My Low Budget Trip to Portugal

Oct 19th, 2009, 05:52 PM
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My Low Budget Trip to Portugal

Portugal is very very inexpensive. You can deliciously eat and drink your way through the country on a few Euros. The food and wine are very good and the portions are large, even by American standards. Two people could easily split half a portion with an extra side dish (salad or starter). I had read about the vegetables in Portugal but I never saw any offered on menus with the exception of the nasty spinach I was served one night, even though I said “no spinach.” Salad is a standard part of most meals, as is rice and fries.

An interesting aspect of the Portuguese drinking culture is if you ask for wine you get a bottle or a carafe. I was only served a glass of wine twice. Every other time I was given a half bottle but at 2.5 or 3.5 Euros per half bottle it was a bargain! And I did manage to finish every drop of wine!
adrienne is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 05:55 PM
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Portuguese People:

Absolutely wonderful. Cheerful and helpful. Among the friendliest I’ve encountered.


It was a pleasure to drive in Portugal. The road signs are good and the roads are almost empty. No one honks the horn at you, they just drive fast and pass if you’re going less than 100km. The only person I passed was some old man driving a car smaller than a 2CV and going about 20km!

Here’s the link to google maps to view the route. Hopefully it works.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 05:57 PM
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Good to hear! Any restaurant / sights recommendations? My DH and I are headed there in January.
slangevar is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 06:01 PM
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adrienne, looking forward to more!
yk is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 06:09 PM
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It was sunny all but 2 days but unbearably hot – 85 to 90 degrees F. I was not prepared for the extreme heat so late in September/beginning of October. There were 2 rainy days that were cooler but very humid. The historical weather database that I consulted prior to booking the trip showed low to mid 70s for this time of year. So much for weather history – you absolutely cannot predict the weather.

It did cool off at night and there was usually a breeze so I was able to sleep comfortably. I was amused that all beds had blankets on them when even a sheet wasn’t required until the middle of the night.


Now to research the trip. I realized I had little knowledge of Portugal and the more I read the more I realized my ignorance. I pulled trip reports from this board which were enormously helpful and picked up several guide books from the library: Rough Guide, Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, and Eyewitness. I found Lonely Planet the best with Rough Guide as a secondary resource. My very favorite Let’s Go series disappointed me for the first time. The book combines Portugal with Spain and Morocco and didn’t have enough information on Portugal.

I bought Michelin map 733 for driving and Streetwise Lisbon although the paper map a taxi driver gave me was much better than Streetwise. I did keep the Streetwise map with me and used it as a fan to try to cool off.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 06:45 PM
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Adrienne - Any specific suggestions [restaurants, things not to miss] for Evora or Marvao. They are part of our trip which starts November 1st. Thanks. - Steve in MA
asp10 is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 06:49 PM
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Steve - I'll try to hurry up this report for you. Evora was in the beginning of the trip and Marvao near the beginning so you'll have the info in the next few days. I did take lots of notes and believe I have lots of good info coming up but I don't want to leave anything out and want to keep it in order.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 19th, 2009, 06:50 PM
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Walking is rough. Sometimes you get lucky and walk on cobbles but many towns have rocks on the road rather than cobbles. The rocks are smooth on top but uneven. Good lace-up walking shoes with rubber soles are mandatory, especially for walking down the hills. Many of the areas are dirt, particularly around the ruined castles. My black shoes looked white most of the time. I would not suggest sandals in Portugal (except Lisbon).
adrienne is offline  
Oct 20th, 2009, 01:32 PM
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Car Rental:

Originally I thought to use public transport for the entire trip (to keep expenses low) but soon realized this would not be practical for visiting many small towns.

I rented through AutoEurope as they met my pickup and return location requirements and had the lowest price. After I got a price quote from AE I phoned Kemwell twice and they were consistently higher than AE. I also checked Carjet as they were recommended as the lowest price car rental in Portugal but they did not have a pickup location in Evora. Consequently, I would have to rent the car for an additional two days and drive from Lisbon to Evora right after I landed which I did not want to do. Given the additional days on the rental the savings were slight so I decided on AE. For pickup and return to Lisbon Carjet would have been the least expensive option.

I waived the CDW as Visa covered it and the deductible in Portugal from AE is a hefty $1,500 – ouch! The car rental was $260 for 9 days, so very inexpensive.

