A Travellerspoint blog


Perusing Porto

5-8 September 2019

Thurs 5 September: Up and away from Coimbra bright and early on the road to Porto. Stopped for a swim at a nice beach, Aveiro, on the way.
Porto has been a highlight of our trip, and certainly a contender for ‘best geographical’. ….And the nominees are.. Now here’s an idea: We could have awards place of the trip, meal of the trip, host of the trip, beach of the trip, attraction of the trip; even disaster of the trip! There are a few candidates for that. We’ll come back to that.

Our accommodation in Porto was booked through Air BnB. Again, we were staying out of the city, about 20km south in a suburb called Lourosa. Host Carlos and wife Sylvie welcomed us and provided a great orientation. We had the upstairs and majority part of a two-storied house, with Carlos’s mum living downstairs. We struck a few teething problems involving hot water, air con and the location of the resident iron. Some were due to our own stupidity and all were sorted quickly with the help of the English language ability of Carlos’s son.

Not for the first time we wondered about the arrogance of English language speakers, expecting people to pop up who will understand our language, while we have little or none of theirs. We try to learn the basics: Please, hello, thank you, yes, no, 1,2,3 etc. If this is Monday, thanks must be Obrigado (Portugese), or is it Merci, or Gracies (Catalan), or Gracias (Spanish). Come next week it will be Grazie!

Fri 6 September: Getting into the centre involved a 15 minute car journey to a ‘Park n Ride’, then a four-station light rail journey (from St Joao 2 to San Bento, across the River Duoro over the renowned St Lui iron bridge) to the tourist heart of the place. Worked well.

We struggled to understand how to use the ticket machine but were saved by a very helpful local who gave us quite a bit of time to help us out. We realised this was typical of the Portugese, who were extraordinarily Kiwi-like in this respect. Brought to mind something MC’s dad used to say about NZ; You ask for directions – in other places they’ll tell you, in NZ, they take you!

MC had planned a walking route around the historic area of Porto, which turned out to be a bit more complicated than it looked on Lonely Planet! Porto’s Railway Station, like elsewhere in Portugal, was decorated with tile panels depicting the city’s history. We found some magnificent views of the city across the river; found more grossly OTT churches filled with gold, including Santo Idelfonso and the adjacent landmark Clerigos tower after wandering more winding narrow cobbled streets. Noticed huge queues for a mysterious attraction; it turned out to be the house that inspired Harry Potter, or in which JK Rowling, or something Potter related. We passed.




We were fascinated by these shops. This one in Porto but we'd seen them in other places. They looked like cans of sardines in fancy packs, at exorbitant prices. Couldn't work it out, and forgot to ask :)


After lunch, more walking was decreed and we found another church (San Francisco), more cobbled streets and a delightful wander along the Douro’s city waterfront, doing the market stalls (Phil’s bracelet collection grew further), enjoying the vista and concluding with a light fish supper.


Some of those photos were from a museum associated with one of the churches. We had a bit of a giggle at this one, which Phil named "the first Gay wedding" - actually supposedly a couple of saints!


But we need to talk about lunch!! Having tolerated a couple of hours of walking, Phil’s agenda then took priority. We were aware, both through Lonely Planet and Si and Nic’s travel blog from their Porto visit 10 years earlier, of the local culinary masterpiece, the Francesinha. The story goes it was created by a Portugese chef who had spent time in France and wanted to design something to put the French Croque Monsieur - the fancy toasted cheese sandwich - in its place. Though we subsequently realised many restaurants did it, LP had nominated a particular restaurant as the best, so the mission was on. All historical sites were off the agenda until this Taonga was found and MC noted with bemusement how energised Phil suddenly was for further walking 

It took some finding, and careful study of the map over a beer but we eventually found the famed Santiago restaurant and joined the queue which was way shorter than, apparently, it can be. Shades of Fergbergers in Queenstown! It was worth the effort! This enormous toasted sandwich, incorporating at least five different types of meat and sausage, covered in a cheese sauces, topped with an egg, and served with chips. Mary Clare had a salad!

Sat 7 September: The next day, we headed back into Sao Bento station at 8am to take a train journey 2hrs inland along the Douro to Regua, mainly so we could take a cruise along the Duoro back into Porto. Really enjoyable. The weather was perfect and we could soak up the scenery along the river whilst relaxing in the sunshine, chatting with a group of Americans with whom we shared a table over a simple lunch. The riverbanks were covered in vines planted on terraces. There were two dams/locks on the river. The first was 35 metres, the latter a 14 metre drop; lots of photos taken.




