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Lisbon (Cascais), San Sebastian, Soria?!, and Barcelona

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Jul 26th, 2012, 11:02 AM
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Lisbon (Cascais), San Sebastian, Soria?!, and Barcelona

I must admit I do not usually do trip reports as I am not very witty but I am very appreciative of all the tips (and entertainment) I get from this board as I am planning a trip. So here goes a trip report from my trip in May of this year.

I spent alot of time looking for hotels in Lisbon and was all booked at Eurostar des Artes but not long before the trip I decided to stay in Cascais instead. I travel with my adult daughter - we are not much into nighttime clubbing and such but we do like slow travel and some pool time when the weather is nice. And we loved Cascais - we stayed at the Grand Hotel Real Italia - absolutely gorgeous and we thought a great value for the price. The first two days of our trip were HOT (we were staying 5 nights in Cascais) and so we spent those two days getting over jet-lag in Cascais and by the pool. I think alot of the folks at the hotel and in Cascais in general were there for "resort type" holidays but it is very easy to sightsee to Lisbon from Cascais - a 5E, 30 minute train trip and you are in Lisbon (or even less to Belem).

There are lots of restuarants in Cascais - our favorites were 5 Sentidos / Casa de Largo and then B&B restuarant. 5 Sentidos had a variety of appetizers / entrees and was very nice. We ended up eating there 3 times! B&B we stumbled into and at first were not very enthused about but its a very nice small restuarant - the menu is a bit limited but they have excellent fish and steaks. Both of these restaurants asked before setting down the little nibbles - many restaurants in Portugal put these on the table and then on your bill without your realizing there will be a charge - so we appreciated being asked if we wanted the nibbles. We had so much good fish in Portugal - simply prepared but just delicious and we are not always fans of fish.

So on day 3 we decided to venture into Lisbon - well the train ride was easy but as we were negotiating the rail / subway station a rucus ensued - the subway line was closing down - strike! We were a bit stressed at first until we managed to get the info that 1) the rail connection was not shutting down and 2) only one subway line was down - the buses and other lines would still run. Eventually we managed to purchase the one day ride everywhere card that we could use on the trams, buses, elevator and funicular and off we went.

Emerging from the subway station we stopped to consult our map and hello - a trio of ladies attempted to lift our valuables from our backpack. Welcome to Lisbon! fortunately they did not get anything but we watched them moving along the street for a bit, hard at work. We had been victims on a trip several years ago in Barcelona and on another day had spent some time as super-hero wannabes, chasing pickpockets - our husbands had both extracted promises from us that we would not do that on this trip so we went off to ride the trams instead. However at first there was a tram-jam as a pedestrain had evidently been hit and was lying sprawled out on the tram tracks. He did not seem hurt as he was definately conscious and chatting away but there he stayed for 30 minutes or so while the police came to make an incident report.

We have made quite a few trips to Europe over the years so we are not always interested in some of the museums, churches etc. so our main interest in Lisbon was an overview of the city - the vistas, the trams and the tiles. We rode the trams around for an hour or so and really enjoyed this overview of the city. Seemd sort of like a gritty San Francisco. It would have been nice to wander thru some of the neighborhoods, in fact I had brought Rick Steves guide to follow for a walking tour but 1) I had a very unpleasant blister and 2) lunchtime! so we decided to eat instead. A few weeks before our trip we had seen an Anthony Bourdain show set in Lisbon and my daughter wanted to go to a restaurant featured on the show - Cervejeria Ramiro. Well unfortunately this did not work out so well but we just were not prepared. The restaurant was super busy and the servers did not speak any english - they gave us an I-pad but we had questions and requests all of which baffled our server. This was a place that would be good to go with a local to encourage you try some new things and show you how to eat some of the more unusual offerings but we were on our own and like deers in the headlights. We did have some very good tiger prawns and shrimps in olive oil and garlic but then we got a large crab that was an expensive disappointment. So all in all it was not the meal highlght of the trip but it was probably the most expensive meal we had. We returned to the main square and spied the world famous sweet shop - no disappointments there!

