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Weather or not…

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One fine day… just not today!

We were expecting to wake up to find snow covering the roads, pavements and car here at Wisepacking Towers given yesterday’s weather forecasts.

It may arrive later of course, but we have things to do and places to go, so it may or may not impinge on our plans.

Whilst the forecast wasn’t right for this morning, yesterday’s was spot on – high winds for most of the day with some disruption.

For most of our surrounding area this meant that there was a spread of rubbish and a batch of disposed disposable nappies over the road and pavement as bins had been put out for collection by the bin trucks last week rather than today when the collection is supposed to take place…

No nappies here though – just a neighbour’s trampoline invading parts of our back garden after being lifted up and deposited by the fence around 3am.

Parts of the trampoline structure ended up in our garden whilst an ornamental chimney pot suffered the same fate as a few garden gnomes.

The trampoline has been moved and weighted down, but there’s a bit of repair work that needs to be done to the fence.

And the garden gnomes? We can rebuild them without consulting the Gnome Office or a copy of Rolling Gnome magazine.

One tube of super glue should do the trick as there’s no need for any to them to become the Six Million Dollar Gnome as none are modelled on Lee Majors (yes, that’s a gratuitous 1970’s TV series reference just there that some may have to Google to find out more about…).

So what can you do when the weather’s taking a walk on the wild side?

Get the guidebooks out and start planning the next batch of trips or sit and watch some travel based TV.

We made a point of watching Rick Stein’s programme about a weekend in Lisbon last night whilst demolishing one of Caroline’s home made fish pies.

Plenty of memories of time spent in Lisbon, Sintra and beyond and yes, there were a few places that we’d been too and eaten in too.

Whilst we’d both pass on seafood dishes or any potentially cheeky pork stews, we have eaten well on our visits to Lisbon, Sintra, Porto (see below) and elsewhere in Portugal.

Some have featured in guidebooks, others haven’t and yes, I have spotted one or two Hollywood names eating out a table or two away from us.

None of that matters though so long as the food, wine and beer are good.

We don’t take photos of our plate or frequent places lauded by foodies or loaded down with stars. We don’t need to be in flash surroundings either, something that we do have in common with Rick Stein after watching that Lisbon programme last night…

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Regaleira, Porto – no pretensions, but good food and drink!

What’s in the pockets?

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Langdale, Lake District, U.K.

News from the BBC News website regarding a multi-pocketed jacket to stash tech in whilst travelling or going about your daily business…

May pass on buying one though as I usually find a jacket with four pockets suffices as my wallet, keys & change are usually in zipped trouser pockets.

The other factor I would take into account is the amount of tech I take with me – a dumbass phone, a four year old basic Kindle and a basic Nikon point and shoot digital compact camera.

That’s all I need as I’ve found electronic guidebooks aren’t as user friendly as their paper counterparts (in full, photocopied or surgically reduced formats).

I have Kindle versions (and other format electonic guidebooks on my iPad Mini and my desktop), but I still prefer paper guidebooks.

What’s on the Kindle then? Travelogues, biogs, ‘how to’ books and the occasional novel too. Nothing too heavy though – I read to relax rather than fill the brain with stuff it doesn’t need!

The above pic is a reminder of where I used to read three books a week either in the pub or the tent after days out on the hills.

That link to the Beeb?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38527350

No brainers…

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Sometimes you just have to roll the dice to see this…

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Or this…

One of the ‘joys’ of looking at travel forums on a regular basis is spotting the number of posters who have done their research using guidebooks, Google, Yahoo, Bing or even travelogues to plan, loosely plan or even not plan their break, holiday or journey.

There are some who want fellow forum users to suggest where they should go or even plan out their trip for them.

Others want so much validation for their plans that by the time they’ve made multiple posts on a similar theme that forum members either ignore them or become sarcastic after offering the same advice again and again and again.

Those who haven’t done their research are easy to spot because they’re so vague in their requests for places to go or for someone to do their planning for them that they can’t even be bothered to include basic information such as their budget, their time frame, their interests or passions or whether they have specific dietary needs or accommodation preferences.

And the usual answer to this lot?

Suggestions to buy at least one guidebook for where they’re going – my response is normally to get hold of both a Lonely Planet guidebook AND a Rough Guide book to whatever country or area they’re visiting or to point them in the direction of either the forum’s own search function or the search engines mentioned above.

There isn’t any excuse for such laziness when you’re heading off somewhere. It’s your trip and I take the view that it’s up to you to do due diligence and do your own research into where you’re going.

Do the research and you have a good idea about what to expect.

Don’t do the research or let others point you towards sights, places, areas or countries and there’s a fairly good probability that the brown stuff could hit the fan, leaving you to scream and scream and scream when in fact there’s only one person to blame…

You!

