Two Fortnights Across The Pond: Jolly Old England the Land of Port Wine – Part II

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Steep hills, cold water, warm sun, wind, lots of fog. Looks like S.F, but it’s not.

Dear Portugal,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry I never visited your beautiful country before now. I’m sorry I didn’t consider a trip here when I was 21 or on my previous ventures to the European Continent. I’m sorry I missed enjoying your food, your wine, your culture, your people, and your natural beauty. It’s not you… it’s me. Having said that, here is Part II of my blog of a month abroad, with the final 17 days spread among three cities along your western coastline.

Day 10, Wednesday, October 5, 2022: London to Porto, Portugal
We spent the night adjacent to the Heathrow South Airport Terminal that Ellen found because of its proximity to our flight today. Knowing we had a 2.5-hour flight ahead of us, we ate a hearty breakfast at the Sofitel Hotel, then walked about 10 minutes to TAP Airlines, the national carrier of Portugal. We got through security in about five minutes –– no pre-TSA here –– then had to wait about 90 minutes for our Noon flight.

A few hours later, we were met by Marco, our driver, in a private car to our hotel, the Porto Bay Flores in the heart of the historic district, a one-mile-long pedestrian street with high-end jewelry boutiques, low-end tourist shops, numerous ATMs, cafés, restaurants, four gelato shops, and an assortment of singers, musicians, and homeless folks.

This is one of Europe’s oldest areas and has been proclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marco told us that Porto is very hilly compared to Lisboa and he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. It’s one of the hilliest places we’ve ever visited. Rome has 7 hills, San Francisco has 48, but I can’t even guesstimate how many Porto has because EVERYTHING is hilly — straight up, straight down, with very few absolutely flat streets.

Our hotel is visually striking. It combines the façade of a 16th-century palace, wrought iron balconies, stone masonry, and an ancient but well-groomed courtyard, with 66 rooms featuring modern architecture, a spa, sauna, small indoor pool, lobby bar, and restaurant. The juxtaposition of the old with the new is something to behold and cherish.

There are many similarities between Portuguese and the Español I learned way back in high school, though this seems to be a more difficult language to understand. The basics such as “Olá” (“Hello”), “Adeus” (“Goodbye”), “Por Favor” (“Please”), “Obrigado” (“Thank you”), and “Cerveja” (“Beer”) are almost identical to each other.

Ate an early dinner at a small touristy restaurant overlooking the Duoro River near one of the many bridges that spans it. Across the way is the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar which is just spectacular at night and overlooks the entire waterfront area.

This area is very similar to Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Sausalito all rolled into one, but with warmer weather and just as much street entertainment. Today was Portugal’s Independence Day, so there were all kinds of student bands, flag wavers, and various entertainers celebrating. Reminded us of Bastille Day when we were in a medieval town called Bayeux many years ago.

Day 11, Thursday, October 6, 2022: Porto
Porto is a very wide-spread city of over 1.5 million people and the country’s second largest, so the best way to see it in a few days is to buy a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus pass. It’s also more than twice as large as San Francisco, area-wise, so it’s very spread out. A woman at the Grey Line booth at a nearby train station famous for its beautiful historic tile motifs recommended a two-day pass on the Blue and Orange lines, with a cruise on the second day along the river.

Today, we did the Blue Bus around the northern part of town, which covered dozens of square miles. We hopped off the bus at Foz, a neighborhood that looked strikingly similar to Santa Monica, especially Ocean Avenue with a wide boulevard, trees, and pricey condos.

We walked about three miles along the beach, including a stop for lunch of a huge chicken Caesar salad and a “mixed” toast of ham and cheese. Some of the beaches here are popular with surfers and body boarders for small wave action, but the water temps are likely in the low to mid 60s, and much of the shoreline is rocky.

After walking about 5 miles for the day, we shuffled downhill again to the waterfront area and had a fantastic dinner at Vinhas d’Alho overlooking the river and across from the monastery mentioned above. It was recommended to us by Luis, our hotel’s most knowledgeable concierge.

Day 12, Friday, October 7, 2022: Porto
We got an earlier start today to beat the heat (forecast is around 75 F.) and walked about one mile uphill to the Mercado de Bolhão. This open-air marketplace is centuries old but was just renovated and reopened a few weeks ago. It’s extremely popular with locals for their fresh produce, fish right off the boat, breads right out of the oven, all kinds of nuts and candies and chocolates.

Since our hotel includes a buffet breakfast daily, we just had a snack, then walked about another mile to a Tour Stop for the Orange Bus today and rode it around town and across one of the many bridges, and around the southern district. It let us off at in the Gaia district, which is where about 20 wineries have tasting along the riverbank.

We had a quick lunch a block from the waterfront in a café. Ellen ordered a hamburger and it was exactly that: a burger with ham and cheese toasted like a panini. My hamburger plate included a plain hamburger patty with a fried egg on top, rice and fries.

