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Trip Report First-timer's Solo 11-Day Tour of Portugal - Loved It!

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Hello Fodors Forum! This trip report will describe my 11 day trip to Portugal, taken last January. Last year, I posted a trip report on my January 2010 trip to Spain. In each case, it was my first time visiting each country, and again, I’m only getting around to writing my trip report several months after returning (what can I say, work keeps me extremely busy from April to August!).

I’m a male in my late 30s, and live in Southern Ontario, Canada. As with my trip to Spain last year, I traveled alone in Portugal. I had really enjoyed my solo trip to Spain, and the independent (ie, non-tour-group) mode of travel. I feel that it’s a great way to see things at your own pace, and focus on the things you really want to do. And with both trips, to Spain and Portugal, I spent much less than I would have by signing up for an escorted group tour. Yes, independent travel requires a lot of extra planning, and at times it can be a bit lonely on your own versus being in a group, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. I’m excited to tell you all about my trip to Portugal, and I’d like to thank you for reading this. Warning: I will go into a good amount of detail in this report! When I read trip reports before my trips, I found the highly-detailed reports to be most valuable, so hopefully this will benefit you as well.

One other thing before I get started: I like to travel on a budget. That means no fancy hotels, and not too many “splurge” dinners. Each of the 4 hotels I booked for my trip were under 50 Euros per night, each was centrally located, and each had private bathroom facilities. That’s all I need. It took a bit of research to find these types of accomodations, but it was well worth the effort. I feel that by saving 50+ Euros per night on hotels, I can stretch my vacation dollar and put the savings towards other things, and ultimately, towards adding a few extra days to the vacation!

Here’s my itinerary. I spent a few days in Barcelona prior to flying to Portugal. I had been to Barcelona last year, but found that there were so many other things I wanted to see there. So I used ‘BCN’ as a base for this trip. One of these days I look forward to writing a trip report on Barcelona. I’ve spent about 2 full weeks there over the past 2 years (having never been there before), and I’m excited to discuss what has become one of my favorite cities...but that’s for another trip report.

Here’s the Portugal Itinerary:

Day 1 - flew from Barcelona to Porto, then onto Faro, and stayed in Albufeira for 2 nights
Day 2 - daytrip along the Western Algarve, including Monchique, Sagres and Lagos
Day 3 - flew from Faro to Porto, stayed there 2 nights
Day 4 - train trip along Douro River to Pinhao
Day 5 - train from Porto to Coimbra, stayed 1 night
Day 6 - bus from Coimbra to Lisbon, stayed 5 nights
Day 7- Lisbon
Day 8 - daytrip from Lisbon to Sintra
Day 9 - daytrip from Lisbon to Obidos, Nazare, Fatima, Batalha and Alcobaca (full day!)
Day 10 - Lisbon
Day 11 - flew from Lisbon to Barcelona

Before beginning the report, I’ll mention that my other trip report (solo tour of Spain in 16 days) contains a lengthy description of the following topics:
- the debate between traveling independently and taking a group tour
- how I picked my accommodations
- how I packed for my trip
- the books I read to prepare
- using the budget airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet) as an alternative to trains and buses
Since I covered those last year, I won’t talk about them here. I am happy to say that the extensive preparations and research strategies that I used in Spain came to bear for this trip to Portugal as well, and served me very well once again! I owe a debt of gratitude to all the great travelers here in the Fodors forums who gave me so many nuggets of info!!!

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    Day 1 - From Barcelona to the Algarve (via Porto)

    Yes, a strange route...but I chose it based on the rock-bottom fares offered by Ryanair. The first leg cost $33CDN (about 24EU), the second leg C$12.72 (9.30EU). Incredibly cheap. I had a layover in Porto for a couple hours, which was made more pleasant by the free computers with internet access - nice touch.) Food at Porto airport was typically expensive for an airport restaurant - 10 Euros for a burger/fries/drink combo.

    I landed at Faro airport at 4:15pm (local temperature was a very comfortable 16 degrees Celsius). Immediately I met the shuttle representative from “ResortHoppa” who shuttled me to my Albufeira resort. Cost for the ride (about an hour as I recall), and the return trip to Faro airport 2 days later, was 12.63EU. I booked it online before leaving home. I’d discovered this shuttle company through the discussion boards on TripAdvisor. Although the reviews weren’t stellar for this company, I found them to be excellent. I was in fact the only passenger on the bus from Faro Airport to Albufeira. They couldn’t have made much money off of me!

    Around 5:30 I arrived at Hotel Solaqua, where I’d be staying the next 2 nights. I booked through at 55 Euros for 2 nights, including breakfast. My room had a mini kitchen, and 2 single beds pushed together, as well as a balcony with view of the pool.

    As it was becoming dark outside, I immediately went for a walk in the remaining daylight, down towards the beach, to take a few pictures. I was becoming very hungry at this point, so I used a tip I learned in my online research - I headed across the road from my hotel to the “Pingo Doce” supermarket, and ate at their instore cafeteria. I’d read about their incredibly cheap food, grilled to order, and had to see it for myself. Sure enough, there it was...a counter where you could choose your beef (or fish) and the chef would grill it to your liking while you waited. I had the Angus Beef and fries for 3.99EU, a plate of salad for .49EU, and a bottle of Carlsberg for .75EU. Total meal cost = 5.33EU!!! Unbelievable!!! (I know what you’re wondering, was it edible? Yes it was! It’s good food!) Apparently the locals appreciate this cafeteria’s a busy place. Wandering through the supermarket, I was amazed at the extremely low prices on wine, about 25% what we typically pay here in Ontario, Canada! Some bottles for under 3 Euros!

    I made my way back to the hotel across the street, but not before strolling through the “Modelo” shopping centre. It’s quite large and has several stores of all types, including an electronics store and a food court. I had a pint in the hotel’s basement bar (3EU). There were about 20 people in there. Most of them were British folks who were staying at the hotel. Most of them were north of 60 years old, with only a couple 40-somethings to be seen.

    With the day ahead as my only full day in the Algarve, I was determined to make the most of it, to catch the area’s highlights. I had come to the Algarve especially to see Cabo de Sao Vicente, and wasn’t going to miss it. Although I’d done a good deal of research on which means of public transport to take to reach Sagres, that quickly became a moot point. Advertised at the front desk of the hotel was a tour, leaving the next morning, called “Historical Algarve” for only 13 Euros! Forget the public buses, this was a much better deal! The girl at the front desk was incredibly helpful, and made the call to the tour company to make my reservation. Content with my first few hours in Albufeira, I turned in at 11pm and looked forward to the incredible sights to follow in the morning...

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    I am looking forward to your next installment also, deonca. I have several Italian friends that have vacationed in Portugal either solo or with a buddy and they have always raved about Portugal, the people and the inexpense say compared to Italy. They just have never been as good about sharing details so your trip report will be quite interesting to me.

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    Nlingenfel - thanks, hope my reports on Spain and Portugal are beneficial to you. Curious which cities you plan to visit next month?
    LoveItaly - thanks also; as you'll see in my next few entries, prices are very reasonable in Portugal. I plan to visit Italy next (have never been there)...sounds like I'm in for some higher prices there!

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    Day 2 - “Historical Algarve” Daytrip

    Weather today was mainly sunny, 18 deg C.

    After a travel day, a long night’s sleep did me good. The Hotel Solaqua was incredibly quiet, which provided me with a great rest. I awoke by 7 to prepare for the day. The sun was just rising, so I captured some magnificient shots from the terrace, overlooking the pool (I never saw anyone use the pool in the 2 days I was there).

