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Tedgale Trip Report: Portugal in April 2014 (with Easter in Amsterdam)

Tedgale Trip Report: Portugal in April 2014 (with Easter in Amsterdam)

Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 09:31 AM
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There seems to be some problem with opening those individual photos I posted above. I don't know what I can do to fix that. I think it may be related to the fact that they are officially part of a larger album of Mobile Uploads, to which Facebook does not want to give the general public access.

I just added some shots to the Batalha album -- which DOES open, it seems -- to show you the dinner we had at a local road-house restaurant, called Perola do Fetal. That link, once again, is:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=b9b27ae49f
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 09:34 AM
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Sounds great.

I can not get your photos, the links say, "This content is currently unavailable."
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 07:44 PM
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Nikki, is that also true for the link that appears juin my 1:31 PM post, ie right above your last post?

It opens for me, even when I am logged out of Facebook.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2014, 07:45 PM
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Sorry, shd read: "appears in my 1:31 PM post"
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 03:20 AM
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That last one does open.

I was posting the same time as you were, didn't see your post about the problem opening photos.
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 05:22 AM
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Nikki: it should be fixed now with the other photos too -- I changed the privacy settings and that seemed to work.

From now on, I will set up separate, dedicated "Public" FB albums for groups of photos I want to share here.
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 01:06 PM
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My two friends and I stayed in that exact same apartment when we went to Lisbon in mid-March . . . we loved it, the location, and our landlord, Mario. We stayed there four days and then picked up a car and went to Tomar, Fatima, and Porto. We also stayed in a great apartment in Porto for three nights. We had a fantastic trip and never had a bad (or even mediocre) meal. Our weather was great, too.

Can't wait for you to post more about your trip.

Sandy (in Denton)
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 02:58 PM
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I had to head up to our lake house to check it out after the Cdn winter, so I have been remiss in posting. I will move quickly to my "Top Ten Things to Do in Portugal". But first a friend is coming to dinner, an invitation I had forgot I had issued.

sandy: Mario is a great representative of Fado Flats -- very obliging, very relaxed yet completely reliable.

We did not visit Porto because we decided to confine ourselves to smaller centres. Just a personal preference.

Tomar was one of the most astonishing and enriching experiences of our whole trip and perhaps of any recent trip to Europe.

With Alcobaca and Batalha, we had the architectural Trifecta of Portuguese monasteries. Superb.
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Old Apr 25th, 2014, 08:20 AM
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Quinta da Pacheca: A wine estate, with tastings and tours, now offers luxurious accommodation in a recent addition to the original historic building complex. The public areas are extremely stylish, the bedrooms well fitted with all conveniences. We had a standard room and breakfast, for 100 Euros/ night. Sitting space was in short supply but there was no reason to stay in the room when the public sitting areas were so lovely and so empty. Superior rooms are much bigger and have views over the vineyards. Buffet breakfasts in the airy, apple-green restaurant were as good as any we had on this trip. We had dinner one night and were not disappointed: good food and service at a surprisingly fair price.

The quinta is located on the south side of the Douro River, close to the river itself. It is formally part of Lamego, the town about 8 or so miles away. Much nearer, though, is Peso da Regua (usually just called Regua) on the opposite bank of the Douro. Numerous good restaurants there, too, including a couple of quite chic and pricey ones. Overall, a very convenient and attractive centre for touring the Douro Valley.

Here is an album showing the Quinta da Pacheca, including our meals there, and the nearby Pousada Santa Marinha in Guimaraes, to which we moved for our final two nights before hitting Lisbon:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=e279cc214a

Pousada de Guimaraes: An 18th century monastery, taken over by the state and turned into a pousada in 1985. It sits in large grounds on a very hilly site high above the charming small city of Guimaraes. This 30 year old reno lacked the hip edge of the Quinta and the Imani, but the grand scale of the building, the beautifully maintained original details and the pleasantness of the staff made up for the slightly old-fashioned style. We were checked in my a very young male intern who told us that his dream was to land a permanent job in the pousada, once his training period was over. He seemed too tiny to lug our two suitcases up to our room but that is just what he did: we took the elevator and he sprinted the stairs.

The rooms are in a wing of what were once the individual cells of the residents. Our room was large enough and well equipped. The bathroom was fitted out in granite: the countertop of the large vanity was a piece of solid granite roughly 2.5 inches thick.
Our room looked out over the hillside garden but those across the hall had a downhill view – a panorama of the entire city.

Breakfasts were fine – the breakfast buffets are pretty standard in all the places we stayed. Fatigued, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant one night. The food was good, though not remarkable. The place clearly has certain pretensions to excellence, which meant rather more hovering by staff than I prefer. The bill for the dinner, partly because of the pricey wine list, was much higher than we normally paid – about 95 Euros with tip.

