(posted in BCN and Lisbon forums - for Lisbon information, please page anout 1/2 way down report)
This is way overdue but recently posted about our recent Spring Break so took the time to review what we did and write a trip report. I am always so grateful for the information I am able to gather via Trip Advisor so like to try to give back where I can. A little about us – I like to think we are seasoned travelers – visiting many cities in the US and Europe…We love sights, history and keeping busy. Being Swedish and Irish, we tend to burn easily and quickly so the sun and pool are not our friends. While a little pool time is nice, we cannot and do not hang by the pool all day – we like to pack as many sights into a destination as possible. We are definite foodies – we like the local’s favorites but are not averse to at least having a drink at the famous, popular “must go places”. Most of my research was via Trip Advisor and some forum posts. My son has been to Paris, London, Italy and Ireland during summer breaks. While we knew we’d love Barcelona, have to admit that Lisbon might be my new favorite city in Europe. For dining in Lisbon, found a number of great suggestions Spotted by Locals (http://www.spottedbylocals.com/).
We flew from EWR to LIS and then hopped a flight to Barcelona. We did this flight with United points to book TAP Portugal award flights and also were able to use Marriott rewards to stay (for free) at the Ritz Carlton Arts in Barcelona. (http://www.hotelartsbarcelona.com/) I had read bad reviews of TAP Portugal airlines but they were FANTASTIC! From the funny safety video to the kids pack given to the children, their staff and flight was great. I would fly them again in a heartbeat. We usually love to rent apartments via vrbo.com but since we had the points for the stay, decided to save the money and enjoy the luxury of the Ritz Carlton. It did NOT disappoint – one of the top 3 most luxurious hotels we’ve stayed at. We arrived tired but excited. Took a 1-2 hour nap and then set out to explore our nearby Barceloneta area and beach. We enjoyed an early dinner at Restorante Peru on the beach as recommended by our restaurant. It was one of the few nearby places that opened early so we could avoid the 10pm dinner rush and get a good night sleep. (…salir.com/peru_passeig_joan_de_borbo_10)
Day 1 – We pre purchased tickets (A MUST!) for La Sagrada Familia for first thing in the morning. (sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/…informacio.php) As expected, simple amazing and we spent a few hours there. The kids audio tour is very well done and I listened to it with my son. We had reserved tickets for the Nativity Towers as well. Glad we booked this additional ticket as was well worth it. We then headed over to see some of the Roman Tombs in the middle of the city on our way to Boqueria (http://www.boqueria.info/index.php?lang=en). From fruit cups to the amazing Crepe Man there – pictures don’t do it justice. We grabbed some snacks and made our way to a next door wine shop and enjoyed our lunch on the run. We headed down to the Las Ramblas, Christopher Columbus statue on our way back to the hotel. Passed by and enjoyed all the street artists – my son was in awe and took pictures (and tipped) them all. We enjoyed some pool time at the Ritz and headed to La Fonda for dinner in Port Olimpic. (http://www.lafondadelport.com/)
Day 2 – We started the day by roaming around the Barri Gothic, Barcelona Cathedral, Port Veil harbor and went into the Barcelona Aquarium. Enjoyed getting to know the city but would have avoided the Aquarium. My son was 9 and not an overly exciting aquarium – sure younger kids love it – but would have saved the admission price (*and wait till the aquarium in Lisbon – read below that was worth it!!).
Day 3 – We pre booked “The Kids Walking Tour of Barri Gothic” by Runner Bean Tours (runnerbeantours.com/barcelona-tours/…7). I cannot begin to express what a fantastic tour this was! They kids were so engaged and got so much information on the sights we strolled by the day before! Some of the sights on this tour were the Roman Walls, remnants of a Roman Temple, Cathedral cloister, Placa del Pi, Giants Museum and workshop, Placa Sant Jaume, Place del Rei, and a candy making store where they are making candy right in front of you! This is really a fantastic tour for kids and parents.
