Trip Report – Spain/Portugal June 28-July 12, 2010

 This year we visited Spain and Portugal. Here is the trip diary

 June 27

 Our flight to Portugal was scheduled for late Sunday night (21:45). Flight was on SATA International http://www.sata.pt (Portuguese airline based in islands of Azores). Our flight had a stopover in Ponta Delgada in the Azores (5hrs to Ponta Delgada, 1 hr stopover and then 2 hrs from PDL to Lisbon). I was concerned that plane will be delayed due to G20 in Toronto. It was (for 1 hr) but not because of G20; just the ground crew was too slow to clean up the airplane. Also check in on SATA took very long time (almost 1.5 hr) so arriving to airport 3 hrs prior to departure was a good choice. There was another SATA plane leaving for Lisbon at the same time directly. Even arriving that early at the airport didn’t get us seats together.

 Flight was on older Airbus A310. Seats were not too comfortable and flight was 100% full. Service and food on SATA was good; staff very responsive and food was better then on any Canadian airline I’ve flown.Ticket was about 15% less than on Air Transat so I think I’ve made a good choice. Almost everyone got off in PDL so there was more room on the second leg of the trip (from PDL to Lisbon).



June 28

We arrived at Lisbon at 12:30 pm; 1 hr late. Passed immigration and customs fast (although customs officer asked where the flight was from and Toronto seemed to be a trustworthy origin so we not stopped). After getting the luggage we bought local SIM card in the Vodafone shop (Ibought one with 15 euro credit and got 2.5 euro bonus). Card is very handy for use in Portugal; it works with any unlocked multi frequency GSM phone (i.e. Motorola Razr). Coverage - all of Portugal. Rates: 0.44c to call US/Canada; 0.22c - Portugal #s (half price on Sundays). Free to receive calls. This card can roam in other countries but rates and roaming charges are very high. Also credit can be used to purchase WI-FI time (around 3 euro per hr) from Vodafone. SMS has to be sent, credit deducted from the account and message with login credentials are texted to the phone. Of course there are other WI-FI providers available (CC or PayPal can be used for payment). Some hotels and towns in Portugal offer free WI-FI in limited placed in order to promote tourism.

Then we took the cab (15 euros) to our hotel (Novotel Lisboa). Ride is about 15 min. Also there is Carris AeroShuttle (minivan not bus) that stops at hotel’s door (3.5 euro pp). We used cabs 3 times to go from airport and price was always different (15, 12 and 10) so I guess meters work differently in each cab. We didn’t go anywhere this day; just unpacked; walked around the neighborhood; had dinner in the hotel and went to bed early.

 

My reasons for booking Novotel was that it was one of few hotels that offered triple room (for larger families it's also possible to book 2 adjoining rooms), was close to airport and was conveniently located in walking distance to metro, rail and bus station (handy for day trips outside of Lisbon). We booked "City break" rate that include breakfast for 2 adults and children under 15. This rate was very good value for a 4 star property (81 euro per day).

Our room was large by European standards, had comfy double bed, sofa bed, electronic safe, flat screen TV (with at least 4 English channels), and modern bathroom. Room (and hotel) decor is modern. Check in and check out procedures are efficient and reception staff is multilingual. Breakfast had good hot and cold selection of food. We ate dinner once there (buffet 15 euro); it was good. Hotel also has small gym and pool. Novotel has paid parking. It's also possible to park for free from 8 pm to 8 am.

Our stay in this hotel had met and exceeded our expectations.

Closest metro station is Praca Espana (5 min), next one is Jardim Zoologico (10 min). We preferred the latter one (easier walk). Jardim Zoologico station is located in the same building as Sete Rios rail station and across from Sete Rios bus terminal. Metro ride to Lisbon center is around 20 min. Lisbon transit combined metro/bus day ticket was 3.70 euro + 0.50 for card. There is no metro only day ticket; the required number of fares can be bought in advance and credited to the card. Taxis in Lisbon are very cheap as compared to other major European cities.

 
June 29

 We spend this day exploring Lisbon and doing touristy things. Walked to Jardim Zoologico station, bought combo transit ticket for 3.70 and took metro to Baixa-Chiado station. For network map and fares see http://www.metrolisboa.pt

 

 
From there took 28 tram to Alfama, got off St.George’s castle, walked around the old city, tried Muscat wine in wine shop (1 euro mini bottle) and headed back (on the bus) to Pc. Figeroa (Rossio) to take 15 tram to Belem.