    Because the bus pickup for the daytrip was set for 8:30, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the hotel’s included breakfast. So I walked to the cafeteria on the street corner beside the Modelo shopping centre for a coffee and chocolate croissant, piping hot and incredibly delicious! My first taste of Portuguese coffee and pastries - but definitely not my last!

    The bus from Paradise Tours picked me up and the tour began. Several people were already onboard, many of which had come from more easterly points along the coast. Our first stop was the charming, quiet town of Silves. We wandered around for about 15 minutes with our guide, before being set free for a short while. During the free time, I paid 2.50EU to go inside the castle walls. I was the only one to do this. It was a gorgeous morning so I enjoyed the fine views from this unique vantage point.

    Next stop, Monchique. We stopped at a souvenir shop where we received 2 small samples of “Firewater” and coffee liqueur. I wasn’t really interested in shopping, so after my 2 little shots of the local alcohol, I went outside to take in the fantastic views from atop the mountain, outside the shop. The area boasts a variety of trees - eucalyptus, cork, almond (they were in bloom), and mimosa. At an altitude of 900m, Monchique is the highest point in the Algarve.

    We drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch, and paid 10EU each. We had a choice of 3 main courses...I had chicken ‘piri piri’ (my first time trying that), french fries, soup and bread, with wine or soda. Up until this point, our group was relatively quiet, but after we knocked back several bottles of delicious local wine, the atmosphere became much more social!

    Next it was time for the trip out to Sagres, the southwesternmost point of Europe. Most people had dozed off after enjoying all the wine, but they snapped right back to life as we arrived at the Cape, for the awesome seaside views. This was one of the great sights I’ve ever seen, and definitely one of the highlights of my 11 days in Portugal. I’ll never forget the sight of daring fishermen dropping their lines off the sky-high cliffs. Nor the taste of a refreshing bottle of Super Bock Beer (2EU) from the little bar at the Cape. The onsite washroom cost 50 cents, and did a steady business due to our earlier wine intake...

    The sunsplashed cliffs at “the end of the world” were truly spectacular. Unfortunately, we only had about half an hour to enjoy the sights before being led back onto the bus. We made a very brief stop about 2 km down the road for a quick photo op along the rocky coast, but sadly we didn’t stop at Sagres Fort & Navigators School...we just drove past. If I had been on my own, I probably could have spent an hour or two here, just gazing off out into the sea and enjoying the fantastic sunshine and warm temperatures, but the bus had to leave...immediately I appreciated the fact that I was only in ‘tour group’ mode for 1 day, and would be able to set my own timetables for the remaining days of the trip. Still, for 13 Euros I can’t complain, can I?!

    Our final stop on the bus tour was at Lagos, where we spent about an hour. The guide provided no commentary here; we were on our own. Of interest here is the old slave market and the large number of vessels at the marina. Also a good amount of panhandlers were in force, greeting us as we exited the bus.

    At 6pm, we returned to Albufeira and I was dropped off at my hotel. All in all, I really enjoyed the 9+ hour trip. I saw a bunch of sights that were on my “to see” list, I didn’t have to manage any public transportation connections, and I met some nice people from all over the world - Australia, Wales, Washington DC and England. I was the only Canadian. I just wished we could have spent longer at Sagres.

    The bus dropped me off in front of a hotel near the Solaqua. They had a tempting pastry shop inside, so I stepped in for a coffee. Afterwards, I made the short walk back to Pingo Doce for another visit to the supermarket cafeteria. Tonight I had grilled salmon, rice, potatoes, salad and a Carlsberg for 5.23EU.

    After dinner, I walked around town for almost 2 hours, then returned to my hotel around 10. Things were extremely quiet around was a Tuesday night. And as I mentioned earlier, most of the people staying down here appeared to be retirees who were enjoying an extended stay away from the colder climates of England, so the nightlife was a little dull, as I had expected. I can imagine this being a very lively place in summer though.

    So that was the end of my brief introduction to the Algarve. Tomorrow: north to Porto!

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    Day 3 - Travel From The Algarve to Porto

    Got up at 8 this morning and packed up my things for check-out. Another gorgeous morning in Albufeira! Went to the dining room for breakfast, which consisted of cold cuts, cheese, breads, etc. Pretty typical of what I would eventually find in all the other hotel breakfasts in Portugal on my trip. This would turn out to be the only one with cooked food though - they had eggs, as well as baked beans. After breakfast I used the computer in the lobby to check my email - you had to pay for this service; I believe it was 1 Euro for 20 minutes. There was no wi-fi in the hotel.

    At 10:40 the ResortHoppa shuttle mini-bus picked me up at the front door of the Hotel Solaqua, for the trip to Faro airport. We ended up picking up a few other people at other hotels, so the bus was full by time we reached the airport.

    My Ryanair flight to Porto left at 1:20pm. Cost was EU9.30. Flight time to Porto was under an hour. I walked to the bus stop outside the terminal, and sought out the bus which headed into downtown Porto. As I recall, the trip was about 40 minutes, and cost EU1.50. I got off near the Clerigos Tower, one of Porto’s major landmarks, and began walking towards my hotel. Unfortunately, I didn’t scout out the route to my hotel too carefully before the trip, and as a result, got lost. My Portugal guidebook described Porto’s centre as “compact, but confusing and steep” and I feel that this describes it perfectly. Eventually though, I found my hotel, after about half an hour of confusion, and expending considerable energy with my luggage in tow! Fortunately I was traveling light, with a rolling carry-on sized backpack.

    I stayed at the Hostal Portomadrid. I chose it for its central location, decent reviews and price. Cost for 2 nights was 60Euros, including breakfast. Upon arrival, the gentleman at the front desk kindly gave me a map of Porto and offered some helpful tourist info, describing main sights, etc. Although hardly fluent in English, I understood him well enough, which is good because I don’t speak any Portuguese! Although I had requested a quiet room for this reservation, and for all rooms on the trip, my room was right on the busy road, which made getting to sleep somewhat of a challenge. Also, my 2nd floor room window was only a few inches from the hotel’s brightly lit white sign! So, it wasn’t exactly an isolation chamber.

    Overall I’d rate the accommodation as “okay”. Interior was nothing fancy, but I certainly can’t argue with a double bed, private bathroom/shower for only 30 Euros a night, including breakfast. For a budget traveler like me, it fit the bill. And they had wifi, which made it really handy to use my Ipod touch in the hotel room.

    After checking into the hotel, I made the short walk out to the waterfront. The scene here was unforgettable. Ramshackle, crumbling old houses appeared to tumble down into the Douro River. Surveying the vista, I gained an appreciation for how hilly this area is, and how much of a challenge it would be to walk around Porto! But it was a challenge I would relish.

    The late-afternoon sun shone gorgeously on the Ribeira district of Porto, the Ponte Dom Luis bridge, and on Vila Nova de Gaia (the other side of the river, where the port wine lodges are located). After taking dozens of great pictures, and putting the panorama feature on my camera to good use, I walked over the massive steel bridge. Again, an unforgettable sight for a first-time visitor. Porto hadn’t been a “must” as I planned my itinerary, but as I was heading across the bridge, I quickly felt happy that I’d included a visit here.

