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Trip Report Bikerscott & Jamikins in Portugal 2010/2011

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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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    Love your report so far! Am heading to Portugal for my first time in less than two months and so will be anxiously awaiting your next installment, and hoping to live vicariously through your adventure. Obrigada!

    Oh also glad to hear about the cheap wine, I think I'm going to like Portugal as well...

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    I have to apologize for the poor quality of writing in my post above. In my defense, we'd spent almost €20 on yesterday which bought us three and a half bottles of wine, plus the wine in our room, and the various portions of port which I'd sampled. Beyond that, I was drifting into a meat coma as a result of the massive portions at dinner.

    So, some clarifications:
    1. The restaurant was called "Tulhas", and was very nice, if a bit cold. During renovations in the 80's they found the original grain stores for the whole village down under the floor. The hole is still there, bizarrely now containing a few optimistic bits of change, an empty plastic water bottle, and a fork.

    2. It wasn't clear in the commentary above what Virpi is the owner of - she's the owner of the B&B Casa Do Valle, not owner of my Air Canada suitcase. http://www.casadovalle.com/default.asp?lingua=ing&p=images

    3. I shall endeavour not to repeat myself by saying the same thing over and over in future posts.

    BikerScott and Jamikins

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    Hi Jamie, hi Scott!
    Oh I was so happy to find this trip report! I hope you had a beautiful Christmas. We would have loved to spend it with you but loved being home just a titch more.

    I think your trip report is great so far and why would you apologize about the writing -- it's excellent. Our Lisbon/Sintra trip is outlined in my London trip report from September 8 to 12 and also lreynolds walking tour of Lisbon is fabulous. If it's not already on your list of things to do, the Pena Palace in Sintra is worth the trip.

    I absolutely understand what you mean about the cold. There were plenty of stores and restaurants in London where we couldn't figure out why they just didn't CLOSE THE DOOR.

    I'm looking forward to reading more.
    Best from both of us.
    gtg and SO

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    Day Two – Up the Bloody Hill, and Up Again (December 28, 2010)

    Today, we managed a bit of a lie-in, although not as late as expected. We both managed to have our showers and more or less get ready to go before our appointed breakfast delivery time of 9:30am, a time we’d chosen the previous night.

    Breakfast was tasty, although a little healthy for a Christmas vacation, consisting of excellent muesli, yogurt, and various bits of fresh fruit. I firmly believe that festive holiday breakfast should include large portions of bacon, possibly eggs, and other unhealthy additives – more on this later...

    After filling up on tasty treats, we headed up the rather steep and extremely long hill (it felt steeper and longer this morning, somewhat dehydrated as we were) into the central part of town to catch the bus up to the Moorish and regular castle (there are two).

    When the bus finally arrive, we crammed in, having paid our nine euro twenty in small change that we’ve collected over the years of European travel, much to the delight of the bus driver who had to count all of it. The bus was incredibly full, although not nearly as full as it gets in the summer according to Jamie, who’s lived through it before.

    I can’t believe the skill and determination of the bus driver – some of those corners would have worried me in a small car, let alone in a giant city bus full of tourists, most of whom were standing. Despite my expectations, we made it up the hill to the Moorish castle, where we had a choice: get off the bus and explore the ruins, or continue on up the hill to the Pena Palace.

    Discretion being the better part of valour, and the heavy fog (although at that height cloud may be a better word for it) making the view a bit sub-par, we decided to continue on the bus up to the Pena Palace for some indoor sight-seeing.

    We piled off the bus at the top with the rest of the sensible people and were immediately engulfed in a massive and dense cloud. Typically for us, we arrived at a scenic outlook in the middle of the fog (our Lands End adventure earlier in the summer when we couldn’t actually see the end of the land springs to mind). The cloud was so bad that from the bus drop off area we couldn’t actually see the castle itself, and had to rely on signs to lead us up the hill (why is it always up the damn hill?!?).

    The view from the top would have been spectacular, had we been able to see it - over the town of Sintra and all the way to the sea evidently. Even from the base of the castle we could barely see the top of the battlements. We stopped for a leisurely espresso and water, in the vain hope that the cloud would lift and we’d be able to see anything at all.

    Our plan was thwarted and we gave up – we packed up, took out our cameras, and made the best of it, taking any number of eerie atmospheric photos of the palace as we went. Somewhat bizarrely, the castle was built in the 1800’s by the somewhat romantic kings of Portugal who wanted somewhere to indulge their painting and other pursuits. As it was built as a residence and not an actual defendable castle, it has some rather odd features. As far as we could tell, they just sort of picked and chose features that they thought were suitable for a castle – a bit of Arabic turret here, a bit of crenulation there, maybe a cloister in the corner. Very beautiful, but odd nevertheless.

    Many photos taken, many rooms wandered through, we made our way back down to the bus stop and joined an already long queue, despite having missed the previous bus by mere minutes. Thirty minutes later the next bus arrived, and as we had already bought tickets for the return journey, as soon as it cleared out we jumped into the rear doors and sat down, as would be expected in London. Evidently, based on the glares we received from other passengers, this is not the accepted form in Portugal. Oh well...

    Back in Sintra, we decided that it was about time for lunch. We didn’t want to eat on the main square, so made our way down the street out of town past the info van (the main info centre is being renovated). We eventually found a rather nondescript little cafe and went in for a meal. As was expected, the wine was unbelievably cheap at about four euro for a half bottle. Lunch itself was a bit odd – grilled sandwiches for both of us, mine containing hot dog sausages, my second in two days, after at least four or five years since having one previously. Not a bad lunch for the price, but strange....

    Sufficiently fortified, we wandered around for a bit before heading back to our new favourite little bar, underneath Cafe de Paris (I’d mention the name, but I forget). Yet again we enjoyed a bit too much wine, although at two euro a glass how can it be too much?

    Eventually we stumbled back down the hill to the B&B to refresh ourselves and get ready for our fancy dinner planned for the evening. Our fire was laid for us while we relaxed, and we spent a few minutes chatting with Virpi and playing with her dog Pandora, the biggest dog I’ve ever seen in my life (a ten month old Great Dane, who is possibly the coolest dog in Portugal).

    Relaxed and tidied up, Jamie and I walked up and down and back up the road to the far side of Sintra for our reservation at “G-Spot.” This restaurant evidently prides itself on it’s gastronomy, and it’s owner, or at least main waiter guy is a trained sommelier. This apparently explains the horrendous name – apparently its supposed to mean Gastronomy Spot, slight dirty pun unintended...

    The food was good for Sintra, fairly average for what we’re used to in London or Paris given the price...the sommelier did steer us right for wine though and for eighteen euro we had a very nice bottle of red (although at six or seven euro the previous day it was a bit hard to justify).
    We stumbled back into Sintra for some night shots of the town, then back down the hill to the B&B, where the fire and a bottle of port were waiting for us. Tomorrow we’re back to Lisbon for 5 days. I think I’m going to miss Sintra, especially the incredibly cheap wine and really quite friendly people. Hopefully we’ll get some sun in Lisbon, although coming from London I can’t really complain about the clouds or slight drizzle...

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    Your pics are gorgeous -- you'll have to enter some of them in next year's Fodors Show Us Your Europe contest! Funnily enough, some of your shots are exactly the same ones we took at Pena Palace. We were there on a bright sunny day, though, so our colours are so different than yours. I enjoyed the sun on the day we were there but I really prefer the feeling of your pictures.

    Can't wait for the next installment!

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    Thanks GTG! It really was too funny, every time we go somewhere with a nice view its too foggy to see!

    We have a bunch more pics and Scott is still writing every day but we dont have WIFI to upload as the Sheraton in Lisbon charges 11 euros a day and I refuse to pay it! So we are checking email etc at the business centre and will upload the backlog on Monday!

    Happy Holidays everyone!

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    And we are back in business!

    Day Three – Lisboa, and The Cold (December 29, 2010)
    We had a relatively bad night’s sleep last night – we were both awakened at about 3am with the sound of the most torrential rain storm that I’ve heard for quite some time. It sounded like a bucket of water had been upended over the roof of the house – that with wind and the occasional thunder, it was quite the inundation.

    Despite this, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 9am as usual and got ready, somewhat more lethargically than normal. Breakfast completed, we paid up, grabbed our cases and started the death march back up the bloody hill into Sintra, on our way to the train station. Not sure why we always pick hotels/B&Bs at the bottom of hills, it’s become a minor talent of ours. The hill seemed steeper and much longer than on the walk down the previous night, the several bottles of wine may have helped wit that though.

    We found the train station, but couldn’t figure out how to get it to give us two tickets to Lisbon. We eventually admitted defeat and went inside to talk to the guy at the ticket office, who sold us two one way passes. The train ride was relatively uneventful, as train rides tend to be. It was interesting going back into Lisbon after just a few days – it reminded us of the outskirts of Paris on the Eurostar as we rode through seemingly endless rows of apartment blocks and graffiti.

    Several changes on the train to the metro later, we ended up at our stop and found the nearest exit, which of course was the wrong one. We stood for a while looking at a map, until a nice gentleman took pity on us and directed us to the Sheraton, which happed to be the GIANT building just up the road which said Sheraton on it...typical.