Then we took a small motorized boat tour of the river that was included in our two-day bus pass. Today, it was warmish (high 70s) around town but cooler (high 60s) along the waterfront because of thick fog flowing in from the Atlantic a few miles west.

It made for a dramatic cruise in our boat, passing under five of Porto’s many bridges and past river cruise ships, including one from Viking. The fog, the waterfront, and the microclimates all reminded us so much of San Francisco Bay, which we can see from our condo at home.

We walked across a pedestrian bridge and back to the hotel to rest for a few hours before a relatively early dinner (8 pm) by European standards. Luis recommended another great place to eat. While Restaurante do Terreirinho was downhill and at the edge of the touristy area, it was in a quiet alley and frequented by locals with a smattering of visitors who were also there through their hotel’s suggestions. Having learned our lesson from previous dinners in the UK and Portugal, we ordered and shared a variety of tapas: bread with olives and olive oil, tuna tartare with crackers, cooked carrots with coriander, prawns in lemon and garlic, lemon meringue pie, and Port wine.

We trudged back uphill and were shocked to see we’d walked 6.2 miles today, even though we were on buses and boats in the afternoon. 

Day 13, Saturday, October 8, 2022: Porto – Lisbon
Getaway days are always melancholy, but exciting. You feel sad that you’re leaving a city that you’ve now explored but are looking forward to the next adventure. I know surprisingly little about Lisbon, except that it’s the capital and largest city in Portugal with a population within its urban area of about 2.7 million people, it has trolley cars, hills, and an iconic suspension bridge that looks like our Golden Gate and Bay Bridges had a baby.

The “fast” train from Porto to Lisbon took about 3 hours to travel nearly 200 miles and reached speeds of about 135 mph. We arrived to a hot afternoon with temps in the high 80s and some humidity. We’ll be here for 11 days.

We hailed a cab and saw that he already had two fares. Turned out they were his wife and young son on their way home, but he wanted to grab one more ride on Saturday night. The driver didn’t know where this cul de sac was, so he used Ellen’s phone with Google Maps to find it.

The owner of the Airbnb met us in front of her new high-rise condo building and took us to the 4th floor. It’s a beautiful, ultra-modern space with a big living room / kitchen, large bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms, a large deck with a Tagus River view, a rooftop pool, black out shades operated by wall switches, even a washer/dryer. Very sleekly designed and very comfy.

She left us a binder full of info listing the super mercado for groceries, a deli with bagels and locally made but world famous little custard tarts dating back to 1837, Pastéis de Nata, many nearby restaurants, a huge mall with movie theaters and a grocery store, all within a 10-minute walk.

I’ll admit I get spoiled when we stay in 4- and 5-star hotels like we have in London and Porto so far on this trip. But an Airbnb experience lets you live like a native, walk the city’s neighborhoods, and eat where they eat, far away from the tourist traps.

So for dinner after a long travel day, I called a nearby restaurant, ordered a salad and pizza, I walked there to pick it up, and we enjoyed it with a bottle of Portugal wine from our host as we caught up on our laundry.

Day 14, Sunday, October 9, 2022: Lisbon
We had breakfast at the condo and started walking about 11. By Noon, we had our daily pastéis de nata for a snack, walked down some steep hills to the central square of the city, booked a 2-day Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour to see the main city sites, and enjoyed a huge loop in a double-decker bus with audio earphone accompaniment in a choice of 14 languages for about 2 hours.

The bus took us by countless buildings with beautiful tile work, which dates back to the 13th century in Portugal and helped shape this country’s culture. A highlight of the tour was Belém and its historic fort on the east side of town.

Ellen found a great local restaurant about a half-mile from where we departed the bus called Manifest Lisbon. Their “Continental Salmon Brunch” consisted of yogurt with granola, guacamole, jam, butter, a fresh croissant, thick bread with scrambled eggs, cheese, salmon, and fresh fruit. Very filling and extremely tasty. Ellen favored a healthier option, the Quinoa Bowl with avocado toast, that was also quite good.

We walked up the hill to the Amoreiras Mall Panoramic View, 17 floors up and one of Lisbon’s highest points. Reminded me of the top of the Empire State Building, though that’s much more dramatic. But this was pretty, pretty good and offered views of the 25 de April Bridge, the statue of Christ across the river similar to Rio’s, Belém historical area, city parks, the river in the distance, and more.

We bought some essentials at the grocery store, got home just as it started to rain, and had a light dinner here. For the day, we walked 4.6 miles.

Day 15, Monday, October 10, 2022: Lisbon
Our European trip is now half over. Woke up to a light rain with a forecast of heavier precipitation later. Since the museums are all closed today, we decided to go to the Oceanário de Lisboa, Europe’s largest (five million liters with four unique habitats), one of the world’s most prestigious marine life collections anywhere, and Portugal’s most popular cultural attraction.