Sun 8 September: Day 4 in Porto.
Our host Carlos offered to share the day with us and using our car show us around places he thought we should see, and meet Phi’s desire to have a seafood lunch somewhere. Together we visited some beach spots north and south of Porto. Espinya, and another beach with a little chapel close to sea, where miracles – Lourdes-style - are purported to have occurred. Then to Montesinho , a fishing village, for an al fresco lunch centred on grilled fish and squid, with Carlos guiding the choices. The tour continued, with local knowledge gaining us access to a super-flash, historic hotel with infinity pool we’d noted as a landmark on the previous day’s cruise. Way beyond the duties of an Air BnB host!! We returned satisfied, grateful and tired and ready to head north and out of Portugal.


Posted by philandmc 00:03 Archived in Portugal Comments (3)


2-4 September 2019

Mon 2 September: Our drive from the Algarve on the south coast to Porto on the North West coast would take us through the centre of Portugal. We’d eyed a few possible places to visit en route and had a few more suggested, so off we went.

Bega was supposed to have an interesting castle, so this was our first stop. But with the temp in the high 30s, it was way too hot to do any serious middle-of the day sightseeing, and the supposed castle didn’t fall into our lap, so we had a brief wander then limited ourselves to a couple of great filled rolls for lunch in the town square.


...and moved on to Evora. We’d scored a lovely room via Air BnB in a magnificent new house with all mod cons, and a lovely host family, in the country-side a bit out of town. Another advantage of travelling independently by car! Big pooch of a dog, pool and ensuite. It seems you can find these places reasonably-priced if you’re prepared to be away from beachfronts and town squares! We arrived about 3pm, decided to leave sightseeing in town until dinner and the cool of the evening. Collapsed into the pool and rested for a couple of hours.

Had a brief wander around the centre, then ate at a guide-book-recommended restaurant; excellent local food, again meat-heavy.

Tues 3: Back into Evora to visit Geraldo Square and the (apparently) famed Sao Francisco church

Quite liked this footwashing painting:


and its adjoining ‘Chapel of the Bones’. We’d read it was designed to help the (medieval?) monks focus in prayer on their mortality. We weren’t sure quite what to expect, maybe the odd skeleton on a glass box. Certainly not this!!


But some amazing tiled stations of the cross on the entranceway wall as we came out.

We realised we'd missed a highly recommended tourist spot: the Castelo del Monsaraz - a lovely little village on a hilltop, still entirely contained by the ancient wall. So we detoured. Just lovely.

Another recommended attraction on route was Tomar, a town dominated by a huge hilltop castle/old convent complex, founded originally as the HQ of the Knights Templar, the archetypical Crusader outfit with the huge red cross on white tunics. Phil had read bits and pieces about the Templars over the years, fiction and otherwise. They almost certainly will have featured in the Da Vinci code and other books about Jesus marrying Mary Magdelen, and other such nonsense, but we wouldn't know!!

Associated with apocryphal secrecy, including the location of the Holy Grail they got too much even for the Vatican. "The secrecy with which they operated and its vast accumulated wealth " lead to a falling out with the then equally-political Vatican and the order was banned and its members imprisoned by Pope Clement V, in 1307! Among the accusations, later conceded under torture (so clearly true) were "denial of Christ and the cross, foreced and consenting homosexuality and adoration of the goat-headed idol Baphomet"!!! Three leaders were burned at the stake, protesting their innocence. This is becoming a common theme :) The Templars were replaced in Portugal, whose King was reluctant to follow the Vatican's lead, by the Order of Christ which seems to have been no more than a re-branding. There was a large convent there most recently; you can see clositers and the refectory in some of the photos. I'm bringing home a little booklet on the history, if anyone's interested in following up.


The we headed to Coimbra (pronounced Queembro), an early Portugeses capital (I think) and a major historic university town.

