Difference between revisions of "Portugal"
Revision as of 10:09, 18 February 2008
Portugal , in Southern Europe, shares the Iberian peninsula at the western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbor, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, the end of dictatorship and introduction of Democracy in 1974, as well as its incorporation into the European Union in 1986, has meant significantly increased prosperity. However it may be one of the best value destinations on the Continent. This is because the country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its North-South disposition along the western shore of the Iberian peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees to rocky mountains, with spectacular slopes and falls in the Centre, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the glamorous beach holidays destination Algarve. The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has also turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2006" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. If you want a condensed view of European landscapes, culture and way of life, Portugal might very well fit the bill.
Portuguese language;english,french,german usually spoken,specially in major cities/resorts towns and villages.
Portugal is one of the warmest European countries. In mainland Portugal, yearly temperature averages are about 15°C (55°F) in the north and 18°C (64°F) in the south. Madeira and Azores have a narrower temperature range as expected given their insularity, with the former having low precipitation in most of the archipelago and the latter being wet and rainy. Spring and Summer months are usually sunny and temperature maximum are very high during July and August, with maximums averaging between 35°C and 40°C (86°F - 95°F) in the interior of the country, 30°C and 35°C in the north, and occasionally reaching 45°C (113°F) in the south. Autumn and Winter are typically rainy and windy, yet sunny days are not rare either. Temperatures rarely fall below 5°C (41°F) nearer to the sea, averaging 10°C (50°F), but can reach several degrees below 0°C (32°F) further inland. Snow is common in the mountainous areas of the north, especially in Serra da Estrela. Portugal's climate can be classified as Mediterranean (particularly the southern parts of the Algarve and Alentejo, though technically on Atlantic shore).
Note from a reader. There are warmer countries in Europe, namely Spain and Greece. The Portuguese west coast is often swept by Northwestern winds cooling down the temperature. The more exposed a coastal area is to the Northwest direction the cooler it is in the summer. Some coastal regions near Sintra (Greater Lisbon) have maximum summer day temperatures of 30º celsius, while other regions of Portugal reach 40º
Almost all major full price airlines fly to Portugal (British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa), besides the country's own TAP Portugal. However, there are some cheap fares to be had from the no-frills airlines, like Aer Lingus, Monarch, easyJet and Vueling who have recently started flying to Lisbon(LIS),Porto(OPO)and Faro(FAO) at good prices. There are three international airports in the mainland: Lisbon/Portela(in the north of the city, and not far from the centre),near Loures; Porto/Pedras Rubras/Sa Carneiro (also north of the city and relativelly close to it),in Maia; and Faro,in the Algarve. The Madeira and Azores Islands also have international airports,Madeira/Funchal(FNC);Ponta Delgada(PDL)(Sao Miguel island). From the United States, US Airways offers many flights to Portugal via Philadelphia ,SATA INT./AIR AZORES,from Boston,an Providence(seasonally),TAP/Air Portugal from Newark.
Trains reach most larger cities from Lisbon to Porto,Braga,Aveiro,Coimbra,Evora,Faro.
Lisbon is connected to Madrid, Spain; Porto to VigoSpain; Vilar Formoso to Spain ,France and the rest of Europe.
In the South it is not possible to enter Portugal from Spain. There are no train connections from i.e. Sevilla to Faro. The only option is to use buses, there are many.
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Roads are generally good, and you can reach almost all major cities with ease, either by motorway or by good, modern roads. The biggest cities are well served by modern highways (most have tolls), and you can travel the full North-South length of the country without ever leaving the highway, if you choose to. However, some secondary roads are ill-treated and may be dangerous if proper care is not taken. Also, Portuguese driving can seem erratic and, frankly, scary to the uninitiated. The country shares with most southern european countries something that the successive Portuguese governments have been trying to fight: terrible road behaviour from some drivers. In order to fight this, road laws changed recently in order to punish with great severity speeding, driving without license, driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, etc.
