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Trip Report Trip Report: Portugal and Galicia, June 2006

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This year we decided to go to Portugal for three weeks. We invited a friend to come along, had never traveled with him, and it worked out. My wife and I did all of the planning, I did the big picture (plane tickets, car rentals, etc.), and she worked on the more detailed sights, which I then organized into some type of itinerary.

We used Fodor's and the Michelin Green Guide for our basic information, supplemented by Internet information. Our map for Portugal was The Rough Guide Map, which was detailed enough but whose color scheme made it difficult to read the smaller roads. I prefer the Michelin color scheme, but the Rough Guide was the only decent map we could find locally.

We had no problems with our CU credit card and ATM card.

Flights: We took Jetblue from SF to NYC to visit relatives, then from NYC to Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic, landing in the morning, and taking a late afternoon Ryan Air flight from Standsted to Porto. Our friend met us in Stansted. At the end of our Portugal trip, we flew Air Berlin to Berlin, and then EasyJet to Paris (and then a 25€ train ride to Limoges). Finally we took Ryan Air from Limoges to Stansted and then Virgin Atlantic back to SF from Heathrow. I think that I found the most economical ways to hop around, but the local travel between airports in London should be added to fare costs. Our flight to Porto was one penny plus fees and taxes, so it came out to $92 for three; still a bargain.

Ground transportation: We rented a car through AutoEurope, but the actual rental agency was Avis. They were not the cheapest, but were the only ones that could offer a one way rental and the CDW waiver, which was a good thing because I did damage the car during our travels--the claim has been accepted but the check amount doesn't yet match my cost. However, the only car size they could guarantee would have AC was a Mégane or equivalent. We got the equivalent (Rover Streetwise) and I believe that it did not have the same amount of luggage space. Luckily our travel companion traveled very light and it was no problem. The same thing occurred later in France, where we got a VW Golf instead of the Mégane with Europcar, but luggage was not an issue since we were only two. The person at the desk said that Europcar rentals all have AC, so we could have gotten a smaller car. If luggage space is an issue, be very careful on the actual rental you will receive, or be prepared to spend more on a mid-size car. We drove all over northern Portugal, and find that the reports about wild Portuguese drivers are greatly exaggerated, with a single exception: the taxi driver from our Lisbon hotel to the airport was the wildest driver I have ever driven with--it was a white knuckle ride, especially in the front seat. One peculiarity that we noticed was the speed control system at the entrance to towns: there is a sign that warns about speed control and gives the speed of 50 km/h. If you go faster than 50 km/h when you pass that sign, the traffic light about 100 yds. farther down will automatically change to red. If you are going less than 50 km/h, the light will stay green. That light will be in the middle of a block, not at an intersection, nor necessarily at a pedestrian crossing. It is there exclusively for speed control.

Since we were traveling with a third person, our rule was to use a common purse for all common expenditures: gas, food, museum tickets. When the purse ran out of money, we added the same amount per person to cover the next expenses. Because of the use of the common purse, we probably needed more cash than most travelers. That meant more trips to the ATM and I therefore did not use my regular bank's ATM (BofA-$5 charge per withdrawal) but established an account with a local credit union because it does not charge for foreign ATM withdrawals.

Itinerary: Porto, Póvoa de Varzim, Guimarães, Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte (near Braga), Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Lindoso, Valença do Minho, Hio, Marin, Pontevedra, Santiago de Compostela, Bragança, Vila Real, Pinhão, Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Viseu, Coimbra, Tomar, Marvão, Elvas, Évora, Cascais, Lisbon. For those who would want to see Portugal exclusively, I would go from Viana to Valença and then loop back to Lindoso and Ponte de Barca, and from there go to Chaves. The time saved could be used to hike in the National Park, or visit the small villages north of the main road between Chaves and Bragança.

Porto to Valença I reserved ahead of time two hotel rooms for our first night in Porto and our stay in Lisbon. Our friend kept on suggesting that we wing it, but when it came down to it, he was glad that some things were planned. I had no desire to start looking for a hotel room after a long night and day of traveling, arriving in the town are 9 p.m. The Hotel Bolsa (75€) was fine, with AC, located in the historical center of Porto within five minutes of the river. Breakfast usually came with the hotel rooms, and with one memorable exception, was usually very basic. I give prices, and some readers may find us cheap, our friend said we looked for good value; anyone looking for 100+€ accommodations should not take our hotel recommendations with the exception of the pousadas. Restaurants close early compared to Spain, so that evening when we were ready to eat, little was available but cafés and bars. We found one along the river (the tourist area) but we were the only foreigners there, ordered what we could identify, which included chouriço (sp?)--it came on an oval earthenware dish with crossbars attached to it (think of a canoe and its crossbars). The sausage was on the crossbars, the waiter poured something over them and then lit the liquid with a match. You then grill your sausage at the table for however long you wish. It's clearly a common dish as the earthenware dish could be found wherever dishes and household pottery was sold. We also had some cod fritters--a good introduction to Portuguese food.

