A few observations on my return from Portugal:-
- Sintra, near Lisbon, is enchanting. As you will all know, Byron loved it and started Childe Harold there.
- There are more than enough palaces and gardens in Sintra to keep you occupied for a couple of days or more. But also worth a visit is the royal palace 25km further north in Mafra. This enormous pile houses one of the world’s greatest libraries, albeit at the end of a long guided tour through seemingly endless odd rooms.
- Like the Dutch, the Portuguese all seem to speak excellent English, even the kids. Perhaps it comes of an acceptance of the fact that your own language, rightly or wrongly, is not widely spoken. Whatever, it contrasts with Spain.
- On the road, there’s little to chose between the Spanish and the Portuguese but, otherwise, the latter are a quieter and more reserved people than their Iberian neighbours. Though equally friendly. The Spanish, of course, consider them even duller than the English. But dullness can be attractive, especially late at night when you’re trying to sleep. And when slamming doors and chatting at the top of your voice in the corridor can wake a baby, who then starts to cry and disturbs everyone else in the place. For example.
- One shared feature of the two countries is that restaurants are empty at 9.30pm. In Portugal this is because everyone has gone home by this time. Whereas in Spain, no one has yet arrived.
- Portuguese architecture – and their affection for gardens – has great appeal but I more than once felt it would be a good idea if the entire population could club together and buy some paint. Or at least some whitewash. The photo below is of a lovely building which rather illustrates the point.
- As in Spain, EU-financed road building has proceeded apace over the last decade. So it can be a challenge identifying exactly where you are. This is true even if you have the latest maps. However, this is speculation on my part as I make it a point to complicate my life by never having one of these.
- The Portuguese seem to like dogs. Or border collies, at least. Ryan got a lot of attention but, as ever, responded by studiously ignoring everybody who showed any interest in him. I was not given the opportunity.