Tag Archives: portugal

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Visit to Lisbon, Porto and Beyond

For my last post about our recent trip to Portugal, I was inspired by the wonderful photography and stories of blogger The Insatiable Traveler and want to share some of my photos along with a few suggestions and observations.

DO pack hiking boots or sturdy shoes to manage the steep hills. I can’t say this enough!

DO eat a hearty breakfast. All our hotels included lavish buffets in the room rate, which set us up perfectly for a day of exploring.

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DON’T be intimidated if you don’t speak Portuguese. Learn a few key phrases and politely ask someone if he or she speaks English. Most do, especially in the larger cities.

DON’T speak Spanish instead. There’s a long history of discord with Spain, and Portuguese is not a dialect but its own distinct language.

DO venture into grocery stores. I love seeing how local products are different from the brands I get at home, and people are friendly and helpful.

DO rent a car and tour the beautiful countryside.

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DON’T expect world-class museums. If you’re used to the Louvre, Prado, British Museum, Met or Uffizi, you’ll find museums in Lisbon to be charming but not on the same level.

DON’T forget to look up, down and sideways. Many buildings still retain their original azulejos (tiles) and the cobbled streets often have intricate designs.

DON’T you wish your commute was this stunning? The São Bento train station in Porto is covered with tiles depicting festivals, transportation and historic scenes.

DO visit the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia and go wine tasting in the Douro Valley.

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DO try vinho verde, the light, refreshing “green” wine that’s young and slightly effervescent.

DON’T expect high-end shopping. Instead, splurge on local crafts and designers.

DO bring home some hand-painted pottery. Prices are way lower than in the States and the quality is magnificent.

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DO have lunch at Casa do Leão when you’re exploring the Castel São Jorge in Lisbon. The food is good and the view over the city is spectacular.

DO visit historic Coimbra, a short drive from Lisbon. It’s home to one of the world’s oldest universities — worth the trip for the ornate chapel and examination hall, medieval library (which maintains a bat colony to eat insects that could destroy the books) and academic prison, where misbehaving students served time. (Good thing this wasn’t my alma mater!)

DO try local specialties, such as porco à alentejana, an unlikely but delicious combination of chopped pork and tiny clams.

DO ride the tram (especially #28), an inexpensive way to tour Lisbon. However, DON’T bother with the pedi-cabs unless you negotiate a price; they can be more costly than a taxi.

DO visit the markets for the vast array of produce, snacks or lunch among the locals, and great people watching.

DO be aware that tips aren’t generally included in the bill. Leave 10%.

DON’T plan on eating dinner early, though it won’t be as late as in Spain. Most restaurants, even in hotels, open around 7:30 p.m.

DO have a fantastic trip and tell us all about it!

 

Many Ports in a Storm

If, like me, your idea of vacation involves good food and booze, I recommend you spend a couple of days in Porto, Portugal, the beautiful port city famous for port wine (duh).

Technically, we were actually staying in Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Douro River, where – happily – the major port tasting rooms happen to be. We pulled up to The Yeatman, a grand hotel that fairly screams (in a quiet, elegant way) British Colonial Privilege. With its stunning views over the old town and river, it’s described on Trip Advisor as “majestic”, “gorgeous”, “amazing” and “spectacular” with “excellent service”, and it did not disappoint. Having spent 3+ hours in the car driving from Lisbon, we were anxious to get out and explore (code for “drink”).

We strolled down the steep streets to the water’s edge (be warned, it’s a LONG hike back up, especially if you’ve indulged in some wine tasting) to get the party started. Here’s a highly simplified introduction to port, for those of us (a.k.a., me) who didn’t know much about it:

Port is a sweet, fortified wine that’s created when fermentation is interrupted by the addition of brandy, which maintains the residual sugar of the grapes. It’s produced exclusively in the Douro Valley and is regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. Portuguese winemakers blend a variety of grapes, each adding its own character and flavor, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.

The primary families are white, tawny and ruby.

  • White, made from white grapes, ages for at least three years in wood casks
  • Tawny is made from red grapes that age in wood casks, gradually attaining its characteristic golden brown color. Tawny is always a blend of wines that have aged for different amounts of time, averaging the age (e.g., 10, 20, 30 years) shown on the label. Taste for notes of caramel and nut
  • Ruby maintains the fruit, color and strength of young wines. Expect berry and chocolate flavors
    • Vintage is produced from a single year’s harvest and bottled two years later. Not every year is considered good enough to be “vintage”. It improves as it ages in the bottle and a good bottle can be enjoyed decades later
    • Reserve is similar to Vintage though it’s bottled later and is generally best to drink soon after release
    • LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) is bottled 4-6 years after the harvest. It can be left to age (though only for a few years) but is ready to drink when released

All should be served at a cool room temperature, about 60°F. Port’s inherent sweetness lends itself to pairings with many types of cheese; desserts with fruit, chocolate or caramel; nuts; even barbecue or other sweet/smoky foods. Check out more suggestions and info at Wine Folly’s excellent website.