We had a more memorable meal the next night at Historico in Guimaraes: the album shows what we ate. What it does not capture is the lively bustle of the full-up restaurant, the speed and skill of the very capable waiters and the overall feeling of being in the hippest spot in this stylish northern city.
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Old Apr 25th, 2014, 08:44 AM
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OK, after a lot of throat-clearing I can finally start to tell you about our trip. Rather than give you a day-by-day account, I thought I'd give you my Top Ten items from our trip.

After that -- if anyone is still reading -- I may provide a few final insights and recommendations drawn from our experience.

TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT PORTUGAL:

In no particular order, here they are:

1. The amazing motorway system

2. The peaceful agricultural plains and pretty towns of the Alentejo region

3., 4. and 5. The medieval-and-Manueline monastery sites of Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar -- Tomar being easily the most amazing of all, for its combination of setting, gardens, architecture and huge scale.

6. The upper Douro Valley, home of Port production, a visually stunning landscape with a new delight at every turn

7. The Bom Jesus church outside Braga, a short drive from pretty Guimaraes

8. Sintra, just 40 minutes from Lisbon: Though we actually skipped the Pena Palace (just not my period) we had a full, full day seeing the Palacio Nacional and the Moorish castle

9. Belem, in suburban Lisbon: The monastery of the Jeronimos was a great as I could have hoped and the Torre de Belem far more interesting; the local Cultural Centre's art museum was an amazing and unexpected last-minute addition to our program

10. The national Tile Museum (Museu do Azulejo) on the east side of Lisbon was a mind-blower that deserves to be as well known as the very overcrowded Belem sites.

I'll start now to describe them:
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Old Apr 26th, 2014, 06:12 PM
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So glad to see this, Ted. We first went to Portugal in 1984, and had our photo taken at Bom Jesu on our Anniversary: May 1.

It was the first of many trips to Portugal, when we were so glad that we took the advice of our friend then living in Lisbon. He said to go north, so we went to Tomar, Lamego, Guinarais, and all the way to Valenca do Minho, then back thru to see Alcobaca and Batalha.

Very rewarding, lovely country.... Haven't been back in over 5 years - so you are giving me a real treat. (And the motorways have certainly improved tremendously!)
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 04:47 AM
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Thanks for your kind comments. Here's the 1st of my Top Ten:

1. The motorway system:
I have a 1971 Michelin map, 1:1000000 scale, that shows the main roads of Portugal and Spain. When you look at this artifact, you are looking at the road system of 500 or more years ago – the links between important towns of the Middle Ages; and the roads leading to and from Spain, the dominant regional economy, historic enemy and frequent invader.

In 1971, there was about 30 miles of motorway in the entire country – all of it around Lisbon and Porto. Today, there are motorways everywhere – even in places where you cannot imagine anyone wanting or needing a motorway. When we took the A1 from Porto to Lisbon, we realized (when traversing a peaceful rural region) that there was another parallel motorway only two or three miles away.

It doesn’t take long to see how Portugal got itself into its present economic mess: their infrastructure spending could bankrupt a much larger country.

(Portugal has a dwindling population of somewhere between 10 and 11 million. Apart from the two big cities of Lisbon and Porto, there is no city larger than 200,000 people.)

Aside from the motorway system itself, there is a network of limited-access semi-motorways, marked on maps as IP roads, that are free. And in flatter areas such as the Alentejo, some of the N roads are very straight, empty and fast. These are a direct competition to the toll-based motorway system, which many Portuguese now cannot afford to use. Small wonder then that the motorways we drove on were virtually empty. Sometimes the nearest car was a mile ahead of us or behind us.

Some of these motorways traverse landscapes that – especially in the mountainous North – can only be described as “thrilling”. Viaducts cut straight across vertiginous chasms and span broad rivers. Mountainsides have been pared away. Where that was not feasible, tunnels have been poked through the mountains. All of this looks brand new and all of it is being maintained in pristine condition. I’ve never seen anything like it, except in Turkey (and there the motorway system is far less extensive). Outside our Maritime provinces (where road construction has served a political and economic purpose similar to Portugal’s) Canadian roads look quite third-world by comparison.

The consequence was that driving, instead of being a chore, was often a highpoint of our day. I even got attached to our transponder, which identified our car to the toll machinery. On some (not all) motorways, the tolls are registered periodically as you drive, not just on entry and exit. The toll is signposted. As you pass under recording machinery, you hear your transponder sound a “ping”. I was as excited as a kid, waiting for that ping.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 06:57 AM
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2. The Alentejo region:
Due east of Lisbon lies the predominantly rural Alentejo, which – as you proceed away from the coast – shifts from flat plains to rolling farmland and finally the mountains of the border with Spain.

We spent two nights outside Evora, the region’s major tourist centre. I wish now that we had budgeted twice that for this region. In particular, there are a number of outlying towns: Elvas, Monsaraz, Marvao – that we never had a hope of reaching.

We decided to focus on the main sites, Evora and Vila Vicosa, where I wanted to see the monmumental Palacio dos Duques de Braganca. Even in that narrow compass, we stumbled on little gems unknown to us through my research, such as the ruined castle at the heart of sleepy Alandroal. We were absolutely alone as we walked its ramparts.

