe through some sort of activity.

Since I recovered from my long-term injury I bless every single moment to shake my body. This endless staircase at S. Jorge Castle in Lisbon is one of those moments. It took a little more than one minute to climb it. It felt endless while approaching, but the feeling at the end was priceless. I’m so blessed to be able to workout again with no pain.


If you look for sightseeing spots, go to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara as well as São Jorge Castle. I particularly enjoyed the visit of the castle, where we spent nearly an entire day. The ticket is around €8 and definitely worth every cent.

Lisbon Oceanário Aquarium

Another alternative place to visit in the city is the Lisbon Oceanário Aquarium, where adults come back kids again!

We had such an amazing time in there, and we also enjoyed an epic ice cream in a shop not so far from the Aquarium centre.

If you have some spare time, go and check Belém, on the west side of the city. There’s a monastery there which is beautiful from the outside. We didn’t visit it indoor though!

Not so far from there, there’s the Belém tower, that looks like those sand castles I was never be able to build on the seashore when I was a kid :)

We had a 7km walk all the way east to the city centre along the riverside, which was another great opportunity to see corners of Lisbon you’d never see if you stick to the city centre only.

What to eat in Portugal – my top 3

All the places where we stayed in, we visited and we had meals or coffee are recorded in my Foursquare account. There are also some tips you may want to check out :)

It’s worth noticing that despite all my food allergies I never struggled to eat during my road trip in Portugal. The food and the ingredients used in the Portuguese cuisine are very simply, genuine and me-friendly!

So here’s my top 3 of the places where we ate:

  1. Maria Portuguesa in Coimbra: hidden in a tiny alley, this historic tapas place made traditional Portuguese dishes. I enjoyed some stuffed mushrooms with cod that melted my mouth and my heart.
  2. Praxis brewery in Coimbra: These people craft their own beers, and they’re all delicious! I also had a veal steak with beer sauce that was the end of the world. I also had a beer pudding I’ll never forget.
  3. Mù Gelateria Italiana in Lisbon: it’s not easy for me to have a decent ice cream due to my food allergies, and also to not get frustrated by the usual tastes I can have (vanilla, banana, lemon). Here I was lucky enough to have plenty of choices between creamy-fruity options and fantastic sorbets (kiwi & banana, melon, pineapple & mint, etc).

While everybody mentions the Pasteis the Nata as traditional, worth highlighting food (it’s a yummy egg custard cake), I’d like to shout out the Bolo do Caco. Originally from Madeira, it’s a sourdough bread made with sweet potatoes and cooked on a special pan called Caco. It looks like it’s not hard to make, so I’ll try to make my own one at home. It’s very tasty and light at the same time.

Overall, this road trip in Portugal has been one of the best holidays of my life.

I’ve been in so many wonderful places and I feel so privileged to be able to wander around the world while working.

However I did feel the need to switch my brain off and have a ‘traditional’ holiday, with no stress or thoughts of any sort. 

A tourist guide at the Miradouro told a Spanish group of tourists about the story of those stones.

The pavement was built in 1400 and took a lot of time to complete since the stones are so different and varied.

No two stones are the same, just like the people in Portugal ❤️ 🇵🇹

To enjoy more pictures about my road trip in Portugal, check out my Instagram account!

What to see and where to eat in Madrid

I’ve just come back home after a week spent in Madrid, and I’d like to share with you my highlights of the trip; hopefully you’ll get some good insights about what to see and where to eat in Madrid.

madrid, what to see and where to eat in madrid

Team meetup

Since Automattic is a distributed company and we all work remotely, once or twice per year (considering also the Grand Meetup) we meet up and spend some quality time together. My team (that’s made of Happiness Engineers) decided to have our meet up together with a team of developers who work very close with us on a number of products. We all voted to figure out where our meet up would take place, and Madrid was the winner.

