A Travellerspoint blog

Travel on a Modest Budget: Spain and Portugal in Review

sunny 17 °C

If you think you cannot afford to travel, think again!

If I can do it, anybody can do it.

Although the 'grow where you are planted' team has a point, I align more with 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

Tips and tricks on travelling on a small budget at any age:

In December, 2016, my sister and I went on a three week budget trip to Spain and Portugal. I am 67.
All in, my trip cost three thousand Canadian dollars but it could have easily been pared down to less.
For any American readers, this would be around 2200 US dollars.
I will break down the costs and remark on further cost saving measures.

Barcelona: Dec 2 - 6
Antequera: Dec 6 - 8
Malaga: Dec 8 - 11
Granada: Dec 11 - 13
Seville: Dec 13 - 14
Albufeira: Dec 14 - 16
Evora: Dec 16 - 18
Lisbon: Dec 18 - 22

Cost of Hotels in Canadian dollars:
Barcelona: 4 star Ayre Hotel 4 nights 387
Antequera: Hotel Toril. 2nights 102
Malaga: Includes breakfast 3 nights 302
Granada: 2 nights 129
Seville: One night 48
Albufeira: includes breakfast 2 nights 90
Evora: 2 nights 106
Lisbon: Includes breakfast 3 nights 172
Total divided by 2 is $668

The cost to fly into Barcelona and home from Lisbon to Calgary Alberta was 1023 C with KLM.

Airfare was a big chunk of my budget. There were cheaper flights to Paris and London. You could use air miles. People who live closer to Toronto or anywhere in the US would score a better deal.

I paid 248 C for trip cancellation and medical (some credit cards cover this). Also I am 67 so that ups the cost. I basically wasted $50 for phone coverage. I never needed it, wifi is widely available - but it bought me peace of mind. So there goes 300 C off my budget.
As you can see after hotels, airfares and the phone/travel insurance I have just a shade over one thousand dollars left to spend.

Opera. 42
Hop on and off bus Barcelona 2 days 50
Train Barcelona to Antequera. 75
Admission to Alhambra 40
Flamenco in Seville. 23
Buses between cities. 107
Taxis and local transit. 125
Taxi to Cromlech 35
Hop on and off bus Lisbon. 2 days 30
Odd Museum entrances 20
Total 547

We saved money by watching our food budget, dining out carefully and buying fruit, cheese, Iberian ham etc. to make our own meals. I packed a paring knife in my checked luggage for this purpose. You could buy one there but I didn't want the hastle.
I do not consider dining the highlight of my trip. I like to eat local foods like tapas and Iberian ham in Spain and custard tarts and bifanas in Portugal. I prefer a local place to eat rather than a tourist restaurant. These are not easy to find when you are staying near sites where tourists gather!! But I tried.
The price for this salad and quiche with a glass of wine was under twelve dollars:
You can get a good sandwich and a glass of wine for seven dollars in a decent but not elegant environment. Conversely you can buy a beer and a tapas in Granada and with the free tapas, enjoy a light supper or good lunch for less than seven dollars.
We bought cookies and croissants from bakeries, oranges and persimmons from fruit markets, we were not hungry.
We never held back on a good cup of coffee!! That was our treat.
Beer is cheaper than coffee so I enjoyed a few glasses of beer and also wine. Beer and wine cost fifty cents Canadian more than water, sometimes less!
This exact trip is doable for three hundred dollars less. Just replace the hop on and off buses for 'free with tip' walking tours, cut out half the cabs, forget the phone and find cheaper accommodation in Barcelona and Malaga.
If you find cheaper accommodation everywhere else and make a few tweaks you can do it for even less!!
Or you could cut back on the accommodation budget and eat out more!!

