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Trip Report Trip report: Portugal, Barcelona and Switzerland

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Just returned from two weeks overseas!
The trip was celebrating our 29th anniversary and was 14 nights. I have come to realize that 11 nights was perfect. Heading on to Switzerland for a concert made the trip a little long, but I do like Switzerland :)
First stop: Flew American from Richmond to Philly and then straight on to Lisbon. Flight to Lisbon was shorter than I thought, (about 6 and a half hours). American gives free wine in coach and so that was nice. We had exit row seats which was good, but damn coach is tough as I get older. My husband slept the whole way and slept again when we got there. I wish I could sleep like that!

I woke up the morning of the trip with a head cold. This is my third trip in a row that I have been on this year and started out sick. Not fun. This last year has been so busy crazy and I let everything get to me when I am prepping for a trip I guess. Anyway, luckily the cold only lasted a few days!

Loved Lisbon! It is a beautiful city! Loved all the tiles on the buildings! We found it very clean, friendly and safe. Bread is fantastic in Portugal. We grew up in NJ, but moved south to Virginia. We always miss the bread, but ate our fill in Europe. Something about the bread and pastries over there!

We stayed at the Hotel Britania which is a lovely smaller hotel located just off the main avenue. We arrived at 10:30 tired and the room was not ready, but they told us to go have breakfast at the hotel which was very nice. We rested there for about an hour and the room was ready. We took a nap for a couple of hours which really helped me.
We were located on the top floor, the fifth floor in a very nice king bedded room. The hotel has a/c which always seemed to be the perfect temperature, which for me is nice. I am the menopausal woman so always hot and the room was nice and cool without being cold.The hotel staff was very nice and helpful with directions and where to go. We were also able to get a nice 55 and over rate that included breakfast. Yay! Thanks to my husband for being 56! :) Hotel cost about 225 per night and included breakfast.
First day, we walked around the city and had dinner on a street filled with restaurants. They have salesmen or table fillers out on the streets with menus. I was pleasantly surprised that my meal was delicious! My husband had a lobster stew and I had the grouper. Not a big fish person, the fish was excellent. Will try to find the name of the place.
Second day in Lisbon: I arranged a segway tour. We have never done these and so I wasn't sure if we would like it. Well, we loved it. With all the hills in Lisbon, the segway took us everwhere easily. We went through Lisbon Segway tours and our guide was Miguel. He was great and very funny and friendly. The tour was three hours around the city.
Dinner was at a restaurant called Sommlier. This restaurant had a unique feature where you could use your table card, like a hotel card, and try different wines. We tasted a few. I really liked the green whites in Portugal. I am a pinot grigio fan and the Portugese vino verdes were clean and crisp and light. I very much enjoyed the wines and they were not expensive at all.
We rented a car on Day 3 to drive to Estoril and Fatima. The car was like a toy car, very small and we filled that sucker with too many suitcases! My husband really liked driving a stick and actually had fun driving the little car.
Day 3 we traveled to Estoril near Cascais. We stayed at the Intercontinental hotel which is located in Estoril. The hotel was fantastic! It is a very techy hotel where everything is accessed by your room key. When we checked in, my cold was at it's worst and I was full of sudafed and afrin. One thing about tissues in Europe, why are they so hard??? Anyway, the hotel concierge let us know that there was to be a party at the hotel that night and that we were invited. We needed to wear pink and white if we had it and if we didn't that was okay too. Well luck would have that I had pink and white.
The party was so much fun, too much fun actually. Hendricks gin was the sponsor. We did have to pay for drinks but the drinks were hefty. I wound up drinking way too much and getting sick. Such an idiot. Anyway, we met some wonderful Portugese people who actually invited us to dinner the next night. Unfortunately, I was hungover terribly and so could not go! On the plus side, the alcohol must have killed off my cold.
The day after the big party, my husband wanted to see Sintra, so off we went. Sintra is a very unique area filled with beautiful castles. I was not up to par so had a hard time really enjoying the area. We headed back after a while and went to bed early!
We left Estoril and headed next to Fatima. Fatima is celebrating 100 years since Mary appeared to the children. We are Catholic and this is something we wanted to see. We stayed in a very lovely place called Luz Houses. I highly recommend this place. It is all about feeling peaceful and feeling serenity. It is not connected with Fatima but is about a half mile down the road with its own compound. Our stay was wonderful here. Fatima itself has it's own uniqueness. I was a little turned off by the commercialism of it all. On the plus side, we did the stations of the cross and stumbled upon a Father Murphy from Ireland via NJ and he was giving a talk at each station with a group from America. He was very informative and really told the story of the stations and of Fatima. I am so glad that we came upon him because otherwise, we would have just walked around.
That night there was a candlelight vigil and mass that started at 9:30pm and ended around 12:30 in the morning. It was a long and cold three hours but the choir was wonderful and I loved how they said the welcome, the gospel in about 10 languages. It was very beautiful. I woke up the next morning hearing the haunting men's choir at 6am. This did not wake my husband, but just me. It was very beautiful to listen to them singing.
We definitely want to return to Portugal. The people, the food and the country was just so beautiful! Porto is on the list for a future trip!

