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jeffergray Dec 24th, 2019 09:00 PM

Portugal: A Photographic Trip Album
I visited Portugal for two weeks back in the spring, from 4/27 through 5/10. The weather was beautiful and I loved the trip. Sometime, I'd like to publish a written trip report, but for now I'm posting a link to a photo album on Flickr where I've begun posting the photos. I've also created some other individual albums for particular places (Lisbon/Sintra, Coimbra, etc.). These photos reflect my interest in history, architecture, art, and both urban and natural landscapes.

I started in Lisbon, and visited Sintra and Queluz from there. Then I rented a car and headed north, through Mafra and Obidos and Alcobaca to Coimbra. After touring Coimbra, I visited the Roman ruins at Conimbriga; the abbey of Batalha; the complex of the Knights Templars/Order of Christ at Tomar; and the Templar castle on the island of Almourol before continuing to Marvao near the Spanish border. After visiting Marvao, I visited Castelo do Vide and Elvas before driving on to Evora. After touring Evora, I continued on to the south coast, where I spent one night in Albufeira and two in Lagos, exploring the south coast from just west of Tavira to Cape St. Vincent. Then I drove back to Lisbon and flew home. Sorry - no Porto or the Douro valley.

I would also be glad to respond to questions anyone has about prospective Portugal trips of their own.

Here's the link:

Adelaidean Dec 24th, 2019 11:15 PM

Really enjoyed your fabulous photos, working my way through your other albums.

jeffergray Dec 25th, 2019 06:53 AM

Thank you! My pleasure.

jeffergray Jan 25th, 2020 07:31 AM

My Portugal Trip: Planning and Preparations
I've decided to continue with a written trip report as well. Due to work pressures, I will be posting this in a series of installments as time permits. I'll begin with some explanation of my preferences and planning process.

Portugal is a really hot destination for Americans these days (I recently saw Lisbon listed on Kayak as # 6 of the Top Ten Trending Destinations this year). And no wonder -- there's great stuff to see, both in terms of history and landscapes; it's economical; it's easy to get around; and there are plenty of English speakers (the southern Algarve coast is basically England's substitute for not having a Florida of its own). It had actually been a travel objective of mine for a long time, but two earlier attempts to get there fell victim to unexpected circumstances, and so it wasnít until this year (at the age of 62) that I was finally able to make it happen.

For me, at least, it was well worth the wait. Iím an experienced traveler who loves history, architecture, art, photography, hiking, and exploring local gastronomic options. I was traveling solo on this occasion, which freed me to set as demanding a pace as I wanted to Ė and that can be pretty demanding, so donít feel that you should necessarily take your cues from me!

I flew over and back on Delta (Saturday, April 27 through Friday, May 10). The ticket cost me around $875 RT, and I picked it up when I saw a good price in August of 2018. I kept my alerts in place after I made the purchase, and I donít recall ever seeing anything much less expensive than what I paid Ė if anything, the rates more commonly seem to run $1050 - $1300. It was a connecting flight to JFK in New York and then direct to Lisbon. My experiences with Delta as a trans-Atlantic carrier have been quite positive.

To get some background on Portugal before I left, I read ďThe Portuguese: A Modern History,Ē by a journalist named Barry Hatton (very good on recent political and economic history, and on the national character; Hatton has lived there for many years); and Volume I of ďA History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire to 1807" by A.R. Disney. Both are available on Kindle. For the more casual traveler, I would recommend Hattonís book. Disneyís book isnít overly long (c. 350 pages) and it gives you a good overview of Portugalís history from c. 1130-1807, but he is a well-regarded academic historian, not a popular one (i.e., he is writing more to inform, than to dazzle or entertain), and thus I would only recommend his book if you have a deep interest in history. However, the area of central Portugal that I planned to spend much of my time in is the heartland of Portuguese history, and it really added something to know at least some basic information about the kings and queens whose buildings and tombs I was seeing.