    Tip - you can cross the bridge on the upper or lower level. I was on the upper level where the tram runs, but it would have been better to take the lower level. The lower level brings you right out to within a few yards of the port wine lodges (Calem, Sandeman, etc.). Where I had crossed, you really have to wind your way down through the mazelike lanes to reach the waterfront. Obviously not a big deal if you have been there a few times, but tricky the first time! Especially when you’re in a rush to get into a port lodge before closing time. Unfortunately, I was too late to catch a tour...but I’d make up for that tomorrow!

    After more great photos at sunset, I gradually walked over the lower level of the bridge, to the Porto side of the river. No real agenda other than just soaking in the feel of this town. Eventually I made my way into a shopping centre along Rua Santa Catarina, and had dinner in the food court.

    Here I discovered an extremely tasty, filling, and cheap dish: the “Francesinha”. I had no idea what these were before coming to Porto, but I had seen them advertised on virtually every menu posted in every restaurant during my walk. At the food court, various locals were enjoying these huge sandwiches, so I decided to try one too (I was famished at this point, it was after 9pm!). I ordered the Hawaiian variation. Basically it’s equivalent to a “Hot Beef Sandwich” in America, with a couple slices of bread, gravy, and meat inside. But they also have an egg inside. And chicken. And cheese. And the gravy is runnier and tastier than in America. It’s more like “au jus”. The sandwich is about 3-4 inches thick, piled a mile high, including ham and pineapple in mine. Definitely one to eat with a knife and fork. The Francesinha is surrounded by a pile of fries. Cost for this massive pile of food (including drink and espresso) = 6 Euros! More great value in Portugal!

    (This was where I first noticed the custom of finishing EVERY meal with an espresso. Whether you’re ordering a take-out pizza and pop combo or a sit-down dinner, the meal isn’t complete without a little shot of caffeine! As a big coffee drinker, this was right up my alley!)

    I left the mall and gradually made my way back to the hotel on foot. I was now fairly comfortable with the confusing street plan...I hadn’t mastered it yet, but I had some idea of where things were...that takes a while in Porto!

    Day 4 - Douro Valley Train Trip & Visiting Port Lodges

    After enjoying the included hotel breakfast in the quiet dining room on the main floor, I walked to Sao Bento Station. Even if you’re not traveling anywhere by train, be sure to pop in to see the interior of this station. The walls in the main hall feature huge scenes consisting of beautifully hand painted tiles, called “Azulejos”. Unfortunately, restoration works had part of the walls obscured.

    I purchased my ticket for the train trip out to Pinhao, a town along the Douro River Valley. Cost for the return ticket was EU16.85. The train left at 9:15am. I only noticed a couple of other tourists on board, but a good number of local commuters. The train was not full. I sat on the right side so I’d have the Douro on my side of the train (a tip I got from the forums here).

    The first 45 minutes or so of the journey were nothing too exciting, but soon enough the scenery lived up its billing, especially as the sun rose higher in the sky and burned off the morning fog. Hugging the edges of the Douro, within a few yards of the river, the train wound its way through the valley. Countless grape terraces and “Quintas” dotted the landscape. After a stop at Regua, we arrived in Pinhao; I had 30 minutes here before the next train back to Porto would arrive at 12:12pm. Not much time to roam too far, so I just stopped in one of the nearby restaurants for a cup of coffee (only 60 cents!). I had brought along a few snacks so I didn’t need lunch yet.

    Pinhao station is adorned with lovely, bright little hand-painted tiles which celebrate the winemaking heritage of the region. Definitely worth a look.

    For the return trip, I found a seat on the left side of the train to enjoy the same view in reverse. We arrived back in Porto around 2:30. Overall I’d recommend this half-day trip for visitors to Porto. It’s a very relaxing experience, and a nice break from hectic sightseeing travel schedules. You arrive back in Porto feeling content and refreshed.

    Although my stress level was as low as it could be, I decided to lower it even further by checking out some of the local port wine lodges! What a great day! Pure chill-axation!

    From Sao Bento station, I walked to the bus stop and caught a bus (EU1.50) to Vila Nova de Gaia, in hopes of squeezing in a few wine tours in the latter part of the afternoon.

    First stop was the Ferreira port wine lodge. I was informed that the next English tour was at least half an hour away, but a Spanish tour had just started a couple minutes earlier. Although I don’t speak the language, I wasn’t too worried about not understanding was more about the experience, and I knew I’d catch an English tour eventually. So I paid the 4 Euro entry and joined the tour, which consisted of about 20 people. It lasted about 20 minutes, and ended in the tasting room, where each person received 2 glasses of port (one white, one red).

    From Ferreira, I walked to the Croft lodge to catch their next available tour, which happened to be in French. Again, not my first language, but at least I understand some French. As it was approaching closing time, this was quite a short tour, offered free of charge. After the tour we had 2 samples, but of course you could buy glasses of any variety. So I purchased 2 extra glasses, one of which was a pink variety...very tasty! Cost for the two was EU2.50.

    A Greek girl who was on the tour, and who was clearly a wine conoisseur, opted for one of Croft’s classy “port and chocolate” tasting options. She kindly offered to share with me, so I tried a sip of the 10- and 20-year old ports. (I preferred the 10-year old). Our paths would cross again over the next couple of days as she and her girlfriends toured the other lodges. The next day I saw the ladies load several bags of port into the trunk of their car - which was already loaded with wine! It looked like they had a very productive trip to Porto! Who can blame them? Although I found a good selection of port at the Lisbon and Porto airports, the variety is unsurpassed here. This is the place to get it.

    Now that the lodges were closed for the day, and the sun had set, there wasn’t much to do except wander around the city. I thought of eating in the Ribeira district, but no restaurants really jumped out at me. It really was quiet in this district on a weeknight. Also, it was early in the trip and I didn’t feel like a big fancy dinner yet. So I ended up eating in a fast-food restaurant in a shopping centre. Just a bowl of soup, some deep fried shredded fish, and a Fanta (6 Euros).

    For a classier restaurant experience, I later dropped in at the gorgeous Café Majestic at Rua Santa Catarina 112. I had a cappuccino and one of Portugal’s signature pastries, “Pasteis de Nata” (custard tarts). 4 Euros. It was a pleasure to just sit and relax in this venerable coffee house, savoring its old-world decor. A nice way to cap a great day in Porto and area!

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    Day 5 - Porto to Coimbra

    After breakfast I checked out of my hotel. There was a chill in the air today, with the temperature around 8 degrees Celsius, but the sunshine was beautiful for my last morning in Porto. With my rolling backpack strapped to my back, I walked from Hostal Portomadrid to Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) for a 10am tour. I was the only one on the tour! (This would actually happen 2 more times, later in the trip...). Tour cost 7 Euros. This building is home to the local chamber of commerce. No photos permitted on the tour. That was unfortunate, because the last room of the tour, inspired by the amazing Alhambra in Granada, Spain, was magnificent. I asked the tour guide in my sweetest manner, for a shot of the Arabian Room, but she reminded me that each room is monitored by security cameras, so it was best if I keep the camera in my bag. Oh well, the memory will have to suffice.

    From the Bolsa I caught a bus over to Vila Nova de Gaia (EU1.50). I visited Calem for a tour, and again, I was the only one! I was so impressed by my guide Sophia. She could very well have glossed over the points of the tour, but she showed a genuine interest and enthusiasm for what she was telling me, even though I was the only person on the tour. How kind of her. She escorted me through the lodge for half an hour - wow! I can’t say enough about the service at Calem. By the way, the tour cost 4 Euros. I received 3 samples after the tour. One of the samples was white port. When I asked whether it was the delicious “lagrima” type of port, Sophia told me it wasn’t. Within seconds, she returned with a glass of lagrima for me. So that’s 4 samples. I couldn’t have been happier. This was the last of my 3 tours, and by far the best. Having learned a great deal about the port winemaking process, I really appreciated and savored the quality of the samples. My visit to Porto was complete.

