Friday, April 8, 2011


The next country for us after Italy was Portugal. Unfortunately this put Portugal in a difficult position since Italy and especially Rome are tough acts to follow. We spent a total of 9 nights in Portugal. We started in the capital city of Lisbon and worked our way up by bus to the city of Porto. In all we stayed in four different cities in Portugal. Prior to this trip I didn't know Portugal had four cities but as we traveled I discovered that they indeed do have additional cities outside of Lisbon.

The first stop for us was in Lisbon. We spent a total of 3 nights in Lisbon. Our place of residence was the Lisbon Dreams House. It was a nice comfortable hostel type facility just north of the old city area. The staff was nice and helpful and they served a decent breakfast plus they had enough of a kitchen to allow us (Alethea) to cook a couple of good dinners. As far as sightseeing goes we pretty much just followed three different Rick Steves self guided walks from his Portugal guidebook. We did the Bario Alto, Alfama, and Baxia strolls. Each walk was a little different covering various areas of the old city part of Lisbon. Lisbon only had I believe one 3 star tourist attraction which was a museum but since we just left Rome and have more museums to go we decided to pass. I do not think we actually paid an entrance fee in Lisbon that I can remember. Lisbon's attractions are just walking around and taking in the sights. We did bus over to Belem which is just to the west of Lisbon to the Jerome Monastery which was pretty neat. We saw the final resting place of the explorer Vasco da Gama. We saw where he died and was initially buried in Kochi, India about 6 weeks ago. I guess we keep following him around. The rest of our time was spent mapping out the rest of our itinerary in Portugal as we only had planned our flight in and our first three nights in Lisbon before leaving Rome.

Praca do Comercio - Lisbon

Next stop after Lisbon was Nazare. Nazare was a 2 hour bus ride north from Lisbon. We decided to bus to different towns within Portugal because it was cheaper and more convenient than taking the train. Some of the train stations were located a few kilometers outside of town which makes it a little more of a hassle. Nazare is situated on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a relatively small town with a full time population of only about 15,000. It is a popular summer beach town. We were definitely there during the off season. The town was pretty much empty which isn't a bad thing. It was still somewhat cool too. We were only in Nazare for about 24 hours. We spent our time strolling around town. We also took a funicular (tram) up the steep hill to Sitio and did some strolling up there as well. We visited a beautiful small church and saw a 1,300 year old black madonna statue that originated in Nazareth, Israel. We also saw a bull fighting arena but unfortunately there weren't any bull fights scheduled while we were there. One definite for me was our dinner. We ate at a local seafood restaurant. I had some type of shrimp dish served over lettuce and french fries. I had to peal the shrimp so it got a little messy but we both enjoyed are meals.

looking down on Nazare & the Atlantic Ocean

Coimbra was the next destination after Nazare. Coimbra was about a 2 hour bus ride northeast from Nazare. Coimbra is known for Coimbra University. It is the most prestigious university in Portugal and is the 3rd oldest in Europe. It was founded in 1290. Coimbra has a population of around 150,000. We spent a total of two nights in Coimbra. The first day and evening was spent on planning for our upcoming trip to Spain. It took most of the day to complete. It was a little more challenging since we were making plans for 4 people since Alethea's mom and husband will be joining us while in Spain. On our second day we followed the Rick Steves walk of the city which only took about 2 hours. Coimbra is pretty scenic and has an old town with narrow cobbled stone streets. It is also somewhat hilly.. We toured the various places on the walk including the university itself. When we were done with the walking tour we stopped for some adult beverages before getting some lunch. It turned out to be probably our best meal in Portugal. We ate at Restaurane Ze Manel. It is a local restaurant tucked away on a small street. We only knew about it because of the Rick Steves guidebook. It was a place that Anthony Bourdain would enjoy. We each ordered a dish recommended by our server since we couldn't really make out the handwritten menu. We shared a dish of lamb and a dish of pork served with pickled garlic over red beans and rice. The lamb was good but the pork with garlic was even better. We washed the meal down with a liter of house red wine (we thought we were only getting a half liter but a whole one showed up with our meal). We were surprised when the bill for everything was only 20.40 euros especially since we weren't sure what we had ordered and if he had ordered the half or full portions. He had ordered the half portions. It was plenty of food. It was so much I didn't eat anything the rest of the day. If you are even in Coimbra then I would visit this small (only had 4 tables) restaurant.