Gasoline was about $80 for a fill up. I put 3/4 of a tank in twice and it was 40 Euro each time. The car was an Ibiza compact.

Please note that it is imperative that you completely fill the tank when returning the car. If you return it to the Lisbon airport there is a BP station within the airport (near the entrance/exit). There is a 30 Euro surcharge plus the cost of the gas to fill the tank if you return it less than full.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 20th, 2009, 05:20 PM
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My hotel budget was $50 per night for a single room, hopefully with private bath. I worked hard to find the hotels, some recommended on this board and some from guide books, mostly Lonely Planet. I want to particularly thank Laurie Reynolds who went so far above and beyond helping me book some hotels. This is not to slight others who made recommendations but Laurie was my heroine in time of need!

The average for all hotels was $48 per night so I came in under budget. Here’s a review of the hotels for anyone looking for budget accommodations. All prices are per night for a single although all rooms had at least 1 double bed and sometimes 2 beds – 1 double and a single.

Evora – 30 Euro (no breakfast)
Pensao Residencial Giraldo

Pretty much a dump.

Marvao - 40 Euro
Varanda do Alentejo Marvão
Praça do Pelourinho, 1-A 7330-108 MARVÃO
[email protected]
Tel+351 245 993 272
Fax +351 245 993 272

2 beds – a double and a single – lovely view out the window. Bathroom large and modern; room large, very clean, plenty of towels. Would highly recommend this hotel. The owner also has a restaurant across the street and up a few doors. I ate there one night and the food was good.

Tomar - 23 Euro
Pensão Residencial União
Rua Serpa Pinto nº 94 - 1º 2300-592 Tomar
Tel +351 249 323 161

Located in the pedestrian area. At 23 Euro per night this hotel was the best bargain of the trip. One double bed, smallish bathroom, old but clean. They wired the lighting so you could turn off the overhead light w/o getting out of bed! The rates on the door showed 38 Euro but that must have been for a double since I paid the rate I was told. I believe this is the hotel that has free VoIP phoning to book as I didn’t have an email from them, only a verbal confirmation. The breakfast room is very nice; the breakfast was 2 large rolls, a small corn muffin, rolled up slice of ham and a wedge of packaged cheese. You drop your luggage at the back door (side street running parallel to the pedestrian street) and Sandra takes the bags to your room while you look for parking. The best parking (large lot and plenty of space and free) is about a 7 minute walk, in front of the Franciscan monastery (not the large monastery that’s a UNESCO site but the smaller one that is 1 block from the TI). The pay parking lots are ghastly expensive. I’m glad I checked the rates before pulling in as the garage was 84 Euro for 24 hours.

Obidos - 30 Euro (no private bath)
Casa dos Castros (inside the walls)
Rua Direita 83
+351 262 959 328

Wouldn’t recommend it. I actually booked a room with bath for 40 Euro but there wasn’t one available when I arrived. The gentleman who owns the house wanted to be paid immediately and I never saw him again.

Sintra - 35 Euro (no private bath)
Vila Marques
Rua Sotto Mayor, 1
2710-628 Sintra
Tel: +351 21 923 00 27
Fax: +351 21 924 11 55
Email: [email protected]

I booked a single room w/o private bath at 30 Euro but the single was not available when I arrived so I had a double room for 35 Euro. Someone else who stayed there w/o advance reservations paid 45 Euro per night for a double for single use w/o private bath.

This hotel has pluses and minuses. They have a lovely back garden, tables and chairs to sit at, with a view of the Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and Quinta da Regaleira. There’s a kitchenette with fridge to store food, a microwave, plates, cutlery for guest use. You can hang your washing in the laundry room, just don’t try to use the basin there – the senora doesn’t like it. It’s no problem to wash things in the bathroom basin and then hang them in the laundry room. The bathroom was a bit small and there is no place to hang anything (towels, clothing, etc.) but there’s a nicer bathroom with shower on the ground floor. There’s no place in the rooms to hang wet towels (I used the window knobs and the window railing). Housekeeping is a bit lax (mostly vacuuming the carpets) and there was some confusion about the booking so I was glad I had email confirmation. They take days to get back to you if you send an email. It’s a short walk to the TI, cafes, and shops. Rooms on the street are noisy (although this doesn’t bother me); the rooms on the garden with a terrace the length of the house are quiet but there was the smell of drains so I’m glad I had a room on the street. Parking is on the street and limited although after 7:00 pm there seemed to be enough parking. Most people parked against the hotel and climbed in and out on the passenger side. I had fun watching people do this.

