Coimbra

acd9bd8b-80b9-437a-82c9-5eaa9afdc22bWe all had a great nights sleep and were up for breakfast at 8:30am. Of course the boys overslept and only woke up at 8:30am when we messaged them to say we were going for breakfast. They did get up in 5 minutes at least. The breakfast was a buffet with a really good array of breads, cold meat, cheese, scrambled egg, fresh fruit etc. I thought it was pretty good for the fact that it is included in the room rate.

We headed out to see the University of Coimbra which was founded in 1290 (one of the oldest universities in the world). The only issue is that you have to walk up (and I really mean UP) to get to the university buildings as they are on the top of the hill (see yesterday’s photo). As it was only 5 degrees C outside, everyone was panting when we finally got to the top due to the cold air. It was also quite a steep climb so even the summer we might have been panting.

227af858-0189-43e4-91fc-028886b2769dWe went into the New Cathedral of Coimbra. “New” is really not an appropriate description as it was built-in the 17th century. But it did displace the Old Cathedral as the seat of the Bishop of Coimbra and so it is now the officially recognized Cathedral of Coimbra. What struck me was the number of ways they try to get money out of you in the Cathedral. Not only did you have to pay €1 per person to enter it but there were at least 25 other forms of money collections in the Cathedral itself. From electronic candles (pay €1 and the candle lights up to pray for some dead person – the Cathedral has numerous stations remembering Our Lady of Good Death) through to electronic guides (pay €1 to be informed about some statue or altar) to a plain box on the wall to give whatever money you feel you need to give out of guilt or to get your loved one out of purgatory or whatever. It was so obvious to us that it makes you wonder why people attending can’t see it. It also frustrates me to think how much money would have been spent on the Cathedral in the 17th century  (it is pretty impressive inside) and that money would have definitely come from the people in the town who would most likely not have been very wealthy.

Michael was just itching to get himself into a confessional booth and eventually when everyone else in the Cathedral had vanished he did slip in (though unfortunately the photographic evidence didn’t come out well). I did get a shot of Lara and Olivia bowing at the altar though (don’t worry Simon & Bryan … I’ll sort out their theology by the time we get back). The best comment of the day did come from Stephen. When we were all together at the back of the Cathedral just before we were about to exit he said “Thank goodness for Martin Luther”. Quite appropriate given 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his thesis to the door at Wittenberg.

0f820646-9f0f-4f76-b22c-a0ca903c9ee7We also walked around the university buildings which have quite fantastic views over the city and river. We had hoped to visit the botanical gardens but when we arrived we found a sign on the gate saying they were closed 31/12 and 1/1 so unfortunately our trips timing was going to prevent us from seeing those (they are the biggest gardens in Portugal). We walked back towards the hotel and found a street cafe to have some lunch. I am staggered at how reasonably priced everything is. Our beers at lunch cost us €1.50 each which really is incredibly reasonable and the total lunch only cost us €35.

This afternoon the ladies went shopping at the mall while the 3 men got in some sleep and recovered from the 7-8km of walking this morning. It is now 10pm and Helen is already fast asleep in the bed next to me. She is definitely not seeing in 2017 tonight. I am not surprised as she has walked about 40% further than me today and I’m tired too.

We had hoped to go to a restaurant for dinner tonight that was a recommendation on TripAdvisor. I had messaged them to ask for a reservation but got no reply. We walked up to restaurant anyway but unfortunately discovered they were totally closed. We tried a few other places also with no success and so we finally headed to the side of the river where we had seen an Italian restaurant yesterday and we were fortunately able to get a table (outside though they did have a heater). Nothing fancy as they had a limited New Years’ Eve menu but enough for all of us to find something we wanted to eat (I think Lara was the happiest because she managed to get a vegan pizza made for her). The food was fine but the dinner was quite enjoyable because of the company.