Located on the northeast side of town near the Ponte Vasco da Gama (bridge) and built in 1998, it’s housed in two structures. The Oceans Building spotlights a huge public aquarium visited by about 1 million visitors annually and supporting ocean sustainability while the Sea Building currently has a “Forests Underwater” exhibit featuring tropical rainforests, and a video called “One, The Ocean As You Never Felt It”, showcasing marine biologists snorkeling with sharks and a variety of whales.

We got here about 11am and were shocked to see several hundred people waiting for entry but were told that these cruise passengers should clear out by 1pm. So we hopped on an aerial tramway along the river, took a long stroll in the rain past numerous restaurants and a bullfighting ring, but we ate lunch at the carbon neutral restaurant that supports the #SEATHEFUTURE movement to raise awareness and shift public behavior towards protecting and valuing the ocean.

By the time we got into the aquarium building, it was still crowded, but not as wall-to-wall as in the morning. We’ve visited quite a few of the world’s best aquariums, including Monterey Bay, Sydney, Boston and Walt Disney World’s Living Seas Exhibit (where I’ve scuba dived in a 5-million gallon tank, far bigger than this one), but this one was still an amazing experience.

Unlike Monterey Bay’s world-class kelp forest tank with only two principal places to view it (upstairs and downstairs), the Oceanário’s central tank has multiple viewing points as you walk around to its four large windows and multiple side portals on your way to other exhibits with penguins, sea otters, and more.

The main tank featured about a 20-foot-high window housing a variety of sharks (seven-gill, nurse, tiger, and a few I didn’t recognize), manta rays, smaller bat rays, and its celebrated sun fish.

We took a Bolt (similar to Uber) back to our Airbnb in heavier rain and met some Bay Area friends for some wine at their cute boutique hotel on the south side overlooking the river. Next, we walked around the corner to a great local restaurant where seven of us had a wonderful meal at Geographica, which pays tribute to the richness of Portuguese global gastronomy.

Final step count: 8,500 and 3.75 miles – less than normal because of taking Bolt to shield ourselves from heavy rain.

Day 16, Tuesday, October 11, 2022: Lisbon
As we settle into our daily routine, we ate breakfast in the condo then made a beeline for a park at the top of the city. We strolled down the Avenida de Liberdade.  It’s several miles long and very similar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the Champs-Élysées in Paris –– a wide boulevard with multiple lanes of traffic each way, brand-name boutiques, local high-end shops, hotels, restaurants, and cafés.

We grabbed a pastéis de nata for me and a chocolate croissant for Ellen as sustenance for the trek. After seeing the big crowd waiting for one of the three local 19th century funiculars (a la San Francisco’s Powell-Market cable car turnaround), we walked straight up one of the steepest streets in town, Calçada da Glória towards the Bairro Alto neighborhood.  Where our cable car literally grip a cable running at 9 mph beneath the slotted streets, these are electric and a lot quieter. At the top of the hill, we turns right and walked into a small park overlooking many rooftops of this sprawling city.

Ellen found a restaurant with a beautiful garden and open seating out back called ZeroZero, the same name as of our favorite pizza places in S.F. The staff got a big kick when we showed them the website for their namesake. We each had a terrific salad and vowed to try the pizza another time.

On the walk back to the condo, we passed what looked like an ancient aqueduct. Knowing the Romans had settled here about 2,000 years ago, we assumed this one theirs. Turns out, it was built in the 18th century, so not quite as old as we thought.

Since it was a warm day (about 80 F), I went up to our roof to take a swim. The owner had warned us that it was a “small” pool, but it was basically kiddie-sized –– about 2′ deep and 9′ square, so I dipped my legs and it was somewhat refreshing.

We also had Italian food for dinner in a neighborhood place called Trattoria that was recommended by our Airbnb owner and it was quite authentic. We’ll probably be back because it’s around the corner. Total mileage: 15,100 steps and 6.25 miles walked.

 

Day 17: Wednesday, October 12, 2022: Lisbon
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in this part of Portugal, that means taking a “Lisbon Market, Food and Cultural Tour”. www.TasteofLisboa.com is the brainchild of Filipa Valente, a native who cut her teeth in the corporate world and now runs a well-oiled business, employing four tour guides. We selected her from reviews on Tripadvisor and it certainly lived up to the hype.

Filipa was warm, knowledgeable, and the perfect guide as we immersed ourselves in the gastro-trendy 19th-century neighborhood of Campo de Ourique. High-end shops, apartment buildings sheathed in colorful tiles, friendly and family-oriented Lisboans were evident everywhere. Here, they go about their daily lives in a quieter setting than the extremely busy touristy areas.

What about the food? In a word, “Amazing”. We started with “The Best Chocolate Cake in The World”, a franchise created here 30 years ago by Carlos Braz Lopes. which served us each a good-sized slice of chocolate mousse cake with chocolate meringue, and a chocolate ganache topping. One of the best I’ve ever had. (My sister would move to Lisbon just to have this every day!)