Next stop Barcelona Spain!
I had much trepidation going to Barcelona. I heard all about people getting robbed including friends of ours. Just to let you all know, we were never robbed! :) As a matter of fact, I didn't really have to hold onto the purse too tightly. I used a bra safe which is my favorite thing and carried just a few Euros in my purse.
Day one in Barcelona: We checked into the Cotton House Hotel which is a Marriott brand hotel. We used points and had a very nice room with a balcony on the top/6th floor. Since my husband is a gold member, we were given free breakfast which was delicious! For anyone who needs gluten free, this hotel had gluten free bread and cake at breakfast.
We checked in at night and ate the hotel's restaurant Batur. It was delicious!! We had a chicken cannelloni, but my favorite thing was a croquette made with duck. It was Thanksgiving in your mouth. No other way to explain how delicious this was! It was like turkey gravy and mashed potatoes in your mouth and then gone in a bite or two. We ordered more! :)
Day 2 Barcelona: will add later!

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    Going to Lisbon in May; thanks for the info. Would love name of restaurant where you first ate.

    Were you sore after you got off segway? We did a tour in San Diego on Coronado Island and we sure felt it after the tour, but it was fun!

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    Yes we were both sore! I think it was from leaning forward. Will search for the little card. I took cards from most of the restaurants so I wouldn't forget, but can't seem to find the cards yet in the piles of dirty clothes. You will love Lisbon. We only had two days there and could have used at least one more day, maybe two.