There are meant to be fireworks over the river tonight (and there is a band set up as well) but Helen is clearly not going to make it and I might not either given the lethargy I am currently feeling. I’m definitely posting the blog now regardless of whether I make it through to midnight or not because I am likely to get less criticism tomorrow morning at breakfast because they won’t be reading the blog while we eat breakfast. The 6 people traveling with me are the most brutal critics of my daily blogs (or at least 5 out of the 6 are).  They tell me what I said incorrectly, what I missed, what I shouldn’t have commented on etc etc etc. Lara remains the only exception to that general statement and for that alone she deserves to move up on the blog sign-off tonight.

Until 2017 …

P, S (for his comment on Luther), L (for her lack of commentary/criticism), H, C, M & O (and O earned her last spot today!)

On our way to Portugal

Yesterday (now day before yesterday when you read this!) we left home at just before 2pm for the airportimg_2065 and we arrived today at 3pm (Portuguese time which is 5pm SA time) at our first overnight stop in Portugal.  27 hours of traveling! No easy way to get to Portugal from South Africa unfortunately.

We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Frankfurt to Lisbon. While we were all on the first and third flights together, we were on different airlines on the JHB-Frankfurt route. Chloe, Helen and I were on Lufthansa and the other four (Stephen & Michael and girlfriends) were on SAA.  My preference would have been to rather fly on SAA as Lufthansa is my least favourite airline in the world.  I always get the feeling when traveling on Lufthansa that since I don’t speak German as my first language that I am a second class person. They speak to you constantly in German despite you clearly only replying in English (I know enough German to be able to respond to their questions). It happened again last night in that in the middle of the meal service she offered Chloe and I something and only spoke in German despite all our interactions up until then being in English.

img_2064The good thing about the traveling was that everything went smoothly for all of us.  At least it went smoothly until we arrived in Lisbon where there is a ground handlers strike at the airport. When we disembarked there was no way to actually get into the terminal as no one had opened the exits into the terminal. When we did finally manage to get out into the terminal, our bags were delayed for about an hour. The baggage belt would come on, a few bags would be delivered and then it would switch off again. Just tempting you into thinking something was going to happen. The boys went out of the baggage area to get SIM cards for everyone and they found the collection point for the car rental company so that once we had the bags we could spend the least time possible at the airport before getting on the road.

Picking up the car was relatively painless except that the rental car company had not filled up the car at all (we have a Mercedes Vito) and so we had to find a garage to do that before heading out of Lisbon. What also makes life a lot easier is using a cellphone app to navigate with (I use Waze – best app for navigating anywhere in the world). Helen remarked that it was a the first time I hadn’t taken my GPS with me on holiday.

We were headimg_2063ing north to Coimbra for the next 2 nights.  Coimbra used to be capital of Portugal and today has a population of just over 100 000. The drive took us about 2 hours including a quick stop at one of the motorway service areas for the usual. We arrived at the hotel (we are staying at Hotel Oslo – http://www.hoteloslo-coimbra.pt). The pictures (as usual) look better than the hotel really does but it is perfectly adequate for our purposes. What always strikes me about Portugal is that you get the beautiful alongside the run down. That is the case in Coimbra too. It is really a beautiful city alongside a river but there are then abandoned buildings and a significant amount of graffiti.

Once we had settled into our rooms and had a short break, we decided to go for a walk to explore a little of Coimbra and then find a place for dinner. We walked over the river and found one of the historical places – a monastery which was abandoned due to the river flooding it (it was built below the river – not very clever). They have now obviously controlled the flow of the river and started excavating the monastery. It looks pretty interesting and worth a walk around it but we couldn’t see img_2067how to get into it and so decided to skip it especially since the sunset was at 5:15pm. We then crossed back over the river and walked on the other bank and by this stage the sun had set.

There seems to be a competition between everyone to see who can get the best photos and so there are numerous stops for selfies, attempted artistic shots using iPhones etc. The only person with a ‘proper’ camera with her is Lara. I am sure you will see numerous photos on Instagram or Facebook if you follow any of family or girlfriends on those platforms.

