A Travellerspoint blog

Portugal

Lisbon Love Affair

Two days is not enough

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Rome has always been my favorite city in the world - the food, the unexpected surprises around every corner, the ability to walk for miles and always discover something new right around the corner, the history, the whatever it is that makes you fall in love. But Rome is not the kind of place you could settle down and live - it's the romance without any of the substance. Lisbon, on the other hand is a city you could go the distance with. Lisbon is clean, the people are kind, the drivers are not angry (in Rome, you must learn to sleep with the constant sound of honking horns and indignant yelling just below your window). Lisbon has fantastic public transportation, great architecture, and fascinating history. It's for families and travelers, couples and seniors. It's a community that welcomes all sorts of new people into it every day.

Adam and I woke up early to get in a run - the hills of both Boavista dos Pinheros and Cartajima had tired me and I was excited to check out a fast flat route through the city just as it was waking up. We ran to the water and saw other people running - this isn't a city that looks askance at people running for a purpose other than necessity. We saw the Golden Gate Bridge twin and then met the sleepers-in of our family back at the apartment.

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Our first destination was the Oceanarium, which is outside the city about ten minutes. It was hot, so we took a taxi, but there is a bus that goes right there. It's a good aquarium, with a giant tank that can be viewed through most of the exhibits. The big draw is the mola-mola, which is a big giant fish, the likes of which we've never seen. There is a gondola which takes you on a scenic trip over the water and a long park, which has a few restaurants to sample. Really nothing special, but pretty and nice for the kids.

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After a much needed siesta, we struck out in search of the famous 28 tram, which would take us to Castelo Sao Jorge. We waited in line like the rest of the silly tourists, but really, asking my kids to walk up through the Alfama to the castle, high above the city, would have prompted a mutiny. It was fun, and though it was standing room only, the destination was well worth it.

The tram drops you off at a little plaza high up on the hill, with a cafe and plenty of places to enjoy the view and take pictures. Husband finally succumbed to the Senegalese vendors selling selfie sticks. I bought a shot of the Portuguese cherry liquer, ginjinha, and we started our ascent to the castle.

It's impossible to describe how beautiful it was up there. The view is as dramatic as the one from Coit Tower in San Fancisco, and the city is laid out below in similar fashion. There is a restaurant and a cafe, as well as a lady with a cart who sells glasses of Portuguese wine. The experience of exploring the castle and sipping wine was sheer contentment. The view from the battlements is breathtaking. It was nicer than Granada and the Alhambra in my opinion. I'm so glad we had that experience. We took an electric golf cart taxi back to the bottom and that was a ton of fun. Every person we met here loved their city and wanted us to love it too.

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We ended the day with a ride up the St Justa elevator, which is another tourist thing, but a also a convenient way to get around. It was designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel, and the design is truly beautiful. The ruined monastery at the top of the elevator is also quite stunning. There is a very pretty view of Rossio Square up there. One more gelato stop and then we reluctantly ended the day.

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We are back in the Florida now, and are already planning our next trip back to Portugal. It was a great trip, but I am left craving more...

Posted by Restless Mama 17:11 Archived in Portugal Tagged castle jorge lisbon sao oceanarium rossio Comments (0)

Last Days in Lisbon

With a side trip to Elvas

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I suppose it all had to come to an end, it couldn't go on forever. And so our journey comes to a close in the place it all began, Lisbon. We packed our bags, ate everything left in the fridge and left our lovely home in Cartajima (which I highly recommend and can be located here: http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1406660). We had a six hour drive and decided to go back the northern route and possibly stop in Evora. It wasn't to be, but we did stop in the lovely town of Elvas, for a castle walk/stretch break. It was achingly hot after our cool mountain climate, but we were the only ones there and the nicest guy gave us a tour, including the secret passageways through the walls. It was blessedly cool, if a little bit unsuited for both the claustraphobic and the 6'5" one in our family.

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We arrived in Lisbon, driving, which may have been a mistake given the confusion the uninitiated are bound to experience in Baixa about which streets are one way and which are pedestrian only. Eventually, we arrived at our destination, Lisbon Short Stay Apartments on Rua Sapateiros. What a great place - steps from Rossio Square and the St. Justa elevator, which transports you up to the Chiodo district without all the walking. The "hotel," a series of beautifully decorated apartments, was spacious and equipped with all the modern conveniences. And Tandoori, a fantastic Indian restaurant, is right across the street. The kids and I headed out for gelato at Amorino and some chasing pigeons in Rossio. Best gelato ever. Along our wandering route, we checked out the blue lobsters in their holding tanks pending their next stop as someone's dinner. And stopped to watch all the street performers who Noah was fascinated with and had a million questions about. He did not believe the people painted themselves bronze to resemble statues were real - "why would someone paint their whole body that color?" He kept giving them money so they would move.

