Archive for November, 2017

Córdoba

November 30, 2017

Just a quick note before this post starts, my sister Sue tells me that a programme on TV called “Spectacular Spain with Alex Polizzi” has been on TV in NZ recently and she had just watched an episode on Jerez and Seville. I found the programme on YouTube…it’s episode 4. We shall now have to watch the rest of the series to see what we have missed and what shall go on the agenda for the next trip.

After our successful trip to Jerez, we had planned to spend the following day checking out some more of the sights around Seville but first we needed to take a quick trip to the train station to book and collect our tickets for the following day to Granada, our next destination. Granada tickets were quickly sorted however, whilst we were at the station, we asked purely out of interest how long would a trip to Córdoba take? 45 minutes by fast train we are told, if you want to go, there is a train leaving in 6 minutes…yes please, we said and book us a return ticket as well please. Tickets in hand we hurried to the correct platform with a couple of minutes to spare…talk about spur of the moment decisions!!, this time we had to go through a security check as well, a first so far on our train travels.

Córdoba, like many other Spanish cities, has an Anglicised name of Cordova, and is yet another magnificent city with a rich history encompassing many cultures. As well as being a traditional centre for silk manufacture, it was also a centre of education with universities and medical schools particularly during the Muslim reign from the 8th century through to 1236 when the Christians took over. Córdoba can also lay claim to have the highest summer temperatures in Spain and Europe, with average high temperatures around 37 °C (99 °F) in July and August, however for us it was a pleasant 26C.

Our train journey took us past kilometres of orange trees, then olive trees but as we got closer to the city another change in trees with what we thought were apricot trees with their autumnal colours resplendent but on reflection we think they were more likely to be almond trees.

oranges, almond trees and olives, seen for miles along the journey

Córdoba station was a larger station than we anticipated and a very modern building to boot. We found an information centre within the station and bought ourselves tickets for the hop on-hop off bus which just so happened to have a stop right outside. Perfect.

We had a great tour of the city and we surmised that we could have come and stayed here for sometime to explore everything in depth however an overview would suffice this time. Lots of pictures to follow.

the view from the top of the bus as the driver carefully and skilfully negotiates the narrow streets. In some streets pedestrians had to stand in doorways to let the bus through, in others, shopkeepers had to roll in awnings so that the bus did not hit them.

Calahorra Tower

Roman temple of Córdoba

Santa Marina Church built in the 13th century

Bridal party at Puerta del Puente or Roman Gate by the Roman Bridge.

one of the gates in the old wall around the city the ever present orange trees lining the streets

Detailed statue of San Francisco Church

one of the narrow side streets

moody scenes over the river looking toward the Roman bridge

Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir River, you can see the gate and the mosque in the background. This was the main access point to the city, across the bridge and through the gate.

looking across to the Mosque cathedral

Overlooking the Roman Bridge and next to the Mosque-Cathedral is the Triunfo de San Rafael column, the most elaborate of many devotional columns and images in Córdoba commemorating the Archangel Raphael’s promise to protect its inhabitants.

the other side of the Roman gate

horse and carriage ride anyone?

convent of Saint Ana

Christmas decorations over the shopping streets of Córdoba. Although decorations are being put up all over Spain, none are yet illuminated, this does not happen until December.

anyone for a helter-skelter ride? Seen in one of the streets in the centre of Córdoba.

Córdoba is one of the few cities in the world that has a near-exact antipodal city, namely Hamilton in New Zealand, but surprisingly the cities are not twinned.

We wandered the back streets admiring the sights however our time was running out so with a quick sprint via taxi we were back at the train station ready to return for our last evening in Seville before tomorrow’s journey to Granada.

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Jerez

November 27, 2017

Whilst we are here in Seville, we are pretty close to Jerez or so it seems so why not take a day trip to Jerez? With a bit of research we found that a trip to Jerez, the home of sherry, was just a 55 minute train ride from Sevilla and that a couple of bodegas (wine tasting) were within a reasonable walking distance from the station, so we thought let’s do it.

Jerez is best known for its sherry, Andalucian horses, and flamenco as well as motorcycles apparently.

This time it was the high speed train we were on with no stops along the way, hence that is why it was such a relatively short journey time wise. We were in Jerez at the very pretty train station before we knew it.