What we shipped in Madrid

Having a meet up is not like going on a holiday. Of course we had some activities planned to explore the city, have some fun and build up our team spirit (remember, we see each other a few times per year but we virtually work elbow by elbow on a daily basis), but we also worked on particular projects that could use some ‘human’ contact and attention to be pushed. In a nutshell, we took advantage of the fact that we were all gathered together to sit down and tackle sensitive areas of our work.

I love working remotely, and that is for sure one of the great perks that Automattic offers to its folks, however I quite enjoyed to spend time talking face to face with my colleagues, and brainstorming many aspects of our daily job that you don’t have time to discuss when chatting on Slack or Zoom.

We managed to ship a demo site for Sensei, a plugin that creates courses and lessons, and to start reordering and amend other plugin documentation that needed some love. We also spent time to talk about new stuff that we are exciting to develop and launch very soon.

The flat where we coworked

All of us (me included) had a hotel room where to crush at the end of the (long) days, a part from two colleagues who stayed in the apartment that we rented to cowork. The flat was literally 3 minutes away from our hotel, in the very heart of Madrid. We had really serious conversations in there, especially at lunch time.

Have to say the place we rented was pretty bizarre and eccentric. I felt like I was in one of Zafon’s book, and I liked it!

Madrid – the city

Madrid is a gorgeous city. It’s warm, lively and elegant. The architecture is very peculiar and elegant; old and modern fuse together in a beautiful, elegant blend. Did I say the city looks elegant?

I managed to visit the most important areas of the city, either by bike and by walk. I also went to the Prado museum, where, among the great statues and paintings exposed, I could admire a series of breath-taking Raffaello Sanzio’s paintings I haven’t seen yet. I’m a Raffaello fan, so I couldn’t miss them.

Mention of honour to the Metro Museum I discovered thanks to my colleague Richard, who’s very passionate about all things metro. It’s a 1950 closed metro station that’s been turned into a tiny museum. It was like jumping back to the past and feeling how the metro looked like a while ago. Even if the station is closed, trains pass by anyway and that creates a weird effect. It was funny and interesting at the same time – and the museum has a free entrance!

The activities

We planned some outdoor activities to do together, as well as some free time to let people choose what to see in Madrid.

We had a three hours bike ride across the city which was a lot of fun! Visiting a city on a bike is definitely the most efficient way to see a lot of stuff. Our tour guide brought us also on the highest tower in Madrid (El Faro de Moncloa) from which we had a beautiful overview of the city. It was amazing.

Bike ride tour Fitbit track.png

Here’s what my Fitbit tracked (+13km). The missing lines are because I forgot to un-pause the tracker after a stop.

Of course I felt off the bike twice, but didn’t crush on the ground (thanks, core muscles!)
The first time I felt I was taking a video whilst cycling, so I didn’t save it because this way there’s no proof that I’ve been an idiot!

We also went for a winery tour in the countryside. We visited three wineries and the summer royal residence (only from the outside), had a lot of wine and learnt more about the winery tradition in Spain. It turns out Spanish wines are very tasty and strong. I didn’t get drunk because I was wise enough to bring some food with me and eat a good amount of water between the tasting sessions.

One of the activities I didn’t particularly enjoy was the Flamenco evening. Don’t make me wrong, the Flamenco show we watched was very passionate and impressive (here are two snaps taken from my Instagram stories: Video #1, Video #2), however it lasted only one hour and then we were kindly accompanied out. They also provided a meal (as a dinner) that left me quite hungry. I’d say the value for money wasn’t very convenient, but we couldn’t know that – the reviews were quite good so probably that’s me being too fussy.

The food

Madrid is a foody city. Wherever you turn, there’s a place where you can have a bite. We had a number of very good meals, although we had some troubles to find restaurants that worked out also for our colleague Rachel who’s vegan. Spain is a country that’s heavily meat-oriented, if I you pass me the word :)

This is my top 3 places where to eat in Madrid:

– Restaurante Taj, an Indian place where my Tandoori lamb was one of the best I’ve ever had in my life!

Al Natural, vegetarian and vegan restaurant

La Botega de los Secretos, a bit pricy but the steak I had was gold.

