Just Back From... a Whirlwind Week in Portugal
Newly engaged Washington, D.C., couple Jenny Sullivan and Matt Seiler spent just over a week in Lisbon and Porto touring castles, exploring neighborhoods, and dining alfresco.
Great local meal... Chapitô, in Lisbon's Alfama neighborhood. This unassuming alfresco restaurant doubles as a circus training school and has breathtaking views over the tiled rooftops of Lisbon. We ate here on our first night and enjoyed some of the best calamari and octopus [PHOTO] we've ever tasted, not to mention a whole grilled fish. Rua da Costa do Castelo 7.
Wish we'd known that... Our Spanish would be absolutely useless! We're both proficient in Spanish, and we thought it would help. Not so! Portuguese is a language unto itself (disabuse yourself of any notions that it resembles other romance languages), and we completely botched it. Despite considering ourselves fairly savvy when it comes to communicating abroad, we found that we were better received when we expressed ourselves in English, bookended by many por favors and obrigados, of course.
Our favorite part... The tram from downtown Lisbon to Belém. As with any vacation, it's hard to pick just one favorite part, but Belém, a historical harbor, was a great place to visit—plus, lots of attractions that usually require admission are free on Sundays. We walked along the waterfront, checked out a monument to the explorers [PHOTO], toured a 16th-century castle (Torre de Belém), strolled around the beautifully restored Jerónimos monastery [PHOTO], and surveyed the neighborhoods nearby, including a truly spectacular city garden. Afterward, we treated ourselves to the famous pastéis de Belém (custard tarts) and Super Bock beer. [PHOTO]
What we should have packed... An extra bag to bring home souvenirs. Portugal was full of wonderful things to buy for friends and family: hand-painted ceramics and tiles, port wine aplenty, olive oil, things made from cork, things made from leather, traditional Portuguese linens, delicious chocolates filled with the national liquor made of fermented cherries (ginjinha), and anything you can imagine with the good-luck rooster Barcelos on it. The list goes on and on....
Worth every penny... The Lisbon Oceanarium. [PHOTO] We ventured up to this newer part of town (the Parque das Naçõs) on our last day in Lisbon and were impressed with the state-of-the-art aquarium's conservation and sustainability work. In a country known the world over for its love of salt cod, it takes some guts to operate an aquarium dedicated to introducing people to more sustainable alternatives to the national favorite! The aquarium is divided into four parts (one for each of the oceans), which are united by a massive central column full of ocean life from around the globe. We were truly awestruck throughout our visit by the regal-looking puffins, the spirited penguins, the constantly grooming sea otters, and, of course, the thousands of fish. It was a true delight and one of the best aquariums we've ever visited. The surrounding neighborhood is also an architectural attraction unto itself, with plenty of great places to grab lunch or a beer after a morning at the oceanarium.
Never again... Will we fly Iberia. We missed one connection on the way to Lisbon and nearly missed another on the way home for what appeared to be a general lackadaisical attitude toward schedules. Iberia also insists on booking closer connections than the average person can pull off—we ran from one end of the Madrid airport to the other, full-tilt, on two occasions, trying to make connections. Our bags did not make it home with us; they arrived (thankfully!) a few days later.
Fun surprise... Touring the port cellars in Porto. We visited the Sandeman Cellars [PHOTO], and for a cool €4 ($5), we got a well-narrated tour by an English-speaking guide, dressed in the traditional black cloak and hat. Plus, a free tasting after the tour is included; we sipped on tawny and ruby ports. [PHOTO] The gift shop is also worth a stop.
Budget Travel Real Deals
- From $994
- From $909
- From $449
- From $849
- From $179
- From $1,285
- From $1,155
- From $1,075
- From $728