Over Thanksgiving week we went for a brief trip to Portugal and Spain. We were away for 7 nights, spending 4 nights in Lisbon, traveling by an overnight train to Madrid and then staying 2 days there before flying back.
In Lisbon we stayed at Hotel Botanico which for 45 euros a night was a good deal being in a convenient location from which to walk all over the city. My favorite thing in Lisbon was really walking around and enjoying views from various outlooks. We followed a couple of walks from Rick Steves guide to get our bearings. Lisbon has a ramshackle charm about it and it's more charming when the sun is shining. Sao George castle and Alfama were favorites.
We made a daytrip to Obidos by taking a bus from the Campo Grande station. The station was chaotic, no info booth or anything, but the the people were very helpful and eventually we found the stop. It took about an hour to get there. Obidos is a delightful small town and we enjoyed walking around it even in the rain having fortified ouselves ginghja in chocolate cups. There were still flowers even at the end of November.
It was raining cats and dogs when came back to Lisbon. We went to a vegetarian restaurant Oriente, but the night was still young, and we went over to Alfama in search of fado. We had a couple of recommendations but wound up at Parreirinha de Alfama as it was the first place we heard and saw through a wall of rain and we liked what we heard. It was about 9 pm and we had no reservation but they seated us during at intermission. There was a 10 euro coverage and 20 minimum per person. We ordered a bottle of wine, a dessert, and enjoyed the performance. I really like the atmosphere, the different performers, and an elderly couple who sang fado at the end of an official performance.
Another day we made a trip to Sintra. We were very ambitious and bought 12 euro ticket that allows travel to Sintra, Cabo de Roca, and Cascais. We didn't get to do all this and it's too much in one day I think. Sintra was my favorite place in Portugal and it's be worthwhile to stay there overnight. On arrival we took bus #434 to the top to Pena palace. We bought a ticket that combined admission to Pena palace, gardens, and the Moorish castle. I was shocked that the Pena palace was so kitschy, it reminded me of Vegas's Excalibur hotel. The most memorable thing from inside the palace was the kitchen with its many copper pots. The best part about Pena palace is the location, the gorgeous views, and a path through the park to the Moorish castle. On the way we saw sequoia trees, pine trees, remains of a chapel, ponds with swans and ducks. We enjoyed scrambling around the Moorish castle and then walked down to Sintra city center. We walked through a couple of parks, spent a little time walking around Sintra, picked up some local pastries.
We spent a day in Belem visiting the monuments, Jeronimos monastery, a small botanic garden near the monastery, and tried the requisite Belem pastries. We got there by taking a train from Cais do Sodre which took 10 minutes or so. A couple of times during our stay in Lisbon we went for free wine tastings by the waterfront. You choose 4 wines from various regions and write down your reviews for them. The wines were very good. As far as restaurants, I can recommend Terra - a vegetarian restaurant on Rua de Palmeira, 15. It had a good selection of dishes and was nicely decorated.
On our last day in Lisbon we stopped by the Port Wine Institute. If you're into port, this is a place for you. We just relaxed with a couple of glasses of port before taking a taxi to Santa Appolonia station for our train to Madrid.
I previously reserved tickets through the Renfe site. If you reserve tickets more than 2 weeks in advance you can get an internet rate of 60% off, up to 1 week in advance you can get an estrella fare of 40% off. The Renfe site was quite temperamental. I went through all the booking details and almost booked an internet rate when the site crashed. Next time it was up only estrella was available so I bought tickets at that rate (126 euro for 2) in a 2 sleeper cabin. I received an email with locator id, ticket numbers, and booking details and printed that out. It looked like what you get for air tickets and I planned on printing them out at the train station. You can't do that! The man in the ticket window would not do it saying they were bought from a Spanish site and there were no machines to access and print tickets. I asked him where I could print the tickets and he advised a T-Mobile store at the station that had internet connection. So I spent a very nerve wrecking 15 minutes rummaging through renfe's site in my rudimentary Spanish and finally spotted an option to print tickets in the lower left hand corner. Tickets in hand we still hand 30 minutes until departure. I just can't believe that cp and renfe don't communicate and I'm not sure what I would've done if I hadn't been been able to print tickets.
Once on the train we relaxed and settled in. The cabin was clean and functional with a little sink, not luxurious. I really like trains and took this for experience as much as anything else. We slept very well. Once we went over Portugal's border, the train became louder, and I woke up and used the earplugs which worked so well that I didn't even hear the wake up call.
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