Photos for this portion of the trip at:

Porto is an interesting town to walk in. We were surprised how dilapidated the old town was. It is a World Heritage site, and one would think that living in the center would be a desirable thing. But the impression we had is that the gentrification of the old town is barely beginning, and quite a few buildings have broken windows and just look in need of a good upgrade; it reminded me of the Marais in Paris in the early 60s. We found the central market, bought ourselves lunch items and eventually found a piece of lawn where we could picnic. The central train station is worth a stop for its azulejos in the central hall. We did the river tour, which gave us a view of all the bridges that cross the river, including the one built by Eiffel. We did a lot of walking in the old town, saw the cathedral and the Igreja de São Francisco, visited the Chamber of Commerce palace with a Belgian tour guide--it was her internship. But essentially we were trying to recover from our jet-lag. That evening we ate at one of the tourist restaurants along the river. We chose one with traditional Portuguese fare--we looked for the ones that advertised fresh grilled sardines since all the restaurants claim to have traditional fare. It was good. I ordered tripe Porto style, since the town is known for it--it was very good and not too strong in flavor. Our friend ordered the sardines, and was disappointed that they were so large that they had to be boned--and throughout the trip he never found what he thought he should have found. Grilled sardines in Portugal are excellent, but they are large enough to be gutted and the bones must be removed. Fresh sardines in France, picked up at the fish market, are smaller and do not need to be gutted before being grilled but the bones must still be removed. We discovered that generally our big meal for the day hovered around 60€ for the three of us including wine but rarely dessert. The next day we picked up the car, drove back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and drove to the Fundação de Serralves (Museu de Arte Contemporânea). None of that driving was easy in that the streets are narrow, the center of Porto is under reconstruction, and the maps we had were somewhat impressionistic. But we got there. We recommend the cafeteria for lunch. It has a good buffet including a large dessert one, nice staff, and the cost is reasonable. The new museum is interesting in its architecture, the art did not impress us. The Casa de Serralves itself is a grand Art Deco mansion but a little cold. It is difficult to imagine it as a residence, which it was in the 1930's. The garden facing it is a contemporary take on the French parterre. From there we took off to see northern Portugal.

That day we drove to Póvoa de Varzim, thinking at first that Vila do Conde might be a nice stop. Neither town was particularly attractive along the waterfront, although Póvoa had a nice square away from the waterfront. It has a casino and behind it we found the Hotel Luso-Brasileiro with a double room for 47€ (we got a discount, which probably would not be given in high season). No AC and it was noisy. We eventually got used to the noise in hotels with no AC, but this first night was a little difficult. The man behind the desk recommended a restaurant (31 of January) which specialized in sea food. They have tanks with live seafood and fish, but the standard fare was forgettable; especially disappointing was the rice and seafood, said to be a traditional Portuguese dish. I suspect that special orders are much better (and pricier). This was our shake-down cruise, both in getting used to driving in Portugal and seeing how the three of us would interact when looking for hotels, restaurants, etc.

From Póvoa we went to Guimarães, a two star town according to Michelin and a similarly high rating in Fodor's See it Portugal, in part because it is the cradle of Portugal. The town has a large market, a nice shaded allée where we picnicked along one side of the old town wall, and a pleasant old town. But we were not overly impressed by it. We did not go see the castle, which might have modified our view point. We picked up lunch items at the market, including a small chouriço in a charcuterie where the woman spoke French. We discovered that for picnicking, one must make sure that the sausage is made with ground meat. This one was made with chunks of meat and needs to be cut very thinly with a slicer to be edible; I have a sharp knife, but it simply did not do the job properly. After lunch we drove off to Braga (and first 20 km. in the wrong direction), or rather, the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte with its famous flight of stairs. I walked it all the way from the parking lot at the bottom, and it is worth it to look at the carvings on the stairway of the five senses. Every level has a fountain with the water coming out of the organ that represents a sense--e.g. hearing hence the ears. It is a difficult walk in the heat, and it is possible to drive up, stop at the base of the staircase and then drive on to the top, which we did once I returned to the bottom (I was the sole driver). We then continued to Viana do Castelo where we stayed for the night.

Viana is an attractive town. The tourist bureau directed us to the Hotel Viana Sol because it has a swimming pool and therefore immediately attracted the attention of our friend. The pool was being repaired and was out of order. The hallways had a slightly musty smell, but the rooms were fine. It was a little run down as it was built in the 70s or early 80s and had not been refurbished since. We had a corner room which allowed some cross ventilation, a blessing as AC was non-existent. Following the Green Guide recommendation, we ate at the restaurant Os 3 Potes. No music, no fado that night. The place is too touristy for me. The food was fine, but nothing special. Had we known, we would have chosen to eat in the bar-restaurant complex in the middle of the harbor. It has three or four restaurants, several bars, and clearly that's where the locals go to eat out--there was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot at 10 p.m. The next day we walked to the municipal museum. One enters via the 18th century town house (palace is too strong a word) with original azulejo decorations on its walls, and the ceramics collection is exhibited in its rooms--definitely worth a visit. Behind there is a large courtyard which leads to a modern building which contains its painting collection and public WCs. We were the only ones in the museum, so it appeared that the modern part would only be opened on request. We walked back to the hotel, got into the car and drove up the hill to the cathedral for a beautiful view over the city. It is popular with the locals and all the picnic tables were taken.