We only stopped at three tasting rooms since there’s a limit to how much sweet wine either of us could drink in an afternoon, and trudged back up the hill to relax at The Yeatman’s indoor infinity pool with views of the river, plus a curious peacock out on the lawn who couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t peck his way into the spa.

We concluded Day One with dinner at the Yeatman’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which began with several chef’s “surprises” (below, four of the 13 courses)
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I’m sorry to report that after eating such a rich meal, both my husband and I — “surprise!”– were hugging the toilet bowl a few hours later. But even though that was about $350 literally down the drain, I’d still rate it a memorable experience. Especially if your stomach is stronger than mine.

A few random travel tips for your next adventure:

  1. Pack a sleep aid (acetaminophen PM or prescription) if you have trouble adjusting to a new bed, room temperature, etc.
  2. Always have snacks and chewable antacids on hand. Traveling with me is like traveling with a toddler; I get REALLY cranky when I’m hungry.
  3. Have an extra book on hand in case of delays.
  4. Pack a corkscrew for that “emergency” bottle of wine to keep in your hotel room.
  5. Carry a magnifying glass so you can read the teeny-tiny street names on maps.
  6. One of my favorite products is Pure Illumination, a light-up lip gloss/ lip moisturizer with a mirror that also doubles as a night light.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t get paid by any of the companies or products I mention; they’re just things I want to share with you. Bon voyage!

Getting There Isn’t Half the Fun It Used to Be

I love to travel. But it occurred to me on my latest trip that it all used to be much simpler.

Here’s what I needed when I was in my twenties: sneakers, heels, slip dress, sweater, jeans, birth control, a couple of t-shirts. Hotel toiletries took care of the rest.

Here’s what I need now:

  • Prescription meds
  • Heartburn/diarrhea/constipation prevention
  • Allergy pills, melatonin for jet lag, vitamin supplements
  • Wet wipes
  • Airborne
  • Biofreeze for aches and pains + acetaminophen day and PM
  • Gold Bond powder and blister pads for my shoes
  • Cleanser, day and nighttime moisturizer, sunblock, eye cream
  • Wood handled Q-tips (hate those flimsy paper cotton swabs)
  • Color safe shampoo and conditioner
  • Sleep mask
  • Straightening iron
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Glasses, reading glasses, sunglasses

Luckily, clothes are less of an issue. As a native New Yorker I dress like a Sicilian widow. Hence, my travel wardrobe consists of black cargo pants, black jeans, black pullover, black cardigan, black boots. Plus two gray tee shirts for a splash of color.

All packed? Now, off to the airport. Allow two hours minimum to navigate airport security (thank goodness for TSA pre-check so I don’t have to unlace my hiking boots) and wait in line to board the “aircraft” (doesn’t that sound unsettlingly homemade?)

Hold on… I know my butt has gotten a bit larger over the years but the seats have definitely shrunk as well! These days, First Class is what Economy used to be and Economy is pretty much “grit your teeth until you land”.

Anyway, we settled into our pods for the overnight flight to Europe, looked at the dinner menu and waited for takeoff. And waited. And waited some more until we were told there was a “mechanical issue.” After an hour we were told to get off the plane because they were “waiting for a part.” Long story short, four hours later instead of flying from Houston to Munich for our connection to Lisbon (and don’t even ask how United figured that going 3 hours further into Europe made any sense)—a connection we would clearly miss—we were re-booked through London. I’m told the Munich flight did eventually take off that night, though everyone had to scramble if they were continuing somewhere else.

We arrived in Lisbon 5 hours later than expected and – surprise – discovered that our luggage had not. Sure enough, it had journeyed to Munich. Luckily, we were all reunited the following day and embarked on a delightful visit to Portugal.

Good thing I’d worn the hiking boots, as I had no idea the country is so mountainous. For any of you who haven’t been there, the cities aren’t easy to stroll around because, as my husband says, “There is no downhill in Portugal”. Nonetheless, the people are warm and friendly, the streets are clean, the tiled buildings are gorgeous and the food is fantastic.

But one other downside of getting older: Used to be, I could sleep anywhere and hotel rooms (and beds) were a luxurious upgrade compared with my cramped apartment. Now, though, no hotel bed is nearly as comfy as my TempurPedic.

After ten days of touring Lisbon, Porto, Belmonte and Coimbra it was time to head home. Once again, we were connecting through Munich and once again I was reminded of how much more pleasant air travel used to be:

We flew Lufthansa for the first leg and had seats A and C; the explanation being that they had taken out the middle seats in the business/first section. Hah. It turns out that B is still there; it’s just covered over with a permanent tray table! So not only do you have the same cramped seats as Economy but now you can’t even use both armrests or stretch over into the middle seat.

Have you ever come home from vacation feeling like you need a vacation?