We could have saved money by not traveling during a week that included two national holidays, Dec 6 and 8. Many Spaniards take the week off or make a five day weekend so hotel prices are higher.
Also we booked several hotels in advance with free cancelation which is more expensive than booking with no refund. Note that Seville, Albufeira and Lisbon were booked with no refund and were very reasonable.
I used hotelscombined, tripadvisor, trivago, booking.com, hotels.com, and Expedia.
All of our hotels had a tripadvisor score of over 8 out of ten.
All of our hotels had a private bathroom and a good location, either convenient to local transit or the old town. They all had elevators. When I was 63 I stayed in a place with 105 stairs (and could still do it in a pinch) but prefer not to wear myself out at the hotel.
I like to conserve my energy for all the other stairs and steep inclines I am sure to encounter during the day. Even though all our hotels came with a lift stairs were still involved in four of them - but only one flight.
You can save money by taking a room with a shared bathroom, booking a hostel dorm or a hotel room further out or look into Couchsurfing - please only select Couchsurfing if you value the cultural experience!! The intent is not just a free place to flop for the night!!
Ayre Hotel Gran Via was the nicest room we stayed in. We had an executive room as it was cheaper than a regular room at the time we booked:
However, the room I enjoyed the most was the much cheaper seafront room with breakfast in Albufeira. There is something to be said for a million dollar view!!
Also the very cheapest hotel we stayed in was in Seville and I found it wonderful, top of the list of recommended places.
We got a super rate online for the high speed train from Barcelona to Antequera but generally in Spain buses are cheaper. Therefore, our shorter trips were by bus. The Man in Seat 61 is a good train transportation site.
The buses were clean and comfortable and although seats are generally assigned we often moved to have two seats each when the bus wasn't full.
Although low cost airfare is tempting, the luggage restrictions are brutal and getting to and from the airport more daunting and sometimes more costly than getting to train and bus stations so you have to factor this in.
Actually in Portugal trains are very reasonable but the timetable for buses suited our schedule better.
We saw a lot of countryside traveling this way.
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If you are a senior or a student check if there are special rates for buses, trains and entrance fees, you can save a bit of money.
The inter-city buses in Portugal offered a seniors rate for example.
Check out the 'free admission' dates. The Picasso Museum in Barcelona is free on Sundays.
If you are walking a lot with your luggage and taking buses, trains and low cost airlines I recommend a carry on size suitcase with wheels. I took a suitcase that measured about 7 by 14 by 20 inches and had enough room for all that I needed and a few things were extraneous.
In my suitcase was:
A daypack - (only used to carry souvenirs when my suitcase got too full).
Two pair of black leggings - one was pj bottom
Black pants
Black cardigan
Five tops - used one as pj top
Underwear and socks
bathing suit - did not need the hot tub at La Chancla was too cold!!
Sandals - used once but could have got by without them
Makeup and deodorant. Flat iron
Chocolate and granola bars
Gum, polysporin, Tylenol for cold and flu, Ibuprofin.
Printouts of hotel reservations
Two pairs one dollar gloves - rarely used.
Tablet, charger and converter.
I wore
Sleeveless tank top with long sleeve black T shirt, baggy cashmere black pullover, Packable down jacket, black leggings, silk and cashmere pashmina (too big would not bring again, replace with smaller scarf), black socks, black sketchers. Remember, it was winter in Calgary.
In my jacket inside pockets: money, passport, credit card and travel documents.
A neck pouch with money, debit card, drivers license and medical insurance card.
My cell phone was in the bungee cord necklace.
I only carried a purse onto the plane on the outgoing trip.
My suitcase started out very neatly. Like items were tightly rolled and put in plastic freezer bags and all the air was removed. The short sleeve t-shirts and bathing suit all went together in a zip lock bag.
The sandals were held together with an elastic band and placed at the bottom, near the wheels.
Everything almost was knit, lightweight and stretchy.
This was my basic look no matter what I was wearing, no kidding:

If I had to give up one point of interest it would be Sintra since it was so tourist-oriented, full of tourists, touts everywhere selling tours, too much. It is cheap and easy to get there from Lisbon so an easy day trip if you are into castles.
I have reached the point where the castle has to be really historic for me to want to take a peak. I liked Bran Castle in Romania and would recommend it - the setting of Dracula which was fiction, based on a real guy, Vlad the Impaler.
The Alahambra has a castle worth seeing:

I loved this trip. My favourite hotels were Zaida in Seville and Sol e Mar in Albufeira.
My favourite town was Antequera Spain.

