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Hola Seville!

Some of the many faces of Seville – which is why we’re going back!

Our wish list for Seville was a short one – see the Metropol Parasol, visit the Real Alcazar, have tapas for the first time, take in at least one flamenco performance and (in Caroline’s case) pay a visit to the Cathedral.

Our bus from Malaga reached Seville in late afternoon and it should have theoretically a half hour walk to our digs for the next four nights.

We checked in sixty minutes later and were shown to our first floor room. Simple? Yes. Basic? Yes? Budget friendly? Yes.

Following a brief siesta,we  scrubbed up and then hit Seville. The district we were staying in – Barrio Santa Cruz – had a few roads through it, but the more interesting parts were linked by narrow footpaths flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and hotels.

So we wandered and did more of the same as a means of getting our bearings and trying to find a place to eat later on. After investigating a few places, we settled on a tapas bar just a few hundred metres from our digs.

Ordering beer and wine was easy, but choosing which tapas was a different matter. Sea food was out as neither of us partake, but it wasn’t that hard to find seven tapas choices.

Ratatouile was one, spinach topped with an egg and small ham chunks was another, but as the dishes kept on coming, we weren’t all that worried as we’d only had a snack lunch on the bus from Malaga. Seven empty bowls later, we were done. Or were we?

Although I’d had a couple of beers and Caroline had had a large glass of wine, I decided that we should have a glass of manzanilla to round off the evening instead of coffee.

We were fed and watered later than we would normally be at home, but we were still a couple of lightweights compared to locals who were just heading out as we headed back.

After a side visit to a small shop for some bottles of water and chocolate we started to unlock the room door, but were stopped by the pension owner.

He explained in broken English that the room above us was getting some emergency work done on it and that this was starting early on the next morning. We could have the downstairs en-suite instead, so we collected our barely unpacked bags and accoutrements and headed downstairs.

A bit of clothes washing was done before we turned in for the night, but fortunately most of the stuff had dried when we noticed the ‘No clothes washing‘ sign on the back of the room door. Oops…

With just washing and dressing to do the next morning, we got an early start.

Which is just as well as we needed to find somewhere to have breakfast and the first coffees of the day. Help was at hand though as a guy doing some touting for a walking tour tried to do his thing and tempt us onto the tour.

When we explained that we were looking for breakfasts, he pointed us in the direction of the place he had his breakfast every day – Taberna El Papelon (see the pic above). “Look for the red canopy” were his parting words as we headed off after thanking him.

We were the only Brits in the place, but we got our fresh orange juice, coffee and toasted croissants and jam without any difficulties and ended up with a sub-€8 bill for everything. And it was a pretty good way to start the day.

Although we weren’t heading anywhere in particular, we found ourselves outside a civic building that was the scene of a worker’s protest. We never found out what the gripe was, but we did get approached by a couple of Americans who were eager to talk to us and find out some opinions from us.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – Southern Baptists on a mission from God…

After answering their questions and Caroline commenting on the deck of cards they were using to help them in their quest, they realised that we’d got thoughts on religion that didn’t tally with theirs (both of us have been there, seen it, done it and walked away from different religious backgrounds) and we agreed to disagree.

With that settled in a very friendly way, we continued on our meanderings and then realised that we were almost upon the Metropol Parasol. After crossing the road to it and exploring the structure from the ground and the market at that level, only one question remained – how the hell did we get up to the walkways on the top?

More on Monday!

To Malaga – and beyond!

Malaga – not what you might expect!

“Why are you spending so much time in Malaga?’ was the comment Caroline’s eldest made when he found out that we were spending three nights in the city – two at the beginning and one at the end of our recent trip to Andalucia

The answer was simple – we’d spotted comments years ago that Malaga was an interesting place to visit and to wander around.

There are arty connections, museums to visits and sights to see – providing that a) you’re not planning on going on a Monday and b) it’s not raining….

