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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lisbon by metro, trolly and feet the first day

Our first day in Lisbon we spent the first hour looking for a place to take our laundry. We finally discovered a place underground in a metro station about 3 stops from ours. After that, since we were in the metro we went in the opposite direction  in search of a flea market in one of the oldest neighborhoods, Alfama. We walked around the market for about 30 to 40 minutes in search of  those unique memories.  What we found were rooster and roosters. Roosters on towels, roosters on tiles and roosters made out of metal. I guess roosters are big in Portugal. (coincidentally Elenita collects them). These aren't your ordinary roosters, these roosters have many different colors, shapes and sizes. After the flea market we ended up on the electric trolley which is like riding the cable cars in San Francisco.
Since we were in the neighborhood we decided to visit the Sao Jorge Castle. The panoramic views from up here were incredible!

We ate lunch at a very local family, tiny restaurant which for a decent price was good food and a very good value compared to our experiences in Spain. When we complimented the owner (using our Portuguese Phrase book), he spoke no English, he gave us desserts  for no extra charge. This was not in the tourist area and we really enjoyed sitting among the locals and soaking in the flavor.  After this we were totally exhausted and meandered back down the hill, thru narrow streets, exploring the area as we walked back to our hotel.  Miraculously we were not as far away as we had thought!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Madrid - meat,, ham, expense and Toledo.

Last night we landed in Lisbon, Portugal after spending 6 nights in Madrid and a total of 19 in Spain. Madrid is a grand city with amazing architecture and history. We had a great time getting to know the city and visiting with Elenita's cousin (tour guide) Odette. One of the days we took a train to Todelo which was a about 30 minutes from Madrid. Toledo is a small medieval walled town with winding narrow streets, beautiful buildings and wonderful churches.

In Madrid we learned the Metro and traveled around the city easily underground. The night life was incredible, at 11:00 pm the streets were filled with people, eating, drinking and just enjoying life.. For a big city one never felt unsafe. When is came to eating it was tapas, tapas and tapas pretty much everyone ate. After awhile Elenita and I just wanted a regular sit down meal and went to a seafood restaurant for a wonderful fish dinner. Dining out in Spain  is a very expensive endeavor and vegetables are rarely served in restaurants. The major problem is that the quality of food is not equal to the price. Last night our first meal in Lisbon was wonderful Indian food. We felt like we got a good meal for a good price finally.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Landed in Madrid

The word AVE represents a bird. This is the name given to the high-speed train system in Spain. These trains can travel up to 350 Km/h or 217 m/h. We took this train from Cuenca to Madrid about 180 miles and it took 1 hour. I really wish we had train travel in the United States. It is certainly a lot easier then traveling by plane and the views are incredible.

We arrived in Madrid on Tuesday, May 31 at noon and took a taxi to our room. We met the owner of our Hostel and she is a real sweet lady who gave us a great overview of the location we are staying at in Madrid. We are very close to everything in the central part of  Madrid. Our first day we walked to orient ourselves to the location. At night we met up with a cousin of Elenita's who has been living here for a little more then a year.  The next day we traveled around the city on the tourist bus. What great way to see an overview of a city. Last night we decided to eat a real sit down meal instead of the high carb tapas we have been eating. We went to a wonderful seafood restaurant and  had a very good meal. Afterwards we walked around and discovered many different street musicians until we ran into a Mexican Mariachi band. It was a wonderful experience.