Alethea serving up what I thought was the best meal in Portugal

Porto was our final stop in Portugal. Porto is located in the northern part of the country and is the second largest city with a population of around 250,000. Porto is primarily known for port wine. The city is located at the mouth of the Douro River. The Douro Valley is the only area in the world where port wine can be produced and called port wine. Port wine is fortified wine that has about 20% alcohol in it and is made with a blend of grapes and other alcohols. We considered going on a river boat cruise up the Douro River but decided against it because of the cost. It is still off season and not many cruise boats are running or are not running every day. We did decide to go on a port wine tasting tour the afternoon we arrived. We went to three different wineries over a 3 and a half hour time span. At each place we got to sample a white and a red port wine. Good thing we ate lunch before going since these wines were quite strong. We spent the remaining part of our time there just walking around the city and working on trip related stuff. The guidebooks describe Porto as a gritty town and I would have to agree. There are quite a few run down areas but there are some nice areas as well. I think the area would be more enjoyable if it time were spent out in the valley versus the city itself.

Alethea in front of a large cask of red porto

This wraps up our 9 night trip through Portugal. I have been trying to think how I'll describe Portugal. I think I'll describe it as basic. It is definitely different than Italy but doesn't really stand out in any particular way. Portugal doesn't really have in my opinion any must see sites like other countries do. It is cheaper than most other countries I've been to in Europe. The guidebooks mention that it is the least visited country in Western Europe. I assume that is mostly because of geography more than anything else. The people were nice and friendly and we had some good meals that didn't cost us a fortune. I'm glad we came but I too probably wouldn't come here or recommend it unless I was on a trip to Spain and had some extra time to spend. I do have to keep in mind that we visited during the off season and only saw Lisbon and the northern half of the country. I don't mean to sound too negative on Portugal. I did enjoy it and glad we visited. I cannot really think of any real negative except that you cannot purchase benadryl anywhere in the county according to a pharmacist in Lisbon. My allergies started to bother me a little bit more in Portugal due to different plants and trees that were blooming. I used up my supply that I've been carrying throughout the trip within the first day or two upon arrival. Instead I started using a nasal spray that Alethea has been carrying. Her mom is bringing us a fresh supply. Only other observation I have regarding Portugal is the language. There are some similarities to Spanish but not that many. Quite often when I heard it spoken if I closed my eyes I would think the people were speaking Russian or some other type of Slavic language. I expected it to sound more like Spanish but it really doesn't based on what I experienced.


Next stop for us is Spain. We fly in to Barcelona where we'll meet Alethea's mom and husband Ronnie. We'll then make our way to Toledo and Madrid. We're scheduled to be in Spain for 9 nights. Hope everyone is doing well!

Links to photo albums:

Daily Log

Wednesday March 30th
Arrived in Lisbon around noon. Plane was over 30 minute late leaving due to a technical problem.
Took airport bus to stop by our hotel. Cost only about $10 for 2 people.
Walked to hotel. Pretty nice. Lisbon Dreams Guesthouse.
Went to grocery store to get lunch supplies.
Settled in and took naps.
Walked around our area before eating a nice dinner at a local Portuguese restaurant.

Thursday March 31st
Slept in until 9:20. Guess I was more tired than I thought. Took a couple benadryl last night which pretty much knocked me out. Allergies have been pretty bad here. Lot of things are blooming.
Pretty much just strolled around Lisbon.
We took an old 1920's era tram 1.5 loops around the city. Got back off at the top and walked down to an old town square. We then went on another walked.
Visited a couple churches.
Stopped and had a couple draft beers.
Was offered hashish and/or cocaine several times today. Lost count after 7 or 8.
Stopped at grocery store to buy items for dinner.
Processes pictures, blogged, and worked on trip planning things.

