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Portugal at the Holidays - Trip ReportPortugal At the Holidays - Trip Report

Portugal at the Holidays - Trip ReportPortugal At the Holidays - Trip Report

Old Jan 11th, 2008, 04:28 PM
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Ivy
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Portugal at the Holidays - Trip ReportPortugal At the Holidays - Trip Report


Wanted to post this and make it thorough since when I was doing research for the trip, the info here was really helpful and I=d like to give back. Our stats, myself and DH, late 30s (ok REALLY late), no kids, have traveled pretty extensively throughout Europe over the past decade. Dates of Trip were 12/20-1/4

Decided to do Portugal at the Holidays because 1) we=d never been and 2) wouldn=t be too cold. We used miles on United to upgrade to biz class so we went through Munich. Now, it was much cheaper to fly united to Munich upgraded biz class and then get a separate unrelated flight to Lisbon. We've never done this before, but were willing to try it. Of course, the risk is that you miss the second flight and have no recourse, so what I did was the Munich flight came in at 7:00 in the morning and I put us on the 2:00 pm flight to Lisbon. I figured that way even if we had a horrible delay, we should be OK to make the Lisbon flight. Also, the flight was cheap so if we missed it and had to pay, I could live with it. All went well, we arrived in Munich on time and had oodles of time to kill until the Lisbon flight. They wouldn't let us in the biz class lounge because our Munich to Lisbon flight was economy. So we ate some breakfast, did some shopping and napped on the benches. Munich is a great airport to kill time! Lisbon flight finally left at around 2:30, we got into Lisbon at 4:30 (it=s one hour ahead of Germany, so flight was 3 hours). Lisbon=s airport is mostly old and needs refurbishing. The parts they have refurbished are fine, the old parts are a bit nasty. But we were out fast and into our rental car. We rented through autoeurope, who we always have good luck with. We got a hybrid, so we figured that would help save money on gas! By this time it was 5:00 and dark out but when we stepped outside we were pleasantly surprised by the warmth. Near 60 degrees, so that was nice since we=d left 30 degrees in Washington D.C. We then drove to Palmela, where I had booked us into a water view suite at the Pousada. We checked in, showered and relaxed and had some of the complementary spring water and fruit they left out for us, and then went to dinner in the Pousada's restaurant. There were only a few other couples there, we had great service. The first thing that struck me was the wine list - who knew Portugal had such good wine and so affordable!? Even with the dollar/Euro situation, we could get decent wine from $8 Euro a bottle! And so we did! They served us lovely appetizers, olives and bread etc. . and we ordered the lamb and veal entrees. Both were delicious. They had a dessert buffet which we took full advantage of to sample many Portugese desserts and, of course, we each enjoyed a delicious port with dessert. Then up to bed to sleep off the meal and the big day of travel. Next up - the Alentejo.


12/24: X-mas eve. I was worried nothing would be open and it would be dead and quiet everywhere we went. Boy was I wrong!! Our first stop was Arraiolos because I had my heart set on buying a handmade rug. Well EVERYTHING was open - the stores, the restaurants, and there were people out enjoying the day. It was very festive! We bought a beautiful rug and met the charming woman who sowed it. She did not speak any english and we know no Portugese, but we got along well. The rug is so beautiful! We ended up putting it in our bedroom so I see it every morning. And she wrapped it up very well, it was easy to get back. We then drove onto Evora to see the Roman Ruins and Evora was also hopping! Lines around the block at the pastry places, people buying pastry and Salt Cod for the holidays. The Salt Cod is used to make Baccalau, which is a traditional holiday meal in Portugal. So we decided we would have to try it as soon as the opportunity presented itself. I liked Evora, but was disappointed by the fact that ALL the churches were closed! I was surprised, I figured on Christmas Eve the Churches would be open and the stores closed, but I had it backward! So we missed the inside of some really gorgeous sounding churches (the Fodor's Guide Books described them all so we lived vicariously). Specifically I wanted to see the Se & Museu de Arte Sacra da Se, but it was not to be. Stopped for a light lunch in Evora, just popped into a café to have a sandwich and coke lite (which I love compared to diet coke in the states) and an espresso. Delicious and affordable! Spent the rest of the day driving around the country-side, taking pictures of cork trees and cows and horses. It was really nice to be out in the country-side. Then we drove back to Palmela for the second night=s dinner. Lots of driving today, but it was a really great way to see the pretty Alentejo countryside. My husband did not, at first, have much interest in this part of Portugal but it ended up being his favorite part we toured. It was so un-touristed and authentic. And the people were so friendly! We loved it. Got back to the Pousada in time for a Christmas eve Dinner Buffet which was unexpected and exciting! They had 20 or so Portugese dishes and I bet between the 2 of us, we sampled every one of them! And they had the fabled Baccalau, fresh seafood, ham, cheese just tons of food and desserts. So nice to be able to eat such a good meal and drink such good wine and then just roll on up to bed without going outside. A word about the weather - it was glorious. Sunny and about 55-65 depending on the day. The orange trees and lemon trees were all covered in fruit - it was like a paradise. We hate hot weather, so 55-65 was perfect for us!. Tomorrow - Christmas!


