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  1. #1

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    Trip Report - Overall Impressions: Portugal, April, 2016

    Planning and overall impressions about Portugal

    Planning
    If we stayed 3+ nights in one place we opted for an apartment. All accommodation was kept, easily, under 100USD/night, mostly using booking.com. We utilized Slow Travel and Tripadvisor forums, and guidebooks included Rough Guide, Eyewitness, and Slow Roads. If you go in April, you could probably just show up and book hotels as you go.

    People
    As a whole, the nicest we have found in Europe. Happy to help, laid back, polite, and proud of their country. Lisbon businessmen in suits go out of their way to show you where the Multibanco is. Tourists included many Dutch, some German and French, and lots of Brits in Porto.

    Language
    Your Spanish will only help with reading, not talking. It sounded a little like Russian to us -- nasal and throat. A five-syllable word sounds like two. Vowels are skipped. But knowing a little Portuguese goes a long way. Our horrific pronunciation was appreciated, and most Portuguese under 50 knew enough English to help us. Note hierarchy of languages on photo below.

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    Safety
    Completely comfortable walking around solo as a female, zero catcalls. Portuguese war ships stationed off the coast. Even though drugs are legal, we rarely saw anyone under the influence. No real angst detected.

    Getting around
    Taxis, buses and trams are cheap. The trams are worth the scenic, rickety ride. The freeways (toll ones) are so empty we thought we might be in a Twilight Zone episode. Michelin map was handy but the GPS invaluable, especially the city centers. They love roundabouts.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Weather
    Rain is a reality in April. We also sunbathed on the beach, so be ready for a range of weather. It didn’t stop us from doing anything. The most accurate site we used was accuweather.

    Natural stuff
    Scenery splendid, full of green countryside, wildflowers, rivers, and unspoiled beaches. Storks built huge nests wherever they could. The cork oak and olive groves were full of birdsong, cows, and sheep.

    Castles
    The country is littered with them. Restored ones, crumbling ones, take your pick. We focused on the “founding” castle in Guimaraes, and the hilltop border castles – Marvao and Monsaraz, charming in different ways and both locales stunning.

    Churches
    We saw many, but instead of visiting all the mega churches we chose the Convento de Cristo complex and loved it.

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    Ruins
    The non-castle ruins we explored were pre-Roman Citania de Briteiros in the Minho and Cromeleque dos Almendres in the Alentejo. Both highly recommended.

    Art/Museums
    We didn’t seek out a lot of contemporary art but the street art is fantastic in Porto and Lisbon. Ancient Portuguese art has its own flavor, their struggle with the Moors taking center stage. The tree of Jesse (showing Jesus’ lineage) shows up a lot, which was new to us. The Museo Coaches in Belem is considered finest in Europe.

    Wine
    I think the wine they export has tended to be bad (Mateus Rose)? The table wine there is pretty great. There seems to be no relationship between price and quality. When I ordered the random house red at a bar it was often stellar.

    Port
    There is a relationship between quality and price for Port, although it’s cheaper than here in the States. If you hate the sweet stuff, there is a wide range of dry ports to try, too, including white. They mix it in cocktails, too.

    Food
    Can it be both fantastic and challenging? Pig ear salad was on the menu many places; my husband tried it but…also barnacles, tripe, and snails. Pork cheek was one of my husband’s favorites. The fish, grilled whole with salt, was great. We never tried the famous salt cod. Good presunto, chorizco, and linguica. I liked the tapas and pesticos (snacks) best. See photo of tremocos (eaten with beer) below. The empanadas, cheese, honey, olives, breads, and jams were excellent. The pastries were phenomenal. The ubiquitous flaky, bruled, egg custard tarts are fantastic, but the options were endless, with each town having a specialty. Coffee is taken seriously. Try their former colonies’ food, like Goan and Mozambique. They do have salads but their hearts aren’t into it. They overcook veggies. I found, in general, the uncomplicated, straightforward food was the best.

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    Shopping
    Cool antique stores in Lisbon with prints, old tiles, and jewelry. Great dried fruits, honey, cheese, soaps, and a huge variety of ceramics all over the country. I would have liked another day to bum around flea markets.

    What I could have skipped
    Tomar as a town didn’t completely wow us, but the Convento de Cristo is worth staying the night. Sesimbra wasn’t a favorite. We found better/cheaper seafood in Lisbon. But if we hadn’t gone to this area we would have missed our side trip to Cabo Espichel. Evora was fine to explore one day but the day trips from this base were more interesting to us.

    Recommended books
    -Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, Roger Crowley
    -Journey to Portgual: In Pursuit of Portugal’s History and Culture, Jose Saramago (if you can stomach him constantly referring to himself as “the traveler”)

  2. #2

    New Member

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    Wonderful summary and full report too!

    Many thanks for the excellent and informative summary and report - it really made the possibility of a visit to Portugal seem very real and enticing.