    We checked into what has turned out to be the most amazingly modern and stylish hotel I think I’ve ever been in. The hallway leading to our room is a combination of frosted glass wall panels lit from below and dark leather doors and walls. It looks like the entrance to a chic members-only club. Our room is just as amazing – fancy shimmering curtains cover the closet, the bathroom is all glass, the privacy doors being frosted again. Even the blackout blind on the window is electronic. To be fair, it would be quite expensive if we weren’t travelling on Starwoods points, but nevertheless very cool.

    We unpacked and headed back to the metro, looking for Bairro Alto and a restaurant for lunch. We found the one we were looking for and had our first (and probably only) experience with the local Portuguese speciality, salt cod. Jamie had hers in fish cake format, whereas mine was plain with chickpeas and potatoes. Not my favourite meal of all time, but it was cheap and the wine was tasty.

    After lunch, we walked back toward the big outlook at Bairro Alto for some pictures. On the way, we happened to come across the restaurant we’d booked for dinner –we were quite excited as it had had fairly good reviews and featured a very tasty looking tasting menu. We’d tried to call a few times earlier to confirm our reservation but hadn’t been able to get through. We figured that as long as were standing outside, we’d give it another go.

    I finally got to talk to someone, who claimed not to have a reservation listed for us, despite our having received a confirmation email from them a few days previous. She said she wasn’t the person responsible, and would have someone call back in a few minutes. Unlikely, I thought.
    We went back to the overlook and took our pictures, before heading down the hill, stopping to tour a church on the way (Igreja de Sao Roque) – ornate and over the top, as expected of churches in Europe.

    We ended up in Baixa-Chiado on what turned out to be a very cool pedestrian street, where we found an outdoor cafe for some wine and people-watching. While we were there, I called the restaurant back again, having given them more than an hour. I managed to talk to another guy who confirmed that we weren’t confirmed and that he had no space for us that night. He couldn’t explain why we’re received a confirmation, or what happened to our reservation. He offered us space in his other restaurant, but we weren’t interested. We suggested he book us in the following night and he jumped on that like a drowning man on a life boat.

    We stayed at the cafe until the wind got a bit too cold for us (we’d decided to just wear our jumpers) and headed back to the hotel to get changed and find somewhere else for dinner. We ended up choosing a traditional Brazilian place just a few metro stops up from us called Comida de Santo just near the Rato station. Jamie had a traditional grilled meat dish which was excellent, I had a very traditional Rio dish called Feijoada Brasil, which featured black beans in a sauce, with bits of (as far as I could discern) pigs ears, fatty pork bit, and little bits of sausage. The beans and sauce were really tasty...

    Throughout the day my cold, which hasn’t been too bad, struck with full force. My nose has been running faster than a cheap alarm clock (fast), I’m coughing and congested. After dinner I declared defeat and we came back to the hotel, stopping briefly in the business centre to check email before heading upstairs for a dose of Lemsip Max, photo editing, and reading. A good first day in Lisbon, all in all.

    And our Day 3 photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears29Dec2010?feat=directlink

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    What a great way to get out of the weather in London. After meeting you and Jamie, I knew your report would cover some local restaurants and pubs.

    Portugal has never been on my radar, but after reading your commentary and seeing your pictures, I might have to reconsider. I loved the foggy castle pictures and the candid snapshots of people. I am always fascinated by the local people when I travel and want to take pictures, but never seem to do it. After seeing yours, I need to make a better effort of doing that, as they are as much a part of the local atmosphere as the buildings and sights.

    Looking forward to reading the rest.

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    Thanks for the comments everyone - it helps to know people are reading and enjoying!

    Day Four – And Then Came the Rains (December 30, 2010)

    This morning after a nice lie-in, we made our way eventually to the riverfront at the Praça do Comércio, having stopped briefly for a coffee and pastry for breakfast. We spent some quality time taking photographs of random people as well as the old trams which are still in use before jumping on the only new one around for our ride to Belém to visit the tower and monastery as well as have lunch.

    The tram was incredibly crowded; it seemed that we weren’t the only ones planning on touring the monastery today. After a slightly uncomfortable half hour trip, we made it to Belém and piled out of the tram. As we were walking across the road towards the giant building of the monastery, I felt the first few droplets of rain on my face. These turned out to be the outriders of one of the largest downpours I’ve ever seen – by the time we made it to the safety of one of the giant doors; both Jamie and I were completely drenched.
    We got our umbrellas out of my backpack and went to look at the queue to get into the monastery proper – it was huge, even with the rain. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and went to find a restaurant for an early lunch. We stopped at the first one we came across that looked half decent and went in – we were the only ones there.
    We avoided the salt cod, having had our fill yesterday, and chose the oven roasted chicken and veal, with a bottle of red wine to share. Both turned out to be quite tasty, and the wine as always was excellent for the price. By the time we were finished, the place was absolutely heaving with not a spare seat to be had and a queue out the door.

    From there we walked along the riverfront to the Torre de Belém, getting only slightly lost on the way (why they decided to put a break in the river frontage is beyond me...they’ll probably say something about having to be able to get to the docks on the other side, but that just sounds like excuses to me).

    As we are very cheap sometimes, we decided not to pay to go into the tower, as it is just a tower. I know that many people will disagree with this, and argue that it is so much more, and has historical significance and a depth of meaning and history, but I argue that I only have so many euros to spend on this trip, and I’d rather spend them on wine than going into towers that I don’t really know much about to start with. We did, however, take many photos of the outside, entirely for free.

    Photos taken, hair appropriately wind-swept (it was still very windy, although no longer raining), we walked over the pedestrian overpass to look for the tram back to either the Monastery or Lisbon, depending on the queue at the Monastery. Unfortunately, some poor idiots had managed to have an accident on the tram tracks and everything was shut down. We managed to find a tram sitting on the track just before the accident site with its doors open, and being very clever, we jumped on board (after first checking with the somewhat bemused conductor, who couldn’t understand why we’d want to sit on a tram that wasn’t moving – he hadn’t checked the accident site as we had, and didn’t know that they were about to tow away the second of the two offending cars, thus clearing the track. Beyond that, if we went to the next stop, everyone who had been waiting at that stop would be waiting to get on and it would be chaos, whereas we would ALREADY BE ON, and have seats).

    All our cleverness was for nought, however, as the tram stopped at the very next stop (as they do) and conductor announced that this particular tram was in fact terminating right there. Damnit! We had to get off the tram and stand with the rest of the non-clever plebs and wait for the next tram, on which we didn’t even immediately get a seat. So annoying. Plus, the queue at the Monastery was actually longer than earlier, so we didn’t even want to do that. We decided to go back to Lisbon central to calm our shattered nerves with a medicinal glass of wine or port.

    We managed to get to the big pedestrian street in the Chiado before we felt those few fateful and portentous drops of rain that seem to presage a deluge here in Lisbon. Fortunately for us, we happened to be standing directly beside an outdoor yet covered cafe, which was convenient. We commandeered a table for four which one lone guy was sitting at (it was raining, desperate times and all) and ordered two glasses of wine, just for something different. We spent an enjoyable half hour or so watching people and enjoying our very tasty yet reasonably priced beverages before deciding that the rain, which had been so furious, had abated to a degree that would allow us to continue our walk up the road.

    It turns out that the pedestrian street that runs on the middle of Chiado is excellent for window shopping and photography. We did quite a bit of both before feeling a few more sprinkles and diving into the first likely looking covered outdoor bar that would could find. We shared another half-bottle of somewhat decent vinho tinto (red wine, I’m almost fluent at this point). This particular location was somewhat less advantageous for people-watching, being located just behind the very busy Restauradores, so after our drink(s) we left, heading back to the hotel to refresh ourselves before our massive dinner which had been planned for the evening.

    Dinner was at the oddly named 100 Maneires (or something very similar), the restaurant I’d had the extended and repeated conversations with the previous night. As we are not so good with the weather, we had decided not to bring our umbrellas with us, thinking that the worst of the rain must be behind us. We were wrong. It was torrential. As if the heavens themselves had opened and those who had not the foresight to build large boats would find themselves in serious difficulties. Despite this, we arrived at the door of the restaurant at 7:40 for our 8pm reservation. This, apparently, is not the done thing.

    We pressed what appeared to be a buzzer at the unlit and vastly not-open front door, and waited under the overhand of the balcony above the door, wondering what to do next. The rain continued. A man on a motorcycle arrived with plastic carrier bags tied over his shoes, parked next to us, removed said carrier bags, and then went into the front door of the restaurant, closing it firmly behind him. We were astounded by his audacity, as he’d even commented on the terrible weather before sliding past us and through the portal to warmth and light. I was not impressed, and was seriously thinking of leaving for the restaurant around the corner that I’d read about in a magazine the previous day. Instead, I knocked loudly on the door, waited a few minutes, then knocked again, even more insistently.

    The door was opened by a chef-looking guy who seemed startled to see us. I explained that we had reservations for 8pm that night, but that we were a bit early by 10 minutes but could we come inside as we were getting drenched in the rain. He was clearly taken aback by this request, and said quite shortly that no, they open at 8pm and we must wait. In this rain, I asked? He merely shrugged and repeated that they opened at 8pm, and then closed the door firmly. I started walking up the road, away from the restaurant.

    Jamie called me back, wanting to give them another chance. A few angry and very damp minutes later, the door opened and Mr. Motorcycle Man invited us in, saying that they don’t open until 8, and were still cleaning, but they’d rather have us wait inside in the dry than stand outside in the cold and rain. By this time, unfortunately, the crowd had grown to about 9 of us, all of whom were wet and a bit annoyed. Jamie and I went in and stood awkwardly in the doorway as the woman who had come in behind us asked why she was made to wait in the rain when she clearly had reservations at 7:45 that evening?