    Barcelona, day 2: We bought hop on hop off bus tickets around the city to get a feel of where things were. That night we had a wine and tapas walking tour. Taste Barcelona was the name of the tour and Paul was our guide. Paul owns the business and he takes about 6 to 7 people on a 5 hour walking tour between restaurants and through the different neighborhoods in Barcelona. It was one of the best things we did. First, Paul was an excellent guide. He was a Aussie transplant to Barcelona. He married a girl from Barcelona and does this at night. He knew a lot about Spanish history wine, and food. Which made the night very interesting, fun and tasty! The tapas were so delicious. I didn't think I was going to like Spanish food, but I loved it!
    We had in our group four women from the UK. One in particular was such a hoot. I really enjoyed her company. She was late 70s and definitely lived an interesting and fun life.
    On day 3, it was our only rainy day and we headed to La Sagrada Familia which was outstanding. I have seen a lot of churches, but this was the most unique piece of art I have ever seen. It does not matter what religion a person is, they should see it simply because it doesn't really look like your average catholic church. Go in the morning. We had a 10:30 ticket time, and by the time we came out the lines were around the block.
    After that, we headed by hop on hop off bus to Camp Nou Stadium. My husband would have loved to see FC Barcelona play, but they were playing away the week we were there. So, we did a tour of the stadium which was much better than I thought it would be. I like sports, but thought a stadium tour would be a bore, but there were lots of pictures and very interesting stories behind all the years of playing.
    One thing I did notice while in Barcelona particularly was a sense of pride in being Catalonian, not Spanish. The pride is there in every flag hanging from every window. I am always amazed at how people think Americans have so much pride. Well, I saw it the most in Catalonia, but also in Portugal. People are proud of their countries.
    Anyway, that night we had reservations for 7 Portes which was a very delicious meal. Here my husband had paella which became his nightly meal. I had a chicken with roasted potatoes. The food was very good.
    Day 4, we did an all day bus tour to Girona, Pals and then to the Costa Brava. The tour bus was nicely air conditioned and gave us an overview of the northeast coast. It was a one day trip so it was busy and not a lot of time in any place except the last stop was a couple of hours. The tour guide was very nice, but he talked non stop. We got on the bus at 8:30 in the morning and he talked like he was on a reel all the way to Girona. I was tired and I really wished he would have talked a little and then waited till we got there. Oh well. It was a nice day trip and let us see a lot more than just one city while in Spain. There is a vote on October 1 for the Catalonia region which has everyone talking about it. Every tour guide told us of how Catalonia wants to be their own country and from the flags and Si signs hanging from just about every window, I would say that is correct. However Spain will not allow it. I imagine there will be a revolt of some kind at some point.
    One thing I found interesting in Spanish history is that women could not vote till 1978? Wow.
    Back to Saturday. We got off the tour bus in the square with all the shops. So we walked around Las Ramblas which was packed and then headed to EL Cortes Ingles and went to the top of the building and ate a simple dinner on the top floor cafeteria with a view. The food wasn't bad and the view was nice.
    Sunday, we took the Fat Tire Bike tour for 4 hours around the city of Barcelona. It was a great way to ride around and get a good overview in areas with skinny streets on down to the beach where we had lunch. My husband and I decided to have dinner back down in the beach and had another great dinner just below the Westin Hotel which looked pretty spectacular as we walked around their main lobby and pool areas. It looked like every room had a view and it was a very modern hotel. The thing is it is out of the way of everything really to stay and tour the city. Downstairs from the hotel are a line of restaurants. We ate down there and again my husband had a paella. LOL Food was excellent and we had a fondue surprise for dessert. I asked the waiter what was the surprise. He said whatever fruits are in the kitchen at the time.
    Monday was our last day in Barcelona and we slept very late. Lots of tour and we were tired. Hotel gave us a very late checkout which was great. We flew to Zurich Switzerland to meet up with my husband's sister and see the Rolling Stones.
    In Zurich we checked into the Continental hotel M Gallery by Sofitel. I have to say I was a little surprised at the hotel. It reminded me of something I would see in the Catksills or the Poconos. It didnt' look like a Sofitel hotel. I guess you would say it had charm? The furnishings in the rooms seemed very dated and very 70s in color. Overall though, our stay was fine. It was quiet and clean and close to everything. We ate our first night in the hotel because it was late. Food was okay and we had a nice conversation with my sister in law and the couple from Chicago sitting near us.
    Day 2 in Switzerland. We woke up and walked down the block and had a cheese danish, yummmmm and a yogurt and coffee. Then headed to the train station and bought tickets to Lucerne. We spent the day walking around a rainy Lucerne staying mostly dry. My husband and I both bought watches, lol. We said that as a joke, but we turned around and did. We had a great lunch with beer, and pretzels on the lake. Then we bought apple strudels to eat on the train back. One note is that I knew it would be cooler in Switzerland, but it was a lot cooler. I had to purchase a scarf and a sweater while in the train station.
    The next day we had the concert so we did a Tuk Tuk tour around Zurich and the driver recommended a restaurant and so we went in and all Weiner Schnitzel which was delicious and sat at a table with a family from Russia who were also going to the concert. He insisted that we drink a shot of pear something with him to celebrate and it was not good! LOL My husband finished my shot. It burned my throat so bad!
    We were able to take a tram to the concert which was easy. We bought tickets, but no one ever checked. The trams were packed.
    When we arrived at the stadium, we waited on line to get in. No one checked my purse, there were no metal detectors or wands. A lady patted all the ladies down in a quick pat down and a man for the men. With all the terrorism, I was surprised at how lax it was to get into a concert. We tickets down on the floor near the stage where everyone stands. I will say upfront, this was not the place for me. Being body to body with people kept me warm, but there was no personal space at all. Besides, I was a little short to see the stage and so watched the jumbo screens sort of defeating the purpose of being down there. The Stones were fantastic. About halfway through the concert I went out to the bathroom and bought beer to bring back. Well, I tried to get through the crowd, but it was impossible to find my husband and his sister. So, I went off to the side and drank all the beers that I bought! Half had spilled out all over my shoes trying to get through the crowds. At the end of the concert I realized that since I was not in a Wifi zone, I couldn't call them or text them. My phone was useless. Both DH and his sister have work phones so they could call each other but not me. Of course, they didn't remember that my phone did not work.
    I was pushed out of the stadium into the streets with thousands of people and I couldn't find them. I climbed up a pole and stood above the crowd scanning the faces. At this moment I was completely stressed. What to do? Do I head toward the tram and go back to the hotel? Do i wait till the crowd thins thinking they will be looking for me? Luckily a very nice couple from California let me use their phone to call my husband which he then saw me on the pole. I must say this part of the night put a damper on the whole concert experience for me. Lesson learned. Don't rely on staying together without a phone that works everywhere.