Friday April 1st
Spent 1st half of day planning and booking items for the rest of our Portugal stay.
Printed out bus and plane tickets.
Took bus 727 the wrong direction and then looped back to Belem.
Toured the Jerome Monastery and church
Took bus back to hotel
Went to grocery store to get dinner.
Worked on booking hotel for Porto
Worked on blog

Saturday April 2nd
Checked out of hotel around 9 am.
Walked to metro station and discovered our transport passes were only charged for buses and not the subway as originally though. Found bus 746 that took us to Seti Rios bus terminal.
Took bus from Lisbon to Nazare. Took 2 hours. Bus was nice and comfortable.
Got to Nazare around noon. Walked to hotel from city center. Only a few blocks.
Checked in. Walked around town.
Took funicular up to Sitio. Went to old church to see the 7th century black madonna from Nazareth, Israel.
Came back down the hill to Nazare and walked on the beach.
Went back to hotel and worked on Spain planning.
Ate dinner at local Portugal restaurant. Meal was great.

Sunday April 3rd
Took bus from Nazare to Coimbra – left at 10:50 arrived around 1 pm.
Walked 500 meters to hotel and checked in.
Went to grocery store to buy supplies for lunch.
Spent afternoon on Spain planning.
Walked to telepizza for dinner.
**Hit my budgeted amount for money for the trip today. Supposed to have run out two months ago but made it until 4/3. **

Monday April 4th
Slept in until after 9 am which was a good thing since I was tired.
Left around 11 am for our Coimbra sightseeing walk.
We were done with the walk around 1:30 pm. It was pretty but nothing spectacular.
Stopped and had two .5 liter beers at Cafe Santa Cruz.
Walked over to Restaurante Ze Manel – best lunch in Portugal to date. Had lamb and pork chops over riced served in pickled garlic. Also had 1 liter of red wine. Total cost was only 20 euros. Much less than we were expecting.
Came back to hotel. Edited pictures, looked at transport options from Madrid, and blogged a little.

Tuesday April 5th
Took bus from Coimbra to Porto. Bus ride took 90 minutes. Bus was about 10 minutes late.
Could see our hotel from the bus stop. It is very basic and only 30 euros a night. No breakfast but it does have free wi-fi and hot water in the shower.
Walked to tourism office and Port Tours office. It cost to much (59 euros per person) to take one of the boat tours. Would have done if we were on vacation but we have a budget. Instead we bought a 18 euros (for two people) ticket good for 3 port winery tours wihin walking distance here in Porto.
Toured three port wineries. We toured Sandeman, Offley, Frerera. The 1st tour was the best then they kind of went down hill from there. Still enjoyed. Sampled a white and red at each facility.
Walked around back to the Riberia area and found a basic local place to eat dinner. Only cost 10 euros total for two people.
Also, on the way over to the port tours we crossed a very high bridge. Apparently minutes before we crossed someone committed suicide and jumped to their death.

Wednesday April 6th
Slept in until 10 am. Didn't realize I was tired. Our room also is very dark. I still thought it was around 8 am when I woke up.
Worked on some trip planning stuff for Spain.
Left around 12:30 pm. Found nice local restaurant. Had a lot of food for only 10 euros.
Walked around Porto for about 3 hours. Nothing spectacular. Did see some better parts of town though.
Came back to hotel by around 4:45. We both hand washed some clothes so we'll have something clean to wear by the time we get to Spain.
Worked on pics and blog and some more Spain itinerary stuff.
Took our last malaria pills! Been taking them since 11/19.

Thursday April 7th
Woke up around 9 am.
Got some hot water for coffee
Walked down to grocery store that we discovered at the end of our street to buy some breakfast items.
Worked on Spain and then mostly planning for the rest of our trip which is going to be France and Belgium.
Didn't leave hotel until around 5 pm.
Ate dinner at the restaurant we did the first night mainly because we got a lot of food and it was only 10 euros.
Walked around for about 90 minutes before going back to hotel and calling it a night.