Diary of a travel writer: Drenched twice in beutiful Portugal, at no extra cost
My car hire receipt from Texas tells a tale. American car hire staff are poorly paid and make most of their money selling top-ups on high commission. Occasionally they get surly when you don't buy. Or worse.
The guy at the station told me that the price of fuel when you bring it back is "much the same" as at the pumps. Nope. The fuel charge on car hire is $5.62 a gallon compared with the $4 odd I paid at the pumps. My vehicle from Enterprise cost $44.16 a day and while the car-hire charge was $322.12 the extras (including insurance) made it a total of $632.95.
But there is a tell-tale receipt in the glove compartment. The previous hirer paid $16.83 a day, and no extras. What did he know that I didn't?
Flight EI482 leaves on time for the flight to Lisbon. The Aer Lingus flying experience is still the best in the world, no matter how far and how often I fly.
European car hire is so easy and stress-free. In Lisbon there is no attempt to up-sell. Hertz have fitted me out with a diesel Mini Cooper. I look like an extra in The Italian Job who wants to save the planet in his spare time. I love this car. I love these roads. Was that a flash in the tunnel when I am a few klicks over the 70kph speed limit? Oops.
The Eco Lodges in Ericeira come with their own eco pool. It has a luscious green colour, lilies, and frogs. Finicky tourists have been known to complain about the frogs and demand to be relocated. That can't be a swimming pool, they say, it is not blue and full of chlorine.
Lashing rain in Ericeira, about 70km from Lisbon on the central coast. Myself and my daughter Siofra (15) have come to learn to surf but the winds are too high. Tobi Ebner, who used to be a ski instructor, runs the school. "Visitors don't understand that surf is not like ski, the conditions have to be right."
The Mini Cooper is revved up and we head for the UNESCO world heritage site at Obidos, one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Europe. We race from archway to archway in soggy summer clothes and linger long in the ancient churches.
Sun at last and down to the beaches to surf. If the waves don't knock you, the backwash will at Foz do Lizandro, an epic churning beach two kilometers from Ericeira. Half the customers here are Irish, sent out by Nick Kelly of surfholidays.com, one of our niche travel success stories.
Cheap and cheering, even the touristy restaurants, such as Tik Tak and Riba Marisquera where you need earmuffs as guests batter their way into the array of shellfish on offer. There is a woman in a bakery off the main square who sells loaves of delicious bread for 16 cents each.
Flight EI 283 lands 10 minutes early and the sky is blue.
Donegal beckons. Surf's up.