A map and guide MC picked up contained a, to us, hilarious story. St Isabel, originally Queen Isabel de Arajao, was married to a King or ruling Duke of the area. We're talking early 14th century. She was in the habit of taking bread to the poor in a big basket thing. Apparently hubby disapproved, or something so she was doing this secretly. But one day he came across her in her wicked pursuit and asked her what she had in the basket. "Roses, sir" she said and opened her basket to reveal, not bread, but indeed roses! For this apparently worthy miracle, she was in 1625 canonised!!! Apparently about 20 other saints, incluing St Elizabeth of Hungary did similar things. We'd have thought, if one was to be canonised for such magic tricks, then surely, turning roses into bread for the poor would have been a far more worthy direction :)

To be honest, we were a little underwhelmed by Coimbra. Maybe it was a bad day, maybe we were put off by the disappointing hop-on hop-off tour we did (we stayed on), or maybe it was a rather unhappy check-in experience at the otherwise satisfactory hotel. Or maybe we just didn't get it. Here are some photos anyway :)


And so, on to Porto and a highlight of the trip.

Posted by philandmc 02:59 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Alive on the Algarve

Wednesday 28 August: Our first big drive. Nearly 300km but just 2 ½ hours on a major toll road with a speed limit, regularly and spectacularly exceeded by many, of 120kph. We have a toll story but will save that for the Portugal wrap up.

So the Algarve is kind of Portugal’s Riveria, all beaches and sun; G-strings and bikinis. We went mainly for the beaches!! We’d found a reasonable place on Air BnB that looked nice, so booked it for four nights. Liked it so much we stayed a fifth.

Just wonderfully extraordinary hospitality from Peter and Sylvia! And an marvellous property to go with it. No doubt if it didn’t appear to be in the middle of nowhere it would have been well out of our price range. Huge room, with huge en-suite bathroom. We’d seen the double shower before, which gives you a choice between the spray from the wall/handheld and a rainfall but this had a double – double. Storage for Africa, a gorgeous and much-used pool, huge shared kitchen etc etc. For those, especially in Europe, looking for a place for an Algarve break, have a look. Normally only advertised for July, August and the first half of September Peter indicated they’d consider opening up at other times for specific requests. You want one of the rooms with private baths, not the shared ones. Here it is.


Peter was a great guy, and not a above using a photo of his son with playboy looks to attract interest to the listing – not that it influenced us in any way! We got a grand tour of the house and were assured nothing would be too much trouble. It never was! Message after message responding to queries about the best reasonable restaurant, the best beaches, and the best destinations on departure and en route north etc etc.
Thursday 29.8: A lovely day on the main beach at Faro; hot as, water great, followed by our first big supermarket shop on the way home. Major panic on exit. Spent 20 minutes walking up and down the enormous car park, in the heat, panic quietly building as the possibility it had been nicked began to suggest itself. Then out of the corner of my eye, cars moving up a ramp to a another deck! Wrong place. Again! Relief and embarrassment, again.

Then home to cook some nice looking, and very cheap, Hapuka at about $12/kg and a second night in our - to us - palatial accommodation.
Wednesday 30 August: Our 39th anniversary. We drove to Olhao, a resort about half an hour away. Busy and touristy with all the beaches on adjacent islands requiring a 30 minute ferry trip, in our case to Faro Island. Pleasant enough, and may have been more enjoyable if we’d had the time to take a cruise round the islands. Mary Clare felt she’d just as well be at the local beach but it was all very pretty. A nice cold Lisbon Red IPA on the waterfront on return (craft beer is definitely universal) then home for something a bit special.


Perhaps the best Peter story concerns the cataplana. Phil had queried the purpose of a strange looking copper kitchen utensil – basically a wok with a lid forming a neat oval. So this is the traditional Algarve cooking method; it basically seems to involve making a flavourful sauce in the base, then adding any manner of fish or meat ingredients with herbs, spices and vegetables – tightly reclosing each time with the integral clamps.

This thing

Phil, with Peter’s very great assistance, had decided to try cooking a cataplana for our anniversary, using as a main ingredient, ‘carabineiros’, seafood about halfway between a prawn and a lobster. Not cheap, but hey, 39 years!

Peter provided Google Map directions to the fish market, an experience in itself, and in the end provided some key ingredients, personal step-by-step cooking instructions: Bacon, then sequentially a couple of onions, garlic, mushrooms, red chilli, red & green capsicum, fresh coriander. Finally carabineiros. Serve with plain potatoes. Yum.