OK break time - next up, daytrip to Sintra and then the overnight train to San Sebastian.
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Jul 26th, 2012, 11:26 AM
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Hi Sue. What were your impressions of Casvais. I have been to Portugal before but never Cascais and we are spending two weeks there in August.
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Jul 26th, 2012, 11:36 AM
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Well I loved staying in Cascais - I would have been happy to stay longer esp. if you are looking for a relaxing vacation. You can rent bikes, go along the boardwalk to Estoril, explore other beaches along the coast, rent kayaks or sailboats (I think there is even a school for these at the marina) so you can have that kind of a vacation or do more sightseeing in Lisbon, Sintra and such. There are plenty of restaurants - lots of local cuisine and many other options - Italian, sushi, and others. What's not to like?!
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Jul 26th, 2012, 02:05 PM
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Really enjoying this. We've just started planning our January trip to Spain and Portugal. Cascais sounds wonderful, just the sort of place we would like. Can't wait to read more.
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Jul 26th, 2012, 04:02 PM
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Wow,it's interesting how different people's opinions are of places! We hated Cascais! It is just jam packed with people-swarms on the streets.The beach-what beach? The boardwalk is a joke!We couldn't wait to get back to Lisbon!It's like a get away beach town for the working masses of Lisbon!
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Jul 26th, 2012, 08:13 PM
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Well. I am not expecting Nirvana BUT I would hope that my experience is not as bad a the one chapla had.
We are not staying directly in Cascais and we have a car. So we can get out of town if we hate it.
There are several beaches along that stretch of coast. So maybe we can find one we like.
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Jul 26th, 2012, 08:51 PM
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Suec mentions San Sebastian. No comparison-night and day! Now there's a beach,boardwalk, restaurants etc!
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Jul 27th, 2012, 07:10 AM
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Obviously Cascais was not Chapla's "cup of tea" but in some ways I can understand that impression of the place. Our first visit to Cascais was on a Sunday afternoon and it did appear there was a massive migration from Lisbon (of working class?, hmm) that was headed out there for the afternoon. But still when I planned my trip for several months later, I decided it would be nice to be in Cascais with some pool time at the end of a hot day instead of in Lisbon with an overwhelming amount of restaurants. In the evenings (at least mid-May)Cascais was not crowded and even mid-day (week-day?) there were no throngs. There are indeed several beach areas, not mile long, but not pebbles either like "beaches" in parts of France or Italy! And I think if you have a car you can explore other areas along the coast. I found Lisbon enjoyable but pretty much a big gritty city - poolside at the Grand Hotel Real Italia in Cascais was a slice of heaven.
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Jul 27th, 2012, 04:39 PM
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sue. I love Lisbon. I have been there three different times. I have to admit that the last time was in August and it was very hot during the day. I was glad for the a/c in our apartment.
I think Lisbon is an acquired taste.
But this time I am invited to a house party and it is near Cascais. I am pretty easy going and pretty close to working class so I don't think I will not fit in. Beach areas in the US are crowded during the Summer so I don't expect the place to myself.
I always visit a place with an open mind and probably have learned to appreciate some aspect of those places no matter what.
One August we spent a week on the Silver Coast North of Lisbon and did not much more than lounging on the beach and having good meals touring when the mood struck us. It was wonderful.
Thanks for your insight.
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Jul 30th, 2012, 11:35 AM
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After a few days in Cascais we took a daytrip to Sintra by local bus - there are two buses that make this trip, one goes along the coast (this is the long, picturesque route) and the other is much more direct. We took the long route on the way to Sintra and there was alot of amazing scenery along the coast. Some of the area almost looked like a moor, rocky with scrubby plants. You pass by the western most point of Europe (well I guess that would be on the continent) but we did not stop as buses did not run too often.

Sintra was jammin' - with people and tour buses. We were pretty much of the mind set of just seeing the castle but I think a more leisurely approach to the city would have made for a more enjoyable day. We may have enjoyed the gardens more than the actual castle - we took the shuttle bus up and down but the grounds would have been a great place for a picnic.

So after 5 nights in Cascais we were ready to move along to San Sebastian. We had booked our place on a T-4 cabin on the overnight thru RailEurope before arriving in Portugal. We have enjoyed meeting locals and fellow travelers on overnight trains on other trips - however on this trip our cabin mate did not appear until very late in the evening and did not seem the least bit interested in chatting. We ate a rather mediocre meal in the dining car but enjoyed watching the scenery pass by and then got a decent nights sleep and arrived very early (6:45 am!)in San Sebastian.

We were greeted by the infamous dismal San Sebastian weather - very cool and rainy. We took a cab to our hotel - Hotel de Londres - and praise God! they had our room ready. So we decided to get a bit more sleep then headed out to do our laundry.