Lisbon - 35 Euro (breakfast – 3 Euro)
Residencial Saldanha
Av. da República n.º17, 1º
1050-185 Lisboa

A dump in a mostly commercial area.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 20th, 2009, 05:31 PM
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May I ask how you decided on Portugal?

Regarding the several dumps you stayed at, in hindsight, would you rather have paid more for a nicer place (and/or with private bath), or would you keep these places in order to stay within your hotel budget?
yk is offline  
Oct 20th, 2009, 06:07 PM
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Hi yk,

Portugal has been on my top 5 list for a while but I'm not sure how it got there. I choose Portugal for this trip because it's small and I thought I could see quite a bit of it in 2 weeks, it's some place I've never been and don't know many people (other than folks on this board) who have been there. It's inexpensive and I could book a non-stop flight using FF miles. I'm always undecided between an old favorite place or some place new so I decided that every other trip would be to a new place. Thus Portugal.

I absolutely would have like to spend more money and stayed in better places but I had a tight budget for this trip. In retrospect, I would have booked a place in Lisbon closer to an area with more cafe activity for the evening, even if it meant a bit more money. Considering the other hotels, outside of Lisbon, I probably would have booked better places and shortened the trip by a day or two but you never know about a hotel until you get there. Price per night is not always an indication of value since the hotel in Tomar was only 23 Euros with breakfast - by far the least expensive place and the best value.

The hotel bathrooms were all clean, the bed linens were clean, and there were no bugs so I saw no reason to move out and spend more money or spend time needlessly to find another place for the same money since I figured all the cheap places were probably about the same. The places I describe as "dumps" were shabby and the carpeting definitely needed cleaning or at least vacuuming but I just kept my shoes on in the room. Dusting was definitely a low priority.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 20th, 2009, 08:20 PM
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Good info, adrienne. I'm glad to hear the dumps weren't intolerable, hopefully they weren't bad enough to spoil things. I've always imagined Portugal as beautiful and inexpensive. Looking forward to reading more.
Apres_Londee is offline  
Oct 21st, 2009, 05:18 AM
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Hi, Adrienne,
Thanks for such specific information, it is really helpful -- it's hard to find good solid reviews of cheaper places.

Looking forward to reading more, Laurie
lreynold1 is offline  
Oct 21st, 2009, 07:49 AM
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Thanks for your thoughtful reply, adrienne. I'm always curious how posters choose their destinations, esp the not-so-popular ones. And of course, I'm a low-budget traveler too!

Another question, I suppose you've driven in Europe before; and it's a manual you rented? You didn't have trouble driving and navigating all on your own with the Michelin Map (I assume you didn't have a GPS)?

I'd love to visit Portugal some time, but the logistics (getting there; getting around, esp if I'm going alone) have kept me from heading there. Therefore, your TR provides lots of good info and insight of how to *do* it. Fortunately, my husband has relatives in Portugal, so chances are we'll go together rather than just me.
yk is offline  
Oct 21st, 2009, 12:22 PM
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Hi yk,

I have driven in France, Italy, England, Scotland, and Malta. Malta and Scotland were the hardest. I always rent a manual transmission. I have never owned an automatic car (and I've been driving for decades) so a manual transmission is natural for me. The only thing I now remember to do is to ask where reverse is located. After not being able to find reverse in France and having to push the car to turn it around (yikes!) I always remember to ask where that gear is.

No GPS. I've never used one and decided that the Michelin map would do me well and it did. The road signs are good. I only had problems within towns but I don't think a GPS would work that well with small one-way streets. It was so easy to hang out the car window and show people the address I needed, look bewildered and say Estoy Perdida!! LOL

Estoy Perdida is Portuguese (female form) for "I'm lost." Some folks at the airport helped me learn how to say it and they had a good time laughing at me (good naturedly, of course) and asked if I thought I would really need to know estoy perdida. I assured them it would be the most valuable Portuguese phrase I could learn and it was! I wandered around Portugal saying Bom Dia and Estoy Perdida.

More to come very shortly.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 21st, 2009, 12:38 PM
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Average Expenses:

For folks watching how many Euros they spend, here’s a general idea of what things cost. Prices are for towns other than the Sintra/Lisbon area which are a bit more expensive. Although you can eat very well and reasonably in Sintra. Since I had a car for most of the trip I stopped at Intermarches (large supermarkets) and bought snacks and water very inexpensively.

