Sintra, Portugal


Historically, Sintra has been a retreat for the rich. Just a short trip south of Lisbon, the small mountain town situated in cooling valleys and woods, was an obvious choice to reatreat from the sweltering heat of the city. It’s gorgeous. Long before that, around the 8th century, it also was an important strategic military site, of which the Castle of the Moors ruins still tell impressive tales.

Castle of the Moors, Sintra
Sintra: Castle of the Moors

Its main claim to fame—for me personally, that is—is that this made it also the architectural playground for a delightfully deranged billionaire if you will. There are plenty of Romantic architectural master pieces there, which is why the whole place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Sintra’s article on Wikipedia has the details).

One of these estates is just too good to be true, though. Quinta da Regaleira has it all (Wikipedia):

The property consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and a vast array of exquisite constructions. The palace is also known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire”, which is based on the nickname of its best known former owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.

Wells, benches, fountains? Right. That only tells you the individual building blocks, though. It’s the way it’s all tied together that makes it well and truly hilarious (again, straight from Wikipedia):

Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he recreated the 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added enigmatic buildings that allegedly held symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture Manini designed evoked Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles. The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910.

Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra
Sintra: Floor tiles at Quinta de Regaleira

There are two things here. First of all, this whole thing looks and feels like a giant prank, or maybe just some sort of outdoor man cave-slash-insider joke. Second, this was in 1904! This isn’t that long ago. I grew up in a house built in 1903, and at that time it was well and truly not unsual to build houses that didn’t have hidden tunnels for rites of passage and the like. That’s right, the whole park is built to reflect—or allow for, or initiate—a rite of passage:

The Initiation Wells (AKA initiatic wells or inverted towers) are two wells on the property that better resemble underground towers lined with stairs. These wells never served as water sources. Instead, they were used for ceremonial purposes that included Tarot initiation rites. The tunnels described above connect these wells to one another, in addition to various caves and other monuments located around the park.

Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra
Sintra: Initiation Well at Quinta de Regaleira

So the place is jam-packed with pentagrams, hidden tunnels, underground features, Knights Templar and Masonry references, gargoyles, you name it. It’s a kind of giant exercise in mysticism, but at a time when I would have expected that kind of thing to be long gone.

Sintra: Quinta de Regaleira

It’s so much fun to poke around there. In one of the caves I saw a dead end, fired up my phone’s flashlight and found a geo cache—of course, it’s the perfect kind of place for geo caching.

Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra
Sintra: Quinta de Regaleira. This is where the initiate emerges.

Souvenirs of Lisbon


One of the particularly enjoyable duties/joys I have in my life, since launching Dearsouvenir magazine, is to scout for great souvenirs and souvenir shops wherever I go: Makers of traditional goods, local designers, haberdashers and the like.

Before they even make it to the magazine, here’s a few early finds after a day of roaming the streets of Lisbon:


The beauty of A Vida Portuguesa (link, map), a shop selling traditional local goods. An absolute must-see, and one of the most gorgeous & lovely stores I’ve ever set foot in. By the time I left I had (happily!) bought olive oil with piri piri (hot peppers), hand made notepads in bright yellow, tooth paste and hand cream, two types of conservas de peixe (canned fish). Admittedly, the latter mostly for the packaging, which is gorgeous (sorry, fish!).

Lisbon souvenirs
First haul of Portugal souvenirs. Success!

Portugal is huge on wool. Burel Factory (link, Rua Serpa Pinto, 15Bmap) makes contemporary designs out of wool. It’s all very high quality, great to the touch, just a pure joy. In terms of products pick up anything from scarves and blankets, from toys to boots, from jackets to baseball hats. Yes, all from wool.

Principe Real

The Entretanto indoor market (map) is the home to Stro (link), a young Portuguese fashion and design brand. Go here for a playful, fresh take on traditional Portuguese design.

You’ll also find many of these and some more pointers in this Dearsouvenir Jauntful map for Lisbon.

This post is going to be extended over the next couple of weeks.

Arrived in Lisbon


Arrived in Lisbon. It’s 5am and I’m wide awake. The sky hasn’t quite begun to lighten up. It’s a quiet and windy night. As I’m standing on the balcony a single cab quietly drives by. The neighbors are drying dresses and blankets off the balcony. I wonder why I can’t smell the sea. (Only later would I realize that it was the Tagus River that I saw, just before it leads into the open sea. It is so wide there that I mistook it for the sea.)


