All this in one country – Portugal
When we did our first trip in Portugal in September 2013, little did we know that it would lead to another three visits between July 2015 and March 2016.
That first fortnight saw us flying in and out of Lisbon, spending time in the capital before heading to Sintra for a couple of nights then Evora, Tavira, Sagres, Lagos and a slap-up meal in Lisbon city centre before getting the Metro to the airport for a restless night in the airport seating areas and a 5am check-in the following morning.
Every trip has been done on hand luggage only, something that’s phased check-in staff at Manchester Airport, raised the eyebrows of fellow Brits in Tavira when they saw the size of our bags as we were checking out of our hotel and comments from a resident of Hawaii as she trundled her rather large wheelie case and matching hand luggage towards that same hotel…
So, why Portugal? It’s all down to a throwaway line (“Port comes from the port of Oporto in Portugal.”) from my geography teacher back in the 1970’s. There’s not much that I remember from my course, but the reference to Portugal alway stuck in my mind, hence that first visit years later.
And why have we gone back so many times? Probably because we’ve felt at home over there. Yes, we’ve had some rain in Sagres and weathered a storm in Porto, but there’s only been the odd couple of days when the temperatures have got the better of us.
We’ve used public transport to get around rather than hiring a car (haven’t done that out of the UK since the 1980s…) and haven’t had any problems.
Trains have been on time, as have both service buses and long distance coaches too. Feet have played their own part in exploring towns and cities, as have rechargeable travel cards such as the Viva Viagem card that’s available for use in the Lisbon area.
Eating out or getting things in to eat in a hostel dining area or our room in a guest house hasn’t been too difficult either. Yes, there was Cheekgate, but there’s only been a couple of times when we’ve been disappointed by what’s been put in front of us after we’ve ordered.
I did wince as one kitchen smothered a salad with olive oil (I prefer my salads to have no dressings) and whilst there was a lost in translation moment over chips being crisps in Portugal, it wasn’t a biggie and self and server both saw the funny side of things!
My use of Portuguese has got better over the years and I can now order coffee, drinks and food without too much difficulty.
Sometimes I’ve got a large beer instead of the small one that was ordered, but I’ve only become unstuck once when I tried to get a couple of beers in a cafe in the back streets of Aveiro last year. I got the beers, but there was a lot of pointing at bottles as a way of getting my message across.
Anything else? Just the small matter of forgetting about having some loose change on me to pay for coffee, ice cream, beer or bottles of water in a cafe or mini market. There were times when a €5 note wasn’t appreciated…
Only one person got really stroppy with me though as she couldn’t understand why we hadn’t got any change – it was something to do with having just landed at Lisbon Airport and we had notes, but no change!
Although we’ve made four visits to the country in three years, there’s still unfinished business across there. Out visit to Porto was hindered by the storm that hit the city last year, ensuring that a) we got wet – very wet and b) spent more time indoors or in the hostel than we would have liked.
So another visit to Porto and the Douro Valley is on the cards at some point, along with a week or so exploring the Atlantic Coast between Lisbon and Porto. Obidos during the Chocolate Festival sounds inviting too.
When will this take place? Who knows as whilst we want to head back and see some of the places we missed, there’s also a few other countries and areas we want to explore.
Some are in the UK and some are in Europe.
Where are they?
Some clues will be given out on Friday morning!
Meet the man at the top of Rohan…
Not usually a Telegraph reader, but they do have some interesting stuff on their website from time to time.
Nowt like this in the University of Sunderland
Was like this on many an occasion though!
The song that’s just finished on iTunes was the Status Quo version of The Wanderer, a tune that couldn’t be more appropriate when writing about Coimbra, because wandering around is the way to appreciate the city.
First ports of call on our first full day in Coimbra were all university related.
Velha Universidade is a mix of 16th-18th century buildings with its Clock Tower, Biblioteca Joanina library and sweeping views over the city. Caroline spent more time exploring the buildings than I as I went in search of things that I could relate to.
The surroundings were much grander than those at my alma mater and it was interesting to look down into lecture rooms which were steeped in history rather than concrete and plasterboard.
The student cafe wasn’t posh by any means and there wasn’t a barista in sight as I ordered um bica to top up caffeine levels.
This was one aspect of life in Portugal that I’d come to appreciate – that the simpler places were more relevant to me than those aimed at foodies, hipster beardies and those who like to pay over the odds for a cup of milky coffee with a chocolate topping or a fancy design marked out on the top of the milk.
Whilst I’d been sampling the coffee, Caroline had been heading to the heights around the top floor of the University and then the Clock Tower.
