2019 tour travel blog

a tad hilly here...

Lisbon from the ferry to Cacilhas

view from the elevator up the cliff face

The elevator that takes us up to the top of the cliff

The elevator that takes us up to the top of the cliff

Time for a sangria in the sun

Tram ride on narrow roads

Largo das Portas do Sol



Sintra, western most point of mainland Europe


Pena Palace


21st May - Tuesday

We are booked on the bus to Lisbon, leaving at 10am, so are up early to finish packing, though there is not a lot to do. The trip will take just over eight hours, and cost €79. The important thing now is to scoff as much breakfast as we can before we head off to the metro! Breakfast starts at 8am, and we fill the travel cups and grab a baguette to go. There is a sign asking everyone not to, but if they challenge Tony on that he plans to play the “injured” card, and probably mention he has to leave early, to give enough time to get to the bus, and it will be a lot slower now…

But no one says anything, so all is good. The guys at reception have heard what happened and check that everything is ok. Tony is cautious to say that it seems ok, but he won’t really know for a few days. He mentions that he is a bit sore and stiff, and that he feels lucky that the slat with screws in it did not do any damage (the slat was hanging down beside him, and he could have hit his back or head on the protruding screw). Cynthea makes sure that they have an incident report, and suggests they change their inspections.

It is a long walk up the hill to the metro, but so far so good for Tony. A bit sore in places, and a few niggles, but we manage to get there in about 20 minutes. At that time of the morning the train is packed, and we try to use as little as space as possible with our packs. We are at the bus station soon after 9am, so that is not bad going. Better to be there an hour early, than a few minutes late. The directions are a bit frustrating again, one set of signs sends us right, then left, then right again, when we could have just walked straight ahead. Sigh. We follow the signs to intercity buses, and Cynthea double checks at information where we are to leave from. She is told gate 25-30, and just wait there. But when we get there the list of departures for the next three hours does not include ours. We ask around, and a few are just as confused. Others insist we need to wait at gate 25, the only gate with a departure sign showing a destination – Barcelona. Tony goes back to the information desk and uses Google translate to explain that there is no departure for the Lisbon bus that is leaving in half an hour. It turns out that the departure gate won’t be known until the bus arrives, so they don’t list it until then! FFS! It is a little, but not very, reassuring that when the Barcelona bus arrives, someone comes out and announces for passengers, so we are hopeful the same happens with our bus.

A few moments before we are due to depart the bus turns up, and although the destination is on the bus, there are no notices on the boards. We head for the gate just as staff announce the departure. We are surprised how few are boarding here. The driver cannot speak a word of English, and we are wondering what he is saying. He is good humoured about everything, and waives away the passport id we HAD to have, nor does he need to see our tickets. We are seated behind each other, in isle seats, and the window seat is unoccupied. We finally figure he is asking if we want to sit together, but we would rather have the room!

We search for power and usb sockets, they are there between the seats, but are not connected. Nor are there entertainment screens that we expected might be on this trip. It is going to be a long eight hours! We will probably sleep. We call in at the south station and a few more get on, we still have empty seats to spread out on, and someone is asking about the wifi, but it is patchy. Tony manages to connect, and they advise him to download the entertainment app, which is as good as useless. Despite selecting the English language option all the movies are in Spanish, and subtitled, presumably in Spanish too? The podcast music is stuck on one song, and the “interactive” journey map is not, not active that is. So he dismisses that and is soon asleep. A couple of hours down the track and someone is asking the bus driver about the wifi – it has packed up again, and she is not happy, but not being bitchy about, more good humoured ribbing. Tony comments that the driver cannot do anything about it during the trip, and the guy in the seat across asks if he is a kiwi. Connor is from Whangarei, but doesn’t know any Corbetts. He is probably thinking, oh shit, there are more of them!

