We’ve been in Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve for three weeks now, which is not enough time to say we are experts on Portugal, but we have come up with some observations about the country, the people, and some things it would be good to know before traveling here.
- We’ve grown fond of the Portuguese people. In general, they are gregarious, boisterous, warm, tolerant and proud. They love to be outside – having a party or just hanging out. I don’t know when we’ve been to a place where so many people are mixed race. Part of it is the proximity to Africa, I’m sure part of it comes from their history, but from an outsider’s point of view, they just don’t seem to spend a lot of energy on their neighbors’ origins. We could learn something from that.
- Fado music is amazing – we love it, even without understanding the words. It has the energy of flamenco and the heartbeat of the blues. Lisbon is not much of a “total” music city; unless you go to a concert, about the only kind of music is Fado. In the Algarve, there’s more variety, at least in the summer: classic rock, African, jazz, singer/songwriter, etc.
- Sintra: the best day trip from Lisbon, so far. If you’re going to the Pena Palace, you must leave early (we caught the 8:41 train out of Lisbon) or wait in a loooong line. Best to avoid Sat/Sun when the locals go, and Monday when the museums in Lisbon are mostly closed so it’s crowded with tourists.
- Being over 65 is wonderful: ½ price on many entrance fees and on the intercity train. We have a “cheat” system: Maggie buys the tickets, shows here ID if necessary, we take the two senior rates if they give them to us. It works in museums, but we don’t do it for the train, where there’s a big fine if you’re caught.
- The gun laws are strict, so you don’t walk around thinking about what nut case has a gun. Police are seldom seen, except at large public gatherings. We feel very safe where ever we go. The only worry, and it’s slight, is to watch for pickpockets when you’re in a large gathering of tourists.
- Air conditioning: most places don’t have it, and don’t need it. Summer highs can be in the 80’s, but lows are the 60’s, so people leave their windows open in the cool parts of the day and close them in the afternoon. The humidity is very low, so in the city, people dry their clothes on clotheslines strung in front of their windows. there are not many secrets here.
- Food: there are small markets everywhere that all have some products: produce, wine, bread, cheese and maybe cereal, milk. Food prices are low, but not a huge variety. Same for restaurants: good quality, low prices, but in Lisbon there’s not a lot of variety: lots of Portuguese places, some Italian, but it’s rare to see a Chinese place, or Indian, French, etc. We spotted a Mexican restaurant in Lisbon and made a bee line; it was pretty good, although their hottest sauce was just a shade above mild.
- Fish – except for Iceland, Portuguese eat more fish than any other country! Huge variety of salt and freshwater fish, shellfish. Grilled sardines everywhere this summer, because the catch was good. Four make a meal; always served with peeled boiled potatoes and small salad.
- Wine: there’s never a bad one, and it’s almost always very inexpensive. Restaurants pour a full glass every time.
- Beer: not much of a beer scene except maybe in Lisbon. We did find a craft beer place in Faro, and the waiter told us about a small annual beer festival there, but it wasn’t going on while we were there.
- Public transportation in Lisbon goes everywhere and reliable. Buy the Zapping card to use and refill as needed. The Zapping card works on buses, subway, trams, trains and ferries, and surprisingly, on the trains to Sintra and Cascais as well.
- ATMs are everywhere, which we needed because many restaurants don’t take credit cards; or they do, but the system is broken today – always broken today.
- Algarve is amazingly beautiful. We spent two nights, but could have stayed longer.
- Lisbon is big, modern, cosmopolitan city with old neighborhoods to explore, too.
- Porto is beautiful, but we ran out of things to do after a couple of days. We didn’t take a tour of the Douro valley, but we probably should have.
- Dogs are not as common as in France or US here in Portugal.
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