Once we caught up with each other, it was time to head back into the student cafe for a very cost effective lunch. Students, lecturers and tourists mixed together in the queue and whilst Caroline ordered a salad, I ordered some good old fashioned comfort food – the Portuguese take on sausage and mash and a bottle of Sagres Radler.
Although the dining area was a bit crowded, we managed to grab a table on the balcony/sun trap behind the serving area…
Once lunched out, it was time for our time in Biblioteca Joanina. It was impressive in several ways, but the overall experience didn’t do much for me.
Heathen tendencies? Quite possibly, even though I have studied history.
I’ve slowly, but surely become more interested in the history that we didn’t learn about at school – 1900 onwards, the political intrigue of the 1950’s and 1960’s, technology and the stuff that’s now coming to light about Thatcher’s Britain on so many different levels.
But I digress. Once back outside, we started to wander around Coimbra via its back streets and alleyways. A few bits and pieces were picked up along the way, along with a couple of pairs of ear rings for Caroline.
Our second full day saw more of the same as we had a restful day doing nothing more than mooching around the centre and down by the riverside.
Cafes in squares or near the Tourist Information Centre provided food and refreshment and the Science Museum the last piece of brain fodder before we headed back to Casa Pombal for a siesta, shower and our last evening meal in Coimbra before we went to Lisbon for the flight home.
And we went back to the scene of the Great Pig Cheek Encounter. The same guy spotted us and pointed us in the direction of a good table overlooking the Jardim da Manga fountain and handed us the menu.
If memory serves me right, Caroline stayed away from the pork stew by having a fish course whilst I went for an identifiable meat course (details are hazy as I don’t have the receipt to refer to), but on this occasion there weren’t any problems with either choices main course.
With wine, beer, desserts, Moscadet and coffee rounding off the meal, we didn’t need any energy drinks to give us wings to get back to our digs for our last night in Casa Pombal.
Packing up didn’t take long after breakfast, but as we’d booked a lunchtime train back to Lisbon, we had time to kill. A little bit of mooching time gave way to coffee and a read of a Brit newspaper before more coffee, a light lunch and a wander back to the railway station.
With Lonely Planet Portugal quoting rail fares between the cities as €20 each, we were happy to book advance first class tickets for €15 each.
Yes, the advance bookings for travel and digs had limited us a couple of times and this was one of those times. Three nights in Coimbra had been one night too many and we should have headed back to Lisbon sooner.
Our last night in Portugal was spent at Casa Oliver, but on a room only basis. The wander into Lisbon centre stretched the legs a bit more as we negotiated quite a few people heading out for a stroll, something to eat or a family night out.
Ristorante da Vinci beckoned once more for a meal, dessert and drinks before the walk back to Casa Oliver. Only we didn’t walk it all as we had a few euros left to use on our Viva Viagem travel cards, so we hitched a lift on Elevador da Gloria.
We’d walked past Elevador da Gloria on several occasions, but had never got onboard. It was Saturday night and busy as many headed from one area to another to bars, clubs or their hotels. We didn’t have an early night, but we needed to pack in readiness for our Metro ride to Lisbon Airport for the flight home.
Sunday morning came around all too quickly and after checking out of Casa Oliver, it was time to find breakfast. Fortunately the cafe we’d visited the previous day opened at 8am, so that was the destination for a breakfast of coffee and a couple of pasteis de nata each.
Coming up – home thoughts on Portugal…
I mentioned yesterday that there would be more about Coimbra today, but I’ve pushed that back to Thursday following the events in Italy, Australia and Thailand that are being reported in news programmes here in the UK.
Postcard from Coimbra II
It’s another Coimbra balcony moment
One way into the city centre…
And the way back…
Caroline down by Rio Mondego
Now that’s what I call a bear!
The sky is blue…
The other way back to the digs…
The morning after the night before…
Just a few pics today as the sun is out and the temperatures are high here in Yorkshire – more pics and words about Coimbra will be on here tomorrow!
Picture postcard Coimbra…
From the side streets
To the main shopping areas
Coimbra – a mix of old and new…
Sunderland University wasn’t like this!
The view from that balcony
Same balcony, later that day
The sun goes down…
As Coimbra was mentioned as a ‘must see’ in guidebooks and on various travel forums, we had to go and see this university city for ourselves.
Trains and accommodation had been booked in advance, so all we had to do once we alighted at Coimbra A railway station was to find our guest house and then lunch.
The advice was to get a taxi from the station to the guest house. We didn’t.
We walked. With packs. In the heat of the day. And realised why the taxi may have been a good idea…
We didn’t get lost, but we did get disorientated as we made our way towards the area where our digs were located. Once found, our bags were stashed so we could get lunch, wander around and then go back and check in.