Estremoz, a “white town” of this marble-rich region, was another surprise. Above a rather dull modern sprawl is a pristine historic centre. An open square is shared by the grand Pousada de Estremoz, a high, square marble tower, a magnificent cathedral, an open-fronted chapel with carved loggia. Apart from the man at the front desk of the pousada and some women arranging Easter flowers in the church, we were alone.

Evora is a hilly town with ancient walls and a disused historic aqueduct. Inside the walls is a tangle of streets, leading to its grand central square, the Praca do Giraldo, as well as a ruined Roman temple, the magnificent medieval cathedral (Se) and cloister and the town’s best known feature, the Chapel of Bones (which the locals do not promote and we did not trouble to visit). The presence of an ancient university ensures a youthful vibe in the town centre. Nearby are numerous prehistoric sites, known as the Megaliths circuit, with dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs; 150 sites have been recorded around Evora.

We ate twice in Evora: For fun, we tried the Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira, which serves a single no-options menu each night for 25 Euros, including wine. It was fine to try once, though we had an unexciting meal. Far better was Dom Joaquim, a handsome, mid-priced restaurant where I had some of the best octopus of the trip. There are many other fine (and some pricey) dining options in this popular town.

The Dukes of Braganca, who owned vast estates in the region, began construction of their Palace at Vila Vicosa in 1501. When a Duke became King in 1640, the town’s importance increased and many courtiers acquired property there. Though it's a small town, the public spaces of Vila Vicosa reflect its regal links and are disproportionately grand.

You must tour the palace with a guide. Incredibly enough, tours are given only in Portuguese and there are no printed materials provided, as is usual elsewhere, to help foreigners cope. We trudged from one magnificent room to another in a bit of a fog, as the guide poured forth a rapid stream of fact and anecdote that we could not follow. My favourite parts were those that needed no explanation, such as the huge kitchen with its 600 (or was it 6000?) burnished copper pots and pans, some of them large enough to bathe in. There is also an ornate private chapel in which young art students were sprawled out on the floor, drawing.

In addition to the palace and its nearby squares and streets, there is a separate hilltop castle precinct (the ducal home before the 1501 construction) with a fine church that is filled with azulejo tilework.

While my research had identified the must-see historic sites, I had not realized how pleasant and how absorbing the open countryside would be. Alentejo is the heartland of cork production. Everywhere we saw groves of the twisted trees, banded where the cork bark had been removed and was regenerating. Olive groves are another mainstay. But the premier Alentejano product is wine and every small village is surrounded, it seems, by vineyards. The full-bodied red wine is very good, by the way.

Alentejo is considered an arid region but after last winter’s endless rains, the fields and forests were all a rich emerald green. Seen in the full flood of Spring, the roadside woods were full of flowers – none of which I could readily identify. There were whole hillsides of what looked like wild roses – large shrubs covered with loose-petalled white blooms. There was a profusion of yellow spikes that looked like a smaller version of our native lupin. There were small pink-flowering shrubs and a pink groundcover. Oddly enough, we saw these only in Alentejo; nowhere in the North did we see anything like this profusion of natural colour.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 11:33 AM
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We are planning a trip to Portugal and are looking forward to your trip report!
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 11:47 AM
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Thanks.

I'll do the 3 monasteries next. This is getting a bit wordy and they are well documented elsewhere, so I will lump them together.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 02:42 PM
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Great report Ted. I was in Turkey last spring and found your Turkey report very helpful. Just wondering Sandy_b if you can share your info on the Porto apartment you rented.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 02:55 PM
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Thanks, WhistlerNorth. I was looking at that Turkey trip report yesterday, searching for a specific piece of information, and was surprised at how much we'd done and how self-assuredly expert my writing sounded!!!

The reality is that I felt very under-prepared before that trip. But everything seemed to fall into place once we got there. It was one of our best trips ever.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 03:29 PM
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Landscape sounds beautiful. Can't wait to see. Having just been in Turkey last Fall I can relate to your comment on the roads.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 03:42 PM
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I decided to put together quickly a photo album on the Alentejo sites and sights I mentioned in the paragraphs above.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=1b66af6f6d

The weather looks quite menacing in these photos!

In fact, we never got any rain and the temperatures were quite mild, despite overcast skies. And the sun did come out sometimes -- though not to the degree it did in the North and in Lisbon. We were very fortunate in our weather overall. Not one rainy day in our whole trip.
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Old Apr 28th, 2014, 10:25 AM
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Great Alentejo pictures, we were in many of the same places.

I loved our dinner at Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira, one of the best of our trip. It was made more fun by the way we became hopelessly lost looking for it and by the chef's after-dinner banter with our Portuguese friends, but I remember the food as being quite good. Of course, since there is no choice and the menu must change every night, it is probably better some nights than others.
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