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Charming Portugal

Whew- I spent months planning a special trip to Portugal for my husband’s birthday. After reading local news in Portugal for weeks, and getting great information on the forums, we proceeded with our trip. We know the risks, and opted to go anyway. So how has this trip been different so far? We flew from MSP to Lisbon, with a connection at JFK.

First, we couldn’t check in online with Delta, due to additional forms that had to be checked (Passenger locator request card and negative Covid test). I was nervous as they told us to be there three hours before the flight to get checked in. So we were there and ready to go at the 3 hour mark. Had great help at the MSP airport from the Delta staff. A gate agent reviewed our forms and checked us in. blink, blink, that was easy I was also ready for horrid TSA pre-check lines. All my fears unfounded. Got through both gate agent and TSA pre-check in 20 minutes total. Puttered over to People’s Organic restaurant and had a delightful brunch with my hubby while waiting for the flight. What is it about avocado toast? Anyway….

First connection was MSP to JFK. Due to bad weather systems between us and JFK, it took us an extra 30 minutes to get going. But I had left 3 hours between flights cause, well you know Covid weirdness, so this was a non-issue. Landed at JFK and had to walk about 20 gates in same terminal to get to flight to Lisbon. Had time to get a few snacks, etc. while we waited. After the crazy number of stories I had read about unruly passengers, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my fellow passengers on the flight. Everyone wore masks and complied, and flights attendants were pretty darn delightful. Experience for us was way better than I thought it would be. hmmmm

Flight landed 30 minutes early. We proceeded to go through the entry process for Portugal. I was yet again expecting it to be terrible. They had a dozen agents working and we were through the line quickly. Literally one hour after we landed in Lisbon, we had gotten entry, through customs, and had taken the metro into the city. We arrived and got checked into where we were staying with no issues at all. Everyone was friendly and helpful along the way. The fears in my mind versus my reality on the ground could not have been more different.

After a few hour nap, we were off to celebrate my wonderful hubby’s birthday. I added this to the trip recently, as Covid provided us a unique opportunity. We went to Belcanto, a two star Michelin restaurant, and did a tasting menu. I have never done anything like this, and the lack of travelers meant we could get in on short notice! It was one of the most special food experiences we have ever had. They were able to adapt to my food sensitivities and made a wonderful birthday dessert for my husband. After a delightful taste of many different foods, we sauntered back to our AirBnb in a complete food coma. Yes, we wore masks where we needed to inside, and in crowds outside, but it didn’t matter. The experience was wonderful. Sitting there in the restaurant, I was so grateful we came.

After nap #2 (hey, we couldn’t really sleep on the plane), we then took an Uber over to the marina for a romantic sunset sail. Via AirBnb experiences, I found a two hour sail on the river. It was just my husband and me, and a two person crew. We enjoyed a bottle of wine while sailing on the river and having snacks. With the wind in my hair and a glass of wine, I’m starting to feel the stress of the pandemic melting away. We are hearing from the locals that the tourists are FINALLY starting to come (they all seem very excited).

Portugal, so far I am utterly charmed. More to come as I get time and the trip proceeds.

Posted by
10326 posts

Thanks for your detailed update. Yes, Portugal is charming because the people are the kindest we have met anywhere in the world. Every single day a local did something kind for us. They told us to cut in line ahead of them, enter the train ahead of them, on and on. Lovely people. Enjoy it all

Posted by
3961 posts

Amber, thanks for sharing charming Portugal 🇵🇹 so far. I agree with Suki- “The kindest people we’ve encountered in our travels.” One special memory was our waiter “Frank” at Restaurante A Gina. What a gem! We ate there twice. Obrigada! Enjoy your stay.

Posted by
2692 posts

Great report, keep it coming! We loved Portugal as well. My A Gina story: my daughter, mid 20’s at the time, sprained her ankle badly coming off the plane. She could not walk and the hotel lent us a wheelchair. When we got to A Gina two ruggedly handsome waiters lifted her from the chair and carried her into the restaurant. She still tells the story with a slight purring sound I cannot recreate!