It is 2.30 by the time we stop at Merida for a pee and a feed. As with other buses the toilet is locked during the trip, probably so they don’t need to clean them. We are told the bus is stopping for an hour – a surprise to us, because it is not mentioned on the itinerary, though we thought maybe a fifteen to twenty minute stop would have been in there somewhere. One or two are grizzling about the long stop over, and we figure it is a mandatory break for the driver. In the café Tony orders a couple of coffees, and a calamari sandwich for Cynthea. We are sitting out in the sun reading when Tony notices another bus arrive, and some bags are being transferred over, he thinks that this bus is heading somewhere else. While Cynthea goes to use the toilet, Tony goes to the bus while it is empty, his head phones had slipped between the seats and got stuck, so he takes the opportunity to dig around and free them. He notices a staff member is clearing everything left on the bus, and taking it to the one that just arrived, apparently we have to change buses. Tony grabs all their gear, and after putting it on the new bus goes to find Cynthea, not only does she not know we have, changed buses we are ready to leave, twenty minutes early.

New bus, new driver, a few new passengers, still no wifi. We are about an hour or so from the border, clocks will go back an hour then, and about four hours from Lisbon. We arrive a few minutes late, still no explanation as to why we had to change. The station is huge, buses up top, and metro two floors down. We have a look around, and are a bit concerned that there is little to no departure information here, even less than at Madrid. It is going to be fun leaving from her, not.

The metro is easy enough to figure out, even if the ticket machine is a bit of a challenge. After a couple of false starts we get a reloadable transport card, €0.50 each, and put a single trip on it. We will figure out what we need tomorrow.

We Love Hostel, €79 for three nights, including breakfast, is hard to find. It is supposed to be 20m from the metro, but we obviously get out at the wrong entrance as the street we need is some distance. We get to the corner, and are faced with a hill, but luckily we don’t have to go too far from here. There is no outdoor signage for the hostel, it is a residential building, and there is only a small sign on the intercom. We are buzzed in, there are more stairs, and it is dark inside, with no light switch to be seen. A few moments later the light comes on, and we are told to come up to the first floor where the hostel owner greets us. We think that she has converted her own home into a hostel. Two rooms have six bunks, and there is a double room as well. We are in the larger room, so far the only ones tonight. Check in is a bit of a process, and despite being told that the booking included all fees, there is a tourist tax to pay and she does not take visa. (Tony later sees Visa logos in the lounge, but he has paid by then). Tony says that the booking site says everything was included, but she shows him the page that says that is for VAT, and this is extra. That page says the tax is €1, but it doubled in January and she has not updated the information.

There are other charges too, Tony is more than a little pissed off when she asks for €2 per day for using the shared kitchen! That really gets on his nerves, and says that there was no mention of that either. This is starting to piss him off big time. Tony clarifies that there will be no charge for making coffees, and tells her we will not be cooking here. Never before have we had an extra charge for using the kitchen. We have to be careful using the bathroom, the windows open out to the laundry, so we have to remember to close them when in there, and open them again after. There is one other toilet, so hopefully everyone doesn’t need to “go” at once!

Our room opens out on to a balcony, the street is cobbled, and a bit noisy, but that should not be a problem. We have a short nap, and head out for tea. It is dark in the stairwell when we go to leave, and Cynthea goes across the hall to turn on the light – oops, she rings the neighbours’ door bell instead! Not only that, she doesn’t know which button she pressed (they are all the same), so we don’t know which is the light switch. Fortunately no one is home, so we use lights on the cell phone to light our way down the stairs.

A lot of places close at 9pm, and many don’t take credit cards. There are a lot of Indian and Nepalese places here, no Portuguese menus yet. We finally settle on kebabs at an Indian place, two of those with chips and a beer each are €10 ($17). Nice feed. The streets and paths here are all cobbled, with the paths worn smooth, and slippery, by decades, or even centuries, of feet. The paths and roads are very uneven as well, more undulating than dangerous and not too much of a trip hazard. Must be hell on the shockies of vehicles around here!

Back at the hostel we are the only ones in our room tonight, and two other guests in the next room. Hopefully no long wait for the bathroom then!

