Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Last Thougts!!

Howard and I had the most fabulous time in both Spain and Portugal!  We never tired of the beautiful architecture, the scenery, whether it was a city, countryside, ocean, was all incredible!

Hopefully some day we'll be back!

At the beginning I was wondering if I'd want to go back to Mexico (Barcelona is so beautiful) but by the end I really appreciated Mexico - the people, the food, the Joy!

We learned an important lesson - end your long trip with 3-4 days relaxing in just one place (the Algarve Coast would have been nice), next time!!!

We made some interesting observations -
Spain -
1. Very pedestrian friendly, unfortunately you feel like you're going to get hit because they stop about 1foot     before you, but they do stop!  It takes some getting used to.
2. They are more environmentally minded - huge recycling bins sit outside on corners for you to bring down your trash and sort your recyclables.
3. We didn't really see obese people even though they eat a lot of carbs.
4.They smoke a lot (maybe that explains #3 above).
5. More energy conscious then the US - they use a lot of Florescent Light bulbs, lights in public restrooms were all on timers (sometimes way too short)

6. People in Barcelona very closed, cold, dry.........whatever!  Especially noticeable in the restaurants!
7. The AVE, fast train was fabulous and so much easier then boarding a Plane!

Portugal -
1.People a lot friendlier than Spain.
2. Lisboa reminded us of Mexico, neighborhood parties, many religious processions celebrating one Saint or another.
3. Tuna spread was served with Bread and Butter before your meal, along with olives etc.
4. You were charged for everything you ate, even 1 Olive ****this was also true in Spain.
5. Gas was $8.50 a gallon -Fiche - Wow, in Portuguese!
6. The highways were extremely well designed from the toll booths, on ramps etc., very modern!
7. They smoke a lot too, I guess all Europeans do
8. Drivers here are crazy, they drive very fast right up to your tail, flash lights - they appear out of nowhere!
9. Driving up and down the country we really had a new appreciation for Fast Food, we had none and we missed them.  They do serve a purpose sometimes!

Both Countries:  Average lunch was $30 and we're not talking great food, the Wine and Beer were the cheapest.  All cars are small, Barcelona is the #1 city in Europe for Motorcycle, Scooter use!
Funny how we don't frequent Starbucks and/or Fast Food places in the US but they saved us many times in Spain and Portugal.

Europeans in general are not as courteous as Americans - we were surrounded by tourist from all over Europe and we noticed they don't say excuse me, sorry, push to get by you etc. I understand its a Cultural Difference but its hard not to notice.

A sad observation - we really have become generic in our clothing, you could not tell the difference between someone from the US, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia etc, we all now dress alike ;(, the styles are the same everywhere!

June 20th - Monday Last day on the road!!

It's a bitter sweet day - We get to go on another adventure but its our last one!  Our goal today is to return the car by early evening and be in our hotel early to prepare for tomorrow's departure.  We'll see what we can find to explore along the way!

Five minutes from our hotel and heading south in our direction was a Miradouro (view point), so we were able to have one more look at the beautiful city of Coimbra and the Mondego River.  We said our Goodbye's, had our picture taken and started heading south towards Lisboa.

Our first stop was the town of Batalha, to see the great Monastery of Santa Maria, considered Portugal's finest architectural achievement and a symbol of its national pride.
We were very happy we stopped here, it was positively an amazing architectural wonder. (We are surprised that we don't tire of seeing  Monasteries, churches, castles etc.)  The exterior was built between 1388 and 1550, with a late Gothic style.