Posted by
102 posts

Thank you for the travel update. And I couldn't agree more with the others' comments regarding the lovely people in Portugal. Looking forward to your updates. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
2542 posts

This is so great to hear!! The more I hear about Portugal, the more I want to go. I keep moving it up higher on my list. I look forward to your future reports. Thanks for taking the time to post while on vacation.

Posted by
4 posts

Timely report Amber! I leave this evening from ORD through CDG to LIS on Delta Airlines. I was able to check in last evening and get my boarding pass showing my correct seat assignment, but the option to "save" to my iPhone wallet does not work. I'm not concerned as I can bring up my Delta app to access my QR code boarding pass. I have my digital proof of negative PCR test, my Portugal Passenger Locator Card, and Covid Vaccine card. I've saved them in my photos and have paper copies as well.
So glad to hear you are having a marvelous experience.
I wish you safe and pleasant travels through Portugal.

Posted by
10326 posts

I mentioned to a guide in Porto how lovely the Portuguese people had been to us. She said they knew we were visitors because we are so tall so of course they treated us well. That is the first time I ever have been described as tall!

Posted by
99 posts

Thank you so much to everyone for your kind words. I love hearing your stories- and keep those restaurant suggestions coming!

After sleeping in a bit and a healthy dose of coffee, we were off on day 2. Today was yet another glorious day of eating our way through Lisbon. Foodie alert! We took a food tour that took us to 4 restaurants in 3 neighborhoods. We had a wonderful guide with Oh my Cod food tours. She took us through the Alfama, Mouraria and Baixa districts. First, the food. Of course we tried Bacalhau. I found the cured meats and cheeses we tried very interesting. We had ham from Bisaro pork. This was distinct as the pigs eat chestnuts as a regular part of the diet. We also sampled Verde wine. Nope, the wine wasn’t green, just from the Verde region. It was lovely refreshing white sparkling wine.

We ate our first fresh sardines! My husband did much better than I did with these (but then again he loves sardines). I actually really enjoyed it, but had to be really careful to not end up with a mouthful of bones when I would take a bite. Definitely a memorable experience.

For me, one of the highlights was a sheep cheese from Seia with pumpkin jam on top. The sheep cheese was this lovely relatively mild soft cheese and the pumpkin jam was a perfect offset. The best part? I was raving about it to one of the restaurant owners and she shared how she makes it so I can re-create it at home! As part of our final course- we had Ginginha- wowsa. That stuff will light your hair on fire. It was super fun to try it after seeing Rick have it on one of his specials.

Our food tour with a local guide was a lovely way to learn about the history of these neighborhoods. We also could see firsthand how the earthquake and tsunami of 1755 really changed the city. Looking around, standing at ground level. Seeing how flat it was all around us at Praça do Comércio square. Then the earthquake and tsunami. It made me shiver a little just to think of it.

As we walked the neighborhoods and talked, our guide took us to a burnt church. Yeah, that sounds a little odd. Igreja de São Domingos survived two major earthquakes, and was burned in 1959. When they reopened the church in 1994, they left much of the burned areas intact. It was really interesting to see this.

After we finished our food tour, we headed to the National Tile museum. I have really found I love the blue and white ceramic tiles in so many places in Lisbon. It’s hard for the beauty of it to really shine on the television specials. But wandering the city and seeing it everywhere is really lovely. The museum was a great stop on what was a really hot afternoon! It was about 93 degrees F or so today.

After a late afternoon siesta, we headed out for dinner at the Timeout market. Here we did encounter the realities of Covid and our lack of ability to get digital health passes as Americans. Our NAAT test that we took before we left was no longer valid (took too long ago). However, they did have rapid PCR testing on site that was able to be used to get in. It was a super painless process. They have a designated area we go to, and then they test us. When our negative test came back, they have a special entrance for us to get in the building. It took all of 5 minutes and was easy, and we were in!

Other observations day 2- lots of Americans are telling their friends about Portugal. And they are coming! We hear lots of American accents here. More than we expected from other articles we have been reading. Not overwhelming numbers of tourists at all, but lots of us from the US seem to have gotten the memo on how neat this place is. Everyone I talked with had either been here before or had friends tell them what a gem Portugal is. Day two is done- and I am still charmed.