Prepaid GSM

30 March - 13 April 2002

30.03: Munich -> Faro
31.03: Lisboa
31.03: Lisboa
02.04: Queluz, Sintra, Cabo da Boca, Cascais, Guincho
03.04: Lisboa -> Leiria, Tomar, Fatima
04.04: Batalha, Alcobaca and Obidos
05.04: Coimbra, Conimbriga
06.04: Leiria -> Evora, Almendres
07.04: Evora, Elvas, Estremoz
08.04: Evora -> Lagos
09.04: Lagos, Luz, Sagres, Cabo de Sao Vicente, Praia da Rocha
10.04: Lagos beaches, Ponta da Pietade
11.04: Lagos -> Faro, Tavira, Cacela Velha
12.04: Faro, Parque Natural de Ria Formosa

Map of Portugal

This is a report of our trip to Portugal which we did between March 30th and April 13th, 2002. We flew from Munich to Faro and then back to Munich. In Portugal we rented a small car, with which we travelled around South and Central Portugal, totalling 2300 Km in two weeks. We saw a lot of places, maybe a bit too many. Probably we should have focused on just one region.
I did the trip with a high end camera and a subnotebook to keep my journal and sending / receiving emails.

This was a budget trip with some comfort. We stayed in double rooms with bath in "Pensaos" and "Residencials", spending 30-35 Euros/night. It is possible to have a lunch/dinner for two people in a Portuguese resturant for less than 20 Euro, in a Chinese restaurant in Portugal for less than 15 Euros. Fuel for the car was 87 cents/liter, entry tickets to most palaces, monasteries and other major tourist attractions are 3 Euro. The car, a Fiat Punto, was 17 Euro/day, because we booked from Germany (local price was 27 Euro/day).

Prepaid GSM cards
TMN and Optimus offer both prepaid cards for 25 Euro (15 Euro initially available for calls; 18 cents/minute for calls with the TMN card). Unfortunately TMN does not offer an Internet access (only WAP).

Internet access
Lisboa: Agora Internet Cafe behind the Santos train station- cheap and fast, 0.75 Euro for half an hour
Lagos: Internet access in the Youth Hostel is 1.50 Euro for half an hour.
We couldn't find internet cafes in Evora and Faro.

Was fine (mostly sunny) for the first days, bad (cold, windy, rainy) for about a week, fine again in the last days we spent in the Algarve.

30.03.02: Munich -> Faro
We arrive on time at Faro Airport and after getting the luggage we head to the National car rental. Although we booked a budget car, it's still a nice car - a Fiat Punto with just 14000 Km. Comfortable and modern, the only problem is that the view to the back is a bit obstructed. At about 7:30pm we leave the airport. The idea is to drive to Lisboa and skip the Algarve, which should be overrun by tourists around Easter. We'll visit the Algarve on the last days of our stay in Portugal.

Pedro (a Portuguese friend) told me that the trip from Faro to Lisboa takes about three hours and that Portuguese drivers are wild. This is something that also the Lonely Planet has confirmed. So I'm a bit nervous, driving with an unfamiliar car, in an unknown country and with aggressive drivers. But it turns out that the road from Faro to Lisboa (partly motorway and partly road) is very well marked and the roads are virtually empty. The motorway tolls total 11.70 Euro.

We arrive at Lisboa at about 11pm and reach Comercio Place after a little mistake. We still don't have a room. Most places are full and it takes us over one hour to find a room. We sleep at 1am.

31.03.02: Lisboa
Beautiful sunny day.

We change hotel and move to the Residencial Nova Avenida, where we get a much better room. Around noon we leave the hotel and start our sightseeing walk. I'm carrying the subnotebook with me, as I don't want to leave it in the hotel and I kind of have the feeling that I might run out of memory cards. The weather is great - a sunny day with no clouds in the sky - and Lisboa is a beautiful town. Until about 4pm we explore the Baixa area, then walk back to the Residencial and fetch the car and drive to Belem. It takes a while to find a parking place, as the whole of Lisboa seems to be in Belem on this Easter Sunday afternoon. To my surprise the Portuguese drivers are relaxed, friendly and seem to follow the rules. Getting from A to B in Lisboa is painless, almost relaxing. Maybe it's because the town is half empty and the locals want to relax during the Easter holiday.
Lisboa is a beautiful town with an impressive concentration of monuments, historic sites and interesting buildings. It seems to be a combination of Paris and Barcelona, only much better - with the flair of Paris, but without its pollution and chaos and with a waterfront like the one in Barcelona. There is a harbour, but the town is surprisingly clean.

