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Final segment: unsolicited advice for first time Portugal travellers

Final segment: unsolicited advice for first time Portugal travellers

Jul 5th, 2014, 02:04 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 979
Final segment: unsolicited advice for first time Portugal travellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm sure there was more I wanted to share, but can't remember it at the moment. I'd be happy to answer any specific questions if I can. Have a wonderful trip. We enjoyed ours thoroughly.
lauramsgarden is offline  
Jul 5th, 2014, 02:20 PM
Join Date: Feb 2014
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>>i still can't imagine how they start dinner at 9 or 10 pm and still get up for work the next morning. <<

The evening meal in countries where dinner is served after the sun goes down at 9 or 10pm is not the kind of restaurant meal tourists eat. It is soup, or an omelette, or lighter foods often very similar to what a lunch mea is in countries where the sun sets much earlier or it is cooler earlier in the evening.

It is a problem for tourists whose main dinner choices are to go to restaurants every night. In Portugal, I did just fine in the areas where fish and seafood is featured. I had a harder time in places devoted to meat unless it was chicken.

I also had an apartment in Lisbon which made it easier to deal with not overeating or only eating at hours more congenial to my inner clock. That said, having lived in Italy now for several years, I have a very hard time visiting many places in the US and dealing with the "early" dinner hour. I can't eat dinner at 7pm. I want it at 8.30 earliest.
sandralist is offline  
Jul 5th, 2014, 02:45 PM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,711
Thanks for the help here..I may begin researching for a visit to Portugal next spring and will save this...

If either of you you can point me to a good planning thread for a two-week vacation, please do so..

S---will also refer to food sites for details, as food is among main interests...
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jul 5th, 2014, 03:43 PM
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Posts: 979
yes, Sandra, isn't it funny how we get used to something and then have a hard time adjusting back. When we got home our usual 6 or 7 pm dinner seemed hopelessly early to us . It is an interesting cultural difference though that one rarely thinks of when planning a trip. EKscrunchy - we did a two week trip so if I can be of help let me know - there is so much to see in Portugal that it is hard to make choices
lauramsgarden is offline  
Jul 5th, 2014, 04:35 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 9,303
Thanks for taking time to share. Good points.
Sassafrass is online now  
Jul 5th, 2014, 05:22 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 9,762
Good suggestions.
Eskcrunchy's-tedgale has a great TR on his time this past spring in Portugal. Don't know if he had any planning threads. Portugal is a lovely country and I agree with the OP in that there is much to see. We were there close to 5 weeks and didn't see all we wanted.
yestravel is offline  
Oct 27th, 2014, 07:33 PM
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 49
laura- where all have you driven to in Portugal? DH and I are planning to go next October, having never been there before are looking for driving tips, recs on beautiful scenic drives, rural communities, light hiking and kayaking.
Gypsy8 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2014, 05:06 PM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 612
Bookmarking. Might be back next fall.
WWanderer is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 07:39 AM
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Hi Gypsy8, we started in Lisbon, drove to Evora, got lost driving to Bussacco, (but that was the most beautiful drive of the trip, up the eastern edge by Spain), then up to Porto (uggh, too modern), then to Tomar (fantastic) and ended in Obidos which was a great base to explore the midAtlantic part of things. A favorite day was simply driving up and down the coast. Tried to stop in Sintra on the way to Lisbon for the last night, but streets were confusing and we ended up with not nearly enough time to see things, so in retrospect I would have done a night or two there, or done it as a day trip from Lisbon. Personally, I would have skipped Porto and visited Guimarres and the northern Minto instead. Have a great trip. As I said above, the driving was a pleasure.
lauramsgarden is offline  

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