By Ray Collins
I have a tradition every ten years when a big birthday comes along: Go away and distract myself from
turning another decade older. And the older I get, the farther away the location. When I turned 30, I
went to Chicago…40 Puerto Rico, 50 Hawaii—so now the next one…the Iberian Peninsula!
First stop: Lisbon, Portugal.
My prettier half Erin and I flew direct from Miami. We took off at 4pm and arrived around Midnight—at
least on our watches. It was suddenly 5am, and the sun was starting to rise. Surreal. We got a 3-hour
power nap and then began being tourists.
Our travel agent chose a hotel for us right in the middle of everything called the LX Boutique Hotel. It is
near the riverfront, mass transit and plenty of shops & restaurants. We never needed a rental car. Each
time we came back to the hotel I said, “This is an ideal location.” We even had a nice sushi dinner one
night in the lobby restaurant.
We didn’t have much of an issue with the language barrier in Portugal. We were relieved how many
people spoke English. I did watch a video on the flight that taught the basics. Ready? “Obrigado” means
“thank you.” If it is a female saying it, it is then “Obrigada.”
I think people like to think you’re making an effort to use their language even if you walk around all day just saying “thank you.”
We spent our first day riding the trolley around, getting our bearings. I had heard Lisbon was a lot like
San Francisco—and it’s really true: From the trolley, to all the hills, to the identical version of the Golden
Gate Bridge! (Google it!)
Sunset along the Tagus River near our hotel reminded me of Mallory Square in Key West. Entertainers,
drinks, and people taking pictures.
The next day we boarded a train to go due west to meet a childhood friend half an hour away in Cascais.
We had a picturesque lunch looking out on the water. I had a chicken and rice dish—but Erin and
Suzanne had fish, which freaked out Erin since the fish was staring back at her and hadn’t been “de-
boned.” Suzanne was a pro, ignoring the sideways glance from her lunch–and pulling out the bones in
After lunch, Suzanne took us to the western-most point in Europe as well as one of the prettiest points
in the town of Sintra. Very hilly and picturesque.
Back in Lisbon, we checked out the funky Principe Real district, the iconic St. George’s castle up on the
hill…and followed a friend’s lead and had the best meal of our week at a place called “Lisboa A Noite.”
Five-star restaurant, great service and food—and not that expensive. My $29 dollar filet entre would
have cost $49 back in the states.
We were glad to check Lisbon off our bucket list and head off for our next country.
We took an hour-long shuttle flight to the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics–which really was a line of
demarcation in that country’s history. Many have said Barcelona has since become the happening place
to be, and no longer under Madrid’s shadow.
One interesting change from Lisbon—taxis are easier to get than an Uber. At the airport, there were no
Ubers available, and we had to pay a few dollars more for a taxi. Get this—we got the taxi off the Uber
A friend of ours who moved from Sarasota to Barcelona told us where to stay and he was right on. The
Hotel Lloret Ramblas was on Las Ramblas, a vibrant and busy tree-lined pedestrian mall in the heart of
the city. We got lucky twice with our hotel locations.
I’m a big fan of utilizing those “hop-on hop-off” tour buses in unfamiliar cities—and we hopped on one
at our first opportunity. With so many different languages spoken there, the tour is pre-recorded and
you choose your language of preference adjacent to the earphone jack at your seat.
The most iconic spot in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia—a massive church designed by Antoni Gaudi
whose quirky Dr. Seuss-like architecture pops up around the city. The church is such a popular tourist
draw, the tours were sold out the day we were there so we had to book an appointment the following
Bottom line—Barcelona and Lisbon have completely different vibes. The former more cosmopolitan and
sophisticated but the latter quite charming and scenic. I liked them both a lot but being away for 10
chilly days made me like Florida even more.
It was nice to go—and just as nice to come home.
Ray Collins is a travel writer who has been published over a hundred times covering resorts and
destinations around the world. www.raycollinsmedia.com/articles He is also an award-winning Realtor,
elected official and media consultant.