After admiring the Monastery with all its different rooms and chapels we did a little shopping -  right outside there were many little shops selling Touristy Souvenirs.    We bought more Tea Towels, a tablecloth and a deck of cards with pictures from all over Portugal.
Before leaving we decided to eat lunch and found a nice little place close by (but a few blocks away from the touristy area).  We both enjoyed our delicious meal (our last in Portugal), gathered up our energy and headed south again!
From here we headed to Fatima known for the miracle of 1917 when Mary, Mother of Christ appeared in front of 3 Shepherd Children.  In 1930, the Vatican recognized the Virgin of Fatima as legit.  Pilgrims come here in the tens of thousands to rejoice in this modern Miracle.
While trying to find parking we drove around the little, very nice, immaculate town and to no surprise almost every shop sold Catholic, statues of the Virgin with the 3 kids, plates, ceramics etc., unbelievable!  We even saw a hotel called "Catholic Hotel". I wonder if you had to say the rosary every night before going to bed?  Wouldn't doubt it, this country is 94% Catholic.
We were overwhelmed by the modern, huge complex that was here.  Two big churches, the Basilica built between 1928-1953 and the Church of the Holy Trinity 2005-2007.  The 2nd church was begun by Pope John Paul II with a stone from St. Peter's actual tomb in the Vatican.  Each church was at the opposite end of the huge Esplanade.  We visited both churches, wandered around the Esplanade and gardens, saw the Oak Tree where she appeared (the tree is very well protected by a fence) and took many pictures.

After grabbing a quick bite we were on our way again!  Next stop was the town of Alcobaca, famous for its church.  On the way we took a little detour, following signs to a Castle - Howard wanted to see just one more.  We drove through the beautiful countryside, narrow curvy roads but no sign of the Castle.  Finally after driving for about 10 minutes, turning a curve we saw it, way, way far away on a hill!  Since we were going in the opposite direction of where we need to drive we decided to turn around and head back towards Alcobaca.

We arrived in Alcobaca and could see the huge church from afar.  Unfortunately the parking was non-existent, one way streets, very confusing so we found ourselves driving away from the church.  As we were circling back to try again we found a Grocery store and decided to stop.  We bought wine and cheese and crackers for our dinner tonight in the hotel.  While shopping we both agreed that we could skip the Church, it was getting late in the afternoon and we still had to reach Lisboa, find the airport, return the car and get to our hotel.

Arrived in Lisboa and luckily the airport was easy to find.  Returned the car hopped in a taxi and soon we were relaxing in our hotel.  We had purposely chosen one close to the airport, no running around tonight!  We spent the evening repacking our things along with the souvenirs that we had picked up and enjoyed our wine/cheese/cracker dinner and made it an early night!

Sunday, June 19th Driving to the Beach/Afternoon and Evening in Coimbra

Today we decided to drive to the coast - Figueira da Foz - a beach town we had read and heard about.  We chose the free road versus the toll because we wanted to see all the little towns along the way.  We were truly rewarded by passing thru small villages, beautiful scenery and Voila, around a bend lo and behold, in the distance, on a small hill, was a Castle!!  Funny thing, Howard had said he'd like to see just one castle and here it was.
We found ourselves at Montemor-o-Velho, a castle dating back to 990AD.  Many battles between Arabs and Christians were fought here.  We were free to wander the grounds and even though it was Sunday we had it almost to ourselves.  In the church, originally built in 1095 but reconstructed in the 16 century, a Baptism was in process.  We peaked in quietly and moved on.  Many parts of this Castle, which also housed the Royal Residence of the 13th century, was well preserved.  The views from the Castle Walls were beautiful, rice fields, wetlands and country side.  We drove around the town outside the walls through its narrow Medieval streets, 19th century houses and flowers blooming everywhere in the fields and the window boxes.  This was a wonderful surprise on our way to the coast!.


We left here on a little country road and continued to Figueira de Foz.  After driving thru the beautiful countryside we reached the ocean, what a beautiful sight!  The huge Atlantic Ocean was all in front of us!  We drove along the coastline to see the town a little before we parked our car to walk on the beach.  From the street to the water was at least a 5 minute walk, the widest beach we've ever seen.
We enjoyed walking along the edge of the water getting our feet wet and me, of course, looking for shells and rocks.  Without realizing it we had walked quite a ways but luckily for us the walk on the sand back to the sidewalk was about half of what we had walked down to the water.  Now we were hungry (walking on sand will do that to you) and wanted to find a place to eat.  We got back to the area with restaurants and shops and started looking at menus.  Many people were sitting outside and eating their favorite "Sardines".  We decided we didn't want to work that hard for our meal.  They had a wonderful Vintage Car Show that we strolled through on our hunt for lunch.  We finally decided on a Italian restaurant, it was packed with locals, of course good sign.  The food was good and reasonable, for Portugal, but the olives turned out to the most expensive of our entire trip!
Have I mentioned that you pay for everything that is put on your table?  The bread, the butter, the olives etc.  Up until now it had been reasonable but today we were shocked - our little nibbling of Olives cost us $6.00US.  Next time we're in Europe (wishful thinking here) we'll be sure to ask at every restaurant.