For guidebooks, I relied mainly on ďThe Blue Guide: PortugalĒ (always great for history, art, architecture, and earlier travelerís accounts) and the 9th edition of Rick Stevesís guidebook (2017), supplemented by some photocopies from Fodorís and Lonely Planet and the DK (Doring-Kindersley) Eyewitness Guide (for the color pictures) and TripAdvisor for hotels and restaurants. National Geographic Traveler also has a shorter Portugal guide thatís good to use for figuring out what you want to see - again, beautiful color photos and nice short lists of ďDonít MissĒ things and experiences, but it doesnít have enough detail to rely on it as a primary guide while traveling, and is heavier than you would want to pack. In retrospect, I wish Iíd made more advance use of Wikipedia for some of the destinations along my way Ė some of the places I went through (notably Marvao) turned out to have remarkably comprehensive articles, far beyond what any individual guidebook would be able to offer you. If you donít have time to check these out in advance, I recommend that you look them up on Wikipedia as you reach each destination.

I selected my hotels through Expedia and, backed up by TripAdvisor and Rick Steves in the places that his guidebook covers (it focuses on the major tourist centers). I was pleased with all of them, and except for an initial semi-splurge at the Hotel Santa Justa in Lisbon ($250 range), everywhere I stayed was between $70 and $130 per night, with a number of them below $100.

My planned itinerary (there was one adjustment en route, as explained below) was:

Nights 1-4: Lisbon
Night 5: Obidos
Nights 6-7: Coimbra
Night 8: Marvao
Night 9: Evora
Night 10: Albufeira
Nights 11-12: Lagos
Night 13: Lisbon

I rented a car (through Hertz) for ten days, and covered about a thousand miles. Unfortunately, itís been 25 years since I drove a manual on a regular basis, so I decided to get an automatic. That wasnít a big problem in Italy on our 2018 trip, but with Hertz in Portugal, your choices in the automatic range were limited to a tiny Fiat with virtually no storage space or a Mercedes. So I went with the Mercedes. It was a pleasure to drive, but painfully expensive, and it certainly caused me some nervous moments when negotiating twisting or confined spaces (like some small town streets and parking garage ramps). Also, the cost was inflated by getting the GPS option, which ultimately proved to be far less useful than Google Maps on my IPhone, which worked perfectly once I learned that I was better off relying on it.

In terms of the timing of the trip, I love traveling in southern Europe in the mid-springtime. The daytime temperatures are generally pleasant, but itís usually warm enough to swim after mid-April. The wild flowers are still in bloom and the rest of the vegetation hasnít yet been burned brown by the summer heat. The tourist crowds are thinner and the days are long enough to allow for extended sightseeing (sunset usually came at around 8:20 - 8:30 during my trip). I chose to go later in April (leaving 4/27) to reduce the risk of rain, and was amply rewarded. In mid-April this year, there was rain about 50% of the time in the couple of weeks leading up to my trip. By the time I got there, I had overcast or drizzly weather for only portions of three of the 13 days I was in-country.

To be continued . . . .

Adelaidean Jan 25th, 2020 12:37 PM

I like reading the planning, so thanks for this.

I think some people might just be clicking on the one Flickr photo and not able to proceed through your see it’s had a lot of views, whereas the others not so much.

Maybe insert some some into your text as you go, as your photos are fantastic!

xyz99 Jan 25th, 2020 12:39 PM

Great photos and I'm glad you decided to write a TR. We'll go in September and while everything is pretty much planned, we haven't bought the flight tickets yet. We're in NJ and prisoners to United with fares around 13-1400 that don't seem to go down. I've been following them for a few months now and nothing....
Our interests are almost exactly the same as yours, so I'll follow your TR with much interest, even though our itinerary will be a little bit different (with Porto and Douro Valley instead of Evora and Lagos).