Coke, water, or juice in a bar - 1.00
Sightseeing admission fees – usually 3.00 to 6.00. The most expensive was the Pena Palace at 8.00.
Postcards - .50 to .75
Savory pastry (lunch) – 1.00
Black coffee (small) - .55 to 1.25
1.5 liter water in supermarket - .40
Dinners with wine – 9.00 – 16.00 Dessert adds about another 3.00
Lunch – 2.00 to 10.00 (no wine)
adrienne is offline  
Oct 21st, 2009, 12:39 PM
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Here's the photos:
adrienne is offline  
Oct 21st, 2009, 03:28 PM
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Trip Report:

Wednesday - After a lovely non-stop flight to Lisbon I took a short cab ride to Oriente train station in Lisbon, purchased a second class ticket (10 Euro) to my first stop, Evora, and waited about three hours for the next train, trying to stay awake.

The Oriente station is a massive concrete cavern and looks like no other train station I’ve seen before. I was only certain the taxi brought me to the right place because there were signs for track 1, 2, etc. I looked for a ticket window but only saw closed windows so I helplessly approached a gentleman and managed to convey my need for a ticket. The luggage trailing behind me and bewildered look convinced him I was pretty hopeless and he brought me to the ticket window around the back of one of the many pillars and told me that the train to Evora left from track 3. All was well. I took the escalator up to the next level and plunked myself down in a café with a coffee and pastry.

After a long while, 2 coffees, and almost nodding off, I explored the station’s lower level which is dark and depressing and filled with shops and cafes. A delicious mozzarella and tomato sandwich on wonderful bread and peach nectar revived me. Time for more fresh air so I went to track 3, on the building’s upper level with a wonderful breeze and sat until it was time for the train. It’s a two-hour train ride from Lisbon to Evora and I slept most of it, waking up only at the penultimate stop, about 15 minutes from Evora.

The Evora train station is just lovely with azulejos covering the facade. I would have taken photos but I wanted to get to the front to see what the taxi situation was. A large group of English folks had commandeered four taxis but one driver said to wait and he would send someone to pick me up. Five minutes later a taxi arrived to whisk me to my hotel in the center of Evora.

It was a short ride from the train station to the center of Evora – Praca de Giraldo. My hotel was just a few doors down a side street, near the TI. A restorative shower and then a glass of wine in the main square where I watched the local activity and then a short walk along some streets radiating from the square. All of a sudden fatigue (and possibly wine) did their work so a nap was required. After a 2 hour nap I walked across the street to the restaurant recommended by the desk clerk in my hotel – Chorrpranna Restaurant.

There were no more tables so I sat at the bar and ordered pork loin which the waiter advised would take 30 minutes. Choice number two, upon the advice of the waiter, was a “typical” Portuguese dish and he pointed to others eating this “typical” dish. It was a plate of pork, potatoes, rice, vegetables and a bowl of broth that they put the meat and vegetables into. I was willing to try pretty much anything as I was quite hungry so agreed to the “typical” dinner. Two minutes later the waiter says they’ve sold out the “typical” and pointed to something else on the menu which turned out to be pork spare ribs with a spicy (but not too spicy) rub, fries, rice, and a salad loaded with raw onions. I also order a glass of wine which he pours from a bottle that he had just opened. All is well and I’m nursing my wine as I’ve just paid 3 Euro for a glass of wine in the main square. I’m on a pretty strict budget so don’t want to spend more than another 3 Euro for wine.

The meal arrives and the pork ribs were very tender and cooked with interesting spices which gave a good flavor. The fries are great. I don’t understand serving rice and potatoes at the same meal and I can’t digest rice so I leave it on the plate. I ask for another plate to remove the mountain of raw onions (which I also don’t eat). I ate as much as I could – all the salad and meat and some fries and ask for the check. I didn’t really like sitting at the bar as it wasn't all that comfortable and wanted to have a coffee in the square. The waiter pulls the half bottle of wine from under the counter and asks don’t I want to finish it. I didn’t realize I had ordered a half bottle so I asked to take it with me. He corked it and put it in a bag. My first dining experience in Portugal was an experience. I was surprised to see that the half bottle of wine only cost 4 Euro. Hmmm…I think that glass of wine in the square was quite overpriced. Total for dinner, including wine, was 9.00.