    This was the beginning of rather a theme for the rest of the evening. It seems that the owners of the restaurant had actually opened two restaurants with THE SAME NAME, a few blocks away from each other. There is no indication on the website that this is the case; they share the same business card, the same email address, and the same reservations phone number. Apparently the owners don’t feel that this could be confusing, however the general public does. While we were there, no fewer than 7 groups discovered that they’d made reservations at the other branch and were turned away. One very angry woman even went through the trouble of filling out a form in The Complaints Book – a book of complaints that as far as we can tell every business in Portugal has to have, with forms in triplicate, and far-reaching and severe implications. On the plus side for us, we were given a free glass of champers to apologise for losing our reservations from the previous night and making us wait in the rain.

    Fortunately, the quality of dinner made up for the annoyances encountered in getting in. At this particular branch of the restaurant, they only offer a 10 course tasting menu, with no options (other than for children or allergies). It was bloody fantastic. We’ve eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, from Michelin Three Stars to rural bistros in France run by people who simply love food, to my dad’s barbequed salmon (caught fresh in the Pacific earlier that day...not by my dad but close enough). This was up there with the best that we’d had. I could get very pretentious and comment on the finer points of the balance of flavours on some of the dishes, or plating, but that would miss the point (other than the reservation process – that was atrocious). This meal cost €35 each, but would have been at least double if not triple in London or Paris. I would come back to Lisbon simply to eat there again.

    After dinner, we stumbled down the side-streets in Bairro Alto, discovering yet another side of Lisbon – the back alley bars which only seem to open after the sun has gone down. I can imagine that in the heat of the summer, this is the absolute place to be in Lisbon. Even in the drizzle and relative chill of late December, there were loads of people about having a good time (including one insistent young man who seemed to be convinced that my lifelong desire was to buy some hash from him). We bar-hopped down the alley, enjoying some very tasty beverages as we went, before finally making our way to the metro station at Baixa-Chiado and heading for home.

    And the Day 4 pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears30Dec2010?feat=directlink

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    Wow! €35 each for a 10 course meal, that is a bargain! You've got me thinking I need to get back to Lisbon. It's been 20+ years since I was there last and it seems I need to avail myself of the food and beverage experiences there! :-)

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    Yes I'm still with you guys and following along on your adventure! Thanks for the fun report and also the really great photos. I think I will have a glass of wine "just for something different" tonight (Hah! Hope you don't mind but I'm stealing that line, it made me laugh out loud) as I look again at the amazingly atmospheric photos of Sintra. Obrigada!

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    Thanks for all the comments!

    Day Five – Seeing Out the Year (December 31, 2010)

    The morning dawned brightly and extremely early. Fortunately, our stylish room is fitted with electronic blackout blinds, so we missed this wonder of nature, instead sleeping off what would probably have been pretty good hangovers. Actually, if truth be told, I suspect that dawn would have arrived with more of a wet slurp than a bright *ding* - the rain was back and the clouds were dark and as threatening as a group of hoodie-wearing large men at the end of an unlit alley at night in an unfamiliar city for a man wearing a suit of money (my ability to extend metaphors beyond the realm of the believable continues to astound me).
    After our morning ablutions, we made our way rather more steadily than would have been expected to the metro station, and from there to the Terreiro do Paço station. This would be setting-off point for a day of walking up and down large hills and stairways – we were off to explore the Alfama neighbourhood – the hilly side of the city that escaped destruction in the earthquake of 1755 that levelled most of the city.

    We hadn’t had breakfast yet, or even my morning coffee, so our first and most important mission was to find a pasta store (they don’t actually sell pasta, however the Portuguese for pastry shop- pastelaria- looks like it should mean pasta store, so that’s what we call them – much confusion when we first arrived as I couldn’t figure out why a non-Italian city should have so many pasta shops...). We found a place just below the large cathedral oddly called Sé – I ordered a latte and a sausage in a bun, and Jamie went for a spinach thing and also a latte.

    One of the things that always confuses me when travelling is the procedure for paying for food (not in restaurants, that doesn’t really change). In London, the rule at pubs, coffee shops, and pretty much everywhere else is that you pay before you eat or drink. In Portugal, even at coffee shops, it seems that you eat and drink, then pay afterwards. As they say, the exception proves the rule, and this particular pasta shop was the exception. We ordered, received requested coffees and snacks, and went to sit down and eat. In the mean time, the queue got quite large and the staff was very busy serving all the various customers. When we were finished, we joined the large queue and discovered that we probably should have paid at the start, as everyone seemed very confused as to why we hadn’t actually done just that, and it took forever to find someone to whom we could give money.

    From this inauspicious beginning, we looked forward to a good day. We walked up the hill, taking a quick look at the Sé cathedral, and then continued further up to a nice viewpoint to take some photos. The viewpoint at the top of Alfama is quite scenic and presents a very good view over Lisbon. At this point it started to drizzle again, so we walked down the hill a ways looking for somewhere to take shelter from the impending downpour (we’d learned our lesson yesterday). We found refuge in a tram shelter and waited out what turned out to just be a light drizzle.

    For reasons that we cannot now explain, we felt it would be a good idea to get on the next tram that arrived, despite the fact that it was going entirely the wrong way. We went one stop before deciding that going DOWN the hill was counterproductive, given our plans for the day. We got off the tram and retraced our steps up the same bloody hill to the outlook, where we turned left and found the castle at the very top of the hill. We also found a wine bar that Jamie had heard about just below the castle, and felt that it was time for a beverage and a bite of lunch.

    We were almost the only people in the Wine Bar do Castello when we first arrived, and had an excellent chat with the owner about what wines we might enjoy. He poured us two excellent and very generous first glasses; I love the tendency of the Portuguese to feel the need to fill wine glasses to their appropriate level, rather that the British tendency to measure to an exact and specific pre-determined volume. We also ordered a plate of regional black pork products and Portuguese cheeses.

    We spent a highly enjoyable few hours trying several different wines, including a 15-year old port for me. The invasion of the bar by a large group of extremely loud and apparently hideously rich French couldn’t even dampen our spirits. After our mostly liquid lunch, we stumbled rather unsteadily back up the castle to wander around the battlements and take more photos.

    I have to be honest – after touring various castles in various parts of Europe, they all sort of start to look the same. High walls, steep stairways, fantastic views as they seemed to be obsessed with finding the tallest bloody hill they could to build interesting things on the top of. We looked around for a while and took a large number of shots before deciding that it was time to call it a day. We headed back down the hill, but being very clever, we chose a different path down than we’d taken up, so that we could see more of the area.

    We almost immediately got fairly lost. This actually worked out in our favour, as we found a local little store that sold wine (amongst other things), and then even better, a non-touristy little bar to rest our feet and recuperate. A litre of beer and two glasses of wine later, they appeared to want to close down, as it was getting fairly late on New Year’s Eves, so we left. The general rule in Alfama apparently is when in doubt, go down (a good rule at all times I would have thought), so we found the nearest hilly street and walked down it.

    In time, following this downhill theory, we arrived at the metro station and from there we made it back to the hotel to freshen up a bit before our New Year’s dinner.

    Jamie had found a recommended restaurant that turned out to be only two blocks from the Marquês de Pombol station, which is just one station from us on the metro. Bocca - http://www.bocca.pt/ Of course, it is up a bloody great hill, but that seems to be expected around here. We arrived somewhat apprehensively 10 minutes early at 8:50, but they seemed to take this in their stride and seated us immediately without making us stand around at all.

    Dinner was very good, although some of the dishes missed their mark a little bit. We also had the wine pairing that was offered, but soon realized that they didn’t have a proper sommelier on staff, as the wines seemed like somewhat odd choices, the oddest being a light and citrusy white to pair with a pork cheek braised in red wine in a potato soup. Very odd.

    They also had some trouble with timing – it had been advertized as a New Year’s Eve dinner, with champagne to be served at midnight, however we were done just after 11pm. We asked if we could have our champagne and pay early, as we thought we might make it into Central Lisbon to see the New Years in. To their credit, they not only allowed us to pay early, but gave us a half bottle of the champagne that we were meant to have at midnight to take with us – fantastic service if you ask me.

    By the time we’d organized all this and paid the bill, it was just after 11:30, so we rushed back down the great bloody hill to the metro station, and crammed into the first train that arrived. I can tell you that the Lisbonians have something to learn about crowded metro trains, as it wasn’t really busy at all by London rush hour standards – I could still breath for example.

    We eventually got to the Terreiro do Paço station and rushed up the stairs with everyone else. We’d made it to the Praça do Comércio in time to see the final countdown for midnight. The centre of Lisbon was absolutely packed with surprisingly well behaved Lisbonians. We took our place as close to the centre of the square as we could get and waited with the rest of Lisbon for the final minutes of the year.

    The countdown began, and the air was electric. Midnight came, and the celebration really began. Yelling and shouting from all side, music blasting from the speakers, and the most impressive display of festive fireworks rang out over the city for at least ten minutes. I’ve never seen such a happy group of people, everyone smiling, hugging, smoking quite a lot of pot from the smell of it, champagne, singing, dancing. A wonderful way to ring in the New Year.

