Reflections of PortugalMarch 22 in Portugal
After travelling for 42 days in Portugal, we shared our thoughts on the experience. It was inevitable that we would make some comparisons to Spain.
People - The Portuguese people are similar to “Friendly Manitobans” and eagerly welcome you to their country. They proudly speak favourably about their town, city or island. The younger generations all speak English. It was explained to us that Portuguese TV has many English channels with sub-titles and this is how many learned to speak English. They pointed out that in Spain the English voices on TV are dubbed over, which we found disappointing, so they don’t have the same advantage to learn English this way.
Food - The Portuguese diet is based on meat and seafood. This presented many problems when dining out, especially for me. I tried a vege burger twice and the “burger” had the consistency of refried beans....mushy. Next I tried a real hamburger, which was pre-made with patty, lettuce and tomato in a bun. They just put the whole thing from the fridge into the microwave to reheat it. The meat turned to rubber and the lettuce and tomato became a soggy mess. Into the garbage it went. I tried fish twice....the cod turned out to be salted cod and was tough and chewy, while the other unknown fish was likely frozen and undercooked. John’s opinion was that “there was nothing great or special about the food” but the bread and pastries were “excellent”. The oranges were outstanding but they had a very poor selection of other fruits and what they did have was costly.
Wine & Port - The red wines were far superior to the whites. We consumed far less wine and beer than in Spain, partially because of illness and antibiotics, but also because the rainy weather diminished our need for a cold beverage. I think our drink of choice was hot tea! In Porto, John discovered port and was as zealous about it as he is with Scotch. Unfortunately, he has expensive taste and favoured the 20 year old port.
Weather - The locals often reassured us that this was an unusual winter for them. They had 9 months of drought followed by the weeks of rain that we experienced. It either rained heavily all day, or it rained overnight and in the morning, or it rained off and on all day. We had a few sunny days in Lisbon and Porto that really uplifted our spirits. Day time highs were 10-16, with lows of 4-8. We just dressed for the weather.
Transportation - Although we had a couple of bumps in the road which were our own doing, the Portuguese train system is very efficient between populated areas but less so in the Algarve. I enjoyed the train rides and found that it’s a great way to travel. The convenience of a car rental would have been nice but they are expensive, as is the fuel.
Tourism - There are all kinds of tourist opportunities that we didn’t partake in because they were very expensive. We had wanted to do a tour of the Douro Valley wine region but an 8 hour tour cost at least €100, that’s about $165 each. We had to give that a thumbs down.
Smoking - It is a bigger problem here than in Spain. Sadly, young women seem to be the ones that are addicted. Smoking is allowed inside restaurants as well as patios. I saw workers smoking on the job, which included a tourist office advisor, train employees, and a police officer. I didn’t see any anti-smoking campaigns and cigarettes are readily sold in machines located in bars and restaurants.
Homelessness & Beggars - Both are quite prevalent here. The beggars are aggressive and in Porto we were approached by Roma’s (gypsies) for the first time. In Coimbra I saw homeless camps. The economy must be weak.
The Language - Portuguese is a difficult language to learn and pronounce. It has a harshness to it, similar to German, that at times was difficult to listen to. When watching Portuguese TV channels because there was no other option, I would mute the sound on the TV. It took a few days to get John to stop saying “Gracias” and replace it with “Abrigado” (thank you).
Although this sounds like a mostly negative picture of Portugal, the beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people far outweighed any shortcomings.Read more