Cafetaria do Museu was our lunch spot. It’s next to the Science Museum and whilst there’s plenty of seating inside, we took to the terrace, scanned the menu, ordered, sat back to wait for our food to arrive and took a look at the view from the terrace.
Once lunch had come and gone, we wandered around as a way of getting our bearings as we’d decided that that was the best way to explore Coimbra.
It looked like it was newbie time at Coimbra’s University as smartly dressed students were leading more casually dressed people around the city so that they too could get their bearings.
We’d seen this in Lisbon on our first visit to Portugal back in 2013 and weren’t surprised, but it was a far cry from my days as fresher at University of Sunderland in 1994 when self and my new housemates familiarised ourselves with the centre of Sunderland by taking a leaf out of the local’s book – by going on a pub crawl…
But I digress. Coimbra city centre is fairly classy – no big name stores were spotted, but there were several more interesting locally owned places down avenues and alleyways that were spotted first and visited later in the week.
After a mid-afternoon cafe stop, it was back to the guest house to book in.
Casa Pombai is in the old town area near the University and had come with some good recommendations on booking.com and in guidebook sections devoted to Coimbra.
The small balcony near our room became a good spot to look out over the city, watch the sun rise and set, take photos or sit and read whilst one or other of us were having a siesta, shower or doing some clothes washing. Breakfast was a simple one with choices of bread rolls, cooked meat, cheese, cereal, fruit and coffee or juice.
What didn’t materialise was the flask of port mentioned in the Lonely Planet review of Casa Pombai. We knew other rooms had one, but ours? Nah…
The lady looking after Casa Pombai the night we booked in had mentioned one restaurant as being a good place to eat. As we’d seen mention of it, we gave it a try.
Our waiter was attentive, but he did seem rather nervous when Caroline ordered pork stew (I’d gone for pork escallopes).
Drinks arrived, as did the escallopes and the pork stew. This appeared to be going down well as Caroline was getting stuck into the bowl in front of her.
Then she uttered the immortal words “What’s that” as she lifted some meat out of the bowl on her fork. The conclusion we came to was that the slice of meat was a pig’s cheek and that it was a facial cheek, not a butt cheek…
Now we’d already eaten out at lunchtime so we passed on dessert, but did go for coffee and a complimentary glass of wine before tackling the route back to our beds at Casa Pombai.
And what a route it was – the evidence will be here in tomorrow’s posting!
Just another quiet day in Aveiro
Down by the canal – and not one Cornetto…
Looking good, using motor power…
… and charismatic guides to the waterways too
Almost back to the jetty
in time for ovos moles and more coffee…
Aveiro Rossio Hostel – simply the best?
To Coimbra – and beyond!
After a couple of nights in Viana do Castelo, we headed south to Aveiro.
This was another destination prompted by a photo in a guidebook and a city that allowed us to chill out that little bit more (and then some!). It may have been a long walk from the railway station to our hostel, but once there, we found out why Aveiro Rossio Hostel is highly rated and given mentions in both Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guidebooks.
It’s been converted from a three floor family home and has both dorms and ensuite doubles (our choice). Yes, the decor was minimalist in our room, but we’d rather have that than a whole load of chintz or a bed covered by a multitude of cushions that usually end up being dumped on the floor so we can actually use the bed.
The hostel lounge has TV, DVD, music and books for entertainment, there’s Internet access on a bunch of low level PC computers and a resident’s kitchen cum dining & breakfast room too.
Although Aveiro Rossio Hostel is a fair walk away from the station, it’s very handy for the local shopping area, cafes, a shopping mall and the canal.
Our first afternoon and evening in Aveiro was largely dedicated to finding our way around the city centre. Finding somewhere to eat was a little more problematical though as whilst there were plenty of places to eat in Aveiro, most of them were closed on this sunny September Monday night.
Porta 35 came to the rescue though. Salad and a glass of white for Caroline and a burger with chips and a beer for me. No, my choice wasn’t very Portuguese, but it looked and tasted good when it arrived – although one part of the equation had been lost in translation.
What are chips to us are fries to others and what are chips to some are crisps to us. It took a while to sink in (yep, it was a larger than usual beer!), but once it sank in, it was laughed off and we continued our meal, desserts and obligatory coffee or glass of port.
Although the breakfast room was busy the next morning, it was quiet.
There may have been a mixed bunch of people in the hostel, but none were particularly talkative, something that we’d noticed back in Porto and in other hostels here in the UK since. Whilst Americans and Brits are quite talkative at breakfast, others aren’t.