After lunch we drove back to Coimbra via the Toll Road, it was only about 45 minutes away.  As I've mentioned before even the toll roads are beautiful here.
Back in Coimbra we drove our car to our side of the river but instead of going back to the hotel we parked along the river so we could strolled across the Pedro and Inez Walking Bridge.  We walked across the river admiring the beautiful views and on the other side we found the restaurants we had read about but couldn't fine.  The were down right along the river but not visible from the road on that side.  We checked out menus and decided we'd eat our last dinner in one of these.
We kept walking along the park, men were sitting outside playing dominoes, small kids were riding their miniature cars and Mom's were pushing strollers.  Just as we were arriving across from the main plaza (we  were heading to the University) the River Boat was starting to fill up with people.  We had seen this Boat on the river while we walked across the bridge and commented what a nice experience it must be.  Spontaneously we walked up the crew and asked if we could also board, they said sure!  It was mostly a Tour Group of Spaniards, it was nice to hear a language that we understood.  It was a very nice, relaxing, beautiful boat ride.  We went cruising for about an hour and we enjoyed seeing the town from the River.

Back on land we walked through the Historic area following the signs for the University.  It was all up hill, narrow, winding streets but due to our perseverance we made it to the top!  School is out for the summer so we didn't see any students. Mostly we enjoyed seeing most of the campus from the outside of the buildings, beautiful architecture everywhere.  The U was founded in 1290, originally a Royal Palace when Coimbra was the Capital.  The views from up here were wondrous.  After walking around as much as possible and seeing what was opened we proceeded to walk back down.  We wanted to explore so we chose a different route down.  Meandered through the narrow streets until we found stairs that we thought were going the right way, down!!  Fortunately for us, they were going the right way but they were the steepest stairs we'd ever walked on.  We ended up across the street from the park that we needed to walk through to cross the bridge and back to our car.  We needed a nap so we could return tonight for dinner!

It was late so we decided to drive over the to the restaurant on the other side of the river.  It was a nice evening, 10pm and still light out.  We enjoyed our dinner at the Rock Cafe, the food was good, the views beautiful and the owner very personable.  It was a lovely, last evening in Coimbra!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

June 17th - Lamego, Coimbra and June 18th Exploring around Coimbra!

Today it was drive and explore our way to Coimbra.  Its so easy to drive in this country, its so beautiful and all the roads are maintained, whether they are small country roads or highways - we were very impressed.  We stopped at the city of Lamego, known for its 18th century Church and the top of 686 steps - we walked up about 250, took pictures and then walked back down.  (No, not because we couldn't walk up those many steps but we were on our way to Coimbra, we couldn't linger too long, now could we)?  There was also a Castle here but we just did a drive by.   We did stop in the middle of the town, had our usual cafe com leite and walked along the beautiful, flower, tree-lined pedestrian walkway.  Visited another beautiful church!  Lamego is really a very pretty city!

We continued driving southwest towards Coimbra.  At one point, on our left, we passed the Bucaco Forest, we've read its beautiful and made plans to return during our time in Coimbra.

This was the first time that we were actually winging it, we did not have a reservation.  We had a few hotels picked out to choose from but no idea where they were, just knew they were in the Historic area!  Unfortunately, this was a work day and the traffic was horrific and parking non-existent. I ran into one of our choices but decided to keep looking (they did not offer parking or WiFi in our room) so we tried to find the others.  Due to traffic and not knowing our way around we ended up on the bridge crossing the river!  At first it was Oh, NO but it turned out to be a blessing!   I ran into a Tourist Office (on the other side) and asked about hotels with parking.  She circled a few on the map and pointed one out on this side!  We normally like to stay right in the center of town (and not stay in BW) but we figured, we're here lets check it out!  This hotel was on the hill with beautiful views of Coimbra, the river etc.  It turned out to be our lucky day!   Not only did we get 3 nights for the price of 2 but we also got a King Size bed, not very common in these parts.  In fact when reading their literature I discovered that out of 98 rooms, 10 had King Size beds.  I could have kissed the handsome, kind, desk clerk!  We were only a beautiful bridge across from town, had marvelous views and we even had a walking bridge, the best of both worlds!

