Poshpacking required for this hotel! Pic by Keith Rickaby, Nikon Coolpix S3100
Yes, it’s Rohantime once more as my recent Poshpacking post is currently being featured on the Rohantime website.
Thanks as ever to Sarah Howcroft for picking up on it and publishing.
Watch out for something completely different regarding clothes and packing as wisepacking goes rocking all over the world!
The cloisters at Pousada Convento da Graca, Tavira
Keith Rickaby, Nikon Coolpix S3100
It all began in October last year when Caroline’s workplace approved a week away in March and then Expedia came up with an offer that we couldn’t refuse – flights from our local airport, private transfers from and to Faro airport and a week in a hotel in Tavira on the Algarve.
Not just any hotel you understand, but one that Berlitz Algarve described as “one of the most desirable places to stay on the entire coast” – Pousada Convento da Graca, a converted 16th century convent complete with cloisters and its own church.
We knew that Pousadas had special rates for those of us who are over 55, but as the offer we were made beat a few of the prices we had last year for stays in guest houses or boutique hotels, it would have been madness to turn it down…
Which left a couple of problems.
The first was what to wear during our stay, given that Lonely Planet Portugal‘s comments on the Pousada started with “If you can get past the front door (there’s a bit of an attitude here)”…
The second was packing to cope with any potential dress code, given that we were flying with hand luggage and that our airline – Monarch – had a 10kg weight restriction on hand luggage.
In the end, we needn’t have worried, even though the temperatures encountered during the first full week of March were below expectations after reading the ten day forecasts for Faro and Tavira.
We packed by taking our cue from these forecasts and perceptions based on looking through the photos in the Pousada Convento da Graca section of the website dedicated to the Portuguese Pousadas.
I ended up packing virtually all Rohan kit once more. Four Progress polo shirts, a couple of Stratum long sleeved polos, two Merino t-shirts, two pairs of 2015 Goa trousers, a selection of Cool Silver trunks and a few pairs of M&S silver containing socks.
Wash kit had the usual contents – factor 30 Nivea suncream, disposable razor, King of Shaves shaving oil, Via Sonic battery toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, Lush shower gel, and Sanex roll-on anti-perspirant. Spare shoes? One pair of espadrilles.
Caroline’s choices were somewhat similar and yes, most of it was also from Rohan. Ultra Silver camisoles and briefs, a couple of Serene vests, a brace of Malay tops, a pair of travel linen trousers, a pair of Trailblazer trousers bought during the Rohan sale at Trek & Trail Saltaire and a Malay dress – just in case. Oh, and a couple of Stria long sleeved tops, again just in case.
Our choices coped admirably with both the expected dress codes and the changeable weather conditions encountered. We’d layered up in readiness for the early start to the airport (3am departure from the house with a car thermometer reading – 1C), so these warm layers (Rohan, Peter Storm, Lowe Alpine) came into their own on the cooler nights during our trip.
We didn’t have any problems once we checked into the Pousada or in fitting in whilst wandering around Tavira, eating in family run restaurants such as Bica, Casa Simao and Churrasqueira O Manel or on the local buses and trains used to get us around the Algarve and the ferry used to have a few hours in Spain.
Yes, there was a bit of washing and wearing going on during the week to keep things sweet, but we stayed smart and our bags came in at 8kg each so no worries on the plane!
And we weren’t the only ones using Rohan in the Pousada either as fellow Brits were sporting Rohan trousers or shirts in and around the hotel.
An account of our visit to Tavira will be posted here soon!
Caroline, Sunday morning, 7.15 am, waiting for the car to Faro Airport.
Keith Rickaby, Nikon Coolpix S3100
So, how did things go with the items listed on Portugal Packing v3.0?
Very well actually (and everything bar the worn stuff did go into our respective Osprey Farpoint 40 packs). Virtually all of the clothing taken along earned their place in the pack or on me in the case of the items worn on the plane.
The only mistake I made was in taking along my pair of Peter Storm Soft Shell trousers.
They’ve been worth their weight in gold since I bought them last year, but they were too heavy an item to take along and wear in Portugal, especially given the temperatures encountered (even on the couple of wet, windy and generally stormy days).
When the storm hit Porto on the Tuesday of our trip, I ended up wearing one of my Rohan Cool Silver t-shirts, Rohan Goa trousers and the same brand’s Silver containing socks and trunks. The top layer was my HyVent jacket from The North Face. On my feet were one of the two pairs of Salomon ventilated shoes that I’d taken along.
Despite the conditions, everything worked well. Yes, I was wet from the bottom of the waterproof to the pavement and the inside of the jacket’s sleeves were damp, despite the pit zips being opened to provide some ventilation.
The rain was teeming down though and as it was still relatively warm, I’d expected some condensation in the sleeves as the linings were solid rather than mesh and also because I was wearing a t-shirt rather than a long sleeved shirt so my bare arms were helping raise those condensation levels.
Now the Goa trousers may be lightweights and meant for tropical use, but this combination worked in their favour once I got out of the rain and into the photography museum we were aiming for during the storm.
They were soaked when I entered the museum, but as I wandered around, they dried out.