Aveiro used to be a thriving sea port, but a storm way back in the 1570’s blocked the mouth of the river. The canal was built to regain access to the sea in 1808 and it’s this canal system that visitors to Aveiro can now take trips along and around on motorised boats.
Now we may have been lucky, but our trip on the canal had a friendly, charismatic guide giving us the lowdown on the canal, local history and Aveiro. The trip seemed longer than 45 minutes and given the temperatures we were out in, we were pleased that we’d grabbed a couple of bottles of water earlier in the day and used the Factor 50 too.
Once back on dry land, a snack break saw us giving ovos moles a try. Ovos moles are sugary and eggy confections that were developed by nuns in the area and whilst we gave them a try, the feeling was that the experience could be a once only affair…
After another wander and a spot of t-shirt buying, lunch was taken in a cafe. We may have had a kitchen to use, but visits to local supermarkets ensured that we should eat out again.
What we did have to do though was some washing – and there wasn’t a plug in the basin in the ensuite.
That problem was solved at our next coffee shop when I decided to have a small tub of Hagen Daaz ice cream rather than a piece of cake. The ice cream was good, but the plastic lid was the right size to use as a sink plug – washing problem solved!
With siesta time beckoning and a laundry session for afters, we paid another visit to Porta 35 and I made sure that I ordered fries this time, not chips!
We’d enjoyed our stay in Aviero, so much so that we handed the keys back and asked whether the hostel sold the t-shirts sported by the staff. The walk back up to the station was a bit of a long haul, but necessary as we were moving on to our next stop – Coimbra.
Bye, bye Porto
Hello Viana do Castelo – and a host of classic rally cars
Down by the Rio Lima
An iron giant down by the Rio Lima
Viana do Castello harbour
Viana do Castelo from just below Monte de Santa Luzia
On Monte de Santa Luzia – two names for the same building?
Still Sunday afternoon…
Time to move on – Monday morning
Viana do Castelo railway station
When we were planning this trip, we hadn’t considered Viana do Castelo…
Then I spotted a photo in Rough Guide to Portugal. After reading up on Viana do Castelo, the town went into the melting pot and came out unscathed as a stop for a relaxing middle weekend of our break.
After leaving Porto, we exited Viana do Castelo station on a warm, sunny and quiet Saturday afternoon.
Or so we thought. We’d walked about 300 metres from the station and saw a few classic cars heading down Ave dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra.
It’s a long time since I followed rallying, but the passing cars were joining those parked further down the avenue and it wasn’t long before I started to remember the names of all the cars participating in a classics rally that had Viana do Castelo as a stopping off point.
The cars were parked up opposite some cafes, so we found a table, ordered food & drink and waited for the drivers to get back into their cars.
When they did, the camera was almost forgotten about as the sounds and smells of the procession moving off brought back memories of going into UK forests to watch the formidable RAC Rally during the late 1970’s/1980’s.
Our hotel – O Laranjeira – was found, booked into and siesta declared. We were booked in for two nights, so our bags didn’t need to be unpacked, but there was washing to be done.
Our evening meal was taken in the same cafe as lunch, but we held off having coffee and dessert as the light was changing, so a wandering session was declared and photos taken as the sun went down.
After breakfast, we headed out and realised how quiet Viana do Castelo was. The funicular was found and taken – to Monte de Santa Luzia.
Caroline headed into the impressive building at the top (Santuario de Santa Luzia according to Rough Guide and Templo do Sagrado Coracao de Jesus according to Lonely Planet) whilst I fired off a few frames on the compact camera before hitting the cafe.
When Caroline came back down to earth we took a look at the gift shop and open market, but our wallets stayed closed so we headed down on the funicular to further explore Viana.
As you can see from the photos, Viana do Castelo’s streets were virtually deserted and only the local newsagent/lottery seller appeared to have customers, largely because there was at least a single roll-over on the lottery and people wanted a slice of the action.
And me? All I wanted was a copy of a Brit newspaper.
You may have gathered by now that we liked Viana do Castelo. It was a good antidote to how busy Porto had been and with the weather holding out, there had been plenty of opportunities to wander, eat, drink and be merry.
With a little help on Sunday night by eating Italian style at Dolce Vianna in Rua do Poco.
Although there were a few couples in Dolce Vianna, most of the local blokes had descended on the place for beer, pizza and the football on the restaurant’s TV set. We did have coffee at Dolce Vianna, but there was another course awaiting elsewhere in town.
It’s not often that we have coffee and cake after 10pm, but we made an exception by having coffee and cake at a pavement cafe before getting our heads down for the night.