First days are for wandering, so wander I did. M and I are in town to work, but work remotely: Different rules apply. We require desks and reliable wifi and coffee supplies, the things the nomadic knowledge worker needs. Where and how to best source those we haven’t yet sorted out. Most likely a mix of home office, coffee shops, coworking spaces and friends’ desks. Third places all around, and a context that allows to go with the flow, maybe even requires it.

Lisbon market
The (excellent) food court at Lisbon’s market halls.

Fabrica Coffee Rosters is a definite keeper, their cold brews have been helping me kickstart the day since we arrived. A massive market hall food court (run, bizarrely, by Time Out magazine) is great for dinners. Cafés to write in are widely available. Our balcony overlooks the city, we can see the see and Bairro Alto while working in the shade.


Our neighborhood may not have a name: It’s residential, cute, lively in a non-touristy way. Sandwiched kind of between and a bit to the north of Bairro Alto and Alfama it doesn’t show up in any guide books – it seems like it might be called Estefania, but we can’t be sure. Sitting squat between not two but three hospitals it feels like we’re in the safest place you could possible be in case of an emergency. Why there are three hospitals so closely together will forever be a mystery to me. There’s also a gelato place; I haven’t been but it looks great.


The first day I compiled a whole bunch of shops I wanted to scout out for Dearsouvenir. I started the tour on day 2 with Baixa & Chiado, two neighborhoods smack in the center, full of shops and throngs of tourists; in my mind both of them blend together as I don’t yet have an understanding of where neighborhoods start and end.

It made for a nice stroll in the afternoon sun. Two things struck me as odd, though.

First, many of the shops seem to have moved or closed: One, by a famous Portuguese fashion designer, had been replaced by a New Balance store. There’s this beautiful, very old store front, all creaky old dark wood and glass, it screams traditional architecture, and it’s full with New Balance’s take on athleisure. Others were boarded up or dusty and under renovation: Just the regular turnover? The shop’s moved? Or the lasting impact of the economic crisis which hit Portugal especially hard?

Second, Google Maps data was often a block off, even smack in the city. There it shows me the house number on this block while really it’s on that one over there. It’s not something we’re really used to these days, is it? On rural roads I wasn’t too surprised to experience this, but in Lisbon itself I was a little shocked. Is it possible that Google just bought very mediocre map data for all of Portugal and never mapped out the country themselves?


Looking for a good flow through the day – spots to write at, take calls from, etc. – led us to LX Factory, a re-developed former industrial site that’s not, for lack of a better word, a creative-industrial site.

And what a gorgeous place it is. The local coworking space seemed a bit crammed and busy when we swung by, but the cafés and local designer shops are just lovely. Make sure to stop by Wish Café for a filter coffee and a muffin.

Portugal travel log – Algarve


I try to write down first impressions while they’re fresh: There’s a day or two in which the colors, the noises, the smells of a place are new and unusual; then the brain adjusts and it becomes a regular place. Those early days are the best to take photos, too: Things you notice as standing out still do stand out. Wait for a couple of days and they’ll blend in as the mind adjusts.


Arriving at Lisbon airport is quite lovely: It’s a tiny airport given the size of the city it serves. (Cue Berlin airport jokes.) A few minutes later we pick up our little rental car, happily surprised by just how well the car rental staff speak English, and are on our way south.


Stork nests. There are so many stork nests. An unbelievable number of stork nests.

When I grew up, one of the most exciting things on our loooong drive to our summer vacations at the North Sea was to see a couple of stork nests – if we were lucky! – during the last couple of hours drive up in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northern-most state. Occasionaly throughout my life I saw them elsewhere; mostly in or around zoos.

Yet here we are, surrounded by stork nests left, right and center. The electricity poles along the highway are packed with them. It’s like rats in the cities only, you know, with storks. Unbelievable. I can’t tell why that strikes me as unfair or even unexpected, but somehow it does.


The blue and white of Portugal. It’s maybe the most ubiquitous and most traditional of color combinations, and found wherever your eyes might wander. Tiles, table cloth, tiles on floors, restaurant signs, tiles of walls, tiles at souvenir stalls… come to think of it, maybe the tiles are even more ubiquitous than the blue and white.

Portugal is all tiled, mostly in blue and white.


When I visited the Algarve a few years ago for some surfing with a friend, we stayed in a tiny village by the name of Odeceixe. It had two restaurants we went to frequently: The very traditional, top-notch Taberna do Gabao, which excelled in seafood and meats and was great for all-night group dinners with new friends we met along the way. And a more modern, slightly fusion-y place that made light and most excellent mediterranean meals: I wanted to go there just about every day. (I drove by that town on the way back up to Lisbon and it looks like the latter place has closed.)