(From someone on a motor touring holiday in late 2006: The most obvious bit of selfish driving is overtaking. You can be on a 2-lane toll highway and be unable to see any other traffic except the car you're overtaking at 30 kph over the speed limit and the car about 6 feet from your back end flashing its headlights to get past you. "Letting on" manners when slip roads come on to fast roads are also pretty poor. On other roads, you'll get used to two classic Portuguese experiences: suicidal overtaking attempts and the resultant absurdly overdone signs indicating when you can and can't overtake - sometimes all of 5 yards apart, and the "penalty stop" traffic light as you enter the 50 kph zone in each small town, with camera to decide whether you're over the speed limit. Rather absurdly, once you're through this, you can go as fast as you like - we never saw a second penalty stop signal. Someone really should add up the cost of all the no-overtaking signs and tell Portuguese drivers how many they must be paying for each.)
It is probably unwise for those unfamiliar with Portuguese driving to try to drive in Lisbon - be aware if you do that city drivers give no quarter and have limited respect for lane markings (where lane markings exists!). If you do want to try, choose a weekend or an hour outside the rush hour periods. These are early mornings (8 am - 9.30 am) and late afternoons (5 pm - 7.30 pm). Other Portugese cities are much better, but often have very narrow roads, and insane round-abouts which requires confident driving to get through safely.
Also from Madrid/Paris: with Aníbal (www.anibal.eu)
The country is served by numerous sea ports that receive a lot of foreign traffic, mostly merchant but also passengers boats (mainly cruisers).
Thanks to generous government subsidies, rail travel in Portugal is often cheaper and faster than travel by bus. Unfortunately the rail network is limited, so you may find yourself bussing about to get anywhere off the beaten path. The immediate areas surrounding Lisbon and Porto are reasonably well-served by suburban rail services. However the rail connections bewteen the main line of Portugal, i.e. between Braga and Faro are good. The Alfa-Pendular(fast) trains are confortable,first class is excellent. The fares are a bit more expensive than the bus fares.Alfa-Pendulr stops only at main cities stations and often require advance reservation,(recommended) between Braga,Porto,Gaia,Aveiro,Coimbra,Lisbon,Evora and Faro.
Lisbon and Porto,the two largest urban aglomerations have a clean, modern and air-conditioned metro system (underground/subway and light railway). Road traffic in Lisbon and Porto is pretty congested all day round and gets completely stuck in the rush hours, at least in the main roads to exit or enter the city. Car travel is the most convenient or only method to reach areas outside the main cities, however (car rental is not too expensive, but the associated insurance is - unless you book the total package abroad). Heed the advice about the quality of some people's driving skills mentioned above.
In Lisbon you might want to try to hop on one of the trams, but be prepared for a noisy ride.
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese. Although it's somewhat related to Spanish, Italian, and other Roman languages, it's not identical. Moreover, pronunciation of some Portuguese letters and words can be daunting. Spanish-speakers will be able to make themselves understood although rarely will a Spaniard understand Portuguese; if you choose to speak Spanish (or have no alternative), try to speak slowly and evenly. Your chances of being understood that way are quite high, especially on the mainland North of Portugal. You might also find that many Portuguese speakers understand Spanish quite well though may not feel obliged to speak it.Preferably speak in portuguese or ask if they speak english(be formal:ask fala portugues?),do not expect people in Portugal to speak spanish.Of course,all people are are welcommed.In some areas may be difficult to access if you have a diadility.Portugal is part of the E.U. and is improving;In Portugal it is against the law to discriminate.If you required accomodations in any service,such as hotel,transportation,etc,you may request them.
English is spoken in many tourist areas, but is far from ubiquitous. However, the younger Portuguese will speak at least some English or French or both. In the main touristic areas it's very frequent that there is always someone who can speak the main European languages,such as french.
