Dirck in Algarve village
We never really got clear information information from United about what was involved in flying their airline for two of our three flights to get to Lisbon from Des Moines and flying air canada the last leg, between Toronto and Lisbon.
They were fine with selling us the pricey plane tickets that included the air canada flight but seemed to know little about the particulars. (We even had to call air canada to book seats for the Toronto-Lisbon-Toronto flights.) United wouldn’t do it.)So when we couldn’t get a clear answer about whether our bags could be checked straight through to Lisbon (or if we would have to pick them up in Toronto and transfer them to air canada,) we opted to carry on our luggage. (And had to surrender our Swiss Army knife in the process.)
At Coimbra restaurant (where guests tape notes of appreciation on the walls)
we were glad to have our bags when our planned two hour layover in Toronto outbound evaporated as we were sat on the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare. At one point it looked like we would have to wait two hours to fly to Toronto (we didn’t find out until later that a storm had shut down the airport) but fortunately our delay ended up being one hour. We ran thru the airport, went thru some sort of expedited Canadian customs and easily made our 10 pm connecting flight. (Phew! If we had missed that flight we would have had to stay overnight in Toronto and wait til 4:30 pm for a flight to Newark and then get an 8pm flight to Lisbon.)
it was Canadian travelers we met in Toronto outbound who told us that on our return trip, we would be able to go through U.S. Customs in Toronto, before catching out next flight to Houston, which was a relief since we had a two hour layover in Toronto but only an hour layover in Houston (which means we would probably miss our flight to Des Moines if we had to go through customs there). I couldn’t get anyone to confirm this from the airlines but it is in fact what happened. Phew!
meanwhile the air canada planes there and back were old and cramped with NO movie screens. The only option was to use our laptops (or rent one) and get movies via an airline app. Huh?
obidos at night
A few days late: This morning, at 8 am on a Sunday, we had the ancient walled in city of Obidos all to ourselves, which was quite a change from the crush of tourists we shared it with on Saturday afternoon. It was suddenly charming. We walked to the mirrodouro, the scenic viewing spot near the ramparts, and looked out at the fields and villages stretching out to the Atlantic, about six miles away. Ancient churches, stone fortress towers lined with blue and white tiles, purple, red and pink bougainvillea spilling over white stucco cottages.
obidos at morn
Now we are on flight one (of three) to go home. Some thoughts:
– Portugal’s sights and scenery well worth the trip. We spent about the right amount of time in various spots …possibly could have used a second night in Porto, especially to take in the street scene and see some of the contemporary architecture (Rem Koolhause House of music, the modern art museum.)
– The food was better than expected. It’s not Italy but what is? The seafood, pork, beef were all excellent — even the goose barnicles. Grew too fond of the custard tarts (pastia de nata) and sort of like Port now. (But the gingha/cherry liquor, not so much.)
– Bathrooms are readily available and exceptionally clean in places like tourist sites, restaurants, and shopping areas. We appreciated.
– The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) clearly isn’t happening here (why should it be but….). Lots of steps to walk up everywhere with no other options. And basic safety measures like guardrails (on narrow roads high in the Douro valley or on the edge of the ramparts we walked along in Obidos) not to be found.
– We stayed at 7 places, none a dud, all with lots of character and charm, some hipster vintage, others rustic unassuming. Average price $89, with a high of $118 in Lisbon and low of about $45 in Obidos and Coimbra. Our only issue: the occasional too-hard mattress or loud neighbors. Best breakfast hands down: The independente in Lisbon, served on third floor terrace with a dazzling view by cheerful Lourdes (from Cape Verde) who made perfect scrambled egg).
– If forced to choose between exploring north or south of Lisboa, we choose north but both are well worth visiting.