We enjoyed our 3 nights here so much that we learned a lesson - sometimes staying away from the Center of town and using a BW can be a good thing!

After napping (in our King size bed) we drove into town for dinner.  We had just arrived on the Main Plaza when a group of people dressed in Traditional Portuguese dance costumes arrived and started unloading musical instruments.  (Unfortunately, we had not brought our camera to dinner, big mistake).  I wanted to find out what was going on but Howard was on the hunt for a good dinner!

We wandered thru the maze of streets, there was a lot of street activity - music, food vendors etc.  Just as it started to drizzle we chose a small Ma/Pa restaurant filled with locals, so we decided to give it a try.  We communicated mostly with pointing, the owners little English and our poor Portuguese but we succeeded.  We ended up with Goat Stew, just meat actually, no veggies ;( , boiled potatoes and a salad.  While we were eating the people I had seen in Costumes came down our narrow street playing music and signing.  I had to run out and watch them for a minute.  (The Gods were watching over me).

After dinner we walked around and found more and more entertainment - listened to an orchestra of mostly young people, saw more parades, each group representing a different school, church etc.  I finally asked what the celebration was all about and they told me it was the Festa of San Pedro!  Portugal is a lot more like Mexico than Spain, in more ways then one!  Needless to say we had a fun, entertaining first night in Coimbra!  No pictures but the memory will live on!

June 18th - Exploring around Coimbra and ending the day with dinner and Fado back in the Historic Area

Today we were off to see the Roman Ruins of Conimbriga, one of Europe's great Roman archaeological finds and one of the best preserved in the Iberian peninsula.  In the Iron Age it was a Celtic settlement but in the 1st century AD it was the Romans who turned it into a prosperous city.   We explored ruins of an opulent Villa, one of the largest houses ever discovered in the Western Roman Empire.  It included a bathing complex and a sophisticated heating systems.  There is also a House of the Fountains, which still has pictorial mosaics - a lot of them in almost perfect condition.   We spent a lot of time exploring the grounds including ruins of Temples, a forum, an aqueduct and the elaborate piping system that heated the towns public and private bathrooms.   We also visited the museum on site that recounted the daily life of this town.  It was very interesting and we really enjoyed our visit here!

We were feeling a little run down (lets see today is #38 of being on the road) so we weren't sure if we should drive to the Bucaco Forest or not.  We had come south of Coimbra (about 10 minutes) for the Ruins and the Forest was about 20 minutes north of Coimbra but we decided that sitting in a car would not be much exertion, so off we went discovering more beautiful roads and countryside!

Buçaco is a delightful refuge of cypress groves, ferns, statues, fountains and trails!  The Buçaco Forest was first settled by Benedictine monks in the 6th Century. Later, it was administered by priests from Coimbra Cathedral, and a Papal edict of 1622 declared that women entering the forest would be excommunicated. The Discalced Carmelites, an order of barefooted monks, took over in 1628. They built a monastery and surrounded the 250-acre (105-hectare) forest with a wall. Over the centuries, the monks and the government foresters who succeeded them have planted nearly 400 Portuguese varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers while importing some 300 species from as far away as Mexico, Chile, and Japan.  I am happy to say that I was not struck down by lightning or anything, so I believe that the Papal edict of 1622 must have expired ;)

Since we were a little run down we mostly just drove around the forest, up the mountain, down and around.  We had to be very careful choosing the roads because if we went down the right side (as we were going up) we would have ended up in another valley, on the other side of the Mountain and far away from our King bed!  As luck would have it (or good navigating-I am the navigator)  we always seemed to choose the right direction and we ended  up at the Tippy Tippy Top of the Mountain where there was a Monument (I'm sure it was dedicated to some Saint or something) and the most marvelous 360 degree views, going out to never, never land!