The view from the platform

Inside the station

With the aid of Google maps we found our way to the first bodega that we had identified earlier. We arrived there just 10 minutes before their next tour and tastings were scheduled, did we wish to go on that tour culminating in a tasting session of 12 different sherries? Wow, that sounds pretty damn good to us. We waited for the tour to begin the the vine covered courtyard area.

I have to admit that looking back over the photos and trying to remember all that we were told on the tour through the winery and the process of making sherry, it has all become a bit of a blur…I blame all that tasting at the end of the tour!

The cathedral-like winery building has been used for the sherry making business for a few hundred years, they have been oriented specifically to ensure that the cooler moist west wind could pass though the buildings taking the warmer air out through the high windows which are positioned and shaped to keep the sun out with some having special curtains which can be moistened to cool the temperature as well as assisting with humidity. Sherry needs plenty of air to develop the yeasts that form to give sherry its characteristics. The floor is made of “albero” a rough sandy clay soil that absorbs humidity and is kept moist by spraying with water to reduce transpiration.

Barrels are lined up in long rows, just three barrels high with the young wines on the top going down to the older biological wines on the lower levels, with the winemaker choosing when to decant from one to another as the younger wine provides the yeast needed to develop the wine so it is constantly being tested, tasted and moved.

Table and stools set up for tasting sessions

Some of the different varieties of sherry and some barrels being repaired.

Through out the tour we were told of the differing varieties of sherry and how they are made. Now this is not the old style sweet “nana” sherry that you can buy by the flagon in NZ, it’s a very complex and varied style of wine. Personally, I particularly enjoy a very dry Fino sherry as an aperitif, and as well we particularly enjoy a Pedro Ximénez sherry – one of the main reasons we came to Jerez, to find out more about this dark, unctuous, delectable delight. After introducing my brother John and his partner Jude to Pedro (as we now refer to the drink) we all take great delight in sharing the old tipple or three!!!

Next it was on to the tastings, 12, tastings we are told…..phew, this is going to be fun, I had to get my notebook out to makes notes so that I would not forget what we were having. We started with the dry fino, then the amontillado, oloroso variants. Then we were given two vermouths to try, one white, one red, which they also make by adding various herbs to the different wines. Now they were both a surprise and we enjoyed them both. Then it was onto the Moscatel and then the Pedro Ximénez including a 30year old Pedro. One thing we did learn is that traditionally Pedro is usually served chilled from the fridge and warmed up to room temperature as you sip on it.

the glasses and wines lined up with my notebook at the forefront.

and the final two wines to try. Amazing!

Two very happy kiwis staggered out of the bodega later that afternoon, and yes, we did buy a little to bring home with us…….and yes, we may even allow you to share it with us John & Jude!!! Salud.

Just along the road we found this well known branda favourite tipple of my parents!

the Harvey’s Wine storage facility. However, we didn’t venture in as by this time it was late in the afternoon when most things close for a couple of hours, besides, we needed some sustenance.

and the orange trees lining the streets. We are told that all these oranges that line every street are ones you cannot eat which we presume are the Seville Oranges that are so good for marmalade.

We found a small cafe serving tapas near the train station and enjoyed three lovely dishes, this time comprising of braised Iberian pork cheeks, a cold potato salad and a mix of croquetas. They were each delicious and a pleasant surprise as the cafe was just a tiny wee place that looked a little weary but the food and service was fantastic.

Time for just a quick wander around before we head back on the train to Seville for our last night and yes, back to our favourite bar and restaurant just down the road from the apartment for another great night and the perfect end to another wonderful day.

Sevilla

November 26, 2017

Another very pleasant train journey from Huelva to Sevilla, this time passing through what seemed like thousands of acres of oranges and olive groves as well as vegetable crops and glasshouses. We must say that the Spanish do know how to do train travel, with comfortable seating, plenty of room and up to date information on the screens.

As you can see we were heading to Sevilla Santa Justa, travelling at 136km/hr at that moment (it did get up to 165kph), the temperature a balmy 25C, this was about two thirds of the way through our trip.