The Portuguese people are of generally excellent humor when they are talking with someone who can't speak their language. This means that all manner of shop owners, sales-folk, and people curious about you will take time to try to carve out any means of communication, often with funny and unexpected results. If the traveler attempts to speak Portuguese with locals, the action is taken with respect and often the local will apologize for how "difficult" it is to learn Portuguese, or how "hard" the language is. This good favor might encourage travelers to learn the very basics of Portuguese, such as daily greetings and the routine "please-thank you" exchanges. In Miranda do Douro/Miranda de I Douro and vicinity some people speak a regional language,called Mirandese,in addition to Portuguese,some even speak Spanish,due to Spain being right across the Douro river.
If you are into visiting beautiful monuments and enjoy remarkable views, then Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto are the top three places, and all of them are well worth a visit.But don't overlook Viana do Castelo,Braga, Guimarães,Coimbra,Tomar,Aveiro,Amarante,Braga,Bragança, Chaves,Lamego,Viseu,Lagos,Silves,Évora,Angra as they also have wonderful monuments and places of interest.
The most popular beaches are in the Algarve, which has stunning coastlines and gobs of natural beauty. The water along the southern coast tends to be warmer and calmer than the water along the west coast. For surfing, or just playing in the surf there are great beaches all along the west coast,near Lisbon.
For nightlife Lisbon, Porto and Alfufeira,Algarve are the best choices as you have major places of entertainment.
If you want to spend your holidays in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo,Chaves,Miranda do Douro,Douro Valley,Lamego,Tomar,Leiria,Castelo Branco,Guarda,Portalegre,Elvas or even Viseu.
And even if you wish to observe wild life in its natural state, Madeira and Azores Islands are places to remember, not forgetting of course the Natural Reserve of Peneda-Gerês,Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela.
Surrounded by sea in almost its entirety, the Portuguese beaches are well worth visiting. A lot of activities are offered, from surfing, to kite-surfing, and during the summer months the most frequented beaches offer sand based activities such as aerobics. If you're not the type of breaking into a sweat during holidays, almost every single public beach will have a bar where locals sit. Some of he most popular beaches are:(from north to south) Espinho,near Oporto,in Costa Verde/Green Coast,northern region. Figueira da Foz,near Coimbra,in Silver Coast/Costa de Prata, central region. Praia das Maçãs[Sintra],Estoril[Cascais],near Lisbon,in the Costa de Lisboa. Zambujeira do Mar,in the Alentejo region/Costa Alentejana e Vicentina. Salema,Praia da Rocha,in the Algarve. The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2006" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. Portugal is also a great location to learn the game and perfect technique. Many resorts offer classes with the pros. Courses can satisfy the most demanding golfer, while newcomers won't be intimidated, unless they find the beautiful landscapes and stunning vistas distracting to their game.
The countryside also offers a great deal of possibilities, although you will have to incite the travel agent's advise a little more than usual, as they tend to just sell beach holidays. Cycling through the mountainous terrain of Geres or white-water rafting in the affluents of river Douro is an exhilirating experience.
The annual Ecotopia 2007 gathering is being held in Aljezur from 4th till 18th of August  south of Portugal. Aljezur is 250km south of Lisbon, the capital and 30 km from Lagos, the nearest city. There are several Fairs, specially in the Summer months, particularly in the Northern Portugal. During the summer music festivals are also very common. In the north of the country two of the oldest festivals such as Paredes de Coura and Vilar de Mouros. The regions chosed for the festivals are most of the time surrounded by beautiful landscapes and pleasant villages. In the south, the most famous one is Festival do Sudoeste, in the west part of the south cost with a summer landscape and never ending beaches.
Portugal is part of the Eurozone and uses the euro as its currency (symbol: €). ATMs accepting international cards can be found everywhere, and currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists (although the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer).