    I caught the tram to Porto Campanha station and had lunch opposite the station at a cafeteria called Café Parana. As this would be my last meal in Porto, I had to order one more “Francesinha” sandwich. It took almost 10 minutes to prepare, but it was delicious. Huge, tasty and enormously satisfying. The dish, along with a beer, a coffee and a “Bolo de Berlim” (donut) cost EU11.30.

    At 1:47 my train to Coimbra left the station (EU16.50). I was a little unsure of how to get to central Coimbra, but a friendly fellow on the train told me where to go. I had arrived at Coimbra B station, then took the free shuttle to Coimbra A, which was merely steps from my hotel, the “Residencia Domus”.

    The hotel cost 25 Euros for my 1-night stay. I had a room on the main floor opposite the front desk, with 2 beds and a private bathroom/shower. Breakfast was included. Desk staff didn’t speak English, but that didn’t pose a problem.

    After a quick check-in and grabbing my smaller knapsack, I headed out for some late afternoon sightseeing. I had one main objective in Coimbra: to see the famous university, so that’s where I headed. It was an easy walk in terms of directions, but not so simple in terms of effort! As in Porto, it was time for some climbing! Lots of steps. After about 15 minutes, I found the university and went into the office to purchase my ticket. Cost was 9 Euros, including admission to the Science Museum.

    I walked through the Iron Gate into the courtyard. The central portion of the courtyard was being renovated, so a lot of it was fenced off. That hampered the quality of my pictures a bit. First I toured the Grand Hall for about 15 minutes. I took a walk outside to the narrow observation deck for some great views of Coimbra. Fantastic in the late afternoon sun!

    Then it was back down into the courtyard and over to St. Michael’s Chapel. Shhh. Be vewwy quiet here. I spent about 10 minutes in there.

    Final stop was King John’s Library. As told at the ticket counter, I was to knock lightly on the door and wait for someone to answer. It took about 5 minutes but eventually a lady opened up. I had read that they are concerned about controlling the humidity inside, and don’t want to keep the doors open longer than is absolutely necessary, so I made sure to step inside quickly.

    The library was magnificent. Easily the most impressive sight in Coimbra, in my opinion. No photos allowed. Apparently the beautiful interior is all wood. I spent about 15 minutes soaking it all in, before heading downstairs and eventually out.

    From the university I headed over to the Science Museum. I arrived at 5pm, 1 hour before closing. There were no other visitors here. (As for the university, I might have seen 15 other visitors at most.) The Science Museum had some interesting exhibits. My favorite was the dark room with the “revolving planet” which changes from Mars to Venus to Neptune to any other planet, as you push the buttons. Very cool. I’d say an hour was enough to properly tour this museum.

    In the remaining daylight I wandered out to see the Elevador do Mercado. Although I didn’t take the outdoor elevator, it was interesting to see how it transports you to the lower level of the town. After a few photos, I walked back under the Arch of Almedina towards Praca do Comercio, and eventually to Largo do Portagem, where I found a bank machine to withdraw some cash.

    Now, how to spend my evening? The Churches were closed at this hour, so I decided to do a little shopping. I walked over the Mondego River by way of the Ponte Santa Clara bridge. Then a really long, uphill walk to the shopping centre - I believe it was called Forum. After soaking myself in the history of this old town with its 700 year old university for a few hours, it was a bit of a reality check to return to a bustling, throughly modern mall! I spent a couple hours here before the long walk back over to the old town.

    Since Coimbra is a university town, I expected it to be hopping on a Friday night, full of schoolkids eager to party away the stresses of their studies. But this definitely wasn’t what I found! The town was extremely quiet. Later in Lisbon, I asked someone about this...they told me most of the students go home on Fridays, and that Thursday night is their night to party.

    I wandered around for an hour or so, and passed the tiny chapel called “A Capella” where a fado show was in progress. It was easy to hear outside. I didn’t go in. Fado is traditional Portuguese music, usually performed by women...but in Coimbra, the men sing it.

    Then I stopped in at Café Santa Cruz, beside the Church of Santa Cruz. It was about 10:30 and a fado show was in progress. The sign outside said it was free, so I stepped inside and ordered a drink. As I was ordering, the singers stopped - sure enough, I had arrived right on time for the end of the show, which had begun at 10. So there I was with my wine...a good bit of it too. I had ordered a half liter! Oh well, it was pleasant enough to sit in this charming old-world café (which apparently was built as a church) and just savor the surroundings. The ½ liter of red wine cost me 5 Euros. A nice way to end my evening in Coimbra.

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    Day 6 - Coimbra to Lisbon

    After a basic breakfast at the hotel, I checked out. I had my Rick Steves guidebook with me which promised a 10% discount on the room, but the non-English speaking hotel staffer totally scoffed when I held up the book and pointed out the discount offer. Either she didn’t understand, or more likely, wasn’t interested in giving me the deal. I didn’t protest. It would have only amounted to a discount of EU2.50 anyway.

    (This actually happened in Lisbon too...I showed my RS Portugal book at the hotel there as well. They spoke English fluently, but said the discount didn’t apply because I had booked through an online service ( instead of directly through them.)

    After leaving the hotel, I had about an hour of free time before my bus to Lisbon, so I toured the Church of Santa Cruz. As I entered, I heard the low buzzing of the electrical wires outside, intended to keep the pigeons from doing their business on the delicate limestone. The pulpit was beautiful. Service was in progress so I didn’t take pictures.

    The “Se Velha” (old Cathedral) was scheduled to open at 10am so I headed up there on time for that. No one opened the doors at 10. I waited. It was 10:05. Nobody around. Checked the other entrances. Nothing. Only a couple tourists around. They left. At 10:10 I headed up the road myself. Then they opened up. I didn’t go back though...I had a bus to catch!

    It was about a 15 minute walk to the bus station. I had some lunch at the Café Neptuno at the station. Sandwich, coffee, juice and a pastry for 5 Euros. The bus left at around 11:15 and arrived in Lisbon around 1:30. Along the way I enjoyed the free wi-fi onboard the bus! Very cool!
    I admit that I was entirely lost on arrival in Lisbon, but after about 5 minutes of confusion, I figured it out. It was a Saturday, and many families were heading for the zoo. As I was surveying the metro map, this clued me into the fact that we were near “Jardim Zoologico” metro stop. The metro stop was a fairly short walk from the bus station. I hopped on the metro (EU1.40 for a single ride - save your card to be reloaded later) and took it to the Restauradores stop. From there it was about 5 minutes walk to my hotel, the Residencial Florescente.

    I highly recommend this accommodation. Cost was 35 Euros per night, for 5 nights, including breakfast. The room had a double bed and good sized private bathroom with shower. Very clean rooms, and a nice decor in the halls of the hotel. My room was right opposite the elevator. That made it very convenient (although I was only 2 floors up from the street, so I usually took the stairs), and although elevators can be noisy, this didn’t cause any disturbances whatsoever in my 5 night stay. Free wi-fi throughout the hotel. I love that!

    Breakfast was included daily, and consisted of the usual...2 or 3 types of Portuguese buns, sliced bread, cheese, cereal, fruit, various cold cuts, juices, and coffee from the excellent coffee machine, which offered choices of espresso or cappuccino. Loved the frothiness and taste of the coffee! The breakfast room, although quite large, was quite busy every day, although I always found a table. Lots of tourists at this hotel.