We then drove away from the coast and stopped in Ponte de Lima for lunch. We did not see much more than the riverside, but from what we saw, it looks like the town would provide an interesting visit for an hour or two. It was in Ponte de Lima that our friend demonstrated his propensity for falling in love with any attractive female either waiting tables or manning the hotel desk. None of it was for real, as he recognized that their interest in a 60 year old was probably nil. Lunch was not memorable in any other respects except that it was blazing hot and our friend's hot dog was unlike anything in the States. We continued on to Lindoso (getting lost at one point--signage leaves something to be desired) only because it has raised stone granaries which I thought were specific to that locality. It also gave us a reason to drive into this mountainous part of Portugal, and getting there and out is more important than the destination itself. But these 19th or early 20th century granaries are worth seeing. They are not immediately seen from the road because one does not know where to look for them. We arrive in Lindoso, drive around the base of the fort and park in the parking lot. Walk toward the town, and suddenly one sees dozens of them. They are impressive in their own way, and a visit to the fort gives a spectacular view of the area. From Lindoso we drove straight north--just a manner of speaking as the road twists and turns in all directions--to the Rio Minho, discovering in the process that these granaries are all over the place, and in fact, can also be found in Galicia. Some people build modern ones for their gardens. But we have no regrets about the Lindoso detour, because the scenery was exceptional. We reached Valença in the early evening. The town is built behind two Vauban-type forts overlooking the Minho river. The forts themselves contain the old town, which curiously enough has quite a few restaurants and souvenir stores but only one hotel as far as we could determine. That hotel is a pousada, and we decided to afford that luxury for the night (at a 25% discount when we hesitated). We had parked at the base of the fort and went back to get the car. Signage is terrible in Portugal. There is only one entrance to the forts, and it is not easy to find. We found ourselves on the access road to the super highway going to Spain or south to Porto. We chose the direction south, figuring that we could take the next exit and go back to town by local road, whereas if we found ourselves in Spain, we could not use local roads easily as the river was in the way. It worked, and I managed to find the entrance to the forts and eventually the pousada. The room had a wonderful view over the river. Our friend had purchased a bottle of port wine in Porto, part of which we enjoyed as an apéritif while we sat on the room's balcony watching the sun set. We had dinner at a restaurant in the old town (most places were closing down by that time, so we did not have too much choice). A real tourist place, not awful, but nothing to rave about. The pousada's dining room had a nice view over the river, its breakfast was not great, but real juice was available. The next day we drove to Spain using the Eiffel bridge, and again it took two tries to get on it.

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    Galicia Photos for Galicia:

    When the trip was originally planned, I thought that we might as well see Santiago de Compostela since we would be so close. And so we decided to visit that area of Galicia, more like a quick drive-by. Our old Green Guide for Spain mentioned the rias and Hio as things to see, the latter because it had a cruceiro. I thought that since Galicia had Celtic roots, that there might be some relation between this calvary and the Breton calvaries. There was, but only in the sense that the late 19th century sculptor was inspired by the Breton calvaries. This one is not anonymous art, although it is impressive and is worth a visit. But before getting there, we got lost in Vigo because our map of Spain was as old as the Green Guide and did not indicate that the super highway would allow us to by-pass that city. It was a mess. It took us a good hour to get through the town, with a few false turns, including driving down a street reserved for public transportation. But we eventually got out and using the Michelin local map printed off the Internet we got to our destination. The church next to it is a small gothic chapel with a Romanesque front. It is locked, has a glass door and a coin operated lighting system. Breton churches turn out to be more interesting and are not locked. We continued northward and stopped in Marin for lunch. My wife was hoping for a restaurant with a view of the harbor, but we did not find one. What we did find was perhaps better--a small restaurant about 50 yards in from the harbor front that clearly catered to locals--restaurants with views tend to be for the tourists and summer crowd. We had some very simple food, a large platter of fresh prawns, skate in a light butter sauce, and steamed mussels; the latter being the least interesting dish. The prawns could be eaten shell and all, although the feelers tickled the throat a little and our friend could not stick the two little black eyes into his mouth; he removed the heads. That and a bottle of wine and coffee sufficed for a meal that cost maybe 30€ for the three of us. We then continued to Pontevedra which has an attractive old town with arcaded areas. We found an internet café where we also had some cold drinks to relieve us from the heat--did I mention that this was on the whole a hot trip?

    We arrived in Santiago and parked in the first underground parking we fell upon in the city center at the Plaza de Galicia. The Hotel Husa Universal across the street had rooms at the right price (50€ + a 7% tax per night), but it was in need of renovation and had no AC. Our friend had a room that was not much bigger than a monk's cell, but it had its own shower, toilet & sink, so it was OK. Interior rooms are recommended to avoid street noise. It turned out that we were right at the edge of the old town and within 10 minutes of the cathedral. We really liked Santiago. There is of course the cathedral and its immediate surroundings of various religious and official buildings, but the old town itself is charming and has not been changed since the beginning of the 20th century when the permanent market structures were built. Visit the market and you might decide that it is not necessary to eat meat, fish and seafood will suffice. Unfortunately we were not able to take advantage of the seafood, and had to settle with buying some serrano ham, bread, cheese and fruit for a picnic on a little triangle of green against an old wall below the cathedral. The evening we arrived we had an early snack of tapas in a local place on the restaurant street catering to the tourists. It was very good, and a new experience for our friend. Our later meal was a light one of salads at an upscaled Italian restaurant in the old town (black & white moderne decor). The next night our meal was at one of the tourist restaurants on the aforementioned street. I had to have scallops, and they were disappointing; the sauce was too heavy and they were over-cooked. But my wife ordered razor clams. They were sauteed in butter and were absolutely delicious; another win for straightforward cooking, although our friend had a steak which looked tough and overcooked but he was satisfied. On our way out of town we picked up picnic items at the market.

    For sightseeing, of course one should visit the cathedral and its museum. One should also see the episcopal palace next to it. I also did the tour of the roof of the cathedral, which I had heard from two different sources was difficult to obtain. The policy must have changed. As you enter the episcopal palace, before the ticket office itself, turn left and go through the door. That's where the ticket office is found for the tour of the roof. No problem. Timing was an issue because I wanted an English tour. We also saw the museum of pilgrimages, which was interesting, and really liked the Museum of the Galician People (Convento de Santo Domingo de Bonaval) found on the opposite edge of the old town, beyond the market. It's located in a convent that has a fascinating triple spiral staircase on the inside corner of two building wings. The picture I took does not give full credit to the visual impression it creates. It is also confusing to use because the spiral which reaches one floor is not the one that reaches the next floor of the same wing.

