My husband and I just returned from a trip to Portugal (Oh…and a side trip to see wonderful friends in England). We usually don’t “do tours” but this time we decided to try a Road Scholar tour. Some of you may remember Road Scholar as “Elder Hostel” (thank goodness they changed the name!). Elder Hostel was developed in the 1970’s as a learning/travel experience for people over 55. The organization offers educational excursions worldwide. We chose Portugal because we both wanted to find out more about this small but powerful country.
We selected a 10-day tour of Lisbon, Figueira da Foz and Porto. A couple of months before our scheduled trip, I brushed up on the language…it is a beautiful language….but admittedly a tough one to learn because of the Spanish and Moorish influences. The written word looks very much like Spanish but the pronunciation is quite different. We did manage, “please, thank you, and may we have the check”. Our group was a small one at 12 (several of whom had participated in more than one Road Scholar trip). The tour leader and the local guides were wonderful. The only negative about the trip was that they packed way too much into each day and didn’t give us enough free time to explore on our own. But we did get to see and learn a lot about the country.
The Portuguese are very proud of their heritage and the progress the country has made since the decades long oppression of Salazar. Portugal is the only country in Europe whose borders have not changed since its inception. The Portuguese decided early on that fighting the Spanish for more land was useless, so they took to the seas in the 1400’s colonizing Brazil, several areas of Africa, islands in Japan and they even went as far as Australia. Portugal is ranked the third safest country in the world.
Our first three days were spent headquartered in Lisbon. From there we visited an 18th century summer retreat palace whose queen had it designed as a mini Versailles. We explored the Maritime Museum and took a walking tour of the city. And we visited the westernmost point of continental Europe – “Cabo de Roca”. Talk about windy!! But the views were spectacular.
I took WAY too many photos, so I’ve grouped them as collages to provide a “flavor” of the country. This first post is all about Lisbon and the surrounding area…or as the natives call it “Lisboa” – cathedrals, palaces, street scenes and markets (Henry the Navigator Monument of the Discoveries, Vasco da Gama bridge, a monastery, Sangria, cheese and painted ceilings). And yes, they do love their sardines which was evident until 3:00 a.m. one morning during a citywide celebration of a favorite Saint!!! Our hotel faced a lovely square which was packed with people, sardine food booths and music. Enjoy!