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After Husband rejoined us, we took him to Amorino for their line basil gelato. Gluttons, the lot of us.

We stayed out as late as we could and returned home, exhausted but sated.

Posted by Restless Mama 14:18 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon rossio baixa Comments (0)

From the Alentejo to Andalucia

The road trip to Spain

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The car was all packed up, the cats were fed the leftovers and their water bowl had been filled. They'd adopted the house and we became very attached over the preceding week. I was stalling. But it was time to go and so we entered our handy coordinates into the GPS and began our 5 hour trek to Cartajima, Spain. I followed along on the map as Husband drove, and the kids were ok, though cramped in the back of our tiny car. After much consultation and debate (not really, since I am the designated tour director), we decided to stop in Castro de Marim, right along the river that designates the border between Spain and Portugal. Castles are always a sure bet with two boys, and this one did not disappoint.

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The castle was very well preserved, with ramparts to walk, and grounds to explore. It only cost one euro and they gave us all paper crowns to wear. It was a worthwhile break to stretch our legs and afterwards, we stopped in town for pastries and coffee. Pretty town.

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Back in the car, 2km later, we were in Spain. Fields of sunflowers! But also traffic, which we'd become very unaccustomed to. Battling through Sevilla, with billboards and ugly wharehouses lining the highway, we finally came to the base of the mountains that comprise this part of Andalucia. Heading towards Ronda, we climbed and climbed, holding our breaths as the car hurtled around cliffhanging mountain roads. We arrived in Cartajima, one of Andalucias "white towns," and we were immediately besotted with its narrow cobblestone streets and breathtaking views.

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Our house is better than the last, surrounded by vineyards and nestled into the mountain. Beautiful.

Posted by Restless Mama 02:13 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Praia Odeceixe

Paradise Found

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If someday I run away from home, this where you'll find me, ensconced at a cafe table sipping cafe com laite and eating pastel de nata. I wanted so much to come here, and I couldn't articulate why, but when we woke up that morning I'd already come to grips with the fact that we wouldn't have a car all day and I wouldn't get to see it. After all, our precious Golf was dented and it would take all day to fix. Resolute, we drove into Sao Teotonio, twisting and turning through the tiny streets to Manuels shop, where he'd agreed to meet us at 9:00. When we arrived, he promptly handed over the keys to his personal car, covered in an inch thick of orange Alentejo dust, and said, "here you take! Zambujeira do Mar!" This is their beach - everyone who lives here insists it's the best and only. This is how incredibly generous the people of this region are. After he demonstrated how to turn it off without draining the battery, we climbed in and headed to the coast, past cork forests and Eucalyptus groves.

Praia Odeceixe is only about 8km from Zambujeira do Mar, and it's situated right where the River Mira meets the sea. At 10 in the morning, there was plenty of parking and the beach was misty, wild, and nearly deserted. It's a pretty popular surfer beach, so guys in wetsuits were well into the water, but for us, we were free to explore the caves accessible at low tide and play in the river. As we were completely unprepared to have a car, the kids weren't in bathing suits and ended up swimming and rolling in the sand in their shorts. Husband and I retreated to the cafe up the cliff, which had a commanding view not only of the seascape, but also the shenanigans below. It was simply an incredible morning.

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Alas, it was our last day in Portugal and there was much laundry, cooking, and packing to do back at the house. The last day is always this way - I cook everything in the fridge that we havent eaten because I can't stand waste. But first, a trail run along the goat tracks leading the main Rota Vicetina trail - alone and free, the uphills nearly killed me, but it was totally worth it. This is as close as I get to a religious experience.

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We had patatas bravas for lunch and kefta, taouk, olives, tzatziki, and cheese for dinner. We ate on the terrace and said our goodbyes to this beautiful country.

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Posted by Restless Mama 12:08 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Barragem Santa Clara

Picnic at the Lake

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After much discussion with Manuel over the fixing of the car, we realized we'd be without a car for the day tomorrow. Our host had left a suggestion to check out a nearby reservoir, Barragem Santa Clara, so off we went through the cork forests again to find it.

There are no facilities and no "beach" to speak of, but we did find a spot with some caravans parked and it seemed as likely a spot as any to swim. It was hot and rocky and there was not a single person in the entire 400km wide lake. I didn't even know if it was ok to go in - the signs are in Portuguese and seem to prohibit all kinds of things, so we decided to ask. One of the nice British caravaners replied to our query, "eh, it's Portugal, you can pretty much do whatever you want." It was a hot and sunny day and we had a great swim.

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How nearly uninhabited this region is! As many people live in London as do all of Portugal and no where is this more evident than in the Alentejo.

Posted by Restless Mama 02:59 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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