    A final note - the Florescente has a marvelous location for sightseeing. It’s on a great street with tons of restaurants (be ready to fight off pushy, but polite, restaurateurs standing outside with their menus), and only a couple minutes from Rossio Station. Very handy for catching a train for a day trip. Also an easy 15 minute walk down to the waterfront. Highly recommended on all counts!

    I had one objective on this Saturday afternoon: to get to the “Feira da Ladra” or “Thieves’ Market”. The hotel staff told me to catch the trolley at Praca da Figueira, not far from the hotel. At the tram stop, I was among several other tourists trying to figure out the tram/bus system. A local girl at the stop kindly helped me out, and luckily she spoke English. She told me she would be getting off the same trolley around the flea market, so I made a point of following her. We got off the trolley and she walked me to within sight of the market. I felt a bit alienated on arrival in Lisbon, as a first timer, but that touch of human kindness really made it all better and I was ready to check out the wild collection of antiques, music, clothes, art, and...junk! Most vendors were starting to pack up as I arrived around 4pm, but I think I got there on time for a pretty good look at things. I didn’t buy anything.

    (About the trolley ride I took, a single ride cost EU2.50).

    There was one interesting thing I saw, which was also quite troubling. A man of middle age, and his mother, were trying to bargain with a dealer on the price of a tube of toothpaste. I couldn’t believe how loud their negotiation became, to the point of argument! All for an item which we can buy at home for under a dollar. Makes you appreciate what you have in life...

    From the market I wound my way around the Pantheon, and gradually downhill towards the Alfama, past Casa dos Bicos, to Praca do Comercio. My first look at this grand square was very exciting. The sun was setting on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Wonderful.

    I walked up Rua Augusta towards my hotel. Along the way, I was offered drugs. First time in Portugal. It would eventually happen a few times during my stay here. I just kept walking and ignored them.

    Arriving at my hotel, I relaxed for a while and freshened up. At 9pm I set out for another walk. Eventually I had dinner at McDonald’s on Rossio Square (sorry, sometimes you just have to give in to your need for a burger!). At least it was a unique burger, with chorizo sausage! Combo with fries and Coke - oops scratch that - beer! Why not, we’re in Europe! - cost EU5.80.

    Then into a nearby place for hot chocolate and a pastry (EU3.30).

    A bit more wandering before heading back to my hotel for bed.

    Day 7 - Belem: Cheaper on a Sunday

    After breakfast at the hotel, I walked to a nearby Metro station to reload the card I had purchased for my single ride the day before. EU3.95 would give me 24 hours of unlimited rides on public transport, including the fun trolleys.

    I took trolley #15E out to Belem, a trip of about 30 minutes, arriving at 10:10am. First, I visited the Torre de Belem for about half an hour. My plan was to visit here first, because it was the furthest point out, and work my way back to the other main sights in Belem.

    After nothing but sunshine for 6 days, finally I faced some inclement weather. No rain, but cool temperatures and above all, strong winds. I enjoyed free entry at the tower (something I learned in my research), which was offered until 2pm.

    From the Torre de Belem I walked to the Monument To The Discoveries. Entry was not free, so I decided to just do a quick walk past. I wanted to take advantage of free admissions to other attractions until 2pm, and then return here later. So I headed for the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, specifically the Cloisters, which were also free. There were quite a few tourists here on a Sunday morning.

    After the Cloisters, I managed to squeeze in a couple more free attractions before 2pm - the Coach Museum and the Maritime Museum. I also briefly went through the Berardo modern art museum, but really didn’t like it, so I left before seeing all of it. By this time it was 2pm, and I could slow down my pace. First thing on the agenda was to get some lunch. I was in the mood for a really good meal, so I dropped into a nice little place across from Pasteis de Belem called Adamastor. Great service and great food here. I ordered the mixed grilled seafood. Also a cheese and bread plate to start. The cheese was incredible, one of the best I’ve ever had - firm outside but soft inside. Total cost for the meal, including a glass of wine, coffee and dessert was EU13.70. Entirely content with my meal and the friendly service, I left a 1 Euro tip.
    After a wonderful lunch it was time for a bit more sightseeing, so I headed back to the Monastery to tour the Basilica (free). Final stop was the incredibly busy Pasteis de Belem for some authentic treats. I purchased 4 of their signature custard tarts and a Bolo de Berlim for EU4.55, and dropped them in my knapsack. This turned out to be a mistake. I didn’t actually know that the pasteis are served warm. I didn’t eat the tart until a few hours later, so I lost the sensation of enjoying it warm. Next time, I’ll have to sit down and enjoy a couple warm ones in one of their several (almost neverending!) dining rooms. (Even cold, these tarts are truly delicious. Oh so sweet, so smooth, and the tart crust is perfect.)

    I’d enjoyed a great 6 hours in Belem, and was ready to head back, so I caught Bus #28 back to the city. I dropped into the Tourist Information office around the corner from my hotel, to arrange a day trip to visit Fatima and surrounding area. You see, in my pre-trip research, I had read about several great places north of Lisbon, and really wanted to see as many of them as possible. These were Batalha, Alcobaca and Obidos. At home before the trip, I spent about 5 solid hours researching the various means of visiting all these spots in one day, by public transport. Sure I could hit a couple of them, such as Obidos and Fatima, but that was the best I could do.

    So I realized that I’d have to take a bus tour to see all of these in 1 day. I grabbed brochures from 4 or 5 companies offering trips, and sat down to compare them at the TI. After choosing one, I asked the TI staff to call and make a reservation for me. Unfortunately, due to the slow winter season, I was informed that they weren’t running their usual daytrip. So I picked another tour company. She called to make my reservation and....found out they weren’t running a tour either! I was getting frustrated. Finally I asked her to call a company called “Cool Tours LX”. Success! They were confirming their tour was going to Fatima, Batalha, Alcobaca, Nazare (!) & Obidos for 60 Euros. She booked it right there and I paid for it.

    So, if you’re in Lisbon in January, I suppose the moral is not to assume all trips run according to the brochure. Lack of interest may cause cancellations. Fortunately things worked out for me (really well actually, as you’ll read in a later entry!)

    Unfortunately, I spent far too long at the TI, probably 2 hours altogether, so I feel as though I lost some time here. That’s part of planning your own trip though...most of the time, things go great, but sometimes you have to alter your plans a bit.

    From the TI, I rode up the Santa Justa Elevator (really cool experience) up to the Bairro Alto. I’m an avid music collector, so I came to this part of town to visit the “Louie Louie” CD store I’d researched online. They were open until Sunday evening, so I enjoyed browsing through their fantastic collection of CDs and vinyl until closing.

    Shopping centres are open very late in Portugal, even on Sundays, so I took the metro up to the Colombo mall and spent about 90 minutes there, until 10pm, before heading back to my hotel for the night.

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    Really enjoying your itinerary, descriptions of what you did/what and where you ate, etc. This is exactly the type of info. that I am always interested in.

    My wife and I have 2 weeks to divide between Spain and Portugal and I am trying to sort it out (i.e. fly into Lisbon and work out way North through Portugal and into Southern Spain (Andalucia region) ending in either Madrid or Barcelona or vice versa (starting in Spain and ending up in Lisbon). We are not beach people so we won't want to stay overnight in a costal hotel/resort but a day visit would be ok. Also don't want to have a "if its Tue. it must be Belgium" type of trip where we have bitten off more than we can chew. Reading your itinerary gives me a better idea of where we might go, stay, eat. Can't wait for the next installment.