    On our way back to Portugal I had decided that a good lunch stop might be the Ribas de Sil Monastery but by-passing Orense to get there. The map we had appeared to be OK, but it turned out that it was not that great . We had to cross a river, and that river has few bridges across. We wandered around the very hilly countryside for about an hour, had to go back to Orense, got somewhat lost in that town, and gave up. I subsequently checked the Google map, which would have given the correct way from Santiago to Ribas de Sil. For out of the way locations, if the official road map is insufficient, it may be useful to print out ahead of time a map off the internet, either from Google, or Mappy or Michelin. We continued on southward toward Chaves, stopping in a town to have the picnic we had picked up in Santiago. Late that afternoon we arrived in Bragança, having driven through very hilly countryside between Chaves and Bragança.

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    Bragança to Tomar For photos of the next section, go to:

    The town of Bragança is attractive, with old streets and squares; but its brand-new central market overlooking the town was a disappointment. It's in a multi-purpose building and has fewer vendors than a traditional market would have for that size town. But the building has a laundromat. We stayed overnight at the residencial Tulipa, which is like a small hotel--given as one of three best choices by a very helpful tourist office. They had room with AC, and the young friendly woman at the desk spoke flawless French (the subsequent desk personnel was the unfriendliest we encountered in Portugal), telling me that I could park in the street, after all we were not in France. Our friend had to take a room with a double bed because they could not assign him a room with two single beds in case two travelers came who did not want a double bed. Only the patron could have done that, but he probably would have done the same thing, because our friend had to pay the full price for a room with a double bed. Nonetheless, I would recommend this establishment which had a large dining room, but we ate elsewhere. We had a very nice meal in the evening, with the atmosphere providing a great deal of the pleasure. The restaurant Solar Bragançano is recommended in Fodor's, and it is in an old mansion that has seen better days. Service was provided by a man and a woman who were both well past retirement age. The settings included crystal glasses and a crystal carafe with silver mountings that seemed to be the remains of a grand table setting. The meal was to some degree a comedy of errors. I ordered one thing on the menu--it was not available, and yet the restaurant was clearly not crowded. I ordered something else that clearly was badly cooked, the pheasant on the menu was not available but the partridge was. Some things were very good, and others were plainly off. When it came time to pay, the credit card machine refused to connect, so we had to pay in cash. They were absolutely apologetic about it. The bill came to less than 60€ because they did not charge me for my disastrous main course. The entire experience suggested Italian neo-realist films where a family tries to hang on to what it had in better times by doing things that it never would have done when times were better, i.e. run a restaurant out of their mansion. I had images of the servants having been let go except for the old family cook to provide the culinary skills required for a restaurant. The next morning we went to the market to pick up food--we picked up an interesting bread that was cooked with pieces of smoked fatback inside and a chouriço which turned out to be too tough to eat because of the large chunks of meat in it--and then to the fortress. The fortress is worth a visit, if only for its view--like so many other fortresses. It was large enough to contain a town, some of which is in disrepair and some being rehabilitated. The church has an interesting painted wooden ceiling. We walked around the ramparts but did not visit the military museum.

    We reached Solar de Mateus (possibly getting lost on the secondary roads) around lunch time so we parked the car near a public wash basin that was being used and found a picnic table across the street from the estate. Parking is very limited there, and the entry to the estate is on a curve, and there are not many turn-offs--I would not want to be driving around in height of season. As it was, we fell upon the entrance before we knew it, I had to drive half a mile or so down the road before being able to turn around, and all the visible available public parking was taken, which is why I parked by the wash basin. After lunch we crossed the street, paid our entrance fee and walked around the beautiful gardens and sat around until the English tour was available. We did wait a little more than we would have wanted, but it was worthwhile. A word of historical correction: the nobleman who lived there in the early 19th century commissioned some art work in 1816 from Gérard and Fragonard, or so said the guide, but Fragonard died in 1806. A word about Mateus rosé: it is not produced here, the name and label was sold a long time ago to a conglomerate. The estate does produce its own wine, and we were thinking of buying a bottle of its non-fizzy rosé until we found out that it is slightly sweet.

    From there we drove to Pinhão knowing that the road crossed the Douro river but the bridge was out. Fortunately there was a ferry as a substitute because similar to our experience in Spain, the terrain was so steep that the chance of finding a nearby bridge crossing was unlikely. The drive between Solar de Mateus and Vila Nova de Foz Côa was absolutely fantastic, and I suspect that any drive within the watershed area of the Douro river would be similar. Anyone driving through Pinhão should stop at the train station whose walls are covered with azulejos depicting the production of port wine. With the glut of wine on the world market we were surprised to see that they are still planting vineyards, using bulldozers to create flat terracing on very steep hillsides, each terrace containing three or four rows of grapes. We were told in Vila Nova de Foz Côa that 30 years ago grain was grown on the same slopes (not the ones being carved out), but that the farmers could not compete with production on flatter areas and switched to grape production. Vila Nova de Foz Côa is not much of a town but hoping to be more, and the only reason to go there is to visit the archeological sites. We stayed in the air-conditioned hotel at the entrance of the town; and next door there were two pensão, one of which definitely had AC. Instead of collecting Michelin stars, my wife is collecting World Heritage sites, and the open air paleolithic carvings near Vila Nova de Foz Côa have been declared such a site. This was partly a political move to stop the construction of a dam which would have drowned most of the carvings brought to national and then world attention in 1992. It was mainly students who mounted a campaign against the dam, and won at the last minute--preliminary concrete structures are visible when visiting one site. The Green Guide has a good description of what can be seen out of more than 171 sites, and for the casual visitor, I suggest the Penascosa site is the best one to visit. It has the most visible carvings and is an easy walk. We also did the Canada do Inferno site, which is very interesting but much less accessible, requiring some fairly steep climbing, with carvings that are very difficult to see. They are fine line carvings (the symbol for the Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa is such a carving of a gazelle maybe six inches in size) that should be seen with angled light. In fact, archeologists investigate the area at night, in part to avoid the heat, and also because it is easier to find carvings with flashlights than in full sun. According to the Green Guide and Fodor's, reservations are compulsory, especially in summer. We came without reservations, had no problems booking two different tours for the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and had enough time in between to visit a Roman site about ten kilometers away--it is worth visiting although the drive on a single lane road lined by stone fences is worrisome. Summer visits are not recommended. The temperature on the sites can reach 45 degrees Celsius (and there is no shade) and the rock face goes up to 60 degrees or more (at the Canada do Inferno site, it is sometimes necessary to be inches from the rock face to distinguish the fine line carvings). The visits were very interesting, but do not expect images that are as visually impressive as those in the more famous caves of the Dordogne. After the second visit we headed towards Coimbra.