Day 4 – With the success of the Kids tour, we also booked a Gaudi Tour of Barcelona via Runner Bean (runnerbeantours.com/barcelona-tours/…12) Our guide again was just amazing and we started at Placa Reial and visited Palau Guell, Casa Batillo and Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and then the Sagrada Familia. There were a few kids on the tour and my son always had a front row space and was attached to the guide asking questions while we walked from one place to another! He loved the facts (especially the Chupa Chupa/sucky suck familys ownership of Gaudis building, incorporating the BCN crest into the iron work) and was well organized and took us all over the city. Later in the evening, we had planned to see the Magic Fountains. (…bcn.cat/portal/…). When we got there, we quickly realized that the fountains were not ‘performing’ due to the area being occupied by Barcelona Harley Days! Hundreds of bikes and bikers displaying their Harleys from all over Europe. While we did not have on leather vests – we made the best and enjoyed some of the food vendors, checked out the bikes and enjoyed the lively atmosphere of the event.
Day 5 – We had pre-booked tickets to see La Pedrera. We got some info from the Gaudi tour the day before but we were up and inside and walking around an apartment fist thing in the morning. Needless to say, the roof was a big hit (they say the chimney stacks are the inspiration for George Lucas’ storm troopers). We then headed by TAXI to Parc Guell. We did the tour of Gaudis house there and spent two hours or so walking around and exploring the area. Most of the time we used the metro or walked but this being up on the hill and a warm day, we made the right decision to taxi it there and back. We ended our week with dinner at the All American Hard Rock Café. While this is not my first choice, my son seems to radiate to them and wants to visit them in every city and country so we could put away our international tastes for an evening.
My final takes on Barcelona – love love love the food! While I have not listed everyplace we ate, we were pretty obsessed with Tapas and especially Patatas Bravas. More than a few pitchers of sangria were consumed. My son will try different things but a pretty solid kid eater. He tried many tapas (and liked them) but also found almost every place was kid friendly with the chicken nuggets, fries, etc. Public transportation was the way to go – easy, efficient and cheap. We used a taxi one time and everything else was via metro. WE did find it amusing that that everyone seemed to be going in the opposite direction of us daily. We were headed from the beach area to the city, they were heading from the city to the beach!
Day 6 – WE had a flight from BCN to LIS for a week there. Once checked in and waiting to board, our flight was mysteriously and cryptically cancelled. No one announced it, no one actually told us. We signed up for flight alerts from TAP and saw it online and then asked and after about 10 minutes finally told it was in fact cancelled. We asked information where we go to find out info (things are NOT like the USA, we already knew that) and we were told in that the most important thing was that we get our luggage and then go up to the TAP offices. It was repeatedly stressed there is nothing more important than retrieving our luggage. We waited, and waited, and waited. Over an hour with other families and locals. No one seemed to know when we would see bags, everyone seemed to indicate they would come off belt 8. No dice. After 90 minutes of waiting and calling customer service (who advised they could do nothing but get to the office to rebook) we decided to break up. I went up to the tickets office and my husband and son stayed to wait for bags. I get to the office and notice many ‘locals’ rush me and blatantly cut me waiting in the line. Shortly thereafter, my husband and son appear with no bags? What happened was a TAP employee went and told people – in Spanish – that they should go upstairs as flights have been rebooked and luggage will be too. They never told this to any of the English speaking people though so many were left standing and seeing other literally run upstairs to the office. Someone finally found another representative who looked up the information and sent them all up to this office. Luckily, we were a party of only 3 people with one way flights so we were put on the next available flight – 7 hours later. We decided to stay put at the airport at this point and make the best of it. Finally, after a few hours of waiting we did board the later flight and made it to Lisbon very late in the evening. Needless to say, a hiccup and not a lot of information given to us but we made the best of it. We arrived in Lisbon and had a ride waiting to take us the apartment we rented through VRBO.com. (http://www.vrbo.com/77293/reviews) The apartment exceeded our expectations – large, great wifi, phenomenal location!