There were also hiking trails from up here but not really knowing how long it was going to take to get back off the mountain (or even if we were going to take the right turns) we decided not to venture off.  On our way down we did see a Big, Rock Wall with an open gate and decided to stop.  It too had trails and we went for a short hike.  As we were driving down the mountain we could see way off on our left beautiful, huge homes dotting the countryside, this was definitely a wealthy area!
Before going completely down we took a different road and found a Cafe over looking the valley below(opposite of Coimbra side).  I think we crashed a private party but no one seemed to mind.  We bought a snack and sat on a bench admiring the views!

Back at our hotel we were ready for a Nap before going out to dinner and listening to some Fado music.  We wanted a good tasty meal so we chose an Indian Restaurant we had spotted yesterday - our 3rd since arriving in Portugal.  Had a wonderful meal and then walked thru the Historic area - our goal was to find "A Capella" - a tiny chapel that has been turned into a temple for traditional Coimbra style Fado music (different than Fado from Lisbon).
The streets here are all narrow and winding, a little confusing but fun to explore.  But since we had to buy tickets and were afraid that it might sell out we finally asked a family to help us with directions - its good we did we never would have found it!  They were all very helpful - Dad, grandma and mostly Mom who spoke fabulous English!  It was all uphill, we barely had the energy to make it, got a table, ordered a drink and waited for the show to begin.  Before beginning the little place did fill up.  The show consisted of 2 musicians and one singer!  It was an interesting experience but too dull for our liking.  The Portuguese Guitar was wonderful but the Fado was too bland for us!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

June 16th - Èxploring Pinháo!

Woke up to the beautiful views out our balcony windows, what a site!  Breakfast was served on the Terrace, overlooking the Douro River - this is the Life!!  1st on our agenda today was to tour the facilities here at the Quinta.  We had a nice, small group and believe it or not a couple from Utah had numerous friends who lived in San Miguel, at least part time.  This couple had been to SMA many times.  We didn't know any of their friends but from the Colonia's that they lived in we knew they were way out of our league (financially).  Alina, our guide was very knowledgeable - she gave us the history first, then took us to the area where they do the 'Foot Stompin', its all done this way.  The Stompers get about $10US an hour.  She said its getting harder and harder to find people to do it.  Ideally they should all be the same height and weight but nowadays they are just happy to find anyone.  From here went down to the cellar to see the different sized Oak Barrels.  Of course it ended with tasting the wines and port.

Later we went into the small town to walk around, it was quiet, not many tourist here yet.  The waterfront was very nice, small restaurants/cafe's and many boats of all sized.  We grabbed a small lunch and walked around.  After exploring the town we decided to take one of the recommended hikes,  The hike followed the Pinhao river, up slightly on a paved road then down a dirt road and past some houses.  It was a nice hike, perfect way to spend a leisurely afternoon.  We could see a beautiful, old cemetery across the river but unfortunately there was no way to get over there.

Relaxed back at the Quinta and returned to the waterfront for an early dinner and bedtime!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

June 15th - Off to Port Land, the Douro Valley!!

We were off on another beautiful drive!  The Quinta (Vineyard) that we were staying at had sent us directions, but I could see on our map that we could also get there by getting off the main highway and driving more on the small country roads, Howard liked that idea!  It was a little Scary at times, the roads were very narrow and curvy with cliffs, (get the picture) and trucks making delivery's were also using these roads ;( , but it was so worth it.  The views were incredible!  First we were up, climbing, curving around here and there but after 1hr. or so (I really don't remember) we started our decline towards the River.   It was all a total paradise of a drive!  At one point before reaching the bottom we stopped for a cup of Cafe con Leite and a Pastel, both delicious.  We sat outside admiring the views!

In the town of Regua that sits on the Douro River we crossed a small bridge and drove along the river for about 30 minutes to the small town of Pinhao!  We passed many Quinta's, some just working Quinta's, others offering tours and others like ours, Tours and B&B!  We arrived at Quinta de la Rosa, admired the views, left our luggage and walked about 20 minutes towards town, looking for lunch.  After filling our stomachs with a good lunch and Vinho Verde, straight out of the barrel, we walked back to our Quinta to relax.  The grounds had a pool in a very relaxing environment so we headed there in our suits with our towels and books to read.   There we were relaxing on very comfortable lounges, overlooking the this Heaven or what?  We never made it in the pool, not because of the views or the good book I was reading but because the water was really COLD!