We discovered that no restaurant opens before 7pm and as it was only just after 6pm (we were all starving already) we decided that we should go kill a little time at the hotel and then find a place for dinner.  We had spotted a place on our way back to the hotel and so at 7pm we headed back there. It was called Solar do Baculhau (rated 15th best restaurant in Coimbra on Trip Advisor). The waiter only had a smattering of English but enough for us to get by. He was very impressed with my choice of wine (a Pinot Noir from Portugal). Not sure if that was because it was definitely above the average price of wine on the winelist (most of the wines were around €15 which is pretty cheap) or whether I had genuinely picked a good bottle. Either way it was a pretty nice wine so I’m going to claim the latter.

img_2061The food was also pretty reasonably priced with most dishes around €12-14. Helen was probably the most adventurous having the cod fishcakes (made using dried fish) which came with a side portion of rice & beans (mixed together).  4 of us had a type of Risotto (though it had a lot more liquid than a traditional risotto) – 2 of us had risotto with prawns and 2 with calamari (the calamari being all parts of the octopus cut up). The waiter also came back to try and explain the difference between the Pinot Noir I picked and 2 others from Portugal. He got as far as explaining the regional differences and then couldn’t do more without getting a younger waiter to come and do the translation.

By this stage I was ready for bed and while I tried to get the blog out last night I realised at just after 9pm that I was in a losing battle with sleep and packed it in and completed it this am. I certainly had an excellent night sleep and I woke at just after 6am and Helen at 7am. Who knows about the rest of them but we going for breakfast at 8:30am (sunrise is only at 8am).

Until tomorrow

P, H, C (because she sat next to me on 3 flights), S, L, M & O

Last day in Vilamoura

IMG_1202It is amazing how quickly a week goes when you’re on holiday. Unfortunately yesterday was our last day in Vilamoura. 7/8 days of unchanged weather. Everyday was around 18-20 degrees C, light wind, clear skies except Thursday when wind blew a little harder. As the weather was identical, we decided to have at least one walk on the beach before we started to head home. Only Chloe, Helen and I went for the walk. The beach stretches from Vilamoura to Albufeira which is about a 5km walk. We did about 2km and then turned around and walked back again. There were numerous (what looked like locals) walking on the beach as well and we also were passed by two guys on bikes with wheels about 10 cm thick – pretty impressive to ride a bike on the beach!

We had decided that rather than getting up early on Saturday am to drive up to Lisbon to catch our flight that we would rather head up on Friday afternoon. So after lunch we packed up everything, did our final checks and said goodbye to the house and headed up to Lisbon. Every time I drive that road (and I know I have said it before) but I am staggered by the quality of the road and the lack of cars. It is a 2-lane highway the whole way (and 3 lanes in many places). It is a toll road and you pay for the privilege of driving on the road (€22) but it is worth the money. The drivers are also very disciplined. Everyone is traveling at between 120-140 km/h.  It seems the 120 km/h speed limit is more of a guide as most people are traveling at around 130 km/h. Michael ‘researched’ it on the internet and it seems they aren’t overly fussed by speeding in Portugal (they have 30 fixed cameras across the whole country). He also found that over special holidays (eg. Easter, Christmas etc) they give a lot of leeway between the actual speed limit and what they will pull you over for.

IMG_1209I was driving with my speed limiter on (Dad you’ll be proud of me) and in 2 hours of driving I only had to slow down once. The rest of the time we just drove at the limit and pulled out to pass cars and pulled back when we weren’t.  It is 2.5 hour trip and very easy to do. The disciplined driving makes it a much more pleasurable trip. If only SA drivers could drive like they do in Portugal.

The biggest issue we had was that we had to re-fill the cars before dropping them off at the airport. We pulled into the petrol station and could not figure out how to get the pump to start. They even made an announcement on the speaker about us (in Portuguese but I recognized the number of the lane we were in). It didn’t help because we still didn’t know how to get it working. Eventually after pushing buttons/inserting credit card we got the fuel working and managed to fill up both the cars (though what we did on the pump for each of the cars ended up being different).

