PORTUGAL: Castles, port wine and a festival of sardines...something for both of us!
Following our fun filled and jam packed Paris and Barcelona adventures,
off we headed for Portugal, literally on a wing and a prayer! First stop; Porto, on the northern Portuguese coast.
Nothing planned for the rest of our trip; no idea on what we were going to do or see...(other than Sintra, that's later).
I have faith we'll make the most of it!
We still had about a week and a half of travelling up our sleeves, however, what we did do here, is book 3 nights to avoid another
We have learnt. :)
Ok; picture blue and white handpainted ceramic tiles - covering entire walls. Swill and savour the port, that is named after the region it grows in,
as well as their famous and local Mateus Rosè,
or their unique 'green wine' (Vinho Verde) ...
(Don't panic - it's still white, but has a slight 'tang' and is sparkling.)
Last but not least, the delectable baked Portuguese tarts. Worth devouring more than one.
Welcome... to Porto.
An ancient city dating back to the Roman Empire, Porto is perfectly situated by the Atlantic Ocean, on the banks of the Douro River, which I might add, is spanned by six gorgeous bridges in a very short section of river. La piece de resistance is the Dom Luis I Bridge, designed by a colleague of Gustave Eiffel...a name and style that certainly needs no introduction whatsoever.
This is also the place where you can pick up the Porto to Santiago section of the Camino de Santiago trail. What a nice place to start...well, apparently, a friend said to me if you get past the airport, then it's nice! :)
I tore my favourite top which I was wearing here, on a bolt on this bridge. So, I say I leave a piece of my heart in some places?
Clearly it includes my clothing too, now it seems.
This is where you'll find it all.
Restaurants, bars, shops, old port houses, market stalls, street entertainers, boat docks and even a cable car. The action spans both sides of the river,
and walking across the Dom Luis bridge is a treat, every time.
What a fabulous town.
I used to collect blue and white china - it's a good thing for Trev I have stopped. It's everywhere!
Although, these cute cheeseboards looked a treat, for only 5 Euro, with the knife. :)
Time now to relax, and you know us by now...
we are happiest of course in the Old Town area,
by the water, at sunset, glass in hand.
Although, getting the self timer on the phone to work can sometimes take
some skill...or in my case, effort.
Does it get any better?
Day 2, and guess what we jumped on?
Haha, no prize there - they have the On/Off buses just about everywhere these days.
That said, this is one place where we probably wouldn't recommend it. Instead perhaps, save your money and just buy a ticket for a 6 bridge river cruise, (which is included in the dearer bus ticket), and enjoy the hour or so on the beautiful river.
All the action is on or near the waterfront anyway, but if you choose to see the city as well, maybe do the bus, as it's very steep either side of the river, and you'd be walking your asses off otherwise!
The water is always the lifeblood of these towns/cities, as it's where it all began - either shipping goods, exploring or defending. The interesting ancient structure that is still very prominent here, is an ancient wall, that oddly enough wasn't built for defence; it was built to contain the city from getting too big!
(What a shame that still doesn't happen in our towns today! )
All aboard the 6 bridge Douro River Tour! These are really popular,
so they need to be booked in to reserve your time slot -
even if you have the bus ticket which includes it.
The old town is definitely separate from the new city. I love how this is done in Europe and the Mediterranean, as you can lose yourself like it's still the 18th century, or earlier -
such a novelty for us Aussies.
We have actually booked a full day's outing for tomorrow, which will include nearly a day on this river, heading through a couple of locks and dams into the winery region, and a train trip back - so today was just a little intro to the river, and nice little potter around.
More wandering, sitting, eating, enjoying a bevy, and people watching - one of our favourite overseas past times at the end of one's day!
So, to finish the day with some good Porto chicken,
a baked custard tart,
and a sunset over the river,
is what I call a day well spent.
Day 3 welcomed us with a desperate dash to get to our boat on time. And by dash, I mean a marathon run for us. Completely my fault - I totally underestimated the length of time it took for us to walk down to the river from our hotel, yes, even on the third time...oops. (Hang on, I'm not taking all the blame - hehe.)
It was a Sunday morning and the streets were deserted...a good thing,
as we were completely embarrassing ourselves by running haphazardly with flailing arms, (well, maybe that was just me, sorry Trev...)
hoping like hell we won't be waving the boat goodbye from the dock.
Honestly, I thought it was only a 30-40 minute walk.
