Falling For Portugal: A Mai Tai Tom “Trip” Report
Epilogue: Final Thoughts About Portugal
I began planning for an autumn 2020 trip to Portugal in 2019. Little did I know that it would be nearly four years until we could make the trip; but I must say it was worth the wait … and the effort. It took a little bit of time to get into the ebb and flow of Portugal and to appreciate all it has to offer (although it didn’t take me as long as the others, but I’ve been known to fall in love easily … with cities that is!).
Tracy, Mary and Kim were a tad slower than me to get into the Lisbon scene, but I think it was Justa case of getting acclimated to its ups and downs.
The amazing sights we explored, the areas we walked (and climbed … and climbed) along with the historical facts we learned here and all throughout our trip, were fascinating, and got us off to a good start for our journey.
The people we encountered were nearly unanimously friendly and helpful (especially the guy who called an ambulance for an unbalanced tourist). Everyone from the Uber drivers to the staff working at the restaurants where we dined and hotels where we stayed always maintained a personable and professional demeanor no matter how busy they were, and they were usually plenty busy. Plus, we got a first-hand look at Portugal’s medical system (although not necessarily a recommended way to tour a country), and the kindness its doctors showed me.
Between Lisbon and Sintra, Palácio de Queluz makes for a terrific half day trip from either locale.
Visiting Sintra’s palaces and gardens was as magical as I had envisioned. I highly recommend staying at least a couple of nights in Sintra. A day trip does not do it justice. Yes, it’s crowded, but that has never really been a deterrent for us, and at night strolling through town sans those hordes of tourists is marvelous.
Tomar is a lovely town to explore, and its castle plus the surrounding historical sites we visited on the way to and from Tomar were captivating. I recommend getting the combo Unesco Heritage Monument ticket that includes entrance to Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, Convento de Cristo and Mosteiro da Batalha.
Palácio de Mafra was another must-see stop between Sintra and Tomar.
Coimbra is a lively college town, which we very much enjoyed, including the great tour of the university.
The Douro Valley is the perfect location to relax and cool your jets (and sip some wine). Because of hotel scheduling issues, I probably gave it too much time. I think two or three nights would have been sufficient, but I’m not one to usually stop and smell the roses (or in this case, the grapes) on vacation.
Although, I guess, I always seem to have time to stop and sip a little vinho. If it is hot, be sure to take a cooling and relaxing river cruise or a dip in one of those hotel pools! Both hotels we stayed at in this area were top notch.
Finally Porto. We saved the best for last. Porto had a different vibe than anywhere else we had visited in Portugal. It’s hard to explain, but Porto was infused with energy that made our stay enchanting. It seemed the entire city was in a great mood as we traversed back and forth, and the views back toward Porto from Gaia were just as advertised.
We all agreed if we ever wanted to spend some quality time in Portugal, this would be the city to live.
And the food. My biggest surprise was how much we enjoyed our meals throughout the country.
I was wary that it was going to be mostly cod, but as usual I was incorrect, although I’m looking for a place at home that serves Bacalhau.
We consumed so many incredible dishes in our three weeks and coupled with jaw-dropping inexpensive prices, most every dining experience was overwhelmingly delicious. The fruit exploded with flavor on our palates, and I can still taste those melons! As a matter of fact, it’s been difficult going out to dinner since we returned because a comparable meal in Los Angeles is two to three times higher than in Portugal. We ate a lot of food on this trip (not all of it diet friendly), however thanks to copious amount of walking, Tracy and I each lost a pound.
I knew I should have had a few more pastéis de nata. The folks who publish the Michelin Guides must have read how much we enjoyed the food, because starting in 2024 “Portugal will have a Michelin Guide dedicated solely to its own culinary scene.”
A couple of other quick observations. Tracy commented on more than one occasion that the blue skies we encountered in Portugal were a vivid shade of blue unlike any we had ever seen. Gorgeous!
And the street art. Street art had never been much on our radar, but some of it we saw on the buildings and walls in Portugal made quite an impression on us, and we now search it out on our travels and locally.
Holy Moses, some of them were so good we didn’t want to part. Others we had to give an even larger cat scan.
Speaking of Moses, we did hit a few churches along the way, too.
Oh, and those azulejos!
We even had time for Tracy to find some flowers and gardens.
There was no ceiling on the amount of ceiling photos taken.
And we had no complaints about any of our hotels during the entire trip.
In 2012 when the four of us visited London, the unanimous consensus was that we really didn’t need to ever return. Eleven years later, we have revisited London on three occasions. And so it is with Portugal. During the trip, Tracy remarked that although she enjoyed Portugal, she didn’t think we needed to come back. Fast forward just a few months, and we have already started talking about a future trip that would involve Portugal and Spain.
It seems Portugal has grown on us more than we had envisioned, and we have a number of wonderful memories (except that whole falling on my head thing). Reliving the trip through this report just makes me want to return sooner than later. And even with a few missteps along the way, we always kept true to our motto:
Enjoy The Journey! Attitude Is Everything!