Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

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 🍹.

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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.

Douro River and Port

November 14, 2017

The Douro River empties into the sea at Porto, it is around 900kms in length originating in Spain with the navigable part of the river mainly in Portugal. To give you some semblance of comparison, Porto sits at a similar latitude as Nelson in NZ so the temperatures for this time of the year (autumn) is very comfortable with daytime temperatures between 18-20C.

After spending a day gaining our bearings and scoping out the town we put aside a day or two to explore the river area.

view of the river from one of the many bridges crossing the Duoro.

We took a ride on the river in one of the traditional Rabelo boats, Portuguese wooden cargo boats. These boats are unique to Portugal with its history closely linked to the production and transportation of Port wine. The name Rabelo means “little tail” on account of the long timber rudder at the stern of the boat.

a traditional rabelo with the historic district in the background.

Our trip along the river took us downstream under some of the six bridges that cross the river linking Porto with Gaia on the north bank. The Luís I Bridge was designed by none other than Gustav Eiffel and is a double-deck single arch bridge constructed between 1881 and 1886 with rail running across the top of the bridge and road and pedestrian traffic on the lower level. At the time it was the longest metal arch bridge in the world.

view of the bridge from the water

interesting bricked river bank

Another bridge just 1km from the Luís Bridge is a very similar looking bridge called the Maria Pia Bridge. The arched bridge is a railway bridge and also attributed to Gustav Eiffel and was built in 1877.

the Maria Pia Bridge with the new Infante D. Henrique Bridge in the background. The Infante bridge was, until 2003, the longest single span concrete bridge in the world.

The river journey starts and ends in the famous Ribeiro area of Porto with its UNESCO Heritage site colourful buildings.

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laundry hanging out along the building frontages.

a selection of views.

Church along the route, built in 1391

further downstream, new apartments built in keeping with the historic area

The historic walls of the city could easily be viewed from the water

At the end of the tour we enjoyed lunch in one of the cafes lining the Ribeira,

After lunch we took the water taxi across the river to Gaia as this is where the Port Caves and tastings take place. And you thought that the Port in the title alluded to a sea Port? No, it’s the Port wine that you drink!!

looking from Gaia across to Ribeira

The port company flags lining the riverbank

boats loaded with casks

We had a tour of the Calem Port cellars and their museum, which is a very informative tour as well as innovative in its techniques for displaying material as well as being interactive. We were told about all the differences between types of port i.e. Ruby, Tawny, White and Rosè as well as the differences between vintage, reserve, late bottled vintage, colheita etc and then the 10, 20 and 30 year old vintages.

The following small cask of vintage port took my eye, being a very good year I thought!!!

We enjoyed our tasting as we sat at a large table with a veritable United Nations of people (NB. all of these people were on the English language tour) from Italy, Sweden, England, Germany, Netherlands and of course us Kiwis. After the tastings got underway, everyone relaxed a little and as the port flowed, so did the conversation.

happy tasters!

Lucerne – Geneva – Porto

November 12, 2017

Yet another train trip for us, this time from Lucerne to Geneva, leaving the Alps and travelling through rolling green countryside in a journey that will last just under 3 hours. The trains leave Lucerne every hour on the hour with this train taking us north as far as Olten (half way between Lucerne and Basel) then south west toward Geneva via Bern.

the countryside was very pretty with views of typical Swiss chalets dotting the landscape, as well as cows with bells around their necks.

Swiss Chalets

Into Bern

rolling landscape

Lausanne

The trip seemed to take no time at all, either watching the countryside roll past or watching people getting on and off the train made the time go very quickly and we were soon at Geneva Airport. A short walk from the train station and we were at the airport through security and time for lunch before we boarded our flight to Porto. Yes, we are off to Portugal where hopefully the weather will be a bit warmer.

view from the plane to snow topped hills of Geneva.

After two and a half hours we were ready to land in Porto.

the view of the Portuguese coast.

Warmth and sunshine greeted us on landing and we were soon stripping off our scarves and jackets before finding our way to the Metro ready to take the train into town where we have an apartment booked in the centre of the old part of Porto. As we stepped off the escalator rising from the Metro we were met with a noisy, busy, vibrant street scene landing right at the top of Rua de Santa Caterina, one of the main streets of the old part of Porto, and this amazing sight in front of us

This church is covered in around 16000 tiles depicting scenes of Saint Catherine and Saint Francis of Assisi.

We arrived just on dark but we can check the Church out later. The street was alive and buzzy with street traders selling everything from art works, to souvenirs to roasted chestnuts and people everywhere out enjoying the evening. Musicians seems to be on every street corner and there is always something going on.

We picked up the keys you our apartment, which is in Rua de Santa Caterina. We are up on the 4th floor above the Main Street and is perfectly located for us to explore the city.

the Main Street in the early morning before the crowds appear. It appears that traffic is allowed down the centre of the street, one way, until mid day and then it’s pedestrians only and it seems to work very well.

We have booked in for three nights but we may just extend that, depending on our explorations tomorrow. The apartment is lovely and has a kitchen as well as a washing machine, which gives us a bit of freedom to eat in occasionally as well as catching up on laundry. A good nights sleep is in order before setting out to explore this part of Portugal.