In smaller (non-high-street) shops you can try some haggling, especially if you offer to buy multiple items. You might want to check your change, though: although not a widespread practice, some shopkeepers might "accidentally" overcharge tourists.
Tipping in restaurants is optional - if you are not too happy with the service, don't tip. 10% is a good value tip, although most people would just round up the total bill to the next euro. Keep in mind that whilst tipping, the Portuguese themselves almost always simply leave the coin portion of their change, not considering actual percentages. Waiters are viewed (and paid as) professionals in Portugal. A 'tip' is considered a note of appreciation, not a means to make up for a tiny salary.
This is potentially the most varied experience to have in the country.
Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the seafood of the country's abundant coast and the pork raised on the limited grazing land of its interior. From these humble origins, Mediterranean ingredients and spices brought back to the country during its exploration and colonisation of the East Indies and the Far East helped shape what is regarded as 'typical' Portuguese cuisine.
Soup is the essential first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho specialty, caldo verde, made from kale, potatoes and spiced sausage.
You will see another Portuguese staple bacalhau (dried codfish) everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this revered dish as there are days in the year, or even more.
The most common of Portugal's delicious fish (peixe) dishes revolve around sole (linguado) and sardines (sardinha) although salmon (salmão) and trout (truta) are also featured heavily. These are fried, grilled or served in a variety of sauces.
You'll see grills, thick with the smoke of charring meat, in front of many restaurants during your stay. Other than traditional sardines and salmon, Portuguese grilled chicken -- marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil -- is world famous.
Vegetarians may have a tough time of it in Portugal, at least in traditional Portuguese restaurants. In most restaurants, vegetables (usually boiled or fried potatoes) are simply a garnish to the main meat dish. Even 'vegetarian' salads and dishes may just substitute tuna (which locals don't seem to regard as a 'meat') for ham or sausage. However, the Portuguese really like their choose-5-items salad bars, and restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or Italian fare can be found in most cities.
In many Portuguese restaurants, if you order a salad it will come sprinkled with salt - if you are watching your salt intake, or just don't like this idea, you can ask for it "sem sal" (without salt).
A few restaurants, particularly in non-tourist areas, do not have a menu, you have to go in and ask, and they will list a few items for you to choose from. It is wise to get the price written down when you do this so as to avoid any nasty surprises when the bill comes. However, in this type of restaurants, the price for each one of the options is very similar, varying around from 5 to 10 euro per person.
Most restaurants bring you a selection of snacks at the start of your meal - bread, butter, cheese, olives and other small bites - invariably there is a cover charge on these items, around 5 euro. Do not be afraid to ask how much the cover charge is, and get them to take the items away if it is too much or if you are not planning to eat as much. It can be quite reasonable, but occasionally you will get ripped off.
If you have kitchen facilities, Portuguese grocery stores are surprisingly well-stocked with items such as lentils, veggie burgers, couscous, and inexpensive fruits, vegetables, and cheeses.If you like hard cheese,try "queijo da serra",if you prefer soft cheese,try regueijao. On larger shops mostly found in the principal cities, you can also find many unusual items such as exotic fruits or drinks.
In some grocery stores the scales are in the produce section, not at the checkout. If you don't weigh your produce and go to the checkout, you will probably be told Tem que os pesar or Tem que pesar,"tem que ser pesado" ("You have to weigh them"/it(they) must be weighed). Snacks Portugal is famous for its wide variety of amazing pastries, or pasteis(singular: pastel). The national pastry, pasteis de nata (called just natas further north), is a flaky pastry with custard filling topped with sugar (acucar) and cinnamon (canela) but, strangely, with a very low caloric content. Buy one (or half a dozen) at the Pasteis de Belem a few minutes by tram from central Lisbon, where supposedly the best pasteis in the country can be found. Also excellent are the bolo de arroz (literally, "rice cake") and the orange-carrot cake. But don't stop here. Head for Sintra, a short trip away from Lisbon, and try the famous queijadas de sintra. From the more egg-oriented North to almond-ruled South, Portuguese pastry is excellent and often surprising.
