This is my last post on Portugal, where I provide a few observations that may prove useful to anyone considering a visit. Portugal is a wonderful place, so very much worth planning your trip.
How disappointed we were to find that speaking Spanish is of so little assistance in Portugal! For people who don’t speak Spanish, however, this may be a good thing, because far more Portuguese people speak English than speak Spanish. We could read some signs, but the accent is very specific and it was difficult to follow spoken conversation. Many words are similar to Spanish, but not all words, so Spanish speakers get lost trying to follow the familiar. For example, ygrega=iglesia (church), praia=playa (beach). But also, lettuce=alface, apple=maça, turkey-peru (I am not kidding.)
Driving can be expensive. In addition to the cost of renting a car, fuel is expensive and there are significant tolls. For example, the highway toll for our drive to the Algarve and back (2 ½ hour drive) on excellent highway was €19.45 (about $22.50) each way. There can be cash tolls on additional short segments and bridges, and there is also the cost of parking that ranges from € 1 for 24 hours to the same amount for 20 minutes, depending on your location. Most parking is marked if payment is required and the hours that must be paid (e.g. 7:00-20:00). Usually there is a kiosk nearby where you insert coins and retrieve a slip of paper marked with the time your parking expires that you put on your dashboard. Not all meters take credit cards.
In Sesimbra, we met the most helpful Tourist Information person ever (!) by mistakenly putting the credit card too far into the parking kiosk where it fell inside. At the tourist office, we explained what had happened and a young woman got on the phone for a bit then said she would call us and tell us when to return to the kiosk. “We will solve your problem” she said. After dubiously giving her our cell number (it was our second day in Portugal and we had visions of having to get a replacement credit card) we went off to the market and indeed got a return call, telling us to be at the kiosk at 3 pm. We went, and a guy came up the street, opened the kiosk, fished out the credit card and gave it back. (I love the Sesimbra tourist office—it’s in the fortress.) It seems unlikely that we will ever have a more impressive experience at any tourist office anywhere.
In the city, a car is not necessary, but if you plan to go beyond Lisbon you need fortitude and patience to take the train or bus to visit other towns. If you have a car, you can park and take the train into Lisbon, or like us, drive in and look for parking. I had some luck finding parking on:
though the information only applies to part of the city. We had pretty good luck just driving around looking for parking, but that probably is not much of a plan on sunny weekends, during the summer, etc.
Along the coast, only a few beaches have parking lots, much of the parking is along the road. It was much easier to park for beaches in the off season. Even small beaches may have a café/restaurant and 40 or more beach umbrellas. With only 15 parking spaces along the road, I can’t really understand where people park in the summer and what it will be like to drive along the coast.
Pedestrians have the right of way on every striped/zebra crossing.
In Portugal, people tend to cross the street at striped crossings, BUT, they know you are looking out for them and that you will naturally stop, even if you are going at a good clip and they can see you coming. They still step out and you need to stop. There’s also something of an expectation that a driver will stop under most circumstances zebra crossing or not. You might get a look, or a wave, but you might just get a young person lighting up a cigarette while talking on the phone wandering out into the intersection, or a mom with a stroller, or an older gentleman who will take about 75 steps to get across that lane. Be prepared.
Signage is a problem, and I’m not saying that because I don’t speak Portuguese. Road signs sometimes appear right before you need to make a turn leaving you no time to get to the turning lane, sometimes they appear so far before the turn that there are two or three other unmarked options before the correct turn. This lets you tour the neighborhoods around the base of the big bridges into Lisbon, usually when you are most wishing to go home. It is much easier to find your way to beaches, even well-known ones, by checking maps before you leave home. There may be one road sign off the highway and nothing else, or every road may be marked as going where you are headed. For example, in Portimao it seemed like every street had an arrow that said “Praia de Rocha.” We occasionally provided directions to lost drivers—Portuguese ones!
A thought about restaurants
As in other places in Europe you’ll often be served bread, olives and cheese when you sit down in a restaurant. This can be very nice, especially if you are starving before a late lunch. BUT, keep in mind that these are not complimentary, so if you are not interested in them or on a tight budget, tell the waiter to take them back. You are not obliged to have these items, but you need to speak up. At the end of the meal it is too late to refuse to pay for them. (We had a really good meal at a very moderate price at Portofino in Sesimbra. It’s right on the beach.)
And that’s all I’ve got on Portugal.