A little History, if you please

Portugal, as you may or may not be aware, is one of Europe's oldest nations, and has been an independent kingdom since 1143. Its continental boundaries were well established in 1297 and they have remained the same for centuries.

Due to Portugal's location along the west Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, it has also been nautically adventurous since 1415. These epic voyages made Portugal the first country to find oceanic routes to India, Japan, China, and Brazil. As well, settlements along the east and west coasts of Africa were established around this time.

Portugal claimed Brazil as its own until 1820, when Brazil gained independence and the monarchy tempered into a more constitutional form. Coming up into the 20th century, an unstable political environment would lead to its establishment as a Republic around 1910.

During World War I, Portugal fought along the Allied Side, which escalated political and economic problems and would lead to the foundation of the "New State", suppressing democratic freedom and augmenting corporatism and authoritarian ideals.

Jose Afonso, a musician, protested these ideals with strong political songs from the late 1920's up to the 1974 revolution. His music was very politically and socially popular and voiced the feelings of his people. This voice played no small part in the events leading to the military coup of April 1974 that returned Portugal to an egalitarian establishment that focused on the country's development. This democratic ruling would lead to Portugal's ability to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986.

And now?

Portugal consists of the mainland, bordered on one side by Spain and the other by the Atlantic ocean; as well, the Republic of Portugal lays claim to Madeira and the nine Azores (Açores) Islands: Santa Maria, São Miguel, Faial, Terceira, São Jorge, Graciosa, Pico, Flores, and Corvo.

Let's break it down now...

Mainland Portugal

Small though it is, the mainland boasts immensely varied landscapes. The rural Northern Portugal is steeped in tradition and magnificent scenery. The more contemporary Southern region of Algarve is home to gorgeous sandy beaches and warm inviting Mediterranean climates that have made it a recreational favorite among many people.

Two vast rivers cross mainland Portugal, flowing from Spain right into the Atlantic ocean. The upper Douro river flows through a valley where Portugal's famous Port Wine is produced. The lower Tagus river, by contrast, dominates the flatlands of Ribatejo, often flooding the area.

Lisbon is the nation's capital. It has been declared the European Cultural Capital once, in 1994. In 1998 it was given the honor of hosting the last World Exposition of the 20th century.

Lisbon is a city with a deep history spanning centuries. It has nonetheless managed to learn balance between modernization and old world style. Lisbon was also birthplace of one of Portugal's most common styles of song: the Fado. Fado performances involve a solo vocalist, sometimes accompanied by instruments, and enlists the audience in a communicative process that is a luscious mix of words, actions, melodies, and emotions. It is a form of oral history-telling that continues to this day.

The Azores (Açores) Islands

The Azores are spread approximately 650km (400miles) apart and are situated in an earthquake belt in the Atlantic Ocean. The vegetation on these islands is lush and plentiful due to the rich soil formed from previously active volcanoes.

The Azores are set in three distinct groups:

East Side: Santa Maria & São Miguel
In the Middle: Faial, Terceira, São Jorge, Graciosa, & Pico
West Side: Flores & Corvo

I personally have had the distinct pleasure of visiting São Miguel, the largest island which holds the region's capital, Ponta Delgada. Of the nine islands, this is the most visited, and therefore I suggest you come here if you wish to visit the Azores as it is populated with more multi-linguals (and of course has more to see, being the largest island and all). Three good points of interest (though certainly there are many, you just need time and gumption) are: Sete Cidades, Furnas, and the Pineapple farms.

Sete Cidades is a breathtaking site: An inactive volcano that has been filled up with water and hosts a natural land bridge across its diameter. On the one side the water is green (Lagoa Verde) and on the other it is blue (Lagoa Azul). Each side is a different temperature; one hot, one cold. It is something that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Gorgeous hydrangea are set in rows as natural land dividers along the more rural areas of São Miguel. Should you visit Furnas, you will have the opportunity to see and perhaps taste food that has been steamed in a stewing pot 6 feet underground, where it is still quite hot from the island's volcano.

