15 Days in Portugal

About this time last year, Dave and I were preparing for a two week vaca in Portugal, and were excitedly looking forward to reuniting with our travel group in another gorgeous destination. The plan was to meet in Lisbon for 4 nights, travel by train to Lagos for 4 nights, then part ways with the group to explore Evora and Porto on our own for another week.

Our flight departed Atlanta without delay for a direct flight to Heathrow where we would change planes on our way to Lisbon. Liz, one of our original travel mates, was on our flight from Heathrow to Lisbon and the three of us would be the last of the group to arrive. Five of us (me, Dave, Liz, Kristen and Dawn) were sharing a large apartment in Lisbon, with Sean & Joey and Julie and Tony each getting their own flats close by.

As our plane touched down in London, we were greeted with the news of a British Airways computer outage that was grinding Heathrow to a halt. We sat on the tarmac for over an hour before we were allowed to get off the plane – we were not prepared for the chaos that was going down in the terminal. All BA flights were cancelled and there were people everywhere. Realizing we were probably not leaving London as planned, we managed to find Liz in the BA Club World lounge where we plotted our course over copious bottles of free champagne. I was able to rebook us on a flight to Lisbon the next day, so we made a hotel reservation in London and proceeded to make our way to the city.

We stayed at the Eccleston Square Hotel, which was wonderful, and found a great pub around the corner for pints and fish and chips. We made it an early night since we were a little jet lagged, and decided to spend the next day sightseeing since our flight to Lisbon was late in the afternoon.

After breakfast we struck out, making the most of our impromptu trip to London. We took the underground to the Tower of London and found a pub, did a quick TOL tour, and crossed the Tower Bridge in search of Indian for lunch. It was during lunch that we learned our flight to Lisbon had been cancelled and we were on the scramble to make new plans. Liz came to the rescue and got us on a flight that day, so we hustled back to the hotel to grab our bags and get to the airport. Despite the best attempts of our driver, we did not make our flight and had to rebook for the next day. We were not happy, but again, there are worse things than being stranded in London.

We finally got out of London and were able to meet up with our gang in Lisbon, albeit two days later than planned, and without our checked bags. We wasted no time getting adjusted to Lisbon’s nightlife and had a fun night eating, drinking and dancing in the numerous clubs.

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We made it! Reunited with Joey and the gang in Lisbon

The next morning we had an early start to tour the town of Sintra and its glorious, colorful Pena Palace. It was a rough wake up, but the hired van was comfortable and the drive was short. The Palace is very unique with its spectacular colors and architecture. Walking along the top, the views of the town of Sintra and surrounding countryside are breathtaking (don’t look down!). After visiting the Palace, our driver took us to Cascais to explore the beach town and its shops, and we stopped at a beautiful restaurant along the coast for lunch.

The next day was our last day to explore Lisbon. We walked along the shops on the Cais Gas stopping for drinks and ice cream, wandered the many parks and had lunch at the grand and impressive Praca do Comercio. We strolled the Rua Augusta, admiring the tiled streets and food smells. We hopped aboard one of the many tuk tuks that took us through the maze of streets in the Alfama where we stopped long enough to soak up the late afternoon sun, enjoy a talented busker and a cold Sagres lager. We definitely needed more time in Lisbon and plan to return as soon as possible to give this lively city its due.

The next day we said goodbye to Tony and the rest of us boarded the local train to Lagos. As usual when traveling by train in a new city, we fumbled around the train station looking for our platform, wondering if we had the right tickets and trying to figure out if we needed a seat assignment. The train arrived on-time and we settled in to our seats for what felt like the longest train ride ever. The train stopped frequently and we were concerned we would miss the connecting train to Lagos. Fortunately the connecting train waited for the late incoming train and we arrived in Lagos without any drama.

Our group split up with Shoey and the girls staying at a house just outside of town and Dave and I stayed in a flat in town. Lagos was a dream – the town, the people, the beaches – all of it! Our apartment was on the Rua Marreiros Neto, a narrow pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants and bars, with a charming park that was visible from our apartment window. Happily, our checked bag caught up with us in Lagos, which was a nice welcome.

Although Lagos is small, there was plenty to do. One of our more memorable days was walking down to the beach and taking the path to each of the connecting beaches. Getting to each beach was like an obstacle course. We climbed through a hole in the rocks to get to one of the beaches that required the use of a rope. After our beach walk we climbed the stairs and gathered refreshment from a clifftop bar, where we returned for a wonderful dinner later that night.

