Cod, Port Wine, & A Little Schnitzel: Part 1

Jan 23, 2019 Avatar Hilton Smith Hilton Smith
If you can get away during the holidays, Europe has all the Christmas and New Year’s energy you desire. I chose some time in Portugal and then to Berlin to celebrate New Year’s. It was a perfect combination.

Lisbon was ablaze with Christmas color and festiveness. This unique city is just being discovered by Americans.

New services by TAP Air Portugal and others will mean even more access. My flight was on Air New Zealand via London in Business Premier for wonderful service and comfortable sleep. Their beds are similar to Virgin Atlantic with lots of privacy and all aisle access.

Once in Lisbon, it was check-in at the five-star Tivoli Avenida Liberdade. The hotel is a classic design, but with modern touches. Service was excellent, especially in the Executive Lounge with access from some categories.

I had been to Lisbon before with an arranged half-day tour, which was very effective. The city is not on a grid, and it has many distinctive neighborhoods. Also, there are many hills and barriers. I suggest the tour for first-time visitors.

After that walking is the best way to explore. The town’s peculiar design is highlighted by the graffiti-covered street cars and the massive Santa Justa iron elevator designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. This lift carries passengers up one of the seven original hills in Lisbon. Unique dishes like pastel de nata (egg tarts), cod (many different ways), and distinctive Port wines make Portugal a land of new discoveries. The style of Lisbon is similar to Paris in some ways, but not as refined.

The Santa Justa area as well as Barrio Alto offer a grittier style, narrow streets, and many squares. These two areas are my favorites.

One afternoon, I decided to do a quick half-day tour to close by areas including Sintra, Estoril, and Cascais as well as the monument to the farthest point west on the European continent. These are charming towns and they are easily accessible from Lisbon. Each deserves more time than I had. The architecture and rich atmosphere of each town was visible. Time constraints, and also Christmas Eve, limited what could be done there. I was back in Lisbon for a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner capped up with a glass of 20-year-old Port wine.

Christmas Day was a surprise with the trip to Porto disrupted by a rail strike. I ended up with a three-hour road trip by private car and driver, an unplanned expense but with a pleasant driver and beautiful scenery.

I checked in at the amazing Inter Continental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas, a building dating from the 18th century. It is in the heart of Porto and reflects its charm. Here, a first-time visit included a half-day city tour. It was well worth it again, with a city looking randomly built and with hidden treasures. The train station across the street had elaborate tiles depicting the history of the area, modest churches outside had gilded interiors, and the iron bridge across the Douro River is over 100 years old. Our tour ended with a wine tasting focused on Port wine. I never knew how complicated the process was to make Port wine or even that there is a white Port wine.
The waterfront here is active and the neighborhoods again distinctive. One area, near the bookstore that J.K. Rowling got inspiration for Harry Potter, has a commercial building complete with a rooftop park with trees. The city alone deserves at least three nights.
With Christmas behind me, it was on to Berlin for a few days and New Year’s Eve celebrations. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post!