That night we went to a recommended restaurant just in town.  We both enjoyed a fresh fish meal and a bottle of wine!  Our waiter was really nice, not something we could say often in Spain ;(.  Back at our room overlooking the river we watched the Full Moon Eclipse from our small balcony but we decided to go enjoy it from the Terrace, it was truly magical!  This Eclipse was only visible from this part of the world, it was not something that our family and friends were seeing from the US or Mexico.

June 16th - Breakfast was served on the Terrace - this is the life!  First on our Agenda today was to tour the facilities here.  We had a nice small group and one couple from Utah had been to San Miguel many times, they had numerous friends there (we didn't know any of them).  Alina, our guide was very knowledgeable-she gave us the history 1st of the Quinta and its owners.  The she took us to the area where they do the 'Foot Stompin', its all still done this way.  The Stompers get about $10US an hour.  She said its getting harder and harder to find people to do it.  Ideally they should all be the same height and weight but nowadays they are just happy to find anyone.  From here we went down to the cellar to see the big Oak Barrels.  Of course it ended with tasting wines and port.

Later we went into the small town to walk around, it was very quiet, not many tourists yet.  The waterfront was very nice, small restaurants, cafes and many boats of all sizes.  We grabbed a small lunch and walked around a little more  before going back to the Quinta to rest....too much wine last night zapped my energy today ;(  .  Went back to the waterfront for an early dinner and an early night!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

June 14th - Off to Barcelos and Guimaraes

When we decided to move to Mexico I decided to collect Roosters-Gallos!  Its better to have fun with them then hate them because they can be noisy, right?  So today we went off the to the city famous for its Roosters or Galos, as it is spelled in Portuguese - Barcelos!  The legend has it that they are good luck, one of the stories being that the Roosters Crow saved a man from hanging to death!

The drive up there was absolutely beautiful, rolling hills, tall trees, homes, farm lands dotted here and there.  Once you are out of the big cities in Portugal you are out in the beautiful countryside.   In less than an hour we found ourselves in this historic town that sits on the Cavalo River and is connected to the town across the river by a Medieval Bridge built in the 14th Century.   We started our exploring by the river at the ruins of the Palace of the Barcelos' Counts built in the 1st half of the 15 century and a National Monument since 1910, it is now the Archeological Museum of Barcelos.

As we left the ruins we spotted our first Galo, the are large statues and very colorful, it was fun having my picture taken with them throughout the town.  We continued walking thru the historic streets and in to the Town Center.  It was a nice stroll, this is a very nice, well kept town.  We found a beautiful garden, many fountains, gorgeous Church and of course more Galo's here and there!   We stopped for coffee and a Pastel de Nata.  I did a little shopping - I had to get some Galo souvenirs!  Barcelos was a very nice, quaint little town and we could have stayed longer but we still had Guimaraes to visit (we were told it was even nicer) so we decided to go there and start our visit with lunch.

A view of the town across the river!

GUIMARAES - the Birth Place of Portugal
The drive to Guimaraes continued to amaze us, I can't stress how beautiful this country is!  Another plus for drivers is that the highways are exceptionally well organized, the toll booths, signage etc..  We arrived here hungry, not a good way to arrive anywhere, it makes it a little hectic.   Parked by the Igreja de San Pedro and wandered into the historic part looking for Cheers, restaurant recommended by Peggy and Eric.  We found the Plaza but unfortunately they were not open that day so we continued looking.  Just walking thru the town was a feast for the eyes (no pun intended), narrow, winding streets lined with very old buildings, churches etc.  In another small plaza we found a wonderful restaurant, Pimenta Moscada, serving Frango (chicken) as their Menu of the Day.  We ate like Royalty, now we are ready to explore!

We walked the beautiful streets towards the Castle, built in the 10th Century.   We've seen many Castles but we just don't get tired of them (plus its good exercise to walk up and down the many steps).  We walked all the way up to the very tippy top and pretended we were searching for the enemy, in this case we only spotted groups of noisy school kids on tours with their teachers.  Luckily we were able to enjoy the Castle without them.  The views from here were incredible, we could see the Palace and St. Miguel's Chapel, all in the same area.  From here we walked to the small Chapel, built in the beginning of the 12th Century and then continued on to the Palace, built in the 15th Century.  Since 1959 the Palace has been a Museum open to the public, housing a collection dating from the 17th and 18th Century. It includes wooden furniture, tapestries, porcelain and weapons from the 15th and 16th Century.  The Palace had its own small Chapel with beautiful Stain Glass windows.
View of the Palace from the Castle

A Room in the Palace!

We found a charming outdoor cafe right across the street from the Palace and decided to have an afternoon drink - Howard had his favorite, Cerverja and I mine, Vinho Verde!  I also found myself a Handsome Knight -

The views from our table were beautiful, this truly is a very quaint, charming city.  Hard to believe how old it is, it is so well kept up.  It is a Medieval town but its origins go back to the 10th Century.  After relaxing (resting our feet) we wandered thru more of the narrow streets, viewing many historic buildings, fountains, statues, Churches, Monasteries, etc. you could feel the history all round us!

We were in our car headed back to Porto when we spotted a sign for the Teleferico (Cable Car) that takes you up the mountain.  We looked at each other and said "Why not?".  We had about 30 minutes before they closed, giving us a little time to explore up at the top.  The ride (view) was spectacular and we enjoyed a short hike at the top to the Sanctuary, more magnificent views from here!

We drove back to our Castle in Porto very happy campers, what a fabulous day!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wonderful day and night exploring Porto!!

This is being written from our home in Mexico, somehow our time in Portugal was go, go, go and we didn't keep up with our Blog!  But for our sake we are going to do some catch up and going to edit what we've already written so we'll have a nice memory for the future (heck, for now too, I've already forgotten a lot and we've only been home for 5 days)!!

Dinning Room
June 13th - Arrived in Porto last night, walked to a grocery store and bought some Wine, cheese & crackers to eat in our room, too tired to go out exploring.   This morning we went down for breakfast, what a beautiful DR and LR room this Castle has.  Breakfast appeared abundant but when you got down to it, it wasn't much. The same old breakfast rolls, ham and cheese slices, very little fruit and the coffee nothing to write home about.  We can't wait to get back to Mexico, we sure do eat well there!  I noticed that the other guests from all parts of Europe didn't greet the staff with Bom Dia (Portuguese) but with 'Morning'.  I found that odd but I guess its Universal.

We walked down our street heading towards the Historic Area, beautiful, old charm in an old city!  In our wanderings we walked right to the Train Station, this was good because we were meeting Peggy and Eric here tonight, now we know where it is! The lobby of the Station was filled with beautiful tiles showing the history of Portugal.  Found the T.I. and picked up a map then sat in an outside cafe for a cup of coffee and do a little planning. Of course Howard had a Pastel de Nata with his coffee, he is addicted. I wanted to see 2 things...the bookstore Lellos and the fanciest McDonald's ever.  We had both circled on our map and headed out to explore the city.  We found Mc'D's easy, it was very elegant because it took the place of the Imperial Cafe, fun to see.

We wandered around Avenida dos Aliados, many beautiful, old buildings surrounded this street and at the top was the City Hall.  From here we wandered thru the many little winding streets in search of the bookstore, Lellos.  It has been written up for the beautiful building that its in.  Unfortunately, I think that fame has gotten to the owners and photos are no longer allowed to be taken ;(.  We enjoyed a short visit there and almost bought a beautiful, coffee table book about Portugal and its Wine Country.  From here we wandered towards a Church we had noticed and found the Igreja dos Carmelita's, another beautiful church to admire.  We enjoyed wandering thru the neighborhoods and parks, people watching and always in AWE of the gorgeous, old architecture.

We were getting hungry and decided to head towards 'La Ribeira', the waterfront.  We enjoyed the walk (it was all downhill) and sat outside for lunch and a beer.  Much to our amusement a couple of musicians were playing the accordion and singing "Besame Mucho", a favorite here in Mexico!    We had beautiful views from our table of the many bridges in Porto, the boats, Gaia, across the river .....