We then headed to the hotel (airport hotel which we have stayed in previously) to drop off our luggage in the rooms and then to take the cars back to the airport rental company. We agreed that dinner would simply be in the hotel restaurant and after a good nights rest we headed back to the airport for our long trip home.  We had an 11am flight from Lisbon to Heathrow arriving at about 2pm and then our flight back to Cape Town is at 9:30pm. We are now sitting in the lounge at Heathrow killing time until our flight tonight.

It was a great 8 days and we all enjoyed the break. Every time we are in Portugal we realise how much enjoy the country and the place and how relaxing we find it. It really is becoming a home away from home for us.

Until next time … P, H (who is off shopping in the terminal right now), S (who missed his girlfriend’s 21st on this trip), M, C

Vilamoura Days 6 & 7

You might have wondered what happened to the blog but we basically did nothing 2 days ago and so there really wasn’t anything to write about. We had thought about going to visit Faro (as it is the number 1 attraction in the Algarve) but we all didn’t feel like doing anything in the end. The boys and I watched the first World Cup T20 semi-final and we did pretty much nothing else. Helen did go for a long run in late afternoon.

Yesterday Michael and I played our 3rd round of golf – this time back on our favourite course in the area (Millennium). The courses are quite busy at the moment so we ended up playing with a Scottish couple. We never really understood their names as they had such a broad accent. They came from north of Aberdeen and from time to time they could have been speaking another language for all that we managed to understand of what they said. They were very nice though and he was especially encouraging to Michael (whose golf improved because he listened to him – unlike what he does with my advice).

Helen and the other two went to do some final shopping for last night’s dinner. It was a relaxing two days and really what we needed I think. We do feel quite at home here now and could spend much longer here just doing what we did this time. I feel we could have easily spent another week here without any form of boredom setting in.

Until tomorrow … P, H, M, S, C (she deserves to be last for a reason)

Vilamoura Day 5

Helen went for a run down to Quarteira which is the next town east from Vilamoura. The two towns really blend into one. Quarteira though has a boardwalk along the beach and lots of people go walking along it in the morning (and Helen say’s ‘old’ people). As she didn’t want to run back, Stephen and I drove down and picked her up (it is about 4 kms from our house) and then we stopped at a supermarket to buy some lunch items. This made the 5th supermarket we have visited in 5 days. The place is littered with supermarkets and we wonder how they all survive. None of them are particularly good either so they aren’t competing on range or quality even. We know of another 3 supermarkets within a few kms range from our house as well (just haven’t visited them yet during this trip).

IMG_1196After lunch we each went our separate ways. Michael and I headed to the golf course and then rest of them went to the Algarve Shopping Mall for another shopping trip. Michael and I played the Oceanico Victoria course. It is designed by Arnold Palmer (if you haven’t heard of him then I am shocked) and it is a regular championship course (hosts the Portuguese Masters) on the European PGA tour.  All of this should make you realise that Michael and I were going to struggle around this course – and struggle we did. Unfortunately we had to start on the back 9 which is really tough with 8 of the 9 holes having water on them. I managed to hit my ball into the water 4 times on the first 3 holes (but never once did I lose it). Not having played the course before we often ended up selecting the wrong club and the ball ended up running into the water at some point. Having now played it once, I would play it very differently the second time and I am sure I would do much better. It would also help to start on 1st and not the 10th (as we did) as the first 9 holes are much easier and you will get into a rhythm before playing the tough back 9.

As we only teed off at 2:50pm yesterday, we only got back home after 7pm and so it was late dinner (Portuguese roast chicken) and that was the day gone.

