Week 386 – Portugal Trip Planning and Logistics

A long trip in the making – starting in February 2019 as a guys trip to Euro2020 which had many changes before cancelling due to COVID. Re-booked the trip for Sharon and I for Euro2021 in central Europe (Munich, Budapest, Prague, etc) using TAP Portugal with a quick stopover in Lisbon on the return. Then in April 2021, it wasn’t looking good for attending games or even being outside and the additional hassle of changing countries – so we changed our TAP Portugal ticket to 2 days in Munich with a 14 day stopover in Lisbon. We made this change online – to eliminate going to Germany required talking to an authorized person (which seemed to be impossible with TAP), so we figured a quick trip to Germany wouldn’t be that hard.

For accommodations, we originally targeted less than $100/night in AirBNB’s – when we added Annelise for part of the trip, we had to get larger spaces and didn’t make the budget and decided on some nicer places as well – so we ended up around $140/night. All the AirBNB were excellent. The one hotel we stayed in (besides HI Express on entry) was the hardest to find. But it was nice and was run similar to an AirBNB.By mid-July, it was clear that going to Germany was bringing on an unnecessary level of complexity – first – to get a PCR test, get it back before you board, and have validity for 72 hours until you arrive at your hotel was getting very close. Second – in our 36 hours in Germany we would have to get another COVID test to be able to return to Lisbon. So I called about once a week and waiting on hold for 2 hours until I was disconnected to try to change the flight – without success until the morning of the trip when we were able to get through and make the change to just to go Lisbon. As a last minute booking, we just stayed in a HI-Express by the airport in Lisbon for 2 nights. Although TAP were terrible in customer services – it was an excellent economy flight in a new plane. The 7.5 hour flight from Lisbon on TAP to Washington was far better than the 5.5 hour flight I take from Washington to LA on United (same exit row seat, same total price).

So instead of going through the anticipated COVID requirements – below is what actually happened –

* Portugal was in a state of calamity – we found out later than didn’t translate well. They were basically the same as Maryland – indoor mask required. Common sense outside. Slightly lower infection rate than MD – and much lower than the USA in general.

* We purchased 14 BINAX home test kits to be able to perform a rapid antigen test for each check in that would be witnessed by the AirBNB owner. We used none.

* We filled out a location card online before getting on the plane which had our first place we stayed – it was communicated as contact tracing but only had one location. At the end of day, it was the same purpose as the paper landing card that you used to fill out upon arrival.

* We got a PCR test at a local medical clinic in Maryland which worked for the flight and our first check in at the HI Express.

* For our second check-in in Lisbon, 96 hours after the test, our AirBNB owner accepted our white vaccination cards.

* For our third check in – we used a photo (“digital”) of our vaccination card.

* For our fourth check in – they didn’t ask.

* During the trip we were able to find that we could get an official vax certificate for Maryland via the myirmobile website – other states eligible. So we were able to have a PDF of a certificate generated online.

* For our fifth check in – they requested our EU digital vaccination certificate. We send our Maryland certificate and the email bounced. But then upon arrival no questions.

* For our sixth check in – they didn’t ask.

* For return trip to USA – an antigen test within 3 days of departure. For Annelise in Porto, this was easily done at a pharmacy with 15 minute results. Annelise connected through Amsterdam but they only check when she left Porto. Cost 35 Euro. For Sharon and I, in the Algarve, the pharmacy did not offer testing – had to go to a clinic which only offered a PCR test – 80 Euro each. We did it 78 hours before our flight and were banking on the “3 day rule” which did work. At the airport, no one says a word about a COVID test until you get to the gate, then you are asked to fill out a form “attesting” to the 3 day test. Then right as you board, a US Immigration contractor (same person that puts the ITCS sticker on your passport when traveling from sketchy places) asks to see your COVID test.

* During the trip, several restaurants asked for our vaccine card – not a big deal. Some people were surprised to see our paper card. Overall people wear masks more than the US and it isn’t a big deal – people look at masks as freedom.

Technology was an issue – generally they try to be leading edge on technology but it doesn’t quite work and ends up creating more headache. Also – keys. Every entry had multiple keys and they have a combined handle lock and deadbolt which requires a PhD to open sometimes. “Rotate left twice, back right once, listen for the click, twist hard, then push”. We had key issues at three different places and had to get help to get in.

Another aspect of the trip was scouting out potential part-time retirement spots. Portugal fits our criteria – cheap, sunny, safe, and the language is not a major barrier.


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