01.04.02: Lisboa
Cloudy day.

We leave the Residencial at noon and have a lunch at a sandwich restaurant in a road parallel to Rossio. Very good sandwich by the way. Then we explore Alfama with the Castelo de Sao Jorge and later in the afternoon Bairro Alto & Chiado. The weather improves during the afternoon and with the sun popping out the quality of the photos improves.
Again it's easy to drive around Lisboa.

02.04.02: Queluz, Sintra, Cabo da Boca, Cascais, Guincho and back to Lisboa
Morning: beatiful sunny day. The weather turns bad over the afternoon, with a thick carpet of clouds covering the sun. It even rains a bit and is cold.

It takes a while to convince Shirley to wake up. The plan today is to visit the attractions out of Lisboa: Palacio de Queluz, then Sintra with its Palacio Nacional and Palacio de Pena and Cascais. Lot of shooting planned for today. We stop at:
- Palacio de Queluz (which however is closed)
- Palacio Nacional de Sintra: they won't allow photography, not even without flash, in spite of charging 3 Euro for the entry
- Palacio Nacional da Pena: entry ticket is 5 Euro, but photography is not allowed, not even without flash. The 3 Euro ticket will only allow you to walk in the park, not into the palacio. There is a bus which brings you to the palacio from the gate - 1.50 Euro for the (very) short trip. This place is a tourist trap.
- Seteais (five star hotel)
- Monserrate Gardens: free entry into the gardens, but the palace is closed
- Colares
- Cabo da Roca: very windy place
- Cascais and Guincho: Cascais seems to be a modern beach village with nothing particular.
In the evening it gets rainy & cold & windy. For dinner we go again to the good Chinese restaurant in the Chiado area. Shirley talks a lot in Chinese with the Chinese owner waitress. After dinner we spend half an hour in the Agora Internet Cafe behind the Santos train station.

03.04.02: Lisboa -> Leiria, Tomar, Fatima
The day starts sunny then it rains, the sun shines again and so on.

We move to Leiria, about 140 Km north of Lisboa, into the Residencial Leiriense. The room is quite nice, although a bit small, and has a TV. We skip breakfast and lunch and immediately after leaving our bags in the residencial continue our trip to Tomar, where we visit the impressive Convento da Ordem de Cristo. Photography is allowed (but without flash and tripod). On the way back we stop in Fatima at the Santuario. While walking to the Basilica I meet two young ladies with long skirts and very short hair singing halleluja.
Tomorrow we'll visit Alcobaca, Batalha and Obidos.

04.04.02: Batalha, Alcobaca and Obidos
Clouded day for the whole day but no rain. Cool, but not windy.

Batalha is only 11 km from Leiria. The road between Alcobaca and Obidos is (until Caldas do Rainha) a series of villages with a 50 km/h speed limit. Really a pain to drive. Batalha and Alcobaca are very impressive. Tomorrow we'll move to Coimbra. After tomorrow we don't know yet - maybe Coimbra again or Aveiro, or drive to Evora.

05.04.02: Coimbra, Conimbriga
Clouded and cool day with rain; a little sunshine in the afternoon.

Coimbra is nice, but not too nice. We visit a couple of churches and the university. Concerning the university, it's possible to see most things without paying the ticket. Shirley buys a Portuguese ceramic (a tea pot) for our landlady... it's made in China (!).
Conimbriga is so-so. It's supposed to be the biggest Roman site in Portugal, but it's really nothing special.
On the way back we stop at a supermarket in Leiria. They have many of the same products which are also available in German supermarkets. The quality of the supermarket is quite high - this supermarket could easily be located in Munich. Overall the Portuguese seem to enjoy a reasonably high living standard (but most cars are small) - Leiria is a modern and clean town with decent housing areas.
Tomorrow we'll leave the North and head south to Evora, as I'm tired of bad and cold weather. I've already frozen enough on this holiday.

06.04.02: Leiria -> Evora, Almendres
The day is clouded.

