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Portugal's soul, history & old world charm

© By George Bailey
  Sana Portugal, an appealing country of 10.5 million people, is located in southwestern Europe bordering the North Atlantic Ocean west of Spain. A seven-hour flight from Toronto's Pearson International Airport, Lisbon is Portugal's capital and largest city at 2.5 million. I stayed at the three-star Hotel Sana Executive on a downtown tree-lined boulevard, a ten Euro taxi ride from the airport - and a real charmer.
     Strangely, this old city felt small. Lisbon dates back to the 12th century, but it was re-built after being destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1755. I walked 200 year-old cobblestone sidewalks, lined with shops, bistros, wine bars and cafés where the luscious aroma of freshly baked pastries, meats, cheeses and espresso beckoned. A word of advice to North Americans: get your fix of Tim Horton's coffee before you arrive. There's no such thing as a double-double just espresso or cappuccino. Walking, I was awed by century-old architecture and how the old coexists with the new.
     To explore the town's outskirts, I hailed one of the many BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz taxis. All cabs are high-end vehicles, and the Euro is the only accepted form of payment. Streets are so narrow, most drivers could easily compete in the Indy 500. If you Portugal don't speak Portuguese, have someone write your destination in Portuguese because few drivers speak English. Another way to see the city is onboard a double-decker open-air bus. Purchase tickets at your hotel. They offer two different tours of this ancient city. You may get on and off at various locations. The cost is twelve Euros.
     Before I left home, my travel agent obtained bus tickets for my 2.5 hour trip to Albufeira. The tickets on the luxury coach can only be made 14 days before arrival. Here, you won't go wrong if you put your head on a pillow at the Brisa de Sol in the heart of downtown.
     Albufeira is one of 16 municipalities in the Algrave, found on the southern mainland of Portugal, the most popular tourist destination, attracting 300,000 visitors yearly. It's small enough to walk, yet cosmopolitan, offering many cultural, culinary and shopping choices. Visit the Old Town and the beautiful beach. To avoid walking, take the inexpensive trolley. It's a loop route through town. I met a Niagara couple on the train, Peter and Mora Richmond, also spending time in the Algarve. To reach the beach, there's an outdoor escalator that takes you down the steep cliff to the beach and shopping.

Beautiful Beach  Escalator System  Steep Ride  George Bailey  Rugged Coast

     From here, a five-hour, 10-Euro narrated bus tour gets my gold ribbon. The English-speaking guide, Antonio Santos, made the past seem real. We visited precipitous cliffs that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and saw gargantuan limestone caves and grottoes. At Lagros, Santos pointed to the ocean and said, "This is the most western point of Europe; 5,700 kilometres across the water is the state of Delaware." Along the way, we passed lemon and orange trees and stopped at historic lighthouses, ancient churches and castles. We rubbed elbows with the locals and sat outside at one of the many sidewalk cafes. We people-watched and enjoyed a glass of Portugal's superb Port wine and a bottle of their own Sagres beer.
     Portugal has much to offer, but I let go the urge to see everything. A vacation is about serendipitous moments, not rigid schedules. I wanted more reasons to return to this lovely land where they serve up delicious food, fantastic scenery, friendly people and here, the joy of life abounds.

Sculpture  Shopping Downtown  Old World Church  Tree-Lined Lisbon
Click for Lisbon, Portugal Forecast

George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.

Photo Credits
George Bailey

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Get to Pearson hassle free on Niagara Airbus at www.niagaraairbus.com.
Europa Travel and Tours: www.europatravel.ca or 866-870-1377.
Paradise Tours: www.paradise-tour.com
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portugal
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Portugal
About.com: http://geography.about.com/od/findmaps/ig/Country-Maps/Map-of-Portugal.htm
Churches & Synagogues: http://www.jewishmag.com/116mag/marranos/marranos.htm
Fiction: http://www.librarything.com/subject/Lisbon+%28Portugal%29%09Fiction


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Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
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Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/





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