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  • Writer's pictureAlison Merrill

Portugal & Ireland - Capturing the Spirit

Updated: Mar 21, 2020


The weather is amazing, the beer is cheap, I think I will stay” – said every explorer that came to Portugal… according to our tour guide, Chico.

Espinho, Portugal

After Sam and I completed our hike around Mount Blanc we had two nights before we met up with his sister, Julia, in Porto, Portugal. Sam and I chose to spend that time in Espinho, Portugal. Ever heard of it? Neither had we. Since Espinho was close to Porto (our next stop), had cheap Airbnb prices, and a great proximity to the ocean, we decided to check it out.

Espinho is mostly locals since a lot of people are coming from the neighboring city of Porto for a getaway and Sam and I loved the small beach town vibe.

Porto, Portugal

View from Clérigos Tower. Photo by Alison.

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and famous for producing Douro wine. As we took a boat ride along the Douro River, locals would wave and do backflips off the bridges into the water. The idea of fun, freedom, and not taking oneself too seriously encapsulated Porto’s spirit. Side note – jumping off the bridges was completely safe although, no tourists were lining up to try and personally, I did not feel the need to join in.

We Got To See:

1. Livraria Lello – The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling to create the Grand Staircase at Hogwarts and Flourish and Botts in Diagon Alley.

2. The Clérigos Tower – Climbed to the top and got an incredible view of the city.

3. Park Workout – Sam, Julia, and I did a run across the main bridge and then a workout in a park as people stared. Apparently, running and doing workouts outside is not normal.

4. Shopping Spree – Air France lost Julia’s luggage and she got $100 to replace items in the 48 hours she did not have her bags. So, we went shopping!

Locals jumping off the bridge into the Douro River. Photo by Alison.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon has seen a huge increase in tourism within the last ten years and it’s incredible. Given the fact that at one point, US citizens were unable to travel to Portugal because of political turmoil. Many tourists flock to Lisbon because of the warm climate, fantastic food, and it is cheap when compared to other European cities.

1. Sintra – A historical royal sanctuary with many castles, gardens, and viewpoints.

2. Palacio de Pena – A romanticist castle that had royal retreats and initiations for the Knights Templar.

3. Free walking tour – a lot of major cities in the world have free walking tours.

4. Taberna - AMAZING tapas place ranked on TripAdvisor as a top 20 restaurants in Lisbon. They do not take reservations, only take cash, have six tables, and change their menu daily. That’s when you know a restaurant is good.

Palacio de Pena. Photo by Alison.


“I will look back at it and smile because it was life and I decided to live it

Having lived in Boston for four years (two of them being in South Boston), landing in Ireland felt like being back in the United States. The Wi-Fi was free at the airport, Starbucks’s were on each corner, and everyone spoke English…. Easy! Although many similarities, there are some major differences between Ireland and the United States: people are more laid back in Ireland and the pub culture, live music, and endless green scenery makes it a beautiful and easy country to travel through.

We were lucky to be joined by Sam’s family, the Kahane’s, as we made our way through Ireland exploring cities, cute towns, national parks and gorgeous nature.

We got to see:

Dublin – The capital city of Ireland. Now it’s becoming a tech hub.

Heath – A small town an hour train ride outside of Dublin with a lovely scenery and a walk along the coast.

Galway – City on Ireland’s west coast.

Killarney – A town on the Ring of Kerry’s scenic drive.

Cliffs of Moher - Famous cliffs.

Killarney National Park – National park with mansions, scenic nature, and farms.

Guinness Factory – Tour of how Guinness is brewed.

Jameson – Distillery that shows how the famous whiskey is made.

View of the coast from Heath. Photo by Alison.

Highs, Lows, Best Bites and Lessons Learned:

Sam - Portugal


1. Working out outside in a park overlooking Porto with Julia and Alison

2. Stumbling across an amazing, free rock concert at 10:30pm on the Espino boardwalk

3. Laughing from Julia’s stories on train back from Lisbon to Porto

Lowlight: Having Alison and Julia cancel our Yurt adventure in the Douro Valley to go to Lisbon and then traveling between Lisbon and Porto a thousand times.

Best Bite of Food: The crispy yet juicy duck from heavenly tapas place

Lesson Learned: if something is that good, the vegans will cave (Alison ate the duck!)

Sam - Ireland

1. Playing football with an orange with the Kahane’s and Alison / finding a four-leaf clover

2. The King’s Head in Galway – dinner, Guinness’s, expresso martinis, and live music

3. Sunday morning home cooked Irish Breakfast with Aurore and Chad (my good friends from study abroad)

Lowlight: the weather… nothing but rain and low visibility at the Cliffs of Moher

Best Bite: First sip of Irish Guinness as we celebrated Janet’s birthday

Lesson Learned: Less is more – enjoy time with friends and family over a home cooked meal

Alison - Portugal


1. Drinking Douro Valley wine on the other side of Porto while watching locals jump off the bridge.

2. Free city walking tour learning about Portugal’s history.

3. Exploring the beaches in Espinho and walking down a beautiful rock pier.

Lowlight: Almost missing the train to Porto from Lisbon only to fly from Porto to Lisbon the next day because of our connecting flight.

Best Bite: Crab from a great tapas place. It was my first bite of meat on the trip! We ended up at one of the best tapas restaurants in Portugal. I decided if there was any place to eat meat, it was there and… it was delicious! For those inquiring, I have not had any meat since that night.

Lesson learned: “Don’t care so much” was the lesson imparted to us by Chico explaining that when you have less pride, it leads to happier people .

Alison - Ireland


1. Galway pub with the Kahane’s for their final dinner – amazing live music at the pub.

2. Touring Guinness and the Jameson factory with Chad, Aurore – full Irish dancers dancing to black panther, 360-degree view of Dublin, and the Jameson whiskey shots.

3. Heath day hike.

Lowlight: Raining at the cliffs of more. Except the experience was hilarious as we screamed and ran around in the wind and rain.

Best Bite: Randomly – veggie pad Thai at an amazing Thai restaurant in Killarney.

Lessons Learned: When you can, be a host! We had such a blast staying with Chad from Sam’s study abroad. From cooking brunch, to making sure there were enough towels, and pretending he was an ambassador to Guinness so we got discounts, he made us feel like family.

What's Next?

Since Portugal and Ireland we’ve flown South… way South... to Cape Town, South Africa. From there, we made our way to Kenya where we have been living for the past week as volunteers at a local school. We will have an update soon on South Africa, Kenya, and our take on volunteering abroad.



Lookout from Lady's View. Photo by Janet Kahane.

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