We leave Leiria around 1pm for Evora. We drive along the A1 motorway until Santarem, then change on the N114 through Coruche until Montemor-o-Novo, then fetch the motorway until Evora. It rains more or less like hell for the whole duration of the trip. Apparently right now is the rainy season in Portugal. Shortly before arriving in Evora we make a small detour to visit the dolmen and cromlech of Almendres. Quite interesting. In the meantime it stops raining.
In Evora we take a room in the Pensao Giraldo. The room is quite big, has two double beds, an electric heater, a TV and a big bathroom with bathtub/shower. Evora is interesting and nice, but apparently a few hours are enough to visit everything. Not sure what we will do tomorrow. In the meantime our tour of Chinese restaurants in Portugal continues, as Shirley again has spotted a Chinese restaurant. And the same ritual starts again. All Chinese waiters surround Shirley and talk in Chinese to her 'ah... a Chinese girl ... where are you from? ... Malaysia... ah ... very interesting...' and so on. Half an hour of chit-chat.

07.04.02: Evora, Elvas, Estremoz
Cold and very windy day; it rains the whole day. No fun to travel in Portugal under such conditions. 15°C and 81% humidity in our room when we wake up in the morning.

We visit the Capella dos Ossos in Evora and the towns of Elvas and Estremoz. Elvas is nothing special, but Estremoz is nice - that is, Estremoz could be nice if the sun was shining. It is raining heavily, the wind is strong and the situation does not improve until we leave one hour later. It has been raining and very windy for days now and I'm starting to wonder if the weather is always so windy and humid in Portugal.

08.04.02: Evora -> Lagos
Cold and cloudy day; it rains more or less the whole day; heavy showers on the road between Evora and Lagos in the afternoon.

We leave Evora around 1:30pm and drive along the IP2 and IC1 (along Beja and Ourique) to Lagos arriving a bit after 5pm. The road is quite good even if it's not a motorway; it's possible to drive at a reasonable speed, except for the last part between Albufeira and Lagos, where there is a traffic jam. There is an car accident at one point and interestingly many Portuguese cars stop along the road and the drivers get out to have a closer look. In Germany people would simply drive slower and look, but here they stop altogether.
The weather improves when we reach the Algarve, and the sun shines a bit. Lagos look nice, but it's quite touristy. We stay at the Residential Sol a Sol. The nearby Youth Hostel has no more double rooms. Dinner at the Dynasty Chinese Restaurant in Lagos.

09.04.02: Lagos, Luz, Sagres, Cabo de Sao Vicente, Praia da Rocha
Beautiful sunny day with just a few clouds in the sky; later in the afternoon more clouds.

I sleep until noon as I'm sick (finally managed to catch a cold). We leave the Residential a bit after 1pm and head to the beaches west of Lagos after a short lunch. We don't reach the western beach of Lagos as the road is blocked, and make it instead to the beach of Luz, which is kind of nice, but not too special as there are no rock formations.
Then we drive to Sagres and stop at its fortress. The entry to the fortress is 3 Euro - way overpriced considering that there isn't much to see inside. The coast here is stunning, with very high, steep cliffs falling straight into the ocean. After we head to the Cabo de Sao Vicente. Again very stunning coast (and interesting local vegetation by the way).
We then drive to the Praia da Rocha near Portimao. Very nice beach with its rock formations, but there are just too many hotels and appartment complexes in the area. Must be very crowded here in summer.

10.04.02: Lagos beaches, Ponta da Pietade
Bright sunny day, with only some clouds far away to the north; so far it looks like the Algarve is relatively immune from bad weather.

Another day in Lagos. We visit the nearby beaches.
Praia Meia: flat, very long beach (4km), no rocks.
Ponta da Pietade: cape with caves, stunning rock formations
Praia do Camilo: small secluded beach among the cliffs. Connected to another even smaller beach by a tunnel across the rock.
Praia de Dona Ana: somehow bigger beach protected by the cliffs.
The room in the Residencial Sol a Sol is very humid (88% and higher for the past days).

11.04.02: Lagos -> Faro, Tavira, Cacela Velha
Bright sunny day with a few clouds in the sky; very windy, fresh and cool air, but not too cold. No rain.

We leave Lagos around 1pm and drive to Faro where we arrive a bit after 2pm. We move into the Pensao Oceano (nice, bright double with bath; no heating). After we drive to Tavira and Cacela Velha.

12.04.02: Faro, Parque Natural de Ria Formosa
Clouded and windy day, no rain.

We drive to the well hidden Parque Natural de Ria Formosa near Olhao. It takes half an hour to find the place, as nowhere there is the street sign to Quinta de Marim. There is a small street sign for the Parque at one junction, but it's very easy to oversee it. The park is not too interesting - the wildlife and the scenery below Cacela Velha was much more exciting. In Portugal the car drivers stop at the zebra stripes to allow pedestrians to cross the street. In Italy and other countries this is not the case.

13.04.02: Faro -> Munich

Copyright (c) 2003 Alfred Molon