Wrong; it was closer to an hour. (We do try to walk as much as possible on holidays - you see more sights, and the exercise helps work off the food and drink! )
When we realised we were only halfway there with about
10 minutes left till departure, the panic surged.
Where's a taxi when you need one?
Thank goodness it was all downhill!
So, instead of experiencing a leisurely walking tour of the
back alleyways of Porto, ie, short cut;
we had slipped into a kind of hurried 'senior's shuffle-jog'.
That meant dodging alley cats, flying down long flights of stone steps,
(of course we were wearing flip flops ), and
trying to avoid twisting an ankle on the cobblestones. All the while, crossing our fingers that the next short cut turn wasn't
a dead end.
If we had to backtrack, we were finished.
Finally, we made it to the last flight of steps down to the waterfront, and Trev had his 'spidey sense' spot on as we came out right in front of the boat.
Phew! Wait - what?
There was no-one there except a couple of staff members? "Oh, see Trev? We're on time!"
Ahh, perhaps not, but first we had to address the problem that
our tickets had yesterday's date written on them. Noooooo!
They definitely wouldn't have waited for us...they didn't know of our booking! After a breathless, 'ahem, you have to be joking'...and a phone call...we were good to go. Once we got onboard and descended down to the lower deck,
we saw the entire boat was full of passengers and they were all enjoying their breakfasts. Wow, weren't they good little tourists! :)
Haha. Not like us, often scraping in with seconds to go.
"Never waste a moment, hey Trev?"
They untied the bow rope, and awaaaay we went.
Off we cruised towards the famous port wine region of Portugal. Literally, it seems there isn't a piece of dirt around here that hasn't got a grape vine growing on it.
A bit like Greece, with their olive trees.
This was great.
We had seen an episode on a travel show back home about this, and it's fabulous to be experiencing it for ourselves now.
Gently motoring past their little holiday beach areas alongside centuries old casas, that sat amongst their terraced vineyards was quite a unique Portuguese experience.
We even had a little race with a traditional Portuguese boat, 'a Rabelo', and I videoed it as it got a little too close for comfort!
Anyway, they knew what they were doing, and we caught up with him every time we had to go through a lock.
The locks were an interesting, new experience for Trev.
I had done a few of them on a canal boat trip through the English countryside,
many, many moons ago...on a Contiki tour no less. A lot of fun, and more than a few young brain cells destroyed
on that crazy holiday.
Anyway, this was far more civilised, and we enjoyed watching the process.
Below is a shot looking back at the dam wall. Love me a good reflection photo opportunity. :) We probably raised about 14 metres, which is quite a height
difference for a river.
Remarkable, age old technology.
Further up river, they brought out some complimentary glasses of port
for us all to sample.
This was a different colour than I've seen before - I was used to the fairly deep claret red that would coat the glass. This was more of an amber colour, and sad to say, we really disliked it.
It was so astringent, more like drinking a really nasty brandy.
Actually, I think all brandy is nasty. Hehe.
Definitely not sweet. Not that I drink sweet wine, but I always thought port was kind of a sweet,
after dinner drink. There were quite a few glasses going back only missing one sip.
Although, there were a few die hards getting seconds!
Today, being a Sunday, the wineries unfortunately weren't open for visitors,
so lunch was served onboard.
What a shame - so if you do this tour, perhaps book a Saturday instead.
It's quite a long time cruising, probably about 8 hours, so a lunch and winery wander with tasting, would break it up nicely.
Arriving at our destination of Regua, we had some free time before boarding the train for the trip back to Porto. We really enjoyed this, being train lovers, as the rail line hugs the river.
A very picturesque and relaxing trip back.
With this day trip, you had a choice to either cruise up and train back,
or vice versa. What I would recommend would be to do what we did; and cruise in the morning, as the afternoon cruise would be straight into the sun, for hours, and in summer, it is scorching hot.
Arriving back at the Porto train station, we seized this opportunity to purchase our tickets for the following day's journey south, to the capitol Lisbon,
but not before one last meal, and one last sunset beside the beautiful
Dom Luis bridge.
This turned out to be more fortuitous that we'd ever imagine. Let me tell you why, and also, why it's so important to chat with random strangers whist on holidays. You never know where it might lead you!
The pressing issue for the moment...again, was 'where for dinner?'
We rarely eat at the same place twice, even if it's great - you never know, the next one might be even greater!