    Next morning we went on our long flight home through JFK. American does not fly to Richmond from JFK so we had to then cab it to La Guardia to get home. We landed in NY at 1:15pm and had an 8:30pm flight to Richmond. We headed over to LGA knowing there was a 4:00 flight with seats open and when we arrived, American said no. They would not put us on the earlier flight. I called AAdvantage and they said it was under two hours (It was 2:15) and we came from an international flight. I said we came from JFK. So defeated, I headed back up on the line to just check the bags and sit for the rest of the day, when the very nice girl behind the counter handed me tickets on the 4:00 flight! Yay! Well the 4:00 flight was completely empty. There were 10 of us on a plane that seated 100. I couldn't believe that all the others could see the plane was empty and yet would not move us. The later flight was delayed till 9:30. That would have been a very long day. Thank you to the nice young lady behind the desk that took pity on me.

    Trip was great! Loved everywhere we went. I would say I would rather do one country and for about 10 days. I was shocked at how many people smoke, everywhere. I am an ex smoker and really hate it now. I was just surprised at how popular it is to smoke in Europe.
    I found all the people we met friendly and helpful. Everyone spoke English except a few cab drivers.
    It was a really nice trip!

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    I knew you would love Lisbon! Sounds like a fun trip:) I don't understand the pole you climbed up though. I am picturing you climbing a telephone pole or something, lol!

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    Great report, thanks! I also love Lisbon and would go back in a heartbeat. And Barcelona too, sounds like you found the fun way to get around both cities.

    And while the Stones concert and its aftermath were stressful, you will always have the story to tell of how you bought beer for everyone but had to drink it all yourself and climb a pole to find your husband. And you probably thought your days of wild and chaotic rock concerts were behind you.

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    Another crazy tidbit of information was that I ate a loaf of bread daily as well as pastries every morning and some desserts at night. I drank and I lost weight. I have been dieting at home and running 4 miles a day and barely lost weight, but zero running and eating and drinking and I lost weight.
    Maybe I need to live in Europe for the next three months and I will look great for my daughter's wedding ;)

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    Forgot something! We went to the Palau Music Hall and saw a great Flamenco show! How could I forget that? It was wonderful to watch the talented dancers and the music hall was very beautiful!

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    >>> American gives free wine in coach and so that was nice.<<<

    I thought all airlines did that on transatlantic flights.

    Portugal is on my list and Fodor's seems to have more and more trip reports about Portugal the last few years.

    >>>I had much trepidation going to Barcelona. I heard all about people getting robbed including friends of ours.<<<

    When DD lived in Madrid and was riding the subway all the time, she would watch the same pickpockets working the subway every day. We were in a watch shop in Lucerne once when a clerk yelled out there was a pickpocket in the store. Someone had just been pickpocketed. Everyone in the store immediately put their hands on their wallets/pockets/purses.

    DD is fluent in Spanish and she was surprised how much difference there was in Catalan when we were in Barcelona (she had assumed they would be a lot more similar). It wasn't until we were down the coast past Tarragona and closer to Cambrils that we started hearing more Spanish (although we also heard a lot of French in Cambrils).

    Were you in price shock in the Swiss restaurants after Portugal?

