A June 2003 trip
to Portugal by JenLara
Quote: My little sister and I went to Portugal for 10 days, to celebrate her high school graduation. We had a great trip, but not necessarily in all the ways we thought we would!
That said, Portugal is a fascinating place to explore. Lisbon is an absolutely beautiful, cosmopolitan, and amazingly colorful town that charmed me much more than I ever expected. Some of the cathedrals, like Alcobaca and Batalha, are extraordinary examples of a form of architecture I knew almost nothing about--the Manueline style that is extremely ornate and unusual. And Obidos, while almost too self-consciously charming, really does win you over with its medeival layout, whitewashed walls, and twisty alleyways. Plus lots of cute cats eveywhere you turn!
Our great meals were few and far between, and not that cheap! If good meals are important to you, I suggest doing a good deal of research before your trip, to find out where the hidden gems and special spots are. Otherwise, you'll be disappointed like we were.
Oh, and get ready to pay extra if you nibble on a piece of bread or an olive or anything else they put out before the meal: it's all added to the bill! That can be an unpleasant little surprise if you're not ready for it.
For traveling between towns, we rented a car and drove up the coast from Lisbon to Porto. Yikes, what an experience! For long stretches of the wide, modern highways, we were just fine. It was getting into and out of the towns and cities that was sometimes the stuff nightmares are made of! Try getting around a city that is literally ALL one-way streets, all at 45-degree angles and paved with crumbling cobblestones (I'm lookin' at you, Coimbra). Or getting into Porto from the main highway, which took us about 10 tries back and forth past the same exits before we got it right (we could see it the whole time, just couldn't GET to it - arghh!)
Needless to say, the driving was tough, but do-able. Just make sure you have an excellent map and a good, non-carsick-prone navigator. And give yourself twice as much time as you think it's going to take to get anywhere!
Hotel | "Hotel Avenida Alameda"
Location-wise, it's not too bad: either a fairly long walk to the historic and beautiful parts of Lisbon, or a 5-minute subway ride. While neither option is terrible, later in the trip we found accommodations for the same price that blew this place away and were in the heart of the city.
On the positive side:
* The woodsy park across the street was nice, and there happened to be a book fair going on while we were there, which was kind of interesting
* The room was long and narrow, so while the bedroom was tiny, there was a whole second sitting room, giving it the feel of a suite
* Breakfast on the rooftop deck was a very basic affair, nothing fancy, but some pretty views and good coffee
* The staff were very nice
* The room was clean and the shower was hot - always two important things!
Overall, it wasn't an awful place to stay and you got what you paid for, but there are better places than this, closer to Rossio Square for $50/night.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on April 7, 2004
Residencial Avenida Alameda
Avenida Sidonio Pais 4
Lisbon, Portugal 1050
Hotel | "Pensão Residencial Gerês"
The hotel is great - lots of character and interesting architectural detail, and filled with the beautiful Portuguese tile I love so much. Our room cost about $75 US and had two beds, very high ceilings, a private bathroom, a TV, and absolutely beautiful floor-to-ceiling french doors that opened out to a little juliet balcony, the gauzy curtains blowing in the breeze.
It was a VERY hot day in late-May, and we spent quite a bit of time just laying on our beds and letting the warm breeze wash over us. When we did venture out, the hotel was located just steps from the subway which we took to go shopping, and minutes away from the Elevador de Gloria which took us up to the Bairro Alto for our last dinner in Lisbon.
The Pensao Geres even has internet access for a small fee, in a cozy common area - very convenient. I would definitely stay here again and highly recommend it, especially if you're on a medium-to-low budget like we were.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 7, 2004
Pensao Residencial Geres
+351 (21) 8810497
Hotel | "Albergaria Josefa d'Obidos"
The location of the hotel is great -- just steps away from the main entrance into town. There's a restaurant downstairs which feels like a giant old-fashioned wood-paneled tavern. While we never really liked the food in Portugal, and this place unfortunately was no exception, it was still a pleasant space in which to relax, eat and have a glass of port wine.
I honestly can't imagine a better place to stay for the price!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 9, 2004
Albergaria Josefa d'Óbidos
Rua D. joão de Ornelas
Obidos, Portugal 2510-074
+351 262 959 228
The heart of the city seems to be Rossio Square, which is very lively and colorful, with the signature Portuguese patterned tiles everywhere you turn. The square is filled with outdoor cafes, newsstands, fruit and vegetable shops and benches full of people hanging out and taking in the scene. Spend an hour at a cafe just watching the world go by.
Some of the very touristy things are really worth doing. One example is the Elevador de Santa Justa which is right next to Rossio Square. Take a ride up this strange but impressive elevator for a great orientation to the city, plus an up-close look at an ancient, crumbling monastery that you can't really get close to in any other way. Perched improbably at the tiny top of this weird ride is a small cafe, where you can sit and have an exorbitantly priced drink while you take in the views.
Trek up to the Sao Jorge Castle for unbelievable vistas of the city and its signature red-orange rooftops. (Notice how Lisbon is all about views and colors?!) You'll be very glad to reach the castle after climbing up cobblestone hills for a half hour, and you'll be rewarded with a lovely shady park, a few nice cafes to choose from, and best of all, those views. Take time out from huffing and puffing as you make your way uphill to the castle, to notice the charming little neighborhoods you're passing through.
