Make Portugal Your Port O’ Call

One of the absolute best things about being in the travel business is getting to visit places I have never been before.  As Simon Raven said, “…life is short and the world is wide” so it is hardly surprisingly that there are still many places that my foot has yet to touch.

When the chance arose to do a Globus Journeys tour of Portugal and Spain, I was on it like an Anatidae on a Phyllophaga (or duck on a June bug as we say here in Texas).   The extent of my previous knowledge was limited to a vague awareness that some of the world’s best port comes from Portugal.

Visit PortugalIt took me about half an hour to be smitten like a junior high schoolboy with Lisbon and its environs.  One of my criteria for a great European city is that it must be walkable.   Every other mode of transportation, with the exception of one I am about to mention, moves too fast for my plodding little gray cells to absorb the surroundings.  Lisbon is eminently walkable if you have  a strategically located hotel like the Sofitel Liberdade Lisbon.   Turn right out the front door and you have before you a beautiful twenty minute walk down to the Tagus River.

Colour Tours Colour Tours

Another option besides walking is the concept Lisbon has borrowed from Thailand called Tuk Tuks.  They can be found scurrying about everywhere like little pregnant motorcycles.  By sheer good fortune, we selected a Tuk Tuk driven by young lady named Teresa (a name shared by my wife) and whose father owns ColourTrip Lisbon.   She had recently started driving for her Dad and was a delightful hostess for her beautiful city.  You can do thirty minutes, an hour or two.  We did one hour and had her drop us off back at the hotel at the end of one of the most enjoyable sixty minutes in my recent memory.

One of the most striking things about Lisbon is the hills that offer some very impressive vantage points.  The locals know it as The City of the Seven Hills.   From a historical point lisbon-burningof view, the most infamous event in Lisbon’s storied past, without question, was the cataclysmic trifecta known as the Earthquake of 1755.  Striking at 9:40 in the morning on Saturday, November 1st, All Saints  Day, it destroyed most of the city.  I called it a trifecta because it combined a horrific earthquake, a calamitous tsunami and  devastating fires that raged for five days.

Leaving on that less than cheery note, let’s recover our serenity with a glass of wine at the My Story Hotel.  Even though we stopped in a couple of times at their charming sidewalk cafe, I never did learn what their Story Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal“story” was.  Maybe I was too awestruck by the modest prices.  Two nice glasses of Cabernet and a large bottle of water was eight Euros (about nine dollars).  That illustrates one of the most appealing things about Portugal and to a lesser degree Spain.  Due, no doubt, to its well publicized economic woes, everything seemed strikingly affordable, especially by European standards.

Another thing I found fascinating was the language.  Portuguese, of course, is one of the five romance languages all of which are largely based on Latin.  I have a passing familiarity with Spanish . . . by that I mean I can get into a conversation in Spanish, I just can’t ever get out . . . and assumed I would be able to pick up a little of the Portuguese banter.  That was not the case.  The “sh” sound is ubiquitous in Portuguese.  Portuguese, to my ear at least, sounds like a Czech school teacher shushing her class of students in Spanish with a decidedly French accent.  I had two separate native speakers tell me that they can understand virtually everything the Spanish say but the Spanish look at them as if they were speaking Mandarin Chinese!

Cork cap and purse from PortugalI wish I had a dollar every time over the years I have been told to “put a cork in it.”  I am finally going to take that advice by putting a little cork in this blog post.  Did you know that Portugal produces over half the world output of commercial cork?  Of course you didn’t.  That would make you as smart as me and we can’t have that, now can we?

You may assume that all that cork goes just to stopping up wine bottles but you would be so wrong.  (I know, nothing is more obnoxious than some wise …  hmm, wiseacre with a bit of new knowledge.)  I will spare you my newly garnered insight into the cork tree growing process, fascinating thought it is.  In point of fact all sorts of products are made with cork such as my new cap and the wife’s new posh purse purchased in Portugal.  (Try saying that without pursing your lips!)

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As usually, there is so much more to say but our journey beckons.  I will close with this bit of sage advice.  If you want to visit Europe and you’re looking for a place rich in history, gastronomy and hospitality but exceedingly kind to your pocketbook,  Portugal needs to be your next Port O’ Call.  That is, if you don’t mind being shushed all the time.