22nd May – Wednesday

A good night’s sleep, the beds are comfortable and Tony didn’t break any. Breakfast is simple, cornflakes, bread rolls, jam, tea and coffee. We are not sure what to do today and just start with a walk up the hill. There are a lot of hills in Lisbon! We head up our street for a park that we can see, but the streets are anything but straight and formal. We walk around the neighbourhood, and at the top head back towards the park, but it is a school, and we cannot go in. We find a supermarket and get some fruit, chips, coffee, and Sangria, €2 for 1.5L!! (cheap drunk!). Cynthea wants to go to the river, so we start off in the general direction of the water, but it is far from straight forward. Just when you think a street is going to take you where you want to go, it turns back on itself, and goes up a hill. We are far from the touristy hype here. We resort to Google maps, and are resigned to the fact that there is no quick and easy way to get anywhere here. Just as we think we are about to reach the waters edge, we turn a corner and are confronted by a high wall. We are forced to follow the road along, and are surprised to find ourselves at the train station. From here we decide to buy a couple of 24 hour passes, just under €10 ($17) will get us on most ferries, buses, trains and trams in town. We are told we can go to the next station and catch the ferry, but we are told wrong. We are not sure which ferry we were trying to get on, but our cards wouldn’t let us on to the wharf. We check with the ticket office, and basically we can only use them for ferries from the next port, two metro stops away. We take the train, one stop in towards town, change lines, one stop back to the port, and get out only a few hundred yards away from where we were, we could have walked here!

We rush to the wharf to find two ferries are leaving right now, so we dash through a gate and onto one of them, we don’t even look to see where we are headed until we get on the boat! We are off to Cacilhas, the port near the statue of Christ (think of the statue in Rio, but not as grand!). It is a short journey, about 10 minutes to cross the river. We get off the boat and see that there is an elevator near the statue, Tony knows that from the elevator it is a long and steep walk through a scruffy neighbourhood to get to the statue, so we decide we will not bother to go any further than the elevator. If it is free we might even go up it!

The walk along the river bank is not the most well tended. If you are not careful you will fall into a deep gutter where the covering has disappeared. Along the way most of the buildings are abandoned, some had suffered a fire, it is pretty run down and deserted. We would have thought someone would spruce it all up and rent it out. We see lots of fish in the water, and there are a couple of restaurants at the far end of the walk, tables (“for diners only:, according to the signs) out on the footpath and people sitting enjoying the sunshine.

At the elevator there is a home for cats, with a notice up saying don’t give them rubbish to eat, and don’t dump any more here. We see about three or four sitting in the sun, there is a wooden house for them with shelter. We take the (free) elevator up the cliff, it is glassed in so we have a great view as we head up. There is a security guard on every journey. We have a few moments at the top looking around, and then head back to the park where locals are fishing from the rocks. We sit on the bank drinking Sangria and eating chips.

It is around 7.30 when we get back to Lisbon, there is another ferry, going “somewhere else”, but we decide we have had enough for the day and catch the metro back to our hostel. We get out at the usual stop, and walk down the road towards our street. This tie, instead of turning up the road to the hostel, we carry on down the main road to see what is down that way. Blowed if we don’t find a metro entrance, just a few metres from our hostel. We had been told there was one close, but none of the exits we used mentioned anything that came out here. So we go exploring, and are not really surprised to find that every exit is pretty much labelled the same, until it is too late to use any other.

It is another late night at the hostel, and despite warning to be quiet after 11pm it is noisy in the kitchen, Cynthea is not impressed that it is the hostel owner talking to another guest. There are a couple of others in our room tonight, and the other rooms also have extra guests.