Until tomorrow … P, M (because he plays golf with me), H, S & C

Alte

We decided to do some exploring of the area yesterday. During the last trip I had read about Alte (inland town north of Vilamoura) and in our latest guidebook addition it was listed as one of the Top 10 places to see in the Algarve. It is listed a typical and unspoilt village of the region. It is only about 30 kms north of Vilamoura but the road to get there is a small regional road and so it took us about 40 minutes to get there.

Every time we drive in the Portuguese countryside I am reminded of how similar the terrain is to Mpumulanga province in SA. The trees could easily be acacia thorn. You also have people selling oranges on the side of the road just like you have on the way to Kruger Park.

ST drinking proper waterWe arrived at Alte and found a parking on the one side of the town and then walked into the town itself. The one attraction is the spring which produces clear, pure water (apparently). Only Stephen tasted it and he declared it ‘Proper water’.

IMG_1191The town itself is made up of whitewashed buildings and the streets are cobbled and narrow. It is the sort of town where there are a lot of old people and we saw 3 ambulances outside different buildings. I suspect it is a very aging town and will never have many young people in it. There is not really a lot in the town except for the Church (Igreja) and a few shops and believe it or not two museums. Michael wanted to go into the church but didn’t want to go in by himself so Helen joined him (you had to pay €1). They did say it was really beautiful inside. It was built in the 13th century.

You might have read all of that and been impressed. Don’t be. There really isn’t much happening in Alte and while it was good to get out and walk around, the one thing we have learned is that we are unlikely to go back to Alte again. If you’re ever in the Algarve don’t get sucked into it being one of the Top 10 attractions of the Algarve. I can think of 9 better golf courses in the area …

As we had consumed the whole morning (and a bit more) in Alte, we stopped at Burger King and bought lunch. We have to, at least once during the holiday, eat at a fast food restaurant. So that is now ticked off the list of things to do.

The rest of the afternoon was spent watching SA beat Sri Lanka (it would have been embarrassing if we hadn’t). We also wanted to buy some fish for dinner so headed to the supermarket to do that. Very nice fish but no idea what I bought as my Portuguese is non-existent and I could not understand either the sign or the lady behind the counter.

Until tomorrow … P, H, S, M & C

Vilamoura Day 3

IMG_1187It was Easter Sunday and we didn’t have any intention of doing anything in the morning.  Chloe though had bemoaned the fact that she never got to hunt for Easter eggs anymore as she was deemed too old so when Helen and I went to the shops we bought some for her and I hid them on Sunday morning for her to find. She was delighted with the unexpected surprise.

IMG_1551Helen went for a short run after lunch (you can pretty much run at any time as the temperature is always around 18-20 degrees C) and Stephen joined her on his skateboard. They apparently did 4 km. Probably the most exercise Stephen has had in months. Helen even tried out the ‘heated’ pool afterwards (we’re not sure the heating is really on though).

IMG_1189Michael and I managed to get our first round of golf in at our favourite course – Oceanico Millenium. The course was very dry and I was quite surprised by that as I thought that winter was their rainy season (as it is in Cape Town). It did mean that any shot you hit went about 20 meters further than usual as the ball just bounced and ran a long way. Some mediocre drives turned out to be great ones because of that. It was a pretty slow round as everyone seemed to be taking quite a long time in front of us and it meant we did a lot of waiting. Fortunately the clocks had forward an hour otherwise when we finished at 6:30pm would have been dark the previous day (or at least getting seriously dark). We didn’t play the best round but we were definitely improving by the end of it (hopefully our next rounds will be better).

Dinner last night of course had to be roast lamb. As we walked in we could smell the garlic that had been used on the lamb. (G & G would have gone in Anaphylactic shock had they been here!) We felt that ice cream and chocolate sauce as desert but had run out but we fortunately found an Intermarche open still at 8pm on Easter Sunday. I don’t think the Portuguese worry too much about public holidays and seem to open their stores regardless. Today (Monday) seems to be a normal business day here (or at least we are hoping it will be so that they fix our hot water problem).

Until tomorrow … P …. (and there are 4 other people here but they know why they aren’t getting their names here …)