So much so that I was able to sit down and partake in one of the many espressos imbibed over the course of the trip. The vending machine coffee was fine, but it wasn’t going to stop the rain, so after a while it was time to get back out there and try and find some lunch.
And yes, the Goas got soaked once more, then dried out again whilst waiting and eating fodder and then got soaked once more as we left the cafe, went to do some food shopping and headed back to the hostel we were staying in at Porto.
End result? Worn/soaked/dried/soaked/dried/soaked and you get the picture by now. Not only did they perform well under the challenging conditions, they also coped well with the heat encountered later in the week and over the time we were in Coimbra plus the lower temperatures and breezes when we were on the Atlantic Coast.
Washing and drying wasn’t a problem with the Goas either. Once we had a decent sink and places to dry kit out, then there weren’t any problems with the washing and wearing of any of the kit we’d taken along.
Caroline’s storm days kit worked as well as my own – the Rohan Thai trousers worked well as did the selection of tops used on the days and her somewhat elderly Berghaus PacLite Gore-Tex jacket. Her Ecco Blom Lite Mary Jane shoes did get a soaking, as did my Salomons, but they did dry out relatively quickly and were usable a couple of days later (something we’d anticipated, hence the decision to take two pairs of shoes each rather than lighter or flimsier items).
All of our tops performed as expected, especially the Rohan Stratum Polo Long Sleeved which came into its own on the nights when we could sit outside restaurants to have a meal.
Caroline was also more than happy with the couple of Ultra Silver Camisoles and the matching briefs that she’s taken along. These were used on their own or as part of a low-key layering system on cooler days, but washed and dried like crazy every couple of days, as did her Serene vest tops.
One thing that we did forget (okay, one thing that I forgot!) was our Lifeventure travel sink plug.
The sinks in three out of our five different lodgings in Portugal didn’t come with sink plugs, so necessity was the mother of invention. I plugged some sinks with socks whilst Caroline found that the top from her Nivea roll-on deodorant did the job in one place.
Other than that, it was make do and mend with the plastic top off a Pringles tube or the plastic top from a small tub of Hagen Daaz ice cream. Needless to say, a small amount of food consumption went on before these tops were used in the sinks…
Anything else? Yep, the tea tree oil worked well on the insect bites, as did the tube of gel that was bought in Porto to help combat the results of unexpected encounters with mosquitos.
The lavender oil had helped to keep the flying nasties at bay, but some had got through, resulting in 10 bites on my back, legs, arms and face, even though I had kept myself under the bed sheets on even the warmest nights in Portugal.
What I wasn’t expecting was for one of my pairs of shoes to deteriorate. One of the fabric lace retainers came away and as the two weeks wore on, it became apparent that the shock absorbing materials were breaking down inside the sole unit.
Although the shoes weren’t that old, they had done around 400 miles or so. Given that I have gait problems and also have trouble with my left leg as a result of that stroke a few years ago, I knew that it wasn’t something that I could put down as a problem with the shoes as I’ve been wearing Salomon shoes and boots for years now and not had any problems.
As a result, they were left in Portugal – not in a bin, but with someone who was going to repair the lace retainer and hand the shoes over to a local homeless charity.
On a lighter note, the umbrella that I’d taken along didn’t last either. It went inside out a few times in Porto and ended up being left in a guest house somewhere in Portugal.
It had served its purpose though in Somerset, London and Porto and as it had cost me the princely sum of £1, I wasn’t going to complain about being ripped off by a pound shop…
Because we’ve undertaken two visits to Portugal this year and our bag contents were changed from our original Portugal packing list to contend with the very different weather conditions encountered in July and September 2015.
v2.0 covers the stuff that was taken along in July when there was little chance of rain, but a very good chance of high temperatures and top of the charts UV levels, even in Lisbon – our destination and base for the week away. Fortunately, the weather conditions at home were approaching those in Lisbon.
The drive to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and a pre-flight night in the Hampton by Hilton hotel was a late one as Caroline had spent virtually all day at a family wedding. A swift change was made when she arrived home and the car was taken off the drive and pointed towards the M62 in search of the airport.
Baggage choices? Our trusty Osprey Farpoint 40 packs as usual as yes, we were travelling hand luggage, but on an airline that neither of us had used before – easyJet.
And the contents of the bags?
In my case they included a security friendly travel size wash bag that had been bought for the journey. It was originally full of predominately Gillette products aimed at travellers, but a little pruning and replacement ensured that the new contents covered all eventualities.
The disposable razor and small tube of toothpaste were retained, but in went a plastic cased Dove roll-on anti-perspirant instead of the smaller capacity metal aerosol.
That was followed by the Slim Sonic Toothbrush I mentioned a few posts back, a bottle of Lifeventure Fabric Wash for the clothes, a 100ml bottle of Lush’s Flying Fox shower gel for me, a small bottle of tea tree oil, a similarly sized bottle of King Of Shaves shaving oil and two small bottles of Nivea Factor 50 sun cream (Tesco had them on a 3 for 2 promo and they were worth the investment of buying a couple of deals each on Factor 50 and Factor 30 creams…)
Did they work? Oh yes and even though we were keeping the protection topped up, we still came back a little browner than we were when we left the UK.