We reserved a chartered yacht for a day to explore the coast of Lagos, but on the morning of our rental, the owners cancelled due to mechanical problems with the boat. We were intent on renting a boat for the day so we hoofed over to the docks and found a tiny little boat that would take us out for an hour or two. It wasn’t quite the grand yacht-day we had planned, but we had a lot of laughs and brought a bottle of Veuve Clicqout to cheer us up (it worked). We took lots of pictures as we snaked our way through coves and caves, marveling at the landscape and the crystal clear waters.

We wrapped up the day at an amazing rooftop restaurant called Mare that was located above the fish market. The views were spectacular, the food was fresh, and the service was friendly and efficient.

On mine and Dave’s last day in Lagos, we spent the day roaming around town, stopping for beverages and doing some souvenir shopping. Dave and I walked by a restaurant that looked quaint and cozy, and I suggested it to the group for dinner. Arribale turned out to be one of the most memorable dining experiences of all of our travels. The proprietor was a British expat and could not have been more accommodating. The food and service of his establishment is only matched by its charm and ambiance. We had such a wonderful night; it was a great end to our group trip. If you are in Lagos, put Arribale on your list!

The next morning Dave and I picked up a rental car and drove to Evora, which would be our home for three nights. Along the way we stopped for lunch in a little town called Castro Verde before arriving in Evora. Evora is an ancient walled city and is not incredibly conducive to automobiles. We drove through the tight alleys to our apartment to unload our luggage, then found a car park outside of the city walls where we left our car for the remainder of our time in Evora. The first item of business in Evora was laundry… I was less than thrilled to learn that the washing machine in our apartment was not working. We did our best to find a laundromat but after many failed attempts we just agreed to make the best of it instead of driving to a laundry a few miles away. Dealing with the car was at the bottom of our list.

We spent the next three days soaking up the history of Evora, wandering the cobblestoned streets and exploring shops and churches. Evora has a number of Roman ruins and an aqueduct, which makes for an amazing backdrop. We had some great meals in Evora; one that stands out was in the Pousada Convento. This is a convent that has been converted into a restaurant and accommodations. Our meal was unique and delicious, and the service was impeccable. I was shocked at how affordable it was – that was probably our most expensive meal in Portugal and it was less than $70 US for appetizers, cocktails, entrees, dessert and wine.

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Roman Temple of Evora

After leaving Evora we headed north to Porto, stopping in Obidos for lunch. We were so completely enchanted by Obidos we contemplated staying the night. This little village appears to be pulled straight from a fairytale, including its own castle. At every turn we were confronted with an adorable house or church, perfect street scenes and an abundance of flowering plants of every color. It was hard to leave this little gem…. we made sure to sample the cherry liqueur on our way out, and promised ourselves we would return for a longer visit.

We finally arrived in Porto and said goodbye to our rental car. Our flat in Porto could not have been more perfect. It was stylish and comfortable, a short walk to La Riberia and it had a washer! We were finally able to wash our clothes which was a Godsend.

We spent the next 4 days exploring Porto, which has a mix of historical and urban areas. We walked a good portion of the city, checking out many of its beautiful churches, parks and palaces, and of course eating. The tuk tuks are popular here too so we took advantage of them to save our feet when exploring further afield.

One afternoon we “crawled” the port wine shops on the other side of the Douro and took the cable car up to the convent. A few nights we dined on the Ribeira, but on our second night we discovered a cluster of decent restaurants in Rua das Flores that kept us occupied more than one night.  On our last night in Porto we were tired and decided to eat at the restaurant right below our apartment called São João da Ribeira Lda. which was amazing. We had the most inventive meal paired with delicious Portuguese wines, all for about $40 US. We still can’t believe how well we ate in Portugal for so little money.

The next morning we took the train back to Lisbon for our final night. Sadly Dave had come down with a cold so after an early dinner we hunkered down in our hotel room and called it a night.

Portugal is an amazing country with a lot to offer travelers, including history, culture, great food, beaches, wines and nightlife, and it’s affordable to boot. If Portugal is not on your bucket list, it’s time to add it and book your trip ASAP!

Until Next Time!

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Stephany

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