We arrived at Sevilla main train station and caught a cab to our lovely apartment where our host Antonio greeted us and showed us in. We are staying again right in the centre of town in an older apartment block that is just three stories high and set around a large central courtyard, very Moorish in its design. After our quick familiarisation, it was a trip to the supermarket to get some basics before we headed just 50metres along the road to a local tapas bar that Antonio had recommended, as he said it was a place that he ate at and mostly locals frequented, sounds perfect. All the tapas plates were priced at around the €2.50 mark, we made a few choices and waited to see what would be presented.

But first a note about prices, we tend not to compare costs to NZ dollars, we have Euro€ and think of everything as 1 NZ$ equaling 1€ or 1£. The only time we compared prices was in Switzerland using the Swiss franc but even then we compared the franc with the euro or the pound. It’s all about when in Rome…. now back to the tapas!

my goodness, how delicious were these dishes! Sardines, peppers, tomatoes, patatas bravas, pate, deep fried goats cheese and croquetas.

Vowing to return again soon, we made our way home for the evening.

A tour around the city was in order for the following day to familiarise ourselves with Sevilla and where we would want to see in greater detail later. But first of all the early riser headed to the local market for a look, and yes I did visit the market with him later in the morning.

The array of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish was impressive, especially the fish roe which reminded us of Gary who we know loves eating this delicacy as whenever we have been fishing with him and there is roe in the fish, it is quickly put to one side for a delicious treat to be cooked up later.

Also of interest was this large tank of live snails,

Hmmm, one thing I am not particularly keen on is snails.

Off now for our trip around Sevilla to see the sights. Sevilla has a long and varied history being settled by the Phonecians, then Romans, Arabs and then Christians with all of these cultures having an influence on the city in both the architecture as well as the people.

Clockwise from Top L: Torre del Oro, Giralda, Arenal (bull fighting arena), Maria Luisa Parque buildings.

Clockwise from Top L: The wide open boulevards lined with orange trees, Costurero de la Reina, the Guadalquivir River, La Palmera.

It was hard to choose just a few buildings from all the photos we have but we have to stop somewhere. There really is a variety of styles, cultures and even materials used in construction but what it has started to show is how little we know about the rich long history and culture of Spain. Something I need to redress.

At the end of a long day of sightseeing what better way to end it than with churros and hot chocolate.

On our way back to our abode we stopped to have a look at the new “mushroom” structure recently built in the centre of Sevilla, or Metropol Parasol as it is officially known.

it certainly is an innovative and interesting structure in amongst the old buildings. Apparently it is the largest wooden structure in the world and was finally completed in 2009 but not without controversy in design, construction, technical difficulties and of course budget overruns.

We arrived back at our apartment in time to freshen up a little ready to go out to Coloniales, the tapas bar where we are becoming known. Again we tried a few more tapas from the extensive selection, enjoying every single selection. Just as we had finished our meal and asked for our bill, our waiter said no, no, no….wait please, and then presented us with a complimentary local liqueur made from cherries!

Not a bad way to end the day.

Meeting a Kiwi in Huelva

November 24, 2017

Our brief stay in Faro was coming to an end, we have enjoyed our time here but it’s time to keep moving – so many places to see, things to do, and time creeps on. We are unable to catch a train out of Faro this time as trains between Portugal and Spain are non existent here, however there is a bus service, but we are very fortunate that we are being picked up by a friend, Michael.

We met Michael 3 years ago when it was our first year of being hosts at Shakespear Park where Michael was a Summer Ranger that year. He frequently called in to have dinner with us whilst we were camping so we got to know him reasonably well, now it was our turn to call in on him! Michael is teaching English in Huelva which is about an hours drive from Faro and he offered to drive over and pick us up.

We arranged to meet by a restaurant near the marina in Faro at 11am, I got a message from Michael at 10am to say that he had arrived as he had forgotten about the 1hour time difference between Portugal and Spain. We were already at the restaurant ready and waiting so time to head off.

We had a lovely trip across into Spain, not that you realise that you are crossing borders apart from a small sign. Michael was a very good tour guide pointing out sights along the way. Once arriving on the outskirts of Huelva, we headed out to a beach that Michael has found which is mainly deserted, the locals think that it is winter therefore it’s cold….yes, it is only 22C today….so they don’t go to the beach.