And, here's where luck played it's hand. I was 'fanging' for something really tasty, cheesy, and perhaps, maybe even just a Quatto Formaggi with proscuitto pizza (my fave), would do the trick. We sat down in a lovely little restaurant, checked the menu, but got up and apologised, and moved to the restaurant next door.
Ditto - lovely place and host, but the menu was pretty fancy, and by now,
all I truly wanted was a cheesy pizza.
Stage left, and we moved again.
(We've never bailed on two places in a row - it was meant to be.) This time it was a true Italian restaurant, with a boisterous Italian host,
and pizza was their specialty.
Winner winner, pizza dinner!
Towards the end of our meal, we started chatting with a couple of retired ladies that were sitting next to us. One of them had just finished the entire Camino de Santiago...
35 days of the pilgrim walk. Well done her!
Anyhow, they mentioned to us, that as a treat,
they had a booking to stay at a real life palace/castle!
Wow, really? How cool!
They showed us the photo of the castle on their phone, so I took a photo of it, and when we got back to our hotel we went on Hotels.com and found they had availability for a couple nights after our stay in Lisbon, so we went ahead and booked it. It also turned out to be the second cheapest stay we had on our whole trip.
See? Talk to strangers!
Look what came up. That'll come later towards the end of this story. It was a true highlight, but for now...
it's adios Porto,
you were wonderful.
Hello Lisbon and the Sardine Festival!
Arriving in Portugal's capital, Lisbon, we were interested in seeing how this
'Air BNB' thing worked. Such newbies, I know. We had booked an apartment in the old town 'Alfama' area, so we proceeded to grab a taxi from the train station. The driver dropped us at a spot, claiming she couldn't drive the narrow lanes ahead, so (without English) she pointed to where we were supposed to go. This was to be a 'fail of epic proportions!"
Leaving Trev with the suitcases, screenshot of the address in hand,
off I trudged up the hill. No sign of the street name, no clue whatsoever. I popped my head into a little bar, and tried to ask a dear old- timer (no English), and he just said "no, no, no... down hill, up hill, church."
So I went back down to Trev and we trundled along the cobble stoned road, dragging our four cases, bumpity bump, in a random direction, heading down then up, looking for a church. Trev asked a waiter, (again, no English), and he just said "no, no, no...down, up, church, then down..." At least there seems to be a common theme...?
OMG, this was impossible.
Finally we got to the top of a hill, found a nice church with a beautiful outlook towards the sea, so Trev left me there with the luggage, and went walking, 'down', through the maze of lane ways, searching for the street we needed.
At least I had a nice view with some cool musicians to keep me entertained. :)
By this time we were quite overdue to meet the lady at our apartment,
and with no phone card to call her, we were in trouble. We've never bothered using international roaming
or getting a local SIM card in the past, as there's normally wi-fi around,
and we just make calls using viber or facebook, when required.
There's the first tip for using Air BNB;
you must be able to make calls on the go. Next time.
We continued with our quest.
I waited maybe 45 minutes...and I truly started to wonder what to do if
Trev actually didn't come back!
Anyway, he is a legend, and sure enough, he turned up,
with the lady manager in tow. I still don't know how he found this tiny door in a wall. (Even after a few days there, I still asked him, "How the hell did you find it?") So many streets had the same name, some were avenues, some lanes, etc,
(in Spanish of course), but miraculously he finally found it!
Just in time too, as the manager was leaving,
having given up on us.
Then, the trick was to find where he left me!
Tip: Take a photo of the place when you leave someone...
they went to three churches with views until they found me.
Wow, what a start!
See? 'Winging it' can be adventure, or it can suck. We try to keep our attitude as a glass half full!
Check out our gorgeous apartment - so worth the effort!
We had 2 nights booked here - have a look at the video I posted on the wall, it's pretty cool showing the location, and the music blaring from the
loud speakers, day and night. They love to party here!
Ok, all relaxed and relieved, it's time to explore the ancient streets of Alfama. Our location was brilliant!
We were right in the heart , not only of the old town, but bang in the middle of the fiesta area. We also had a bakery next door, and a gelato store opposite. Trev's two favourite shops!
Plastic streamers overhead led you through a maze of streets, loaded with beautifully decorated restaurants, and cheap little plywood pop up bars outside, that in the evening served beer, and they cooked sardines, octopus and chorizo on open hot coal BBQ's. The music was festive, as was the atmosphere. Wow, didn't we get lucky? The timing was perfect!
And, it was sooooo cheap!