My number one moment was the cromlech in Evora Portugal.
Our nicest taxi driver was in Seville.
I had several good experiences buying souvenirs: a little Moroccan shop two doors away from our hotel in Granada; the shop next door to the Casa Guitarra in Seville where I purchased the flamenco shoes and dress for my grandchild and buying shoes in Lisbon.
My best purchasing deals were the Dali clock in Barcelona, the Aria baby doll in Malaga and my Handmade in Spain espedrilles from Lisbon!! For five Euros these sandal have leather uppers and a jute heel.
My best meal was at Alfama, Lisbon.
The best and cheapest cafe con leche was in a working class bar in Albufeira and the worst was in a four star hotel in Barcelona!!
I could have skipped Sintra but am grateful I stood on Cabo de Roca.
I am glad I went to the opera in Barcelona as it afforded the opportunity to experience the magic of the Palau de Musica.
I wish I had purchased a pooping log and nativity cagnere in Barcelona - at the time it seemed like two more useless souvenirs but in retrospect I would have kept them myself to trot out every Christmas and explain the significance to anybody willing to listen.
The most touristy places were Sintra, Albufeira and Granada. The least touristy place was Antequera Spain.
I wish I had purchased port in Portugal but I am happy I at least bought Ginja the liqueur with sour cherries!! I drank a shot of ginja with the locals, standing in close quarters on the street, little plastic cup in hand, purchased it from a counter, no chairs, this is straight stand up, glug, glug, pleasant.
If we had ordered one in a sit down bar it may have come in a little chocolate cup, yes, it goes well with chocolate, desert alternative. I bought my bottle of ginja at a grocery store, six euros with cherries. The cherries have pits.
I am glad I ate tortilla and Iberian ham and I am making tortilla at home: the trick is to use a lot of olive oil when pre-cooking the potatoes and then allow the potatoes to sit in the beaten eggs for an hour before cooking up the mixture.
The other trick is to use an oven proof frying pan to finish cooking the top. This makes a nice brunch dish and I can regale my guests on Spanish tortilla and tapas.

Tips on Language and other things:
- a lot of Europeans are fluent in English
- learn at least hello and thank you in each country's language
- use the word station not depot, train station, bus station
- use the word taxi not cab
- use the word pharmacy not drug store
- be aware that your suitcase, jacket, etc may go through a scanner at train stations as well as airports.
- get familiar with local currency and have some with you as you may not be able to use credit at some smaller stores or stations
- always remember you are a guest in a foreign country.
- if you want to eat the same food prepared like back home, maybe you aren't cut out for travel.
- MacDonalds and Starbucks are in most cities, if you must, go there.

Embrace the differences, enjoy.


Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:19 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona culture travel bus train gaudi canada budget discount cheap europe bargain tips deal sale affordable senior customs frugal low-cost economical shoestring moderate cheapskate megaliths azulejo testimonial penny-pinching low-income seat61 Comments (0)

Lisbon, Portugal - The Second Oldest City in Europe

sunny 16 °C

Lisbon is stacked on seven hills beside the Tagus River. It has been inhabited by Neolithic people, Celts, Phonoecians, Visigoths, Greeks, Romans, Moors..... Only Athens, in Europe, is older.
Lisbon is definitely older than Rome and London but there are arguments that Plovdiv, Bulgaria, for example, pre dates both Athens and Lisbon! So what, Lisbon is very old.