Roy & Michael on the beach

spot the crowds (and spot a cloud, we haven’t seen any for weeks now!).

After a quick tour of the town, Michael dropped us off at our hotel in town so we could settle in, have a siesta and we were to meet up later in the early evening. We are starting to get into the Spanish way of life….lunch around 2-3pm and then think about dinner at 8-9pm, oh wait, we don’t usually have lunch back at home until around 2pm or later so perhaps we already work on Spanish time!

Christopher Columbus statue in the main square

We headed out along the Main Street to find a tapas bar for dinner and to catch up with all the news and happenings. Michael did the ordering for us as our Spanish is almost non existent however we do try! Much to the hilarity of locals. We had a lovely dinner of many different things including a plate of the famous Iberian Jamon and some cuttlefish, also a local delicacy – they were both delicious.

We arranged to meet up again the following morning as Michael had to go to the next town for some paperwork issuing so we were going to tag along for the ride.

With his paperwork sorted in two minutes we then headed for Palos de la Frontera, not far from Huelva and is famous as this was where Christopher Columbus set sail from in 1492 eventually reaching America. We were hoping to visit the Christopher Columbus museum and see the replicas of his three ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinto and the Nina. Along the way there was this statue to Columbus on the riverbank.

We arrived at the museum to find that it was closed on Mondays….typical. Never mind we could see the ships from the wharf further around.

With the largest ship only 60ft in length, they weren’t large ocean going vessels.

The entrance to the museum is also a wetland reserve, there was a large picture sign at the entrance showing the birds we may be able to see, many of which looked very familiar

Especially the Pukeko at the bottom third from the right! We were surprised to find them here, they are also found around Faro and we were surprised to find that the bird is the symbol for that region!

Boats were moored in the shallows nearby

After a stop for a drink, it was time for Michael to drop us off at the rail station. With fond farewells we hope to see you again in NZ Michael, perhaps even at Shakespear??

Faro

November 21, 2017

A big day in Faro as we tried to fit in as much as possible in our short time here. As we arrived at nightfall there was only the opportunity to have dinner before heading to bed for the night. Again, we have been very lucky with our accommodation, in Faro it’s just a short walk from the train station and our host Vera was waiting for us to show us around the gorgeous apartment before sitting us down and telling us of places to see and what to do.

After a great nights sleep we were off into town to walk around the old town and to get our bearings. Roy had already been off to the market early in the morning so he roughly knew where we were heading. The following are a few scenes from the market, Roy got there just as they were setting up.

Plenty of fresh, fresh fish of all shapes sizes and species.

Plenty of fresh and dried fruits and vegetables as well.

Into town and the marina area first.

we did not have too far to walk to the outskirts of the old town alongside the marina (checking out boats for you Steve!!).

Just outside the old town walls we came across a tuk-tuk, we thought it was a good oppportunity us to have a quick tour of the old town and parts further afield to orient ourselves.

Church inside the old town walls

the outside wall of the old town

After our short history filled tour with guide Ernesto, we walked along the outside old town wall to our next stop, which was to have a boat trip around the National Park wetland area called Ria Formosa.

There are five barrier islands that protect the wetland area from the ocean. Our boat trip took us throughout the low tidal flats that are home to many bird species, many of which we also have similar species in New Zealand, including the pukeko!

the old town walls as seen from the boat.

There are fish farms located within the waterways and we saw a few small boats out with men fishing. It seems as though there is no size limit and they catch and keep everything.

A flock of spoonbills grazing amongst the growth

Once back on land we went back into the old town to have some lunch at one of the restaurants that had been pointed out to us during our tour. We were keen to try the local dish of Cataplana, a fish dish in various forms that is cooked in a covered dish, similar to a Tagine. As this region was once settled by the Moors, it is no surprise that some of their traditions remain.

It was rather delicious and surprisingly light. And included shellfish and fish such as monkfish, bacalhau, clams, mussels and shrimps.

We even decided to try the local desserts, one of us had a portugese tart (rather like a creme caramel) and the other had a portugese cake which is made of almonds, orange and figs. Both were rather delicious as well.