Next, we walked around the corner to the huge Campo de Ourique Mercado with a thriving fish market. We had never seen many species caught that morning and for sale, but we sat down to taste fresh sardines in olive oil and herbs, plus steamed clams in a broth with wine, olive oil, and herbs. Enjoyed these with a glass of white wine. Superb!

The third stop was a beautiful restaurant about a block away called Chiringuito, a former bakery. Its charming owner Pedro served us a local dish: arboreal rice in a tomato sauce with a “green” hard-boiled egg. The yolk is scooped out, mashed with cilantro, and covered with breadcrumbs. Delish with more white wine.

Following that, we went to the Padaria do Povo (Bakery of the People) in a secluded upstairs setting with a hidden communal garden for a traditional stew of pork, sausage, corn, and rice shown here. Portuguese comfort food! Here, I also tried the Ginjinha, a favorite Lisbon drink made from berries, sugar, and brandy. Sweet but medicinal-tasting!

Our final stop was to a pastelaria (bakery) where we indulged in a Pastéis de Nata, a malasada (Portuguese donut with custard filling, similar to what we’ve had in Honolulu), and a sweet / savory sandwich with cheese. Yum!

Overall, Filipa was sincere, entertaining, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. She even spent an extra hour with us during the tour, explaining why this neighborhood where she attended school was so unique, Portugal’s history, and politics. We highly recommend Taste of Lisboa for an immersive and totally enjoyable food and cultural walking tour.

After that, we strolled home, had a light dinner nearby, and called it a very fulfilling day. Total steps: 12,850; total mileage: 5.

Day 18: Thursday, October 13, 2022: Sintra
Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s got a shitload of castles and palaces. Seven, in all, in fact, spread around a city of about 400,000.

According to Rick Steves, the German-born Portuguese King Ferdinand was a cousin of Bavaria’s King Ludwig who had built the famous “fairy tale” castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.  (This is the same one that also inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s edifice.) Ferdinand was so enamored that he hired a German architect to build his own fantasy castle, mixing German and Portuguese styles for his Pena Palace.

The result is a hybrid of what Rick calls, “a crazy Neo-fortified casserole of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets, Maneuline carvings, Disneyland playfulness, and an azulejo (tile) toilet for his wife.”

All of Sintra –– from the train station terminal 40 minutes northwest from Lisbon, to the quaint town, to each of its absolutely packed buses, to each of its palaces with their slow-moving snaking lines –– I kept telling Ellen, “It’s just like waiting for a ride in Disneyland.”  She said, “It’s like Disneyland on steroids.”

Well, we didn’t wish upon a star to waste time here, but it was worth the visit to see the 1839 Pena Palace as an extravagant example of mixing various architectural styles. It had been converted from the Monastery of Our Lady of Jerome Pena by king consort Ferdinand II of Saxe Coburgo-Gotha. And on the bus ride to and from Pena Palace from town, we passed  green valleys, craggy hills, six other castles, and beautiful gardens.

We got back to Lisbon mid-afternoon, rested for a while in the condo, then walked around the corner for a cozy dinner in a neighborhood place we’d gone the night before.

We haven’t mentioned until now how crowded it’s been in Portugal (and England, too). We thought that traveling in the fall would draw fewer tourists. But the dollar is so strong right now vs. foreign currencies ($100 US = 97 Euros and $100 US = $1.12 British Pound), that many are taking advantage of the lower cost of living. We’re spending less than we budgeted because the food portions are so large and the meals are so inexpensive vs. England or the U.S. Total steps: 13,000; total mileage: 5.6.

Day 19: Friday, October 14, 2022: Cascais
Ellen and I have been to the French and Italian Rivieras. Today, we hopped on a local train due west for 45 minutes to the former fishing village of Cascais. Once the summer retreat of nobility, it’s now the heart of the Portuguese Riviera.

It was a gorgeous day to walk the town’s wide pedestrian streets which reminded us of Sitges, Spain, near Barcelona. There were dozens of restaurants with outside seats, a few nicer shops than your typical beach town, as well as the usual tourist storefronts.

We enjoyed a huge plate of a baked cod with onions, potatoes, olive oil, and parsley. At all meals, we order the appetizer plate with green and black olives, fresh bread.  This one included homemade marmalade and a mixture of cheese (goat, cow, and sheep),

(You pay extra for these, but tax and tip are always included in most European meals, which is what some San Francisco restaurants are adapting for one-price meals.)

Later, we strolled past beach after beach, noting dozens of joggers, bikers, and swimmers. I thought this is no coincidence, there must be a triathlon coming up here. Sure enough, the Cascais Ironman is 73 km this Sunday, following last Sunday’s Lisbon Marathon, and two weeks after London’s.

We took a well-deserved gelato break from the 80-degree heat and grabbed a train back to Lisbon, then walked a few blocks to the Time Out Market (Mercado da Ribeira). We had heard that this high-end food court had a few Michelin-starred restaurants, but that is not the case. It’s built for tourists.