As before, my usual prescribed meds, yellow Warfarin book and repeat prescription forms went in along with a pack of indigestion tablets and a few sachets of recovery powder (just in case there were too many glasses of vino collapso or local lagers imbibed over the course of a day…
Worn items included a pair of Salomon ventilated trainers, a pair of Rohan Goa trousers, one of four Rohan Core Silver t-shirts (the rest were in the bag along with a couple of Rohan Element t-shirts).
Why so many t-shirts? As good as all of these shirts are, expectations of 30+ C meant that for once I was playing safe and wearing two shirts per dayrather than one a day. I did however regret not having a polo shirt or two as a smarter option as we were eating out so much over the course of the week.
Rohan Cool Silver trunks and suitable socks completed the worn outfit and yes, there were spares in the bag of these. Other packed items included another pair of Goa trousers, my Nikon Coolpix digital compact camera and charger plus my Kindle and charger, a newly purchased Rohan Stowaway Daypack 20 packable day sack and a travel towel. Oh, and a copy of Rough Guide‘s Pocket Rough Guide to Lisbon plus a pair of Next espadrilles for sock free days or nights out…
Caroline’s clothes packing wasn’t quite a mirror image of mine as she packed a couple of Rohan Serene vest tops, a Rohan Malay Linen Plus top and a few other items from that brand’s travel linen range too.
Footwear choices were a pair of Ecco Blom Lite Mary Jane shoes and a pair of Merrell sports sandals. Her day bag was a Rohan Stowaway Daybag 3 packable handbag to hold her passport, camera, travel wallet, tissues, sun cream and a small bottle of water.
Was everything used?
Yes, it was and the washing and wearing processes also worked well too, even when washing out trousers. Washing was typically done on a morning before we went out and left to dry on hangers next to the windows once the clothing had been rolled up in a travel towel as a means of squeezing out any excess water.
The Rohan Goa trousers were just right for the trip thanks to a lightweight fabric that washed and dried quickly, two zipped pockets to take wallet, camera, reading specs and guest house keys and protect them from thieving bar-stools.
We knew that there is an ongoing problem with pickpocketing in Lisbon, but the owner of the cafe we ate in when we first arrived was quite forthright in his views when he warned us of the dangers of losing stuff (we did meet a lady who had had her smartphone stolen on a tram in Lisbon when we were in the queue for the flight home a week later…).
Out of all the things we took along with us, there was only one piece of kit that required a rethink. I’ve no doubt that the Rohan packable day sack will come into its own in the UK over days out and periods away over the coming months, but I have to admit to making a personal wrong choice by using it over the first few days in Lisbon.
It was a bit too big for what I wanted to carry around with me and I ended up buying a small cotton bag that sufficed for the rest of the week. The Rohan item won’t be wasted though, because there’s at least one trip coming up soon where it will be in its element, so it will be used again and again. The cotton bag purchased in Lisbon will be inside to use as a shopping bag…
Yes, there is a reason for the two week break…
That’s down to having a two week break!
And yes, it was back to Portugal once more – second visit of this year so far.
Plans to do it on a stripped-down load didn’t happen after taking a look at the long term weather forecasts for each of the destinations that we’d planned to visit on this trip.
Take mountain-style waterproofs to one of the warmest countries in Europe at this time of year? You’d better believe it as a Berghaus Gore-tex was packed by Caroline and I took a HyVent jacket by The North Face to combat the elements.
How wet was it – well one of the owners of the Rivoli Cinema Hostel in Porto said it was the first time that he could remember a red weather warning being issued for the city.
Did it rain?
That’s for me to know and you to find out once we’ve unpacked, took a look at the post and done some food shopping!
Well, Forward Planning I got a few people going!
The spike in traffic yesterday was amazing after I’d posted a link to it in a forum posting…
So here’s Forward Planning II, which isn’t as contentious, but it should give some people food for thought.
Although there are those who do admirable amounts of research into prospective trips, there are those who over plan everything.
They try to cram in as much as possible into a short space of time and expect you to concur with their every move.
Sadly that isn’t always the case…
Putting a schedule together where there’s a whole host of destinations, things to see, things to do and places to eat at always seems a bit pointless.
I’ve seen itineraries posted that haven’t any rest days or have a list of things that’s going to require several days rushing around after downing fifteen double espressos or at least two boxes of caffeine tablets (neither are recommended by the way – one to two double espressos per day is enough for me and I’ve not knowingly taken caffeine tablets).
Yes, the posters aspire to doing everything on the list, but how many end up spoiling their collective experiences by going down that route? Virtually all of the best trips I/we have done have had a bit of planning about them, but not everything has been planned to the nth degree on these ventures.
Outward and return travel has been booked, airport car parking when needed plus first and last nights or the full trip’s accommodation and a bit of in-country travel on some occasions, but there’s always been some leeway to have days off, change plans or just drop stuff when the weather turns nastier than whatever was in the wood shed*
Mistakes can be made during the planning stages – we ended up in one Norwegian town for a couple of nights three years ago that we should have given a miss to, but we made the most of it.
We ended up walking to a nearby village, had a very good lunch, wandered around a fort and then spent time by the fjord listening to Roxette’s sound check in advance of their nearby open air show that evening.