What I somehow failed to realize at the time is that this sample of two did not reflect the state of eating in Portugal. The seafood here is amazing; meats are a treat. Yet, the style of preparation seems to be very traditional, bordering on formulaic: Grill the fish/meat item, serve with rice or fries. Sauces are rare, marinated things are rare. Salads are (very) basic, vegetarian options are sparse. Olive oil is fantastic – if I dip my bread into the oil here I’m in heaven – as are the olives you’ll inevitable be served as a little starter.

It’s a cuisine I thorougly enjoy indulging in every now and then. On an everyday basis it can be daunting, especially for a vegetarian like M, but even for meat eaters.

Between croissants and pastel del nata, between all the rice and fries and bread, the trick seems to be to temporarily forget just about all you ever learned about carbs and just roll with it. In the meantime both M and I were quite excited to have discovered a great vegetarian place around the corner.


It’s easy to forget these days how much we’re used to having navigation data at our fingertips at any time: Google Maps plus GPS means we never really need maps. I still remember road trips meant packing a big-ass map or atlas of sorts: I’m not nostalgic for it, if anything it tells you my age.

But data is not distributed evenly, and not all data is created equal.

Trying to swing by a restaurant on a cliff for a dinner over sunset, Google took us offroad in a way I hadn’t been in a while. Turns out that Google’s map data for rural Portugal is very, very flimsy.

Google’s road map data in rural Portugal seems patchy at best. This is the kinda-sorta real road we returned to after a long stint on an extremely poor mud road.

The road Google Maps took us on was distinctly 2-3 level beyond the one pictured above: I took that photo only after we were back on an actual road. Before (and before turning around and very slowly backtracking) we were on a gravel road. Before that, on a dirt road. Before that on a dirt road with ruts so deep I’m tempted to call it a rutty cow path: For hiking it would have been acceptable just so. For anything on wheels, absolutely not.


Sagres Point is the most South-western point of continental Europe. It’s from around here that the Portuguese maritime exploration of the world was launched.

Today, a food truck offering (in German) “Die letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika” – the last bratwurst until America added a bit of a sad touch to an otherwise beautiful scene.

“Last bratworst until America”, the sad food truck announced.

Truth be told, though, the view from the cliff inside the fort (Fortaleza de Sagres) about a kilometer down the road feels more like the real deal. (The fort is totally worth it.) It’s not technically the most South-western point, but because the view is totally unobstructed (there’s no fenced off lighthouse in the way and you can roam freely) means you can stand at the edge of the cliff and look West and let your imagination roam freely. If you have to choose, go there instead!

Fort Sagres may not be technically the very most south-western point of continental Europe, but with its unobstructed views it feels like the real deal compared to Sagres Point up the road.


This trip is another chance to test our Prototype Pants, this time in both warmer and (very!) wet climate. M now has her’s too, for the first time. I’m curious to learn how they hold up in warmer climate: Will they be as comfortable as in the cooler climates of Helsinki, Berlin, London?

Testing both prototype pants under extreme conditions, aka a couch break.

On a hike we finally did manage to get them soaked through; to be fair, so were our rain jackets. The Algarve has had a record bad weather for months: The dive center hadn’t been out in the water for two months straight, almost every day of our stay had a severe weather warning.

So far, so good: Still convinced by the prototypes.


The last two days the weather let up, from severe weather warnings to lovely and sunny. I celebrated with a day of surfing, Michelle went to scuba dive. As we drove up to Lisbon we headed into the summer.

The network provides: Lisbon


As we’re setting up shop in Lisbon, Portugal for a few weeks, I did what has become a beloved and much appreciated – really, priceless – ritual: I took to Twitter and asked for recommendations.

It’s a deliberately open question so as not to artificially restrict the kind of pointers coming in: A personal recommendation for a restaurant, an experience not to be missed, a memory shared – all is welcome!


10 Photos from Portugal


Luckily, I got to spend the week in Portugal, mostly around Odeceixe with a few day trips around the Algarve. It’s a lovely, gorgeous region. Go if you have the chance.


approaching the beach


Vota CDU










Lagos, Portugal


Lagos, Portugal




Greetings from home


  1. Approaching the beach at Odeceixe | 2. Something tells me this isn’t Angela Merkel’s CDU. | 3-5. The coast near Sagres | 6. Fresh oysters | 7-8. Lagos | 9. The INTERNET | 10. Greetings from home