Day 7 – We got settled, started some laundry and then ventures out to explore our new surroundings. We started our daily journey with Miradouro de Sao Pedro, Praca do Commercio, Roe da Madalena and Rue de Prada. We rode the 28 trolly around town and finally ended up a wine store for some pre dinner drinks. I found a website of where locals eat and we decided to try a few of the places during our stay. They were that notable that including them in this report. First full night we decided to indulge in some local gourmet burgers at Café do Rio (http://cafedorio.pt/). Bunless and fantastic – can never eat a burger again without an egg on it.
Day 8 – The start of two fantastic days. Since we were travelling with my son, we try to set up special tours that a kid will not get bored with or lose interest. I ran across the name of Cristina Quental in a Rick Steves book. Months earlier, we booked her for two half day tours so she could cater it to the questions and interest of a 9 year old. AS we learned, she has been in the tour industry for years and is such a fantastic wealth of knowledge! (http://lisbon4smile.com/quem-somos ) She met us at the Rossio Train station and we headed off on a 5 hour walking tour of Lisbon. Some of the sights along the way were Elevador de Santa Justa, Castelo de Sao Jorge, Igreja do Carmo, Sao Roque church, Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Gloria Elevator (graffiti trolley), the Doll Hospital and SANTINI ICE CREAM! (http://santini.pt/index.php?route=common/home) It was packed few hours and she directed us to a local corner café for lunch with the best sandwiches anyplace. Sadly, I have a picture but don’t recall the name of this hidden local gem.
Day 9 – We had Cristina for another morning – this time we boarded a train at Rossio Station and headed to Sintra to meet her. It was VERY cold and foggy and an interesting day weather wise. We started out with a long hike through Park of Pena – seeing swans, frogs, and snails along the way up to the castle. We did a tour of the Palace which was quite a treat. Like a fairy tale castle! After a few hours we headed back down into town and went through the Sintra National Palace. Not quite as exciting but beautiful none the less. Our 5 hours were up with Cristina – we sadly said goodbye – ate lunch and then headed to explore more on our own. We headed to get famous Sintra cheesecakes, visited a toy museum where we met the collector himself, Mr. João Arbués Moreira (www.museu-do-brinquedo.pt/default.asp…) and then took a train back to Lisbon.
Day 10 – Might be my sons very favorite day on vacation. While in Rome a few years ago, he discovered SEGWAYs. While in the US, 8 years old might be too young for riding a Segway, Europe seems to have no such concerns. We booked a 3 hour tour around Lisbon. While it was drizzling, wet and cold, nothing could have put a damper on a day! (http://www.lisbonbysegway.com/site/en/) We had another American couple with us – no speed limit, up winding roads, over curbs to Castelo de Sao Jorge (http://castelodesaojorge.pt/) and other various sites such as the Jewish Quarter. The guides are just great and I must admit, was a highlight of the entire two weeks. We then headed by train and very long walk to Oceanario de Lisboa (http://www.oceanario.pt/). Well worth it. This is the best aquarium we have ever been to! A few feet from you – penguins, sea otters, rainforest, floor to ceiling and multi level viewing areas. It is massive and we spent at least a couple hours exploring. We headed back to town and enjoyed our last dinner before we headed home.
A few noteworthy mentioned about Lisbon – first my favorite place in the city – la Pharmacia (tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g189158-d2…). Drinks served in test tubes, check comes in a specimen jar. The entire concept is awesome – we just went to drinks and snacks but the meals get great reviews and the dining room was decorated to fit the theme. Great front lawn area that kids were running around and toys for them to play on. Our favorite meal was actually a crepe place –Café Infusao. We ate there and then went back another night for dessert – my son would have had every meal of the week there if he had the option. By our second visit, the owner knew us, made us feel like we had known her for years. The sweet and savory crepes are just out of this world – might be better than ones we had in Paris! (10best.com/destinations/…)
Lisbon is primarily a walking town – easy to navigate and we never took a taxi anywhere. The train was very economical and easy to use as well. Lots of sidewalk cafes and the cherries! Oh the cherries – a huge basket on a street corner for 5Euros. Was also very easy to feed a pickier eater in this city. I fell in love with Lisbon, the neighborhoods and people.