Awoke On Christmas day and had a day of outside activities planned since we figured most things would be closed. We started out with a Cromlech and Menhir of tour! The Alentejo is rich in ancient sites. The DK guide has a Menhir tour and we basically followed that to see the sites. We met some other tourists on the way, I guess everyone had the same plan on Christmas! It=s not Stonehenge but there were some interesting Circles and Structures and were a fascinating thing to do on Christmas. We saw the Alemendres and the Dolmen of Zambuejeiro, which was cool because you could go above it and peek inside! Then also visited some cute towns, we figured everything would be closed, but we could at least see the towns. So we take to the road and drive and we=re passing lots of closed ceramics stores and all of a sudden, we see an open one! So we pop in. It=s a Mom and Pop operation with the factory in the building and the prices cannot be beat!! So, of course, we make purchases. I bought a plate and some espresso cups. BARGAIN!! I was so psyched to find something open on Christmas I practically kissed the owner. Then we went to Evoramonte. A LOVELY town. Not only was it cute and authentic, but we actually found ANOTHER open store! We met the owner, a local artisan who filled the store with handmade items. We bought a roof tile he had turned into a candelabra - very cool. The town is tiny, but lovely with some old ruins. We strolled and meandered, the weather was lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Next we headed up to take a peak at Monsaraz, Terena, and Villa Vicosa. Monsaraz is especially lovely - the bull ring in the ruined castle is so atmospheric (though I would never see a bullfight). But the town is not that easy on a dog lover since there were quite a few homeless dogs. We wanted to grab a quick lunch since we had so many towns to see, but apparently on Christmas, there is no such thing as a quick lunch! The restaurants were serving full on holiday lunches - including more Baccalau! So we gave into the flow of life here and had a long leisurely delicious lunch (of which I saved 2 pork chops and gave them to two homeless dogs.) So it was nightfall by the time we got to Villa Vicosa. So we popped into the Pousada, saw the Ducal Palace from the Outside. Dinner tonight was back at the Pousada - tonight we ordered a partridge pie for 2 that was unreal!! Best meal of the trip, it was so tasty and we paired it with a nice red wine from the Alentejo! Tomorrow: Setubal Penninsula!


