Archive | August 2016

One year – September 2015 III

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Beyond the Se…

If it’s Wednesday then it must be Porto and guess what? It’s still raining…

This doesn’t phase us though – we’re from Yorkshire and we’re used to rain (just not as much as we had on our first full day in Porto!).

As the rain was a bit lighter, I left my jacket behind and used a brolly. The footwear were dry though as my other pair of shoes were still drying out after the previous day’s soaking.

It was a day for mooching around the places that we’d intended visiting on Tuesday. Caroline (and quite a few more from a string of tour buses) headed into the Se whilst I had a wander around the area before sheltering from the rain once more.

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Going to see the Se…

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View from a terrace

The day was a one of two halves as we wandered around, dodged more showers and found an old-style corner shop to get stocked up on food such as cheese, bread rolls, soft drinks, fruit and a bottle of red to have for lunch in the case of the food or with our evening meal in the case of the wine.

As our Portuguese is virtually non-existent and the shop owner’s English was minimal, we were pleased to be able to come away from the store with a reasonably full shopping bag without any difficulties at prices that weren’t too far removed from what we would have expected to pay in a supermarket.

We did however have lunch back at the hostel and whilst I still couldn’t work out how the heck to get the coffee machine to work, I enjoyed the cold can of fizz and resolved to get a caffeine fix later on in the day.

The afternoon wanderings weren’t in any particular direction. All we did was just walk and see where we would end up at. Yes, there was a coffee stop or two, but there was also a bit of non-food shopping to be done.

As the temperatures were cooler than we’d experienced on previous visits, Caroline decided to have a look around a couple of clothing stores for some extra tops. A denim shirt hit the spot in Zara whilst C&A came up with a warming full zip hoody.

Whilst Caroline was in C&A, I was downstairs in F-NAC in search of a DVD. We’d seen what others were playing on the big screen in the hostel lounge so we wondered whether we could get hold of a locally encoded copy of one of our favourite films – Paul.

The answer was no. The guy in F-NAC had heard of Paul and remembered that it was about an alien, but also recalled that the distribution in Portugal had been handled by a company that was no longer around. Which kind of put that idea into touch.

When we arrived at Sao Bento station in Porto, we’d noticed the azulejos on the walls of the station’s entrance hall.

These blue tiled walls were suitably impressive and I could see why Michael Portillo had taken time out from his rail journey through Portugal to film a piece about the walls for the Porto segment of the finished programme.

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Sao Bento station, Porto

The tiles were attracting lots of attention from camera and smartphone owning passers by. Guidebooks had warned us about hustlers in and around the entrance to Sao Bento, but we saw none of it as there were a few armed police officers around the building and elsewhere in Porto too (but not in the same numbers as we’d seen in Lisbon city centre back in July 2015).

With more coffee consumed, we headed back to the hostel in search of our evening meal and started talking to an American lady who was taking a couple of days off walking the Camino Portugues. She was walking on her own whilst her husband was acting as back-up by driving a hire car. The time out was to get over an injury she’d picked up, so she was resting, putting her feet up and taking the tablets to get over the swelling and the pain.

Whilst we were in the hostel, we noticed that only a few had signed up for the meal being cooked by staff every evening. We’d budgeted on having a couple of evening meals in Porto so we’d decided to cook or have a salad based meal for three nights.

What was more interesting was doing some people watching – which blokes were going on the pull and whether they were successful or crashing and burning. Some however were feeding the lounge’s DVD machine with a film and then not only reacting to messages on their iPhones, but also stabbing their index fingers at the screen of their iPads too.

The mix of hostel users was an international one, but until the couple from the States arrived, we were the oldest ones there and whilst we’d tried talking to people, most were more content to interact with their smartphones, tablets or laptops than they were by talking to people either in the lounge or around the breakfast table.

With the weather forecast for Thursday looking good, there was only one thing to do – head down to the river in Porto and indulge ourselves by taking a look around a port wine lodge…

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The Don awaits…

One year – September 2015 II

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Yes, this was the calm after the storm in Porto

We’d got a good deal on our rail tickets from Lisbon to Porto by booking in advance on http://www.cp.pt, but that wasn’t the only deal we’d taken up.

The price quoted in Lonely Planet Portugal for standard class tickets between Lisbon and Porto was €24, but we travelled in First Class for €22. Yes, we were tied to one train and one train only, but given the quieter nature of the carriage, the comfy reclining chairs and the close proximity of the bar, we weren’t complaining.