How did you get this perspective in this photo?

bdokeefe Jan 25th, 2020 12:54 PM

xyz99- Confused by the ticket prices you're seeing. You can fly TAP direct out of Newark for around $740 usd in September.

jeffergray- thanks for posting. Portugal certainly is getting 'hot' on the tourist market. Still affordable and a great time to visit. We were in country same time as you and had a great trip.

xyz99 Jan 26th, 2020 05:30 AM

bdokeefe, we are looking at United, as we are hoping for Premium Economy seats. From what I see, TAP only has plain Economy and Business. But the price difference is huge, so I think we'll have to deal with less leg room with TAP...
I just got the United notification today, price for our dates jumped to $1693, and that's basic economy. Crazy!

jeffergray Jan 26th, 2020 07:17 AM

xyz99, I'd like to say I did it by levitating, but there's an upstairs balcony in the Jeronimos Monastery church, probably right in front of the organ.

xyz99 Jan 26th, 2020 10:18 AM

Originally Posted by jeffergray (Post 17052801)
xyz99, I'd like to say I did it by levitating, but there's an upstairs balcony in the Jeronimos Monastery church, probably right in front of the organ.

Ha-ha-ha, good to know, I'm not good at levitating :-)
I'll make sure to look for the entrance, thanks!

KarenWoo Jan 26th, 2020 10:47 AM

Your photos are beautiful! You have a good eye for composition, angles, and details. We only had time to visit Lisbon and Sintra. Queluz looks stunning! And I would love to visit Marvao. We need to return to Portugal! Your photos end at Marvao. Did you post photos for Evora and the Algarve? What is your opinion of the Algarve? I have read conflicting reports.

jeffergray Jan 26th, 2020 06:58 PM

xyz99, as I recall, the entrance to the balcony isn't from the main church, but is instead from the second level of the adjoining cloister.

jeffergray Jan 26th, 2020 07:00 PM

Also, don't miss the tomb of Vasco da Gama, which is sort of off to the left around the corner from the altar area in the church. However, if you've read Conquerors, Roger Crowley's book about the Portuguese voyages to India and the often savage means by which they carved out a place for themselves there, you will have very mixed feelings about him.

jeffergray Jan 26th, 2020 07:17 PM

Thank you, karenwoo! I will be getting to my photos of Evora and the Algarve once I finish Castelo da Vide and Elvas. As for the Algarve, I definitely recommend it. Sagres and Cape St. Vincent are amazing, as is the coastline to the east of Portmaio, and the cliffs just to the south of Lagos (the Ponta da Piedade is not to be missed). I liked Lagos (where I found a wonderful little boutique hotel outside of it called the Quinta Bonita) and also the castle/cathedral town of Silves, and there's a small, azulejo-covered church (Sao Lourenco) near Loule (closest to a village called Almansil) that I think is one of the most beautiful I've seen. There's also a beautiful beach to the east of Albufeira that I think is called the Praia Falesia. So I do think the Algarve is worth a visit -- those cliffs were like nothing I've ever seen.

But it is also true that mass, package tourism has overrun whole stretches of the Algarve. Albufeira is sort of like Fort Lauderdale on a clifftop, with big glitzy hotel after big glitzy hotel, most of them set up so that you hardly even need to leave the property if you aren't motivated to -- I thought of them as like big cruise ships that somehow got marooned on land.

When are you making your trip?

xyz99 Jan 27th, 2020 03:11 AM

Originally Posted by jeffergray (Post 17053201)
xyz99, as I recall, the entrance to the balcony isn't from the main church, but is instead from the second level of the adjoining cloister.

Thanks for this additional note. I'm sure we'll spend a good amount of time at the monastery, it looks beautiful. I haven't read Conquerors, but now I want to. I'm sure that creating an empire was not simple, peaceful or pretty. Unfortunately, this was not the only such case in history.

passported Feb 1st, 2020 03:31 PM

Enjoying your trip report! We leave in a month, so am eager to read the rest!

