Our Portuguese vacation was wonderful, but just a bit too long. We (actually Garry) put 2700 kms (1678 miles) on the standard drive U-Drives. Trying to find our hotels during rush hour in both Porto and Lisbon was a true nightmare! For whatever reason, the Portuguese seem to think signs are irrelevant as everyone should inherently know where they are going. They are unclear of the lost tourist concept!!!! What street signs they have are the old tile type located high on the sides of buildings in small acronymed letters, and would be great for pedestrians who can stop and admire them for hours. But when you have a bevy of BMWs, Opels and Seats flashing lights and blowing horns at you, its rather hard to find St.Gnacious of the Burning Cross on Easter Sunday Ave., where it intersects Virgin Mary of the Week Street!!!!!
The fact we had a rather austere U-Drive (see left) probably contributed to our problems! It wasn't quite up to the 120 kph everyone seems to drive over there. (Actually we had a Renault Migane - very comfortable and reasonably peppy; and an Opel Corsa - neither) However, after all the shifting, stopping and starting on these wild narrow highways and village streets, my romance with the stick shift is officially over.
Highways tended not to have shoulders (see right), and often were lined with very beautiful, but very dangerous trees. Obviously no driver escape routes such as we have here in Canada. Also, it seems the center white line is reserved full time for motorcycles which operated as though the rest of the traffic including pedestrians just did not exist! Additionally, there were always trucks sporting "VEICULO LONGO" signs to contend with. Try passing these on a narrow, winding mountain road to pacify the orchestra of anguished Portuguese on your tail!
In Porto we couldn't even get close to our hotel, and circled a wide arc 3 times until the traffic cop finally and reluctantly let us make an illegal left turn to get near our Holiday Inn hotel. Here is the Porto city center under construction and the Holiday Inn in an impossible location to get to by car. To add insult to injury, we had to pay for parking a block from the hotel and then carry our own bags!!! In Lisbon, although we had a map, the one way streets with no turns right or left took us many blocks beyond our hotel - we finally found it more by luck than good management.
(It should be noted however that we did encounter many roadwork projects during our 2001 visit so undoubtedly the traffic situation has improved for future tourists!)
Regardless, we had a wonderful time. The weather was perfect for Canadians (Here is one) - but cool enough that the locals didn't crowd the beaches. We had plenty of chances to explore the miles and miles of unexploited shoreline on both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Here is a picture of Judy surveying the rugged coastline. Of course there were built up areas such as in Albufeira where we spent the middle week of our three week holiday at the lovely Hotel Montechoro.
There were forts and castles on just about every hill. In fact we stayed at some locations called Pousadas which are old castles, forts, museums, hotels, etc. of historic interest which the government has renovated and converted to upscale hotels. This is a view out of our bedroom window at one such Pousada - the dining room is on the right. It was here that Judy was able to buy six beautiful ceramic tiles, which should work in the kitchen, if and when we ever get it done. This is the dining room of another Pousada we stayed at with Judy sitting at the fireplace.
Concerning dining, we certainly had our fill of sea food! The Portuguese are justifiably proud of their culinary efforts. Judy tried the sardines, but ended up conducting something akin to an autopsy to ensure she didn't swallow the bones! In a restaurant in one fishing village, the owner had spent eighteen years in Canada before she moved back to Portugal to get married. She and her husband now run a very successful business and we can confirm that the food is outstanding, especially the fish bouillabaisse! As an aside, in this particular region in Portugal, the local women wore kilt like skirts!!! As can be seen, while obviously unique, this apparel wasn't exactly complimentary! Of course there were many other restaurants in Portugal all offering exceptional food at reasonable prices.
Also, in Albufeira we found a very reasonable Cyber Cafe where we were able to send out and receive e-mail during our stay. It was nice to so easily check the Ottawa Citizen on-line to catch up on all the news from home, including unfortunately the fact that the Ottawa Senators had lost 4 straight games in the Stanley Cup playoffs to the commonly despised Toronto Maple Leafs!!!
So our vacation was truly a great experience. There was so much to do and see, we only scratched the surface. Perhaps a little less driving, and more than just one evening in the major cities like Lisbon and Porto would permit more sightseeing.
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