Once back at our digs, we made a meal from the stuff we’d bought at the local supermarket and then whiled away the evening in a park by the same fjord – heading into the nearby pub for a couple of bevvies wasn’t an option as I’d already paid the equivalent of £8 for a beer that cost £1.68 at home earlier in the day!
Our last trip to Portugal had five main ports of call – the next one will have three-four depending on whether we decide explore the Douro valley or leave that for another visit. A rough outline has been made of where we want to go in Portugal, but apart from the flights and the first nights there, nothing else is going to be booked so we can have total flexibility.
Last year’s trip to Suffolk had just two base camps. One at the beginning of the week and another near the end. We’d sussed out which campsites to use in advance, but hadn’t booked them, even though it was high season.
The highlighter pen had been used in a paper copy of Lonely Planet’s Great Britain guide, but that was it as far as the other planning went. Decisions were made on the day as to where we were going to go and what we wanted to see and even these changed as there was a problem with the car and then rain clouds gathered and dumped their load on us , the car and the tent!
So, is indecision the key to flexibility? Could be!
Research can be done and notes made, but if you have some flexibility in your schedule, then there’s always room for days in magical places that you find en-route, brief encounters of different kinds or days off. Or to find ways and means of combatting unexpected strikes, any food induced quick-steps or bookings that have gone astray…
And besides, aren’t you supposed to be on holiday or travelling to escape from the stresses of commuting, work schedules, bosses who are pains in the neck (or other parts of the anatomy!) and everything else that goes with the 9-5.
Leave the carefully prepared holiday spreadsheet behind and enjoy the break (no I couldn’t believe that people planned their holidays on spreadsheets either until I read a few Kindle books recently!).
And remember, it’s your holiday or trip you’re on and you should do what you please and like…
Our next ones aren’t set in stone – we have some dates in mind and some destinations too, but as we’ve made tentative plans before and then dumped them at three days notice to jet off somewhere else, we’ll see what’s out there!
* Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Odd title I know, but as far as I know it’s not infringing any potential trade marks surrounding a certain film franchise!
It’s been an odd month off – little bit of heading to here and there, several visits to a certain Swedish retailer, a few one-off visits to DIY warehouses, a few technical drawings (for the first time since getting my O Level in that subject back in the 1970s) and a mega clearout before the builder arrived two hours ago to strip the old kitchen out and install a new one in its place.
One thing we noticed whilst heading out to find a kitchen option that we liked was how bland some of the options we were looking at were. The kitchen we’ve plumped for is classically styled, but we’ve added a few personal touches to ensure that it will be anything but bland – hence the visit to B&Q on Thursday and to IKEA last Friday morning!
Bland is something that couldn’t be applied to some of the colours going into the latest Rohan clothing collection – red and gold coloured trousers for instance.
Visits to other outdoor clothing retailers recently and I’ve noticed how limited the choice of colours is, which is somewhat ironic when I remember how well red and electric blue coloured jackets were selling in the store I managed until around eighteen months ago. Yes, I’ve got a few black jackets on the rack in the hall, but there’s also red, electric blue and orange ones hanging either on the same rack or in the wardrobe upstairs.
So, what’s coming up on wisepacking?
Pieces about Bronte Country, a local-ish air museum, the Lake District, some more kit reviews and a little bit more about planning (but not overplanning) trips in the wake of several posts on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum that have been made by people who haven’t bothered to buy a guide book to their potential destination who expect readers of the Forum to make up their minds for them as to where to go!
And a few mentions about books I’ve been reading too.
One Kindle Book I’ve been looking at recently is Money Saving Tips for Travel In Portugal by Julie Dawn Fox.
If you’re heading to Portugal, then it’s well worth tracking down as there’s some good advice in there and a few tips that I wished we’d known about when Caroline and I headed over there.
Yes, we picked one or two points up along the way that saved us money, but Julie’s book takes things a few stages further so we will be saving more money the next time we aim in that direction.
More details about the book and Julie’s travels on http://www.juliedawnfox.com
Or head to Amazon, do not pass go and do not collect £200…
After a couple of nights in Tavira, our moving on day arrived and after a short wait in the railway station, we headed off to Lagos in search of a bus to Sagres as we travelled from one side of The Algarve to the other. This was down to be the treat of the trip as we were booking into a hotel that was several stars above what we’re used to – the Pousada do Infante, part of a sixty strong group of Portuguese hotels that include buildings old and new.
Pousada do Infante, Sagres
Pousada do Infante dates back to the 1960s, but it is one of the more modern buildings. It’s the only hotel we’ve ever stayed in with its own helipad and it’s the only one either of have stayed in because we were entitled to a discount on the room rate for being over 55!
The reception staff were great, but a bit bemused by our relative lack of luggage and the fact that we didn’t have a car. They were also bemused when we were both soaked through when we asked for our room key the following day. ‘It’s okay’ said Caroline ‘We’re English, we’re used to a bit of rain now and again…’.
Sagres provided the most peaceful part of the two weeks in Portugal. The hotel was quiet, as were the local bars, restaurants and the local attractions. A morning walk to Henry The Navigator’s Fotrazela and onward to the lighthouse at Ponta de Sagres was followed by lunch at beach bar Raposo and that sudden rainstorm.
