Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Travel Guide Follow Up

So, I said I'd have to come back and say whether the travel guides I read before my trip were any good or not. I read Rick Steves' Portugal and viewed a couple of his DVDs, and read Frommer's Lisbon Day by Day, Portugal and Spain (foolishly thinking we had time for a 2nd country). They all contained good information, but I don't think anything can totally prepare you for the first time you hit the ground running in a foreign country.
The best features in any of the books were the "neighborhood walks", I think. When we were able to find our way to a starting point on one of those, it worked out fairly well. Unfortunately, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and little things kept us from getting where we needed to go, like not exactly comprehending the complexities of the commuter train schedules.
The one area where the books were of no use at all was in recommending restaurants. The ones they mention in the guides turn out to be so jam-packed full that they weren't worth the wait for us. We found that if we just picked someplace convenient, when we happened to be hungry, food quality was generally good, and portions generous. We really enjoyed it when we could hit a little restaurant that was frequented by locals, rather than tourists.
Prices quoted in the books can only be used in a general "order of magnitude" way. Attractions were generally more expensive than quoted, and I found that I just had to quell my ordinarily tightwad attitude and just have fun, without thinking about the money. Also, rather than trying to figure out what something in Euros really cost in Dollars (I'm actually good with math, and could do it), I just relaxed and treated a euro as a dollar, and quit thinking about it, even to the extent of calling euros "bucks".
Be prepared to walk...and walk...and walk. We found out eventually that our best tactic was to buy a pass on one of the hop on/hop off tour buses, ride the circuit to get the layout of the city, then ride the circuit a second time, hopping off to explore those things we were interested in. Public transit passes were handy, too, for the trolleys and elevators, tho we never did figure out the city bus schedules. The Lisboa card came highly recommended, and I think we about broke even on the cost of the commuter train by buying ours; the discount on attractions turned out to be not all that wonderful, so I'm not sure that part was worthwhile. There might have been a better pass available for transport.
Local tour companies are extremely helpful, and it's fun to join a small - emphasis SMALL - tour to explore places you might not otherwise get to, and to meet other travelers. My personal recommendation would be to avoid American or British groups, it's really more fun to get to know people from different cultures.
The travel guides, over all, are a good resource for understanding some basic concepts, but you'll find that none of them cover everything you need to know, and you'll feel like you should have been carrying about a dozen along in order to have everything you need.

1 comment:

marsha said...

Enjoyed your blog. Wow - you guys did alot in a limited amount of time. Love all the photos inserted with the narrative. Look forward to traveling like this - farther from home some day.