23rd May – Thursday

Today we played tourist, we go down to the square and wait 40 minutes in the queue for the #28 tram, it is supposed to be a local tram, but so many tourists use it, it is near useless for the locals. We are hassled by hawkers trying to get us into the many tuk-tuks that ply their way around the city, €70 each, no thanks, we already have tickets and we don’t care there is no itinerary. The local hop-on, hop-off service has been slammed as next to useless, so we are not using them either. They are a bit of a pain in the arse when they won’t take no for an answer though. They go to great lengths to get your business – “look at the queue, it is two more hours wait from here for you”, when in reality it was more like 20 minutes for us. We would suggest that anyone doing this in future get on at the second stop, there is no queue, and you may have to stand to begin with, but it is a better option. Despite what we had heard, they control the numbers quite well at the start, if you are prepared to stand you can get on ahead of the queue, but they limit those numbers so it is not too packed. We are also warned to be aware of pickpockets targeting the tram and queues, so we have left behind a lot of what we would normally take. We are nearly last on our tram, and have seats, but they are side on rather than forward facing, so it is difficult to take photos. The tram does a loop through the city that takes in local neighbourhoods as well as a lot of tourist spots. It is one of the original trams as well, so it is not that comfortable on your backside. The ride through town is something else, so very narrow and often the tram line crosses to the other side of the road, to enable the tram to manoeuvre around the corner. It gets interesting in places, especially if it is not a local behind the wheel. At the end of the run everyone is told to get off, the tram moves a few metres forward, and those that want to can get back on again, but it needs a new ticket if you haven’t got a pass. We head straight to the front of the queue and get our pick of seats as we are first on.

We get off at a lookout over the city, just below the St Gorge castle. We try to find out if the bus goes to the castle itself, but no luck, so we walk there. It is steep, and you have to be careful on the cobbles, but we get there. Tony spots a sign for a urinal, and says it looks like you are peeing against a wall… and you are. You are covered (part of you is) by a screen, but anyone can see your feet and know what you are doing, and if you are tall enough you can look out over the top and chat to folks passing by if you have a mind to. Cynthea declines the offer to try it out for herself. We have to pay quite a bit to go into the castle grounds, we are thinking “A.B.C.” and decide we have seen enough, and figure that any view of the city we have seen elsewhere, so give it a miss. We are standing at the bus stop and spot a sign across the road, a shot of Porto for a euero. Se we go and try a couple while waiting for the next bus. They were both very nice, though we could have got the whole bottle for €3 at the supermarket! The bus has as much trouble as the tram winding its’ way down the hill, it sure is interesting driving through these narrow streets. We get off at the square, and back track to a pastry shop at the bottom of the hill, we spotted it from the bus, and the food in window looked great. We have a little over an hour before our 24 hr passes run out. We try a variety of foods and head back up the hill to the metro before our passes time out.

24th May Friday

We finish packing after breakfast, and leave the hostel. The woman who runs it initially said we could leave our bags here until 5pm, but now she is wanting them gone by4pm as she has an appointment. Tony is not happy, we have a trip to Sintra today, and if we have to be back here by 4pm we may as well cancel the trip. She agrees to meet us at 6.30 instead, which suits us fine as we can now stay longer.

We deliberately left late, hoping the crowds will have thinned out by then. Tony goes to reload the travel cards, his has nothing on it, but Cynthea’s 24 hour pass will expire in 8 minutes. We cannot figure out why, as they were bought at the same time. Go figure. We think that maybe she did not tag out last night? There is a bit of confusion as we are told we need to be at Rossi for the train, but there is also a metro station of the same name, though they are not connected. That is when the fun starts! We go to the metro station where there is supposed to be Rossi train station, but there are no signs underground. We head out on to the street, and there is a sign pointing to Rossi, but we don’t know if it is metro or train. So we follow it anyway.

Typical of what we have come to expect here, the sign points us in the general direction just once, and then… nothing. Not even a sign on the outside of the building that people are streaming into, so we figure it has to be what we are looking for. Once inside we find that yes, this is the railway station. No ticket booths on the ground floor that we can see, so we head up the escalators. On the next floor is a signboard, train tickets are downstairs for regional trains, and upstairs for local ones. We decide to carry on up as we have no idea what we need. A LOT more information would be a great improvement.