    We knew that we would not get to Coimbra that day and decided to stop in Viseu. Driving into town, the navigator suddenly said that we must be on the wrong avenue. We turned around by using the next roundabout, took a lateral street and went on the next avenue. We reached the center of town, stopped to orient ourselves with the intent of finding the Hotel Avenida recommended by Fodor's. We look up from the rough map and there it is in front of us with a parking space right at the corner. So while we kept on getting lost in the countryside, we constantly had good luck in the cities. The hotel is out of another era, with a uniformed attendant at the desk and charming sitting areas, but no AC--a room away from the corner might be quieter. We take a room and go out for dinner. This is one meal that we remember for my appetizer: blood sausage and pineapple in a port sauce. The others were very skeptical about the dish, but we all decided that it was absolutely fabulous. The house wine came in two prices; we took the more expensive one (maybe 8€ the bottle) and it was an excellent red Dão--the Spanish Table (Seattle, Berkeley & Santa Fe) now carries a Dão. The next day we visit the cathedral area, the cathedral itself and its cloister, walk around part of the old town, have a coffee in the shade on that same square where we had stopped, and then take off for Coimbra. We drive into town, and after U-turn at a roundabout we discover that we were on the right road after all and find ourselves at the base of the hill. I can't park there and going straight ahead seemed like a lost cause, so we go over the bridge that is there, find an empty terrain right across the river, park there, walk back across the bridge and stay at the first pensão at the base of the hill, Pensão Residencial Larbelo (35€). We're early enough to drop off our things and walk up to the cathedral in front of which they are having their version of a Renaissance fair with stands of foods, people dancing in the street--noisy and enjoyable. We visit the cathedral and then go on to the old university which is the place to visit: the library is fantastic, there are the meeting rooms where students defend their theses, and a beautiful chapel. For us it is a bonus. We had intended to use Coimbra exclusively as a base. Our friend had expressed the desire to spend a day at the beach and there was the Conímbriga World Heritage site nearby. We thought we would drop him off at a beach near Figueira da Foz and then go to see Conímbriga and pick him up later in the afternoon. That evening we drove to Mealhada for a meal of roast suckling pig at Pedro Dos Leitão. It took a few tries to get to the restaurant, because the directions given in were somewhat unclear. Coming from the south, the restaurant is located at the fifth or sixth roundabout on IC2 aka rte. 1; it is well north of the town center. There is nothing fancy about this place. It is mass production, with four or five ovens in full view when one walks in. The piglets are placed on a long spear and placed in the enclosed ovens. The dining room is a great big room with the servers mainly women of a certain age, but there is a maître d' who speaks English. He recommended the Pedro Dos Leitão special, which is roast suckling pig charged by the kilo, fried potatoes which are essentially hot fresh potato chips and a salad. He also recommended the dry sparkling white, which worked well with the meal. The pork was delicious, as were the potatoes. This is a family place, obviously patronized by people in the local area.

    The next morning we all went to visit Conímbriga (the beach offer was declined), and promptly got lost going out of the city. We spent the good part of an hour driving around the outlying towns of Coimbra trying to get to the site. While not on par with the Roman ruins of Rome--even Volubilis in Morocco has more upright remains--the site is interesting and worth a visit--the highlight is the re-creation of a villa's water garden. Since we did not have to detour to the coast, we had time to visit another site and continued on IC2 to Batalha. Lunch was a stop at a roadside restaurant that clearly was a local affair. One large room, with one long table bu one of the walls where 17 men eventually sat down for lunch. My wife and meat grilled on skewers (the term is related to espada, i.e. sword) presented at the table on a stand where they hang vertically. We were happy with the meal, although we could not identify the stop. We did notice other roadside places that were clearly more oriented toward the travelers as they were larger, fancier and with tour buses in their parking areas. Batalha is impressive, as it is of one piece with the exception of the incomplete Manueline chapel. But I much preferred Tomar which we visited the next day. The Convento de Cristo is on top of a hill overlooking the Tomar. We stopped in the town, in a brand new underground parking structure at the base of the hill to go shopping for lunch. We had problems finding a food store, but were eventually guided to one. On the way back to the car we stopped in what had been a synagogue until 1492 and is now a museum; interesting, although the attendant was casse-pied with his constant patter. We then drove up to the top of the hill. Tomar is an enormous monastery covering several centuries of architectural development built on the grounds of a castle. Anyone who has seen guidebooks on Portugal has probably seen the famous Manueline decoration that is at Tomar. But it is much more than that. It is a large complex with 4 or 5 cloister courtyards, small out of the way chapels that are now used as conference rooms or concert venues, long halls of monks' cells some of which can be visited. The cells are all bare, but seeing the halls, the size of the cells, the kitchen, the serving area with its warming pits for each pot and the refectory gives a better sense of the organization of such a place (I always feel disappointed by places like the Mont St. Michel where one does not see where the monks actually lived). In one of the back courtyards my wife noticed a drain hole and nearby a very narrow spiral staircase going into the ground. I followed it a few feet and promptly got a foot wet. It was part of the cistern system that gathered rain water, although there is also evidence of an aqueduct behind the cloister. If given a choice, I would visit Tomar over Batalha, and the only reason I can figure that Michelin gives the latter three stars over the former's two stars is the "historical" importance--it contains the memorial to the Portuguese war dead where I learned for the first time that Portugal participated in WWI.