Now very much replete, we headed back to the main square where we had arranged to meet Ernesto again, this time for a tour through the National Park and out to Faro Beach. Again, we learnt lots of the history of the area and also about local agricultural practises, as we passed many farms growing crops of raspberries, oranges and tomatoes to name a few as well as goat farms. This region also produces a large proportion of the worlds cork. Ernesto explained that you can only remove the cork from the tree once every 9 years, with the best cork for wine bottles taken at the third cut. The men that perform this task are very skilled and in high demand.

Tree with cork removed from its lower trunk.

As well as cork and olive trees there are also acres and acres of pine nut trees.

Also within the park are salt pans, all dried naturally in the hot sun.

Salt pans

The salt is settling around the edge of the pans as evaporation does its thing

and once collected, it ends up in large mounds.

There are a large number of birds that call this area home, including spoonbills and flamingoes, however, the flamingoes were too far away for us to get a decent photo of them, besides they were wearing mostly grey feathers today.

We rounded off the day watching the sun set at Faro Beach

with the knowledge that as it dipped down over our horizon it would be popping up over the horizon in New Zealand. Cheers and good health to friends and family at home 🍹.

Lisboa to Faro

November 20, 2017

We had a few hours spare before we had to catch our train to Faro. After checking out of our apartment we headed into town dragging our cases behind us, not sure on how we would fill in the time. However, we came across a line of Tuk-tuks and decided to have one last look around Lisboa putting ourselves into the capable hands of our guide Miguel.

Miguel listened to where we had already been and came up with a personalised tour for us, taking in sights and scenes we hadn’t visited as well as promising to show us the real Lisboa and it’s people. True to his word we were quickly on our way through back street climbing to the highest point in the city for a panoramic view.

looking across to the castle and just below it on the right hand side was where we had been staying. Yes, we were perched on the side of a hill!

We visited churches and buildings that Miguel thought were interesting (and yes we did too).

During our tour and subsequent discussions, Miguel figured out that we were interested in the real Portugal and not the touristy stops and shops. We mentioned that we had not bought any souvenirs as such as we were not into buying Chinese made imitation bulk stuff that seemed to be everywhere. Later, he passed by a wee shop that he said was an example of the real Portuguese art made locally, by local artisans, including a professor of art history who was recreating patterns and styles of long ago. I asked if we could go back to it as I would like to have a look, needless to say I came away with a small couple of items with the knowledge that my spend was going to local people and supporting their craft.

As we were outside one of the churches with Miguel explaining the history to us, he said, “look, see those two there? they’re pickpockets!” Two well dressed and tidy men in their late twenties or early thirties looking all the bit like tourists themselves with small backpacks and phones at the ready taking pictures, they were ever so nonchalantly following two women with large cameras and backpacks. Hmmm….not the image of pickpockets that I had. Miguel called out to a local workman further up the road something about the pickpockets and finding a policeman. We left at that stage, hopefully they were thwarted in their attempts.

We had also arranged for Miguel to drop us off at the train station rather than back in the centre of town, on approaching the station he asked if we would like to visit a local market in a suburb close by that was an area he knew well as he had previously had bakeries there. Sure, we both said, we would love to see where local people shop for their produce. We were soon in a market reminiscent of a small version of the famous Melbourne Victoria market. This is what we have been looking for! Shame it was on our last day in Lisbon.

Back to the train station where we bade farewell to our new friend Miguel

and a short time later we hopped onto the train bound for Faro.

Our journey took us over the April 25th bridge the bridge looks a lot like the San Fransisco Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side of the river is an imposing statue of Christ that is very much like the one in Rio de janiero,

We had seen the bridge and statue many times from Lisbon and now we were travelling over the bridge, or under the bridge, as the rail line runs underneath the road.

On through the countryside we travelled, passing through thousands of cork trees as well as some olive groves, no pictures were taken during this journey! The one thing I will say about Portuguese trains is that the seating configuration leaves a lot to be desired with no account taken for where seats are positioned in relation to the windows for viewing vistas. Both times so far we have been seated by a pillar, one time facing backwards as the seating pattern seems to have been done randomly.

