Thursday, January 24, 2008

Portugal, a country I missed during my European tour

Why I would like to visit Portugal if I get the chance

One thing forever etched in my mind about Portugal is the Portuguese professor whom I met at a student hostel in Ghent, Belgium. He asked me: "Do you know what is the Portuguese term for tea. When I plea ignorance, he gave me the answer - cha. Hey, that is exactly the Chinese word for tea!!! Further, he offered to share his piece of Camembert cheese with me (anyway, I believe it is Camembert cheese, those that have a white coating over the cheese). He cut a piece of it and offered it to me. I ate the whole piece. No, he said. You are not supposed to eat the white coating! Alarmed, I ask him if I will remain alive. No worry, I should be OK. He was right. Here I am preparing this post about Portugal for publishing.

Anyway, it aroused in me an interest in Portugal and things Portuguese. Here are some of the things I know. Portugal is of course right next to Spain in the Iberian Peninsular. Portugal has what they call Oceanic climate in the north and Mediterranean climate in the south and one of the warmest European countries. Just nice for people like me who hates to wear winter clothing to go outdoor. The islands of the Azores in the Mid-Atlantic and the Madeira archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean are also part of Portugal.

Portugal is a popular tourist destination for European countries and have been attracting more than 12 million tourists annually. Lisbon, the Algarve and Madeira are the major tourist draw, but new areas like the Douro Valley, Costa do Sol, Porto Santo Island, Douro Sul, Alentejo, Templários, Dão-Lafões, Costa Azul and Planície Dourada are being developed, although still relatively unknown.

I wished I had visited Portugal when I was in Portugal, but being a poor student, have to limit my travel. After experiencing the hassle and time wasting task of hunting for suitable accommodation, especially those that suit my limited budget, I will always depend on online accommodation booking sites like Portugal Hotels to reserve where to lay my sleepy head when it is time to sleep before I even step out of the front door.

Lisbon, capital city of Portugal

Lisbon is the capital city, and like any capital city, is also the largest city of Portugal. If mild climate is what you like, Lisbon has one of the mildest climate of all European capitals. If you are interested in heritage, visit Baixa (Downtown or city center) which is currently being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You may see old hands still practicing their crafts like the Baixa shoemaker you see in the photo below:

Baixa Lisbon Portugal shoemaker
Photo of Baixa shoemaker is property of Andy Weisner

Among Lisbon attractions are the historic neighborhood of Belém with its grand Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Bairro Alto, a residential, shopping and entertainment district with its nightlife, Punk, Gay, Metal, Goth, Hip Hop and Reggae scenes and thus the center of Lisbon's youth, Gare do Oriente, the main transportation hubs of Lisbon for metro, trains, buses and taxis and the distinct 1930s Lisbon Trams and Funiculars, the Elevador da Glória, Elevador da Bica, and Elevador da Lavra.

A website to book cheap hotels is Lisbon Hotels.

Algarve region of Portugal

The Algarve region is the southernmost region of mainland Portugal in which is located the towns of Albufeira, Faro, Olhão, Lagoa, Lagos, Quarteira, Loulé, Portimão, Silves, Tavira, and Vila Real de Santo António. Its main industry is the tourism industry, followed by fruit production, which includes oranges, carob beans, figs and almonds, plus fishing. Nature lovers will love the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature reserve and a stopping place for hundreds of various birds. It is also popular with tourists because of its beaches, safety, Mediterranean climate and relatively low costs. Women football fans will love Algarve because it host the annual Algarve Cup invitational tournament for national women's football teams.

Algarve Island Portugal
Photo of Algarve cliffs is property of YXO

Booking of accommodation can be done online at Algarve Hotels.

Madeira archipelago

The Madeira archipelago is located in the north Atlantic Ocean and one of the Autonomous regions of Portugal. Of all its islands, only Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island are inhabited. Because of its climate, it is a popular year-round resort. Madeira is well known for its New Year's Eve celebrations accompanied by a spectacular fireworks show. Its fireworks show has entered the Guinness World Records as the largest in the world. Madeira is noted for its wine, flowers, and embroidery artisans.

Madeira beach Portugal
Photo of Madeira beach is property of Don Amaro

Being a relatively isolated region, it is advisable to book accommodation ahead of arrival via online accommodation websites like Madeira Hotels.