I had mainly no issues with my food allergies, thanks to my colleagues who looked after me ❤️
Macro-wise, I managed to keep track of my nutrients intake, and I indulged only when we had pizza one night (but I compensated having low-carb meals the day after), and of course I indulged a lot with wine :P

What particularly kept me on track was the early breakfasts, where I had scrambled eggs, Greek yogurt with assorted fruits, baked beans and/or turkey ham, and occasionally a couple of wholemeal slices of bread with honey. That kept me full and fuelled my working mornings, while at lunch and dinner I could have some bread, veggies and proteins (steak or tofu) without binge eating. Of course my appetite was huge as usual, but I walked a lot this week and that explains it all!

Fitbits steps over the last 30 days – Madrid is the last 7 days from the left

Overall, my meet up in Madrid has been wonderful. Our very own Donncha managed also to take some nice photo of myself, which is unusual for me! He’s so talented :)

Hope I didn’t miss anything important about what to see and where to eat in Madrid, but if you have anything to add to my list, please leave a comment below!

My Toronto and Canada trip takeaways

Last September I’ve been in Canada for two weeks. It’s been such an exciting trip! I spent one week in Whistler, British Columbia, for the Automattic annual company meet up, and then one week in Toronto to visit the city and spend some quality time with some of my husband’s family members.

My toronto and canada trip

My Toronto photo gallery

Everyone has a different perception of a city when visiting it. I’d like to share the takeaways and my personal view of Toronto and Canada with you. My Toronto is a colourful, multicultural and vibrant city full of sport, live music and things to do. I’m pretty sure that reflects some of the many souls a metropolis like Toronto may have.

Below you will find the takeaways about my Toronto and Canada trip, but first here’s the Toronto and beyond photo gallery!

[spoiler alert: if you scroll down, there’s also a tiny photo gallery with Whistler’s pics. you can find the rest of them here]

And here are my Toronto’s takeaways:

  • People don’t lift their feet up from the ground when walking, but they trail them, creating a noise I hate big time. Looks like a trend in Toronto!
  • The food at the CN Tower restaurant is actually very good. As a tourist place, you would think of food being okay at max, instead it’s really good.
  • My Toronto is all about food. Perhaps it’s the Italian and Portuguese influence, but you can find a good place where to eat at every corner of the streets, and food is amazing almost everywhere.
  • We’ve got the drinking department covered as well. The local brewery makes an excellent beer, and near Niagara Falls we found a top-notch liquor distillery.
  • Discovering a new city with the family is the best. Franz has some relatives in Toronto, and I loved hanging out with them.
  • I’ve never heard so many languages being spoken at the same time, in the same place. Not even on a London Tube.
  • Lake Ontario is actually big. It’s like 1/3 of Italy! It’s so huge that indeed looks like a proper sea. You can smell the saltiness too!
  • Even if it’s a big metropolis, my Toronto is far from being an overwhelming city. If it wasn’t for the poor winters (under 20C it’s freaking freezing for me), I’d move there right away.
  • Niagara Falls are possibly the most amazing, exciting and breath-taking experience and thing in nature I will see in my whole life. When I was on the boat, staring at them from the bottom, I really felt I was losing my breath. These falls have been there, moving waters and making that noise, for nearly 12 thousands years. You feel reeeeeeeally small in front of them.
  • Whether you like arts or not, you must pay a visit to Toronto’s AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario.
  • Whether you like sports or not, you must visit the Air Canada Centre.

And now, more Canada pics!

Many pictures you can see in the photo galleries above are also in my Instagram account. If you don’t follow me there, you might have lost many funny moments I experience at Whistler and Toronto, since the Instagram stories last only 24 hours.

Top line is: follow me on Instagram!

The time of my life when I live in Vienna

Last June I experienced for three weeks how’s like to live in Vienna. And I loved it.