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    Montanaandy, thanks for reading so far! I have 3 full days left to describe, and hope to have those up in the next couple of days. I was in Spain last year, and had a great time. Hopefully my trip report can be of assistance to you. I'd say for Lisbon, you really should try to visit Belem, for about 6 hours. City of Lisbon can be done with the rest of that day, plus 1 other full day...of course, you could spend longer and not get bored, that's just my opinion. 3rd day I'd do a day trip to Sintra, it's a must. On a tight schedule that's how I'd spend 3 days in Lisbon and area. Porto had an entirely different feel to it, so I'd encourage you to visit there as well. You could go there from Lisbon and spend the rest of the day touring the city, do an overnight, visit a couple of port lodges the next morning, and move onto your next destination from there. Enjoy the planning process...I love that part almost as much as traveling!

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    Day 8 - Daytrip to Sintra

    Big anticipation today for one of Portugal’s greatest sights! I won’t be describing the palaces or Moorish Castle in great detail here...the guidebooks can do that much better than I. Instead, I’ll aim to give you an idea of the order in which to see the attractions, roughly how long to spend at each place, and the associated costs.

    To keep an eye on my spending, I carefully considered the purchase of a “Lisboa Card” (discount card) in my planning process. A few of Sintra’s sights are either included or discounted with this card. I crunched the numbers, calculated my potential savings versus the cost of the card, and concluded that it would indeed be worthwhile to get a 24-hour card, at a cost of 17 Euros. The savings were relatively minor though. What swayed my decision was the fact that the Lisboa Card would give me 24 hours of public transit use, which has a value of EU3.95. As I recall, I ended up saving about 2-3 Euros with the card, after visiting all the sights I wanted to in Sintra. If you buy the Lisboa Card, be sure to bring the coupon booklet along - you’ll need to present coupons at Sintra.

    To start my day, I made the short walk from my hotel to Rossio station, to catch the train to Sintra (included with Lisboa Card). I caught the 8:31, which took 40 minutes to reach its destination (Sintra was the end of the line). It was a cool start to the day, with a temperature of only 6 degrees Celsius.

    On arrival in Sintra, I visited the station’s TI first, to ask a few questions. I then walked around the big U-shaped bend to Sintra Palace (10 minute walk), described as the “Madonna-bra” building by Rick Steves. Admission was included with the Lisboa Card. My tour lasted 45 minutes. Highlight was the beautiful Stag Room, which offered terrific views out to the Atlantic Ocean.

    I then caught Bus #434 at the nearby stop, at a cost of EU4.80. The 2nd stop, which the driver announced, was the Pena Palace. Ticket cost 6EU. From the bus, it was about a 10 minute walk uphill to the palace (there’s also a green shuttle bus running up the hill). I stayed from 11 til 12. This was, in my view, much more exciting than Sintra Palace. It felt like a storybook kind of place...quite simply, a fun place to visit. Isn’t that the point of a holiday? The “Azulejos” were gorgeous, the architecture was a hoot, the views were stupendous, and the colours popped, even on a cloudy day. Unfortunately, the weather was very cold and windy, so after a long time spent outside, I was in great need of a warmup, so I enjoyed a wonderful hot chocolate at the onsite restaurant (EU2.10).

    After my little pause, I set out for a walk of the surrounding woods, noting the magnificent redwood, cypress, and chestnut trees. I admit to being a bit confused here, unsure of exactly how to reach my next destination, the Moorish Castle. I wanted to hike around, but at the same time was afraid of getting totally lost, so I didn’t stray too far off the beaten path. Pena Palace staff told me the walk up to the “high cross” for its spectacular viewpoint would take about an hour. I decided against that hike! Eventually I reached the castle. Admission 3EU. I spent 45 minutes walking up the castle walls, holding onto my hat in the swirling winds! Wonderful vistas and great photo ops from here. I’ve never been to China, but this was a pretty great wall of its own!

    From the castle I walked down to the village. Not sure if I took the right path, but all along I felt like I was going the wrong way. You might want to ask for some assistance upon leaving the castle, to clarify directions. The walk down took 20 minutes.

    I had lunch in town at a small restaurant. I didn’t take note of the name. 2 beers and a fairly dull steak sandwich cost 7 Euros.

    After lunch I walked to Quinta da Regaleira. I’m so glad I did! What a totally unique place! The pint-sized chapel, with its incredible detail, was a joy to visit. And the dining room in the house, with its stupendous fireplace, was unforgettable. Loved the floor mosaics with the many depictions of geese, boars, and all manner of hunting creatures. The library is a must-see too. A bit of a mind-bender!

    I was at the Quinta from 2:45 until 4pm. Cost EU4.80 with Lisboa Card discount. Outside on the grounds, don’t miss the spiral underground staircase and tunnels! They’re a bit hidden, but worth the effort! During busier times of the tourist season, I understand that guided tours are available. This might be a good idea if you have the option. You’ll learn more about what you’re seeing, and spend less time doubling back on the trails.

    After a 10 minute walk back to town from the Quinta, then 10 minutes to the station, I caught the 4:26 train to Rossio, which arrived at 5:06. Time for a little coffee break at the Starbucks at Rossio station, combined with one of the “Pasteis de Belem” I picked up the day before. Mmm!

    For a change of pace, in the evening I decided to check out “Freeport” outlet mall, which apparently is the largest in Europe. I had seen it advertised and was curious. It took some effort to get there. First the metro out to Oriente station, then a 20-minute bus ride over the massive Vasco da Gama bridge to the mall, which was open late, even on a Monday. Return bus fare was EU6.30. If I could have any part of my vacation back, it was this night. I just felt that I’d seen most of Lisbon’s main sights already and was curious about the outlet mall. I should have stayed in town! Granted, the shopping centre had many outlets, but I really didn’t find any earth-shattering deals. I returned to my hotel at 11:40 and turned in.

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    Day 9 - Daytrip to Fatima, Batalha, Alcobaca, Nazare & Obidos

    As mentioned earlier, on day 7 (a Sunday) I spent a long time at the tourism office trying to find a tour company which was actually going to be running one of its scheduled daytrips to Fatima and area. After 3 attempts, we found one called Cool Tours LX. Today was the day for the tour, so I stood outside the Hard Rock Café at 9:30 looking for the bus.

    Tons of traffic whizzed by, but no buses stopped for me. Finally, a small car stopped on the corner and a man of about 30 stepped out, with a clipboard, and looked around as if he was searching for someone. I motioned to him and we began chatting. Sure enough he was my guide. I asked if we would be driving to a bus station to join with others, but he informed me that I was the only person signed up for the tour! And that he would be my personal tour guide for the day! And that we’d be humming around the Portuguese countryside in a Smart Car! I
    couldn’t believe it! (First time in a Smart Car too). So off we went, Gonzalo and myself. He spoke very good English.

    First stop was Fatima. Gonzalo gave me a brief introduction to the site, and then 90 minutes on my own. I’d say this was just the right amount of time to tour the site and the 2 Churches. The new Church is definitely not the traditional place of worship you might expect here.

    After Fatima we drove to Batalha, where we spent about 30 minutes. Again, short description of the Monastery, followed by time on my own to explore it. I visited only the Church and the Founders’ Chapel.

