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14 days in Portugal-first report

Flew into Lisbon on the 15th-Uber to Air BnB rental. View from the window on the way into town not promising...joyless, ugly apartment buildings reminiscent of Eastern European Communist cold war era and tons of graffiti everywhere (not nice murals, just ugly tagging). Many abandoned buildings (more about that later).

Rental apartment nice in and of itself, but the street-wow-our first introduction to what we came to call the Stairmaster Vacation. At least 38' steep. What are euphemistically called cobblestones are, in reality, squares of rock inserted into bedding...the edges stick up and are sharp while the surface is slippery.

So...off to look around a bit. Rental very near the LX Factory so we wandered down to check it out. Sorta funky. Had a terrible lunch.

Ubered it to the Alfama area, which has been so highly touted by RS. Well, if you enjoy tourist traps and walking up very, very steep, long staircases...you will love the area. Stopped to get a bite to eat and, you guessed it, the food was horrible (I actually spit it out) and the tab for 2 was $30 euros. Lesson learned-avoid eating in tourist areas.

Ubered back to our rental to chill out and get ready for the next day.

Stay tuned...

Posted by
8900 posts

Sorry for your unhappy beginning. We were in “real neighborhood” also , looking down on Restauradores and out to the river. Remember that Portugal was under the control of Salazar, a monster, for many years and is still coming back. The EU has given Portugal a lot of support to make a come back.
Look at the beautiful tiles on the walls as you walk. Didn’t you realize Lisbon is a lot like San Francisco with steep streets?

Posted by
23 posts

Second Report

So, second day dawns and we're off to see Jeronimos Monastery. Got there a little bit late and had to wait in line for 45minutes. Once inside, it did not disappoint. Amazing carvings (one of the shields on a column looks like a spaceship with shooting stars!), beautiful "ice cream cone" turrets. Do not miss it. By the time we finished, the line for the church was just too long, so we wandered down the street where we saw a long line for a famous Pasteis de Nata bakery, but just up the street on the other side was another teeny bakery filled with locals...we got our first taste of this most delicious treat and continued on.

My friend decided to take a break, as her feet were killing her from the aforementioned "cobblestone" sidewalks, so I left her at a cafe and headed over to the Museu Nacional dos Coches. This air conditioned, modern facility houses a dizzying collection of some of the finest wooden coaches in Portuguese history. Gilded, intricately carved, some with original velvet fabric...absolutely worth a visit if you like this sort of thing ( I went to the coach museum in London, so I guess I'm a geek for this stuff).

The rest of our day consisted of slow strolling around the area, taking more coffee and pastry breaks, then Ubering back to our neighborhood for a yummy shrimp and seafood stew over rice at a local restaurant. Things are looking up...except for our feet. We are both wearing good walking shoes with lots of shock absorption, yet the rock sidewalks are kicking our butts. That, and all the uphill walking. City of 7 hills...no...more like 700 hills! At least we can eat pastry and not worry about gaining weight.

And yes, Lisbon does remind me of San Francisco, although I think Lisbon is more hilly!!

Stay tuned for my next report...

Posted by
2846 posts

Wow! For a while I thought you were not in Lisbon. I’m happy that day 2 was a vast improvement over day 1. I hate hills so when in Lisbon I used only the terrific and economical public transport system. Plan where you’re going and then take the metro, bus, street car or elevador to the top of the appropriate hill and just descend instead of climbing. Makes life much easier!

Posted by
1993 posts

Have you tried the Lisbon metro system? It’s excellent, and beautifully decorated. Could spare your feet, also.

Posted by
3321 posts

This is fabulous reading for me as I'm about 2 weeks behind you - having arrived today in Lisbon and looking forward to 8 fabulous nights before moving on to Coimbra.

The cobblestones are a challenge, even downhill in my clunkiest tennis shoes. My ankles are thanking me for having brought them.

I'll be looking for that "other" pastry shop in Belem on Wednesday, so thanks!

Posted by
23 posts

I continue...

Forgot to mention the Quelez Palace in Lisbon. AMAZING!!!!! We went in the early afternoon and there were-no kidding-8 other visitors there, so we pretty much had this beautiful palace with its ornate rooms, tiled punting canal, and insanely spectacular gardens to ourselves. Costs a whole 5 euros to get in.

Next day-hired an Uber driver off the clock to drive us out to the wild beaches...Azenhas do mar, Cabo da Roca, Colares. He had great info about local eateries and less visited beaches.