Peter and Sylvia provided, gratis, a bottle of white wine, a candle-lit table on the pool deck, dessert wine PLUS homemade brandy and sweet treat to finish! Spoilt as! Here you go:


Sat 31st: We’d intended to drive west to Lagos (pronounced Lagosh) but we didn’t end up making it. Peter (again) had recommended a lovely beach on the way, also in our guides: Praia da Marinha. Lovely. Surrounded by cliffs and a steep walk down; well worth it.




Bit of fun, though with the tide. The beach comprised several coves and as the tide came in, it was apparent, not only that the position of many was about to become precarious – think Tuvalu and climate change – but also that the coves would be cut off from eachother. Old salt Mary Clare observed early the significance of the boundary between the wet and dry, hard and soft sand and insisted on some early strategic re-positioning. Then we watched the fun. Beachgoers, Neptune-like, scuttling and scurrying like disturbed crabs as the water relentlessly undermined their positions. Some decided, not always successful to remain on chairs, feet in the water. Others scrambling after rapidly departing chilly bins, jandals and what-have-you. Great fun watching from our morally superior position  Another simple home-cooked dinner with MC doing the honours – Pork and salad.

Sun 1.9: Split shifts. MC keen on another stint on Faro beach, which she gratefully enjoyed. Phil decided it was time to have a holiday around the pool, and catch up on some trip planning and blogging. Well, 2 out of three….. Grilled salmon and salad back at the house.

Mon 2.9. Our last day and Peter’s final flourish saw him delaying his arrival at work to take Phil to a local Cataplana source to buy one to take home. “That’s your birthday present” said MC!!

And so a memorable 5 days came to an end. We’ll remember the fabulous weather, the beaches, the food, but most on all the palace that was The Suite Blanco at Casa Mar and the stupendous hospitality of Peter and Sylvia. From here, a drive through the historic centre (Evora, Coimbra, Castelo de Monsarat, Tomar) and thence to romantic Porto!

Posted by philandmc 10:21 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Lisbon Larks

24.8.2019 - 29.8.2019

28 °C

And so to Portugal. Saturday 24 August. We flew in the evening on Air Portugal, Prague to Lisbon in one of the quietest flights we’ve been on in long time. Contacted the local Eurolease rep to collect our Citroen C4 Spacetourer (the car formerly known as the C4 Picasso). Strange transaction, conducted at 1030 at night in what seemed to be a random carpark! Young fella who was handing over the car seemed, not unreasonably, focused on getting home to bed!


But we got enough of a briefing to take charge of the vehicle and drive it, via our first experience with a Portuguese petrol station. ‘Gaseleo Simples’, the cheaper diesel, apparently the thing. Around NZD 2.70/litre all taxes included. Then all of 2k down the road to our overnight stop in an airport hotel. Wee taste of luxury at the ‘Radission Blu’ for our first night ‘on our own’.

Monday 25 August: Another day, another Metro conquered! Into the city, to a station adjacent to the start of the yellow #28 tram. Every piece of tourist publicity one reads on Lisbon/Lisboa suggests this as a highlight of the visit! What! A tram? With some scepticism, we boarded. Well, what a hoot. Shake, rattle and roll! Definitely a highlight of the trip! About an hour, over the 7 hills of Lisbon, up and down. Really narrow sreets, cars competing with the trams, tourists and other pedestrians - often trying to take photos with the trams bearing down on them, and rarely a footpath to be seen. The cars were built circa 1930 but underwent a thorough running gear upgrade in the 80’s (I think). At various stages crowded, we stood and we sat and we marvelled. You really have to experience it.


They could have been a real crowd-puller in Wellington but I guess light rail is more likely; we’ve struck some great examples of that too.
The difference? Largely that trams run on roads shared by cars, whereas light rail, though looking more like modern tram cars than trains, run on their own dedicated lines, often in between traffic lanes.

Tuesday 26 August: Then a bit more of a wander around the centre of Lisbon, another church or two, a famous but rather unremarkable lift (elevator) and it was back on the metro to collect the car from near the hotel and head to a 3* hotel at Estoril/Cascais, more-or-less seaside suburbs of Lisbon.


