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Europe: The Road Ahead

Written by Jeff Drake
7 · 05 · 18

Only 3 days left before our departure. Yay!

Long air travel is never something to look forward to. On Monday the 11th we will fly out mid-morning to JFK airport in New York, enjoy a leisurely 2.5 hour layover, then board our flight bound for Lisbon, Portugal. We land in Lisbon at 10:15am on the 12th of August (technically day 2 of our trip). Total air time is 14 hours or so. Yeah, that’s a long trip, but we’ve had longer trips and survived. We did splurge a little and get the extra leg room seats, so our first day of this trip (consumed by air travel) will be a bit more comfortable.


Our OAT guide, Sira, has already contacted us to introduce herself and told us that when we arrive a car will pick us up at the airport and drive us to our Lisbon hotel, the Marques de Pombal. We only stay at two hotels this trip: the Marques in Lisbon and another in Madrid at the end of our trip. The rest of the time we will be staying at pousadas (Portugal) and paradors (Spain). These two hotels happen to be in the two biggest cities we will be visiting on our tour. The rest of the time our time should be spent enjoying the promise of this OAT tour which is reflected in its title: “Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradors and Portuguese Pousadas”!

Pousadas in Portugal are a chain of historic and traditional luxury hotels throughout the country (think medieval forts, mansions, monasteries, castles, etc). Originally the pousadas were owned and operated by the Portuguese state, but were sold in 2003 to the Pestana Group, a member of the “Historic Hotels of Europe”. The word, pousada, means hotel or inn in Portuguese. Today there are 44 pousadas available for rent.

Paradors in Spain are the Spanish equivalent of pousadas, although in this case, the paradors are still owned and run by the Spanish state. There are 94 paradors in operation today in Spain, the first being purchased in 1928. In fact, Portugal’s pousadas were fashioned after the Spanish paradors.

Our guide, Sira, told us that our rooms aren’t available until 2pm, but she hopes we can get in early. This is typical for a mid-morning arrival, so we know the drill i.e., drop off our luggage at the hotel and wander around for a few hours. This will encourage us to get as much sleep on the plane as possible.

Our first adventure in Lisbon will no doubt be to find a nice cafe. I’m looking forward to trying Portuguese “uma bica,” which is simple espresso with a spot of milk. The coffee in Portugal must be good since according to reports, um cafe (espresso) is drunk in “heroin addict” quantities! LOL! We will stand in line with the rest of the junkies.

In the afternoon we’ll hook up with our group and our guide for an orientation walking tour of the area around our hotel, as well as the traditional OAT welcome drink and briefing. We only have twelve people in our group this time, which is great! Smaller groups make everything more pleasant, in my opinion.

Our only concern is that there will be someone in the group who is unable to keep up with the rest of us during activities and walking what is expected to be 3-5 miles each day. I think this is our 6th trip with OAT and this hasn’t happened yet, but it remains a concern every time we go. This is mostly because OAT is rather pricey, which means the groups tend to be older, retired folks who can afford it. Everyone gets a written caution about being able to keep up before signing up for the tour, but I wonder whether OAT would actually prevent anyone from going on the trip if they had the money.  I know, I’m a cynic. That being said, we’re seasoned travellers at this point and we won’t let a situation like this prevent us from having a good time, even if it means we venture out on our own ahead of the group, if need be.

Our first day in Lisbon (technically day 2 of our trip) will conclude with an OAT welcome dinner while we all get to enjoy the traditional Fado music of Portugal. I’m really looking forward to this (I hope I like it).

Ate’ tarde!

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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.