Really glad we talked ourselves into visiting Porto, Portugal’s’ second largest city. I wasn’t looking forward to navigating the city streets to find our out of the way pensione but the city was worth the occasional wrong turn(s). We ended up staying on the street known for its bohemian art scene and little designer shops, which was a pleasant surprise. Pensao Favorita, on Miguel Bombarda, is a charming place. Beyond the unimposing front door is a warmly retro and minimalist 12 room place. We were warmly welcomed (with some glasses of port, of course) and our room was in a pretty garden, among a small row of new brick buildings with a wooden deck pathway lined with succulents. next door was a cool little shopping space (Centro Comercial Bombarda) with lots of small shops, including a good place we followed people to for lunch today…a mellow cafeteria style display with excellent grilled chicken served with several sides (lentils, beans). We ate last night at Bugo Art Burgers, a fun little burger place that was so packed on a Friday night that we ate at the bar, chatting with the sweet young women working there. We picked two burgers that were Made with porto products (namely port) and they were great.
Porto Riberia district
enough about the food. The sights were dazzling too. We loved porto’s ribeiria district, with the tile fronted buildings spilling down to the river. Charming even with the tourists and glad to see the laundry whipping in the wind. Also enjoyed turning the or at stock exchange building, walking up elegant Rue de Flores past astonishing blue and white painted tile churches and buildings, nd visiting the mercado do Bolhao on Saturday morning (where we found russet apples, a favorite I can’t find in Iowa and have found only in Michigan and Spain) then sauntering down the main shopping street (no cars) with the crowds to have coffee at the elegant Majestic Cafe (recommended by our pensione folks).
Our first day we also took the rickety #1 tram out along the river to the start of the Atlantic, where we found a cool glass walled but open air cafe, called Shis, perefect for a light snack and beer on a stunningly beautiful afternoon. last night we made the mistake of wandering around after dinner without our map and had a heck of a time finding our way back to our hotel in the dark. Today we tried to see the rem koolhas music hall but tours were booked until 4 pm (when we arrived before noon) so we checked out a nearby synagogue. (Which was not only closed but very secured, with a gate, barbed wire fence and a guard dog) and the elegant homes near it.
obidos at night
Dirck and I both decided that if we had to choose between a visit to the north or south of Portugal we would pick north. Granted we are not beach people but we loved the rugged scenery and the elegant architecture oF the north.
Tonight we are in the medieval town of Obidios, about an hour from the Lisbon airport where we leave for m tomorrow. Charming old place but packed with tourists, as expected. Much quieter tonight as I type on the Terrance of our rustic Casa do Regolio outside the walls of the city which are lit up gently tonight. We skipped the restaurants inside the walls, opting instead for some cheese and fruit.
We can confirm that grapes really are stomped to make port here in the Douro Valley! We witnessed two guys doing this last night at Quinta da marrocos, the charming farm/winery where we are staying in an old room with rough hewn stone walls, lots of old wood furniture and a stupendous view across the river at a large green and yellow slope ribboned with stone walls and vineyards. One of the stompers was even drinking a beer for awhile while thigh high in purple grape juice. Amazing. We had dinner and “a visit”, a long tutorial from the fourth generation owner of this vineyard, which started with touring the vines and ended, of course, by drinking many different ports. (I prefer the 20 year old pricey stuff of course)
Today we drove west to Pinhao, a laid back little fishing village and took a two hours slow mo boat ride up the river between high hills lined with vineyards and the occasional white stucco or grey stoned vineyard/hotel (including one visited by bradangelina and another by former Brit PM John Major. We ended up driving north to Alijo and having a picnic of cheese, prosciutto (whatever the Portuguese version is called) and fruit at a long picnic table in a shady sleepy square in Favaios. Then we ended up taking what turned out to be a terrifying but dazzling drive on a one lane road out of Castedo that led us onto the roads carved into the hillside that I assume are most used by grape harvesters. Dirck did a great job of driving while I kept saying “go slow, go slow” and tried not to look at the sheer drop below.
Tonight, to celebrate surviving our harrowing drive we had dinner at the elegant DOC restaurant just up the road in a dramatic modern building with an outdoor deck jutting out into the river.
