Category Archives: #2015

Portugal – Exploring Sintra

Our second day in Portugal, we woke up refreshed and ready to roll.  Our plan for this day was to grab a quick coffee and head to the Rossio Train station, catch the train to Sintra and explore the castles and do some hiking.  Sintra is a quaint and historic little town about 40 miles west of downtown Lisbon, it borders the National Park which contains several Palaces and Castles that have been built over the centuries.

Our first stop was the local coffee and sandwich shop across from the hotel, This is a fantastic place to watch the locals starting about their day.  I’m sure the shop owners see there share of tourist, but we really enjoyed standing at the counter with our Cappuccino and watching the locals come in and order an espresso, slam it down and be on their way in 60 seconds…

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The Train ride out to Sintra is a very easy day trip idea, It only cost a few dollars round trip.  The Train winds its way thru the Lisbon suburbs, along the track you will see all the apartment buildings with their laundry drying on the balcony.

After we arrived in Sintra, we had about a 10 minute walk to the center of the village, where we found the dramatic Sintra National Palace.  We chose to skip the tour, since we had a few more castles and palaces to go…  From here the quick hike up to the Castle of the Moors.  From there we continued hiking up to the Pena National Palace, and exploring the grounds – there are many hiking trails, and at the highest point is the Cruz Alta cross.  All of this was a great day trip of hiking and taking in the views.

Sintra National Palace

Pena National Palace

Pena National Palace

 

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Castle of the Moors

Castle of the Moors

Portugal – Exploring Lisbon

It is always hard for me to complain about a flight or Airline when redeeming miles.  However, I spent a lot of miles on this redemption, and the product delivered was ‘not competitive’.  I was genuinely concerned that my American MD80 from AUS->DFW was older than I was.  My Strategy for 2014 had been to build the AA and BA miles balance.  Lets just say that has changed for 2015 & 2016.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m way behind on this miles and points game for frequent flyers.   In the future, I will most likely to stick with Southwest, were the loyalty program is simple to earn and simple to use.

We landed in Madrid at around 9:30 am… after a 9 hour flight from Dallas, I’ve been here before in 2011 or 2012…  “I sure don’t remember it looking like this…”  I think the fields of hay had been harvested, and what was left was the patchwork of brown and tan fields.  MAD is a fairly large airport, and we had about 90 minutes to get to the other terminal to catch our BA flight to Lisbon.  Contrasted with the AA  redemption, this was a great value redemption on BA, it cost me 9000 avios and $45 for both of us to fly one-way MAD->LIS.

Descending into Lisbon, everything was lush and green.  Once we landed in LIS, we opted for the Taxi to get to the Hotel.  I had researched other options like the subway, and Uber… I still have yet to pull the trigger on Uber, but I have read enough to feel comfortable with it.  Last time I did the subway thing, I think my wife was ready to kill me… so I opted for the most convenient option of a Cab.  The cost was around $12-$14.  We got a real dud as a driver, who claimed not to speak any English, that’s ok, we got to our hotel just fine.

The weather forecast turned out great, we had some off and on rain showers our first day in Lisbon, but after that, it was mostly dry and warm during the day, but cool at night.  Our plan A was to spend a few days in Lisbon, and then rent a car and head north to Porto if the weather was good.

We love staying a boutique hotels, there is just something about them that we like.  I had debated about several places, after reviewing TripAdvisor and looking at different areas of town, we settled on 3 nights at the LX Boutique Hotel (www.lxboutiquehotel.com) located in the south-west lower Baixa area very near the river, and close to the historical central area of Lisbon.  This turned out to be a great Hotel, the staff was outstanding, and the restaurant was fantastic.  More on that later.  The Hotel itself is old, but Modern and renovated, with fancy glass walled bathrooms and elaborate room murals.  One of the most impressive things about the hotel was how friendly the staff was, I know this can be an overused term, but everyone we dealt with was super nice, and very welcoming… they demonstrated a sense of pride which reflected in their attitude.  Reception informed us that we should check out the restaurant “welcome hour” at 6pm for a free drink.

At this point we were tired, but excited… our goal was to quickly change clothes and head out to explore.  If we laid down on the bed, we could have easily passed out.   So off we went, generally walking east along the river.  we soon stumbled into a large square, the Praça do Comércio.  At the opposite end is the Ru Augusta Arch which was built in the 1870’s to commemorate the reconstruction of the city after the 1755 earthquake.

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Ru Augusta Arch

Continuing east… we wandered thru the small streets and ally’s of the Alfama district, the oldest district of Lisbon.  We made our way up the hill, dodging the quick rain showers, to the Moorish castle, São Jorge Castle.  The views were worth the Hike.

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After exploring the Castle, we made our way down into the main shopping area of the city.  As part of my planning, I knew that we would need to get to the Rossio train station to take the train to Sintra the next day, so we walked by it to get an idea of where it was, and how far it was.

Then we found Ru Augusta, which is the main pedestrian street that runs from Rossio Square down to the Ru Augusta Arch.  There are lots of shops and restaurants and people.  The smoke and aroma from the many roasted chestnut vendors lingers thru the streets.  It reminded me of a smaller version of Barcelona’s “La Rambla” with street performers and selfie stick vendors.   By this time, the sun was settling on late afternoon, and our feet were tired, so we decided to stop and try some interesting and delicious Pastel De Bacalhau (codfish cakes) and some white port wine at Casa Portuguesa do.

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We made it back to the Hotel in time to check out the Welcome Hour, which is held in the attached sushi restaurant at the Hotel.  It was phenomenal, a small sushi appetizer and a glass of sparkling wine greeted us.  I can’t say enough about the cozy atmosphere and the very nice staff.  We added on to our appetizer with another plate of sushi, and a glass of Portuguese red wine, and called it a night, retiring to our room.  We were exhausted but excited about visiting Sintra the next day, which we wanted to get there fairly early to catch the first train, and hopefully get ahead of most of the tourist.

NEXT – a train tour of the Lisbon suburbs and a full day of hiking in Sintra.

Looking Back on 2015

Looking back over the wing, we traveled a lot more than I remembered during 2015, overall it was a good travel year.  Several work trips factored heavily into this, and an unexpected opportunity to go to Ireland for a wedding and a 24 hour stopover in NYC also helped increase this metric.  However, our big trip this year was Portugal.

British Air 787 Heathrow

British Air 787 @ Heathrow

Trips Taken: 6

  • January – Warsaw/London
  • February – Red River, NM
  • May – Seattle, Washington
  • June – Ireland & stopover in New York City.
  • September – Warsaw/London
  • November – Portugal

Miles Flown: 49,160

Memorable experiences:

  • Exploring Ireland, specifically the towns of Kinsale, Galway and Killarney.
  • Exploring Brighton, England on a very pleasant September day.
  • Exploring the Douro Valley and a fish market in Nazaré, Portugal.
  • Finally experiencing NYC.

Spent(purged) almost all my legacy US carrier miles – So my strategy is changing with regard to collecting Airline miles… like many people, I’m frustrated with American, Delta and United or what many folks consider the Legacy US carriers.  I’m now focusing my loyalty to SouthWest… and other reward type accounts for 2016, a story for another time.

A new wine store opened up near my home, which has allowed me to enjoy some new affordable wines from around the world.  It’s a big chain, but for now, the collection seems to offer some good international varieties.

Sadly, we suffered a few losses in 2015.  It is part of life… but it is never easy, so we celebrate those memories and move forward thankful for our time with them, we raise a toast to them, such that they may not be forgotten.IMG_5503