New day and back in Lisbon. Made a visit to Cemiterio de Prazeres. If you enjoy cool old funeral crypts and statuary, don't miss this place. Walked around for several hours and then found a wonderful area restaurant with great small plates (octopus, game meatballs) and dee-licious pavlova!!

New day-Uber off to Obidos. If we had gone later in the day,, our experience would have been a bit better...the tour buses were lined up in rows and rows...but, it was still a very cool thing to see. As RS says, you can see all there is to see here in about 2 hours. Ubered from Obidos to a fishing village for local lunch. The food was very good but the village was a dump...too harsh? Well, let me just say it had little to recommend it.

New day in Lisbon-morning visit to Estrela Basilica. Climb the narrow stone stairs to the roof for a wonderful city view. This church is extremely beautiful with many, many interesting things inside.
After our visit, we strolled through a lovely park just across the street that had an old, ornate wood and hand wrought iron gazebo. Then down the hills for a super lunch at a Greek restaurant.

New day-2 hour train ride to Tomar. Yes, the Knights Templar stained glass window is under renovation and so not visible, yes, it is a long day of 4 hours on the train, but...this site blew my mind. I couldn't even begin to describe how fabulous, amazing, intriguing...you get the idea. DO NOT MISS IT!!!!!!

New day-Took a day to do laundry and do some grocery shopping at the local Lidl grocery store. Lazy afternoon and them back to our local restaurant for-you guessed it-more shrimp and fish stew over rice.

New day-1 1/2 hour train ride to Evora and our Air BnB. Visited the oldest Medieval church in Europe (I think that's right), saw the Roman temple ruins, aqueduct with inserted houses, Chapel of Bones (go there in the afternoon-in the morning there was a line 2 hours long to get in, by 2pm I was able to just stroll right in). Bought delicious honey almond nougat from a beautiful lady just outside the chapel...her parents make it. Stumbled upon the Church of Sao Francisco and Igreja de Nosa Senhora de Grace. Yummy crepe lunch. Back to Lisbon the next afternoon.

New day-back in Lisbon. Visited Carmo Convent (great-beautiful), then strolled around and happened into the Bookman statue, Santa Just lift (yeesh-people waiting in huge line to ride it...use the 2 hours you'll save by just looking at it and go elsewhere!!), checked out shopping areas of Embaixada and the Chiado area, then walked down (what-down?!?!) the avenue to the Praca do Comercio and had the almond gelato of my dreams.

Next day-We're up, we're packed, the Uber is ordered for the trip to the airport. Cell phone pings...it's Delta airlines-your flight is delayed 1 hours. OK, bummer, but whatever. 10 minutes later-it's Delta airlines. Your flight has been cancelled. The flight was full, no explanation, no other information.

Now we have to find a place to stay, as our rental is already booked. We have to get a new flight for the next day, I have to change my flight from Boston to my home...

Stay tuned...

Posted by
11 posts

We spent a week in Lisbon in April and it was fabulous. If you can make reservations, check out Señor Fado. The food, drinks, and singing was fabulous. The owners do everything and they were amazing. Brought out his own jar of piri piri sauce. We were there for 3-4 hours and it was so relaxing and very affordable.

Posted by
23 posts

In conclusion...

Portugal was a physically challenging, wonderful vacation. The historic sights are worth seeing, the people are mostly friendly (be sure to have a translator app, as less spoke English than we thought would be the case), local restaurants are the way to go (every meal will take at least 30-40 minutes to be served).

In my first entry, I spoke about the abandoned buildings covered with graffiti...one of our Uber drivers gave us the answer as to why. In Portugal, it is very common for people to die without a will. The government gives heirs 15 years to work out inheritance issues, during which time the property cannot be sold or improved. So, empty palaces and small homes alike sit...and fall victim to squatters. If the building has an historic shell, the owner is required by law to keep it, unless the building has fallen into such a state of disrepair that it would be impossible to fix. So, owners just let the structures sit and decay until they fall down. Our driver said the government is extremely slow to act on any petitions, further dooming so many places to a slow, ignominious death.