We’d also made a wonderful faux pas. Our intention had been to head to Cabo de Soa Vincente, but we didn’t make it as we’d mistakenly taken the road down to Fortazela instead. Cabo de Soa Vincente is what was initially thought to be the edge of the known world, but we didn’t make it – our mistake however does give us one very, very good reason to revisit Sagres on one of our next trips to Portugal…
Our first evening meal had been an outdoor one at an Italian restaurant, but as we were staying in a Pousada, we ate in on the second night. The meal, wine and coffee went down well and it was a cut above our usual night out at home – as was the bill.
Given that we didn’t have to check out until lunchtime, we headed down to Porto de Balleeira harbour the following morning before picking up our bags, hitting an internet cafe for orange juice, mango juice, espressos and a bit of mail checking before getting the bus to Lagos.
Lagos Youth Hostel
After two nights in a Pousada, a night in Lagos Youth Hostel was always going to be a bit of a culture shock, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Caroline and I are both old school hostellers – I was on Border and Dales Regional Council in the 1980’s and did some of YHA magazine’s gear reviews in the 1990’s whilst Caroline was an assistant warden at Malham Hostel back in the day.
Yes, the room was basic, but it was better than one or two hotels we’ve been in here in the UK and a darn sight cheaper too. Breakfast portions were on the small side, but as we didn’t have to check out for a while, there was time to get a second breakfast at a cafe down the road. Coffee and a pastry filled the gap that was still there after the first breakfast, but they were also tastier than the evening meal we’d had on the night of our arrival in Lagos.
That early morning in Lagos was pretty quiet. The centre had been teeming with people before we checked into the hostel the previous night. The route to the hostel from the bus station had taken us straight down the main tourist strip and boy, it was busy. We did have a short wander around after our second breakfast to see what we’d missed, but as the visitor numbers increased, it was time to get our bags and get the train back to Lisbon.
We were pleased that we’d booked our tickets in advance at Tavira as Lagos station was busy and only one of the ticket windows was open for business. There was an hour or so to kill before our train and it was interesting to see the size of bags that people were toting around with them.
The younger crowd had the biggest bags on their backs, the thirty-somethings had wheelie bags and the over 50s were those with the smallest bags. The wisdom of the age? You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment!
Whilst the train from Lagos to Tunes was a local one, the narrow price gap between first and second class meant that an upgrade to first class for the section between Tunes and Lisbon was a no-brainer. This train did however terminate at a station we weren’t familiar with, so we got the Metro back into the city centre and made sure our Lisbon Viva Viagem travel cards were charged up with enough credit for the Metro ride to Lisbon Airport later on.
As it was late afternoon and it was Friday, we stashed our bags in the left luggage lockers in Rossio station (one locker for two bags – another joy of travelling light…) and headed for coffee, a stroll and then made a final decision about sleeping at the airport in readiness for a 5am check-in time.
I’d done it at Manchester and Leeds/Bradford before and Caroline had also spent at least one night sleeping on the floor of a terminal building so the plan was hatched – forget about getting a room and just go for a good blow-out meal, get the bags and head off to the airport.
So that’s what we did. No fuss, no messing and we just got on with it. Da Vinci near Rossio station was busy, but they just kept on bringing more food, tables and chairs out as almost everyone was wanting to eat outside as it was such a warm night.
The Metro to the airport was quiet, but the terminal was quite busy and it became obvious that we weren’t going to be the only ones looking for benches or comfy chairs for the night. So it was a case of Sleepless in Lisbon as the night wore on until the check in opened around 5am and we could head through to the food court in the departure area.
And yes, that was closed. We did get a couple of coffees from the Harrods coffee shop and then wandered through to the main shopping mall for Caroline to buy a bottle of ginjinha and for me to buy a bottle of Tawny Port.
Our trip was almost over, but the return visit was already being planned. It’s another fortnight with one week in Lisbon to see the parts we didn’t get to on this trip and to make side trips to Cascais and Estoril from Lisbon. After that, the plan is to visit Coimbra for a night or two and then head up to Porto to explore the city and the Douro valley – and do a couple of visits to port wine lodges to find out the story of port and to partake in a glass or two in the interests of our own research into port wine.
Travel wise, it will be local trains to Cascais and Estoril and either train or bus from Lisbon to Coimbra and then onwards to Porto before heading back to Lisbon for the plane home – unless we can fly into Lisbon and out of Porto from the north of England. Time and airline schedules will tell and no, we don’t intend to spend another night in Lisbon airport – once is enough!
Did we enjoy our trip to Portugal? Oh yes! There were places we loved, there were places we didn’t, but there were always places that we found that were stunning, relaxing and interesting. We missed out Belem and a good walk around the Alafama in Lisbon, but we did find some good eating places around the city centre.
We didn’t go for the local seafood specialities as neither of us are into seafood, but we did eat well as even the busiest cafes or food stalls offered good food and drink. And that’s why we’re going back… for more ginjinha and to try the pasteis de nata from the bakery in Belem… We did try other variations on this custard tart theme in Lisbon and elsewhere, but the ones in Belem are highly rated.
