Porto – on the river

Rabelo boat
Rabelo boat on the Duoro River – Porto

Our intiation to Portugal was definitely enhanced by the hospitality of our friends but now it was time to venture out on our own.  After saying our farewells, we boarded the train in Pombal and headed north arriving a little over an hour later in the beautiful Porto train station.

Porto train station
Porto train statio

As is typical in old Medieval European cities, if you have booked a room in a hotel in the old part of town, you may have to hunt for it. We knew our hotel (Apartmentos sobre o Duoro) was on the Duoro River so we headed downhill through the crowded and somewhat tired-looking old city to the waterfront. The tight, cluttered streets suddenly reminded me of Naples Italy but thankfully minus the stench and the garbage. After many passes by our address, we discovered our place had no reception – just a phone number taped to the door (also typical in Europe unless you are staying at a 4-5 star hotel.) We found the owner in a nearby bar and being somewhat unsure of our choice of accommodations, we were more than pleased when he showed us our upper room. The entire place had been restored with particular attention to the original high ceilings, stone walls and old wood beams but it was decked out with the latest modern conveniences and impeccably clean. Our room had big french windows facing the river and opened wide to reveal the sights and sounds of the waterfront.image

Our stay in Porto was one short night dampened by pouring rain, so rather than walk the city we took refuse across the bridge in a “port cave” (Ferreria Cellars) and waited for a port wine tour/tasting of the liquid delicacy that put Porto on the map. Who knew there were so many different varieties of port wine? My new favorite dessert!

Ferriera Port Cellars
Ferriera Port Cellars

Tapas at a cute little side street cafe were followed by a late dinner of ..what else…codfish at a highly recommended restaurant called Baralhoiero on the waterfront. This dish was a large codfish steak baked with potatoes, broccoli, onions and garlic all swimming in a pool of extra virgin olive oil – heaven!image

Falling into bed well after midnight, we were lulled to sleep by the musical sounds of soft Portugese conversations mixed with the clinking of glass and occasional music in the cafe below.image

Lovely Lisbon

Lisbon park play
Lisbon park play

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Lisbon is thriving port city that takes great pride in its history of fearless navigation and exploration to the outer unknown regions of the world in the 15th and 16th centuries. The dramatic monument to the early Portuguese explorers leans out over the waters edge and seems to portray the urgency and resolve of these brave travelers as they gaze beyond the reaches of their country.

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The massive and stunningly beautiful Jeronimos Monastery and Cathedral stands near the waterfront and sprawls out the length of two city blocks.  It stands on what was originally a smaller church where the monks used to provide services for wandering seafarers.  Considerably larger now, its interior houses two museums, cloisters for the religious order, various chapels and numerous tombs of past royals and dignataries.  Construction began in 1500 and took over 100 years to complete.

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A visit to Lisbon would not be complete however without the sampling of one or two (or seven) pastries from the world famous bakery, Pasteis de Belem. Just look for the Pasterlaria with the longest line. Rather than try to find a seat in the crowded and stuffy restaurant, we opted to purchase our goods to go and settled in nicely on a park bench across the street. The typical Portugese pastry called Pastel de Nata (cream pastry) was our personal favorite.

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Speaking of good food, our dinner was a seaside experience at a little town called Foz de Arelho where we sat next to a pool full of fresh crab and lobsters in the restaurant Cabana de Pescador. The seafood stew arrived in a giant copper pot with plenty of bread to sop up the goodness after the shells and meat were all fished out and consumed.

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Navigating Portugal

Foz de Arelho, Portugal
Foz de Arelho, Portugal

As we planned our excursion through northern Spain this August, It seemed appropriate to begin our trip from its southern neighbor because although tiny in size, it has an inpressive history of successful and innovative navigators and explorers. That, and the fact that our good friends opened their home and hearts to us inviting us into their family and Portugese hospitality.  Arriving in Lisbon was pretty much a breeze except for the fact that our luggage was lost for a few days (note to self:  avoid SATA airlines).  For many of you who do a lot of traveling you will understand what I mean by, no luggage, no problem.  It truly is a lesson in resourcefulness and creativity (not to mention patience) when everything you THINK you need is unavailable.  It’s amazing what you can do without.  Quite freeing, actually.  Besides, all the important stuff we carried on.  Everything else was just…well…baggage.

Typical Portugese architecture
Typical Portugese architecture

Our introduction to Portugal was especially sweet thanks to Silvia and family.  We avoided the tourist areas and set camp in Silvia’s generational family home in a little village north of Lisbon called Barracao.  How many places do you go where the hostess’s “tour of the house” includes the attached annex of the old stone barn that used to house animals, vegetables and a winepress?  This was her grandparents home and it still has the charm of the old country with crocheted lace curtains, dark handcrafted furniture and signature Portugese wall tiles.  A dinner at her Aunt’s house just down the road was an all night affair starting at 9pm and ending many hours later with a sweet flan and even more drinks.

Cristina's flan
Cristina’s flan

A day trip to Conselasao Beach began with local fresh pastries from a bakery aptly named Bom Pecado – “Good Sin.”  Lounging on the giant expanse of sand and enjoying the late afternoon sun was the perfect way to recuperate from jet lag.

Conselacao beach, Portugal
Conselacao beach, Portugal

The castle fortress of nearby Leiria offered expansive views over the Portugese landscape.  From its heights the vista was a sea of red tiled roofs over Leiria.

View from Castelo de Leiria
View from Castelo de Leiria

The Praza Rodrigues Lobo below was teeming with the post-siesta energy of shoppers and diners at stores and sidewalk cafés.  We joined in with a typical lunch of Bacalhao (codfish – which traditionally can be prepared hundreds of ways) and then strolled around the old town where we found unexpected surprises hidden in the little back streets.

Leiria neighborhood of cats
Leiria neighborhood of cats

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Our side trip ended in the historic university city of Coimbra where students still wear the long traditional black robes torn at the hem and reminiscent of a Harry Potter scene.  Dinner at the Taberna Trovador was a treat for the senses as we enjoyed more codfish delicacies, good wine and fellowship under the soulful tunes of traditional Fado music (a blues-style music accompanied by Portugese guitar, classical guitar and a singer.)

Fado concert in Coinbra

Coimbra
Coimbra