After a year long planning effort that started in 2021 we took a trip to Portugal last October to see what this country is all about. What started as a casual conversation with a new friend on my radio ended in a two week cultural exchange. When I was chatting with my new friend he let me know where he lived and while we talked I did a ton of research of things to do near where he lives.
Close to his home there was a monument of some sort but I could not make out what it was. So I asked him. He said that it was a monument to Jesus and his mother Mary that had been placed there over 600 years ago. This thing piqued my interest because the USA has only been a country for 246 years at the time so this monument has been there 2.5 times as long as the US has been a country.
This conversation took place early in the morning when most others in the US are sleeping. When I got up the next day I asked my partner if she wanted to go to Portugal and check things out. I knew this was a place she wanted to go so the answer was a very quick “yes!”. So the planning began.
We knew this would be another “slow travel” event for us. We do not like vacation “packages” where things are all planned out for you. There are certainly a ton of those you can do in Portugal that look very nice but that is not our thing. We planned out the days we wanted to go and the basic route we wanted to take and then went to work to make it happen.
The dates we go are not as easy as you’d think. Because we both still work we have to make sure we are not leaving anyone at work in a lurch while we are gone. There are certain times of the year I can not travel because of work obligations. Same for her. That said, we marked our calendars and “backed in” to the travel there.
Other than the monument, I knew very little about Portugal. I would learn there were so many “World Heritage” sites there with history dating pre-Roman eras. That is kind of hard to wrap your brain around because it is so long ago. Again, the USA doesn’t have this kind of history so this is going to be a good history lesson for us.
Having been there now over 6 months ago the route we took, the maps we used and the places we visited make much more sense than they did during the planning stages. The whole country is about the size of Indiana and is adjacent to Spain and just north of Gibraltar.
Roughly, our plans were to fly into and out of Lisbon and for the longest time that was all we planned. We had days we would be there so we booked the plane tickets round trip. Even though we had no place to stay and no route decided we now had plane tickets to get there and back. That put the planning into a little more urgency than we had up to this point.
Here are my “highlights” take on our trip we took to Portugal. I figured you would want to look at the map and maybe send this information to others. The map makes much more sense to me now.
We did eventually figure out what we wanted to do and the number of days we would spend in each location we would stop for the night. Our itinerary was roughly as follows. I have provided hyperlinks to most of the places we visited.
- Fly to Lisbon and stay 2 days around this large city.
- Drive to Evora and stay 2 days
- Drive to Vale de Figueira and stayed 3 days
- We would eat lunch in a mom/pop restaurant in Pinhão (Touristy)
- We would spend some time near Castelo Melhor viewing ancient rock drawings there (15,000+ years old).
- One of the places I really enjoyed was São Xisto in the Douro River valley. We spent 3 days in this area.
- We took a drive up to Gulmarae which is really where Portugal started as a nation state.
- Then down to Porto for a couple of days. Nice but super crowded and touristy. Lots of history. We stayed in the old/original city there.
- Then Colmbra, Ourém (lunch), Fatima (to see all the Catholic happenings) ending up in an AirBnB in the country.
- A friend of mine, lives in Nazaré, sent me a text inviting us to stop by if we had some time. That is the place where world class surfers do their thing on the crazy waves there. Look that up on YouTube. We would visit them in Nazaré for an evening. It was fun catching up with them who we had last seen in the late 1990’s.
- That was the end of our journey. From there we went back to Lisbon to catch a flight home.
The flights to/from USA are long but easy. Customs gave us no problems on either side. I have “Global Entry” and an electronic passport which makes going through the system easy and fast. As you know I am a photographer so I have tons of photos if you are interested in what it may look like there. I had problems flying my drone due to regulations that I didn’t not plan well in advance of the trip. Didn’t think it was going to be an issue but it is. They have very tightly controlled air space.
The people are nice and accommodating. We had no issues anywhere. It is a safe country but I’m told there are pick pockets which we never encountered. The people we encountered were all very kind. The larger cities have some of the same issues we have in the USA but felt safe to me.
Get your money in the airport. Don’t wander the country without cash. Once inside, it is very difficult to get Euros with US dollars. Take the hit up front and deal with the exchange rate or have a plan otherwise. I used my credit card everywhere and never had an issue. But some people do not take credit cards.
They do not tip for anything in Portugal. It is hard to get used to but they can be offended if you give them cash outside of a normal sale. Not everyone, but many. We did tip a guide and when we used Uber which they seemed to appreciate. The guide, in particular, only made money from tips so that was helpful for him.
Cost for things is about 25-50% of the USA rates. Food is markedly cheap. The only thing more expensive in Portugal than anywhere in the USA is the fuel which was about $8/gallon while we were there. But you pay for liters so it feels like the per gallon price, just 3 times as expensive.
Driving is easy but the streets are TINY. Signs are easy to adapt to but some of them are weird. I recommend reading up on the signage before you leave to have that in your head before you start driving. There are so many 1-way streets that I tangled with some while we were there. Parking in big cities very hard. Pay in advance, reserve your spot for easy in/out. I can see why people would not want to drive there yet we did not have any issues. If you are comfortable driving a manual transmission and have good situational awareness you will find driving there quite easy.
We were there to chill. And chill we did. Never in a hurry. Never rushed.
As I mentioned above, what started all this for us was a guy I talked to on my radios back in 2021. We did end up meeting him and having a nice long conversation with him. Super nice guy. We did this on our last night there. I got to see the monument I had seen on Google maps and met my new radio friend at the same time.
We were quite the spectacle in his neighborhood. It is a tiny place and all the neighbors came out to see what we were about. they helped us reach out to Tony who was not home when we arrived. He had no idea we were coming so him not being home was not a surprise. When his neighbor called him he insisted we stay and meet with him at a coffee shop in his town. Which we did.
Tony claims we made his whole year. He was over the moon that we dropped by and spend a couple of hours with him. Really, that was what Portugal was about. It was an uneventful, history laden, quite, relaxing time with kind people everywhere we turned.
We enjoyed Portugal and would like to go back someday if this life allows us the time to do so. In the meantime, we are working on the next International adventure that we hope to take sometime this year. It is about the same distance away but currently with a little political unrest. Still, we’ll keep on planning and probably go there anyway.