December 26: today we checked out of the Pousada and headed to the Setubal Peninsula. Lots to see here. First thing we wanted to do was the Palacio Nacional de Pena right as it opened to beat any crowds, so we got there at 10:00 as they were opening. It was bright beautiful blue sky and the palace exterior is magnificent so I was excited to take pics. We grabbed the LAST parking spot that was anywhere near the entrance (you MUST get here early) and headed in. It=s very high up so you have to take a trolley to the top of the house to begin the tour. Well we get to the top, climb to the front gate and I realize I forgot to put the battery back in the camera after charging it. So it=s down in the car. UGH!!! So many photo ops and I was helpless! It was agony! To compensate we bought a picture book. No photos allowed in the interior. The interior was lovely, victorian and over the top. Then for something totally different, we headed to the Convento dos Capuchos. Wow - not easy being a Monk here. Tiny little rustic cells. This was a very unique site, I=ve never seen anything like it. And we were the only guests there so were not required to follow a guide, we just wandered on our own. So it was very secluded and nice. We then decided to go over and check into our next hotel, the Fortaleza do Guincho. This is a Karen Brown recommendation, it=s Relais and Chateaux. It=s location cannot be beat - the views of the water are amazing and we slept every night with the window open so we could hear the ocean. We were not in love with the hotel though, it had an almost Disney-ish fortress feel to it. It lacked authenticity. But the room was lovely and the common rooms were comfortable with spectacular views over the water. So all in all, a nice place. After checking in we headed out to see Cabo Da Roca - the Western- most point of Europe. It was windy and cold at the point, but the views were great! We grabbed a quick lunch in the town. Then drove onto Cascais to wander around and saw the Ingreja de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao-Estoril. We ended the day with a $16 cash win at the Estoril Casino! This Casino cracked us up. It was built in the 50s and it shows. Very cheesy, but fun. For dinner we dined at the hotel restaurant. This was not our style. It=s got a michelin star so we figured what the heck, but honestly, the older I get, the more I travel, the less I like predictable fru-fru cuisine. The meal we had could have been in NYC or Washington DC. Disappointing and over priced. And the atmosphere left something to be desired. The music was 80s soft rock (lots Madonna) and the carpet was contemporary- McMansion hideous. Second to worst meal of the trip (worst is yet to come, that's a whole 'nother story!)More tomorrow

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Old Jan 11th, 2008, 05:08 PM
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Can't wait to hear the rest! I loved Portugal and would love to return. The wine...yes...so good and so inexpensive!
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 08:05 AM
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Thanks for the feedback, glad you are enjoying it!

12/27: Plan for today Sintra and the Palacio Nacional de Sintra. Again, we got there as the Palacio opened at 10:00. Now, this place is unique! You KNOW you=re in Portugal. The tiles and the furniture and the architecture are very distinct. And of course, the Chimneys! Right under the Chimneys sits the kitchen. So you can go in and look up the great pillars! I really liked this Palace as it felt very unique to Portugal, not just a copy of French design. Next we headed up to the Auinta da Regaleria - a 19th century mansion and gardens. This place deserves a stop. The grounds are fascinating (the house has mainly been redone but is worth a stop). But the grounds hold all sorts of bizarre follies that the owner (an eccentric with a fascination with the crusaders) had built including an Ainitiation [email protected] that reminded my husband and me of some form of Klingon judge chamber from a Star Trek Episode! We had a ball wandering around the grounds through the dark tunnels and over the stepping stones in the lakes. I highly recommend this. We then walked around Sintra, did some shopping and window shopping. Sintra was crowded, even off season. So for lunch we headed to the tiny hamlet of Sao Pedroa De Sintra and had a fabulous lunch in a downtown café.

Our next stop was Quelez! The Palacio Nacional de Quelez. Another massive palace - lots of glitter and fabulous rooms. We just love palace tours so this part of the country was a real boon for us. We could wander in and out of fancy houses all day! Quelez was magnificent, with grounds that were very French styled. It was interesting to read about the royal families and how they lost power. All the places we toured had information cards in English so we never felt that we needed a guide. We generally don=t like guided tours as they take too long and tend to be overly informative for us. Quelez was not crowded at all. We practically had it to ourselves, which was great. By this point we were tired and headed back to the hotel for a drink and to watch the sunset over the ocean, which was spectacular. Dinner this night we walked over from the Forteleza to the Estalagem de Forta Mchaxo, which was down the street. We were one of only 2 couples in the whole restaurant, it amazed me that they opened at all off season with so few customers. But we ate heartily, the food was really, really good. We got MORE Baccalau (you can make this a million different ways and ALL of them are delicious) and also some rice and seafood dishes, and of course, plenty of wine.
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 11:38 AM
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Hi Ivy,
I'm trying to decide if I should go to Portugal in February and I'm enjoying your report. What are the prices like? Did you find it to be an affordable place to travel?
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 01:42 PM
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Ivy-Thank you so for all your information. We are going to Portugal in September. Did you get a pousada passport?? I was thinking of getting 2 that include a car as we need 4 days in Lisbon and after Madeira we need 4 nights to get to the Algarve. I had thought about Pamela and Vicosa for part of our drive. Thank you so much for your wonderful report-Chris
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 02:20 PM
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rosetravels: yes, we did find it affordable! with the dollar so weak that was one of the reasons we chose Portugal, you get more for your money here then in other European countries. For example, a good bottle of wine in a good restaurant can be 8 Euro or LESS. And often the house wine is way less than that. In the supermarket, the wine is like 2 Euro. And it's good wine! also, the food was never very expensive and most sites were about 5 euro to get in. you should have no problem looking for ways to save money!