At the ticket counter we pay for a return ticket, we think, but we are not sure if it is or not. There is a train for Sintra in one minute, a twenty minute wait until the next one, so we make haste. The train is eight carriages, and all are full. We squeeze into a carriage, and the train leaves straight away. At Sintra it is a complete shambles. Eight full carriages hold around 640 bums on seats, plus all the others packed in standing… there would have been well over 800 on that train. So much for leaving it until later, when the rush has died down! Stuffed that one up, haha. The absolute shambles (to put it mildly), is at Sintra. There are just four gates to process everyone, and we all have to pass through into a tiny building that serves as a tourist info booth for local trips. What a lot of people didn’t realise, including us, is that there is an exit at the far end of the platform. We decide to leave the heaving mass and walk down the street a bit, but we get hassled every step to buy a trip. One guys stops us and Tony asks how much, but he avoids the question and starts to tell us about his trip. Tony asks again, and he says to let him explain the trip fisrt. Tony gets shitty and says answer the bloody question, he doesn’t so Tony tells him to stop wasting all of our time, and walks off, much to Cyntheas disgust. She spends a bit more time with him and says that €43 each is out of our budget, something he would have been told 10 minutes ago, had he not pissed around.

We go to the hop-on, hop-off bus, and find we have to buy from inside the station (where the hordes are starting to thin out). There is still a queue, but thankfully most have left the area by now. We get to our turn, and the “official” guide stand can only issue tickets for vouchers presented, or process cash sales. If you want to pay by Visa you have to try the information counter, which still has a very long queue! We don’t have that much cash, so we wait. Cynthea tries an ATM, but has left her cards behind, as has Tony because of the threat of pickpockets targeting the train and the town. One staff member buggers off for lunch, and is not replaced, so the line moves even slower, sigh.

Fifty, yes, that is FIFTY, minutes later we have our tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus (€40, $70). But we will only have time for one circuit, and cannot get off because on the first part of the circuit it is half an hour between buses. One circuit takes about 2.5 hours, so we are not going to see a lot more than we do from the bus.

We are luckier with the bus, it is only a few minutes wait to get on. Thankfully most of the crowds have gone on their way, so the bus is not packed. The seats are small, and jammed in tighter than a budget airline, so it is not very comfortable. After a couple of people get off we shift to the individual seats down one side, no more leg room, but at least we are not jammed in.

The area is very pretty, and we get taken to the western-most point of Europe, Cabo da Roca. We travel back through the forests, and the landscape is quite different here too. There are huge rounded boulders, mostly quite bare, but some showing signs of vegetation taking over. The architecture of the buildings here is amazing, and one, the The Palácio Nacional da Pena has a vividly painted exterior of reds and yellows. They charge a fair whack to enter, €7.50 to get in the gate, and if you want to visit the castle itself, that is €14. If we had more time perhaps, but if we get off the bus we will only have half an hour here. Back in town we need something to eat and drink, and few take cards, and few have a loo. We duck into Pizza Hut and have some garlic bread, coffee and a beer. We have a wander around the town until it is time to get the train back to Lisbon. This trip is much less crowded, and we have our pick of seats.

The owner of the backpackers is not in when we arrive, so we wait on the steps until someone else comes along to let us in. Around seven she arrives and we get our bags and head off to the bus depot. Tony leaves Cynthea while he goes find where bus leaves from, there are nearly 50 gates and information is lacking as to where to go. Tony checks all the gates and there is nothing, so he heads back inside but the place is so huge it is difficult to find anything there too.

Tony asks a couple of people, but all they can do is direct him outside, and the bus will leave “somewhere” from there. He has another look at the tickets and tries Google translate on them again, and this time it works a bit better. There is an instruction to wait opposite gate 49, which seems a bit strange, but may as well give it a go. Naturally, Murphys’ law kicks in, and it is at the far end of the bus station, and as he gets there a couple of buses pull away to reveal a bus office. It is not for the company that is ticketed, but there is no other choice than to try it. Well, as it happens it is the correct place, they even have our names on a list, but we are an hour early Tony is told. Just as well because if we had turned up when the bus was due, we would have been left behind! Come back at 10pm and wait outside here he is told. We have about an hour, so go and get something to eat.

We are back at the office by 10pm, it is now closed, but there are a few people waiting outside. The bus turns up early, and once we are all aboard it departs, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. So it seems that timetables here mean bugger all, it is just as well we make sure we are very early for any departure.

The bus is comfy enough, screens in the seat backs again, but the wifi is not working, not that that is a problem, we hope to be sleeping! The bus is about half full, and we will have to change at Seville arriving around 6am. We will leave about 7am for Tarifa, all the way through to Tarifa the cost is €130

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