Annie Mac takes Portugal

In S.O.L.O. Stories, S.O.L.O. Travel by trishlist

By: Anne McPherson

I’ve been fortunate to have a career where I’ve been able to see the world and travel to some of the most fascinating places. My routes have included a trip that brought me from Manchester in the United Kingdom to Cyprus then Uganda via Cairo and another journey from New York through Doha to Kuala Lumpur followed by a wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

These opportunities have introduced me to new people, places, and cultures, most of which I’d likely never come across in my personal travel.  In an effort to take advantage of these once-in-a-lifetime trips, I extended my stay few days here and there to travel to a nearby destination in a personal capacity.  Whether it be relaxing on a remote island after a long conference or indulging in cheese and wine while exploring a new city, I value these chances to get lost in translation. I was open to it all.

A panoramic view of the Douro River with its porto wine cellars (left) and the Ponte Luis I bridge from the Monastery of Serra do Pilar, which was completed in 1670. Photo by: @anniemac 2016

I’m the youngest of 6 children and grew up in an always packed and mostly chaotic house. While that was fun and I wouldn’t change it for the world, I grew to cherish my alone time and freedom, especially as an adult. I’m a natural extrovert, which allows me to meet people fairly easily in new cities but I also relish in those rare opportunities to deeply study a new place, partake in a solo tasting (feasting by myself at various eateries throughout a new city), all the while absorbing and observing others.

One of my favorite memories was a recent S.O.L.O. adventure to Portugal. Before arriving there, my work colleagues and I spent some time in Barcelona for meetings, site visits and socializing. We had a great time but a 3-day jaunt to Porto and Lisbon alone was a perfect complement to this trip… and exactly what I needed. Needless to say, I was excited to NOT have an agenda. I did minimal research and let my Airbnb hosts provide most of my recommendations as well as a few friendly locals I met along the way.

Avoiding the rain in front of the beautiful blue tiled Capelas Das Almas church in Porto, Portugal. @anniemac 2016

Porto is a stunning city along the Douro River in Portugal.  The majestic bridges, hills and beautiful blue tiles drew me to this city.  Only having a couple days in the city, I was upset it was raining when I first arrived, but quickly came to appreciate and revel in the unknown. This allowed me to café hop for the first part of the day — eating things like octopus, chorizo and Porto’s famous Pernil pork sandwich.

The Capelas De Almas and many other churches located throughout the city display vibrant blue decorative tiles and the Lello Livraria, where J.K. Rowling frequented when writing Harry Potter in Porto, is a stunning bookstore with one of the most beautiful stairwells in Europe.  The second day was much sunnier and allowed for more wandering through the cobblestoned street art-filled avenues and across the bridge to the famous port cellars for some port tastings. While slightly buzzed from my tasting, I took the funicular up to the monastery and regaled in the sweeping views of the river and the city.

The next morning, I took an early train to Lisbon and had done no research on what to do. I pulled up The New York Times “36 Hours in Lisbon” and mapped my day. I wanted to accomplish 5 to 6 of the recommended spots and was quite successful. I planned my day around my meals – naturally – and started at one market and ended at another. After my first meal of blackened pork sandwich (more pork!) at Mercado de Campo de Ourique a recently refurbished 1930 market, and made my way across the city to a Casa-Museu Medeiros e Almeida, a 19th century mansion of a very successful businessman whose eclectic collection reminded me of the Frick in New York.

I bought a few 18th century beautiful blue and white tiles from the recommended store in the article, took in the views from the botanical gardens, and strolled through the Praça do Comércio where I came across school students in black capes marching for the annual Praxe ritual. The students sported chic black capes and knee highs – an outfit that inspired J.K. Rowling when writing Harry Potter from Porto.  I finished my evening by trying a range of  seafood options at the Mercado de Ribeira and some crisp white wine at a former brothel turned beautiful lounge called Pensao Amor.

My view from my room one night: The famous funicular running up and down Rua da Bica with the Tagus River in the background. @anniemac 2016

I love these short trips alone. You can operate on your own time. Eat, drink and exercise when you want to (I did yoga every morning)…. even sneak in a nap when you need it! I usually am ready to be with family and friends after a couple of days but solo travel is a rare opportunity for self reflection, a test of resourcefulness and self-sufficiency and wonderful way to explore new places and meet new people that might otherwise be out of reach.

Anne McPherson is the communications officer for the Open Society Foundation‘s Global Drug Policy Program. Prior to joining Open Society, McPherson worked with Rabin Martin, a management consulting and strategic communications firm dedicated to clients who advance health care solutions for vulnerable populations around the world. Before that, she led communications and development for the nonprofit Global Health Corps, a leadership development program focused on connecting young leaders with global health organizations in the United States and east and southern Africa. McPherson received her B.A. in history from Yale and was a collegiate gymnast.

SHE ONLY LIVES ONCE is a collection of photos + short stories empowering women of all ages to travel S.O.L.O. in pursuit of adventure and self-discovery. This part of the blog is committed to building a strong and resourceful community of female travelers who share their memorable lessons, from their most delicious adventures to their most awkward of moments . Interested in contributing a short story or photo? Please contact the Trishlist and/or hashtag #trishlist and #sheonlylivesonces for a chance to be featured.

Trishna Patel aka Trishlist is a cultural curator, photographer, and host specializing in travel and the human experience. Follow her latest adventures as she explores Los Angeles and beyond.