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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!

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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 V

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Pinhao station in the Douro Valley

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Tranquil – and then some… from on land

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Or from onboard a river boat…

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Warm outside…

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And on the inside for hot dogs…

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More tranquility…

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With port producers along the way

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Just one of many famous names seen on the hillsides above the Douro

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All quiet on the station

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Until the train arrives…

A day along the Douro is a trip worth taking by train from Porto.

It’s a long day out, but having taken it, I can see why most recommendations are to split it over two days and have a night in a hotel or guest house.

Like most great train journeys, it’s one to take home in the memory rather than on a camera’s memory card.

The journey to Pinhao from Porto was a smooth one. We’d taken a couple of snacks and bottles of water with us for the journey, but once we’d got to Pinhao, taken a look around and bought the t-shirt I’d wanted to buy during the previous day’s visit to Sandeman’s wine lodge in Porto, it was time for a leisurely lunch down by the river and the area where the river boats pulled in.

In among the small boats of the kind we boarded later on in the day, the river cruise boats pull in to allow passengers time ashore to explore and then board again for another night and day of the same old, same old.

We took a two hour trip up the Douro on a small boat with a covered area and the added attraction of a port tasting session whilst we were afloat. As we’d been out in the sun and had coated ourselves with Factor 50 rather than Factor 30, I stayed undercover on the boat, as did the captain’s dog (who obviously knows a good thing when he sees it!).

The ride was a smooth one (as was the port), but once over, it was time to find a cold drink and an ice cream before taking another wander around Pinhao and then the short stroll to the station and the train back to Porto.

Although Pinhao had appeared to be a quiet place, the station platform suddenly filled up with people wanting the train down the valley.

When the train arrived, we found seats, emptied the water bottles, thought about the day, pondered another meal at the restaurant we’d found the day before and placed bets  as to how long it would take us to pack our bags before heading off on the next part of our road trip the following morning…

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A local restaurant for local people and those in the know…

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And a good place to chill out…

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!

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!