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    Tomar to Évora Photos for this part are at:

    From Tomar we drove to Marvão, one of the recommended hill towns close to the Spanish border. Our original plan had been to stop in Abrantes, which had assumed seeing Batalha and Tomar on the same day, but not driving to the beach saved us a considerable amount of time. Following our driving habits, it took us several tries to cross the Rio Tejo. I was thinking of stopping at Castelo de Vide, but my wife decided that she wanted to stay at the pousada in Marvão, where we did get a 25% discount for the night. It is a fine upscale hotel, but the room had nothing special. On the other hand, the view from the bar and the dining room is unbeatable. I would recommend staying at a less expensive venue and coming in to enjoy a drink at the bar. The evening meal was average, with particularly poor service, part of which was based on language problems when we tried to establish if substitutes were allowed to a set menu. On the other hand, the champagne breakfast was the best breakfast we had during the entire trip. Marvão is becoming Portugal's equivalent of un des plus beaux villages, and they were very busy placing underground plastic tubes to install underground lines so that its view would not be marred by electrical wires. The fortress at the top of the village gives a wonderful view of the village itself and the surrounding countryside. The streets are very narrow and I managed to crack the housing on one of the side-view mirrors and scratch the paint on the side of the car while leaving the town--Visa has apparently sent the check. (A side note: Avis charged me for the estimated cost of the repairs using Dynamic Currency Conversion which came to 7.5% higher than the rate of exchange for that day--I was given the estimated cost in euros only). That day we went to Évora via Elvas and Estremoz, both worth a couple of hours at least of wandering around. Estremoz has a very large market place, but unfortunately we were not there on a Saturday, and at any rate we arrived only in the afternoon. We visited the Municipal Museum Prof. Jaoquim Vermelho which is in the upper town, on the same square as the pousada, and contains some interesting cork carvings, pottery and other folk artifacts. It also has on its grounds a workshop of Estremoz clay figures. The church on that square was interesting because of its architecture. Unlike most other churches we saw which give the distinct impression of having either a rectangular core or three distinct aisles, this one gave the impression of being one big square box of a building with pillars supporting the roof. The feeling of aisles disappears completely. I had the same impression with some other churches in that area (Elvas, Monsarraz) and wonder if it reflects a local architectural style. From there we went to Évora which had the best signage for hotels and residencial in all of our travels in Portugal. Driving through the town would have been a nightmare but for the fact that we could just follow the sign for the residencial Policarpo that we chose. (For photographs of the residencial, see Bailey's photos 65 through 71 at Our first room (47€) was without windows and had maybe 3 rounded glass tiles in the ceiling to give some semblance of light. The room had a sink and a bidet (bidets are disappearing from French accommodations, and seem to be exported to Portugal), the bathroom was down the hall. That room was air conditioned, if I remember correctly. Then we moved to the room with the balcony (55€). While the accommodations were fine, and the public areas were charming, I think that it was somewhat overpriced. Our traveling companion fell in love with this receptionist too, telling us as we left that Claudia asked for his e-mail address; and when I said that she asked for mine too, all he could reply was "the whore", but surely in jest. Évora is an interesting town, with the remains of a Roman temple and a ghoulish ossuary chapel. We were not there at an ideal time, as it was stormy and rainy, which puts a crimp on wandering about the town. We ate at a fine restaurant, O Antão, which probably had the best appetizers of our whole trip. Being only three, we could not eat all of them, and did not touch the plate of pressunto or the cheeses (eat one piece and you pay for the rest). We also asked for a recommendation from Claudia for a restaurant with lighter meals and she recommended one where half portions were served. We probably ended up in the wrong place, the meal was so-so, but the availability of half portions is something to keep in mind. From Évira we took and excursion to Monsaraz, another plus beau village on a hilltop, stopping at the edge of Reguengos de Monsaraz for lunch in another restaurant with a large dining room obviously intended for the family Sunday meal, or any other special occasion. For me, the most interesting part of Monsaraz is its bullfighting arena. It is small and one can see the various gates used to control the bulls and get them to the arena from the holding pens. It also offers a great view of the surrounding area.

