Day One, December 27, 2010 – To Lisbon, And Beyond!
As is our tradition lately, we’d booked a relatively early flight out of Gatwick airport to Lisbon for our Christmas/New Years trip. The weather in Britain has been atrocious lately, with temperature down to freezing and snow drift up to 3 or 4 centimetres deep, so we were understandably concerned that our flight not make it out. Heathrow I think was still shut and Eurostar was having problems, so our concern was understandable.
Despite the anxiety, our flight was only slight delayed and we made it out of Gatwick more or less on time. The flight itself was alright – we flew Portugal’s national carrier “TAP”, which evidently has one of the best customer satisfaction records in Europe. Compared to budget carriers we’ve flown recently, it was a paragon of class and efficiency. On the other hand, the seats were small, and snacks included a very dry bun and a sausage in a bun (with cheese) – to be fair, that sort of spread on other carriers who shall remain nameless could cost up to €15, not including the coffee and pepsi.
We were blessed on the flight with a row behind us consisting of a very enthusiastic little girl who entertained herself by kicking my seat back and her mother, who had one of those deeply emphasymic coughs that just screams bad flu which she was good enough to share with the rest of the flight – I love it when people don’t cover their mouths when they cough...
We arrived in Lisbon and collected our luggage – our Air Canada suitcase survived yet another trip (it’s getting close to being retired – 8 years of fairly heavy travel has seen ripped handles, missing zipper pulls, bent handles brackets, and frayed corners. Virpi, the owner, collected us at the airport in her massive Land Rover and we made the somewhat mad trip up to Sintra.
At Casa do Valle we got the quick tour of the room, featuring scenic balcony and roaring fireplace before heading back up the giant hill to Sintra old town for an afternoon of exploring and beveraging.
Bizarrely, Sintra is insanely cheap for festive beverage, with two of three rounds costing a grand total of €4 for a large glass of wine for each of us. Similar beverages in London would have cost a minimum of about £10, so on the value for money scale we were well ahead right off the bat.
Sintra is actually a pretty cool little village, perched in its hill overlooking the sea in the distance. It seems to be an interesting mix of tourist tat and isolate mountain hill town. There were a surprising number of deserted and crumbling massive houses that seem to be completely left to the elements, with windows boarded up and roofs falling in – anything as beautiful as these places in London would be worth millions.
After much wandering and photo taking, we made our way to a restaurant, possibly called “Touhle”, just off the main square. It was festive, but suffered from the main affliction that seems to affect all the places we’d been too so far in Sintra – a sullen unwillingness to acknowledge the temperature. We’re Canadian, we we’re used to cold, but when it’s this sort of temperature we at least close the doors. Here, it seems, they fight the cold by leaving all doors and windows open and challenging the weather to do it’s worst (it was about 10 degrees celcius, but that’s bloody cold to have all the doors and windows open, even to a Canadian!).
We ordered the grilled meat platter to share, and ended up waiting until the rest of the restaurant was served before we got our insanely massive portion of meat – the cost of the wine at less than five euro a bottle (not great, but not bad considering) made the wait less painful.
Dinner itself was insane – for 23 euro for the two of us, we had two grilled steaks, two pork chops, four lamb chops, four bright pink sausages (the same it appeared as we had in Germany), a giant portion of rice, and a giant portion of chips. It was incredibly tasty, although as they say, hunger makes the best sauce. The entire bill came to just more than €40 including two bottle of wine and mixed starters. Something similar in London or Paris would be at least twice that price. In terms of value for money, it seems that Portugal can’t be beat.
We made our rather unsteady way back down the hill to our B&B, where our fireplace waited for us. free wifi got us a connection to online radio, cold wine in the fridge, candles lit, lights off. Weloaded a few more logs into the fire, poured a glass of wine, and settled in for the night. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been this relaxed. I think I’m going to like Portugal.
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Day One, December 27, 2010 – To Lisbon, And Beyond!