The three hour trip passed relatively quickly and we were soon disembarking in Faro. We followed the instructions on how to reach our accommodation and within 5 minutes we were met at the door of our apartment by Vera, our host. We really have done well with picking apartments, this one is just delightful, two bedrooms, lounge dining, kitchen and laundry and comes complete with an enclosed courtyard. It is very clean and tidy as well as thoughtfully appointed.

courtyard of the apartment.

We arrived just on dusk so after our orientation we quickly settled in then it was off to find a few provisions and something to eat before setting in for an early night. Tomorrow is set to be another busy day.

On to Lisboa

November 19, 2017

We are getting rather adept at this train travel lark, finding our way from the underground Metro in Porto to the train for our three hour journey to Lisbon.

The train trip was like any other, travelling through countryside and villages before eventually arriving at our stop in Lisbon. From there it was a quick taxi ride to our accommodation where the host of our Airbnb apartment was waiting to greet us and settle us in. Tiago, or host, showed us around the apartment and then sat us down to give us a brief overview of Lisbon and places to see and explore around the city and the river.

This apartment is near the castle and old city walls that overlooked the central city, read that as narrow, winding, cobbled streets that meander their way up the hillside. In fact the taxi driver was not terribly impressed at driving the steep narrow streets, and exclaimed at a couple of spots at either the view, or perhaps the drop off we are not sure, or the narrow streets with the inevitable cars parked over the road and footpath making manoeuvrability around the obstacles a little hair raising at times!

The apartment is great, with separate lounge, dining and kitchen, bedroom and bathroom with excellent amenities including wifi. We have booked in for three nights so we shall see how we go. We decided to take a quick explore and pick up something for dinner before nightfall, taking Tiago’s instructions on where to go we set off. First up a bit of a hill before descending to an elevator which goes down 7 stories to a supermarket at the base. Very handy not to have to climb all those steps!!

We had a quick look around before buying a few necessary items and something for dinner, we headed back to the apartment as night fell, and the temperature also dropped, to a chilly 9C overnight, well what can you expect when there is not a cloud in the sky.

The next morning we are off on our trek into town, down the road to the elevator, but hello, what’s this? A truck is wedged into the street outside, delivering concrete via a pump and crane to the building some floors up.

I don’t know how they got the truck out of there as further along the street there were cars parked randomly and little room to move. But they must have wriggled their way out somehow as on our return later in the day the truck was no longer there.

We carried in with our walk to the elevator then across a square to the municipal buildings and another elevator which leads us to the centre of town and flat land. All the streets are cobbled with the cream and black cobbles all laid out in intricate patterns. We learn that the way the pavements are cobbled is a Portugese signature, with the cream and black patterns in every town, with the same formulae laid down in the streets of Brazil and their other colonies.

We took another one of the hop on hop off bus tours to orient ourselves with the city.

central city square, monuments and pretty pastel coloured buildings

Through wide tree lined boulevards, we passed many of the significant churches and monasteries in Lisbon.

On to the monument to the First Marquis of Pombal. Pombal is noted for his swift and competent leadership in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in 1755 which destroyed much of Lisbon. The city was razed by the earthquake, estimated to have been 9 on the Richter scale, and the ensuing tsunami and fires. He immediately took upon the task of rebuilding the city, with his famous quote: What now? We bury the dead and heal the living.

The term Pombaline is used to describe not only his tenure, but also the architectural style adopted in Lisbon after the great earthquake with wide open streets and earthquake safe buildings.

statue of the Marquis de Pombal

the statue surrounded by an impressive large roundabout with lovely gardens up the hill at the rear of the monument

and the view from the top of the gardens looking down over the city. NB. The haze over the city is smoke from the recent devastating fires that have swept through Portugal.

Further on our trip we went past an impressive aqueduct system.Lisbon needed good drinking water therefore the aqueduct was commissioned in the early 1730’s and by 1748 it was bringing fresh clean water to the city. The main course of the aqueduct covers 18 km, but the whole network of canals extends over nearly 58 km, and it is all gravity driven.

Aqueduct and commemorative arch in the Amoreiras neighbourhood.

Back into the central city where we pass another impressive pice of architecture, the Santa Justa lift which was built in the style of Eiffel and is sometimes called Lisbon’s Eiffel Tower.