    Jamie had somewhat naively thought that we might be able to take the metro back home, or at least catch a bus. Silly girl. We walked with the crowd through the centre of town, cheering and laughing. It soon became clear that we would have to walk back to the hotel, which wouldn’t have been that big a deal as it’s only two or three kilometres except that we were a bit drunk and IT’S UPHILL THE WHOLE BLOODY WAY! Why is everything in this city up a hill?

    A tiring hour later we made it back to the Sheraton. We popped a final bottle of what turned out to be really crap champagne and settled in for the evening. Maybe not the way we normally spend our new year’s eve, but one of the best I can remember.

    And our pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears31Dec2010?feat=directlink

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    Hope you are still with us...

    Day Six – Meat Sweats at Midnight (January 1, 2011)

    The day may have dawned brightly or otherwise, there was no way we were going to see it this morning. We didn’t actually turn out the lights until after 3am, and 9am was far too early to get up, so we slept till 11:30. Despite this extended lie-in, neither of us were feeling particularly healthy after leaving the hotel, so our first mission (as it is on so many mornings) was coffee and pastries at the first pasta shop that we could find (see Day Five for the explanation).

    After much confusion and angst in buying our day pass for transit (they raised the rates for January 1st, we didn’t plan for this and didn’t have enough change, info-booth girl was informative but not particularly helpful as she couldn’t break a twenty) we found our bus and went into town for completion of our primary objective (coffee and sweets).

    It seemed, much to our dismay, that much of Lisbon had also had a late night because almost nothing was open. We got off the bus at Restauradores and meandered all the way up to Baixo-Chaido without finding a single cafe or pasta shop open. Incredibly frustrating, especially given the enormity of the hangover-driven-caffeine-deprived headache I was working on.

    We eventually, after much wandering down deserted streets and alleys (all of which were hilly), stopped at a tram shelter, for the consideration of options. As we waited, an incredibly full tram arrived, absolutely packed with people. Not on our list of things that we wanted to do. Oddly, however, there was an almost completely empty one just behind it, so we got on that one and got a seat.

    We decided to take the tram as far as we could before getting kicked off, to see where it went and if anything there was open. We were on the number 28, which goes up the hill in Alfama, exactly where we were yesterday. For some reason, pretty much everything over there was open and bustling – I guess there are enough tourists in Lisbon to convince some people to open up, even on New Year’s day.

    We stayed on the 28 until it terminated in Graca, a mostly residential neighbourhood past Alfama where not many tourist stray it seems. We did find a pasta shop, but it was closed for lunch apparently. We walked back towards Alfama, looking in every restaurant door on the way to see if we could find something that didn’t offer salt cod exclusively – not much luck to be honest. We ended up at an embarrassingly naff touristic cafe just below the entrance to the castello, where I had a hamburger and coke, much to my own horror.

    Lunch finished, we went down the hill again (per the rule in Alfama), looking for photographic opportunities and possibly some wine. We stopped in a fermented grape superstore partway down to buy liquid supplies for the evening, and eventually ended up at the base of the Santa Justa elevator (the giant famous lift in the Baixa, which serves no apparent purpose as far as I can tell other than as a tourist draw).

    The queue was giant, so we walked around and up the hill to get on from the top (it connects to one of the back streets and is free if you have a day transit pass, no point in standing the queue for an hour).

    The views were fantastic, and the whole thing was dramatically rickety and old, which was excellent – enough to give a little jolt of adrenaline without being actually unsafe. Twenty minutes or so taking very high photographs of the city, and we were parched, I can tell you.

    We found an open street cafe on one of the pedestrian streets below (Rua Áurea) and ordered 1.5 litres of water and a litre of red sangria, to take the edge off. We had an excellent hour or so watching the locals and not so locals wander up and down the road – it seems that many get dressed up in the their finest for the walk. It was getting on, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and to clean up some photos before dinner. The bottle of wine we’d bought came in handy for this.

    Eventually, we decided that it was about time for dinner. We’d found a Brazilian rodízio place just down the road called “Costellao Gaúcho” which looked not too bad. We went in and were greeted by one of the best signs for a restaurant in a city where English is not the native language – almost no one spoke English at all.

    Rodízio is a type of Brazilian meat restaurant where there tends to be a salad bar buffet, and the servers wander around with giant rotisserie skewers of meat, slicing off strips of whatever you want as they walk past. For a set fee, you can eat more or less as much as you want.

    We had the cheapest option on the menu – the Mini Rodízio for only €12 each, which resulted in enough meat to choke a donkey. Full-on meat coma. We had a few different types of steak, Brazilian roast beef, a few types of pork, chicken, sausage, cooked pineapple, deep-fried bananas...absolutely fantastic and absurdly good value for money – all the meats were excellent and the buffet salad bar wasn’t too bad either.
    After eating quite a bit more than our fill, we admitted defeat and paid the tab. We rolled back to the hotel, not even concerned that we are completely out of wine. I think both of us are regretting the sheer volume of the meat we ate....

    And pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears1Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    Hi Scott, hi Jamie,
    It's taken me a couple of days to get back to this thread but I think it's fabulous! You're a wonderful writer and that and the fact that we were so recently in Lisbon really make this come alive for me.

    SO says hi. When are you going back to London?

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    You write so well, it's fun to read though I'm glad I'm not in cold old Europe! We got drowned in Sintra, didn't take coats or umbrellas - dumb decision.

    Take care
    Kay

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    GTG - back in London on Sunday - then back to work on Monday. I am still hoping for a big lottery win before heading back so that I dont ever have to work again! Please keep your fingers and toes crossed for me hahaha!

    Kay - its actually very warm here compared to London! But I guess not compared to where you are!!

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    I am enjoying your trip report and have a few questions for you. Were you happy with your lodging in Sintra? I have checked out their website and corresponded with the owner about a stay in Sept. It looks great and I saw great reviews but am interested in your feelings since you were just there recently.
    How long and steep is the "bloody hill"? My husband and I are both in our 60's and in good shape except for each of us having had knee surgery. We love to walk and explore and were ok with hiking all over Greece which was much steeper than what we have at home.
    We will have 7 or 8 full days and at this time are not planning on renting a car. I have just started planning and am thinking of dividing our time between Lisbon and Sintra and bus or train day trips from either rather than driving.
    This site seems to have more info on Lisbon and surrounding areas than other forums but even here much of it isn't very recent. So, any suggestions and helpful hints will be much appreciated. Thanks

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    Hi mileaday,

    The lodging in Sintra was great. Basic, but good. They also sell decent wine and breaky for 4-6 euros. Apparently lodging is not allowed to include breakfast unless they have a full restaurant.

    I think without a car 2-3 nights in Sintra would be great. You can take a bus to Cascais/Estoril (seaside) one day, and the Pena Palace and Moorish castle are also worth a day.

    Lisbon was great as well and we spent 5 nights. I believe you can also do a bus trip to Evora and also to Obidos if you wanted a break without a car.

    As for the hill...its a hill. And not a short one. I was there with my mom and her friend (they are both 60) in Oct 2009 and we were huffing and puffing up. My hubby says if you have knee problems the downhill part might be hard on them. Sintra and Lisbon are both very hilly. At least in Lisbon they have trams to take you up and down. Not saying you cant do it, but its a good 5-10 min uphill walk from the lodging to the historic centre of Sintra.

    Hope this helps! Enjoy your trip!
    J

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    Day Seven – What a View (Except for the Dense Fog) (January 2, 2011)

    Having survived a night of the meat sweats, we awoke feeling slightly sluggish. We opened the electric blackout blind to see what kind of day was waiting for us outside and were met with a dramatic view of....nothing. Dense fog was apparently sitting on Lisbon much like a very fat man on a small bicycle seat – absolutely nothing was visible, and this was very disturbing. Either that or someone had frosted our windows in the night for reasons unexplained.

    This, of course, was to be expected, as we’d planning taking a trip to the sea-side to enjoy the views of the ocean and all for the day. Undaunted, we packed up and headed out into the misty and deserted streets (Sunday morning in Lisbon is only slightly more active than New Year’s day). As our first mission, we found a pasta cafe around the corner and had the requisite coffee and tasty treat before descending into the metro station to charge our Via Viagem passes for the day’s travel. Planning ahead, we’d brought enough change to cover the new fees for the new year, which was clever, even for us.

    Back up the surface streets for a bus to Cais do Sodré and from there to the train to Estoril. The trip was uneventful, although it was interesting to watch the wall of fog obscure all but the buildings closest to the tracks. Not sure why anyone would want to live backing onto a rail line, but there you have it. I’m sure the view on a non-foggy day must be spectacular.

    We arrived in Estoril and walked to the beach. As expected, there was nothing to see as nothing could be seen. We walked on the sand for a bit and I managed to spend more than ten minutes next to the water without getting drenched by an unexpected wave – possibly a first for me. We walked down the seawall past Monte Estoril, almost getting to Cascais before deciding that it might be time for lunch, and definitely time for a jug of Sangria.

    We found a conveniently located bar and ordered just that. We ate and drank our lunch and watched the massive waves break on the sea wall, entertainingly drenching a few unsuspecting people who should have known better. There must have been a massive storm somewhere offshore, as the waves were truly tremendous. Massive walls of water were repeatedly crashing against the walls in a highly interesting and photogenic manner, which was much appreciated.