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    We were in sticker shock about everything in Switzerland vs Spain and Portugal. I like Switzerland, but I really loved Portugal and Spain.
    We were kidding when we said let's buy watches in Switzerland, but we both really loved these watches and so we splurged. We figured we both wanted something nice as a remembrance from the trip and so we did it. After a few beers by Lake Lucerne, we splurged. LOL But no buyers remorse, the watches are nice and not crazy priced, but nice.
    I have studied Spanish and Catalan is so different that I used a little Spanish while in Barcelona because everyone can speak Spanish they just prefer Catalan. Portugese words are more like Spanish than Catalan, just pronounced differently. I think Catalan is more like French.

    Also forgot that gruezi means hello in Swiss German and so hello to my friend gruezi here! LOL

    Our friend from the UK who was on the tapas tour said a man came up to her in Madrid on a past trip, and pulled the gold necklace from her neck and she hit him with her cane and tackled him and took his wallet. Unfortunately, he had already handed off the necklace. She was about 70 years old when this happened and she is now about 77. She was such a fun character. I loved her spirit and hope I have that as I get older.

    One thing I can say is the people I met on our trip were incredibly nice and good people. I think that made the trip all the better. The Portugese couple that invited us over for dinner, well that went beyond nice. I feel very fortunate that I was able to go on this trip and hope for many more!

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    Thanks for the Report girlonthego...and you are "onthego"!

    I did most of Portugal 2 years ago.

    Portugal is one of the cheapest places in Europe.

    In your Lisbon tour did you get to go to Belem?

    I agree the InterContinetal in Estoril is a lovely place facing the inlet bay.

    With your head cold it is difficult to climb those hills in Sintra.


    I was in Fatima also but would have liked to be there, like you were, for the 100 Anniversary.

    Anybody going to Lisbon and /or (anyplace in) Portugal is in for a treat.

    They have architecture there that they do not have in Europe.

    Thank You for the report, I came to it late.

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    Yes we did get to Belem!
    In Sintra I had more of a hangover than head cold! LOL Would like to go back without the hangover!

    I agree the architecture was gorgeous! I loved all the tiled buildings.
    Fatima was quite moving and I am glad we were there during the celebrations. I can see how people can get turned off by the commercialism, but we looked past that and concentrated on why we stopped there in the first place. If you ever go back there, stay at Luz Houses which is about a half mile down the road. It is the coolest little place, peaceful, serene and quite nice.

    Portugal is a place I would happily go back to. It is cheap and quite beautiful and friendly. Next time I am seeing the north Porto area.

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    Great trip report girlonthego!! I love your writing!! It feels like I'm on the trip with you. The drinking all the beer and climbing the pole story is too much!!

    Portugal is at the top of my list right now. I am hoping it will maybe be next fall. I have a trip to London this spring and it depends on how much money I have left after that to spend for travel. I will re-read your trip report if it pans out because you have loads of good tips here. The Segways sound like a lot of fun although I'm not the most coordinated. My feet get so tired with all the walking so it might be worth a try.

    I was just in Europe also and I lost weight even with eating every pastry in sight. Then I got home and the jet lag was so bad that I went on a carb eating binge...and now I'm right back to where I started. not fair!

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    girlonthego, did you like the location of the Hotel Britania in Lisbon? Could you walk to many sites? Are there restaurants nearby for breakfast?

    We are taking advantage of TAP's Stopover program, so we are stopping in Lisbon for 5 nights in April after we visit our daughter and grandchildren in France. We haven't found a hotel yet in Lisbon.

    You mention that you had breakfasts at the Britania, but my guidebook states it does not have a restaurant.

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    The hotel does not have a restaurant for other meals. It has breakfast though! There are several tables in a room with a buffet table. It was like eating in someone's home, very comfortable.
    They served eggs, breads and pastries, yogurts, coffee, tea and juices. There may have been sausages?
    Breakfast is replenished until noon each day, so the room never feels crowded.

    They also had a bar area. So you could have a cocktail in the afternoon or evening.

    The main avenue has lots of shops and restaurants. That is one block away. The hotel is on the side street. We walked all over from there. I found it a very nice location, quiet for sleeping but close enough for walking to things.

    If you book directly with them, they have a 55 and over rate which includes breakfast and I found very reasonable.

    I liked the hotel and found it had the European feel. It was not an overly large hotel, but it had the conveniences I wanted such as air conditioning, an in room safe, and breakfast. Staff was very nice. I would stay there again.

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