Franz and I went in Vienna to attend WordCamp Europe 2016, but opted to move there a couple of weeks before the event, just to feel the daily vibes and explore the city. Turned out we fell in love with the city, and we’d love to live in Vienna.

#Vienna you're so beautiful. #city #austria, live in vienna

What Vienna looks like

Mixing style and I love that #Wien #Vienna ❤️

Mixing style at Karlskirche ❤️

Behind the fountain ⛲️, vienna

Behind the fountain at Schönbrunn garden ⛲️

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vienna is definitely not a minimalistic city. The architecture is magnificent and rich, as well as complicated. You will never have enough eyes in Vienna to see all the amazing stuff that surround you.

The ancient, gothic style is mixed with modern buildings. Train stations are modern and functional, and the infrastructure is super efficient.

We went to Schönbrunn, and I’m not ashamed to say that a little piece of my heart remained there, trapped among its gardens and labyrinths. We climbed the hill facing the palace and arrived at Gloriette, where we ruled the gardens and enjoyed a magnificent panorama. Simply wonderful.

The people

Viennese are from all over the world. We met many Austrian people as well as ex-pats. In fact, it looks like nearly 50% of the people living in Vienna come from abroad.

That also explains why Viennese people speak a very good English and have no trouble in switching to German to English within a blink of an eye.

It’s not so difficult, therefore, to live in Vienna without knowing any German and have no problem at all by any means. They do appreciate if you can try to speak German, though!

The food

Schnitzel! Yeah, we did eat a shameful amount of the most traditional and popular Viennese dish. We tried the veal and the pork schnitzels, and eventually we decided that the veal schnitzel is superior.

We didn’t feel guilty about that – we ate them in the name of the scientific method, somebody had to make a stand and decide what the best schnitzel was.

Schnitzel! #food #iifym #goodfood #meat #gainz 🍖🇦🇹

Franz ready to attack a veal schnitzel 🍖🇦🇹

We also tried the Hungarian cuisine when we were in Vienna, and I set my next trip to be in Hungary just because of the amazing food I tasted. Goulash for the win!

Supermarkets food, goodies and products are slightly more expensive than in the UK. The quality of the food is better than in London though, especially as far as the meat is concerned. We didn’t find, however, much variety in terms of wholemeal products, and most of them were very expensive.

We also missed a lot the basmati rice, sweet potato and some other food we often have in London. Since they are not popular in Austria (as far as we saw) they’re not easy to find, nor cheap to buy.

Weather

Despite the UK “summer”, we enjoyed a real summer, with hot temperatures and dry weather. Only once did it rain, and the day we left the city, Vienna farewelled us with a torrential storm. Was it a signal, like that we needed to stay in the city and live in Vienna for good, instead?

Summing up

Vienna at #sunset. What a beautiful beautiful city. ❤️🇦🇹😍We enjoyed our three weeks in Austria, we truly had a wonderful time there. We explored the city, and thought about the option of relocating in there. As far as my experience concerns, I’d suggest anyone to live in Vienna for a while, as it’s such a welcoming and nice city.

Probably, the only real problem is the language barrier, if looking at that in a long-time perspective. Although we had no problems in communicating with people, I reckon that if someone moves there to actually live in Vienna for an undetermined amount of time, a decent level of German is required, at least to avoid being cutting out from the day-by-day national and city events.

If you are wondering if Franz and I are moving out of the UK to live in Vienna… well, the answer is no, we are not. With that said, maybe one day… ;)

More pics of Vienna are in my Instagram account and on Snapchat (stefmattana)

 

Quick break in Devon: Exeter and Teignmouth

I loved every minute of my quick break in Devon. England is such a beautiful country, especially when it’s sunny! 🎡🇬🇧☀️

Loving every minute of my quick break in Devon. England is such a beautiful country, especially when it's sunny! 🎡🇬🇧☀️

Husband and I went to visit my sister in Exeter—the University of Perugia sent her there for about a month to do some work for them. We’ve been in Exeter also during the Rugby World Cup 2015, and we loved the city and its vibe. This time we saw the city as it is, with no RWC shenanigans.