There is an enduring legend that Ulysses founded Lisbon and named it 'Enchanting Port', Ollissipo. He loved the location on the Tagus River estuary. It flows west to the Atlantic and provides my favourite interpretation of the word Lisboa: safe harbour.
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The metropolitan area has a population of over 3 million people. One third of Portugal's population live in or around the capital city.

It is bustling with tourists the past few years. With the bombings in Paris and Turkey the British, Dutch and Germans have flocked to the warmer weather in Portugal.
I was in Lisbon in December 4 years ago and I do not recall so many tourists. The other thing I notice are the cranes. They are everywhere. I was told by someone at my hotel that the workers are Portuguese but the owners are foreign. 'We don't own our country anymore.' Yes, we can empathize.
It is 16 degrees C the day we arrive, December 18. Lisbon has the mildest winter of any Western European city.
We are staying at Marino Boutique Hotel just one block uphill from the wide and relatively flat vistas of Ave Liberdade, the 37th most expensive street in the world.
We are an easy walk from Rossio Square.
A buffet breakfast is included in our rate. The breakfast room is a pretty, enclosed roof terrace with balcony options. The hotel has a lift but it only goes to the 4 th floor. The terrace is on the fifth.
Our room is clean and bright, with a balcony, not too shabby for about fifty-seven Canadian dollars per night including a good breakfast.
We book hop on and off tickets on the yellow bus line for Dec 19 and 20. At twenty Euros each the ticket includes access to the trams, the aero-bus, city buses, funiculars and two elevators for two full days.
Our first route takes us to Belum Tower.
Torre Belum opened in 1521 as a defensive fortress.
A busker is playing violin, street sellers are flogging scarves, necklaces and selfie sticks, tourists are posing to get the river and tower in the background. We are not allowed into the tower. It is closed on Mondays.
We enjoy Belum Tarts, pastéis de nata, (custard and cinnamon baked in flaky pastry) and cafe au lait on a patio by the river. It will reach 17 C today.
It is easy to while away an hour in this setting.
Hopping back on the bus we get to the end of the line. Everybody must get off the bus. Five minutes later the bus rolls forward about twenty feet and you can get back on.
There is a cemetery by the stop. Instead of headstones there are little houses. It seems we are in a village of the dead.
On this pleasant blue sky day the cemetery is calm and peaceful. We sit on a bench on a quiet, leafy street and enjoy the sunshine.
Cemitério dos Prazeres is on the routes of both Trams 25 and 28.
We rode the yellow hop on and off bus to a more modern side of the city where there are the requisite shopping centres and high rise apartments. Some buildings have stunning modern architecture.
The Oriente Train Station, pictured below, was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who, coincidentally, designed the Peace Bridge in Calgary:
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Lisbon has a suspension bridge, the 25 Abril Bridge, that resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco:
Near the Bridge on the east side of the Tagus River is a statue modeled after a statue in Rio de Janeiro:
There are decaying buildings here as well even on the tourist route:
Lisbon also sports world class street art:
We hopped on tram 25 to see the hilly sections, rattling and swaying up and down narrow steep streets.
It is coming into rush hour, The tram is packed you can't see a thing. I was glad to get off near Rossio to walk home.
I had a couchsurfing contact meet-up arranged to learn more about the culture. His name was Antonio and he met us at our hotel. We went for a two hour walk down Liberdade to Commercio Square and when we stopped for ice cream he gave us some sightseeing tips.

On 20 December we used our hop on bus pass to ride a funicular and elevator. The Gloria funicular is close to our hotel and takes riders to Bairro Alto. The tram going down pulls the tram going up.

Right beside the Eiffel Tower lookalike, Justa lift, I spotted a sale at a shoe store.

I bought a pair of Spanish Espedrilles and real suede leather dress shoes for four Euros and ninety cents each - about 15 C for 2 pairs of shoes.
The Santa Justa lift was designed by a student of Gustavo Eiffel. You can climb to a lookout tower on top of the elevator. The stairs are narrow and winding, whew I made it. We were really quite high up and I felt a bit dizzy.