    We spent quite a bit of time trying to capture the perfect image of the water breaking over the pavement, and possibly splashing people who weren’t paying as much attention as they should have been. Eventually we grew tired of this, and after walking back towards Estoril, turned our attentions to the clearly insane surfers who were bobbing around in what must have been nut-shrinkingly freezing water. Some of them were pretty crap, but a few carved enough nice lines on the waves to make some interesting photos, so I was quite pleased.

    We continued along the seawall past Estoril until we became parched yet again and found another conveniently located cafe to sit at. We spent another hour enjoying a relatively nice and relatively expensive bottle of wine (odd how the price of wine is directly proportional to the quality of the view).

    The sun went down in a rather dramatic manner, making the remains of the fog glow most scenically, and then it got cold. As I was just wearing a jumper, and we were out of wine, we decided to walk back to Estoril, get back on the train and go back to Lisbon for dinner.

    Dinner was a quick bus ride to Restauradores and then a tram ride up the hill to Bairro Alto. I’d read about a restaurant we’d passed a few times in a magazine (they’d probably paid to be in it, but whatever) so we decided to try it out. It turned out to have expensive wine, really good tapas (which is weird for Lisbon), and not very good pizza (which is normal for Lisbon I think). They were very friendly, but it wasn’t great and I wouldn’t go back.

    After dinner we felt that a final beverage was in order before coming back to the hotel so we found our favourite wine bar in the Bairro Alto – Artis. We found a seat and ordered two glasses of wine and sat back to enjoy or last full evening in Lisbon. It’s been a surprising city. I don’t think either of us expected to like as much as we both have. I don’t know that I’d want to spend another full week here, but I’d definitely come back for a long weekend here and there. While much of it is very run down and more than a few buildings are abandoned and crumbling, there’s a vibrancy and excitement to the city that is thrilling. The food, while not fantastic, is cheap and mostly tasty, the wine is fantastic and cheap, and the people are friendly. I think a trip in better weather is going to be in order.

    And pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears2Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    As always I thoroughly enjoyed your wonderful report. Your writing style always brings a huge smile to my face and your photos are just stunning!! You always seem to have so much fun, no matter where you go. You made Portugal come alive to me with your descriptions and your pics. I hope you keep traveling and keep writing these delightful reports. Would love to meet you two some day for a glass of vino!!

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    Beautiful report. I loved it.
    We may have passed by each others, since I use the Picoas train station on a daily basis.
    Another side note is the very interesting name "100 maneiras", because of it's dubble meaning in Portuguese. It stands for "no manners" or "one hundred ways" (pick one)
    Your translation of "pastelaria" as a pasta shop is lovely :-)

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    Day Eight – Bar Xtreme (January 3, 2011)

    Today was our last morning in Lisbon, and I was upset. I’d had a fantastic time there and didn’t really want to leave, the comfort of the Lisbon Sheraton possibly having something to do with this. We got up at the ungodly hour of 9am (ish, could have been a bit later) and packed up our bags.

    We had, for reasons unexplained (mostly because we are cheap) decided to walk with our impressively large and heavy luggage up the Marques do Pombol to pick up our hire car. Not only to Marques do Pombol, but down to the big roundabout and then up the impressively steep hill. We eventually found the Avis and picked up Aurelia (our first Portuguese hire car had to be named Aurelia, as all our hire cars have names, as does our sat nav Tracy). Aurelia is a new Toyota Yaris, only slightly larger than one of my shoes, but in black, as opposed to the stylish white my travel trainers are.

    We live in London, and therefore being somewhat sane, don’t actually own a car. It’s been some time since I’ve driven a motorcar, and I’m not so much good at starting a manual transmission car on hills, at least when I’m facing up them, I’m a star if I’m going down. It may be a good time to point out that Lisbon is built on pretty much nothing but hill.

    With a fair amount of trepidation we set Tracy the SatNav at a destination, backed up down a hill AND around a corner (my driving test examiner would have been proud), and set off.
    As she normally does, Tracy steered us right and got us out of central Lisbon with little fuss and almost no muss. Hills were few and far between, almost as if Tracy was as nervous about my hill start ability as I was. It was Monday late morning but traffic wasn’t too bad and before long we were on the motorway, heading for Almourol Castle, near to Tomar.

    We found it with only minor confusion. Apparently Portugal has gone through a period of infrastructure improvement over the last few years. Tracy is starting to show her age, and as we got closer to the castle she started having some problems. We found it eventually, but were slightly unimpressed with its grandeur. For one, it’s on a very small island that at least in January is inaccessible, being in the middle of a river. We took a few photos and were off again.

    On the plus side, the large and deserted hill leading back to the motorway meant that I got to practice my hill starts, and I got to the point where I could start without burning out the clutch. I find it’s best to practice these sorts of things on hire cars. Also, I would recommend if you are considering purchasing a former hire car to have the clutch checked, in case I’ve been driving it.

    It turned out that Tomar wasn’t that far from the castle, and it wasn’t long before we were very confused again as Tracy had no idea where we were. Apparently the new highway looks a lot like forest and/or field to her, although to be fair, she is getting on in years. We eventually found the roundabout that she kept telling us to look for, and from there the road up to Casa Rosden, our home away from home for the next few days. www.casarosdenportugal.com

    Apparently the road leading up to Casa Rosden was ripped apart a few weeks ago, and is now a morass of a dirt road featuring potholes and large mud puddles. Aurelia did a stellar job and we found the place with little difficulty. We were met by owners Ros and Den (thus the creatively named Casa Rosden), who showed us our room for the next few nights.
    Den graciously offered to take us on a quick driving tour of Tomar and the local sights, including the supermarket so that we could buy any supplies necessary. The driving tour was fantastic and included a full tour of central Tomar, as well as a drive up the hill to see the Templar castle and the rather impressive aqueduct that fed it. The supermarket in particular was important, as after seven nights of eating out, we were ready for some home cooked food.

    It’s always an adventure exploring a market in a foreign country, especially when you don’t speak the language. We did fairly well I think, picking up enough to sustain us for two dinners, including barbequed steak and salad for this evening, as well as some wine. We piled back in Den’s four-wheel drive and came back to the casa.

    Fortunately, there is a really nice open air charcoal barbeque at the house, and I used it to it’s utmost in cooking two very tasty steaks for dinner. I like eating out, but it’s hard to be beat home cooked steak from an outdoor grill. With salad and decent wine, a winner all around.
    After dinner we were feeling a bit restless, so we walked up to the local village of Portela to see if we could find somewhere to have a final drink for the evening. The local restaurant was closed but the XTreme bar was open (the local motorcross/dirtbike biker hangout), so we went in there.

    It struck us almost immediately how important language is in feeling comfortable in a place. As we opened the door, all conversation stopped and everyone turned to stare at us. We found a seat and sat down. It took some time before conversation started again. We ordered a glass of wine and a regular sized bottle of beer between us and settled in.

    The football was on, so we watched that as we chatted. It was unclear which side the residents of the bar were supporting, and we didn’t know either side as it was Portuguese league sides, so we remained silent, even at the obvious dives and near missed goals, which would normally have elicited some comment or other. We ordered another round.

    Eventually, the time came to pay the bill and stumble back down the gravel pit of a street to our room. I asked for the conta and was answered in Portuguese. I didn’t want to make a scene and demand a response in English, as I hadn’t understood the response the first time, so I chose the twenty euro note from my wallet, assuming that the five euro note wouldn’t be enough to cover two beers and two wines.

    It turned out that I was wrong. I was given seventeen euros forty cents change – that’s right, two bottled beers and two half-decent very large glasses of wine cost a grand total of two euros sixty. I love this place. It might not be the Champs Elysees, but it does have its charms. We settled in for the night, sufficiently sophonisified and quite pleased with ourselves.

    And the pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears3Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    Day Nine – On A Long, Dark, Desert Highway (January 4, 2011)

    Hot damn I love blackout blinds. It could have been 4 in the morning for all I knew when I woke up at 9:30 this morning. The blackness was absolute, which caused a bit of an issue when it actually was 4am and I had to find the bathroom in the pitch dark in a strange room in a strange country, not quite awake. I got lost. Fortunately I realized my mistake before I peed in the hallway.

    We made our way down the rather rustic dirt road and out to the highway, heading west (to be fair, the road to the hotel is normally paved, however the water and/or sewer people evidently needed to do some work on the water mains/sewer supply. They didn’t feel that replacing roadways was their remit, and the city road people apparently and somewhat justifiably felt that as they hadn’t ripped up the road in the first place, replacing it wasn’t their concern. The road remains dirt, and the heavy rains are doing their worst. It is expected that someone will flinch at some point and the road will be repaired, but it is hard to say when this might be).

    West led us to the pay as you go motorway, which is actually relatively expensive – more than €5 to get from Tomar to Óbidos, although this does mean travelling on well paved and mostly three lane super highway at very high speeds (in fact, about 10km/hr more than Aurelia is comfortable doing – she can do it at a pinch, but the vibrations and noise don’t seem worth the effort, and I’m a gentleman – I don’t like to see a lady strain herself unnecessarily).

    Óbidos is known for two things – the shimmering whiteness of the buildings within the surrounding and impressively tall medieval curtain walls which completely encircle the old city, and the cunningly crafted and deceptively strong cherry liqueur called “ginja.” It seems the tourists have discovered both the shimmering whiteness and cunning liquid and the tourist traps have followed them. The main road from the big entrance gate up to the church at the other end of the village is lined with shops selling the typical tourist tat, including, but not limited to almost hand-made and very nearly hand-painted pottery, socks for some reason, wooden swords, a Celtic music shop (not even I can explain that one), and the other 1001 tourist accoutrements which seem required.