Although we’d left the house and started our journey around 9am, we didn’t actually check into the Ibis in Malaga until after 10pm Spanish time.

Our plane was leaving Manchester Airport in the afternoon, but by the time we’d factored in getting a bus to the railway station, getting to Manchester Piccadilly and then transferring to the replacement bus service to Manchester Airport, we thought we’d better leave early, just in case.

The RyanAir flight went smoothly on the way out as we’d reserved seats on the plane and had opted for Priority Boarding so we knew where we were heading towards once we’d boarded the 737 and that we could have our packs in the locker and be sat down and resting way before the rest of the passengers got onboard.

At the Malaga end though, we had to wait until we could actually get off the plane, hit passport control and then find the railway station to get a train into Malaga – to the end of the line as that was apparently about ten minutes walk from the Ibis.

Getting the tickets was easy. Getting the train was easy. Using the printouts from Apple Maps wasn’t, but fortunately Caroline spotted the Ibis lights and that put us in the right direction – almost.

Pavement works meant that there was a detour to take rather than using the direct option, but we got there in the end, checked in, dropped the bags in our room and headed down to the bar for drinks and a snack or two.

Getting the breakfast option in the hotel did save some time (but not money!) the following morning before we headed out to explore Malaga on foot.

I’d booked the Sunday flights before I’d looked closely at the opening times for the places we wanted to explore  – big mistake as most of our potential destinations were closed on a Monday according to both of the guidebooks we’d used to plan the trip.

So we wandered around, aimlessly at first and then with a little more purpose as we found Teatro Roma, spotted the Alcazaba, famed tapas bar El Pimpi and stumbled across the Museo Picasso as we strolled up a side street.

What was unexpected was the fact the the guidebooks were wrong and the Museo Picasso was open. The other surprise was that the admission charge was less than that quoted in the guides as the number of works on display had been reduced.

With Caroline taking two spins around the museum, I headed to the cafe after one to sort out where to go next and to partake in a coffee and the second beer of the day.

One thing we didn’t use on our strolls around Malaga was our map. Yes, we were misplaced a few times, but it all added to the fun as we explored!

We’d found a cafe for lunch, a couple of places for coffee or orange juice and had bought one or two things too – Caroline had bought a leather belt and had had extra holes punched into it whilst I’d bought some Axe deodorant (aka Lynx in the U.K.) plus some bottled water (we’d heard about the quality of the tap water in Malaga – allegedly!) and some wipes for those times when finger food beckoned and there wasn’t a wash basin in sight.

The other place we’d stumbled across was the Mercado Central – a market the likes of which I haven’t seen for years.

Bread, cheese, cooked meat, fish, fruit, olives, raw meat, seafood and food of all kinds to go (along with drinks too) made for a wish that we’d booked into a hostel rather than a hotel.

Our evening meal also led to furthering that thought. After mooching around looking at menus, we settled on a small place where we were the only Brits among the customers.

The menu was in English though and whilst I picked a favourite meat dish, Caroline went for the tuna option. The pork & veg and accompanying beer went down well , but Caroline and I hadn’t realised that the tuna was going to be served raw.

It was well presented though and it went down the same way as the wine, even though Caroline would rather have had it cooked than raw – her youngest son is the sushi fan, not her! Or me…

The walk back to the hotel was interesting, because we ended up walking for more than we we needed to in order to get back to the Ibis.

A stop was made to stock up on bottled water and to get a bar of chocolate, before we spotted the Ibis once more and headed back, but not before taking a look in the window of the local KTM dealer.

I’m not a biker, but Caroline’s youngest is and whilst he’s expressed a few interests in KTM motorbikes in recent months, he’s still got his 650cc Suzuki.

As I’ve mentioned before, the following morning was a washout for wandering around as the heavens opened and we ended up killing time in the hotel lobby before getting a taxi to the bus station in readiness for our bus to Seville and tapas, breakfasts in a local cafe plus flamenco, time on the Parasol, chats with religious types from the state of Georgia and possibly the best ice cream, sorry – Gelato – we’ve ever had.