We  saw about two dozen food and drink booths for hamburgers, seafood (octopus hot dog, anyone?), food blends (sushi tacos), pastries, gelato, and all kinds of drinks. We weren’t hungry and the noisy crowds (mostly boisterous young Americans) were another reason for us to beat a quick retreat.

After grabbing a Bolt (Uber) home from near the waterfront, we rested for a while, then ordered sushi from a neighborhood kiosk. Pretty good way to end another perfect day in Portuguese paradise.

Final steps: 12,725; miles 5.2.

Day 20, Saturday, October 15, 2022: Lisbon
After two day trips out of town, we decided to stay in Lisbon and took a 2-hour walking tour of the Alfama district from Rossio Square. “Free” tours are available every half-hour with various guides holding yellow or white umbrellas. You can join them on the spot,  but we signed up in advance because it’s so crowded. All the guides request is a generous tip when it’s over.

Ricardo, originally from Brazil, was our knowledgeable and personable guide, walking 11 of us up and around this historic area for about 3 miles round-trip. He began by telling us about the tragic Great Lisbon Earthquake, fire, and tsunami that destroyed about 80% of the city and 35% of the people on November 1, 1755. Seismologists believe it registered 7.7 on the Richter Scale, which would have been the most destructive ever in Europe. Between the earthquake, fire and tsunami, it’s estimated that 35% of Lisbon’s population, somewhere between 12,000-50,000 died.

By comparison, San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire, which was the equivalent of a 7.9 tremor, destroyed 80% of the city, and killed 3,000 people.

We then saw a plaque acknowledging an event 516 years ago (1506) when the Portuguese killed 2,000 Jews after a perceived blasphemous comment. After that, they were given a choice: convert to become “New Christians” or die. Many chose the former.

Across the street was the huge Church of São Domingos, a national monument dating back to the 1241. It survived the quake but needed about six hundred years to be completely rebuilt. The ceiling is red to commemorate this city’s deaths mentioned above and it’s supported by sturdy flying buttresses.

The Alfama District is very hilly. Its original inhabitants were fisherman, then Moors and Jews who had been expelled from Spain. The area survived the earthquake and tsunami with the residents taking in the survivors.

We kept climbing narrow, cobblestoned streets on the way to the Moorish Castle and Cathedral. The views were amazing, with one beautiful vista after another, including one from a rooftop terrace. On the way down we had another tasting of ginjinha, this one in a chocolate shell, which made it much more palatable.

After the tour, we grabbed a Bolt back to Zero Zero Restaurant in the Principe Real Shopping District, this time for a gorgonzola, walnut, and rocket salad, plus tomato sauce, artichokes, and prosciutto pizza. Delicious! Next, we had some great gelato at Nivá to cool off from the 80-degree weather, then walked around the Embaixada complex. It’s a 19th Century Arabian-styled townhouse that now houses upscale and creative goods.

We then took a slow walk home and decided to see “Ticket to Paradise” with George Clooney and Julia Roberts at the nearby mall. Must have been a matinee because it was only about $6 per person for a Senior rate.

Lunch filled us up so much that we had a small dinner at home and that was our day. Total steps: 13,000; total miles: 6.

Day 21, Sunday, October 16, 2022: Lisbon
It was cooler and rain was again forecast, so we first stopped in the closest bakery for my daily Pastéis de Nata fix, walked down the hill to the nearest Metro, and rode two stops to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.  It’s located in the beautiful Parque Eduardo VII, in the center of Lisbon. Born in Turkey and of Armenian origin, Mr. Gulbenkian moved to Turkey, then England where he acquired a British nationality, and ended up in Lisbon until he passed in 1955.

Rene Lalique peacock hair pin

His private collection is both eclectic and unique, totaling over 6,000 pieces from across the globe, from antiquity to the early 20th century. It includes Renoir, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Manet, Rodin, and a huge batch of Rene Lalique who was a personal friend for decades, all in a beautifully designed venue that’s celebrating its 60th anniversary. It displays 1,000 pieces at a time.

Feasting our eyes on culture made us hungry. We decided to seek an order of unagi sushi, a hearty bowl of soba noodles, and side order or tempura, we found Aron Sushi a few blocks away. This neighborhood restaurant, one of three in Lisbon, was created by a Brazilian who emigrated to Portugal about 20 years ago. The food was as good as any we’ve had in American sushi bars.

When we asked, “Where are you from?” to the folks next to us, they said, “Philadelphia” though they both had exotic accents. They visit Portugal every few years and this six-week journey is their first since COVID. Their order was the most extravagant I’ve ever seen and combined about 10 kinds of sushi. I had to take a photo over the woman’s shoulder and vowed to someday “have what she’s having”.

A short stroll away is the city’s oldest (80 years) and second largest mall, El Cortes Inglés, with 11 floors of everything you could possibly need. The top floor is called The Gourmet Experience, encompassing a café, several restaurants, and a massive rooftop deck. We would definitely recommend it vs. the overcrowded Time Out Market we’d visited a few days ago.