Or you could visit the pineapple farms where you would see rows and rows of closed in areas that help grow the fruit. It takes two years to produce a pineapple! Because of the slow turnaround time, the place relies on revenue from it's in-house pineapple liquors (very strong) and tours of the farm itself.

The Azores are idyllic islands that maintain a slow pace of living. While holding on to their cultural background, they still manage to keep up-to-date with the rest of the world.

Madeira Island

Madeira is a volcanic archipelago unto itself, where the climate is mild and pleasant all year. The island has often been dubbed the "Floating Garden" due to it's abundance and variety of flowers. It is also famous for the Madeira wine.

The capital of this island, and its only true city, is Funchal, which houses first-class hotels and amenities. It also has many historic buildings and museums open to the island's visitors and inhabitants alike. It is truly a paradise that aims to please the senses and reconnect one with nature.

Ok. Now that you know all that, here are some things you should know if you wish to travel there:

The Handy Dandy (17 and over) Duty-Free Checklist:

2 bottles of table wine? Check.
1 bottle of hard liquor? Check.
200 cigarettes (or alternately, 250g. of tobacco)? Check.
1.75 oz of perfume? You betcha.
small quantities of tea or coffee for personal use? Indeedy.
Bringing In Fresh meat? WRONG! We'll be confiscating that, thankyouverymuch.

You can take to and from the country up to 11,700 euros (appx. $13,000 USD) without having to claim it with Customs and Revenue. Anything above and beyond must be claimed.

Time to set your watch:

The continent and Madeira follow the rules of Greenwich time. So if you live by EST type timing, set yourself ahead 5 hours. PST? 8 hours. The Azores live one hour behind the mainland. So do the math. Got that? Good.

What to pack?!?

It's mild year round, baby. But if it's summer, remember moisturizer, as it is clear, dry and sunny. If it's winter, pack an umbrella and raincoat. They get some pretty heavy rain and the nights can get rather cold. Except for Madeira, which gets little to no rain.

Weather Chart

Because hey, nothing ruins packing plans like bad weather! Temperatures in Fahrenheit. Mouse over numbers for Celsius conversion. (Please don't make nodeshells of these numbers. Seriously.)

             Porto E Norte     Beiras-Centro
             De Portugal       De Portugal
         (Northern Portugal)   (Central Portugal)

Month:        Max:    Min:     Max:    Min: 

JAN           56      41       56      43
FEB           57      42       57      44 
MAR           60      44       62      49
APR           63      46       65      52
MAY           67      50       65      55
JUN           71      54       70      58
JUL           73      57       72      60
AUG           75      56       73      60 
SEP           73      55       71      59
OCT           69      51       67      64
NOV           62      45       62      50
DEC           58      42       57      45

              Lisbon           Algarve
Month:        Max:    Min:     Max:    Min:

JAN           59      47       60      46 
FEB           61      48       61      47
MAR           63      51       63      50
APR           68      54       67      53 
MAY           69      56       71      54
JUN           74      60       77      51
JUL           78      63       83      64 
AUG           79      63       83      65
SEP           77      62       78      63
OCT           72      58       72      58 
NOV           65      53       66      52 
DEC           60      48       61      47

              Madeira          Azores

Month:        Max:    Min:     Max:    Min:

JAN           65      57       63      53
FEB           65      56       61      52
MAR           65      56       63      53 
APR           66      57       64      53
MAY           69      59       68      56
JUN           72      63       71      60 
JUL           76      66       75      63
AUG           76      68       78      65 
SEP           77      68       76      64
OCT           74      65       72      61 
NOV           70      62       68      58  
DEC           66      59       64      55

Words are not enough. Go. You won't regret it.

My own experiences
My parents, who were both born and raised there
Some of their old history books, which are missing covers and pretty worn out.
3/5/03: Some inconsistencies pointed out by eggstasy fixed. Thanks!

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