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Lisbon food…

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Yes, we like Lisbon – and Terra!

The food piece is already online, but there will be more on Lisbon in this Saturday’s edition of The Guardian here in the UK…

Why am I mentioning it?

My review of Terra, a fine vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the Principe Real area of Lisbon is included in that food piece…

There were forty-odd entries for this, so all due regards to other entrants and to the judges at The Guardian and Lonely Planet…

Thanks!

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jul/06/great-restaurants-lisbon-portugal-readers-travel-tips-seafood-tapas

TTFN!

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!

Portugal

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!

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 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!

Lazy sods…

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Your starter for ten… every time!

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Or you don’t find out where you can see sights like this… *

My biggest gripe about travel forums is the number of people making posts that are almost asking those on the forums to organise their trips for them.

It’s not just newbies either – some have their own blogs and even they’re asking whether someone has been to X and what they should go and see.

If someone has done a little bit of research then I’ll help them out by suggesting relevant guidebooks, websites or places and occasionally link to wisepacking as a means of further helping the poster.

If they haven’t hit the research trail then there’s a suggestion made to look up how many guidebooks are available about City X or Country Y and I also prompt the poster to look at the suggested itineraries printed in guidebooks that can be followed, adapted or ditched.

We live in a technological age and have information at our fingertips thanks to the Internet and search engines such as Yahoo. Bing and that really big one, there are still those who can’t be arsed to look things up for themselves.

And then there are those who have the cheek to post more questions about where to go, what to do and what to see in the adjoining country or countries on their tick list!

Some are trolls, some are lazy and others are just thick as whatever…

Although I’ve been heading off for years, there is one resource that I use first before I even think of turning to the Internet and websites or search engines.

Guidebooks, printed guidebooks.

The photo at the top of this post shows a few of the books in our collection. Yes, there are two or more editions of particular country guides on that shot and the eagle-eyed may also spot that there’s some countries that I have both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet variations on a country theme.

We believe in due diligence and research before we head off, even when we are going to mostly wing it whilst on our travels. There are places or items in RG‘s that don’t appear in the equivalent LP guide and vice versa. The latest edition of one may have been released after the latest edition of the other and may therefore be more up to date.

Once Caroline and I have read both books, we’ll hit the Internet to check out latest costings, availabilities and opening times or (as a last resort) post questions on forums.

If memory serves me right, the last question I asked on a forum was about the date of the General Election in Portugal.

The reason? We’d been caught up in demos in Lisbon before…

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Lisbon city centre, September  2013

My question was answered promptly and accurately – the election was the week after we were due to fly home!

Rant over!

Aveiro, Portugal is the answer to the * by the way…

One year packing goodies

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Yes, it’s that Rohan Cool Silver t-shirt again!

As we’ve made several trips over the last year, there are a few items which have earned their stripes.

Such as 100ml bottles of Lifeventure Fabric Wash, 50ml packs of Nivea UVA/UVB Sun Lotion (SPF 30 or SPF 50 depending on the advance forecast for the places we’re visiting), 100ml bottles of Lush Shower Gel (original choice was Flying Fox, but I’ve now swapped to using Rain On My Parade), Lush solid shampoo bars and battery toothbrushes…

I bought a Slim Sonic AAA powered toothbrush, liked it, am still using it and haven’t as yet replaced the battery that came with it. I’ve got spare brush heads, so on the current performance, I should be using it for a while yet.

Caroline picked up a similar device from Clas Ohlson’s store in Newcastle-upon-Tyne last year. While the sign said it was £4.99, the item came up as being £2.99 when it was rung through the till. It’s worked, but Caroline has switched to a Colgate 360 battery powered toothbrush and has found that to be a better buy.

Clothing with a silver content has worked well. I’ve gone on about the Rohan range of t-shirts and underwear for years, but I’ve found that trainer and dress socks from Marks & Spencer have also been worth investing in. Nasty riffs from sweaty feet are a thing of the past!

Caroline tried Rohan’s Ultra Silver camisoles and briefs last year and has gone on to buy another couple of sets as they’ve proved to be quite useful. The fine fabric is comfortable to wear, even in hot climates and each item has been washed at the end of the day and either packed or worn the following day depending on what we’ve been up to.

Rohan’s Travel Linen clothing has also been a useful addition to her wardrobe, as have the three pairs of Goa trousers that I bought last year. Whilst I spent a great deal of time in t-shirts when we were in Lisbon, there were times when I felt slightly underdressed whilst having evening meals.

So I invested in some short and long sleeved shirts in last summer’s Rohan sale and added a couple of polo shirts to my travel collection. The latter can also be washed on a night and worn the following morning and I have gone out and bought another three because I’ve started wearing them at home.

Merino wool t-shirts have also been added to the wardrobe and these are also home and away items. I’ve used them as base layers when heading to the airport at 3am in below freezing conditions and on their own at rock concerts, wandering around town and whilst walking on coastal boardwalks on sunny days.

Anything else? Giant size Lifeventure travel towels have been useful in hostels or guest houses when towels or bathrobes haven’t been available and as part of the wash and wear processes.

Wash the item, squeeze the water out and then roll it up in the towel to get rid of any excess water before hanging the clothing and the towel up to dry.

The last items help to keep my pack organised and at a hand-luggage gauge friendly size.

A collection of Rohan lightweight storage cubes have been bought and used. One large one contains a mix of t-shirts, polo shirts and long sleeves, another is used for spare trousers, a micro fleece pullover and a fleece gilet and then two smaller cubes respectively contain underwear and socks.

Any chargers and adaptors are in a small wash bag pouch from IKEA, any paperwork is in a plastic wallet from WHS Smith and the guidebook goes in a small plastic carrier bag. Meds are in a clear plastic bag along with any necessary paperwork whilst the wash kit goes into one of the clear zipped pouches used to contain the Gillette travel kits I mentioned yesterday.

The Kindle, Nikon, passport, wallet and loose change go in my jacket or trouser pockets along with my reading specs and my spare pair of specs that double up as sunglasses thanks to Transitions lenses.

And tomorrow? What didn’t keep on keeping on!