We managed to visit many places within the few days we’ve been in Exeter. Here’s a quick review of our break in Devon.

The Roads

Last year we traveled to Exeter by air, flying Flybe from/to the City Airport. This time we rented a car, and we didn’t like the experience. It took 4 hours to go to Exeter!
The roads are just okay. I personally expected a motorway or a road with 4 carriages, instead we ended up hitting a road with 3 carriages, with the middle one is used alternatively in both ways to pass the slower vehicles. If you’re get used to Italian Autostrada and other European motorways, you could perceive it as a bit unsafe and weird. Eventually we managed to make it there and come back home, so not a big deal.

Teignmouth

Teignmouth is a hidden (at least for me!) gem located a few miles south from Exeter.

We missed the experience of reaching the town by train. On the other hand, my sister, who did it, told me that the railway runs very close to the sea, so the view is amazing.

Teignmouth is the typical town on the sea where people go to have a break and spend some quality time relaxing. Family and dog friendly, there are playgrounds, a mini golf and many other entertainment facilities, all located a few steps from the seashore. The promenade is lovely, and develops exactly along the railway.
I touched the Ocean’s sand and felt that’s pretty different in texture from the Mediterranean sand I’m familiar with! We had lunch in a cozy tavern named The Ship, where we had a very tasty tuna steak.

Exeter

Exeter cathedral - break in devon - exeter cityIt’s in Exeter that we spent the majority of our break in Devon. Exeter is such a nice and serene city. We got blessed with an amazing weather, so we managed to walk a lot downtown.

I also needed to do some work, and I found out that the wifi at coffee shops (the big Costa on the main road and Boston Tea Party, to mention a couple) is reliable and stable.

Point of interests I suggest to visit in Exeter are the wonderful Cathedral, the St Catherine’s Almshouses with its Roman ruins, as well as Piazza Terracina and the Quay, where you can have a nice walk in the gardens and fields around.

the quays exeter, piazza terracina exeter, break in devon exeter

The Quay offer a variety of things to do, from eating and drinking to sports and music/art. If Exeter downtown is more commercial, with a series of shops of any kind, the Quay are the heart of the local entertainment.

Due to my sister’s working duties we also managed to visit the Exeter university and campus, which left me amazed.

The campus is a very big complex of buildings that includes a number of facilities such as theatres, pools, sports facilities, dormitories, pubs, markets place, coffee shops and so on. A real mini-city for students. Impressive.

Where to eat in Exeter

glorious fish and chips in ExeterTaking a break out of the city means, for an Italian like me, eat, eat, eat (and drink). We know it’s all about food, don’t we? :D

We had meals in some places. The following ones deserve a special mentions.

The Prospect Inn: a traditional English pub at the Quay where I had a superb fish and chips. I haven’t had fish and chips in months, and I’m glad I had it there! Staff was absolutely spot on and extremely kind and polite.

Kangaroo steak in exeterStarz: a steak house in the city centre. Warm and welcoming staff, and good steak in cut and size. Prices are also okay. Apparently, it’s a popular place for birthdays—we’ve been there twice and both times there were a lot of birthday celebrations going on :D

Walkabout: an Australian sports pub where we had a delicious kangaroo steak. Prices are good if you consider that you have meat you normally are not accustomed to. The kangaroo is also worth all the noise of the Saturday’s disco pub event!

What we didn’t quite like

Unfortunately we also stumbled upon some places that didn’t meet our gracious thumbs up. These are:

– The Exeter castle: a bit meh from the outside. A very few part of the original castle is preserved.
– Caramello ice cream bar: ice cream was just okay, coffee was not the best I had in my life.
– On the Waterfront: overpriced and food not good. Plus, they kicked us out of the restaurant in a very rude way when it was 10.20pm.

Overall we loved Exeter, and we are looking forward to take another break in Devon, as I’d like to visit Agatha Christie’s house in Torquay! :)

Pics taken at Teignmouth Seafront and Exeter
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