I have mentioned Uber quite a bit in my reports. We used them to go everywhere except when we took trains out of Lisbon to Tomar And Evora. The average tab for a ride from point A to point B in Lisbon was around 4 euros, plus tip (much cheaper than taxis). As older travellers, we not only really appreciated the chance to sit while going around town, but it was great to do sightseeing from the car(s). We also enjoyed meeting and talking with the drivers, often using a translator app. Drivers and roads in Lisbon are a trip!! Super narrow, hardly any stop signs ( no kidding-we saw 3)...drivers just slow down, look, and go...lots of games of chicken. Cars get within inches of each other. I drove in Paris in rush hour and I would NEVER drive in Portugal.

The average wage in Portugal is $1200.00 per month, with rents averaging $600.00. We were glad to be able to hire locals to pay them well and tip well...and we loved hearing them talk about their country and America-so many want to visit Boston, Miami, and Route 66! Our overall cost for Uber for the entire vacation was less than $500.00 and we had a great time learning and sharing stories with the Portuguese.

If you do just ONE thing for your trip to Portugal, make it that your shoes are VERY VERY padded on the soles and well broken in. My Vionics did a great job, but even they were bested by those oft mentioned "cobblestones". I think I'll call them hobblestones.

So, fellow travellers, I will now sign off. Obrigada Portugal! Now if I could only have one more serving of that almond gelato...

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for the info. We're off to Portugal in March. Desperately looking for good shoes that I can break in before then. Will definitely be using Uber a lot. I have resigned myself to the knowledge that the first day or day and a half of travel is usually garbage. It takes at least a couple of days to get your "sea legs".

Posted by
1717 posts

We just got home this morning at 12:30 AM from Portugal and Spain. My ankles and feet are very painful from walking in Portugal on the uneven tiles and cobbled walkways. The graffiti is overwhelming with some works of art and some just random ugliness. It is truly sad.
I really liked Portugal. The people were wonderful but the food is not all that good. We had a few good meals but good is relative.

Posted by
23 posts

Diane-I agree about the food. We had some good meals, but nothing that will 'live in my memory forever'.

Posted by
761 posts

ca-ncinjuly, I really appreciate your report. We all put so much time, money and energy into our travels that I think it's really important to hear the varying opinions of travelers.

Funny you mention graffiti and tagging everywhere. I have watched several Youtube videos of Lisbon, and it seems like all I see is graffiti and run-down buildings. It reminds me of downtown LA! :/

Yet I have read so many trip reports here and on other forums from people who say Lisbon is clean, with white buildings and red rooftops, charming restaurants and shops everywhere.

I think Instagram has kind of ruined our travel expectations a bit. I always cringe when I see stunning pictures of Los Angeles, knowing what's around the corner from that picture just posted.

Was it just the urban sprawl from the airport that was startling? I have heard of other European towns with ugly urban sprawl surrounding them. U.S. airports tend to be built in more industrial parts of cities as well. Landing in Miami comes to mind.

Posted by
23 posts

"I always cringe when I see stunning pictures of Los Angeles, knowing what's around the corner from that picture just posted."

CaliMom...right?!?! We lived in L.A. for 27 years, and wow, the reality is a far cry from what the PR engines present!! Glad my reports were of interest to you.

As far as Portugal is concerned (well, actually, ANY place one visits), going with expectations of super clean and always beautiful are totally unrealistic. If that's what someone is looking for, go to Disneyland. I often use the phrase "Sanitized for your protection"...and I never went there in all the years I lived in CA.

I will say that (IMHO) if a place is being highly touted in guide books and by tour companies, it will be on too many "must see" lists, and the original charm that put it on so many of those lists may well be corrupted by it being loved to death. We visited the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon and it was insane-tourists packed into it, huge lines at every food stall, cacophony...a total drag. Buildings, ruins, churches...i.e. historic sights are usually not to be missed, but plan so that you aren't arriving when tour companies are disgorging hundreds of visitors off their buses. In Evora, I tried to see the Chapel of Bones...got there at 10 AM and there was a 2 hour wait. Returned at 2 PM and walked right in.

Posted by
234 posts

Thanks for your very honest report!
Planning on going October 2023.
I love trip reports like these to temper my expectations. Hate to show up with all of these false expectations, nice to have some reality mixed in to avoid disappointing results. Glad that you did have some fun experiences. Thanks so much for the report!

Posted by
23 posts

Hey-have a great trip!

If you are the type of traveler who can roll with the punches, make an itinerary that is flexible with time for serendipity, and if you buy the right shoes (my new Skechers would have been perfect!), you will have a good time.

Glad you enjoyed my reports!