    We did a bit of an exploratory wander before the rain started up, at which point we found a restaurant for lunch. It was traditionalish Portuguese, so it had salt cod on the menu. While I’m sure some people like salt cod, we are not two of them. Instead, we had the not-particularly-traditional-but-tasty fettuccini with chicken, bacon, and mushrooms, and chicken with pineapple for me. Both were better than we would have expected. By the time we’d finished lunch, the rain had more or less stopped.

    We went back out for more photo opportunities and did a fairly thorough circuit of the village. There isn’t a lot there, other than that main street, as far as we could tell. Our curiosity satisfied and our memory cards somewhat more full than they previously had been, we returned to Aurelia and set Tracy the satnav towards Alcobaça (which I think sounds awfully like the name of Chewbacca’s cousin from the country).

    Tracy sometimes has a somewhat disturbed sense of humour, and our decision to set her to avoid toll roads meant that in retaliation, she tried to get us to drive through the very centre of a relatively large but hugely cramped Portuguese country village. This was not fun. Also, it seems that since Tracy’s maps were loaded, they’ve changed a whole bunch of streets to one-way, which adds to the degree of difficulty. Eventually we capitulated, and changed her programming back to the default, allowing her to take us 23 kms on the toll highway.

    Almost by accident we found the town-centre parking lot in Alcobaça, directly across the courtyard from what is apparently one of the most beautiful Cistercian Abbeys left – Mosterio de Santa Maria, dating from the twelfth century. After minor annoyances trying to get change for a €10 note in the local shops so that we could pay for parking (we’d used the last of our small change paying for the damn toll road getting to Alcobaça), we entered the abbey.

    Not long ago, we’d read a series of books by C.J. Sansom, one of which is set in a medieval monastery. I thought of the description of monastic life as I walked through the ancient halls and courtyards of Mosterio de Santa Maria – it would have been a very difficult life, and if today was anything to go by, often very cold. One of the things from the book that stuck with me was the description of some of the monks passing the time in the cloister by chipping engravings and messages in the walls – the walls at Mosterio de Santa Maria are covered with carved messages and symbols. The time it must have taken to do all that, the dedication, and the sheer boredom required to spend that amount chipping away at solid rock...no life for me...

    We spent a good hour wandering around the monastery before deciding it was time to head back to Tomar for dinner and a quiet night in. Evidently Tracy wasn’t quite over her irritation with us, and I made it worse by thinking that it would be a good idea to change her settings again to avoid toll roads. I paid dearly this time. She sent us up to the top of mountains into what turned out to be darkness, light drizzle, and very heavy fog. It may have been the most stressful drive of my life. We went up and down and around blind corners, through tiny villages on a road barely a lane wind, on through the evening. I was shattered by the time we finally pulled into Casa Rosden. I won’t be making the mistake of trying to tell Tracy what to do again anytime soon, I can assure you.

    The evening has been lovely, and has consisted mostly of cooking dinner, listening to my classic rock play list, drinking wine, and talking about the trip we’re on and trips we’ve taken. I can’t think of a much better way to spend a fairly cold and rainy evening in rural Portugal.

    And the pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears4Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    Day Ten and Eleven – 40 Days and 40 Nights (January 5 and 6, 2011)

    For some reason, we managed to sleep in a fair bit yesterday morning. Our original plan had been to drive back down Nazaré and the Batalha monastery, however the sky looked a bit ominous and both of us were fighting colds (a losing battle, as it later turned out). Given both of those compelling arguments, we decided to explore Tomar instead.
    We took a bit longer than usual getting ready and eventually packed into Aurelia the Yaris for our short voyage into town. We started the day at the Templar Castle, perched on its defensive hill overlooking the town. The drive up the hill was exciting – I love steep winding roads, especially in hire cars. We found parking right in front of the main gates – one of the advantages of off-season travel is the abundance of parking opportunities that reveal themselves at every turn.

    We spent a good two hours poking around what remains of the castle. We’ve discovered that these old castles and monasteries in Portugal are surprisingly well maintained, and much restoration work was being done at the Tomar castle. We’ve both read books recently about the Templars and the lives of monks in monasteries in the middle ages, so the castle was especially interesting for us. Again, the off season travel meant that we had the castle almost entirely to ourselves, which I think added to the atmosphere.

    Somewhat oddly, the exit deposited us at the back of the residential section of the castle, on a dirt back with a sign pointing us back to the parking lots. Unfortunately the threatening clouds had revealed their piece de resistance – it had started to rain quite heavily while we were exploring. We made our way rather hastily back to Aurelia and drove back down the hill into Tomar.

    Den, the owner of the cottage we’re staying at, suggested parking at the town market, as it’s just between the old part of town and the new, and more importantly is free. We hadn’t programmed Tracy, trusting instead to luck and our directional abilities, despite years of evidence proving that this is probably not a good choice. History, it seems, doesn’t always repeat itself and we found the parking lot almost immediately, albeit somewhat by accident.

    We made our way into the old part of town and were astounded at how quiet it was. Apparently January 5th at about lunchtime is not a good time to explore Tomar, if you’re looking for a bustling place. We walked almost the whole way through the town looking for a place to have lunch, and finally settled on La Bella, a stylish looking place near the church and praça at the end of town. We both had pizzas, which we actually quite enjoyed, even with the embarrassment of having Italian food in Portugal.

    After lunch we felt that we had to spend some time wandering around Tomar, exploring and taking some photos. It appeared, after we finished our lunch, that those few stores which had been open when we arrived were closed for their lunches. It was a ghost town. We wandered a bit, but the rain got quite heavy, so we admitted defeat and had a drink.

    One of the many things that I’m finding I really like about Portugal is the sanity of beverage prices. We ordered a glass of wine and a bottle of beer in a cafe in the centre of the old town and were charged a grand total of €3.10.
    Compared to what we would normally pay in London for the same order, this is absurd. Not that I’m complaining of course.

    The rain had actually managed to get a bit heavier, so despite the fact that it was only 3pm, we felt that the best option for two sick people was to declare it a draw and go back to the cottage for a quiet afternoon of reading and recuperation. This turned out to be almost exactly what we both needed and we quite enjoyed our afternoon and evening, even summoning the energy to barbeque some chicken and pineapple in the evening.

    Things were going well until about 4 in the morning when I woke up with a fever – despite the warmth of the room I couldn’t stop shivering. I took a few ibuprofen and the fever fortunately broke, but I didn’t manage to get much sleep in the meantime.

    Morning took its sweet time in arriving. The rain, which had been quite heavy at times overnight, seemed to have mostly stopped and I was feeling quite a bit better. We decided to go ahead with our plan for the day – my birthday celebration of a trip on the train to Porto, lunch at the Taylor Fladgate winery on the terrace overlooking the city, and an afternoon of port tasting. It must be mentioned that port is one of my very favourite things, especially Taylor’s port.

    We drove to Entroncamento to catch the 8:30 train to Porto, arriving in Porto just after 10:30, and navigated the only slightly confusing Porto metro system, finding ourselves at the top of the hill on the port house side of the river, just off the rail bridge. Porto is an interesting city – as with most things in Portugal it seems, it’s apparently entirely vertical. We could see the port houses spread out below us, but knew that the Taylor’s house was somewhere at the top of the hill. We, however, couldn’t see it. We deduced that either they were subtle enough not to have a giant sign like the other houses, or it was simply not visible from where we were. Gosh we are smart.

    We decided to start walking towards the main cluster of port house signs, thinking that failing anything else we could find somewhere to have a restorative beverage on the way if the walk became too much for us. Honestly, the Portuguese need to either develop all-weather outdoor escalators or stop building their cities on great bloody hills. We walked about halfway down the hill before Jamie had the bright idea to get me to ask someone where Taylor’s was. I found a slightly open cafe and did just that. It seemed, from what I could gather from the stream of Portuguese that I got in reply to my question, was that we had to walk all the way down the hill, follow the river for a while until we found a church, then walk back up the hill.

    These directions turned out to be quite accurate, which surprised me – who knew I could understand Portuguese? We found Taylors without much hassle and after trying a very tasty dry white port, went on the short but very informative free tour. I’m always amazed at the size of some of the barrels in wineries – the largest at Taylors holds more than 100,000 litres of their late bottled vintage – never have I so wanted to go for a swim.

    After the tour, we had a surprisingly tasty and even more surprisingly affordable lunch in the terrace. Again Portugal comes up top trumps in the quality for price sweepstakes. After lunch, it was back to the tasting room so that I could select my birthday present – Jamie had decided that this year she would, in addition to taking me to Porto for the tastings, buy me a bottle of whatever I wanted. This turned out not to be the case as she refused to pony up for the €2,950 bottle of Scion Very Old port (a barrel had been discovered intact after being lost/hidden for 150 years). Instead, I got a superb bottle of 2003 vintage that apparently I’m not to open until 2019 at the earliest, and should probably drink by 2050 according to the information on the internet.

    We made our way back down the hill after our purchase and sampled a few more quite tasty ports, before walking back up the hill again to catch the metro back to the train station. As expected, we arrived just after the train had left and therefore had a 45 minute wait for the next one.

