Chasing Coffee – An Old New Way to Travel

Its been a while since I updated my blog and the reason for that lies in the reason why I am writing this today.

Normally, I am a hyper-active traveller. I will wake up at 6am in a hostel after a big night out, go for a walk, sit under a tree or in front of some famous monument and muse about my surroundings in my journal, write a poem or draw something crummy on a napkin. I enjoy the solace of the morning. It’s quiet, chilly and peaceful only hours before it becomes the complete opposite.

However, since picking up a hospo-savvy travelling companion in Ali recently, I have been introduced to the self I never thought I’d become on the road: a latte brunch guy. To be specific, the coffee of choice here in Portugal was the Pingado, an espresso with a dash of milk in it—less pretentious than a long macchiato, whilst also masking the taste of pure tar that accompanies a pure shot of black coffee. We’re in Portugal reuniting with Joao, our friend whom we met in Cambodia some four-and-a-bit months ago.


A typical day in Lisbon begins at midday. This is due in part to the late night that proceeds every day we’ve had here, but also because of the lateness at which everybody rises here. It is southern European summer after all where they don’t eat dinner until 9pm and the sun doesn’t set until 10:30.

If your coffee’s not little, you’re not in Europe

So we proceed with breakfast at midday. Though in reality, it’s about one in the afternoon by this point. Pingado number one is joined by a somewhat upscale sandwich and a fresh orange juice for 2.50 Euros at national staple A Padaria Portguesa—the Portuguese Bakery. You wouldn’t eat anything else either at that price. After lazing, talking, laughing, reminiscing and moaning about the heat (which seldom falls below 30 degrees celcius during our waking hours) Ali, Joao and I muster the strength to push on and explore the city.

Anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes of aimless wandering takes place before another café catches our eye and we retire to the outdoor setting to consume more coffee, this time with a light snack such as the famous Pastel de Nata custard tart or a fish croquette for the more savoury taste.

Breaking up a day into a series of coffee and snack stops is not a mode of travel I ever envisaged myself signing up to, but under the blazing sun of beautiful, old, charming Lisbon it seems a fitting way to pay tribute to the city’s endless number of baristas… that and the fact a pingado sets you back 60 cents. We spend our days exploring and drinking coffee and struggle to spend more than 20 Euros a day.


Night falls over Lisbon. The sun recedes but the heat does not. Sunsets in Lisbon are best spent outside a kiosk at a lookout somewhere with a bottle or two of red wine and a great view of the city’s colours changing from cream and terracotta to white and flourescent. In a city where coffees come in at 60 cents, the beers boast an attractive price tag of 50 cents at the right places (cheers to Joao for the insiders’ guide).

Pao de Deus, God’s Bread, Portugal’s sweetest treat

From the lookout, one will find themselves wandering aimlessly around Barreio Alto where back-to-back bars occupy an entire quarter, and rightfully so given the immense effort required to climb up the steep city streets to this oasis. It’s a hilly city. Bar hopping occupies all of the time remaining before the city-wide curfew of 2am kindly prevents fun nights becoming forgotten ones, not that exceptions do not exist for some bars. A flagrant display of legal ambiguity if I’ve ever seen one.

Returning home is comforting and to a degree rewarding, it’s a reminder that you did not and up arse-up in the gutter with a bottle in one hand and a kebab in the other as many other tourists and local exchange students had. It’s also a kick in the backside, a reminder that 5 coffees a day is only a good idea until it’s time to rest up, at which point it becomes clear that you won’t be waking up early at all tomorrow and you nestle into bed and get to sleep at first light in the morning. Unsurprisingly, the next day comes and the cycle repeats.


Having spent the weeks since completing the Camino de Santiago partying and exploring (and seeing Midnight Oil) in cold, wet Germany, a little coffee in the shade of the big, hard sun is not unwelcome. With not a whole lot to do and not a whole lot of will to do it, the walk-coffee-walk-snack-walk-coffee-walk-drink model appears to strike the perfect balance between sheer laziness and an eagerness to discover the culture and vibrance of a new city from the spectator’s chair. It’s something I would never have done by myself but a new way of approaching travel that now enhances the way I see Europe—more like a European.

The cafe’s of Lisbon

This way you get the hustle and bustle of exploring by foot before taking a moment (or five) to stop and explore by watching everything else move, while you’re completely still.

Travel to learn caffeinate.


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