Chris: we did not get a passport since we stayed in only one pousada, but if I had it to do over again, I would have stayed at more pousadas. They are really nice, very authentic, a great value, all in all very well worth it. We like Palmela a lot, we also liked the looks of the ones in Villa Vicosa and Estremoz. Evora looked good too! The only one I did not like was Ourem, which is coming up in my trip report. too modern, like best western kind of furniture.

Glad you all are enjoying the report - more to come!
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Old Jan 12th, 2008, 02:57 PM
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12/28:

Checked out of the Fortaleza this morning and headed into the Obidos area. One thing, I know this may sound silly but just FYI, I had written postcards to send to family and I kept looking for a place that sold stamps and could find none. In Portugal, the Tabacs don’t carry stamps, you have to get them from a post machine or post office. So I finally found a post machine, but they had no postcard stamps, only first class. I should have just bought them but didn’t. So I ended up giving them to the Concierge at the Fortaleza and he mailed them –and charged me first class rates. So don’t know, maybe they don’t HAVE postcard stamps? Anyway, just an FYI. If you see a post machine, just by the 75 cent stamps and mail them. Our next stop was Mafra and the Mosterio Palacio Nacional de Mafra. Once again we got there at opening time. They have a tour guide that takes you around, but doesn’t say anything, it was sort of strange. She just sort of accompanied us. This place is gorgeous, lots to see. The library and chapel are highlights. It’s a baroque masterpiece. I highly recommend it if you’re into architecture and palaces. We loved it. Next stop was Obidos! I was very excited for this town since I had read so much about it. However, little did I know, there was a Christmas festival going on until 12/31. The place was a madhouse – they had part of the city done up like an alpine hamlet, complete with fake snow. Since today was like 70 degrees it was very incongruous. That said, the city is lovely, and once we got off the main drag and went up to the city walls and onto the back streets, we could see the appeal. Very charming. Got some nice photos. We had lunch here – simple sandwiches and soda. My husband liked the Portugese beer. Not as much as the beer in Germany, but he said it’s not half bad. We spent some time in Obidos looking around, but really it was too crowded for our taste so we didn’t stay all that long. Our next stop was to check into our inn, I had chosen, based on Karen Brown. It was called the Quinta da Alcaidaria-Mór. Now, I wanted to like this place, I really did, but alas, it was not to be. OK, the pros: beautiful old building, has been in family for 300 years! Filled to the brim with family heirlooms. The hostess and her mother were lovely, very nice people. Now the downside: the room had a bit of a grandmotherly feel about it. We generally love b&bs and anything old and antique, but this was a bit. . . .stale. Also, and here is the big problem. There were Ants. A lot of ants. They were ALL over the bathroom. It was disgusting. I understand it’s an old house but come on! So I decided to tell the hostess. While were gone the next day, she sprayed. When we came back to the room there were dead any bodies everywhere!! She didn’t clean the bodies up!! I was appalled. And then, they came back again anyway – they came back and died within minutes. It was quite a scene. Also, on the second night, she had her WHOLE family in to celebrate the new year’s weekend. Her WHOLE family. It was a madhouse with kids running up and down the halls screaming. At 10:00 pm we had to tell the hostess to please make them be quiet so we could sleep. We had an early start the next morning. We were the only guests here this night and I felt like an interloper at someone’s house. I think she should have just closed for the season and not tried to get our $230 in income. So I cannot recommend this place. OK, we checked in, and then headed out to Alcobaca to see the Mosterio de Alcobaca and Cloisters. The highlight here are the tombs of Inez and Pedro. Sad love story. He loved her and his father had her killed. The tombs were great and the church was quite something. Manuline architecture is so unique to Portugal, we’d never seen it before. It was just fabulous – very intricate, lots of ropes and maritime references. In the evening we took a drive into Ourem, which is not a nice town, but has a nice ruined castle. We took a spooky walk in the dark in the church graveyard and popped into the Pousada. This is the pousada I didn’t care for. Too contemporary. So by now we were beat and headed out to dinner (wanted to take a bath before dinner but, ANTS, so did not bathe the two nights we were here). Had dinner in a place recommended by the hostess. It was called the Locomotive. We were the only tourists there, the rest were locals. No one spoke English and no tourist menu – just the way we like it! Very authentic! The owner was so nice to us and we ordered sort of blindly but everything we got was AMAZING. Oh this was such a good meal. Ate late into the evening and staggered back to the quinta. This night was the night without the whole family there so it was quiet and we sat by the fire in the living room. Tomorrow onto Fatima and Bathala.