We are also renting a car and staying in Alcobaca (1 night) and Coimbra (2 nights) between Lisbon and Porto. Was planning on going to Tomar from Alcobaca on way to Coimbra. Would like to know how you enjoyed Coimbra as we are also staying 2 nights in order to have 1 full day there.

progol Feb 2nd, 2020 03:20 AM

This is great and very helpful! Love the photos!

I'm now planning a last minute trip to Spain and Portugal and will arrive mid-April (fingers crossed that it's not too rainy!). This is after canceling our trip to China, so I'm a tiny bit fried from planning trips, but Portugal looks lovely. We have 20 days to figure out, beginning in Lisbon and ending in Porto. I'll be asking questions soon!

msmars Feb 22nd, 2020 06:27 PM

I just purchased tickets with TAP out of Boston for $580 each. September 12-26. I booked directly from TAP website. I grabbed them the minute I saw them! Best price I’ve seen!

Fishnlines29 Feb 23rd, 2020 05:43 AM

Thanks for posting your prep - very helpful and your photo album is beautiful.

jeffergray Mar 2nd, 2020 06:52 PM

A full day in Coimbra

I don't know if you're already on your way to Portugal, but I loved Coimbra. I likewise stayed for two nights so that I could have a full day there. I was at the Ibis Hotel on the road running along the Mandego River, which provides basic but inexpensive accommodations and a friendly and helpful staff. Its location facilitated covering the old town entirely on foot. Rick Steves's guide says that "Coimbra is second only to Lisbon," and I would agree with that (while having to confess that I haven't yet been to Porto). Unless there's some weird early March break, you will be there when school is in session, which added much to the enjoyment of my visit, as Portuguese students wear these unisex Harry Potter-ish black capes, white shirts, black ties, and black skirts or trousers that are very picturesque. Colored ribbons distinguish which schools they are affiliated with.

Coimbra's highlights for me were -- well, pretty much everything. The Church of Santa Cruz, which Portugal's founding king and his son are entombed, is a sprawling complex that is worth a thorough tour. Here are a couple of images:

I loved the Museum Machado de Castro -- but it helps to be medieval and Renaissance art buff. There is some really unique statuary in there. Even beyond that, however, the museum offers two great attractions. The first is its modern cafe (with buffet), which commands a sweeping view down the hill to the old cathedral, and then to the river and the hills beyond. The second is the Cryptoporticus of Aeminium, which were the support and mercantile structures that provided a base for the forum of the old Roman town. It's beautifully preserved and amazing to walk through.

Here's the view from the museum's cafe:

Beyond that, the major halls in the main building of the old University, and the views of the city from its catwalk; the lovely chapel of St. Michael's in the old university complex, with its beautiful azulejos (being allowed to get married there is one the great perks of being a Coimbra graduate); and the astonishing, totally worth the wait to get in, but-God-I-wish-you-could-take-photos-in-there-even-though-I-understand-why-you-can't Library of King Joao the Vth are not to be missed (and I'm sure you wouldn't anyway). I liked the old cathedral (which looks like it was intended to do double service as a fortress); the massive baroque cathedral at the top of the hill is vast and somewhat bland, but does have an impressive dome.

For Fado, I attended a performance at the Cafe Santa Cruz, which was fine and did not require advance reservations. Fado ao Centro, which is on the Rua Quebra Costas, halfway uphill from the Arco del Almendina (the surviving Moorish arch ion the old city walls) and downhill from the old cathedral is also highly recommended, but you should probably reserve for the 7 p.m. performance earlier in the day.

I regretted that I missed touring the Botanical Gardens and seeing the aqueduct that runs through them; these only seem to be about a 5-10 minute walk around the corner from the old university complex.

Also, if you're driving to Coimbra from the south or driving back to the south after visiting it, I recommend spending 60-90 minutes at the Roman ruins of Conimbriga. It's the best Roman site in Portugal, with well-preserved city walls and amazing mosaic floorings from a couple of large late Roman era villas.

I will post links below to the photo albums on Coimbra and Conimbriga that I posted on Flickr.



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