So glad we came here!
(A few days after the fact:)
We are in the ancient college town of Coimbra tonight, the Oxford of Portugal, staying in a four bedroom guesthouse, quebra Luz, in the old part of the city just below the old cathedral. We are amazed we found this tiny place. Somehow we drove up a very narrow stoned road, turned a few corners and we actually in the right place. That doesn’t happen every day. The town feels much smaller and less touristed than Lisbon and lots of students around, wearing their serious black capes.
at coimbra restaurant
It was an easy drive, about 2 hours, from the Lisbon airport where we bade a sad goodbye to our pals Francine and Russ who returned to London ((san Francisco in 2016!) after spending the morning exploring the cute little shops north and west of our hotel, around principle real (north of barrio Alton) visiting the charming house of the great fado singer amalia Rodriguez. last night we ate at one of our hotels two restaurants, the decadente, which was jam packed with a young interesting crowd and the food was very good too.
Tonight we went to a very different place for dinner, restaurant ze Manuel de Ossos, a six table restaurant tucked away in a narrow alley that specializes in traditional portugese food. The place had a line by 7:15, even before opening. We sat in a little alcove covered with handwritten notes taped to the wall by customers singing he restaurants praises. We had the famous Ossos (pork bones) and pork belly in a special sauce. Excellent.
Last day in Lisboa, at Amalia Rodriguez home
Pena palace, Sintra
With Lourdes, the Independente
Hard core tourist stuff today which was ultimately worth it but not always fun. I was excited to go to Sintra, about a 30 minute train ride northwest to the mountains by the coast to see some of the incredible architecture there but new it would be mobbed with tourists as it was.
Still the Pena Palace with its fairytale-esque turrets and ramparts high on a mountain above the clouds with a view below that stretched for miles was ravishing. Loved the colors of the palace too – mustard yellow, deep rouge, blue and white tiles. We had a sandwich for not inflated prices at the little place near the entrance which was much less crowded then the cafeteria at the exit to the castle. Then we took the shuttle bus (5 euros and worth the price) down the hill to the old city to tour the national palace which was also astonishing with its ornate tiled rooms, gold leaf and painted wood and stone details and two very cool giant white chimneys resembling milk bottled, which added to the other worldliness. But we frequently got stopped and stuck between very large tour groups, which got oppressive. Next time:start earlier. I wanted to tour some of the other impressive houses but two was enough for one day.
Back in Lisbon we hit happy hour in the kiosk of the lovely overlook and park across from our hotel and drank beer and lemonade at a wood table with a glorious view of the city, with the castle high on the hill and the blue riverfront and all the city in between and around.
our hotel, the independente, has been great, perfect location, good price (about 117$ per night), funky but comfortable and clean, with a terrific breakfast served by a very cheerful woman named Lourdes who is originally from Cape Verde.
Monasterio in Belem
Busy day and late night so will be brief. Highlights:
- dinner last night at Leopold, a five table place with almost experimental food, with an emphasis on using the freshest and most indigenous ingredients available here. All diners were served a six or seven course tasting menu of concoctions we could never duplicate and will never eat again. Delicious.
- visit to the stunning monasterio in Belem, where we even got to hear a choir singing Congolese z(we think) songs. Talk about great acoustics.
- lunch at the fantastic Mercado de Ribera, a mammoth food court with dozens of equally appetizing options.
On the #28 tram
- the revived riverfront which was packed with people on a sunny Sunday and the elegant Placo de commerce (?) on the river
- shopping at Pull and bear, a Spanish version of H&M where we got some stuff to replace what was stolen (the fun part of getting your car broken into…)
- a delicous dinner of tapas and heartbreaking fado music in a tiny room at Povo (with Sardines and octopus and beer at the nearby sol de pesce, a clever little bar with shelves lined with tins of sardines and anchovies and tuna and decorated with fishing gear. Clever,
Fado at Povo