I’ve fallen in love with the sardine and mackerel tin art. Here’s an example of a playful logo for a local brand that reminds me of Charlie The Tuna for Starkist. We also saw dozens of samples like these in the Mercado a few days ago during the Food and Walking Tour in a different neighborhood.

We took the Metro back to the closest Metro hub, walked up the hill, and back to our condo. Again, we had such a big lunch, we ate at home and watched some TV.

A few more random observations:

  • The Portuguese People – They couldn’t be nicer. The great majority speak English though they appreciate you saying “Bom Dia” and “Obrigado”.
  • Smoking – We know we’re in Europe, but Jesus Christ, do the Brits and Portuguese smoke a lot! The Millennials are all hooked on vaping while the older ones smoke these awful smelling filterless cigs that smell like dog pooh. All venues are “Probido Fumar” but folks will stand in doorways while you’re eating inside or smoke outside next to you and it really harshes my mellow.
  • Black Flies – They’re populous, persistent, and pesty as hell. They even sometimes land on your face. While they’re not Westworld creepy, we wave our arms and keep our mouths closed.
  • Internet – Both Portugal and Great Britain have fast, free WiFi in most public places: airports, buses, trains, Metro, etc.
  • Value – Our most expensive meal on the whole trip was 86 Euros for a steak dinner with an appetizer, entrees, wine, and dessert. Because tax and tip are included in European restaurants, this would have been at least $125 in the U.S.A.

Total steps: 10,000; miles: 4.3.

Day 22, Monday, October 17, 2022: Évora
If you’ve seen one walled city, you haven’t necessarily seen them all. While Évora’s is only partially enclosed by medieval walls compared to, say, Dubrovnik, this provincial city with a population of 57,000 lies in a southern province 87 miles east of Lisbon and 50 miles west of Spain.

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s very walkable, somewhat hilly, whitewashed like Greek towns, and perfect for a one-day outing. The train ride from Lisbon’s Sete Rios terminal took about 90 minutes, and taxis were sparse, so we walked 15 minutes from the estação de trem into the center of town.

A bit of history: Romans occupied it from around the second century BC to fourth century AD. They built a temple there as part of an urban renewal project; half of its exterior columns still stand as a monument to time. Évora was then ruled by the Moors from the 8th to the 12th century, then was favored by Portuguese kings in the 15th and 16th centuries as a base for their residences.

This city has several museums, an aqueduct, cathedral, university, and a few other churches. But the Church of São Francisco built in the 17th century is both shocking and beautiful in its intention of reflecting “on the transience of human life and the consequent commitment to a permanent Christian experience.” In other words, it serves as a chilling warning about materialism and the certainty of death, dust to dust, and all that stuff.

The Chapel of Bones was built in the 17th century and dedicated to “the cult of the Souls of Purgatory”. Its walls and pillars are covered with approximately 5,000 bones and skulls which were exhumed from overcrowded cemeteries associated with this convent. We found it to be a very somber, creepy room, especially the inscription on a wall, “We the bones are here and awaiting yours.” Rick Steves called it, “Gruesome but unmissable.”

We walked back to the central square to eat al fresco in one of several restaurants, then trekked up the hill to the Roman Temple’s remains, parts of the ancient wall, the Museum of Évora, and the Cathedral, then cooled off with a gelato on another street filled with restaurants and many tourists. Cute town with a nice vibe.

Instead of waiting for the 5:00pm train, we switched to a bus at 2:45 and enjoyed the view back to Lisbon, especially passing over the 25th of April Bridge and its similarities to the Golden Gate. A few differences: this suspension bridge is longer, its towers have cross-hatched supports like the Bay Bridge, and it has a lower deck used by trains.

As we entered Lisbon, we saw more signs of its history, including a lengthy (36 mile) Águas Livres Aqueduct (“Aqueduct of the Free Waters”). Its highest point is 223 feet, it was completed in 1799 to supply water to the city from Sintra and we’ve heard that visitors can walk for 1 km (0.6 miles) on its main portion.

For dinner, we chose Pateo 51 for the third time because it’s a 5-minute walk from our condo, the staff is extremely personable, and the food is terrific. Their freshly caught seafood is on display in the front window, as is their lobster tank inside.

During meals, we have seen the chef stroll past us multiple times with a hook to grab your order. Ours tonight were a perfectly grilled salmon for me and what looked like a scramble of potato pancake pieces with cod with Ellen. Both were very tasty and extremely reasonably priced.

Total steps: 15,000; total miles: 6.

Day 23: Tuesday, October 18, 2022: Lisbon
When you’re traveling for about a month, you’ve got to do some laundry. This was one of those days, so we spent most of the day relaxing and getting our clothes clean for the last week of the trip.

The only errand I ran was to the bakery around the corner for a Pastéis de Nata, the Portuguese custard tart that’s been loved by this country’s people –– and visitors worldwide –– since 1837. Like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “finger-lickin’ good” recipe of 11 herbs and spices, this one is also a well-kept secret. The tarts are sold in virtually every café and pastry shop throughout Portugal. I’ve had one of these almost daily for 2 weeks now – haven’t gained a pound because of walking an average of 4.5 miles daily –– and it’s a very sweet, very gooey treat.

