Portugal was never on my travel radar, however, when my husband texted me out of the blue last fall and asked if I’d like to go, I replied without question, “Sure!” So, I happily tagged along on his recent business trip to Lisbon. Would I go back? Absolutely.
Now that I’m home, I thought I’d share seven things with you that United States visitors should know before they go to Portugal, specifically the Lisbon area.
- Power conservation – Like most hotels in Europe, you must insert your room key into a little slot near the door to supply power to your room. When you leave the room, the power goes out, so charging devices can be challenging, especially when housekeeping likes to confiscate extra cards left in the slot.
- Bathroom safety – The outlet in the hotel bathroom might not produce enough voltage to power a blow dryer. This is for safety reasons, they say at the five-star Corinthia Hotel. That goes for straighteners and curling irons, too. Electric shavers work, though. If your grooming routine includes using a mirror while you style your hair, you might want to bring your own, because the outlets in the room might not be near one. I styled my hair while gazing at my reflection in the glass of a large piece of art near the window, which kind of worked.
- Quaint streetscapes – The city is more interesting from city center toward the Tagus River. This is where you’ll find the older neighborhoods with winding streets that are too narrow for automobiles. Most large, chain hotels are situated miles from the river and make a taxi necessary to reach the old neighborhoods, but there are plenty of boutique hotels in those interesting areas.
- Tax-free shopping – If you try to haggle with a shop owner, and he tells you he can sell your item to you tax-free, be aware that in order to take advantage of that gesture, you’ll have to allow yourself plenty of time at the airport when returning home. Allow more time than you think necessary. We didn’t and missed out on a savings of $13. Hey, $13 is $13.
- For vegans – It’s not easy being vegan in Lisbon. Portugal’s favorite food is pork, so there doesn’t seem to be a lot of motivation to accommodate the likes of my husband and me. However, just around the corner from our hotel was a delightful vegetarian buffet called Green Pepper. The place was clean, the food was plentiful and delicious, but they don’t speak much English there, so bring your Portuguese dictionary or fire up the translating app on your phone. Still, vegans might have to go a little vegetarian, when in Lisbon.
- Pizza – It could just be the Corinthia Hotel, but you might have to slice your own pizza. Several evenings, when my husband was off at evening functions, I ordered room-service pizza, and it came as one big, intact disk.
- Cork – Who knew that Portugal produces half of the world’s cork? In the many Lisbon souvenir shops, you’ll find many items made of cork, including post cards! Pretty much anything that is usually made from leather can be made from cork. For this tourist, a new cork purse proved to be a perfect memento from our trip. It is roomy, lightweight, and I like that it’s made from a sustainable process.
So, there you have it, seven things that US visitors to Portugal should know. This small country on the Iberian Peninsula reminded us a lot of Italy, which we love. We like that the sidewalks are made of limestone and basalt stones, painstakingly laid into patterns. We like the pride that the Portuguese take in their country’s rich history. And we like that the people are so friendly, that in the Lisbon neighborhood, Alfama, when we asked a woman for directions, she left her wine-shop door wide open, to walk us to our destination. Obrigada, Portugal.
Ann Silverthorn writes about a wide variety of topics in numerous genres. She recently completed a biography of William E. Dimorier (1871-1951), a forgotten poet and educator, who dedicated his life to service and leadership and is seeking its publication. Several new projects are in the works.