Wed 27: On what would not be the first occasion, MC arose all fit and energetic and walked in the heat, but along the waterfront, from Estoril to Cascais. The need to buy replacements for a pair of sandals that had fallen apart MAY have been part of the motivation. Phil swam/ rested/ admin’d/ blogged/ sunbathed. MC arrived back; hot, exhausted but sandal-resplendent. A brief visit to the local beach confirmed the Guide-book’s view that the Atlantic water was cold. But MC braved it, briefly, then we had a drink and watched people sunbathing.

Then, the guidebook alerted us to a little place, Azenhas Do Mar, a small village scatterd on a hillside, with an amazing wee beach and tide-filled pool below. Both of us walked down, and up again! Gorgeous spot.


We went searching for a recommended restaurant within walking distance but couldn’t find it. We ended up at a little bistro and had a most entertaining evening. Mum and Dad were trying to run this place, clearly fed-up and exhausted after a long summer, dealing on their own with maybe 30-40 places, some of which clearly turned over more than once. Service was not rapid and some of their interactions brought to mind Basil Fawlty and, if not Manuel then certainly Sybil :) Plus a group of four brits that included one very drunk, loud Scot who made sure the rest of the restaurant understood his opinions on everything from Portugal to Brexit to English soccer clubs!

We learned the next night, when we found our original target, darkened and adjacent, that it had closed two days’ earlier for a month-long break. No wonder the elderly couple wondered what hit them. The food was good though.

Thurs 28. The town of Sintra was only a few kms away and was recommended by every travel guide, along with the #28 tram, as one of Portugal’s must-visits! There were a few tourist targets, including a “Moorish Castle” but we decided to limit our ambitions to the incredible Pena Palace, which seemed to us, rightly as it turned out, to be more than enough for one day. And an entertaining one it turned out to be!

All advice suggested we not try to drive up the tourist route but park in the centre of Sintra and get the tourist bus up. That is where things started to go wrong. Mistake #1 - We turned the wrong way from the car park, walked away from the bus terminal and slogged up a hill for 30 minutes in heat in the high 20s, while all the buses we should have been on roared past us!

We eventually caught up with one and were deposited without further hassle outside the Pena palace. Lonely Planet says this about it: “Rising from a thickly wooded peak and often enshrouded in swirling mist, Palácio Nacional da Pena is a wacky confection of onion domes, Moorish keyhole gates, writhing stone snakes and crenellated towers in pinks and lemons. It is considered the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal. Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, the artist-husband of Queen Maria II, and later Dom Ferdinand II, commissioned Prussian architect Ludwig von Eschwege in 1840 to build the Mouresque-Manueline epic (and as a final flourish added an armoured statue representing a medieval knight overlooking the palace from a nearby peak). Inspired by Stolzenfels and Rheinstein castles and Potsdam's Babelsberg Palace, a flourish of imagination and colour commenced.” Most of that went over my head, but here it is:


So the bus we were on takes about an hour to do a narrow, challenging, hilly circuit from the centre of Sintra past the four main tourist attractions. Not having got on the bus in the right place, there was next the issue of identifying the right place to get off! Mistake #2! Slight disagreement about whether we were there when we got there, and far be it from me to disclose who was right, but the end result was another hour on the bus travelling past all the tourist sites, most of which we’d had no intention visiting in the first place!

Then, again since we had not walked from the car to the bus stop was the question of where the car was. In the interests of the next 39 years, I won’t say too much about that experience but shall we just say that we go there eventually, and made it back to Estoril. Another reasonable restaurant. Phil had ‘black pork’ – that still looked white but was just a tad salty.

Wed 28: Metro back into town. Walked along the waterfront. Another huge monument to someone important. Again, impressed with the trams.

But the visit confirmed our growing impression of Lisbon, despite the wonderful exceptions as a bit lack-lustre and graffiti-covered. And here's MC crossing the tracks, not at all per Kiwi Rail!!

Had lunch at Belem – Mary Clare duly impressed with the place – took photographs of the Cathedral, ‘cos we hadn’t done that for a while. Phil had an interesting discussion with a Sri Lankan waiter about how to order coffee in Potugal (“Café Galau, poco leite”) - but not sure that’s right) and of course, cricket! Metro back to Estoril, dinner and bed.

Thursday 29: Up early to drive south, over a colossal bridge and past Lisbon's version of Christ the Redeemer to the Algarve and a story of wonderful Air BnB hospitality. But that’s for next time.


Posted by philandmc 11:11 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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