Just one leetle waffer thin mint?

This is a rather peachy restaurant review from The Obsever’s Jay Rayner.

Interesting prose and imagery and a tad sweary.

Comments also worth a look.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/09/le-cinq-paris-restaurant-review-jay-rayner#comments

The price of the meal for two is interesting!

Signs of the times?

I’m losing count of the number of stories that are being discussed via media outlets old and new relating to travel matters of all different kinds.

Some are about the biggest international travel story of the moment whilst others talk about things to come here in the U.K. and the E.U. and then there’s those that relate to the travel industry and the way that it’s coping with the after effects of world events.

There’s also the way in which decisions by residents or governments have impacted on the financial affairs of travellers, cultural sites and airlines to consider too.

I don’t normally take notice of television advertising, largely because I only watch a handful of programmes on commercial channels, but I have spotted an increase in the number of ads for Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2, Virgin, Trivago, Air B n B, plus state ads for California, Texas and for countries such as Israel over the last couple of weeks.

It would appear that there’s a lot of people after the pounds in our pockets, but recent conversations and posts seen on travel forums regarding potential travellers wanting value for money as they head to destinations old and new.

We currently have three trips in 2017 that are in different stages of planning.

The first is a daft one that harks back to my days as a band manager hawking demo tapes around record companies, the second is a Spanish road trip and the third is a return visit to an area that both of us have visited on a regular basis.

It’s going to be interesting to see how busy the various places we’re visiting are going to be and what the respective costs per person per day are.

Budgets are being put together, but they will be flexible enough to ensure that we’re not missing out on potential experiences. We don’t go for posh eating, overpriced coffees or expensive bowls of cereal in hipster cafes and we’re not adverse to using buses or long-distance coaches to get around rather than trains or hire cars.

Will the foray into the E.U. end up being more cost effective that staying in the U.K. even though the pound has taken a battering thanks to the changes in exchange rates?

I suspect that it will, even though we’ve gone for pre-booked aircraft seats, fast-track security and priority boarding to make things easier at the airport.

Flying hand luggage only helps, as does frequenting local shops that aren’t just for local people and cafes/other eateries that aren’t on the main streets or popular tourist areas….

Watch this space for the end results!

Going bananas?

Just back from the shops and boy was I glared at!

Father asked daughter to get some bananas.

Which she duly did – from the shelves stacked with hands of bananas that were straight from the box…

“No, get a bag for them” said Dad.

So a pack of pre-packed bananas in a bag was chosen by said daughter.

At which point said father got her to put them back and then went to fetch a poly bag from a dispenser and then put a hand of bananas into that bag.

Which is when I picked some bananas up from the shelf, put them in the basket and pointed out to Dad that bananas come ready wrapped…

Cue that death stare!

So much for reducing the amount of poly bags used and disposed of by shoppers every day…

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!

All is quiet…

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Sunshine – but not today!

Well, it was a quiet night last night – no noise from the neighbours and only mild use of fireworks.

Looking out of the window at the moment and yes, it’s still raining so it’s a day in rather than heading out anywhere (one of our local pubs doesn’t do grub on New Year’s Day and the other one serves beef that can be pink and bloody whilst our favourite veggie place is rather closed today…).

So there’s books to read and programmes to watch plus time to look at the weather prospects for Monday and Tuesday so we can get out and about.

No Internet or bricks and mortar shopping though – the Rohan sale order was placed and has arrived whilst the other items I wanted were bought in the visit to the big city last Wednesday.

In the meantime, this restaurant review made me smile earlier…

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jan/01/the-holy-birds-london-restaurant-review

Yes, Jay Rayner strikes again and doesn’t chicken out either!

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 VIII

Picture postcard Coimbra…

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From the side streets

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To the main shopping areas

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Coimbra – a mix of old and new…

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Sunderland University wasn’t like this!

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The view from that balcony

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Same balcony, later that day

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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!

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…