    Fortunately, there was a cafe just over the road where we had quick coke before catching the train back to Entroncamento.
    While on the train, the heavens opened with what I think must have been a lost Indian monsoon which somehow ended up here. The ten minute walk from the train station back to the car was enough to drench us to the bone, despite heavy jackets and umbrellas. The drive back to Tomar in that rain was frightening to say the least, especially when a lightning bolt hit something rather important in Entroncamento and took out all the power for the city, including all traffic lights and street lights. Driving in the pouring rain through a completely blacked-out city is not so much fun, but even less fun is driving on a blacked-out motorway in the torrential rain with rivers of water running down the road.

    Despite the rather fraught conditions, we made it back to Casa Rosden with no incidents other than an unseen pothole causing a big bump. We ran up the stairs where Ros and Den met us with a birthday card and a bottle of birthday wine for me – this is exactly why we love staying at B&B’s when we travel – the fantastic people we meet on the way. Overall, despite the fever and the monsoon, it’s been a fantastic birthday, and I’ll look back on it fondly in 10 of 15 years when I open that bottle of port.

    Pics from Jan 5: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears5Jan2011?feat=directlink

    And Jan 6: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears6Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    I am really enjoying your narrative! The pictures are great. Iespecially liked the people pictures your first day in Lisbon. thanks for sharing and continuing your story!

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    This is one of the best trip reports I've ever read. Great style and sense of humor (not to mention photos)! We just returned from 10 days in Portugal in October and your descriptions bring it all back. Thanks so much.

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    Hi Jamie and Scott,

    I haven't had a chance to read your entire trip report yet, but whoever the photographer is, has a FANTASTIC eye. I too really liked some of your "people pictures" and your photos have inspired me to do the same when we go in May. I also liked some of your "reflection" photos. You are a talented photographer. Thank you for sharing!
    Allison

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    Thanks for the lovely comments everyone! Its much more fun to write when you know people are reading!

    The pics so far have been my lovely wife's, jamikins - mine will be added to the links shortly once I have time to review them properly. Writing has been taking the front seat so far. But I am sure they are worth waiting for...ha ;) Will let you know when they have been added.

    Lowcountrycarol - yes, please rest assured that it was indeed a joke! I couldnt work out what what he said in Portuguese, and didnt want to be THAT guy who repeats and repeats in English so just gave him more than we thought would be enough to cover the bill!

    And onto today's episode:

    Day Twelve – Lost in Translation (January 7, 2011)

    I’m getting tired of waking up at 4am and lying there in bed, trying to work out how to get back to sleep. This morning was no exception to the trend I’ve developed here in Portugal. I did manage to fall back to sleep eventually, and managed to sleep right through until our alarm woke us at 10am.

    Today we’d slept in intentionally – it was planned as a travel day and therefore we didn’t have any plans in particular. We had a leisurely morning packing up the accumulated detritus of four days in a self-catering and loaded up little Aurelia. Unlike the Avis hire car guy, we didn’t even attempt to cram our giant cases into the miniscule boot, instead folding down the rear seats like normal people. Despite the lacakadasical nature of our morning preparation, we were on the road by not long after 11, which was surprising. We loved our little room at Casa Rosden and were sad to leave it.

    Our destination for the day was far on the other side of Portugal – the fortified hill town of Marvão. We’d estimated the drive as taking more than a few hours, and had we listened to little Tracy it probably would have done. We managed to get most of the way here with no incident, driving through the most bizarre landscape I think I’ve ever seen.

    When we were in primary school as children, we learned about glacial till and the resulting landscape, and I think what we saw today was the result of that – massive boulders strewn about as if a giant had had a major tantrum at some point.
    Apparently we’ve offended Tracy at some point in the last while, as she decided that as we approached Marvão that the challenge of driving wasn’t enough, so she thought she’d route us up tiny side roads and through even more tiny villages. We got stuck in some unnamed village at the base of the rather large hill leading up to Marvão and decided that Tracy was more or less fired for the rest of the trip.

    We’d seen signs back on the main N road pointing to Marvão, so decided to find them again and follow them up to the town.
    This seemed to be the right tact to take, as we could see the town perched on its cliff and we seemed to be getting closer and closer to it. Then the road got steep. Second gear steep, with sharp switchbacks and sheer cliffs just to the side of the road. Nervous driving, although I would have loved it on my motorcycle.

    We reached the top and were faced with a problem – the town is surrounded by massive walls, and the road went straight through via a very narrow gate. I’ve been in these small walled towns before, not the best place for cars in my experience. We parked up just this side of the gate and walked in, doing a quick scouting mission to find the hotel. It turned out to be embarrassingly easy to find the hotel, and there was plenty of free parking. After checking in, we went back to collect Aurelia and settle in.

    At this point we were a bit hungry so we started a search for a lunching location. It turns out that there aren’t a plethora of options in Marvão, especially in early January. We finally found the tourist office who drew on a very small map showing us the four options we had (one of which being our own hotel). We walked back down the steep streets and found a place which looked not too bad.

    I’m not sure what it’s called, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the one near the big (by Marvão standards) town square with the cafe on the ground floor and the restaurant on the first floor. Lunch was actually pretty good and again very cheap. We’ve discovered the thrifty joys of Portuguese sangria, which is not only good value for money, but allows us to pretend that the weather is suitable for sangria, rather than the grim cloud and foggy rain we’ve had. I think they started cooking my veal sometime last week, and Jamie’s pork was swimming in a deep pool of butter along with her rice and chips. Two litres of the sangria and the sheer entertainment of the Portuguese soap opera that was on the telly more than made up for the shortfalls of the meal and we had quite an entertaining afternoon eating and drinking.

    After lunch we did a tour of the walls, taking photos as we went. Holy crap, but it was windy. The wind was so strong that at one point of the wall, where a small rivulet of water was flowing over the edge, the wind picked it up and sprayed it back up over the railings, to distribute it somewhat evenly over the hedges and parked cars in the area. I’ve never seen water flowing uphill, let alone virtually exploding in an upwards direction.

    The castle at the end of town is very steep and seems to have been build with defence in mind. Between the steepness of the cliffs leading up to it and all the battlements, I can’t imagine it ever being attacked let alone taken. We spent quite a while wandering around taking photos, and waiting for the wind to blow some of the clouds away. Unfortunately this was not to be, so eventually we admitted defeat and walked back down the hill to our hotel for a restorative beverage.

    Some time later, we felt that dinner was in order. Neither of us were particularly up to braving the hill again, and it seemed the fog had rolled back in (although at this altitude I guess it’s called a cloud). Fortunately, our hotel comes equipped with a restaurant downstairs, so we went there. Like many things, apparently January is not their big season, as there was only one other table taken.

    We sat down and perused the menu. It seemed to be a fairly traditional Portuguese place, with much salted cod and pork products. We both clocked the breaded chicken and thought that we would go for that. The waiter came over and we both ordered the same thing – breaded chicken. At the last second, I decided that a mixed salad as a starter would be nice, to get some vegetables and vitamins in after the excesses of the last few days. This is where the trouble started.

    “I’ll have the mixed salad also” said I.

    “Just the mixed salad?” questioned the waiter.

    I thought of the several salad options on the menu, which included such things as tuna and eggs.

    “Yes, just the mixed salad” I responded.

    I thought nothing of this exchange. The waiter, it seemed, heard something completely differently. When our dinner finally arrived, Jamie got a plate of breaded and fried chicken, and I got a mixed salad. To be fair, it was quite a large mixed salad, but a salad nonetheless. Evidently, he had thought that I’d changed my mind at the last minute and had gone for the salad alone. At this point, we were both too embarrassed to point out the error. I quite enjoyed my salad, and Jamie was good enough to donate some of her chicken to the cause. Healthier than I’d been planning, but quite tasty.

    After dinner we debated going to the hotel bar for a final drink, but decided that we had enough wine left over from Casa Rosden that we’d dragged to Marvão to float a battleship and that we should probably try to make a dent on that. So we have. It’s been a very entertaining evening indeed.

    And pics:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears7Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    Great report and great pictures! This is giving me lots of inspiration (and some things, such as relying on sat navs, to avoid)for our trip in April.
    Thanks both of you for all the time and effort this report and pictures must take.

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    "Overall, despite the fever and the monsoon, it’s been a fantastic birthday"

    May you have many more.

    I am loving this report. And while the stormy weather was not fun for driving or hill climbing, it has evidently made for some fabulous photography.

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    Thanks everyone :) We had a great time but I am currently at my desk at the office with post-trip depression hitting hard. Why cant I win the lottery!???

    Scott has promised to finish the report tonight...and then we will add some last thoughts!

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    Day Thirteen – Adventures in Parking (January 8, 2011)

    One of the many interesting things we’ve learned about Portugal in our time here so far is that they make the hardest beds, possibly in the world. These champion hard bed makers did themselves proud in Marvão, although in retrospect, I’m not convinced it was a bed, possibly just a slab of wood with sheets on. The hotel was also incredibly noisy throughout the night, and one of the cleaners was nice enough to position a creaky ladder directly outside our thin door very early in the morning so that she could polish the wooden ceiling. I’ve never seen a ceiling being polished.

    Sufficed to say that neither of us had a particularly restful night. In addition to that, as a result of a skiing accident many years ago in which I broke my back, nights on overly hard beds often result in a disc in my lower back slipping, which is as painful as it sounds. After a slightly lacklustre breakfast in the dining room downstairs, we packed up Aurelia and left Marvão, heading across Portugal for the slightly bigger town of Évora.

    The drive was on another of Portugal’s excellent toll highways, and Tracy took us there by an easy and direct route – she’s evidently over her anger at us. The hotel in Évora advertised the ease with which it could be found and the convenience of its parking on the website, so therefore we were suspicious, especially as it is inside the town walls. Somewhat surprisingly, it was easy to find, being only a few short corners from the entrance to the town, and it did have a small parking lot.

    While I have many talents, hill starts in manual transmission cars is not one of my better ones. I can do it, but like the aforementioned fat man on the bicycle, it’s not pretty. The parking lot at the hotel is extremely small; the drive up to the lot itself is extremely steep and includes a very sharp right-angled corner up the previously described hill. Adding to the degree of difficulty, some clever person had parked a shiny silver Mercedes right at the top of the steep corner bit of the drive, cutting off a big portion of the lane and making the corner up the hill even steeper and tighter. I tried several times to get up it, and while I only stalled it once, it was clear that it would take more than my meagre skill to negotiate the treacherous path.

    We put the car in park at the bottom of the drive and went into reception, to see if we could get someone to move the Mercedes, on the theory that if I had more room, I might be able to get around the corner up the hill. Jamie also suggested that on her previous trip to Portugal, when she had trouble in parking, the guys at reception invariably leaped to her rescue and either parked her car for her, or extracted it from the lot. The older gentleman on reception this day was no exception to her rule.

    We asked if the Mercedes could be moved, and he scoffed at us – there was surely plenty of room to drive the car up! He escorted us downstairs and took a look for himself. He considered, checking from several angles, before saying “perhaps I move it for you”. I readily agreed, his air of confidence convincing me that he was a professional parker, a paragon in the field of car positioning and placement. He took the keys, got in the car, put the car into gear, and drove quickly backwards through the gate and into heavy traffic. I guess reverse is different in his car?
    He worked out where first gear was at about the same time as the sinking feeling in my stomach reached my toes. He started back up the drive with confidence, pulling the car around to the outside to give himself a better angle to get up the hill and around the sharp corner. The speed was considered, the approach sensible, a poor start but potentially a good finish I thought. At this point, the threw caution to the wind and put the accelerator to the floor – the wheels started spinning at high speed on the slightly damp cobblestones as he slewed around the corner, almost starting to smoke. The speed at this point increased rapidly, and if he’d actually gotten any traction he would have driven directly into the side of the Mercedes.

    Fortunately for Aurelia, the Mercedes, and my insurance, he didn’t’ actually get enough traction to hit the Mercedes but did keep enough forward movement going to get up the hill. At this point, he stopped the car, got out, and handed me the keys. I’m not sure who was more grey, me or him. Evidently the parking was more difficult than he’d anticipated. “You can finish parking” he mumbled before scuttling back up the stairs to reception. I finished parking, my nerves completely shot and in desperate need of a drink.

    We dropped our bags off in our room and headed back into Évora to find a bar or restaurant where I could steady myself and possibly have some lunch as well. Évora seemed, however, to be almost completely deserted, and we spent quite a lot of time walking around looking for somewhere to eat. Eventually we found some sort of bizarre cafeteria take away place near the market square, where Jamie had a pre-made bit of ham and pineapple pizza and I had combination plate number three, which included two hot dog wieners, a fried egg, some bacon, a side salad, and some chips. Very odd.

    After this culinary adventure, we thought it best to have another drink, after taking some photos. It turns out it’s harder to find a drink in Évora than one would have thought. After much wandering and many photos, we ended up at a vaguely stylish bar near the old roman ruin where we had an enjoyable afternoon sampling beer and wine (at only €1 a glass) and watching both the people of Évora as well as the MTV video countdown (with no sound).

    After a time, we had to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We’d made reservations through the hotel for a set-menu feast for that evening. By this point, my back was really playing up, and after changing and having some ibuprofen, we found our way eventually to the restaurant.

    The deal for dinner was a three course meal with a bottle of wine for €25. That was all the information we had about the menu. The food would be traditional Portuguese, but would be whatever the chef cooked that night. By reservation only, no substitutions. An adventure.

    It turned out to be really good, and a LOT of food. We started with a traditional first course of bread, cheeses, sliced sausages, and olives. Second course was most of a pig which had been roasted since before Christmas (in a good way – so tender it was falling apart) with spinach and chick pea mash and a huge portion of polenta. Finally, it was walnuts and port to finish things off. There was no way we could finish all of it off, except of course for the wine. After doing what we could to represent Canada in the eating challenge, we stumbled back up the hill to our hotel to sleep off that giant meal.

    The next morning we woke to our last morning in Portugal. My back had gone completely out and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to put on my socks, let alone drive the car. After some help from Jamie to tie my shoes, and help from one of the cleaners to get my suitcase down the stairs (I’ve never felt like more of a man than asking a little cleaning lady to carry my giant suitcase down to the car), I made it into the driver’s seat and found that as long as I was sitting my back would be okay.

    We were both a bit sad to be going home, not only because work awaited us there. We’d had a fantastic time in Portugal, and despite the terrible weather and the generally bland food (unless one is a fan of salt cod that is) we were going to miss it. The people were friendly, the wine was cheap and tasty and CHEAP, and there are some amazing sights. I’m not sure we’ll go back to the same countryside of Portugal as we saw all we wanted to see, but I suspect Lisbon hasn’t seen the last of us.

    Final days pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a.shearer/PortugalForNewYears8Jan2011?feat=directlink

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    Great report! We also stayed at Casa do Valle this June and were very disappointed about this B&B. We ate at Tulhas three nights out of five. The food was good, it was a cosy place and the owners were very friendly.

    Thanks for the tip on Adega Tipica Quartas-Feiras in Évora. We'll be there next year in June.

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    It was much more basic than the pictures on their website showed. Price/quality was not okay IMO. We didn't get to meet the famous Virpi who everyone raves about. In fact we didn't see any 'staff' during our 5 night stay other than the young woman who handed us our key on arrival and to whom we paid our bill on departure. It was very, very impersonal. Definitely our worst B&B experience.

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    Yeah I can see that - they are very hands off. We have stayed there twice and I would almost say they are more of a room rental compared to a B&B. They dont really offer many services and you wont see anyone outside of check in and check out. You can get breakfast, but its in your room, not like a normal B&B. We were fine with it, but if you are wanting more hands on, personal service I agree this isnt the place!

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    I think the 'essence' of a B&B is the social contact between owners and guests. I completely missed that aspect at Casa do Valle. At least I had expected a breakfast room or something like that. I don't like to eat breakfast in a small room that we have slept in a whole night, and it was too cold for the balcony. We ordered breakfast once which I thought was more like a picknick with coffee/milk in thermos bottles. Yuk! The other days we went into the center for a decent breakfast at almost the same price.

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    Seriously enjoyed this report! Even though it was a few years ago, it's gotten me excited about our upcoming trip to Spain, Portugal & Morocco, next month 2013... Thanks for all the details and great pics! Really gave me the sense of how it'll be in Lisbon... Even renting a car? Didn't think about manual transmission & all the hills. something to consider. You & Jamie seem to enjoy traveling like me & my wife do - lots of eating & drinking! looking forward to the ports too! Great writing and photography. Appreciate you sharing your experience...

    Take care & God bless...

    JP from California

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    Such a treat to read your report..I am laughing till I cry at some of this and seriously re-thinking the manual car rental. We will be in Lisbon over New Year's this year--terrific to get a sense of what that time of year will be like there.

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    Loved your report! You have a very entertaining writing style. We are going to Portugal for 8 days in March, taking your report with us. Hope we have as much fun and you.

    Sandy (in Denton)

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    Hope you enjoy them!!

    This year we are spending a week in Tuscany just outside Montepulciano. Plan is to eat, drink, relax by our fireplace and see what rural Tuscany is like in the winter...plus photography too!

    2014 the plan is to head up north to Tromso Norway to chase the northern lights and experience the arctic winter!

    Stay tuned!!!

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    Going to Portugal in may - enjoying reading your TR. on Jan 3, 11 at 4:29pm you mention the restaurant you had such a good meal at. Do you happen t recall the name? Here's some of what you wrote:
    "Fortunately, the quality of dinner made up for the annoyances encountered in getting in. At this particular branch of the restaurant, they only offer a 10 course tasting menu, with no options (other than for children or allergies). It was bloody fantastic. We’ve eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, from Michelin Three Stars to rural bistros in France run by people who simply love food, to my dad’s barbequed salmon (caught fresh in the Pacific earlier that day...not by my dad but close enough). This was up there with the best that we’d had. I could get very pretentious and comment on the finer points of the balance of flavours on some of the dishes, or plating, but that would miss the point (other than the reservation process – that was atrocious). This meal cost €35 each, but would have been at least double if not triple in London or Paris. I would come back to Lisbon simply to eat there again. "

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    Hi there, it was this place http://www.restaurante100maneiras.com/?q=N/-/47

    Note that they have a restaurant AND a bistro...with the same name! So be sure to reserve at the restaurant with the tasting menu as the bistro is different!

    Hope this helps!

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    Thank you for this comprehensive, well written, and humerour trip report. My husband and I are planning a trip to Portugal and you have provided a lot of great information. We have never met a port that we haven't enjoyed and are looking forward to sampling Portugese wines that we can't purchase here at the LCBO.

    Thanks again from Oakville, Ontario

    Michele

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