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Old Jan 15th, 2008, 06:59 PM
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Dec 29: Woke up to a fine breakfast of yogurt, cereals and rolls. Then headed out to Bathala to see the Santa Maria da Vitroia. Wow, this was magnificent - if you can make it here you should. Magnificent architecture. You can really tell that Portugal used to be a very rich kingdom. The country-side is just littered with amazing structures. We also enjoyed that the tourist infrastructure is very good - all of the monasteries and major sites had gift shops, bathrooms, and some had dining options and snacks. It really was very easy to tour comfortably. Our next stop was Fatima. My husband was raised Catholic so he really wanted to see this and he had promised his Mom and Grandmother that he would bring back Fatima water. So we get there and there are like 100 stalls selling stuff. Everything from wax body parts (you throw them in the fire to pray for health in whatever body part you choose) to bottles of water, to icons to some really really tacky stuff like Virgin Mary bottle openers. It's quite something. DH wanted to get empty jugs and fill the water himself for his family so we bought a few empty Fatima white plastic bottles and a wax heart for his Mom and wax eyes for his grandmother and proceeded to the site. It=s quite something - one huge modern auditorium, the little Chapel (Capela das Aparicoes ) and also the Basilica, where each of the Children that saw the apparition is buried. We toured around, saw the pilgrims on their knees walking up to the chapel and then filled up our water bottles at the fountain. Here is what they don't tell you - the water bottles are NOT water tight! So here we were with 5 little bottles of Fatima water that would leak all over our luggage if we packed them, and which now we can't carry onto the plane because of the liquid restriction! Solution? We poured the Fatima water into a water tight container and packed the bottles separately. We will put it all back together when we go visit the family. If you want to get Fatima water - plan accordingly!! We grabbed a quick lunch and then headed to Tomar, which has a lovely Old Town and also the Museu Sinagiga (oldest synagogue in Portugal, quite moving) and, of course, the Convento de Cristo and Ingreha se Santa Maria do Olival. The Convent was spectacular. Jaw dropping. And the town is lovely. Tomar was a highlight for us. So this was a long day and we headed back to the quinta (to find MORE ants in the bathtub), turned back around and went out to dinner. We went to a place our hostess recommended. So sorry but I don't recall the name - Tomorrow: onto Lisbon!