We went to dinner in the neighborhood at Il Mercado, another charming Italian restaurant, and had a great meal, including complimentary bites of asiago to start and port to finish.  For dinner, Ellen had gnocchi in a ragu sauce and I had the veal scallopini, plus tiramisu for dessert.

Total steps: only 3,300; total miles: 1.5.

Day 24, Wednesday, October 19, 2022: Lisbon – Olhos de Água, The Algarve
Rain has been forecast for our last five days in Portugal, so it was as good a time as ever to bid Lisbon a fond farewell and make our way south. The Algarve is a large area about 60 miles wide along the Atlantic Coast that is popular with Brits, Germans, and other Europeans for their holidays.

And why not? Typically, it’s warmer than anywhere else in Portugal. There are many oceanside resorts. Golf courses are plentiful. Sports fishing is available. But we just wanted a place to rest after all the traveling.

We hopped a train today at 10:15 and arrived three hours later, grabbed a Bolt, and got to the Hotel Porto Bay Falésia by 2:00pm. This area reminds me of a cross between Hawaii, Carmel / Monterey because of the rough oceans and pine trees everywhere, and Bryce Canyon’s red cliffs.

Because we had stayed at Porto Bay Flores in Porto, we got a nice room upgrade with an ocean and pool view. There’s also a hot tub and an indoor pool for when it rains.

Had dinner at the Italian restaurant (both on-property venues were featuring that cuisine tonight). We started with minestrone and a basket of bread, olives, and olive oil. Ellen ordered the Caesar salad with chicken while I enjoyed the tortellini with ricotta and spinach. Had to indulge in a few flavors of gelato for dessert, right?

Total steps: only 2,500; total miles: 1.1

Day 25: Thursday, October 20, 2022: Olhos de Água, The Algarve
Break out the long pants and fleece tops. The weather has turned butt ugly. Not quite an atmospheric river like we hit during our Alaska cruise in August that prevented us from seeing a glacier, but tree-bending winds, cooler temps, and about 1” of rain throughout the day. More is forecast for the rest of our stay, but today was hopefully the worse day.

Remember when Vitalis was a hair oil we used in the 1960s? Here, it’s a bottled water brand.

So, we relaxed. Slept in. Took a swim in the indoor pool. Took a nap. Watched a movie on Netflix. And ate all three meals in the hotel’s two restaurants. Breakfast was a typical buffet offering of cooked and made-to-order omelets, all kinds of fruit, cheeses, fresh breads, sliced meats, et.al.

For lunch, we walked about 50 yards between rain showers to the Italian restaurant and shared a club sandwich and freshly baked potato chips.

Dinner was a Caribbean-themed buffet featuring all kinds of seafood: baked pollock, ling cod, two kinds of ceviche, a shrimp pastie, chicken stroganoff, beef chili, and more. Pretty good, but not type of food I’ve had in the Caymans or other warm water islands.

An embarrassingly low number of steps today: 1,900; total miles: 1.0.

Day 26: Friday, October 21, 2022: Olhos de Água & Albufeira, The Algarve
It was a dark and stormy night. And then this beautiful, bright yellow thing appeared in the sky and brightened everyone’s collective moods. What a difference a day makes!

After breakfast at the hotel, we summoned a Bolt and directed it about 15 minutes west to Albufeira, a town that was conquered by the Portuguese from the Moors in 1504. It was an active fishing village for centuries but was promoted to a town in 1986. Now, it’s a hopping tourist center, especially popular with young travelers and locals for its dozens of restaurants, bars, shops, and nightlife.

We strolled through intermittent rain showers all around the town and to the beach.Popped into quite a few shops to browse the cork and tile gifts. Had lunch at a charming place on the main drag with outside tables and pretty good seafood: a shrimp cocktail for Ellen and a tuna steak for me. I had to have my daily gelato, so after we got back from the touristy town, we walked about a half-mile past our hotel in the quaint area known as Olhos de Água, found a restaurant serving desserts, then also discovered some small local restaurants.

These beautiful sculptures were above the beach, too. Looks like corrugated metal but skillfully executed. These are part of a large installation of about 20 pieces by Carlos de Oliveira Correia  all across The Algarve to raise awareness of environmental protection and promote good health.

We also saw some funny signs for restaurants such as this one on the right that seems to be an oxymoron: a Jewish name for an “All You Can Eat” pork ribs and chicken wings joint. Not exactly Kosher.

Since the rain had dissipated, I wanted to take a swim in the huge outdoor pool because the small indoor one is just too small and too crowded. It wasn’t that warm out –– only about 70 F. with no wind –– but it was good swimming weather. Until I jumped in. The water was about 65 F. so I was instantly chilled, took a few quick laps to try to warm up, and got out, shivering but not hypothermic. The sun warmed me up and I was fine.

