We had talked about traveling to Portugal for at least 15 years, often as possible winter destination. Like everyone else, we always seemed to go elsewhere--Paris, London, Rome, Vienna, Prague, Istanbul, Madrid, and Moscow, among others. I can't say that was a mistake--each is a worthwhile destination--but so is Portugal. The museums in Lisbon are top notch, the topography throughout the country is stunning, if not somewhat challenging with the 45 to 60 degree inclines on stone streets, and the climate, at least in summer is perfect. And you can't beat the inexpensive, but top flight seafood or pastries. On returning, we noted all the places that we did not visit in Portugal. We will return.
Appearance: No where are the people more attractive than in Lisbon. Everyone is dressed to the nines in very stylish attire. When we headed north, we noticed a change--back to normal.
Children: As is true throughout Europe, the children are well behaved and there does not seem to be quite as much helicopter parenting going on. It is not at all unusual to see families in museums and at cultural events. Indeed, lots of teenagers were visiting the museums. Our favorite experience involving kids was at the Hot Club of Portugal. A grandfather brought his seven-year old grandson to the late night performance of jazz quartet. The two sat in the front row, and the kid spent most of the evening asking his grandfather very animated questions about what was going on. No one objected to that sort of talking, which was very audible. No need for a Sunday 4PM "Save the Children" performance.
Donald Trump: Surprisingly, not one person in Portugal asked us about Donald Trump. Were they afraid they would embarrass us?
Food. Don't bother traveling to Portugal if you don't like seafood. It is plentiful, varied, and relatively inexpensive. We loved the food.
Gardens. Most cities we visit have a nice botanical garden. If you enjoy gardens, Portugal certainly is for you. We overwhelmed with the opportunities to walk in lush surroundings.
Globalization: Given that it is political season in the U.S., we wanted better channel selection than we have experienced over the years while out of the United States. Typically, we have had to rely on SkyTV, the BBC, or CCN headline news, using the weather report to consider locations for our next trip. Things have changed, and we noticed it on this trip. Every hotel had a wide selection of channels. CNN, BBC, the Cartoon network, HBO, the Travel Channel, A & E, among a dozen or so others. Don't get me wrong, we watch virtual no television when on vacation, but as Richard Cohen pointed out in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, he has been unable to avert his eyes while visiting Paris on the train wreck known as Donald Trump. Every night, we wanted to know what gems Trump had uttered during the day, and our need for information was more than satisfied.
Madeira: I am glad that we went to Madeira, but I am not sure I would recommend others do it. Our guide was great, but I don't like guided tours--tours makes photography difficult because the guides assume you are in it for tourist snapshots. Moreover, even when the guide gives you time to explore by yourself, there is a sense that you are keeping him waiting--it is a socially awkward situation. If someone is interested in hard core hiking, Madeira is a great place to go, but go by yourself or with a group that includes hardcore hikers.
Prosperity: You may have heard of the PIIGS--Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain. These are the EU countries that are said to have economic problems. We saw and heard about the problems on our trip to Greece five years ago. Portugal is a much harder nut to crack. The country appears to be very prosperous.
Public Snogging. In Harry Potter parlance, we saw a lot of snogging in public, which was bit surprising for a country so deeply rooted in Catholicism.
Safety: As is usually the case when in Europe, we had little concern about being out late at night. Portugal seemed particularly crime free (except for the pickpockets), which was a welcome after the 2,500+ shootings so far this year in Chicago.
Taxis: We do not take taxis while traveling, except on the rarest occasions. We broke that pattern in Portugal. A 3-day pass for public transportation is 35 Euro, so 70 Euro for the two of us. We used the metro and did lots of walking, which is the best way to experience a city, but we found the taxis to be very inexpensive (the flag drop is 3.50 Euro), with the average cost being around 6 or 7 Euros. We probably rode in a taxi 6 or 7 times while in Lisbon, which meant it was cheaper than the 3-day pass. We did use the trams, but they were very slow, infrequent, and unpredictable.
Terrain: With the exception of Switzerland, I have been to no other place that requires as much up and down walking on steep inclines and declines. Adding to the experience, most of the sidewalks are paved with stone mosaics. I noticed a lot of people walking with crutches and orthopedic braces, leaving me to wonder if a lifetime of walking in Coimbra, Porto, or Lisbon has health issues. On the other hand, no need for a health club membership if your regular mode of transport is your feet.
In the Sixties we had Jesse White playing the Maytag repairman, the loneliest man in town. In Lisbon the equivalent is the Stairmaster salesman. I can only imagine what walking on the already slippery stone-mosaic narrow sidewalks must be like when it is raining.
The Portuguese have used technology to conquer several of the more challenging assents and dissents. In Lisbon. there are three funiculars and two transit elevators—the metro pass works on all of them, otherwise it is 3.50 Euro. We skipped the funiculars, but used one of the elevators. A free alternative is a department store’s escalators.
Trip Advisor: We stayed four nights at the Quinta Jardins do Lago Hotel in Funchal, Madeira. By every standard, it was a 5-star hotel. Beautiful gardens on the estate, an excellent restaurant, an atmospheric bar, spacious well-appointed rooms, accommodating and knowledgable staff, and a gigantic swimming pool if that is your thing. Yet, I would not stay here again were I to return to Funchal.
Since no one we knew had been Madeira, we had a lot of trouble getting the lay of the land in terms of positioning ourselves. We finally conceded the point, opting for this hotel because we thought it would be quiet in contrast to the large resort hotels on the Lido. We were right, but the hotel is isolated, making it difficult to get into the town below (a 20-minute walk on poorly it streets with few sidewalks.
So, how should be rate this hotel on Trip Advisor? Anything less than five stars is unfair, but the hotel's location proved to be a huge problem.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved