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One year – September 2015 III

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Beyond the Se…

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

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

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

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

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Going to see the Se…

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View from a terrace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sao Bento station, Porto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Don awaits…

One year – September 2015 II

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Yes, this was the calm after the storm in Porto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More about this on Friday!

One year – September 2015 – part I

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Liverpool John Lennon Airport after dark from the Hampton by Hilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home thoughts…

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Wells-next-the-sea, North Norfolk

One prediction from those in the know is that there’s likely to be a rise in staycations here in the UK as travellers shun foreign holidays in the wake of Brexit, exchange rates and various events around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Will it happen? Quite possibly, even though holiday companies are running TV advertising regarding seven day breaks in Turkey with starting prices at £199 per person – a figure that’s less than one or two night’s stay here in the UK if the test searches I’ve run on various accommodation websites over the last couple of days are anything to go by.

We’ve seen footage of how quiet various beach resorts in were before the recent coup attempt, but if media reports are anything to go by, the beach resorts in Turkey for example weren’t really affected by events in Istanbul or Ankara (both places we’d still like to visit).

Whilst there are still places that travellers are avoiding, there are also those which have been affected by widely reported events that are very much open for business and tourism.

People are still heading to Paris, Madrid, London, Nice and Oslo after they’ve seen or at least heard about the various events that took place in those cities in recent years.

Caroline and I still head to London and we’d go back to Oslo tomorrow, even after the events that brought chaos to Norway in July 2011.

If it had happened a week earlier, we’d have been caught up in that chaos as we were staying just a few hundred metres away from the Parliament buildings in central Oslo and had walked past the end of the road a few times on that Friday…

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All the signs are there – and on a sunny day too!

Will UK staycations numbers rise? Yes, but a few things need to be examined.

The weather for one. Yes, we’ve had some high temperatures over the last month and it looks like they’re going to hover around the 20C/72F mark for the next ten days or so, but rain came with it and whilst we’ve missed most of it here in Yorkshire, there are no guarantees as to whether it will miss us again over the next month!

We may not have to deal with exchange rates, but there are matters relating to pricing, service levels and ambience in cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels, guest houses or shops.

It’s not really a problem in places such as Blackpool for instance as there’s Greggs, Wetherspoons and even Marks & Spencer in the centre that help keep costs down.

There are places though where some businesses really take the p*ss with their pricing. Fortunately we’re not foodies, and that works for us as a foodie and their money are soon parted…

Our local baker charges 75p for a decent sausage roll, but two shops in Norfolk were charging around £3 a couple of years ago, a price that I’ve only seen matched on my only visit to Fortnum & Masons in London.

We also try to avoid places where the name of a ‘celebrity’ chef is prominent or where the establishment has been starred for anything more than their hygiene standards (although we did see one place back in May that proudly displayed their one star hygiene rating sticker in their front window…).

There’s also places that overcharge for accommodation. It’s a problem that will never go away because some have more money than sense (see the earlier comment re; foodies).

Yes, we’ve stayed in a couple of good hotels here in the UK or in Portugal, but we’ve never paid the full rate as we’ve either booked in advance or taken advantage of discounts from booking site loyalty programmes.

Caroline and I have discussed taking a last minute UK break this week. Now we’re never going to go for Claridges (we saw the BBC4 documentary about that establishment a couple of nights ago and it is definitely way out our price range), but the places we thought were affordable at various places in UK on booking sites had reviews that included the  words ‘Avoid’ or ‘Don’t do it!’.

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Langdale, Cumbria

We could go camping, but it’s high season, school holidays and everything else that goes with those eventualities.

The last time I stayed in the Lake District in August I had two very sleepless nights, even though I’d changed campsites when I heard my new neighbours on the first one discussing the number of bottles of Jack and other spirits they were going to buy from the local offie… The second campsite ended up being just as bad…

Something will turn up. It always does… and yes, the fingers are crossed!

One year – May to July packing

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Rohan’s Cool Silver t-shirt – worth its weight in gold?

As you may have noticed in the pieces so far in the One year series, there is a common denominator in the postings related to the posts on our travels in May and Junes 2015, but it’s hardly mentioned at all in the posts about the trip to Lisbon in July.

We know how much stuff can go in the back of a Skoda Fabia when the seats are down, but anything we took along on the Somerset trip had to be packed around Betty BikeCaroline’s trusty touring/commuting cycle.

Betty’s sturdy and took up more room in the car than we thought, so packing had to be on the minimalistic side, which is why we took small bags with us and shopped locally when we got to the apartment we’d rented for the week.

There were a few luxuries though as I’d shoved a few DVDs into a carrier bag in case we felt the need for some televisual entertainment and I’d also decided to take along my DLSR as well as the usual Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera.

As the weather was destined to be changeable according to the advance forecasts, a couple of micro fleece zip necks (TNF and Craghoppers) were packed into my Karrimor holdall along with a pair of Peter Storm soft shell trousers, a couple of Rohan’s Cool Silver t-shirts and a couple of the same brand’s Essential t-shirts, three or four pairs of Rohan Silver trunks and a few pairs of M&S dress socks.

With that lot in the bag plus a pair of Merrell shoes and a pair of Brasher sandals, that was about it apart from a couple of travel towels plus my wash kit, meds and Kindle.

The bag wasn’t full and could be easily squashed into any gaps around Betty Bike once her front wheel had been taken off in order to get her into the back of the car.

Caroline was also using a Karrimor holdall, but her clothing mix included  travel clothing from either Rohan or Royal Robbins and a few bits of Endura, Altura and Tenn cycle clothing too.

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Your starter for Tenn – great shirt for cycling or daywear…

Did we take the right kit with us? We certainly did. The only pieces that haven’t been mentioned so far are the Berghaus and Nike waterproof jackets we took along or my TNF hooded soft shell. Only the waterproofs were used to protect the innocent…

Anything else? Well we did some shopping at the Rohan shop in Dunster, but that was for a few items that were required for the Lisbon trip that we’d decided to take a few weeks later. Even at that stage, Caroline and I had plans for Europe, unlike some who have been in the news over the last few days – allegedly!

As the visit to North Norfolk in June was a short one and Caroline wasn’t taking Betty Bike, we didn’t really need to pack much given the advance forecasts and the relaxed nature of this trip.

So it was a scaled down packing list compared to Somerset – the clothes we were wearing plus three t-shirts each, socks and undies, a spare pair of trousers and the usual travel towels, wash kits, meds and Kindles. The DLSR was left at home in favour of the Nikon and that was it.

Or was it? Well no, not really as Caroline was planning on hiring a bike whilst we down in Norfolk, so her bike clothes, helmet and gloves were also in her Karrimor bag.

And so to Lisbon via a night drive to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and a late arrival at the Hampton by Hilton hotel as Caroline had spent been at a family wedding.

Baggage choices? Our trusty Osprey Farpoint 40s as we were travelling hand luggage on easyJet.

And the contents? A security friendly travel wash bag that had been bought for the journey. It was originally full of predominately Gillette travel products, but a little pruning and replacement ensured that the new contents covered all eventualities.

The disposable razor and small tube of toothpaste were retained, but in went a plastic cased Dove roll-on instead of an aerosol. That was followed by my Slim Sonic Toothbrush, a bottle of Lifeventure Fabric Wash for the clothes, 100ml of Lush’s Flying Fox shower gel, a small bottle of tea tree oil, a similarly sized King Of Shaves shaving oil and two small bottles of Nivea Factor 50.

As before, my usual prescribed meds, yellow Warfarin book and repeat prescription forms went in along with a pack of indigestion tablets and a few sachets of recovery powder (just in case there were too many glasses of vino collapso imbibed over the course of a day…).

Worn items included Salomon ventilated trainers, a pair of Rohan Goa trousers, one of four Rohan Core Silver t-shirts (the rest were in the bag along with a couple of Rohan Element t-shirts).

Why so many t-shirts? As good as all of these shirts are, expectations of 30+ C meant that for once I was playing safe and wearing two shirts per day rather than one. I did however regret not having a couple of polo shirts as smarter options as we were eating out so much over the course of the week.

Rohan Cool Silver trunks and suitable socks completed the worn outfit and yes, there were spares in the bag of these. Other packed items included another pair of Goa trousers, my Nikon Coolpix and charger plus my Kindle and charger, a newly purchased Rohan Stowaway Daypack 20 and a travel towel. Oh, and a copy of Rough Guide‘s Pocket Rough Guide to Lisbon plus a pair of Next espadrilles for sock free days or nights out…

Caroline packed a couple of Rohan Serene vest tops, a Rohan Malay Linen Plus top and a few other  items from their travel linen range.

Footwear choices were a pair of Ecco Blom Lite Mary Jane shoes and a pair of Merrell sports sandals. Her day bag was a Rohan Stowaway Daybag 3 that held her passport, camera, travel wallet, tissues, sun cream and a small bottle of water.

Washing was done before we went out and left to dry on hangers next to the windows once the clothing had been rolled up in a travel towel to squeeze out excess water.

The Rohan Goa trousers were just right for the trip thanks to a lightweight fabric that washed and dried quickly, two zipped pockets to take wallet, camera, reading specs and guest house keys.

Out of all the things we took along with us, there was only one piece of kit that required a rethink. I’ve no doubt that the Rohan packable day sack will come into its own, but I have to admit to making a personal wrong choice by using it over the first few days in Lisbon. It was a bit too big for what I wanted to carry around and I ended up buying a small cotton bag that sufficed for the rest of the week.

Coming up next – One year – August 2015.

London, Lonely Planet and a tube strike!

One year – July 2015 IV

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Does my flag look big on this?

Friday in Lisbon and the flags were flying as we ventured on foot in search of Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and Centro Arte Moderna. We negotiated Parque Eduardo VII with ease and having found the viewpoint seen above, we were confident that we were on the right track.

Or so we thought. A nearby map directed us on our way and after about half an hour, we decided that yes, that was the wrong way, so we retraced our steps, cooled off with a couple of glasses of a very fine mint flavoured iced drink and found the right way to the museum and art gallery.

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Same flag, different view…

Yes, I know what I said yesterday about museums and galleries, but having read up on both places, I reckoned that even I could find something of interest in one or both sites,  especially as there’s a connection between Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and my home city of Durham here in the U.K.

The prospect of seeing fine Oriental and Western art was intriguing, but in the end I ended up finding a seat as Caroline made her way around the apparent one-way system in the museum. Was I disappointed by the items on display? Not really, it was just that there was so much of it and I found myself slowly, but surely losing interest in what was laid out before me…

As my day bag had been left in the cloak room, my Kindle wasn’t on me so I ended up pondering some ideas for our next big trip. Yes, it was back to Portugal in the last couple of weeks of September 2015, but it was probably going to be a road trip with Porto and Coimbra as two of the stopping off points as we made our way around part of Northern Portugal.

Once reunited, we had a rather decent lunch in the cafe at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian before we made our way over to Centro Arte Moderna. Most of the artwork here is by Portuguese artists, but as the guidebooks also promised the potential to view works by Hockney and Gormley, I was game for a good look around.

One or two pieces caught my attention, but that was about it. I did take in every part of the viewing spaces and looked at the items on display, but it was no use. There didn’t appear to be any kind of connection forming and if there were works by either Hockney or Gormley on display then I well and truly missed them!

Coffee and cake in the cafe partly made up for the disappointment, as did the wander around the gardens outside.

Two of life’s great mysteries were also pondered – why were the aircraft heading into Lisbon Airport always flying so low over this part of the city and what were the chances of a frozen crapsicle hitting something or someone if it left the confines of an aircraft’s toilet (I thank the writers of CSI New York for putting that thought into my head by the way!).

Given that we’d had trouble finding our way there, we decided on a different strategy for the way back to Lisbon Dreams. A visit to the major department store wasn’t wonderful and whilst there was a multiplex cinema downstairs, there was nothing showing that we fancied. So it was time to hit the Metro once more to head into Lisbon centre to find some coffee and have a siesta.

Our meal for the night was another vegetarian one. Not at Terra this time, but in the interesting surroundings of Os Tibetanos, part of a Buddhism school in the Rato area.

We didn’t have a booking, but that didn’t matter, even though the restaurant was rather busy. We’d both had meat courses as part of our lunchtime meal, so going veggie wasn’t a problem. Misplacing the receipt means that I can’t let you know what our menu choices were, but I do recall that the two of us ate well, had desserts and good coffee to round off the night…

And so to Saturday and our final full day in Lisbon.

We’d not seen much in the way of beaches on this trip, so we decided to get the train from Lisbon to Estoril, walk from Estoril to Cascais and then get the train back to Lisbon from Cascais.

Sounds easy and it was. The Viva Viagem cards worked a treat at Cais do Sodre station and passed the ticket inspector’s examination too (always a good sign) and it wasn’t that long before we reached Estoril.

Now I know Estoril as being the former home of the Portuguese Grand Prix from my days as a fan of Formula 1, but it’s got a literary connection too.

Writers Graham Greene and Ian Fleming were stationed in Estoril during World War II. The latter apparently spent time observing double agents frequenting the local casino in Estoril and this gave him an idea to write a book – Casino Royale. The rest is history…

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The sign says it all!

The walk from Estoril to Cascais isn’t a long one and easily done, even on hot summer Saturdays when it’s not just mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun.

Factor 50 proved useful once more, as did the bar selling cold Coke Zero colas and equally welcome Magnum ice creams. A taste of home? Almost in both cases.

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The beaches were starting to get busy as we approached Cascais, but some were already showering themselves and their rather disgruntled Yorkshire Terrier as a means of flushing the salt water away and freshening up before heading home.

On reaching Cascais, we wandered for a while before we noticed a ceremony taking place involving quite a few people in different outfits and gowns in the main square. It looked like a university graduation ceremony, but it was in fact a ceremony to celebrate the local wine producers and their respective products.

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Mmm… wine…

The gentleman who informed us of the meaning behind the ceremony not only allowed us to sample a couple of different wines, but he also gave is a small insight into the Portuguese wine industry.

Although we’d sampled a couple of diffferent wines in the two visits we’d had to Portugal at that time, our main introduction to the country’s wine had come in the 1970’s thanks to the wine that ended up as a major source of home made table lamps amongst certain consumers of the product at that time – Mateus Rose

Although we’d looked at menus at both an Irish pub and a local curry house, Jardim de Frangos came up with quite a decent piri piri chicken lunch and a bottle or so of beer to wash it down with.

At the time I was wearing a decent pair of Transitions lensed spectacles that had gone dark thanks to the strong sunlight, but that didn’t stop a street hawker who came inside the dining area from offering to sell me a pair of cheap sunglasses.

The waiters chased him away, but my somewhat direct comments afterwards appeared to amuse the two German ladies sitting at an adjacent table…

With the heat still rising, we took a look around a small festival in an adjacent park before heading back to the station for the train back to Lisbon. Packing the bags didn’t take long and neither did the discussion concerning where we were going to eat that night.

We’d discovered Ristorante da Vinci on our first trip to Lisbon. It’s not in the guidebooks as far as I’m aware, but it’s always been busy whenever we’ve either eaten there or walked past at any time of the day.

The clientele is also usually a good mix of locals and tourists from both sides of the Atlantic and whilst most are anonymous, at least one Hollywood actor has been spotted in there when Caroline and I have been customers.

Pizza for me, pasta for Caroline, desserts and either beer or wine then coffee usually round off the meal quite nicely. This was our second meal there, but since that night, we’ve made two return visits as Lisbon ended up being our in and out point on our road trip in September 2015…

After checking out of Lisbon Dreams on Sunday morning, our Viva Viagem cards saved us money once more as we used the Metro rather than a taxi to get us to the airport.

When we’d made the same journey in September 2013, it was on the night before our flight home as we ended up sleeping in the Lisbon Airport terminal as we couldn’t find a place to stay for that last night. Not a mistake we were going to make twice!

http://www.lisbondreamsguesthouse.com

http://www.easyjet.com

One year – July 2015 III

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It’s Wednesday and it’s a rest day around Lisbon

Now we couldn’t just do nothing, but we had a lie in, a chat with fellow Brits about Lisbon and then we headed out for a wander around nowhere in particular.

The Botanical Gardens appeared to be a good place to start this day of wandering aimlessly. We paid our money, headed in and I decided to indulge in a spot of photography whilst Caroline explored the gardens.

Which was a nice idea, but my Nikon had other ideas. Fortunately my camera hadn’t died a death (which was the fate of my Lumix in 2013 and the reason why I’d bought the current Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera in Lisbon a few days later).

I’d checked the battery on Tuesday, but it was now as dead as a dodo so that potential hour of photography became another chance to read from the Kindle as I waited for Caroline to show up. The slow day was a good idea as it gave us the chance to just see what took our fancy as we headed through Principe Real, through Baixa & Chiado and onwards to Rio Tejo.

Nothing was planned. We wandered in and out of shops, had coffee, had lunch and just relaxed rather than haring off like Roadrunner or Speedy Gonzales. The information centre shop sold me some stationery items and a cotton shopping bag that could be stuffed into my day bag – Portugal had adopted plastic carrier bag charges, unlike England at that moment in time…

There were several drinks stops as we combatted the high temperatures with fruit juices, Coke Zero and Sagres Radler beer plus the obligatory bottle of water in our day bags.

After a relaxing day, we had a plan for Thursday as we’d decided to head to Sintra. An enquiry at the ticket office revealed that we could use our Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards on trains to Sintra, something that we weren’t aware of at that time…

Siestas were declared on return to Lisbon Dreams then showers and a quick change happened before we went to The 39 Steps for our evening meal. The outdoor eating option was taken once more, drinks arrived and food was ordered, but unfortunately we didn’t expect an unexpected cinematic reference to occur.

I’d had a very good pasta and salmon main on our first visit to The 39 Steps, so Caroline ordered this for her main this time whilst I went for something completely different.

When the meals arrived, it looked like Caroline‘s order had been lost in translation. Instead of pasta with salmon, pasta with shellfish was placed in front of her.

Our waitress was very, very apologetic about the error, but Caroline decided to tackle the staring shellfish head on as it were rather than having to watch me eat my meal as she was waiting for her ordered meal to arrive. C’est la vie as the French say…

Thursday saw an early start and boy were we pleased when we got to Rossio Station and zapped our Viva Viagem cards at the barriers in front of the platform for the Sintra train. There were queues at both the ticket machines and manned ticket windows – long queues.

Once in Sintra, there was a choice to make of where to go first. We walked down to the Palacio Nacional, had coffee and Caroline paid a return visit this palace and then Quinto da Regaleira with its main building and impressive gardens complete with terraces, grottoes, fountains and the Initiation Well (which comes complete with its own entrance via a revolving stone door).

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Palacio Nacional, Sintra

Whilst Caroline took a look at both of these impressive sights, I wandered around with a fully charged camera. The Toy Museum had closed its doors, so I took to the streets, explored the various alleyways and tried to avoid the midday sun….

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Two views of Sintra…

As you may have guessed, I’m not one for museums, palaces or elaborate gardens. Caroline is and we have a mutual understanding that I’ll find something else to do whilst she’s off exploring historical places or galleries.

If there’s a museum dedicated to cars, flight or an exhibition on music or rock photography, I’m there like a shot, but if it’s historical, I’m with Rudge’s view on history as expounded in a memorable scene from The History Boys.

The quote’s a good one, but given that this is a free site without age restrictions, it can’t be quoted here!

Yes, I have an O level in History, but that’s from 42 years ago and my views on the subject have changed somewhat and I’m more interested in more modern history rather than what went on in days of yore…

Caroline enjoyed both Palacio Nacional and Quinto da Regaleira and was full of enthusiasm for both when we visited a very quiet outdoor cafe cum art shop on the way back into the centre. The town was quiet as we walked back to the station and so was the train, a welcome experience as the train had been crowded on the way to Sintra.

The return to Lisbon Dreams was equally quiet and as we’d had rather a good lunch in Sintra, we raided the mini market for bread, cheese and a bottle of wine for our evening meal. Rustic? Yes, but a fine way to end a grand day out.

And finally – Part IV. Museums, Os Tibetanos, the inspiration for Casino Royale and wine tasting in Cascais…

One year – July 2015 II

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All quiet in Praca do Comercio, but not for long…

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Wheelie good way to get around Lisbon?

If it’s Monday, it must be Lisbon without a plan.

Although we’d booked flights, accommodation and had Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards to get around, we hadn’t come up with a cunning plan as to what to do during the week we were in Lisbon. Yes, we had had a few thoughts about where we wanted to go, but nothing had been set in stone as to what to do on any particular day.

Our first problem came within a few metres of Lisbon Dreams. As the temperatures were high and we’d already slathered Nivea Factor 50 suncream over any exposed skin (the rest was covered by SPF protective clothing) to combat the sun and the high UV levels, we decided to get a couple of bottles of water to stash in our day bags.

Problem was a) we’d forgotten how cheap bottled water was in Portugal and b) we’d put all of our loose change into the tips bowl at Terra on Sunday night, leaving us with €10 notes as the smallest type of local currency in our respective travel wallets or pockets.

Big mistake as we were to find out for the first time on that not so manic Monday. We were armed with two bottles of water and a €10 note at a mini market check-out early in the morning and faced with an operator who didn’t speak much English who had very little loose change in his till. He made it, but it wasn’t an easy task.

As we wandered into Lisbon city centre on what was to become a familiar route, we noticed a couple of things. There were more armed police around than there were during our last visit and they appeared to be stationed outside banks and high end jewellery shops or on street corners near such establishments.

The other was that there appeared to be a protest of sorts happening as signs and small crosses were placed on the pavement outside one of the larger bank branches.

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As we found out later, there had been a banking crisis in Portugal that we didn’t know about and the crosses and signs alleged more than we could gather from a short conversation later in the day.

Once in the city centre around Rossio Station, a decision was made to head down to Praca do Municipo for a coffee at Cafe Tulipa, a favourite haunt on our last visit to Lisbon. We’d visited the square before Michael Portillo (on one of his Continental Railway Journeys), but noticed that a set of alien-like sculptures had landed since our visit in September 2013…

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Where’s the packet of Smash? (an old joke relating to an old UK advert)

Once refreshed, it was time to revisit a surprisingly empty Praca do Comercio. Segways came and left and we decided to take a wander around an area we’d missed out on during our first visit – Alafama. Now you can head up the easy way on Tram 28, but we took the hard way by using our feet.

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Caroline took in the Se (pictured above) as we headed towards Alafama and then Castelo de Sao Jorge. The streets, gardens and rooftop views along the way had us stopping to take photo after photo and also sidestepping various street hawkers with hands full of sunglasses or selfie sticks.

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As it was lunchtime as we approached Castelo de Sao Jorge, we decided to have lunch as the castle appeared to be getting rather busy. Now we’re used to having curry dishes as we live in Yorkshire, but this was the first time that we’d had curry dishes for a lunchtime meal.

Arco do Castelo turned up trumps, even though their dishes were a few degrees milder than the curries we’re used to around home. What did impress us was that quality of their freshly cooked naan breads – probably the best naan breads that we’ve ever tasted in any of our visits into curry houses in Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear, Durham and Somerset.

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And so to Castelo de Sao Jorge (above). We paid, we wandered and wondered why there were so many young people in there wearing Minions t-shirts. It turned out that it was all part of an international summer school outing and the best way for those in charge to keep tabs on their charges was to look for those Minions t-shirts.

With the heat kind of getting to me, Caroline wandered around more than I did as I found some shade, drank some water and then tried finding an ice cream. I found one, but I didn’t expect such a palaver surrounding the purchase of just one Cornetto.

Yes, the curse of no change struck again, even though I’d tendered a €5 note this time!

One of the reasons why we like Lisbon is that it’s a relaxed and laid back capital city. There’s no rushing around like ants as there is in London for instance. Although it was now mid-afternoon, there was still plenty to see and do in a quietly relaxed manner.

Museu de Design e da Moda (Museum of Design and Fashion) is set in a former bank, is free to visit and plays host to loads of design classics of all kinds and has guest exhibitions down in the former bank vaults too.

After that, it was time to head back to Praca do Comercio and down to the edge of Rio Tejo to board a sightseeing boat as a means of getting a different view of some of the place we’d by now decided to visit the next day – Belem.

It was cooler too as we were under the shelter at the stern of the boat and the breeze on the river was a welcome relief from the heat we’d encountered so far. We did’t hear too much of the commentary coming from the speakers, but that wasn’t important as we used our eyes to view and made sparing use of our cameras.

The images captured on memory cards were of those sights that we were to see the following day, but the shots were taken from a totally different perspective and that alone made the river trip worth it…

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Once back on dry land, we headed back to Lisbon Dreams for a late siesta, shower and a wander out for an evening meal. We’ve eaten out at cinema cafes before, but The 39 Steps cafe bar at Cinemateca Portuguesa is probably one of the best we’ve eaten in.

The cinema itself had shown one of our favourite films a few days before – Casablanca – as part of a Bergman retrospective, but The 39 Steps was worth the visit on its own terms. Mains, desserts, fruit juice, beer and coffee went down well, so much so that we decided to visit the same venue again later in the week.

Tuesday was a one stop day – Belem. Tram 15 to Belem was crowded, so much so that both of us paid close attention to bags and wallets, especially after the pickpocketing warnings. First up was the Centro Cultural de Belem and the Berarado Collection contained within the Centro Cultural.

Whilst I visited the former and had lunch too, I gave the latter a miss thanks to the officious staff member who wanted to take my day bag off me. Caroline wandered in whilst I read a book on my Kindle and watched as several people wandered into the Collection with bags that were much larger than mine and infinitely more capable of hiding any potentially stolen pieces of artwork.

There had been mention made of depositing bags at reception, but it was near the ceiling on a left hand side wall near the entrance rather than being on a graphic as one entered the reception area!

The three other places to go in Belem are the Padro dos Discobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) as seen above in the top photo of the two just above this piece of copy and Torre de Belem.

As we were there after lunch, both places were very busy with tourists wanting to see the view from the top of each site or to take both proper shots or selfies with their phones. The lesson learned? Get there early before the tour buses or crowded trams as a means of getting the place almost to yourself – that’s what we’ll be doing on our next visit!

And the third place in Belem? Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, a consumer temple to pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and their customary dusting of cinnamon.

They’re great with coffee, but one each just isn’t enough. Yes, you can get them over the summer in the Co-op here in the UK, but they’re not quite the same as those from Belem, even when you do the cinnamon sprinkling thing…

After catching Tram 15 back to Lisbon, a decision was made to eat early, so we went in search of a budgetary gem –  full-on chicken dinner at Bon Jardim, Rei dos Frangos in Rua Barros Querios near Rossio Station.

The establishment runs from three sites in the same street and there’s chicken, fries and salad galore plus a host of other choices too. There may have been three crabs in the tank inside the restaurant window when we arrived, but there were still three when we left after generous portions of piri piri chicken and one or two beers too.

A long post this one, but tomorrow’s about gardens & galleries in Lisbon plus a return visit to Sintra.

One year – July 2015

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Praca dos Restaradores, Lisbon

Our trip to Lisbon in July 2015 was organised at short notice and there were a couple of things we had to take into account.

Caroline was due to attend a family wedding on Saturday 4th July and the second was the early morning check-in and flight departure on Sunday 5th July – from Liverpool John Lennon Airport as that’s where our out and back point was.

Fortunately we got a bit of a deal on the hotel, car parking and fast-tracking at the airport.

The hotel was the Hampton by Hilton and this plus said car park were across the road from the terminal. Caroline had however left the reception early to get home, change and get in the car for our drive to the airport. Arrival time? 11.15pm…

We decided not to go for the very early breakfast option, but it was still 5am when the alarm went off. Shower, breakfast and check out were completed by 6.45 and the stroll across the road to the terminal took two minutes.

Fast-tracking through security wasn’t a problem – we’d already checked in online, had hand luggage only and had already checked that our bags fitted inside the easyJet hand luggage measuring devices.

Second breakfast wasn’t an option as we had noticed the prices at various cafes, but another coffee to wake us up didn’t break the bank so that option was chosen instead.

This was the first time that we’d flown with easyJet and it has to be said that we didn’t have any problems with the airline or the flight on either our journey to or from Lisbon.

Unlike the family seated behind us. The youngest hadn’t let his mum know that he needed the loo before the seatbelt light went on as the plane started its descent and he ended up peeing himself. His father ‘fessed up to the crew about what had happened whilst his mum went slightly balistic about what had happened.

The crew were fine about it, but one question remained – would the seat be a dry one for the potential occupant on the flight home, given the rapid turnaround times on budget airlines?

Once we reached the land side of the terminal, it was time to hit the Metro to get into Lisbon. We’d used a cab on our first visit in 2013 and then we discovered Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards.

Yes, there was queue at the machines to the left of the Metro entrance, but the wait was worth it and it wasn’t long before we were on a train and heading into Lisbon in search of Rato Metro Station.

With a few hours to kill before we could check into our digs, it was lunch time.

Our salads and cold drinks came with a friendly warning from the cafe owner about pickpockets, something that we’d read up about before our 2013 visit.

We had taken our own precautions as we were both wearing Rohan travel clothing with plenty of zipped pockets and our respective Osprey Farpoint 40 travel bags were both padlocked as a means of keeping thieving barstools at bay. Others we met during the week weren’t so lucky…

Farpoint 40 Lagoon Blue

The trusty Osprey Farpoint 40 travel pack…

Lisbon Dreams Guest House was our home for the week. It’s not on the beaten track, but it ensured that there would be plenty of exercise over the next seven days as we walked into the centre of Lisbon in search of places to visit or fodder for evening meals.

Our minimalist room had a comfy bed, dressing table, a supply of snacks and drinks on an honesty box system plus a very welcome cool air fan, slippers and a rather luxurious bath robe each, handy as the room wasn’t ensuite and accessing the communal bathrooms meant walking through the TV room/lounge area.

Wine or other snacks were available in the hotel reception area or in the mini market at ground level below Lisbon Dreams and there was 24 hour coffee (instant or fresh depending on time of day) available in the breakfast room/resident’s kitchen area.

As it we were pushing the boat out on this trip and letting others do the catering rather than making meals ourselves, the time came to make a decision as to where to go for the first of those evening meals.

The decision wasn’t hard one we’d visited a good vegetarian place on our first visit to Lisbon. Terra is a few minutes walk away from Lisbon Dreams in Principe Real and it offers a good choice of both vegetarian and vegan food in its buffet spread.

You can sit inside or out in the garden area and choose from starters, mains and sweets plus alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Caroline went for fruit juice with her meal and I went for the beer option whilst post-meal drinks were Port and um bica (espresso) respectively.

It would have been quite easy to stay in the garden at Terra and linger over more port or coffee, but as it was now  9.30pm and we still had to walk back to Lisbon Dreams, discretion was the better part of valour so we wandered back to our beds and slept relatively soundly, despite the early morning delivery to the mini-market on the ground floor…

In part II tomorrow – Alafama, Belem and why you should always have some small change on you!

The Portuguese Way of St. James

One of the joys of having a public holiday here in the UK yesterday was that I actually got to read my email notifications and pertinent links to any websites as they came in on the iPad rather than having to wait until I returned home or (like today) wait for the noise to die down in order to concentrate – there’s a tiler working upstairs for the next few days!

I’ve subscribed to newsletters from Julie Dawn Fox‘s website for a while now as there’s always plenty of information coming my way in said newsletters about one of our favourite countries – Portugal.

Julie is a British expat who lives in Portugal who explores, photographs and writes about the country on a regular basis.

Apart from her website, Julie is also the author of a couple of useful books for travellers to Portugal – Money Saving Tips for Travel In Portugal and Best In Porto (both available via Amazon). In addition Julie has also contributed to DK’s Eyewitness Travel Portugal guidebook.

One of Julie‘s recent ventures has been walking the Way of St. James in Portugal, a 200km walk from Barcelos in Northern Portugal to Santiago da Compostela in Spain.

There’s plenty on Julie‘s site about the prep work, an initial encounter with the Way of St. James and the full walk, but as ever, it was the piece on packing for the venture that caught my attention, reeled me in and ensured that I want to find out more about the walk.

Julie‘s packing list caught my attention because it was a comprehensive one that covered just about everything that you would need to know, pack and carry for  a walking weekend or a longer venture such as the Way of St. James.

Clothing, footwear, pack, drinks systems, first aid and the benefits of using two walking poles rather than one are all covered along with blister prevention, sunscreens plus sit mats, guidebooks, phones, cameras, torches and the use of sandals or flips flops to pad around in after a day in boots or approach shoes.

And the link to that packing list (plus access to the rest of Julie‘s site).

Here it is…

http://juliedawnfox.com/2016/05/30/pack-way-saint-james/

Enjoy!