Portugal here we come

October 4, 2017 - Lisbon, Portugal

We began planning for our 10.55am airport check-in, so about 30 minutes to the airport plus 5-10 minutes for the taxi to arrive, a contingency allowance and then Max's obsession with making sure he is waiting at the airport when the check-in opens and we were planning on getting to hotel reception about 9.15am.

We had our bags packed and went down to breakfast about 8am which gave us time to enjoy our last breakfast at the Hotel Caro. It really has been a beautiful place to stay and the staff have been cheerful, friendly and helpful.

At the hotel desk we paid our dues and while we were doing that a taxi was ordered so that he turned up before our receipt was printed. There was no trouble getting to the airport as our driver was well aware of the traffic conditions thanks to Mr Google. We already had our boarding passes in hand thanks again to the staff of the Hotel Caro but our Air Portugal (TAP) Bag Drop was at the far left-hand end. That was a blessing in disguise. There were plenty of seats and only a few people waiting so we took a seat and waited about forty minutes for the counter to open.

When we eventually dropped our bags we were informed that the flight was delayed by 25 minutes. Oh well, not much for it but to submit to the security screening and find the gate.

I don't know who Air Portugal has upset at Valencia or perhaps it is just that Spain/Portugal rivalry but after security we had to walk to the far right-hand end of the terminal for the 'R' Gates and then downstairs to the Tarmac Level. At least there was plenty of places to sit and wait. From there we could watch the comings and goings of aeroplanes and ground staff as well as the theatrics of three guys painting exclusion stripes on an area of concrete. One guy to measure and hold the end of the masking tape, another to stretch the tape and stick it down and a third to tidy the tape ends and tread down the tape. Then they got the bucket of red paint and left one chap with the roller to paint in the outlined stripes. All very technical.

Our aircraft arrived about 11.45am and they unloaded passengers and bags and soon it was our turn to walk across the tarmac (follow the green path) to the plane, an ATR-70. Boarding was pretty quick as the aircraft will only hold 70 passengers and not all seats were filled. By 12.20pm we were trundling up to the strip and off into the air.

Our flight path took us somewhere well south of Madrid but nowhere I could identify and then into Portugal before we touched down in Lisbon about 2.30pm local time. This time we went by bus from the plane then we had a long walk to the baggage carousels but our bags came off as we arrived and we were straight out the doors to the taxi queue where we shuffled our way up the line.

The taxi ride was an adventure. The last Portuguese Formula One driver was Tiago Monteiro with a less than illustrious 2 year career and I think our driver was planning to be the next replacement. We did arrive quickly especially considering the amount of traffic we encountered on the way. He dropped us off, let us out and took our bags out of the boot then took the money and said 'see you later' before speeding off.

There was nothing that looked vaguely hotel like apart from an awning over a doorway nearby. There was a brass plate with the name of a hotel though not what we were looking for. After trying the door we discovered a button for a bell and after ringing the door was opened remotely. 'No, there is no booking in that name', she said but when she looked at our booking she pointed us across the street, 'The green door past the steps', she said. They were all green doors as far as we could see but we wandered off and found a similar brass plate with 'Palacio Ramalhete' and pressed the buzzer.

The lock clicked and we pushed the door open but were met almost immediately by a chap who took our bags from us and led us up a short flight of stairs to the reception desk where we were given a glass of water and we went through the check-in procedure once more. The woman at the desk then told us a little about the history of the place and took us for a look around while the housekeeping staff made sure our room was ready (3pm is the earliest check-in time here and it was 2.50pm).

The hotel is an old 16th century merchant's house that was rebuilt in 1755 after an earthquake destroyed much of this part of Lisbon. They have tried to retain the character of the old house when converting it to a hotel. There are two terrace levels in the gardens and then above them a pool area and deck. Behind the pool are four newer 'executive' rooms. On the ground level are the breakfast/dining room and a couple of sitting rooms but we were told we could take breakfast to any of the outside tables or to the sitting rooms.

It all sounds delightful and certainly the gardens are wonderful and peaceful but the rooms are just a bit light on detail. We often find that bathrooms often are compromised on space and quality. Not enough space to put down your own bathroom things, showers over the bath, showers that drown the floor and bathmats, showers where bending down puts your head into close proximity to the taps, and showers that hardly wet you are all drawbacks.

We like quaint and quirky but don't like to make concessions to poor design, functionality or to put up with cheap. I am afraid this hotel has a bit of all that.

Maybe we arrived with some preconceptions and felt let down by the location and by things like a shower door that essentially directed water onto the floor and bathmat and the wicked Victorian reproduction chairs. I know it takes a bit of a rethink for each new place you occupy so perhaps we needed to take some time to adjust.

We are hoping to use this time for a bit of recuperation before the bus tour of Portugal so maybe a few days in the garden will let us relax … but right now we must gather ourselves and head into the streets for dinner. Not something we relished as the street seemed a bit seedy and both the hotels had a buzzer and a remote security lock which we thought said something about the area.

We walked up the hill a little way to a square and a tiny restaurant Raizes (Roots in Portuguese) that had been recommended by the hotel. It seemed basic but the food was very good, the service pleasant and although there were four other tables occupied it was peaceful.

Bottle of Douro Valley wine (Irmāos).

A lovely soft, moist, wholemeal sourdough bread served in a little wooden breadbox with a jar of home-made jam and a bowl of olive oil with chorizo flakes.

Delicious Grilled Tuna belly with mashed black-eyed peas, beans and pimento peppers.

Super soft, creamy Rice Pudding (to share) that was sweet but not too sweet. (I'd go back just for that.)




A last look around the Valencia skyline
The clouds gather over Valencia
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