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Trip Report Lisbon / Madeira trip report

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In June 2010, my daughter and I met in Portugal for a 10-day vacation. We came from different airports, and both flew TAP into Lisbon - and on every landing we had on TAP, we bounced down the runway. Some vacationers applauded - we don't know whether it was the usual European "Hey, we're here on vacation" or if it was "well, we made it down, even if we bounce." We did not applaud.

We planned four days in Lisbon, and six in Funchal, Madeira. Definitely split well.

In Lisbon we rented an apartment in the heart of Old Town. Looking out the windows, we watched all the pedestrian traffic, and we could hear the street singers who were hoping for cash. The apartment had one bedroom downstairs, with a loft for sleeping - since the ceiling there is low and the space extremely tight, it's not for children. We highly recommend it for location and cleanliness. Search for lisbon holiday apartments. Ours was Baixa II.

We loved the really old pastry shop on the square Praca del Figueria, on R. da Betesga. They make the best noches, a muffin-size delectable that is even better than the St Louis Gooey Butter Cake. It melts in your mouth - a must-try.

While we ate breakfasts in the apartment , we really appreciated one dinner in a mother-and-daughter smell restaurant near the train station, set into the curve of the second story, overlooking the beautiful building. There are few tables, and locals fill some. Everything is good, with large portions, and a carafe of house wine is excellent and inexpensive. There's no name posted - just start climbing the curving staircase, and look left.

Another memorable dinner was at Cervejaria Trindade, a former monastery with rooms decorated in the 1860's. The tile work is wonderful, and traditional dishes are a highlight. This is the oldest brewery in Portugal, and of course the beer is excellent. There's a long waiting line for dinner - go early! Portions are large; split a dessert.

A side trip to Belem's monastery featured a display with a historical time line, pairing the Portuguese history with the world through many centuries. Definitely plan on 30-40 minutes for that, as well as time for the beautiful architecture. Nearby is the restaurant / pastry shop of the original noches. They supply half the city's shops, we think. Their tiled rooms are unique too.,

For our visit to Belem, we enjoyed the tram ride out. It was a beautiful Sunday and a parade was forming on the main street. No one told us, though, that for the afternoon, bus and tram services back to Lisbon were cancelled, so we met people from all over as we all discovered our predicament. Finally, a New Zealand couple jumped in a cab, offered to share, and we had a hair-raising ride back to Lisbon. The cabbie must have hit 70 mph, changing lanes at a frantic pace. Every other cab ride was perfectly safe.

We wanted to go hiking in Madeira, so we planned extra time there. For our Funchal housing, we had looked at the newer hotels rimming the island, and instead opted for Esalagem Quintinha de Sao Joao, a 5-star manor house just a 20-minute walk uphill from the harbor. The antique furnishings and the gardens were absolutely beautiful, and service here was superb. Usually the Quintinha is filled with many British, who come here year after year, but they were feeling an exchange rate crunch so our fellow guests were often French or Dutch. I had commented one morning at breakfrast about a nut allergy; and by happy hour time, the bartender had substituted something else at the bar for us. The pools, as well as our rooms, were spotless. Since Madeira is volcanic and offers no beach shoreline, we enjoyed the pools. Nearly all the staff spoke English, and their recommendations for a private taxi tour were spot on.

Breakfast offered everything possible, and we ate several dinners in their excellent restaurant. Cuisine is outstanding, and guests from other hotels ate there also. Our worst meal was near the harbor, from a guidebook recommendation.

For entertainment: do the Blandy's Madeira cellar tour (actually, Madeira is "atticed" and not cellared); ride the teleferico cable cars, and walk over to see the sleighs going downhill. Keep in mind that the Monte Palace gardens just at the top of the gondola rides are not the same as the real Botanical Gardens. These are historical - but they are still great to visit, with a gem museum and wine tasting and beautiful views. Be prepared for lots of uphill walking. It's amazing how people all over Madeira cultivate flowers, banana trees, and everything on such steep terraces.

Several walking tours are available, and the hotel staff recommended one for prompt pickup and excellent guides. We chose an easy 10K walk downhill, following the levado irrigation system, in the laurel forest. We were above the clouds, which made for excellent photos.

If you are in Funchal on a summer Saturday, don't miss the fireworks over the harbor. We bougtht tickets on the Gaviao luxury yacht, so we could see from the harbor, and it was a great display. Wine and snacks are provided, and fewer people are on board than the huge party boats.

Madeira's not for everyone - families would probably prefer a hotel on the north of the island. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

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