It had been quite the day, starting in Porto, 2 &1/2 hour train trip, getting lost and found, then finishing with sardines and beer in Alfama, Lisbon.
I love packing it all in. Glass half full, remember? :)
Tomorrow we'll tour the city, and the following day we'll head north a bit to visit the famous area of Sintra, and it's legendary Pena Palace. Now, it's time to sleeeeeep.
A fresh day dawned, well, maybe mid morning - nobody gets up early around here, especially during Fiesta.
And yes, it was on/off bus time. Here they have I think 4 different routes, so if you do this, study the maps and make sure you get to go where you want.
We were happy to hang around the waterfront mainly,
starting up at the old Fort - Belem Tower,
and working our way back to the main square,
Another city, another beautiful Arch. The Rue Augusta Arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of Lisbon after the devastating earthquake of 1755.
One fun eatery we found in this main plaza, was right up our sleeve. Back in Paris, Trev and our mate Pete, decided that, after being served sardines in a can at a cafe, that they were onto something,and should start a 'can-restaurant.'
Well, we found one here, and sorry to say, Pete,
whilst the idea is a good one,
it's been taken!
Check out the interior, with it's can chandelier,
and the waitress serving everything in a can.
Classic! We laughed and laughed at the irony of it all.
Great name though,
Can the Can. They sure do love their sardines here!
Trams and cathedrals. It's all here!
The 'Monument to Discovery', below, 'Padrão dos Descobrimentos'. This monument was built in 1939, to honour the Golden Age of Navigators during the 15th and 16th centuries. This is the point where ships left to trade with India and the Orient,
and to explore new worlds.
We picked up a river cruise as it started to rain, but I was determined to go
under this beautiful, 'April 25 Bridge.' Look familiar?
Yep, it was designed by the same company who built the San Franscico Bay Bridge, but painted in the same colour as The Golden Gate. It even featured a couple of times in the Bond movie,
'On her Majesty's Secret Service.'
Portugal, along with Spain, have such a deep history with the ocean, both trading and conquering new lands. Sometimes you walk along these places and wonder, 'if the walls, stones or water could talk', the stories you'd hear.
The old, and the new. Lisbon has 3 very distinct areas: - Alfama, old town. - Praco Comercio, still old but a little more upmarket. - And the new Lisbon, where you'll find the latest in architecture,
and the high end hotel chains. Something for everyone, and every budget.
Back to Alfama for round two of festivities.
We can't get enough of the great character of the old town, along with the great characters who make it special.
Tomorrow, it's road trip time, but not before some more fantastic food!
About 30 minutes north of Lisbon, lies the picturesque,
almost Swiss like town of Sintra. Dating back to the Medieval Moors, and later on a much loved retreat for the Portuguese Royal Family, Sintra is now a major tourist attraction.
It is very high end, actually, its the most expensive real estate in all of Portugal
with its castles, stately manor homes, and Michelin Star restaurants.
The pinnacle being, The Pena Palace, once being a monastery, then converted and extended into a Royal residence, its whimsical design and colour palette sets it aside from anything you've ever seen. It was quite crowded the day we were there, so all I'd say would be is to
'arrive early'! They usher you up in mini buses, through the very pretty, very windy and steep woodlands, that once were the hunting grounds for the King.
Definitely a magical castle to visit.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Palace, and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Portugal. If you get to Lisbon, make the extra effort and go to Sintra. So worth it.
Back down to the main square for some lunch,
some green wine and a nice wander around. Wouldn't mind spending the night here after all.
Unassuming after seeing the Pena Palace, this is the
National Palace of Sintra, located in the main square.
It has its beginnings date back to the 8th century! No wonder the whole town is a Unesco World heritage Site.
Leaving here, our day wasn't over yet.
Next stop was to be Cabo do Roca - the most westerly point on continental Europe, and what beautiful weather we had to enjoy it.
Another scenic drive to get there...man - Portugal is stunning.
From here we headed south along the breathtaking coast road,
towards Lisbon for a couple more stops. One being 'Boco do Inferno' or 'Hell's Mouth.' Another incredible feature of the rugged Portuguese coastline,
begging for more photos to be taken.
This would be quite spectacular in heavy seas.
Last but by certainly not least, was Cascais.
A charming seaside town that is a very popular beachside retreat for many Portuguese people, especially those from Lisbon. It was lovely.
Kids not buried on their phones, but playing and jumping off rocks into the ocean. The good old days are well and truly still here.