At the other end of the scale are those who plan everything to the nth degree and want so much validation that they become a pain in the butt…

Even when they’ve been told by several posters that the weather may not be in their favour, that their choice of clothing for walking is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, or that they should loosen up, relax and go with the flow rather than ticking off every box on their long list of things to see and do.

Then there’s the lot who want to see as much of an area, country or even Europe in a few days rather than taking time to immerse oneself in one area or just one country as a means of exploring what’s on offer.

To those posters, I’ll invoke memories of a popular 1980’s t-shirt slogan:

“Frankie says RELAX!”

Don’t do it…

No fog on the Tyne…

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And none of these grey clouds either!

“What time is it?”

“About six…”

“Sugar…”

As Sunday mornings go, this was an early start.

Two cups of coffee and a shower later, it was 6.50am and we were in the car and heading up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to see Caroline’s daughter take part in The Great North Run.

The Mission were on the car’s CD player – ideal driving music as we headed up the road for two hours and took the quiet roads into Newcastle, found a car park and went for second breakfasts.

Greggs bacon butty and coffee deal for me plus a doughnut & coffee combo for Caroline and then we hit the Tyne Bridge for a longish wait.

Some guy called Mo Farah came along on a warm-up session, then the wheelchair racers, visually impaired runners, the women’s elite and then the men’s elites – including that man (and now three times winner) Mo

And then came the pack – around 57,000 runners, all heading for South Shields. I spotted The Red Arrows before the red, white and blue smoke was activated for their flypast as the masses ran past with at least one Paddington Bear as part of the proceedings!

Caroline’s daughter found us, took the suncream and headed off. We stayed on the bridge until the last runners came along and then tried to get the Metro to the finish line.

The emphasis here was on the word tried. The first train was full and whilst we did get on the train, it was packed and standing room only so not even Jeremy could have sat on the floor to read Private Eye! Allegedly…

Whilst we boarded this train after a few stops it was packed and I’d had enough of playing sardines. So we got off the train at Pelaw and headed back into Newcastle in search of lunch at a pub I hadn’t been into for over thirty years – The Northumberland Arms, just off Northumberland Street.

With two Sunday roasts, a pint of bitter shandy and a half of cider coming to just over £13, this was a result, especially as the beef was cooked properly, unlike some pubs we could mention where it’s served pink and bloody.

Pink and bloody awful is my view on that!

Now that we were fed and watered, the going got tough as the tough went – shopping! I’ve had a £5 John Lewis gift card in my wallet for six months and this came in useful for a couple of small purchases that came to £5.20…

We didn’t find anything we needed in Lush this time around, but I did get some useful info in the Apple Store as to what was happening about imminent operating system upgrades on my iPad Mini 2 – wait for a few days or a week, see what’s being said on the forums and then make the decision to upgrade, because once it’s done, you can’t restore the old one!

After rattling around the M&S Food Hall for a while, we settled on the stuff for our Sunday night evening meal.

This wasn’t any old reduced price food, this was Marks & Spencer’s reduced price food as we’d hit the time of day when the price changes were done on food coming up to its due date. Two packs of bakes and a two for £2.50 deal on packs of cheese scones and we were sorted…

Our coffee in the upstairs restaurant was also cost effective as my customer loyalty card had a freebie loaded onto it for a free cup of coffee after 2.30pm. Two medium Americanos for £2.30? That’ll do nicely!

Once we’d retrieved the car and negotiated our way back onto the A1M for the journey back to Yorkshire, we reflected on the cost of this grand day out.

Petrol used came to around £20, car parking was £3 for the full day, first breakfast for me was £2.25 at a motorway service area, second breakfasts for two was a total of £4, Sunday lunch was a total of £13.50, a pen and pair of scissors cost me 20p once the gift card was used, our M&S food hall bill was £5.65 and that last round of coffees was £2.30.

With the total bill for the day out coming in @ £50, we reckon that that was a result, so much so that we may do the same thing again shortly!

One year – September 2015 part X

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Nowt like this in the University of Sunderland

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Or this!

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Or this…

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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

One year – September 2015 part VII

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Just another quiet day in Aveiro

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Down by the canal – and not one Cornetto…

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Looking good, using motor power…

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… and charismatic guides to the waterways too

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Almost back to the jetty

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in time for ovos moles and more coffee…

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Aveiro Rossio Hostel – simply the best?

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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.

One year – September 2015 part IV

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.

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View from Ponte Dom Luis I

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Yes, it’s that bridge!

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Heading to that port wine lodge – by cable car…

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Down by the lazy river…

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Ribeira from Vila Nova de Gaia

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Sandeman’s Don – an early marketing success story

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One barrel to rule them all?

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Or many?

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Ribeira from the middle of the Douro

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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!