In Belem we saw Jeronimos Monastery (didn’t go in) and surrounding area

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/portugal/lisbon-jeronimos-monastery

and Modern art museum in Belem cultural center (museum is very good and admission is free of charge)



Then went to famous Pasteis Belem shop http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/Ordered the pastries, coffee and lemonade. Everything was great and pasties hot and fresh from the oven, There was a line up for take out but none in the sit down restaurant.




After Belem we returned to center of Lisbon, did some shopping, went to new Lisbon (Oriente) and returned to hotel for dinner at Sabor Mineiro http://www.sabormineiro.pt/home.html  (rodizio all you can buffet) during our stay at Novotel Lisboa (restaurant is 5 min from the hotel). It is all you can eat buffet restaurant. Buffet can be purchased with (18 euro) or without (12 euro) rodizio option (where choice fillet cuts are served at the table). Buffet will suit most of tastes; it consists of lots salad, meat, fish and pasta options. Drinks are very reasonable (i.e. 2.30 for pint of draft beer, 9 - for jug of sangria, etc). Dessert and coffee are extra. Restaurant has entertainment (singer) in the evening. Food was very good with better buffet selection on weekends.

We ate at this restaurant three times

June 30

After breakfast we walked to Sete Rios train station and took train to Sintra. O?W fare is under 2 euros + cost of card. It's also possible to buy combo ticket that includes train to Sintra, bus in Sintra (which is 4.5 euro just to go to Pena Palace) and return to Cascais and/or Lisbon.

On arrival to Sintra we took 434 bus (4.5 euro round trip; walking is not very practical especially uphill) to Pena Palace and bought 2 castle + gardens family ticket (2 adults + 2 children under 18). Ticket includes entrance to Pena and any other of three palaces run by http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/

We visited Pena, gardens and Moorish Castle. Monserrate Palace looked interesting but required separate bus trip whereas Moorish Castle was 5 min walk from Pena. The fifth castle in Sintra (Palácio e Quinta da Regaleira) is run by another company. It is in the walking distance from the historic center and 6 or 7 euro admission (definitely worth it). Had lunch in Sintra, walked around for a while and headed back to Lisbon.

July 1-7

After breakfast we walked to Sete Rios bus station (red building just behind the train station) and took bus to Praia Rocha (beach resort) in Algarve province where we stayed for 7 days.. We took very nice 3.5 hr EVA “Qualidade Expresso” express bus (bus is very comfortable, A/C, bathroom and is made by Mercedes). Cost 34.20 euro R/T. http://www.eva-bus.com. On the trip south bus was half full but 100% packed on the way back so buying return ticket in advance paid off.

This trip can be done by car slightly faster; distance is close to 300 km and toll is 23 euro. Highway is excellent quality; with lots of rest areas.

Bus stops near Clube Praia Rocha (2 blocks north of Hotel Jupiter and man PR drag). After getting off the bus we took taxi to our hotel (5 euro, flat rate in PR and Portimao). We stayed in Oceano Atlantico http://www.oceanoatlantico.com.pt/en/Apartment is located on Avenida V6, 10 min walk to the nearest beach and 10 min walk to huge Continente supermarket http://www.continente.pt. (much cheaper prices than in Canada). Other walking distances are: beginning of Praia Rocha (PR) main strip (where most hotels and restaurants are)- 15 min ,PR marina - 35 min, Portimao center (restaurants/boat trips/shopping) - 30 min.

We stayed in T1 apartment which was very spacious and modern with huge balcony. Apartment had separate bedroom, lobby (with sofa) and main room with another sofa, 40 inch LCD TV with good channel selection, dining table and chairs and fully equipped kitchen with large fridge, 4 burner stove and oven, microwave and washing machine. Drying rack was on the balcony. Kitchen had all necessary utensils except coffee maker. Cleaning supplies (paper towels, sponges, etc) were not provided. Room was cleaned daily and sheets changed twice per week. Another extra was safe (15 euro per week). Safe is old style with tumble lock. Apartment has a pool with bar; we didn't go there and spend most of the time on the beach. Drink prices in OA were way above the PR average but reasonable by other resort standards. We bought the meal plan (half board) but if I come another time I probably wouldn't do it (especially if car is rented) OA didn't have enough customers who bought HB and the first 2 nights the buffets wasn't even there (we were offered 2 menu choices). Later on they started doing the buffet. Both breakfast and dinner buffet had limited choices but quality was ok.