On October/November, roasted chestnuts (castanhas) are sold on the streets of cities from vendors sporting fingerless gloves tending their motorcycle driven stoves: a treat!
When traveling in Portugal, the drink of choice is wine. Red wine is the favorite among the locals, but white wine is also popular. Also Portugal along with Spain have a variation of the white wine that is actually green (Vinho Verde). Its a very crisp wine served cold and goes best with many of the fish dishes. Drinking wine during a meal is very common in Portugal, and also after the meal is finished people will tend to drink and talk while letting their food digest. (Don't let yourself be bullied into drinking if you're driving, though!) Port wine may be an aperetif or dessert. Folks might find it a bit difficult to refrain from drinking, even if there are very good reasons to do so (such as the above mentioned driving). The easiest way is to explain that one can't for health reasons. The Portuguese aren't as easily insulted as others when it comes to refusing the obvious hospitality of a drink, but a lie such as "I'm allergic" might make clear a situation where one would have to otherwise repeatedly explain a preference. Drinking is considered almost socially intimate.
Be careful of 1920 and Agua Ardente (fire water), both pack a mighty punch.
Portugal is well known as the home of Port wines.
The youth hostel network has a great number of hostels around the country, all with very good conditions although not very cheap. There's a wide and abundant hotel offering all through Portugal. If budget is a concern, and you want a true 'typical-portuguese' experience, gather your courage and try one Residencial, the home-like hostels ubiquitous in cities and most towns. In most places you can get a double room for 25-35euro (Oct 2006). Be sure, however, of the quality of the rooms. On the luxury side, you might try the 'Pousadas de Portugal', a network of hotels remarkable for using very beautiful ancient buildings. The "Casas de Campo", when traveling through the countryside, are also an affordable, pictoresque and comfortable B&Bs.
Portugal is generally a safe country. This does not mean that you should throw caution to the wind and let down your guard, but generally speaking, you are safer in Portugal than in most other western countries. In particular, there is a refreshing lack of boozy stupidity at the weekends, despite the profusion of bars open to all hours in the major cities. Also, there are no internal conflicts to speak of, and no terrorism-related danger.
Like any big city, there are some areas of Lisbon and Porto that you might want to avoid, especially at night. Also like in any other tourist areas, you might want to have in mind that pickpockets do tend to target tourists more frequently - but some common sense should be enough to keep you safe.Wear a money belt;most places accept major credit cards.
Major cities are well served with medical and emergency facilities. The national emergency number is 112. Bottled/spring water(agua mineral) is recomended. Members of the European Union receive free medical healthcare as long as they hold an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
When visiting churches or other religious monuments, try to wear appropriate clothes(long sleeved;no shorts. Yes, that means "no bikinis".
It is not unusual for women to sunbathe topless in the beaches of southern Portugal. However, from Lisbon northwards, women usually do not go topless.
As any other country, do not be arrogant to the locals, do not slander,be courteous/polite,specially at airports,do not be paranoid. As in any other country locals do not appreciate abuse, so avoid pissing them off.Portugal is part of the European Union melting pot of cultures.
Tread lightly on the Galician issue, which is surpsingly similar to the issue between Bulgarian and Macedonian. The Portuguese don't hate the Gallician Spaniards, and will insist that Gallician is a dialect of their language. Gallician Spaniards and other Spaniards will tell you otherwise. The two sides of the arguments that, written Gallician uses the Spanish version of the Latin alphabet, although the differences are very blurry between spoken Portuguese and Gallician. Ask as many questions as you like, and keep your political opinions to yourself for as long as possible.
There are no conflicts about Portuguese and Galician languages.As a matter of fact,Galicia,an autonomus reigon within the Kingdom of Spain, has expressed intresse to join the Lusophone Comunity(countries of Portugause language/culture.