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    Cacais & Lisbon For photos of this part, see:

    It turns out that with the day saved in Foz de Côa and between Coimbra and Marvão, we had two days left before returning the car and getting to our hotel with reservations in Lisbon. So we drove to Cascais, parked the car in the underground parking near the beach and looked for the tourist office. We started talking with the lady behind the desk, and after a while she offered us not a pensão but rooms with a family. It meant that we would have rooms in different buildings, to which we agreed. A high school student came to pick us up and walked us over to the first room when she started discussing something with her mother on her cell phone and asked us if we would be willing to have an apartment instead. It would cost 60€ per night. We agreed. It turned out to be an apartment within five minutes of the beach, which had one bedroom, a living room with a couch/bed, a fully equipped kitchen with a washing machine and of course a bathroom. The price was worth it just for us to do the laundry. My wife and I wonder if in our travels we could not have had similar accommodations by simply going to the tourist bureau in the larger towns, but the third wheel did put a crimp on our choices, or so we think perhaps unjustly. Cascais is a resort town with a small beach, a large yacht harbor, and a large fort which is in the process of being converted into a multi-cultural activities center including a luxury hotel--although probably not as luxurious as some of the hotels and condos that are seen along the seashore. It is pleasant to walk along the coast, although between the walkway and the edge of the cliffs the bushes are filled with all sorts of detritus. The area off the beach is lined with bars and restaurants that cater to the tourist trade, many of them foreigners. When we were there, the bars would hang out the colors of one of the soccer teams playing in the World Cup, and when that team played, suddenly all of its countrymen--Dutch in one instance--were there to cheer them on. I noticed quite a few Brazilian flags, but no Angolan flags--both countries were still in the play-offs and both still have strong ties to Portugal if only through the language. One evening meal was at a restaurant specializing in fried chicken--it had a bank of half a dozen rotisseries and also sold take-out--because our friend was dying for chicken which did not appear in restaurants during our touring. We were told that the lack of chicken on menus is because it is so cheap and common that the Portuguese want something else when they eat out. The other one was at an Indian restaurant, which was OK but light on the food. Our day in Sintra probably did not give the area full credit. It was stormy and rained heavily for a time. The top of the mountain was in fog, so we did not bother going there, and it is obvious from photographs from other travelers that on a nice day that the area looks completely different; but the National Palace is well worth a visit. From there we drove to the western most point in continental Europe--a pleasant drive through the forest--and then back to Cascais.

    While we tended to get lost driving out of cities, or even in the countryside, our luck held out driving into Lisbon. We went along the waterfront, passed the Praça do Commercio and the Alfama district when we decided it was time to go into the city to find our rental agency. I do not recall how we did it exactly, trying to follow the limited maps found in the guidebooks, but we probably fell onto the rental agency with a minimum of wrong turns (we did have the neighborhood map from Mappy). We returned the car, filled out the accident forms, had them call a taxi which took us to our hotel. We stayed at the Pensão Londres, in what must have been the main parlor of an apartment suite. Our room was at the corner, with a double bed and a single but a tiny bathroom obviously fitted in when rooms with bath became the norm. It was noisy, particularly on weekend nights, and had no AC. Do not use the telephone from the room. I tried calling the toll free number given by Visa to report my accident in Marvão and ended up with a 30€ bill for 20 minutes of phone calls, most of which were to operators trying to connect to Visa. I would stay there again, but I would just as soon try to stay in another neighborhood. The location was very good, within walking distance of the center at the bottom of the hill and the waterfront. Lisbon is a walking city, in spite of its hills, although using the 28 tram from one end to the other might be a good substitute. We used it to go west as far as the Basilica Estrela, enjoyed the garden across the street for a while (it would be a nice place for a bench picnic) and took it back to its end stop, which turns out to be Lago Martim Moniz, 5 minutes walking distance from the Rossio. For those who do not have the time, the best part of the ride is between Rua Augusta and Lago Martim Moniz, going through the Alfama and the Mouraria. I recommend buying the 7 Colines card--I believe that it is 50 cents for the card itself plus the daily charge for all day rides on the subway, the buses, trams, funiculars and the elevator. We simply renewed the card on a daily basis, and even did on our last day because we decided to go to Belém and figured that at worst we would lose 1€ which would be made up in convenience.

    We ate well in Lisbon except for one meal that shall remain undescribed. Pap'Açorda is a very good, upscale restaurant. My wife noticed a particular flower in the flower arrangement and asked the waiter about it. It turned out that he was the one who had done the arranging, which may have made him somewhat more attentive to our needs. We also had a long discussion with the chef about a particular ingredient because we could not quite believe the English translation. The meal cost us about 100€ for two. We also ate at the Lanterna Verde (bottom of R. do Barão on r. S. Jão da Praça, I believe) where we had grilled sardines, a mixed salad, and a wonderful light slightly fizzy vinho branco from the tap--it was reminiscent of hard apple cider. The restaurant is at the base of the Alfama, and while locals sidle up to the bar, the lunch price was a tourist price--about 30€ for two. La Rosa de Rua, or something to that effect, on the Rua da Rosa has a nice interior and was recommended by a local wine merchant. It was to be neo-Portuguese cuisine that did not quite make it--good but not worth the price. We also had a nice meal in a Argentine restaurant on the Rua Dom Pedro (practically across the street from the Pensão Londres) whose window tables have a fabulous view over downtown Lisbon, but we did not have reservations for that. The staff was a little snotty, it clearly is an upscale restaurant. We also found a local place a few blocks from the hotel that served traditional food, including our first bread and shrimp dish.

    Our two favorite museums were the National Museum of Azulejo and the Gulbenkian Foundation. The first is set in an old convent and is either a great introduction or finale to the azulejos that one is bound to see in Portugal--it also has nice lunches. The second is in a wonderful modern building set in a public park with a fantastic collection of Middle Eastern art (rugs, ceramics, etc.)--I was not impressed by its European collection. The castle above Lisbon gives a wonderful view of the city, but is not very interesting in itself, and most of the fountains in the garden were not operating in what was presumably a water garden. A very nice view is also available from the top of the Eiffel elevator which also has a café. Belem is also worth a visit, we visited its monastery on our last morning in Lisbon. For contemporary architecture, the Oriente train station is worth a visit.