From here we walked across the bridge and went to Vila Nova de Gaia where most of the Port makers have their Showrooms and Tours.  We went into Calem and waited for the next tour.  The tour was very interesting and of course ended with tastings.  We discovered that we liked the White Port, not sure we'll find it in Mexico or the U.S.
We were meeting Peggy and Eric for dinner tonight so we decided we better head back and rest a little before heading out again.  Luckily for us there was a Funicular on the other side of the bridge that would take us back up to the top of town ;).  Plus Howard loves taking all the different kinds of transportation they have here.  Once at the top, an old fashioned trolley was waiting for us, why not, we took it around town one full circle then got off to walk back to our 'Castle'.

Who is this handsome guy on the trolley??

On our way we saw a Metro station (hadn't tried that yet in Porto) so we went down the stairs and down some more to find our line.  We had to transfer lines to get to our closest station but eventually we ended up at the Metro closest to us. It was fun but not sure it saved any time, we probably could have walked there in the same amount (or less) of time.  But my honey was happy and if he's happy, I'm happy!!  BTW, all this public transport on one ticket, about $1.50!!  One of the few deals we found in Spain/Portugal!
Back at our 'Castle', we sat in the Garden and relaxed, the grounds were very pretty.

Soon it was time to head out again and meet our Blogging Friends, Peggy and Eric.  They are from MN. and have lived in Northern Portugal, Braga, for the last 9 1/2 months.  Eric is on sabbatical and Peggy as his kept woman/wife has kept a blog of all their travels (actually so did Eric).  I found their blog once we decided to go to Portugal and have been following their adventures.  Because of them we decided to come to Northern Portugal and they were kind enough to meet us for dinner here in Porto.  We left for the Train Station, thinking we knew were it was!  But first we stopped at a tiny, little Bar just down the street from our 'Castle' for a quick drink.  The owner had a fabulous collection of bottles and many, different tropical things hanging everywhere from the ceiling.

Unfortunately our memory, from this morning, didn't serve us well and we found ourselves blocks from the Train Station just minutes from when we were supposed to be there.  I ran ahead so we wouldn't be too late, didn't want them to think we weren't coming and found them in the lobby.  I felt like they were old friends, I've read so much about them.  Once Howard arrived we started walking to the restaurant.  It was fun talking to them and sharing our experiences.   They had chosen a restaurant that they frequented when they were in Porto, Braga is an 60 minute train ride away.   We chatted and ate a wonderful meal, drank Vinho Verde out of the barrel (at the table it was in a glass Jug) and enjoyed the very friendly owner/chef.  She and her daughter's own and run the restaurant.   The Mother enjoyed chatting with us, in Portuguese. I think that Peggy and Eric understood enough and she knew that they were going back to MN so it was a sad night for them.  She ended up giving us a tour of  the 300 year old building next door.  On the 3rd level she had an apt. remolded, it was wonderful, very modern and beautiful views. A wonderful experience, the whole night!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Driving north to Porto

Sunday, June 12, 2011 we rented a car in Lisbon for our 9 day driving trip. Our first stop was the town of Obidos. This was a small medieval town that once was the birthday present for a kings wife. The town was very charming, quaint and small. This is definitely a place to spend one night.

 Our second stop only 30 kilometers down the road was the beach town of Nazaré. This used to be a fishing town many years back. Today it is a Portuguese resort area and quite a big town. We did discover a small, very good restaurant called Maria de Mar. Maria was a fun lady who waited on us and sang while she worked. I had grilled squid and Elenita drank Green Wine (she had eaten earlier in Obidos). We were on different eating schedules, hopefully, today we will eat together. Nazaré is a town known in history for widows who wear black the rest of their lives after there husbands die. They also rent out rooms to make a little extra money.

After Nazaré we drove up to the top of a cliff to the town of Sítio which over looks the town on Nazaré. We just stopped here for the views.
Our next stop was the city of Porto. This is a working class city built on hills with cool ocean weather like San Francisco. Our hotel is called the The Castelo do Santa Catarina and all the rooms are decorated in the 19th century style.