    Our third stop was Alcobaca. It was a nice sunny day, so we had lunch in the square opposite the Monastery of Santa Maria. Gonzalo recommended a local dish, so we each had the chicken stew in a pot (“Frango Na Pucara”). It was fantastic! For dessert I had the almond biscotti cake. Cost for lunch, including a pint of draft beer and a coffee, was 19EU. After lunch I visited the Church (Portugal’s largest) for about an hour. Being the only tourist there was a strange feeling!
    Afterwards, I met Gonzalo at the car. He drove me out to Nazare, and parked up on the cliffside in the “Sitio” part of town. The view from here was magnificent! Driving out of town, he told me the tale of Nazare’s women and their traditional “Seven Petticoats”.

    Final stop was the cute little walled town of Obidos. Gonzalo told me it’s known as a town with “a woman’s touch”, and that became quickly apparent as I strolled the main lane. Bold blues and sunny yellows trimmed the whitewashed houses, whose walls were adorned with little clay pots everywhere. During our walk, I stopped at a curbside table for a shot of “Ginja”, a local cherry liqueur, served in a small chocolate cup. Walking along the outside of the town’s walls, I enjoyed the calming view of the distant landscape at sunset.

    We left Obidos and were back in Lisbon by 7pm. I really enjoyed my day with Gonzalo. I learned so much about Portuguese culture, politics, the economy, food, etc. by asking him a ton of questions along the way. He was a great tour guide. The company has a policy of running tours even if most people cancel...if only 1 person is signed up, they still run the tour so as not to disappoint that individual. That’s a great policy, albeit one that likely is a money-loser on days like mine, but as a tourist, it’s amazing and really was appreciated.
    After my long day out, I didn’t have a lot on the agenda tonight. Across from my hotel, a big televised event was taking place at the Coliseu entertainment venue. They were honoring Portuguese soccer legend Eusebio. The street was filled with reporters, TV cameras, buses, and the red carpet. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd, so I stuck around to take in the spectacle, along with a great number of locals, for almost 2 hours.

    I capped off the evening with a visit to the Port Wine Institute, by walking up the steep hill to the Bairro Alto. (Same hill which has the Elevador da Gloria funicular). I arrived at 10:30 to find the place empty. Two waiters paced around, while I sat by myself at the back. I ordered a couple glasses of port and some cheese. I knew the place closed at midnight, but I felt guilty about being there alone, so I prepared to leave around 11, thinking they might want to close early. But then a large group arrived and put me at ease. I ordered a couple more ports from the comprehensive list, while reading the informative pages describing the various types of port. Five glasses of port with the cheese cost EU12.60. I left at 11:45.

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    Day 10 - Lisbon & Oceanario

    My final full day in Lisbon. After breakfast, I walked up to the Bairro Alto for another visit to “Louie Louie Records”, before beginning the city walk described in the Rick Steves guidebook. I enjoyed the great view from the “Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara” at the top of the Elevador da Gloria funicular track, before working my way down to the Sao Roque Church.

    Unfortunately, the highlight of Sao Roque, the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, was cordoned off for renovations. This Chapel was built in Rome, used for one Papal Mass, then shipped to Lisbon. I was disappointed not to see it, but the Church was still a worthwhile stop.

    Down past Convento do Carmo (didn’t go in), and into the Chiado neighborhood for a coffee break at the famous Café A Brasileira, before heading out of Chiado and back up towards my hotel. In that area I walked up to another record store I’d heard about, called “Carbono”. For record collectors, this place is definitely worth a look. I could spend hours in a place like this, but I limited my visit to about 1 hour.

    I had lunch in a narrow, small café with the locals, standing up at the counter. The pile of mouthwatering sandwiches in the window drew me in. I had a delicious chorizo sandwich and a beer for 4EU.

    Having walked past the “Ginginha” stand just south of my hotel all week, I finally had to stop in. A little sweet shot cost EU1.15.

    Around 2pm, I bought a fresh 24 hour transit pass (EU3.95) and took the Metro out to Oriente station. It was a gorgeous sunny day to walk along the boardwalk out to the Oceanario. I’d read great things about this place, and am really glad I came to see it. A central, gigantic aquarium is surrounded on all 4 sides by glass, so as you walk around to look at the various exhibits and environments on both levels, you can always look to the centre for an amazing collection of sharks, rays, and just about anything else that swims! Highly recommended. Cost 12EU, I visited for 90 minutes.

    I caught the Metro back to Praca do Comercio for sunset, then took a walk through the hilly, maze-like Alfama. I had dinner in the restaurant beside my hotel. I ordered “Bitoque” which is steak, served in a pan, in a delicious gravy, and covered with a fried egg. Served with a bowl of fries. With a Coke and a small tip, cost was 9EU. Coffee and a “Bolo de Berlim” (donut) in Rossio Square cost EU1.70.

    Day 11 - Leaving Lisbon

    After staying dry for 10 days, the rains finally came today. I paid 175EU for 5 nights at my hotel. I showed my Rick Steves guidebook for the discount, but it was not accepted because I hadn’t booked my reservation directly with them. I felt that 35EU per night was an incredibly reasonable rate for such a clean accommodation with an unbeatable location.

    I walked down to the Alfama for a visit to the Se (Cathedral) and the Roman Theatre Ruins (both free entry). The ruins were fascinating, and were recommended by my Fatima tour guide Gonzalo.

    I headed out to Restauradores Square and caught the bus to the airport for my Easyjet flight to Barcelona.

    NOTE - I took the Aerobus which cost EU3.50. I assumed it would be free (or at least included with my 24 hour public transit pass), but the driver said I would have to take one of the city buses to ride for free. I didn’t want to wait for another bus to arrive, in fear of being late for my flight, so I got on. As we rode, I noticed city Bus #44 behind us the whole way - that one would have been free for me to ride on with my 24h pass.

    So that’s how I spent 11 great days in Portugal last January. I’ll return with a few closing thoughts, but for now I wish to thank you very much for reading this report. I’ve really enjoyed reliving the trip 6 months after its completion. Great memories! During my trip, I did my best to note all the minor details along the way, in hopes of passing on my experiences to readers and travelers like you. If this trip report helps just one person have a better time in Portugal, I will have accomplished my goal! Happy travels! OBRIGADO!

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    A Few Final Thoughts

    I want to discuss a few more topics in closing.

    Mobile Phone
    I see a number of questions about mobile phones and SIM cards in these forums. Here’s what I did to stay in touch:
    - I brought my old cell phone along for the trip. It’s a Motorola V190 flip phone. Basic.
    - I had used the phone previously on the Rogers network in Canada. To use it overseas, I had to unlock it, so I got a code from for C$9.82. They e-mailed me the code and I punched it into my phone...easy!
    - I ordered a SIM card online from . Yes, the airline. They sell SIM cards too! It was sent to my home in Canada from Ireland, free of charge. The card cost 10 Euros, and included 20 Euros of value as I recall. Texts within Europe (to family in Belgium) were very cheap, as were incoming calls from Canada.
    - call quality wasn’t the greatest for some calls. When my folks called me from Canada, there was always a 2-3 second delay. Once you got used to this, it was ok though.
    - a UK cell phone number was issued to me
    - I had service in all the towns I visited

    Summary of Trip Costs
    Accomodation for 10 nights (all including breakfast) = 315 Euros
    Transportation within Portugal (arrived in Porto, left from Lisbon) = 108.48 Euros
    Admissions/Tours (including Lisbon Discount Card, Port Wine Lodges, etc.) = 97.30 Euros
    Food & Drink = 206.19
    TOTAL of 4 Categories = 727 Euros. At 40% exchange with Canadian dollar = $1018 Cdn.
    Average daily cost about $100 a day.
    Granted, I was frugal on meals, but wouldn’t change a single thing about my food choices.