We asked our concierge for a recommendation and dined at Manzo Steakhouse which was superb. We each had a glass of local wine, started with a pulled pork and cashew bao that was amazingly tender, Ellen had a great burger, and I dug into a good-sized rib eye steak with béarnaise sauce and sweet potato fries. We opted for crème brúlee instead of more gelato and that was the right call. Truly an excellent dinner and one of the best we’ve had on our trip.

Walked back to our hotel under cloudy skies and it was still about 70 F. at 9:00pm. Nice! Total steps today: 13,850; total miles: 6.0.

 

Day 27: Saturday, October 22, 2022: Olhos de Água, The Algarve
All good things must end. This was a melancholy day because we’re  now near the end of our very relaxing, month-long vacation.

It will take us three more days of travel to get home: one train and two flights to cross 5,800 miles in all.

Though rain was predicted for part of the day, our luck changed, and we had party cloudy weather of about 70 F. all day with a nice breeze. After breakfast and again after lunch, we took a few long walks into the town of Olhos de ´Agua, named after some natural fresh water springs discovered in the town that are visible during low tide.

This area is a bit touristy with a handful of high-rise hotels like ours and dozens of local restaurants, but it’s like Pacifica compared to San Francisco for foot traffic, shops, and such. And with a population of only 3,200, it’s nothing like Albufeira which we explored yesterday. So glad we didn’t stay there.

The sandy cove and fishing boats area is rustic and small. Wind-eroded red cliffs kiss the surf.  The water was 67 F., probably the same temp as the pool at our hotel which is most likely saline. Only a few hardy souls were wading in the Atlantic Ocean, body, or board surfing.

We had planned on walking into town for dinner and having a beachside dinner. But we opted for the hotel’s Iberian-themed buffet of a variety of fish, paella, tapas, and more. Pretty good.

We’ll start packing tonight and finish tomorrow after breakfast. Obrigato! Total steps today: 12,800; total miles: 5.3.

Day 28: Sunday, October 23, 2022: The Algarve – Lisbon
This was our first of three consecutive travel days to get home. Because we had booked most of our planes, trains, hotels, and Airbnb’s months in advance when flight cancellations were a much-publicized thing, we chose to do three shorter trips instead of one extremely long day.

First was today’s train trip from Albufeira to Lisbon, which was 3.5 hours. We met many Americans who all agreed that The Algarve –– and all of Portugal ––  were packed with tourists from various countries even though this is supposedly the off-season. The locals all say, “You should see it in the summer when there are wall-to-wall people in the beach towns.” Not sorry we missed that.

Anyway, pulled into Lisbon’s Estação do Oriente and it is a beautifully designed building that reminds me of many airports. This building houses trains to all over the Iberian Peninsula, a Galleria Shopping Mall, Metro, and local restaurants. Just amazing!

We grabbed a cab to our airport hotel 10 minutes away, had a quick dinner, but not the local fried codfish for a change. Turned in early because we have a 7:30 shuttle to the airport for a 10:00am flight to Heathrow that should land a few hours later… if all goes well.

Total steps today: 2,400; total miles: 1.

Day 29: Monday, October 24, 2022: Lisbon – London
In 1785, Robert Burns wrote, “Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Today was a day when several things on one flight went askew.

Our flight from Lisbon to London, scheduled to leave at 10:05am, didn’t get airborne until 11:15am. We landed at 1:37pm instead of 12:45pm, so we picked up some time in transit. However, after spending 30 minutes going through Customs, we had to wait another hour for our luggage to slide off the plane. While waiting, Ellen checked her Apple Air Tag for the luggage. Fortunately, all pieces were at Heathrow so the delay was on the ground crew’s end. These factors added about 2 hours to a short flight and basically ate up our day.

But that’s why Ellen planned only one flight today and the longer journey home tomorrow just in case anything should “go awry”. We walked across Heathrow Terminal 2 to our hotel, checked in, ate a very early dinner by European standards (5:15pm) because we hardly ate all day.

While we wolfed down our final meal across the pond and looked forward to getting back to SFO Tuesday afternoon PT, we reminisced. This trip included:

  • 4 flights
  • 7 hotels and 1 Airbnb
  • 4 plays
  • 6 museums
  • 10 train journeys
  • Countless gelatos and Pastéis de Nata
  • Dozens of Metro and Underground rides
  • 118 miles walking or an average of 4.2 over 28 days
  • Over 13,250 miles by planes, trains, and automobiles
  • And a trip that ranks as one of our favorites across more than 30 years of traveling together

We’re thankful for two things. First, Ellen’s total knee replacement from March 2  periodically swelled a bit but was never a debilitating factor. Second, we’re so fortunate that Ellen kept saying, “The is what retirement looks like” and to me, it looks like it’s closer than ever.

P.S: We spent the entire month avoiding COVID by masking everywhere. Just tested and we are still coronavirus virgins!

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