The air-con was also appreciated as we headed out of Lisbon. Airfields, towns and farms were all visible through the carriage windows too as the seats hadn’t been crammed in, so we sat back, relaxed, dozed off, ate or read over the course of the three hour trip to Porto.

Once in Porto, the route from Sao Bento station to Rivoli Cinema Hostel was an easy one, so much so that I didn’t bother keeping the guidebook to hand as we wandered up there.

Caroline and I had been allocated the Blade Runner themed room. The framed film poster on the wall was familiar as I’d had the same poster on the wall in my student digs back in the 1990’s.

The Blade Runner room was minimalist, a feature that we also saw as we passed other theme rooms which were being cleaned or vacated over the few days we were in Porto.

We had the use of the kitchen/dining/breakfast room, a roomy lounge complete with one of the biggest TV screens I’ve ever seen, a very comprehensive choice of DVDs to watch plus a row of Internet connected computers for you could check your email on, watch football matches or find out what the latest weather forecast was.

This was something that we were quite interested in as we’d spotted that the weather had the potential to be somewhat inclement for the first few days of our stay in Portugal. So much so that we’d both brought very good waterproofs with us, just in case.

When I’d checked out what the latest BBC forecast was for Porto, I turned to Caroline and let her know what the prognosis was – a red weather warning for rain and plenty of it.

At this point, one of the cinema buffs who owned Rivoli Cinema Hostel chipped in with a comment about the fact that he’d never heard or seen a red weather warning before, so it sounded like things were going to be bad…

Once this was done, we headed out to stock up on food, beer, wine and fruit juice. There may have been plenty of salted cod in the shop’s freezers, but we didn’t see any wabbits (or putty tats…).

Bread, salad, cheese, cooked chicken, fruit, local fizzy pop and a couple of bottles of mineral water hit the basket and we found out the hard way that we should have packed a couple of shopping bags as yes, we were charged for plastic carrier bags…

We did have an early night after our evening meal, but sleep wasn’t an option for the whole of the night as a nearby dance club cranked up the volume after midnight and stopped around 4am.

Was I like a bear with a sore head the following morning? Oh yes!

Fortunately I had some sachets of the old student hangover cure in my meds bag and one sachet plus a few cups of coffee helped to resolve the situation. As did the yoghurt, bread, cheese, hazelnut spread and orange juice that was served up for the hostel breakfast.

Did I mention that it had started to rain? It had and boy, did we know about it!

After a couple of hours of mooching around in the hostel lounge, Caroline and I decided to make a break for it rather than being indoors all day.

Wallets and loose change was stuffed into pockets as our cameras and day bags were left behind, jackets were zipped up and hoods pulled in tight as we went in search of Centro Portugues de Fotographia.

Given that maps were useless, it took longer than we thought to find the Centro Portugues de Fotographia, a former prison that’s now dedicated to exhibitions of photographs and camera equipment.

As we were now soaked from the waist down, it was a good thing that there was a cloakroom for our jackets and that we’d both decided to wear quick drying travel trousers.

Once we’d made our way around, had hot chocolate and retrieved our coats, these trousers and the rest of our clothing were much drier, but we were squelching as neither of us were wearing shoes with a Gore-Tex or other waterproof lining given the weather we’d experienced before in Portugal.

The rain had eased off a bit, but only like a racing car does as it goes into a corner before a flat-out straight. It was well past lunchtime and we were hungry, so we hit the first cafe we saw and became their only customers for the next hour or so.

Caroline had a chicken salad, but I tried one of Porto’s specialities.

Middlesbrough has the parmo, Scotland the deep fried chocolate bar, France has the joy of frogs legs, but Porto has the Francesinha, a hefty sandwich containing steak, sausage and ham which is covered in melted cheese and given a slurp of peppery tomato and beer sauce over the top…

Tasty? Yes. Filling? Definitely! Did I have another? Yes, but two days later as a means of keeping any cholesterol at a sensible  level!

Once lunch was over, we pledged back to Rivoli Cinema Hostel for showers, dry clothes, reading, a light tea and another early night.

Or so we thought as that bloody club started up at midnight again!!!

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More about this on Friday!