Dec 30: Checked out of Quinta. We needed to get a really early start this morning to make it to the Monasterio de Jeronimos while it was open and to the other museums we wanted to fit in. This was Sunday and the only day we had to do museums because most of them are closed on Mondays and Tuesday was New Year=s Day. We had a break-neck speed day! So we asked for an 8:30 breakfast so we could hit the road. Well, the night before we had to deal with the screaming children until we asked them to be quiet and then this morning our hostess got up late so breakfast was late. And her credit card machine didn't work. So we paid with a wad of cash and hightailed it out of there. Again, I do NOT recommend this place. First Karen Brown place I have not been happy with. SO we made good time to Lisbon and headed straight to Jeronimos. It was PACKED. Sunday services were going on so the Cathedral, which is magnificent, was having services and they didn't want a bunch of tourists pouring in. So they controlled access, and I don't blame them. We did get in to see Vasco de Gama's tomb though, so that was nice. The actual monastery was a bit of a let down after Tomar, but if you=re in Lisbon and you're not going to the country-side, this is a must see for the Manueline architecture. Next we headed to our hotel. I booked us into the As Janelas Verdes, which had really high rates for this weekend since it was New Year's. But it was worth EVERY penny. Especially after the Quinta. This place is fantastic, beautiful decor and common rooms, the library at the top of the hotel has an honor bar and a great view and is just lovely for sitting and enjoying port. There was also a complimentary bottle of port in our room which was refilled daily. I HIGHLY recommend this hotel. And the location is good, it is right next door to the Antiga Museum, which was our next stop. It's a good museum, and we focused on the Portugese art but they also had some fine pieces (a Bosch worth seeing!). Now, here is where I ran into to the WORST meal of the trip. We stopped for lunch in the museum's café and they had the usual (more baccalau, which DH got) but I was in the mood for something different and I ordered a slice of Asparagus Quiche and a salad. Lunch TASTED fine but little did I know I had gotten food poisoning. I would know it in about 4 hours. So after lunch we headed to the Gulbenkian museum because we had heard it is a real world class museum. And it is - a rich man with good taste amassed an amazing collection and left it to Lisbon. It's quite something. When we finished here we had about an hour to do one more museum. By now, I starting feeling like something was wrong. I became tired, sluggish and pain started in my belly. But I was DYING to see the Azulejo museum. SO we pressed on. Now, sick as I was getting, this museum was by far one of the highlights of the trip. And the best museum we saw without question. If you like tiles, you have to go here. It was breathtaking. By the end, though, I knew something was wrong with me and DH took me back to the hotel. I took a long hot bath and grabbed a nap. When I awoke I was in distress. But we had dinner reservations at a place near the hotel called the Red Nose and I didn't want to be a bummer (and I didn't realize how bad off I was). So I said I would go to dinner and sit with DH while he ate and maybe I would have some soup. We get to the restaurant, and we order. The owner was so nice, I explained that I had an upset stomach and he said he would make me chicken soup. DH started to eat and I excused myself to the ladies room. Well - yikes. I threw up 4 times, violently. It was horrid. My whole body was in agony. I cleaned up myself and the bathroom as best as I could and went back to the table. One look at me and DH said that's it, we're taking you back to the room. So he explained my plight to the owner who was horrified and worried it was his food. I assured him it was not, as I had eaten NOTHING there. They packed up the food for DH while he took me back to the hotel and they even corked his wine for him so he could have it back at the hotel, they were so nice. I took another bath, got into bed with the garbage can by my bedside and slept a hard sick, sleep. DH watched TV and ate his dinner alone. I felt like a total downer, but I was really sick. No more vomiting though - so that was good. Next day - things get better for my stomach!