And no we didn’t venture to the top, the queues to go on it were a little long as there is a limit of a maximum 25 people allowed on it at any one time.

One of the nicest areas is along the waterfront of the Taiga River, with older buildings, modern buildings and port area it is vibrant and lively with lots of people enjoying the area and of course the many restaurants.

Last days in Porto

November 18, 2017

Initially we planned to stay in Porto for 3 nights but ended up staying 8 nights in total, it really is a lovely place which was particularly enhanced by the fact that we had clear blue skies most days. Now that I was feeling a lot better we had a couple of things we wanted to either go back to do, or to see, before we departed.

We had a trip out along the coast to Matosinhos, on the northern side of Porto across the Duoro river, with a long stretch of white sandy beach it is popular with surfers and beach goers alike.

We came across some interesting sculptures, the first an homage to the fishermen who made their living in this area. The sculpture is a flexible stylised fishing net with the mesh net billowing in the breeze. At night it is floodlit with changing colours which must make a spectacular sight.

Further along the beach is a poignant statue of a group of wailing women and children all looking out to the sea. The statue is a tribute to the fishermen of Matosinhos and their families. the victims of a tragedy when 4 fishing boats were wrecked in storm on December 2 1947, a total of 152 men lost their lives which greatly affected the area leaving over 200 orphans and 71 widows resulting in serious economic and social problems in the region.

We were surprised to hear that there is a direct connection between New Zealand and Porto, lining the foreshore in Foz is a stand of Pohutakawa trees. They must look spectacular when they flower in the summer.

The beach sweeps around to the exit of the Duoro River and we travelled along the river edge back toward the city. We passed fishermen packing up their nets for the day

Boats moored in the river

Looking across the river to a castle and grounds

Heading back into town, a traditional boat cruising down the river

Last but not least we went for a ride on the funicular which takes passengers from the river bank up to the old part of town.

passing another carriage on our way down

looking back up at the funicular

the funicular showing it’s clever leveling system

The single track funicular uses a central loop system that is nearly 300m in length, allowing it to descend the 61m with the steepest gradient below the passing loop. Due to the slope along the line, the cars have self-levelling platforms allowing the car floor to maintain its horizontal position no matter the incline. You exit at the top near the Dom Luís I Bridge, and the lower level exits along the river edge along the Ribiera.

We also went back to the local market to pick up a couple of souvenirs for ourselves, we didn’t stay too long as the smell of the fish at the market was a little too much for my still delicate tummy to handle!!

So that’s the end of the Porto segment, there is so much more we could have written and lots more photos of places and things we have seen and done but it’s time for us to move on.

Obrigado Porto.

While the cat was away …..

November 17, 2017

Well it had to happen some time. We have been very lucky in our holidays abroad to have had no real health issues. This time it finally caught up with us and one went down. However that is not the “it” that I was referring to, no, “it” is the fact that I am writing a blog (after a period of prompting).

Whilst the boss was laid low I made my usual excursions around the town and now have to report on them. Early on the first day I was making my way to an appointment at a certain bookstore when the clock on this building began to chime and doors under the clock opened and these four characters paraded to the front. Each hour they undertake a routine of coming to the front pirouetting bowing and otherwise performing before doing an about face and returning home.

Following this I made my way to an area of the city I was not familiar with and found my way to a somewhat famous bookstore. Here I found myself confronted by a large number of excited adults (some children, but they were in the minority) queued to enter said bookshop.

Once inside, after having to purchase a ticket at a store two doors away and leave all my worldly goods locked away, I found a veritable host of people milling around taking multiple photographs and generally ignoring the books and only showing interest in one particular author.

Some may well recognise the setting!!

Or perhaps the ceiling!

In my experience of visiting this bookshop I believe they have now given up selling books as they are obviously making a good fortune out of the number of people visiting. Not only do they charge an entry fee to go into the bookshop, in the shop they have set up as a ticket office they also sell souvenirs and memorabilia, not only of Harry Potter books but also other popular books and TV a series including Game of Thrones.

Next door there was a very old store with all of its features preserved and repurposed.

Early the next morning I went on my usual wander and found a section of the original city Wall and with the early morning mist it made quite an eerie scene.