One year – September 2015 – part I

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Liverpool John Lennon Airport after dark from the Hampton by Hilton

Yes, we had another trip to Portugal in September 2015 and it was a combination of bus, train and another bus that saw us arrive at our hotel at Liverpool John Lennon Airport for a night before another early morning entrance into the terminal building across the road for our flight to Lisbon.

As we were travelling easyJet from Liverpool to Lisbon on hand luggage only once more, it was interesting to arrive in the hotel foyer as a family were trying to get up to their room.

Yes, we had our trusty Osprey packs, but this lot had so much luggage that the top case on the trolley was higher off the floor than the top of the head of the bloke trying to push said trolley in the direction of the lift.

The Sunday morning stroll across the road and into the airport may have been an early one, but breakfast had already been served in the hotel, so once we got through the fast track security process and into the airside catering area, it was time for more coffee.

As we’d taken the same flight a couple of months beforehand, we knew what the score was and where we should wait before the screens flashed up our gate number. This ensured that we were through the gate and heading to the plane in no time and seated before most of the other passengers had even joined the queue at the gate. Smug? Us? Maybe…

We also knew what to expect when we got to Lisbon. Off the plane, bus to the terminal, passports checked and then the long walk from passport control into the land side.

As we already had some euros, there was a quick right turn in the direction of the Metro station, a short wait in the queue to get a couple of Viva Viagem travel cards recharged with enough credit for the few trips we were going to be making on the Metro around Lisbon at the start and end of our trip and then it was off to Rato Metro Station.

No, we weren’t going back to Lisbon Dreams, we were heading to Casa Oliver, a boutique guest house overlooking the park at Principe Real. Our arrival at the park meant that we had some time to kill – at lunchtime.

Fortunately we’d eaten at Esplanada, the cafe in the park before, so a table was grabbed, drinks and food ordered and both were consumed in a suitably relaxed manner as befits Sunday lunch on the first day of a fortnight away.

As our check in time for Casa Oliver wasn’t until 3pm, we still had time to kill, so we adjourned to another cafe for coffee, very good lemonade and a little bit of reading too…

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Cafe, lemonade and Kindle in the park – and Caroline too!

Now when I’d booked Casa Oliver, I was under the impression that it was room only and that no breakfast was available. When we checked in, it became apparent that breakfast was available and that it was €10 each. As we had a train to catch the following morning from a station that we didn’t know, breakfast was booked as a time saving measure.

The early start to the day and the lunchtime beer & wine started to kick in, so after a siesta and a shower, it was time to change, have a walk and then find an evening meal. It was Sunday evening, but the streets were busy with others wandering around in search of food, drink or friends.

Whilst it was tempting to find somewhere new to eat, the familiar surroundings of Ristorante da Vinci in Rua Jardim do Regedor beckoned us to sit, eat, drink and do some people watching whilst we were at it.

Beer, fresh orange juice, a bottle of San Pellegrino, a lasagne and a filling calzone came, were seen and were conquered in a relaxed fashion before €33.15 settled the bill for another meal taken in what has become our favourite eating place in Lisbon.

Yes, there’s a Hard Rock Cafe nearby and a Starbucks around the corner at Rossio Station, but as the staff, food, ambience and coffee have always been good at Ristorante da Vinci, we’re happy to go back there and to write about it too.

After a reasonably good night’s sleep and a light breakfast, we headed off back down in the direction of Restauradores Metro station in search of Santa Apolonia station in search of our train to Porto.

Which we found almost as soon as we hit the platform area at Santa Apolonia. After more coffee, we hit the station’s Pingo Doce mini-market.

The intention was to get some bread rolls, some cheese, some cooked meat, some canned fizz and a couple of bottles of water to have for lunch on the train. We may have booked first class tickets at a reasonable price, but even we prefer to buy food off the train rather than on on it.

As I’d sorted my food needs out quite quickly, I took a look at what else was available as we were due to be doing some self catering once we got to Porto and found Rivloi Cinema Hostel, our base for the five nights in Porto.

As I wandered past the fresh meat chiller cabinets, my eyes glanced down and noticed a few packs of meat that brought back memories of a 1970’s number one record.

There were a few packs of freshly skinned rabbits in the cabinet and whilst there was no fur in sight, I started to sing a song that summed up what had been left behind by the store’s meat prepping team – Bright Eyes

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This was the calm after the storm in Porto… more on Wednesday!