  •  You can view all the pictures I took on this trip here.

Imbibing In Iberia (or if you prefer) Cuba Libre Continental Style

For the next several posts you will be transported through Portugal and Spain with a dash of London thrown in for flavor at the end.  You will not be boarding a luxury Globus motorcoach, as I recently did, but rather you will be borne along on the fluffy clouds of my velvety prose.

Globus Touring CoachThose of you who live for my next pulsating post no doubt have noticed a dearth of such missives of late.  The explanation is as simple as it is depressive.  For the past few weeks I have been toiling like a serf rather than traveling like a sovereign.  Oh, the humanity!   I feel your compassion oozing across cyberspace even as I write these words but, take comfort, dear heart, I have learned how to steel myself against life’s injustices.

Thank goodness my interminable season of discontent ended on September 23rd when the wife and I boarded a British Airways flight bound for Lisbon by way of London.  Simply return to this site on a regular basis and you can follow along on my grand adventure.

Where to start?  Why don’t we begin with a theme that emerged quite by happenstance?  On the evening of the first full day in Lisbon, I wandered into the bar at the Sofitel Lisbon Liberdade (I am sure I was looking for the sundry store) when I decided to pause for an ever so modest libation.  I ordered a rum and coke, my cocktail of choice, and was quite delighted with the presentation.  So, I snapped a picture and posted this comment on my Facebook page:

“Every bar has a rum and coke. Leave it to the Sofitel Liberdade Lisbon to add the nuts, cranberries, olives AND a bowl for the pits!”

Rum & Coke Sofitel LiberdadeWhen we arrived to the Gran Melia Colon in Sevilla who would have guessed they also had a bar!  Is it my fault that they place the darn things so close to the sundry shops?  I ordered my customary drink and here is what they brought.

Rum & Coke Gran Melia ColonThe post on Facebook read:

“OK, tonight’s rum and Coke in Seville #GranMeliaColon is served with orange slices, peanuts, chocolate and gumdrops.”

I thought this was a particularly nice glass.

I know my readers are unusually astute so no doubt you see the pattern developing here.  Unconsciously (which is, by the way, how I operate most of the time), I was developing my own metric for comparing the various hotels on our itinerary.  The pressure started to build to see if the next venue could rise to the rum and coke test.

Our third stop was at the Alhambra Palace Hotel in Granada. I suppose it is pointless at this juncture to pretend there was a sundry shop anywhere near the bar.  Anyway, I was oRum & Coke Alhambra Palace Hoteln a mission.  I was not succumbing to self-indulgence, I repeatedly told myself, but rather performing scholarly research.

My Facebook post for the evening read:

“Tonight’s rum and coke at the Hotel Alhambra Palace in Granada comes with a sunset!”

Our fourth and final stop in Spain was at the Gran Melia Fenix in Madrid.  With my Rum and Coke Gran Melia Fenixresearch pad in hand, I went in quest of the bar.  Have you ever noticed that in nice hotels the bars are hardly ever difficult to find?  The evening comment in Facebook read:

The Gran Melia Fenix in Madrid offers dark rum and coke with green cherries and a beautiful mural and red rose behind the bar.”

At this point, you might assume that our little rum and coke tour has mercifully ended but you would be wrong Spanish olive breath!   Unless you have been playing your own drinking game and downing a rum and coke every time I said the word “Facebook”, you might recall I mentioned that there was a brief stop in London at the end.

Our final two nights were spent at the One AldwychMy final Facebook post (time for another swig, game players) read:

“Tonight’s rum and coke at ‪#‎onealdwych‬ London features black cherries, green olives, nuts & the most cosmopolitan city in the world!”

Rum & Coke One AldwychNow we really have reached the end.  What would research be, however, without a scientific poll?  Here is your chance to participate.

You can view all the pictures I took on this trip here.

Be sure to come back soon and we will visit each of these spectacular hotels and much of the Portuguese and Spanish countryside.  It will be fun, I promise . . . especially if you bring your own rum and coke!