We stayed 3 nights in San Sebastian - we had two horrid days, weather wise and two lovely days. One of the rainy days we went to the aquairium which was very enjoyable. One of the sunny days we rented bikes thru the city-wide rental program and enjoyed cruising the promenade and some of the neighborhoods. We really liked San Sebastain but the weather would discourage me a bit about returning, maybe if you had a car to do a bit more exploration it would make you less dependent on good weather to enjoy the visit.

We had been a bit apprehensive before arriving about pintoxs etiquette but we just had a super time going from place to place. We took so many food pictures! We had so much good food - in my dreams I'll be back nibbling away in San Sebastian.
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Jul 30th, 2012, 12:30 PM
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I've been to SS 4 times and had really bad heavy rain during one visit in October but even then, there were people on the beach-mostly surfers.During the other visits there were a couple of morning showers but then the weather was sunny and warm enough for some to brave the beach.For me, great walking weather from one end of SS to the other along the promenade. I love that SS has bike paths along the promenade and really discourages cars!It seems as soon as the sun peeks out,people just spill out into the streets to enjoy the fresh air.
I did learn something during the rainy visit-all shops are closed on Tuesdays and only the tourist shops in the old part are allowedto to open in the afternoon.
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Aug 2nd, 2012, 12:34 PM
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Well let me go ahead and finish this up - not sure that many people are following or enjoying, but maybe someday, someone will get a helpful nugget or two from this report.

A few more words on SSebas. - we stayed at the Hotel Londres and were fairly pleased. I had a difficult time choosing a hotel - but we really liked the location of Hotel Londres - we went for a room not facing the water to save some euros. The hotel is a bit of a faded "grand dame" but overall it was in decent conditon - nice, large! bathroom. It is so close to the city center, old town and the promenade - I would not have wanted to stay at a hotel further out.

After 3 nights in SSebastian we made a connection with a friend and went to her home in Soria. This was a young woman that about 15years ago came to our house as an exchange student. We had visited her one time before as well as meeting up with her on other trips in Madrid or Barcelona and it has been such a great connection. A bit of a downside - her home town is Soria - a small city in a bit of the out-of-the-way part of Spain. The train from Madrid comes once a day and even if you rent a car you must drive several hours to get to a larger city / point of interest.

But for our 3 night visit we had a very pleasant time - her family was so gracious and of course it is always interesting to see the daily life of people in other countries. Both evenings we were there the weather was very nice and it seemed like absolutely everyone was out for the evening paseo. And such night creatures! We would go out about 8pm to start strolling, stop and have a glass of wine or beer, watch the kids play street soccer and about 10pm or so start to think about dinner! And we loved the food - one evening we had roast suckling pig and the other delicious seafood. To think on my first trip to Spain I was apprehensive about the food - I was so ignorant! of all the good choices of their cuisine.

We did do a day trip one day to the wine area north of her home - the region is starting to develop some boutique wineries - the one we visited had added a main building designed by the man who did the modern art museum in Bilbao. The drive went thru some lovely wooded areas where there seemed to be quite a few hikers so it was a pleasant day.

Our friend drove us to Calatayud to get the AVE to Barcelona where we had decided to finish our trip (we have been there on several other occaisions). Upon arrival we went to the restaurant Set Portes to get our fix of paella with squid ink - a dish our friend had pushed us to try on another trip. That evening we went to the light and fountain show and it was jammin' - we had not done that before and on a warm spring night it was a great free show!

We had one last day to enjoy and had planned to do some shopping but it turned out to be an unknown holiday of some sorts with most of the big stores closed. So what did we do.....we decided to investigate the pickpocketing situation on the metro. We headed to one of the very large stations and sat down to see how soon a group of ne're-do-wells would appear. We waited quite awhile and had just about decided that the city must have finally gotten more serious about the problem.....but wait here comes a policeman with a large dog, now here comes what looks like a swat team.....wait, maybe WE look suspicious as we sit on the benches watching the trains come in and pull out! So we hurried out hoping we were not about to be questioned and would have to call home to tell our husbands we had been detained by the authorities for suspicious behavior! But it did seem to us that perhaps the city has tried to get some of these tricky folks out of the metro - maybe Barcelona does not want to be known anymore as the pickpocket capital of Europe.

We finished our trip with an evening at Taller de Tapas - enjoying the outdoor scene with the city lively even as it drew close to midnight. There are just so few places like that in the US - people will say to me, Spain (or Italy) again?! Yes yes yes...hopefully for many more trips to come!
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