Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Earlier this month, Kyle had six days in a row off of work.  We wanted to take advantage of that awesome stretch of days off to visit a country we had never been to.  We decided on Portugal!  We've always heard wonderful things about it, and it seemed like the perfect choice for a summer destination!

We flew to Lisbon in about two and a half hours.  That's a pretty quick flight, but for a flight within Europe, it's actually kind of a long one!  We rented a car to visit a few places outside of Lisbon.  I had reserved an economy car, but they gave us a Mercedes!  We were not going to argue about that!  We headed straight from the airport to our first destination; Óbidos.  It's a small, walled, ancient hill town that dates back to the ancient Romans.  It was a quick hour long drive from Lisbon.  We were disappointed by the cool weather and overcast skies, but we were not disappointed by the town.  It is such a picturesque town.  It's surrounded by a medieval wall and it had beautiful white washed buildings and homes all with terracotta tiled roofs.  Gorgeous flowers grew from window boxes and over arbors and archways.  There is even a very well preserved Roman aqueduct.  It's exactly what you think a small Portuguese village should be!

Cherry Liqueur in a chocolate cup, a specialty of the region 

We took our time admiring the town, then headed to Sintra, where we would be staying for a couple of days.  We checked into our hotel, which was a gorgeous villa.  I would definitely stay there again.  It was bright and cheery, surrounded by lush gardens and a very nice pool.  (We didn't get to try the pool out because of the dumb weather.)  The villa owner gave us some tips, then we headed to to see the old town of Sintra.  It was very foggy, so we couldn't see the two castles on the mountain tops overlooking the town, but it was still beautiful.  It has winding, cobble stone streets and pastel painted buildings.  After our evening stroll, we had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant that was highly recommended by the villa owner.  It was so good, we thought about going back the next day!

The beautiful Villa das Rosas

Old town Sintra

Swordfish, veggies, and banana!  Yum!  (Except the beet. Yuck!)
The next morning we woke up to heavy fog.  We decided to stick with our plan anyway.  We had an awesome breakfast at the hotel, then headed to the Moorish castle ruins that overlook the town of Sintra.  It was a steep, winding ride through the forest and up the mountain to get to the castle.  We couldn't admire the views because of the fog, but it gave the ruins a great moody atmosphere.

Delicious breakfast at the villa!

After walking around the Moorish castle grounds, we headed into town to grab lunch and tour the gardens of an amazing mansion.  It was called the Palacio da Regaleira.  It reminded us of a Portuguese Downton Abbey!  The mansion was beautiful, but the gardens were fabulous!  I think the owner might have been a bit crazy!  The massive grounds had grottos, towers, wells, caves, and waterfalls.  We spent a lot of time exploring the grounds, but we could have spent a lot more!

Climbing up the well...

Looking down the well

We headed back up the mountain to visit Sintra's most famous castle; the Pena National Palace.  It looks like a fairy tale castle!  It's full of bright colors, towers, turrets, and lovely painted tiles.  A monastery used to stand in place of the castle, until 1838 when King Ferdinand II acquired the ruins, and built the Romantic style castle as a summer residence.  It's a really unique blend of styles.  Its built of  practically neo-everything!

Duck houses with no ducks!

We still had plenty of foggy daylight left, so we decided to head to Cabo da Roca, which is Europe's western-most point.  It wasn't very far, but the further we drove, the foggier it got!  It actually got a bit scary, feeling like we were driving on a cliff with nothing on either side!  There were actually other crazy people like us there to see the edge of the world.  From the cliff we were standing on, we could barely make out a few waves through the mist below.

Smiling for the camera...

How I really felt about the weather...

From there, we drove to a restaurant on what is supposed to be one of Europe's prettiest beaches.  It was definitely very beautiful and secluded.  It was surrounded by cliffs and had a really neat rock archway.  I wish I could have spent a couple of hours there in the sun laying in the sand!  With the cool, overcast skies, this was definitely not a trip where I got a beach day!  (Much to my dismay!)  We ate some fish at the beach restaurant, then headed back to Sintra.

A very fishy dinner

The next day we drove the car back to Lisbon, turned it in, then spent a few days there.  At first I wasn't really into it.  It was gray, and gloomy, which made the city appear drab and dingy.  It really grew on me though, the more we walked around.  Especially on our second evening there, we got a glimpse of blue sky which made it seem like a completely different city!  We spent that first evening the way we usually do in a new city, just wandering around.  We went to a wonderful restaurant called Sacramento for dinner that was recommended by a person at the hotel.  The food in Lisbon is very reasonably priced, so eating out was a lot of fun!

There's never a bad time for ice cream!

Goat cheese with strawberry jam

Kyle's stuffed chicken

My stack of fish, potatoes, and onions. Sooo good!

We started off the next day with chocolate croissants, cappuccinos, and a walking tour of the old town.  Lisbon was pretty much destroyed in 1755 by an earthquake.  It was estimated that it rated about 9.0.  The earthquake caused a bunch of fires to tear through the city, followed by a tsunami.  I bet those poor people thought the world was ending!  Our tour took us through the winding, old streets of the small part of town that survived the devastation.  It was a great tour that was really interesting.  (I know it's a touristy thing to do, but hey, we are tourists!  And I have never regretted a guided tour.  It's so much more interesting than reading info from books, or not knowing anything about what you're looking at at all!)

The most interesting part for me was the Alfama neighborhood.  It's been rent controlled for about forever, so a lot of old, poor people that live on minimal retirement only live there.  Many of them pay only about 5 euros a month to live there!  Because of the rent control, the landlords have no money to upgrade or fix the apartments.  Most of the neighborhood didn't even have running water or electricity until the 1990's!  It's hard to believe!  It sounds like the people that live there are quite the characters that really own their neighborhood.  (I used pictures from the sunny day we went back to the neighborhood, not from our actual tour!)

After our tour, we went to a town on the outskirts of Lisbon called Belém. We took the trolley there see the extremely impressive Jerónimos Monastery as well as the Tower of Belém and the Monument to the Discoveries. They are right along the coast, where we could also see a bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge.

Back in Lisbon, we rested our feet for a bit at our hotel before heading out for the evening.  We wandered around the busy Chiado and Bairro Alto neighborhoods that have a lot of shops, cafe's, and restaurants.  We even had about an hour of blue skies!  Imagine that!

I forgot what blue skies looked like!  

The next day was our last day, and thank goodness it was sunny!  We had already seen pretty much everything we wanted to, so we went back to a few of the places so that Kyle could get pictures with blue skies.  We went to a couple of points with awesome views of the city.  It was so nice to just be outside on a gorgeous day, especially after so many gloomy days!

We couldn't visit Portugal without doing some Port tasting, so that evening we spent some time at the Port Wine Institute.  It's in an old mansion, and it's pretty much a lounge with a huge selection of Port.  We tried a few different types, and bought a bottle to bring home.

Despite less than favorable weather, we had a wonderful time in Portugal.  I agree with Rick Steve's, in that Lisbon is kind of like a rougher, grittier San Francisco.  It's a bit rough around the edges, but it's full of character and charm.  The people were incredibly warm and friendly.  We only saw such a small portion of the country, so I would love to return to see more!  (Especially more beaches!)

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