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Trip Report Final segment: unsolicited advice for first time Portugal travellers

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Before it all fades I thought I would share some general advice that was/or would have been helpful for us as first time visitors to Portugal. One American Lady's perspective:

1. If you have time before you leave invest in learning some Portuguese. I used Rosetta Stone (unfortunately all they had was Brazilian but it still worked for me). It was pricey but more than paid off in being able to talk to people and I got such a warm and friendly response when I attempted to speak Portuguese. Although most of the hotel and restaurants in the city's had English speaking staff, a lot of taxi and bus drivers had no English, and in the small towns very often people spoke little or no English. A few times when we were lost having a little Portuguese was amazingly helpful (I probably had a vocabulary of about 300 words on top of my french and spanish).

2. Car rentals: We used autoeurope and it went very smoothly for us - staff was helpful and the pick up didn't take too long. We had no trouble with using our own insurance. I highly recommend bringing your GPS with Portuguese maps installed, and renting the transponder for the highway tolls from the rental agency. I don't know how we would have worked the tolls otherwise. I usually hate highway driving and avoid it whenever possible, but in Portugal the highways were a pure pleasure. we had no trouble with navigating them, and they were mostly empty except right around Lisbon and Porto. They do have reststops and as long as you stop at one with the little restaurants/gas stations, they have decent bathrooms. DO NOT USE THE BATHROOMS AT THE ONES THAT ARE JUST PICNIC TABLES - YUCK. In spite of warnings to the contrary, we had no problems using credit cards to pay for gas. If you are staying in walled towns such as EVora or Obidos, call ahead to get the best directions to your hotel and to find out about parking as they usually have very little parking available. Medieval streets are not made for modern autos (:.

3. Money: We had no problem using credit cards at most places (some restaurants didn't take them though), when they ask for the pin, if you don't have one, then you hit the little green button twice and the charge goes through.
Hoard your change (coins). You will need it for tips and parking meters, bus or subway fare if you don't buy a pass. - we were constantly short of the necessary coins.

4. Except for one taxi driver we found people invariably friendly and honest, and while we were warned about pick pockets we felt safe pretty much everywhere we went.

5. restaurants - reiterating what I wrote earlier, you will need to ask for water if you want it. They charge for the bread, butter, etc. even if they put it on the table when you sit down. Some restaurants will also put out plates of olives, cheeses, etc. If you eat them, you pay for them. I did wonder about the health issues and if they put the same basket of bread on each table. They are not trying to cheat or put one over on you, it's just how they do. If you don't partake that is fine with them. Sometimes the little appetizers they offered looked really good and we decided to try them. Other times we said nao, obrigada, and that was fine. In some restaurants they list the bread, olives, etc. as a "cover" on the menu and you can order it or not. The portions for main dishes do tend to be very large, often way more than we needed or could eat. and there is usually a lot of vegetables served with the meal.
Most restaurants don't serve lunch after 2:30 or 3, so be aware of that if you are busily sight-seeing. And yes, dinner hour doesn't start till 8 pm - us poor unsophisticated Americans were usually the only ones there at that hour. i still can't imagine how they start dinner at 9 or 10 pm and still get up for work the next morning.

I'm sure there was more I wanted to share, but can't remember it at the moment. I'd be happy to answer any specific questions if I can. Have a wonderful trip. We enjoyed ours thoroughly.

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