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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Iberian Peninsula: Slow-Travel Road Trip in Spain and Portugal

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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Our six week Iberian slow-travel road trip took us from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela to Madrid to Seville to the Island of Mallorca, and on to Barcelona. The adventure covered the peninsula from coast to coast, east to west and north to south, and utilized cars, trains, buses and planes. We've been very fortunate in the past to have had many slow-travel road trips in Europe, but this was the largest in terms of area to explore, and the greatest distances to travel. It was a memorable historic and cultural learning experience that we shall always remember.

 

We arrived in Lisbon after eleven hours of flight time and 18 hours of wait time = 29 hours to paradise. A twenty-minute Uber ride to our small boutique hotel on the impressive Praca do Comercio. No vehicle needed to visit this exciting city with a population of 504,000. Lisbon, in my humble opinion, was a mix of Naples, Rome, Paris, Sevilla, and Havana. Its stunning architecture is Spanish, Moorish, Baroque and Renaissance.

 

It was our first time in Lisbon. We needed to orient and inform ourselves about the city and its architecture, so for two days we rode the On and Off Bus to discover and explore this beautiful city.

 

We spent our first day north west of Lisbon’s old town in the Belem district, which is noted for its museums, music, opera, cultural center and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. The UNESCO World Heritage Site – the 16th century Belem Tower was a Spanish Renaissance fortification situated on the Tagus River, and the point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers. We discovered that Lisbon was made up of many neighborhoods, each with its own flavor, culture, traditions and modes of living.

 

Our next goal was to purchase passes for the tram, Metro, bus and limited rail transport for the subsequent road trip adventures. Off to the nearest lottery shop to purchase a Viva Viagem card, which allowed free transport, (except distant rail) for 24 hours.

 

We then took the Blue-line Metro to the Museum Gulbenkian, just outside the city center. There were significant art-history exhibits ranging from the Egyptian and Eastern Islamic to European art, sculptures - (Rodin), illuminated manuscripts and works by the Flemish and Dutch masters: Rubens, Bosch, Rembrandt, and Hals. The Renaissance was represented by tapestries from Brussels (Gobelins and Beavers). An impressive collection of 22 Impressionist artists topped off the art-history day. The purpose and value of learning comes from the world around us.

 

We stopped into the rail station to purchase our train tickets for Porto, our next Portuguese city. However, we tried to purchase rail tickets from Porto to Santiago (Spain), but were told that one can only buy rail tickets for Portugal in Portugal; meaning a change of trains at the border.

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The next day was sunny, with temperatures in the high 50’s, as we took the one hour and twenty minute rail ride from Lisbon to the northern slopes and wooded ravines to Sintra. Sintra is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site that draws thousands of visitors all year long. By taking the #743 bus, we climbed to the very top of the mountain where the 10th century Moorish castle and the Palacio da Pena sit on one of the highest peaks of the Sierra Mountains. Marvelous views of the countryside and the wooded ravines.

 

The next morning we took the fast-train, Portuguese Alfa Pendular, on a three hour plus rail ride to Oporto - Porto and marveled at the brilliant and exhilarating landscapes of vineyards. Porto (pop. 240,000) is Portugal’s second largest city. Porto has many museums, plenty of markets, varied church architecture and some huge cathedrals. Straight-away after checking into our hotel, we immediately purchased tickets for the On and Off Bus. Included in this package was a River Douro cruise. Porto is unique and fortunate – in that most of their medieval streets and many of Romanesque buildings still exist. Oporto was spared the horrible Great Lisbon earthquake in 1775.

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Because we had a second day on our On and Off Bus ticket, the next day we took the castle route which brought us to the ocean and all around the city of Porto. We visited the famous architectural gem, the Sao Bento rail station. In 1887, town officials authorized the construction of a railway line, and placed a rail station on the site of a Benedictine convent. In 1916, this dramatic granite U-shaped building of Beaux Arts vigor opened. The richly colorful vestibule was covered with 20,000 azulejo tiles and murals. The station has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020

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