Overall we were very pleased with OA; both location and quality of accommodation. Main strip PR strip is quite noisy at night with lots of bars that open late and OA's location away from all this was a bonus.

 PR is a beautiful place. Climate is not very hot, beach is picturesque and ocean is cool. Some of the PR beaches (but not all) have stairs and are not suitable for people with mobility problems. PR has huge beach that starts near Marina and continues pas Jupiter. This beach has no stairs. Other beaches are smaller, have stairs and more picturesque (rocks on the beach and in water). Water seems to warmer in the afternoon. Beach is great; no rocks in water entrance but ocean can be rough. I find Alvor (west of PR) beach to be better than one in PR. There is also Praia Vau in between PR and Alvor. There are buses that run between PR, Portimao and Alvor. Taxis within Portimao and Alvor are 5-6 euros flat rate; most are late model Mercedes.

Other things we did are: went to Portimao center, did some shopping there, took boat trip (15 euro) to see caves (but the trip rough and lots of people got sick that day), saw marina and old fort at night. PR strip is very lively after sundown with tons of restaurants and nightclubs.

 

July 8

 We left PR in the morning, returned to Lisbon and flew to Madrid on Air Europa.


When we arrived we took AeroCity shuttle (30 min, 23 euro) to hotel on the way back we took public transit (Renfe train to Nuevos Ministerios and then metro to airport). 1 hr and 3.30 euro pp. We stayed in this Rafaelhoteles Piramides for 3 nights. It's a reasonably priced 3 star in center of Madrid. Our room was cramped (it had a 3rd bed in the double room). Bathroom was large. Interior is dated and TV is tiny but we didn't come to Madrid to stay in the room and watch TV. Breakfast was very good.  Carrefour supermarket is nearby http://www.rafaelhoteles.com/hotel.php?lng=en&hotel=pi

 Hotel is located at Piramides metro and Renfe stations which makes it convenient for Madrid airport connection. Major Madrid attractions (Plaza Major, Palacio Real, Puerto Del Sol, Prado, Reina Sofia, Atocha, Gran Via) are about 30-40 min walk. La Latina neighborhood (lots of bars and restaurants) was 15 min. Metro is at the door and tourist pass (abono touristico is 5.20 per day or 11.60 for - 3days). Unfortunately there is no cashier at Piramides so it's better to buy the pass at the airport.

 In the evening we went to center had tapas near Plaza Major. City was full even on weekday but dinner was somewhat overpriced and disappointing.

 
July 9

 This very long day was spent in Madrid. In the morning we went to Prado; saw Spanish masters; then went shopping off Gran Via (Fuencarral that has hip shops with big sales on at the time) http://www.whatmadrid.com/fuencarral.html.

 For late lunch went to Museo Del Jamon. This is chain with at least 2 restaurants in Madrid center near Puerta del Sol. First floor is a a store and stand up bar and second contains sit down restaurant. Menu has huge selection of choice for any tastes (even seafood) with emphasis on meat (jamon in all shapes and forms). Price and menu is the same in bar and restaurant. Portions are quite big and price is very reasonable (lunch in 7-8 euro ballpark with pint of beer).

 Then returned to sightseeing (Palacio Real, gardens, Plaza Espana, Puerto Del Sol, etc). Had dinner at lovely La Mar del Alabardero located on Plaza Oriente across from Palacio Real http://grupolezama.es/portal/la-mar-del-alabardero/home. This is a mid priced restaurant specializing in seafood; we liked in very much.

 



July 10

 In the morning we went to Segovia; took from Principe Pio terminal. Bus is run by http://www.lasepulvedana.es/ Trip is 1.5 hrs and cost is 12.65 R/T. For some reason the ticket needs to be exchanged for another zero cost ticket for the return trip in the cashiers booth (this logic escapes me).  Segovia is a lovely old small town dating to Roman times and we spend 3-4 hrs exploring it.




We returned to Madrid in the afternoon; spend some time in Principe Pio shopping center; eat late lunch; did more sightseeing in Madrid centre ate dinner and returned to hotel.

July 11

 In the morning we went to Reina Sofia museum; then packed and went to airport for trip back to Lisbon. Managed to watch World Cup final in Lisbon and next day went home on SATA (again with stop n PDL)

Overall trip impressions were very positive. Loved every place we visited, Lisbon, castles of Sintra, and Madrid which is very grand and full of energy.