As I said earlier – this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…
Templo Romano (Temple of Diana) in Evora
And so to Sintra. We’d heard good things about Sintra, an apparently mystical town that’s surrounded by palaces which has attracted many (including Lord Byron) over the years. The attractions are spread out over a wide area in and around the older quarter. As we were staying at Piela‘s in the more modern part near the railway and bus stations, the palaces and other attractions were a good walk or bus ride away.
There is however a circular bus route from the centre that offers a day ticket which allows you to travel between the main palace attractions. With Caroline doing the visiting and me doing some reading, it made sense to get a ticket each, so whilst she was exploring, I was reading and having an espresso nearby and we could talk and eat afterwards rather than meeting up at a specific time or place. In case you hadn’t guessed it, Caroline’s the one for history, older buildings and historical culture whilst I’m more for Horrible Histories, more recent events and museums relating to aircraft, cars, exploration and the like.
As one might expect from a destination that’s a World Heritage Site and Sintra being high on the destinations list of many tourists, the likes of Palaciao Nacional de Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros, Parque da Pena and Palacio Nacional da Pena were very, very busy.
Heading around the sights didn’t take us as long as we thought though and it was agreed that if we paid another visit to Sintra, it would be as a side trip from a longer stay in Lisbon rather than a separate destination for two nights. That’s also been the opinion of others who have joined in on discussions about Sintra on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum over the couple of days before this was posted.
One thing we did learn though is there’s a very good treat available for the princely sum of one euro in Sintra and a few other places besides. It’s a cherry liqueur called ginjinha that can be served in glasses with cherries, in glasses without cherries or without cherries in small chocolate cups. Which version did we go for? That last one on the list of course!
As meals weren’t part of the deal at Piela’s in Sintra, eating out was done at a mix of cafes, former bakeries or tourist restaurants around town. Place of choice for breakfast? Casa da Piriquita – good coffee, good cakes and pastries and a popular venue with both tourists and locals too.
We also discovered a useful treat at the local mini-market – servings of red wine in the kind of cartons you’d normally associate with child size doses of orange or apple juice. No need for a bottle opener – just tear off the corner of the carton and pour… A good move? Oh yes, especially as we’d had a few goes trying to open a bottle of wine the night before using a specially bought cork remover that wasn’t playing ball.
After exhausting Sintra and having a late afternoon train booked for Evora, it was back to Lisbon for a bit of shopping and some lunch.
The shopping was supposed to be for nibbles and drinks for the train, but a camera shop was spotted, a trial run undertaken and a purchase made. A Nikon Coolpix 3100 with case, 4GB memory card plus a charger that would work with a shaver adaptor at home and all for the around £65. One bargain and I was a happy photographic bunny again.
As the train to Evora was from a station that was out of the city centre, the bus ride to it gave us an idea of what suburban Lisbon was like. A bit like parts of Sunderland in fact – I’d lived in that city whilst doing my degree back in the mid-1990’s and some of the flat complexes we passed in the bus were very reminiscent of those back on Wearside.
The snooze on the train was a good idea, as were the snacks as it looked like it was going to be a late evening meal. With Evora being a walled town, the rail and bus stations are away from the centre, so we were glad that we could just shoulder our packs and walk, rather than taking a taxi to our hotel. Taxi or drinks? Drinks or taxi? Easy decision!
Residencial Riviera was just off the main square in Evora and we’d booked our stay just as the prices went down after the main holiday season. The first night was quiet, but as Friday nights are Friday nights, a couple of rowdies came back to their room at about 2am. Revenge was a dish best served cold… or was that loud because for some reason, I really, really had to slam our room door shut twice before breakfast on Saturday morning!
But I digress. Evora is a magical place and one we’d go back to tomorrow. It’s relaxed, it’s friendly and it’s compact. All of the attractions are in easy walking distance of each other and there’s a good mix of bars, cafes and ice cream shops for those times when you just have to sit down, relax and unwind that little bit more. Resting place of choice? Cafe Arcada on the main square, a venue that was popular with both locals and tourists alike.
There’s museums or the remains of a Roman temple (see the lead photo…) to visit and walls to climb or walk around. The main square may be peaceful now, but it has historical associations with the execution of at least one duke and the Inquisition-led public burnings of several unfortunate souls. Which is the last thing we were thinking about whilst having coffee on the square on Friday night or when talking to Brits on a coach tour on a Saturday morning.
If it’s Friday, it must be Evora…
Caroline also visited Ingreja de Sao Francisco, a church adjacent to the Mercado Municipal (the local market hall). Ingreja de Sao Francisco has a side chapel in Cappella des Ossos (the Chapel of the Bones) which comprises the skulls and bones of around five thousand former monks. Apparently it’s not uncommon to hear the song ‘Dem Bones, Dem Bones’ being sung as people wander around the chapel according to one guide book we read!
Yes, I’d given it a miss in favour of another Kindle session, but I did find a bar that served a nice cold Radler low alcohol beer to sup in the sun which also sold cider, a type of refreshment that Caroline’s quite fond of. The cider wasn’t by Aspall’s or Weston, but it went down well once Caroline exited the Chapel and found me relaxing.