  3. #3
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    And for those who may have missed the full trip report, you can find it here. It is well worth a read.

  4. #4

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    Thank you

    Thank you for the taking the time and effort to create an excellent review. I recently have developed an interest in Portugal after seeing many pictures of Lisbon.

    When we travel to Europe we spend at least a month and sometimes six weeks. Most often staying in one or two places and doing day trips. Packing and unpacking not our favorite sport.

    Southern France was on my list for next fall but now it seems Portugal has taken its place.

    A question or two:

    Should we rent a car?
    Is VRBO a reliable source for accommodations?
    I see some visit in April and no mention so far of fall. We travel September and October. Is that a problem?

    Cheers, David
    Last edited by David & Susan; 08-18-2016 at 06:46 PM.

  5. #5
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    I'm another fan of Portugal, and think Ktp's impressions are spot on.

    You wouldn't need a car if you were staying for a length of time in Lisbon: public transport within the (fairly compact) city is good, and there are decent local rail services to places like Sintra, Cascais, etc. And I certainly would suggest that you spend a week or so there: a lovely city. But yes, you'd certainly need a car for any detailed exploration of the rest of the country. As Ktp's report (the full one) says, the highways are far from busy - and the local roads are fine.

    We've used Airbnb for an apartment in Lisbon, and found a country holiday home in the north (Guimarăes) on HomeAway.com - though now that HomeAway and VRBO are the same company, I see that their listings are virtually identical.

    I'd look at historical weather data from somewhere like weather underground to see what autumn conditions are like in the areas that you're considering; if you're there for more than a month, it might make sense to start in the north and move gradually south.

    Jonathan

  6. #6

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    Slow Travler

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for the quick response. I did find a site that said, in general, the shoulder season of September and October should have acceptable weather. A bit of rain does not slow us down so unless it is a flood, no problem.

    Being slow travelers, even when traveling the western U.S., we like to stay and get to know some details of the area. Something being constantly on the move does now allow, I think. Nothing like walking into a coffee shop and having people recognize you and say good morning. I even made friends with a waiter in Paris, believe it or not.

    We plan to walk a lot and take public transportation as much as possible. The places you mention serviced by rail makes me think a car is unnecessary. The reason I like Switzerland so much is we can get around without a car.

    If I can find a streetcar rail map of Lisbon it would help in locating a rental away from the city center. Obviously I have a ton to learn. Part of the fun of travel. And a rail map of the cities and towns linked to Lisbon. I better make a list.

    Cheers, David
    Last edited by David & Susan; 08-18-2016 at 08:44 PM.

  7. #7

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    Wow, this reply is tardy. You may already be there! Lisbon and Porto - no car needed. Alentejo - get a car and spring for the GPS. But driving is easy. The warnings about Portuguese drivers was largely wrong in our experience and the toll freeways are empty in the off season.



    Quote Originally Posted by David & Susan View Post
    Jonathan,

    Thanks for the quick response. I did find a site that said, in general, the shoulder season of September and October should have acceptable weather. A bit of rain does not slow us down so unless it is a flood, no problem.

    Being slow travelers, even when traveling the western U.S., we like to stay and get to know some details of the area. Something being constantly on the move does now allow, I think. Nothing like walking into a coffee shop and having people recognize you and say good morning. I even made friends with a waiter in Paris, believe it or not.

    We plan to walk a lot and take public transportation as much as possible. The places you mention serviced by rail makes me think a car is unnecessary. The reason I like Switzerland so much is we can get around without a car.

    If I can find a streetcar rail map of Lisbon it would help in locating a rental away from the city center. Obviously I have a ton to learn. Part of the fun of travel. And a rail map of the cities and towns linked to Lisbon. I better make a list.

    Cheers, David

  8. #8

    Exploring in Portugal

    Quote Originally Posted by David & Susan View Post
    Thank you for the taking the time and effort to create an excellent review. I recently have developed an interest in Portugal after seeing many pictures of Lisbon.

    When we travel to Europe we spend at least a month and sometimes six weeks. Most often staying in one or two places and doing day trips. Packing and unpacking not our favorite sport.

    Southern France was on my list for next fall but now it seems Portugal has taken its place.

    A question or two:

    Should we rent a car?
    Is VRBO a reliable source for accommodations?
    I see some visit in April and no mention so far of fall. We travel September and October. Is that a problem?

    Cheers, David
    We visit Portugal each year, but only for a week at a time - too short! We stay in the Pousadas, and even if you plan a longer visit I suggest a few nights in these historic hotels. Holiday cottages are available in Portugal and I am planning a longer visit using them. September and October will be fine and you could take the ferry to the north of Spain and travel on to Portugal. I have blogged with photographs at https://londondiaryblog.wordpress.com and hope it may be helpful to you

    Candy

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