After breakfast, our bags were packed and we headed back to the railway station via a cafe and then the supermarket. Yes, we stocked up on bread, cheese, ham and water for our lunch on the train, but there was something in the fish department that I’d seen, but Caroline hadn’t.
Nestling on the ice in the fish section was a creature that I’d read about, but never seen – a conger eel that looked rather dischuffed at its fate. Funnily enough, it also had the look of the craft used by Titan’s henchfishmen to attack Stingray in the classic 1960’s TV show.
Once seen, the station beckoned. We had plenty of time to spare before the train arrived, so the cafe provided another opportunity for me to order coffee in bad Portuguese along with a pastella for Caroline and a couple of shrimp croquettes for myself.
Next stop? Aveiro via Nine. The first part of the journey was by one of the regional trains from Viana do Castelo to Nine, but the second part from Nine to Aveiro was on one of the swanky Alfa Pendular high speed trains. It may have been in Turistica class, but it was both comfortable and fast.
More on Aviero tomorrow!
Pinhao station in the Douro Valley
Tranquil – and then some… from on land
Or from onboard a river boat…
And on the inside for hot dogs…
With port producers along the way
Just one of many famous names seen on the hillsides above the Douro
All quiet on the station
Until the train arrives…
A day along the Douro is a trip worth taking by train from Porto.
It’s a long day out, but having taken it, I can see why most recommendations are to split it over two days and have a night in a hotel or guest house.
Like most great train journeys, it’s one to take home in the memory rather than on a camera’s memory card.
The journey to Pinhao from Porto was a smooth one. We’d taken a couple of snacks and bottles of water with us for the journey, but once we’d got to Pinhao, taken a look around and bought the t-shirt I’d wanted to buy during the previous day’s visit to Sandeman’s wine lodge in Porto, it was time for a leisurely lunch down by the river and the area where the river boats pulled in.
In among the small boats of the kind we boarded later on in the day, the river cruise boats pull in to allow passengers time ashore to explore and then board again for another night and day of the same old, same old.
We took a two hour trip up the Douro on a small boat with a covered area and the added attraction of a port tasting session whilst we were afloat. As we’d been out in the sun and had coated ourselves with Factor 50 rather than Factor 30, I stayed undercover on the boat, as did the captain’s dog (who obviously knows a good thing when he sees it!).
The ride was a smooth one (as was the port), but once over, it was time to find a cold drink and an ice cream before taking another wander around Pinhao and then the short stroll to the station and the train back to Porto.
Although Pinhao had appeared to be a quiet place, the station platform suddenly filled up with people wanting the train down the valley.
When the train arrived, we found seats, emptied the water bottles, thought about the day, pondered another meal at the restaurant we’d found the day before and placed bets as to how long it would take us to pack our bags before heading off on the next part of our road trip the following morning…
A local restaurant for local people and those in the know…
And a good place to chill out…
A grand day out on a sunny day in Porto
Yes, the sun started to shine on our fourth day in Porto, so t-shirts, SPF trousers, sun cream and walking shoes were donned as we wandered towards the banks of the Douro.
View from Ponte Dom Luis I
Yes, it’s that bridge!
Heading to that port wine lodge – by cable car…
Down by the lazy river…
Ribeira from Vila Nova de Gaia
Sandeman’s Don – an early marketing success story
One barrel to rule them all?
Ribeira from the middle of the Douro
Street life, Ribeira style…
Thursday was a grand day out. Yes, we wandered aimlessly, took a mode of transport that neither of us are fond of (that cable car), had a few coffees, booked a tour/tasting session around and in Sandeman’s port lodge, had an Italian lunch, that tour around Sandeman, tasted a couple of fine port wines and then headed out on a boat trip on the Douro.
Once back on dry land, we wondered whether the teenagers clinging to the bridge had what it takes to live up to their bravado in getting onto the bridge and part of the way across it or whether they’d bottle it rather than jumping or diving into the Douro.
Whilst it was tempting to try and find a cafe in Riberia for a coffee or a beer, seats were at a premium so we headed away from the riverside and found a bar with nice cold beers in both standard and redcurrant flavour varieties.
As we’d been out for a while and had sampled both port and beer, we headed back to Rivoli Cinema Hostel via Sao Bento railway station and a fodder stop. With the weather finally in our favour, we’d decided to make the most of it by spending Friday exploring the Douro Valley by train, feet and another river boat trip.
Yes, there was a queue for tickets at Sao Bento and some potential customers were getting a bit shirty because they didn’t understand the queueing arrangements. We held our place, made ourselves understood, got our tickets and then headed to a local restaurant for a well deserved evening meal at a nearby restaurant…
Tomorrow’s post? To Pinhao – and beyond!