The relaxation of Evora carried on as we had a five hour bus ride to Tavira on that Saturday. The coach wasn’t even half full, so there was plenty of room to spread out and read or snooze.
Legs were stretched and comfort stops made at the bus change-over point in Faro and when we got to Tavira, we were glad of our small bags, unlike a Hawaiian lady we’d met on the bus who was trundling a very large wheelie bag around plus her matching hand luggage too. Over kerbs, pavements and then cobbles when the pavements were taken up by various outdoor dining areas outside restaurants. She’d been on the road for three months and for some reason, she was wishing she’d packed less stuff…
Like Evora, Tavira was a place to savour. Yes, it was a busy Saturday night down by Residencial Mares, but it was also the last night of a local youth festival. With live music. As we didn’t get to Tavira and book into our hotel until late, that evening’s meal venue was rather close to said hotel.
Now Caroline and I do like our curries, but the ones we had that night were supposed to be of medium heat – hey, we usually eat curries in or around the Bradford area!). These ones however, were not Bradford curries, We’ve eaten curries in the home counties here in the UK that were more potent than the Tavira curries we tried – they were more mild than medium!
Sunday was given over to strolling around the town, looking at the tiled buildings across the river, finding a very good (and well recommended) place to eat called Bica for lunch plus a couple of other meals later during our stay and finding an English newspaper to read over coffees and servings of cake or ice cream. Just another relaxing day in paradise? Oh yes…
Sunday night wasn’t as noisy as Saturday had been, but our plans for an early night were interrupted by a local troubadour that we’d seen and unfortunately heard near another bar earlier on. The temptation was for the two of us to do ‘Doo whops’ from our balcony or to do impressions of baying hounds as he sang/murdered a few classics. But we didn’t…
Monday was train and room booking time. We were moving on on Tuesday and we needed tickets to get to Lagos and then tickets for a train on Friday to get us from Lagos back to Lisbon in readiness for our flight home on Saturday morning.
We also booked a night at Lagos Youth Hostel for Thursday night by going into the Tavira Youth Hostel and doing the deed. There was however one problem remaining – we’d drawn a blank on finding somewhere to stay on Friday night in Lisbon so it looked like there was only one option left open to us – sleeping in the airport.
Monday was also the day to take a boat trip to the much-vaunted Ilha de Tavira. We didn’t have that far to go for the boat as the landing was just across the road from our hotel.
That boatload soon dispersed when we got onto Ilha de Tavira. Some headed to restaurants, some headed for the campsite whilst others turned right onto the nearest beach and others (including us) headed for the main beach. Which was red flagged…
So a bit of photography was called for on my part and Caroline headed along the beach on foot before finding me again (I have mobility problems on soft sand or snow thanks to that stroke ten years ago) and the two of us headed back to the beach near the boat landing. As there were no restrictions on swimming here, Caroline took the plunge for a while as I tried to make some plans for the potential of Friday night in Lisbon airport.
With Bica providing the last of our meals in Tavira and some fine wine too, a late night stroll was called for before we headed back to the hotel and partly packed our bags in readiness for the next stage of the trip – and a couple of nights in a very posh hotel in Sagres….
To be continued…
Caroline and I were half way through our Portuguese road trip when we got talking to a group of Brits sitting on the table next to us outside Cafe Arcada in Evora. They were on a coach trip looking at cultural sights in Portugal and Spain and the look on their collective faces was a picture when we told them what we were up to…
Two weeks in Portugal with hand luggage only and most, but not all of our accommodation booked. We were travelling on buses and trains that hadn’t been booked back home in Blighty. We were eating at local cafes or getting evening meal fodder from the local mini-market. Oh, and we were wandering around strange cities, towns and villages after dark.
I also mentioned that I’d just fired my employer and had worked my last shift for the company the day before our TAP Portugal flight into Lisbon. Were they gobsmacked? Oh yes!
Rewind a week and we’d had an early start to Manchester Airport for that TAP flight. Leaving the car at a car park near the terminal was a doddle, as was check-in once the clerk realised that we had hand luggage only and nothing for the hold. We’d also booked Fast-Track for the security checking procedures and whilst we passed with flying colours, things came slightly unstuck as there was a log-jam on the baggage scanner, so we took about the usual time to get through security and then headed off in search of coffee and a late breakfast.
After a good flight into Lisbon and a brisk stroll through the terminal and passport checks, it was time to get some euros from the cash points and a cab to our first hotel, Pensao Londres in the Baixa area of Lisbon city centre.
It didn’t take long to check in, switch on the air-con, freshen up and change before heading off for the first steps around the city. We knew we were in for a lot of walking on this trip, especially as Lisbon‘s built on or around seven hills. We expected the centre to be quiet as the guide books had suggested that shops closed around 1pm on a Saturday afternoon.
Oh no they didn’t, as we found out when we reached Rossio Square to find it heaving with tourists, locals and politicos either taking photos, having conversations or pontificating in a language we couldn’t understand. Although we had a phrase book, it wasn’t needed as everyone we encountered spoke a fair amount of English.
Things were a little quieter as we approached the banks of Rio Tejo where the first of many cold drinks and ice creams were consumed. We’d had a good summer, but the temperatures in Lisbon were higher so we were pleased that we’d packed clothes with good sun protection and a new bottle of Factor 30 in our wandering around bags.