On the way back to the market I came across one of the more amusing aspects of the narrow streets in Porto. Next to the market there is a bus stop and the buses turn out of the Main Street into a much narrower street. As the photo shows it pays for both pedestrians and bus drivers to coordinate their activities.

At the market that morning there just happened to be a group of 7 or 8 music students performing.

I learned later in the morning that this same group had serenaded Bernice as they performed in the street immediately below our apartment.

Wandering a little further afield I found this shop which should be of interest to you in particular Christine!

And obviously the person who created this mural on a wall only metres down the road also had an interest in the shop.

And just to finish off, here’s another attempt by a bus driver to play the local game of “pin a pedestrian”.

This may have been claimed as all my own work however frustration set in part way through and as I am a damn sight better dictater than writer, Bernice took over secretarial duties!

Bernice here…I think that should be dictator!!

Porto and a change in plans

November 15, 2017

It’s just as well that we are not tied to a schedule and can pretty much plan where and what we do from day to day, we were so enjoying Porto and its environs that we decided to stay another three days. And just as well we extended our stay as you will find out later on!

There is plenty to see and do in Porto, and as our apartment is right in the centre of the old part of town, there is always something going on outside in the streets.

views from our apartment; top pictures taken late at night -cobbled street pattern, men putting up Christmas decorations, university girls singing traditional songs

We went on one of the hop-on hop-off bus trips around the city to orient ourselves and to see what was around and about. We’ve used these buses before and they are good value as our two day ticket also included the river trip and the port tasting, all for €28. NB to buy individually the river cruise was €15 and the port tasting and tour €10.

Sights around Porto.

On the street corner just down the road from our accommodation are a couple of interesting buildings with statues on the top – he’s looking at her and she’s pretending not to look at him

Just along from the apartment on Santa Caterina Street is a wine shop/bar that offered tastings of local wines as well as tapas tasting plates of local produce. We seemed to gravitate there each late afternoon on our way home from our days exploring, for a glass of wine, a plate of tasty tapas and some good company as well. We met other travellers but also the owner and his son whom, after a couple of nights, started to greet us with a hearty Olà and a handshake for Roy and a kiss on both cheeks for me. We had some great wines, ports, cheeses, meats, pates, olives and breads over the next week including trying lots of new things.

the ‘green wine’ was particularly delicious and a new experience for us.

We thank Ramiro for making us feel so welcome, and part of the local scene, it really made our time in Porto very special and wish them every success with their business, Saboriccia.

The Majestic Cafe is also located in Rua de Santa Caterina, it’s famous for its Belle Époque vogue with ornate timber interior featuring carved wood, mirrors and chandeliers. The staff are dressed in old style black trousers with white jackets and brass buttons with the senior staff in all black suits and white shirts and black ties. We sat and people watched whilst we had our coffee, apparently JK Rowling spent a lot of time here whilst she wrote the first Harry Potter book.

The outside of the cafe before the umbrellas and chairs are put out for the day

Scenes from inside the cafe

Oh and another aside about the Harry Potter connection to Porto and JK Rowling (she lived and taught in Porto for 10 years) is the dress worn by university students here. It’s all part of a tradition that started back in the 14th Century when the new students are initiated by older students in a ceremony known as Praxe. Every university has its own traditions, but garb worn after initiated is similar – the women (as seen in the first picture above) wear black skirts and jackets, white shirts, black ties, black stockings and flat black shoes whereas the boys wear black suits, white shirt, black tie and they both wear black capes. Hence the Harry Potter connection with the capes.

There is another Porto connection to Harry Potter but that’s for the next blog!

Now back to the change of plans, as I said previously we had already extended our stay by another 3 nights and it was just as well as I got a terrible dose of food poisoning! I ended up being bedridden for three days and took another day or two to gain my energy back. We are not sure what caused it as Roy and I had mainly eaten the same except for the night before this started when I had a salad but we also suspect a sangria that I had when we were down at a riverfront cafe, as it did taste very odd! Anyway, whilst I languished between bedroom and bathroom, Roy went out doing a bit of solo exploring which is why he will be writing the next blog about his explorations!

We also ended up extending our stay by yet another 2 nights to make sure that I recovered well enough before we moved on. And yes, 5 days later I am nearly back to my usual self.