    Was It A Successful Trip? You bet!
    The hardest part in planning a trip is spending the right amount of time in the right places. You need to use a lot of sources to get this exactly right. Here’s what I do in budgeting my time:
    - look at the brochures from tour companies (Globus, Trafalgar, Cosmos, etc.) and check out their “Best of Portugal” tours - see where they go and how they divide their time
    - talk to people who have been there, either your friends or the smart people here on!
    - read guidebooks...I read every one I can find at the library - Rough Guides, Rick Steves, Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet, etc.
    - from all this you can gather a pretty good consensus of what’s worth seeing and how to spend your time. I am entirely happy with the way I allotted my time.

    Coimbra was worth a visit for 1 night, no longer. I spent about 18 hours there.
    Porto was worth 2 nights, and I felt that was enough.
    Lisbon was worth the 5 nights I spent there. On a tighter schedule you could probably cut that to 4 nights, but I don’t regret staying 5 nights and using Lisbon as a base for my Sintra and Fatima daytrips.

    I might have visited Evora which was highly praised by many sources. Estoril & Cascais were also attractive to me, but I didn’t find the time.

    Random Thoughts

    - I don’t speak Portuguese but made it around easily with English.
    - The weather was great for the time of year. At times a bit cool, but no rain til the last day. Very lucky in this respect!
    - Traveling in January was fantastic in terms of crowds. No waiting anywhere!
    - Tiles, tiles everywhere. Every sidewalk I walked on!
    - Lots of hills to climb, but that’s what gives you great viewpoints and photo ops.
    - Coffee is everywhere, and very cheap. Delicious too!
    - Best thing I saw...Sintra. Other major highlights were Cabo de Sao Vicente, Porto’s waterfront, the coastline at Nazare, the scenic Douro train trip, and Belem (and its pastries!).

    So if you’re thinking of visiting Portugal, go ahead, let it happen. Happy Travels!

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    Fabulous report – fun and well detailed. You certainly did your homework!

    Your account brought back many memories. I think you would agree that Portugal’s geography makes the country unique. Its only borders are with Spain and the sea. Economic conditions have dictated waves of emigration of its population down the centuries to points throughout the world.

    But its charms, not to forget its excellent wines and great breads/soups/sardines and other specialties, make it a lovely and affordable destination for most travelers.

    Deonca, I predict you have many more travel adventures ahead. We look forward to reading more….

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    Great recommendation on Cool Tours LX
    Took their day trip to Obidos, Nazare etc and enjoyed it so much we joined them for the Sintra, Cascais tour a couple days later
    Thanks for your trip report

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    Deonca, thank you so much for this well written report. You obviously did a great deal of research before your trip. As a solo traveler myself, I appreciate reading trip reports using public transportation as I don't always rent a car. Portugal has been on my radar for a while. While 2012 I'll be back in Germany, I'm now considering Portugal for 2013. Again, thank you!

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    Glad you had such a great time in Portugal - one of my favorite places. One point about Coimbra - I think the Roman ruins at Conimbriga are also worth seeing - enough that I'd add another night there.

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    Thanks all for reading my report and for your really kind words. I'm genuinely thrilled that you've enjoyed reading it, and that you'll be able to make use of some of my tips.
    Larluk - so happy that you got in touch with Cool Tours LX and that you had a great time with them!!!

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    Deonca, thanks so much for sharing your experience with planning and the actual trip. It's very helpful for me, who is usually very good at trip research, but the holiday season really came in the way of planning. This report is heaven-sent. I will be checking out Cool Tours LX and will be rereading part of your report again. We have only 3 days in Lisbon and was hoping to cover Lisbon, Sintra and Obidos, only because I heard that those are the places to see.

    With your report, I think I can do it inexpensively.


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    A great write up and it looks like you had loads of fun. I try to get to Portugal every other year as
    1) it stays warm into winter (hence the British OAPs who may be staying in your hotel for 60 days!)
    2) it is very good value
    3) there are so many wonderful buildings

    your pile of meat in Porto translates as a "little frenchman" and describes what they did to the French when they re-took Porto in 17?? or 18??. I think it should be made with 5 cuts of pig but hey it will kill you.

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    vicki and bilbo - thanks so much for your positive comments! Vicki I hope you enjoy your trip and can use some of my experiences to improve your time there. Belem is definitely worth a half day. Obidos in winter, midweek, was quite sleepy, but still a worthwhile stop for an hour or so on the way back from Fatima. I had a nice tour with cool-toursLX. If you're thinking of doing a trip like that, I'd definitely get in touch with them to confirm that they're running trips when you're there. As I said in my report, they were the 3rd company we called because others weren't running tours due to offseason lack of demand.

    lobo - great to learn more about this tasty, satisfying, and it must be said, great value dish! For a budget traveler like me, filling yourself up at hotel breakfast and a nice francesinha in mid-afternoon is enough to carry me through the day (with one or two delicious Portuguese pastries along the way of course).

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    Thanks for your report. We will be there in May for one week so we will use several of your suggestions for Lisbon and Sintra. Also appreciate that you included prices. It can be annoying to read a great restaurant review only to find out the meal cost the price of my new car. We travel on a budget, too.

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    lynclarke - You're absolutely right. I combed the Ryanair home page and don't see any links to SIM cards. I'm fairly certain they were advertising it prominently at the top of their home page last winter. At any rate, knowing that Ryanair was dealing with a company called Maxroam last year for their SIM cards, I googled "Ryanair Maxroam" and came to this link, which is the same page I recall seeing about 12 months ago. Hope this helps you, have a great trip!

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    Thanks for this extensive report. We did a similar trip last year (by rental car) and are going back this June to see more of this beautiful country: Braga, Guimarães, Óbidos, Tomar, Évora, Tavira, to end our trip (again) in Porto.

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    Hello Deonca. I will be going to Portugal soon. I plan to visit Sintra in one day. I can't decide if I want to splurge on a private tour, walk, or use an E-bike. I am wondering how you found your way around by yourself. Were there a lot of signs to direct you to the monuments etc? Hopefully you will actually see this ha! Thank you in advance!

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    Hi Jfgarner, thanks for going back in the archives to read my trip report! Can't believe it's been almost 5 years since I was there. Forgive me if my memories aren't razor-sharp. To find my way around Sintra, I had Rick Steves' Portugal along with me. I find that his guidebooks do the best job of helping me find my way around. I also recall that the tourist office in Sintra's railway station was able to answer a few questions.
    There was some confusion getting back down to the village from Castelo dos Mouros. As I said in my report, when I was making my way back down to the village, I wasn't entirely sure where I was going at all times, but I trusted that I'd make it back down ok and probably not end up too far from town. There was signage, but I probably could have researched that a bit better beforehand.
    The choice of doing it on your own or taking a tour is of course your own. With some planning, it's entirely doable. If I were planning this trip today, I'd look at the costs of public transportation, individual entrances/admissions, and compare it to the cost of a tour. If the difference isn't too great, it might be worth the extra money. Just don't assume that all tours will be running on full schedules. As I found with my attempt to get a tour to Fatima, I had to call 3 different tour companies before I found one that was running. You shouldn't have too much trouble finding one to Sintra's a popular attraction. But as a 'low season' traveler, I've found that you can't assume that tours printed in brochures are going to be offered. Good luck and have a great trip! Sintra is wonderful.

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