12/31 New Year's eve. I awoke to feel sore and sluggish, but my stomach felt better as each hour passed. We had big NYE's plans for dinner so I was determined to eat light all day so that my stomach could handle good food and wine for dinner. For breakfast I had some bread and water. Then we headed out to the Ajuda Palace. The fodor's guide did not rate this highly but I loved it! Exquisite rooms and some amazing ceramics. And again, we had the whole place to ourselves. I took it slow and stopped often for breaks. We then spent the remainder of the day strolling neighborhoods like the Chiado and the Bairro Alto. We followed the Fodor's guide walks, which were very good. We took the elevator da gloria and the Santa Justa (both quite fun). We lunched at the Trinidad - great tiles here as well and the food LOOKED great. I got a salad and a plate of rice. Both went down and stayed down, so I was happy. We popped into the Vinho do Porto. I SO wanted a glass of port, but my stomach said no, so DH got one and I enjoyed vicariously. I would like to do this place again in life so I can do a whole proper port tasting. Just bad luck that I wasn't up to it today. We then headed back to the hotel for a nap since I was tired. Now for dinner I had made a reservation for 8:00 at the Alcantara Café which I got from the Fodor's guide. The Fodor's guide really talked it up. The thing is, the fodor's didn't mention that Alcantara is a hip, happening spot. Not a typical restaurant at all. It also didn't mention that it is in a neighborhood that is equivalent to the meat packing district in NYC - run down and seedy but hip and happening for night life. I had with me my reservation email which specified 8:00 pm but the cabby dropped us off in front of what looked like a garbage strewn abandoned warehouse with no restaurant in site. We got there at 7:45 and it was desolate. I started to feel a little panicky because the neighborhood was not inviting and nothing was open! And I had paid a $100 deposit on the dinner, so it wasn't like we could just ditch it. We wandered until we found an open place and asked them where Alcantara was. They told us we were in the right place, but it didn't open until 9:00! It's linked to a hip nightclub called the W. So we went back and found the door - a large steel factory door and found where it said Alcantara and just stood there, not knowing what to do! Finally a DJ pulled up and started unloading equipment into the back door. I ran up to him and showed him my email and said "am I supposed to stand out here for another 45 minutes because you people told me 8:00 when you don't open till 9:00??" I know it wasn't the Djs fault but I was desperate. He must have told the owner, because they opened the door for us and let us wait inside. The owner explained that usually they open at 8:00 but on New Year's Eve they open at 9:00. He apologized for the confusion and let us wait at the bar. But they didn't give us anything on the house, not even one free drink, which I thought was obnoxious. Once we were seated at the bar and had drinks we looked around. It is indeed a lovely place - but not all that different then a hip place in any other city in the world. We were finally seated at 8:45 and other couples started to arrive. It was a fixed price menu and had 5 courses, of which my stomach could handle 4. I didn't eat the steak, but did fine with the seafood. The food was awesome, that I will admit. We were so out of place though. We had dressed in our sort of preppy business casual attire and the clientelle of this place was decked out in night-time party outfits. Fur stolls and LOTS of black and way to much makeup. It was a tragically hip crowd. We were the only Americans and the staff seemed genuinely surprised we were there. We left at about 11:30 and got a cab back to the hotel where we rang in then new year on the terrace of the hotel with other guests and watched the fireworks over the water. It was fun low key - like we like.

1/1: New Year's day and our last full day in Portugal. We had planned the day to accommodate most things being closed. We slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. Our plan for the day was outdoor sites like the Torre de Belem and the Monument of Discoveries. Then we headed to the Castelo de Sao Jorge - which has great views of the city. There were a lot of other tourists around, everyone seemed to have our same ideas on a good new year's day itinerary. We wandered around the Alfama, which I really liked, and popped into some major churches in the area. It was a leisurely day. Lisbon is a really nice city for walking, just walking. We strolled all day. Had a great lunch in a wine bar in the Alfama. Cozy and yummy vegetable soup and a sandwich with house wine (my stomach was fine by now). Back to the hotel for another nap. I found these couple of days very relaxing - it's nice to stroll around and stop for drinks and nap. Portugal has so much to see that you can't do that all the time, but since we had had a pretty long trip, we felt we could lighten up the last couple of days. For dinner this night we went to the Bairro Alto and went to a Fado place recommended by the hotel to eat and see a show. It was touristy, didn't feel all that authentic, but we're no experts on fado and the singing was nice and the food was good so we were happy. You need to reserve one of these places in advance though - they get crowded!

Jan 3: we flew back to Munich and spent the night there and then flew home the next day. All went well with the flights. This has been a long trip report and I could go on and on, but I won't! Portugal is great - I recommend it at any time of the year. Happy to answer questions.
Ivy is offline  
Old Jan 15th, 2008, 08:07 PM
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You've made Portugal sound so inviting, thanks for a great read.I hope to go one day and there isn't that much written about it here.
susanna is offline  
Old Jan 16th, 2008, 08:15 AM
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Ivy. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your report.
I always love to read info about Portugal as we did visit and loved it.
Also, it is nice to know that you can really do a lot during the holiday season.
I think you had a great trip.
Sher is offline  
Old Jan 16th, 2008, 09:19 AM
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Sorry to hear about your illness, but fortunately your trip was long enough to have lots of time for enjoying yourself. You really saw a lot! It makes me realize how much more there is that I haven't gotten to.

I was so intrigued by our short stay in the Alentejo last summer that I would love to go back there for a longer time to explore more. Just loved driving around and finding the prehistoric structures dotting the landscape among the cork and olive trees.

Thanks for the report!
Nikki is offline  
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