    Foods of Spain and Portugal: We remember blood sausage with grilled pineapple and port sauce, tripe, roast suckling pig, baby eel in vinaigrette, razor clams, mussels, chouriço but little linguiça, pressunto, roasted goat, cod, ray, duck, wild boar, grilled sardines, prawns, rabbit, partridge, chicken, cherries, wines and port.

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    Michael. I forgot to tell you that we were fascinated with the grainary bins.

    We first saw them in Lindoso and I wanted to try to find a replica to take home with me in ceramic but could not. Also, we stayed near Braga in Frades an ancient town and the owners of the property had preserved them.

    By the way, the day we were in Lindoso they were having a village festival and we were invited to join in to enjoy the music and even the BBQ in the area below the castle.

    A great memory.

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    Living near the Paradore The Santo Estevo de Sil I know what you mean about finding your way through Ourense.
    Coming from SdC you really have to take the N 525. it just touches a bit of the city nut not so much as to get lost. Once across the Rio Miño head towards Monforte de Lemos on the N 120 and eventually you will see signs. The next part of the journey takes you along the Rio Sil through narrow roads which are private and belong the electricity company which also own the river dams.
    Heading back towards Portugal you can avoid Ourense again by taking the N525 (after a bit of a cross-country trip)
    I always say don’t use a GPS get a good Michelin map or print off something on line. GPS do not have all of the local roads here in Spain. Plus Galicia has built a lot of new roads recently sometimes they do not get added to the GPS data bases for a year or so!
    However you should try and stay around this area or even head up to O Coural As Ancares to see a very different Spain.

    PS am I the only one who cannot get the photo albums to work?

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    Something like 25 mins car ride away. I live almost on the route of the Camino Invierno, that is just 5 mins away.

    Michael, thank you for your report and photos. Although I live very near the border to Portugal I get very little chance to pop across to see the area. It is nice to read and see something of the area.
    I like the way you have collected the names of the places you have visited or are you a sewer engineer? :-))

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    It started in St. Petersburg where I noticed that each manhole cover had a different design depending on what it serviced. Lightening for electrical, waves for water or sewer. Then I started noticing the names and got into the habit of using the manhole covers as the introductory picture to a series.

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    Shame as I was a civil engineer in a “previous live”.
    Those individual manhole covers will disappear over the years, as they are incredibly expensive to produce. It is much cheaper just to say water or drain.

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    Actually, I am not sure that they will disappear. The ones from Berlin have a recent design. The ones from New York have the city name on them and "Made in India." Apparently its cheaper to make then in India and ship them over than to produce them in the States. The one from Guadalajara had a date of 2006, and so on. It's difficult to find unique ones in France because they are all made in Pont-à-Mousson, and so identified.

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    Michael, I may have missed this but what month was your trip? We will be there in May, which is listed as high season, so I am wondering about just showing up in town and looking for a hotel - would that be too risky in May? (We had one bad experience two years ago in the south of France when we did not realize every hotel for miles would be booked because of a holiday weekend.)

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    We were there in June. Given the economy, I would think that you would not have a problem in May. In Viana do Castelo, we were told that high season is in the middle of the summer.

    We reserved a hotel room in Porto because we knew we were coming in late from a transatlantic flight plus transfer to Stansted and then a flight to Porto. We had no intention of starting our search for accommodations at 10 in the evening.

    We also made a reservation for Lisbon, partly for convenience sake. Driving in Lisbon is not recommended and how do you look for a hotel without transportation?

    In between we had no reservations and had no problems finding a room. In Bragança we went to the tourist office, elsewhere we used Fodor's recommendations.

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    What part of May is high season?
    Here is a link to the official tourist website for Galicia. A lot but not all accommodation establishments are in what is called Green days. The calendar shows all of May to be low season. Any hotel which says it is high season is committing suicide.

    RE Bookings: If you do not wish to spend hours looking for a hotel then pre-booking is the thing to do. Also finding the tourist office some times can be a pain, either it is the centre or it could be closed for the lunchtime. The final thing about booking is like you found out with France sometimes there is a local fiesta on which means everywhere is occupied.

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    hi there
    enjoyed your report immensely.
    I cannot remember where the water came from in each of the fountains. I know it was supposed to be from the organ it represented and then the three virtues. I remember eyes, nose and ears, a cross and two cherubs emptying something. Although I took a photo of each sadly my camera with chip was stolen not long after. Can you or anyone assist please.

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    check my pictures. If any fit the bill, you can try to download them. If you can't let me know. Click on my name and you will get my e-mail address and if you give me yours, I'll forward the picture.

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    thanks - I cannot see any of the actual fountains. I have tried all sorts of searching with google but think I will try emailing someone with something to do with Bom Jesus. Regards Micheled

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    I have no problem seeing the albums using the links given above. Theoretically downloading is not granted, but it appears that individuals have been able to download pictures from my albums with no problem.

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    Thanks for bringing this back up == it's a great report and has beautiful pictures. Cigalechanta, I couldn't open the links embedded in the original trip report (that start tinyurl....), but had no trouble viewing the links Michael posted on March 27. Those all worked fine -- loved the pictures! Laurie

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    Michael: I'm interested in your photos of Lisbon and Sintra and the earlier links don't work for me. The Flickr link above does. Would you mind posting the Flickr link for the Lisbon and Sintra photos?
    Your trip report was excellent.

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    The photos are in Photoworks and I have not yet digitized them to load them to Flickr; there is no easy transfer from Photoworks to Flickr. I doubt that I will have the time to do them before July or August, as I am deep in planning my current trip which starts in 3 weeks.

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    Michael, what a great report. I enjoyed reading it and will have to make time over the weekend to look at the pictures.

    I'm also interested in some of your other trip reports. I'm looking forward to reading Turkey.

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