Spend a few hours wandering aimlessly through the Alfama neighborhood, the medieval quarter of Lisbon which started out quiet and serene while we were there, and ended up raucous and festive a few hours later for one of the major saint's festivals that was going on. Again, sweeping and beautiful views can be had of the city and the ocean, and gorgeous Portuguese tile was everywhere we looked.
Finally, we loved wandering through the Bairro Alto district at night and choosing among tons of small restaurants and fado places to check out. It seemed like a hip, young area full of funky shops and bars and clubs. Our very last night in Lisbon, we ate in the Bairro Alto and then stumbled upon a free outdoor techno concert that was going on, complete with laser-light show and soundboards and massive crowds dancing to the beat. It was very cool!
Attraction | "Sintra"
We started at the Castelo, which is a crumbling heap of rocks in the vague formation of what used to be an obviously impressive fortress. There are no real walls and certainly no ceilings to speak of, and it's fun to climb on and around the ruins of the Moorish castle, and up to the ramparts to see the incredible views of the lush green countryside below.
From the Castelo, it's a very short drive to the entrance to the Pena Palace. This place is very weird, but a lot of fun! It's super-ornate and candy-colored, with clashing patterns and textures everywhere you look. Unfortunately you must check your camera at the door, so we could only take pictures of the incredible exterior, which is probably the most impressive and interesting part anyway.
It really just has to be seen to be believed - it's hard to describe, so take a look at the photos to see for yourself!
One warning: my sister and I took this little tram up the hill to the palace, but decided to walk back down to the car afterward. What should have been a nice 15-minute stroll through the woods back to the parking lot, ended up being like a 2-hour, completely lost ramble through trails and forest - we got totally turned around! We weren't alone; we came across others who were lost as well. So bottom line, either take the tram back, or get a good map of the area before embarking on a stroll!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 8, 2004
Town of Sintra
Grand Lisboa, Sintra
Attraction | "Alcobaca & Batalha"
Alcobaca and Batalha boast two incredible cathedrals built in the Manueline style, which I was completely unfamiliar with, and which is pretty amazing! The town of Alcobaca comes first if you're driving up the coast from Lisbon, and it seemed like a busy, cosmopolitan medium-sized town, with not all that much to see there but the cathedral. We spent about 45 minutes admiring the unique ornate structure and the beautiful mausoleums within its walls.
Next we headed north again toward Batalha. As we drove, we kept feeling like we should be there already... and wondering whether we'd missed the turn-off, until we suddenly turned around a bend in the highway and saw the massive church looming up at us! It was evident that we hadn't missed the turn-off - THIS was Batalha.
When we arrived, we parked and went into the cathedral. It was our lucky day: there was a wonderful local celebration just getting started, where the girls and women of the town marched in a festive parade from the church and out along the square, dressed in old-fashioned garb and carrying huge, decorated baskets of bread and sweets on their heads! The men marched too, dressed in regal costumes. It was a saint's day, and we joined the crowd watching the parade and marching bands go by.
Even without the festival, Batalha would have been well worth a few hours' visit. The cathedral is gorgeous and goes on and on - really cool to explore. Our favorite part was the Unfinished Chapel, which literally does not have a ceiling, just incredibly high walls that stretch endlessly up into nothingness. Inside the chapel is a beautiful and moving pair of marble sepulchers of the king and queen of the time. They are holding hands forever as they lie side by side.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 8, 2004
A unique thing about Obidos is that while the main color of the walls is white, which reminded me of some of the villages in the Greek islands, there are stripes of cobalt blue and sunflower yellow running along many of the walls and other structures. Much of the gorgeous tile you see everywhere is also made up of these two predominant colors. And there are brilliant bursts of red, violet, purple and green everywhere you turn from bougainvillea and ivy growing along walls, and potted flowers of all kinds spilling from doorways and windows.
We based ourselves for two nights in Obidos. The best things we did in the town were taking some early-morning walks before all the tourists charged in, and sitting in an outdoor cafe toward the sunset hour, sipping a glass of wine and watching the locals shop for dinner. I would definitely recommend staying here at least as long as we did, even as just a base for day-trips in the region. You can spend the night in Obidos and the day at the beach less than 20 miles west!
Once we got there, we drove around the manically-paced city trying to locate our hotel. No luck, not even close. We pulled up to the curb to ask a guy if he knew where the Paris Hotel was -- we showed him the address. He motioned for us to let him into the car! My sister and I sort of looked at each other doubtfully, and I said "Hey, what are the odds that out of all the people, we chose the axe murderer to ask for directions?" In he came.
Sure enough, he directed us in Portuguese (of which I speak approximately, um, no words) to our hotel about a 10-minute drive away. Once there, he jumped out, waved goodbye, and was off! The kindness of strangers, I tell you. That was not the first time something like that had happened in Portugal either, I'm embarrassed to admit.
Anyway, we'd planned to stay in Porto for three nights, but cut it short to just two. We simply didn't love the city. It was very urban and busy, quite large, and just too much for us to take in. It also seemed to be very much under construction, unfortunately. Our favorite part of the city was the river, which is lined with outdoor cafes and bars, and has pretty fishing boats lining its banks.
Although the ambience down by the river was very seedy (lots of grizzled old guys giving us the eye) it was still charming in many ways. We had dinner and relaxed, enjoying the views as the sun set, and decided to head back to Lisbon, which we knew we liked a lot better.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on April 9, 2004
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