I walk to the square and expect to see lots of people milling around or having drinks or coffees. It’s like a ghost town! Where are all the people? There was some student activity but not much. I chose a different café than the one that charged 3 Euro for a glass of wine and sat down. Then I spotted a woman who I thought I had seen sitting there earlier in the evening. I approached her and asked if she spoke English and said since we were both alone it might be fun to talk a bit. She was Spanish and said her English wasn’t very good but please join her. Her English was quite good and we talked for about an hour and had a coffee.

One aspect of traveling alone is that you look for people to talk to and meet folks whose travel style can be very different from your own. It makes for interesting discussion. This woman (in her late 20s or early 30s) had just arrived in Evora in the late afternoon so I asked if she had any trouble finding a hotel. She said that she has a large car and sleeps in her car. How interesting. That brought all sorts of questions to mind but I thought the most polite one would be to ask where she bathed. She said service stations or camp grounds offered showers for a small fee. She lived south of Barcelona and was spending a month doing a large loop through Portugal, starting in the north. She would go to various towns and if she liked the way they looked would either stop or move on to the next town. She was going to leave Evora the next morning so typical sightseeing was not her style. She would walk around the towns and sit in cafes and chat with people.

During the hour we sat in the square she was having intermittent conversations with the waiter. It appeared he was giving her directions at times so she was either looking for a party or couch surfing accommodations. I didn’t ask and she didn’t volunteer anything about her conversations with the waiter. She did say that she didn’t normally eat dinner until midnight so her evening was just getting started at 10:30 while my day was over and I was ready for my bed.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2009, 03:19 AM
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Day 2 – Thursday – Evora

Evora can be seen in half a day to one day or use it as a sightseeing base for surrounding towns that are about an hour away from Evora. The town name is pronounced EV-ra.

As my hotel did not offer breakfast, I stopped for coffee with milk and a buttered roll in a café on the way to the cathedral. At the Evora cathedral you pay to see the church, cloister, and sacred art museum. The combination ticket is 4.50; cathedral alone is 1.50, cathedral and cloister is 2.50. If you’ve seen sacred art museums in the past I would give this one a miss and visit the church and cloister. It didn’t have anything really special and it was blazingly hot and stuffy inside. You cannot take photos in either the church or museum.

Next was Igreja de Sao Joao, located to the left of the cathedral, next to the pousada and the temple of Diana. No photos. Admission to the church is 3.00 and the combo ticket to the church and palace museum is 5.00. I bought the combo ticket but again, the palace museum wasn’t very special. The church is small and lovely with Gregorian music playing. The rib-vaulted nave has floor to ceiling azulejos (blue and white tiles with scenes) depicting religious scenes in the middle, putti and flowers below and above. Two small doors in the nave floor, between two rows of pews, show a monk’s ossuary and a cistern. The sacristy contains several paintings.

I wandered some of the streets and looked at the cork items for sale in the shops. Then went to the public garden (small but nice and shady with lots of benches) to sit in the shade for a while. I chatted with a couple whose photo I had taken the evening before and then continued on to St. Bras chapel which was closed. I decided not to wait for it to re-open and headed back to the public garden for a cold drink and pastry (lunch) and then sat on a bench for a while watching the ritual of hazing the new university students. There were several groups of students with painted faces (black and red) and (I guess) upper classmen clad in black robes, similar to English university robes. The students were told to roll around in the dirt, crawl on the grass, squat and cluck like chickens, recite verses and one fellow had to kneel before three young women sitting on a bench opposite me. He then declared his love for one of them and the women were all laughing with embarrassment.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped at St. Francis church, just outside the public gardens (free) which is lovely and shouldn’t be missed. Next to the church is the bone chapel which I did not go into and which was a mistake. The fellow at the car rental agency told me to see it but it was closed when I went back. I later saw a post card of the bone chapel (after I left Evora) and saw how pretty it is so I would recommend stopping in. I think the admission was 2.00.

Back to the hotel for a shower and nap and then a carafe of wine in the main square. I ate dinner there as well since it was cool and breezy in the square and I didn’t feel like eating in a hot restaurant. It was also a good spot for people watching, although there weren’t many people out as the evening progressed. I found this to be true throughout Portugal (outside of Lisbon). People disappeared about 7:00 and there was little or no evening activity. Dinner was pork cutlet (with similar spices to last night’s pork), fries, and salad and the total with wine was 11.30.
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