As this was just a good excuse to get accustomed to the temperatures, the lie of the land and a good leg stretch after the flight, we gradually orientated ourselves and found that wandering around the city centre was quite easy and that we didn’t have to keep looking at the map.
So much so it was if we’d been using a homing beacon to get us back to the area where our hotel was. A short walk around Baixa and several perusals of menu boards later, we ended up at Lost In… a bar/restaurant opposite Pensao Londres. Given the outside temperatures, it seemed only natural to take our meal, wine, dessert and coffee on Lost In’s terrace to take in the views over Lisbon as sunset approached rather than sitting inside, a good move – until we stood up.
Yes, the wine was stronger than we thought and we’d polished it off in one sitting rather than taking two nights as we do at home. The double espressos hadn’t kicked in, so it was a good job that we only had to cross one road and ascend a couple of staircases to our room rather than staggering a kilometre or more back to our digs.
As it was Saturday in one of Lisbon’s popular nightlife areas, sleep was a rarely found commodity that night. We were still up early though for showers and breakfast before a day of gentle wandering around was declared.
Although it was still before 9am, we even managed to beat the first tour bus to the nearby park – Sao Paulo de Alcantara Miradouro. We’d rested there before heading back to our hotel the previous night, but it was quieter now despite the contents of the tour bus so we were able to look, see and get our bearings as to where we’d been on Saturday and where we’d like to go to during this day and the next.
Some brave souls had got up even earlier as we found when we headed into the centre – a mass cycle ride to Sintra was about to start. As the riders started, one was unceremoniously stopped in his tracks by an organiser. His crime? No helmet! Once the riders were on their way, more wandering and then more caffeine was called for.
Now we’d said that we were wherever possible going to avoid global companies on this trip, but as Caroline was looking for an Americano rather than a double espresso, it was time to hit Star****s. Yes, we’d commented among ourselves when an American couple were drinking out of takeaway cups whilst waiting to go up Elevador de Santa Justa, but the lure proved to be too great. Caroline got her Americano, I plumped for an Iced Mocha and our ‘go local‘ stance had gone out of the window for the rest of the holiday, especially when money off the next visit vouchers were handed over with the change.
As Sunday morning and afternoon meanderings go, the one in central Lisbon was rather good. Although I’m averse to most museums, the Museum of Design and Fashion an interesting experience – and not just because it was a free attraction! An old bank has been turned into a gallery with furniture, design icons and items from Givenchy and Dior.
We’d wandered back down to Praca do Comercio by the Rio Tejo, discovered ginjinha and explored the back streets of Baixa – and all before lunch too! A couple of stalls on a craft market near Praca do Comercio had extracted some euros from our wallets, but the feeling at the time was how relaxed and laid back central Lisbon was. And why hadn’t we discovered it years ago?
Lunch was equally relaxed with salmon and cream cheese wraps washed down with fresh mango or orange juice and more coffee. Eating out and outside was going to be a feature of this holiday as that night’s evening meal was also eaten outside in the garden of Terra, a vegetarian restaurant that’s famed for its buffets and surroundings.
With curried dishes included in the choices, these were a cut above those offered in another town later in the week. As our local curry houses are all in Bradford, Terra’s dishes were more akin to what we’re used to at home whereas the other establishment’s offerings were more a case of ‘take a walk on the mild side…’.
We felt that we’d earned it though – we’d been walking for hours and had found our way around quite well without resorting to getting a map out to find out where we were. Only one barrier had got in our way whilst wandering around – a charge to walk through the Botanical Gardens.
If it’s Monday, then it’s just another day in Lisbon. We’d abandoned plans to take a journey on Tram 28 the day before thanks to a scrum worthy of Odsal Stadium (home of Bradford Bulls Rugby League team).
So we had another early start and caught Tram 28 at 9am. It’s on most traveller’s ‘to do’ lists in Lisbon as it wends its way around the streets on the forty-odd minute journey between Martin Moniz and Campo Ourique. The route is almost Lisbon in a nutshell as it takes in Alfama and sights such as the Se along the way.
The walk back into the centre after the ride on Tram 28 was the result of an unexpected need to go shopping. My camera had packed up even though it was fully charged and been tried with a new memory card. Not an ideal thing to happen on the third day of a trip, but the search for a new one proved fruitless and was abandoned.
Caroline’s Pentax was in full working order and we could share the camera to take whatever shots we wanted as we wandered around. We also had some train travel to book.
The next day’s journey to Sintra was easy as we just had to buy singles at Rossio Station for the short hop to our destination. The journey to book was the one from Lisbon to Evora on the day we left Sintra. With the advance ticket office being just a few feet away from a U.S. based coffee shop, you can guess where the next destination was!
With Terra closed on a Monday, a new place to eat was sought out. Esplanada is on the edge of a park in Principe Real and it’s another indoor/outdoor eating place. As we’d gone to town on Saturday and Sunday night’s meals, we kept the bill down by ordering a couple of specials with beer for me, fruit juice for Caroline and a couple of coffees.
And then? An early night, early breakfast, a quick packing of the bags and a walk down to Rossio Station for the next part of the trip… To be continued!