Lisbon is a very pretty city with the river and hills. Lots of white stucco and red tiled roofs interspersed with church steeples.

It seems Roma beggars like to set themselves up on church steps. I wonder if they do better with people who are coming out or with those going in.

Right next to Justa Elevator the roof-line skeleton of Carmo Convent stands as a reminder of the 9 point earthquake which devastated the city in 1755.
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Central Lisbon was rebuilt on a grid system with street-scapes modern for the time. Thus the wide main streets like Avenida Liberdade with its park-like central plazas follow the plan that was developed just a month after the catastrophe.
It was a tremendous undertaking to clear the rubble and start anew and the successful result is credited to the Marquis of Pombal whose statue dominates the square with his name.

The aqueduct survived the earthquake even though it was on a fault line, a tribute to the engineers and architects of the mid eighteenth century:
The earthquake was felt all over Europe. In addition to its massive scale it occurred on the morning of a religious holiday. Mass was underway when the quake hit and most church roofs collapsed. Thousands of worshipers perished in the packed cathedrals on All Saints Day 1755.
The candles burning in the churches started fires that were as destructive as the earthquake and tsunami. Two thirds of the city was destroyed by the fire that burned for five days.

The Royal Palace and its treasure trove of Art and historical documents burned to the ground.
Commercio Square was built where the palace once stood. Coincidentally the second last monarch of Portugal was murdered in Commercio Square.
Libraries and archives crumbled, burned or were swept into the sea. Three quarters of the city needed to be rebuilt,

The impact of the earthquake had wide reaching effects on the traumatized people of the time. The king, who was not in Lisbon
when the earthquake struck, developed claustrophobia so intense that he lived out his days in a royal court composed of tents and pavilions.

The poor area of Alfama was built on high rock so withstood the tsunami and did not have much earthquake damage.
Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon and displays a strong Moorish influence
The tiles decorating so many doorways and walls in Lisbon were adopted from the hundreds of years of Muslim rule. The Arabs brought Azulejo, tile making, to Portugal and Spain.
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Winding narrow streets trudge up from the river. It is the place to enjoy Fado, the morose, blues-like music of Portugal. It is here you will find the Fado museum.
Fado was the music of the poor. Prostitutes, sailors and the lower class.
It became mainstream and an accepted musical form for all classes through the performances of Amalia Rodrigues. (1929 - 1999).
We did not go to Fado but had lunch at a charming restaurant with a TripAdvisor sticker on the door.

We now maneuver our way downhill to link up with Tram 28. More tourists are out and about as it is later in the day plus the tram is part of the regular transit system so locals use it as well. It is standing room only but eventually we get a seat.
Tram 28 is a vintage wooden tram and a tourist attraction itself. It screeches and sways as the warning bell rings, maneuvering sharp turns and steep hills. It has a very long route but you can hop on and off.
We decided to switch to tram 25 and it is rush hour. May I suggest this is not an optimum time for a tourist to be using city-transit. We wait 45 minutes for a tram that has room for us. It really cools off when the sun goes down.

Although Lisbon appears to be full of white buildings with red tile roofs it is a multi-coloured city, the yellow exteriors of Commercio Square come to mind.
The number of pink buildings is worth a mention.
The former Royal Palace, now the Palacio Nacional de Belum, official residence of the Prime Minister, is pink.
The first shopping mall in Lisbon, very central for tourists to access, is pink and blue.
Amoreiras Shopping Centre opened in the mid eighties and its post modernist style was controversial. Today it is a Lisbon icon:
There are Pinterest pages devoted to the pink buildings of Lisbon!

Still when I think of Lisbon, my mind's eye sees red tile roofs over white buildings, marching up and down hills against a bright blue sky:

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:10 Archived in Portugal Tagged history travel cemetery pink budget lisbon portugal lisboa earthquake calatrava belem tile rossio liberdade iberian azulejo lusitania seat61 Comments (0)

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