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Trip Report Just back - Lisbon, Evora, and a beautiful seacoast

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We just got back from 12 days in beautiful Portugal. We spent 3 days in Lisbon at the VIP Eden, and could easily have stayed a few more days. We totally enjoyed this city, with it's wide plazas, creaky trolleys, and walkable neighborhoods. We took the Aerobus from the airport right to a stop across the street from our hotel. The VIP Eden is in possibly the most convenient location in the city: bus stops right in front of the hotel, a metro station a few steps away, the Rossio train station about a block away, and the 28 tram stop about 3 blocks away. The main tourist office in Lisbon is right next door to the hotel! One very nice bonus of the VIP is that every room has a small, fully equipped kitchenette (there's a supermarket about 2 blocks away). There's also a swimming pool on the roof. The basic rooms are fairly small and pie shaped (the hotel has a semi circle layout), but for an inexpensive place to stay I think we made a good choice. We loved riding the 28 tram which loops thru much of the city, and walking thru the Alfama, Baxia and Chiado neighborhoods was fun. Our last night there, we took in a great Fado show and dinner at the Leao d Ouro restaurant, which was just off Rossio square. We took a day trip to Sintra and the Pena palace, which has to be seen to be believed. Since the train station was a short walk from our hotel, this was a very easy excursion.
Our next stop was Evora, where we rented an apartment in the heart of the old city. The apartment - Casa da Se - was absolutely wonderful, a newly decorated, two story townhouse just steps from the Roman temple and the town square. The only drawback was that the bells from the cathedral about 1000 feet away rang every 15 minutes 24 hours a day. The apartment did have new double paned, shuttered windows which helped, but if you are a light sleeper you could still hear them. We spent 5 nights here, and again we could have stayed longer, Evora and the surrounding countryside has sooo much to see. The land around Evora is savanna like, with plains of golden grass dotted with cork and olive trees. As you drive east towards the Spanish border, the land gets a little more hillier, and resembles Tuscany. There are several pre-historic stone structures in the surrounding countryside, and many small villages to explore. Having a car in the Alentejo is pretty much essential. Our first dinner in Evora was perhaps one of our favorites, in a tiny, simple restaurant - D. Miguel - on a small side street just off Rua Garcia. The whole bill, including wine and soups, was about 20 euros for two.
If you enjoy biking, there's a rail trail starting in Evora, that runs for about 20 km (the Eco Piste)- it's all flat and straight, and cuts thru mostly pastureland. If it's a sunny day, bring lots of water and sun block, as there isn't much shade.
Our last stop was Sesimbra, a small fishing village evolving into a resort town, just 45 minutes south of Lisbon. We stayed at the Sana Park, which is a 6 story 4* hotel right on the beach. It was quite a deal at 85 euros a night for a ocean view room with a balcony, and a very extensive breakfast bar. Sesimbra was a perfect place to wrap up our vacation. The weather was hot and sunny and the beach was beautiful. Sesimbra has more seafood restaurants per block than any place I've been to, and the two we went to were both quite good. We would return to Portugal in a heartbeat.
Here are a few bits of useful information:
-Buy a 7 Colinas pass as soon as you arrive in Lisbon. These cards give you unlimited access to all the buses, subways, trams, and elevators in the city. The card can be purchased at most tobacco shops in 24 hour increments. It's 3.70 eu for the first day, and 3.20 for each addtional day.
- Virtually all of Lisbon and the surrounding towns have sidewalks paved in a very attractive off-white tile. However, when it gets wet, it can be treacherous (slippery) with certain types of shoes, particularly flip flops and sandals.
- The dangers of the 28 tram seem to be greatly overblown. We rode on it many times, and it was about 90% tourists (mostly northern Europeans) and 10% local women out shopping. We saw no passengers even remotely threatening looking. However there were 'beware of pickpocket' signs posted on the trams, and we did all of our traveling in the daytime.
- The trip from Lisbon to Sintra is a piece of cake - catch the train at the Rossio train station to Sintra, and then the 434 bus from there to downtown Sintra or the Pena palace. The Rossio train station is a huge official looking building with no sign on it. Once you arrive at Sintra ( the last stop), just walk behind the train station down to the bus stop to get into Sintra center. I will mention that the train ride to Sintra is very comfortable and safe, but passes thru some awful urban blight - mile after mile of grafitti covered, 60's style tenement high rises. This ride was the only place in Portugal that was not attractive. I realize that immigrants need inexpensive housing, but surely the city planners could do better.
- Once you leave Lisbon, Internet cafes are very scarce. However, the main tourist office in Evora allows free internet access for 1/2 hour.
- Portugal was fairly easy driving, at least where we were. The roads are in very good shape, and there are small traffic circles with good signage every few miles. Even driving our rental car out of Lisbon wasn't that bad.
- If you are a seafood lover, Portugal is a nirvana. Nearly every restaurant offers similar food - several seafood dishes, several pork dishes, and a few soups and salads. We weren't disappointed with the quality of the food.
- With today's depressed dollar, Portugal is a good option. Most meals are between
7-14 euros, and things like pottery, food, wine and clothing are quite inexpensive.

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