Aveiro to Lisbon

Not a lot to blog about today as we left Aveiro this morning and drove the 220kms down to Lisbon. Motorway most of the way with a stop for lunch at one of the many motorway services. The weather was overcast for most of the day and there were patches of thick mist as we drove south down to Lisbon. I am sure I have said this previously, but the road network in Portugal is ridiculously good. The motorway was 2 or 3 lanes most of the way and very little traffic. And more incredibly (at least for South Africans) the drivers are very disciplined and pass left and immediately pull back into the right lane. It is a pleasure to drive here (and pretty easy too).

b068bec6-09bd-4bd9-b339-44b8cdc8ce9eWe arrived in Lisbon at about 2:30pm. We are staying at the HF Fenix Garden Hotel (http://www.hfhotels.com/gb/?s=3&ss=21). Our room looks very similar to what you see on their website (which is unusual) and yes it is in pink (if you look at the website). Helen said she thinks it is the first time she has stayed in a pink hotel room. The room overlooks Ave Liberdade and the main traffic circle at the top of the road. Parque Eduardo VII is what you can see directly from our room (see pic). It is noisy (traffic) when the window is open but with the window closed you can hear no traffic noise at all but the room is terribly hot. The aircon only works on fan or heating and we definitely don’t need heating.

It is considerably warmer in Lisbon (around 18 degrees) and it feels hotter. We walked down and back up Ave Liverdade tonight to find a place for dinner and by the time we found a restaurant we had all stripped down to just our shirt sleeves. The city clearly traps in the heat.

Not much to share today but that is sometimes how it goes when traveling.

Until tomorrow

P, H, S, L, M, O & C

Porto to Aveiro

We definitely seemed to have timed our movements perfectly with the weather this week. It was raining overnight and again this morning but even let up slightly when we had to load up the car as we left the hotel. We left at just after 10:30am and drove up the river toward the sea so that we could at least see what the beach area of Porto looked like (though it definitely wasn’t beach weather). At one point I wondered why all the cars were parked facing us and then realised we were heading up a one-way road (pretty wide road so not really any danger .. sorry Clegg & Moyles’ parents). I did a quick u-turn and blamed the two other people in the front seat (Oli & Michael) for not spotting the no-entry signs. What’s the point of the passenger seat if not pointing out road signs?!

The ladies wanted to spend the morning at the shopping mall and so we headed back to the mall we had located on the day we arrived in Porto but on route we passed another mall and decided to give it a try instead. It had all the requisite shops needed so it turned out to fulfill the needs of the ladies. The men toured the tech stores while we waited for the ladies to finish and then we met up in the food court (the most extensive one I have ever seen – even bigger than the American food courts) for lunch. We stuck with the tried and tested and ended up having Wok to Walk again with only Stephen having a burger from Burger King.

fdfbda2a-325a-48c5-ad15-de5adb1ccde4We then headed south to Aveiro which is our overnight stop back on route to Lisbon. It was less than an hours drive from Porto. It is billed as the ‘Venice of Portugal’. As we discovered this evening when walking around the town that is a bit of an oversell. It basically has two canals which run at right angles to each other and the ‘gondola looking’ boats are actually motor powered. It is pretty but after walking around for about 45 minutes we had covered the whole town and so we headed back to the hotel again. It is the best hotel we have stayed at so far on the trip.  We are staying at Hotel Aveiro Palace (http://www.hotelaveiropalace.com/hotel-overview.html).  It is actually also the cheapest hotel we have stayed at so far. The rooms are the biggest we have had and the quality of everything is very nice.

0c45bb14-c25f-4ce5-aa2b-97841cc4864aThe highlight of today was definitely the dinner. Oli researched the restaurants and suggested this place as it had a vegetarian option for Lara. It was called ‘O Barrio’ (meaning from the neighborhood). When we got there we were the only people in the place but by the time we left it was basically full (some reserved tables still unoccupied but they were turning people away). The waiter was excellent. He made a real effort to talk to us and explain things and he made an effort to ensure that Lara got a dish she would eat too. He explained the wine choices and encouraged me to pick a less expensive wine from the area (rather than the one which was more expensive that I had planned to pick – the one we got was only €13 a bottle). They gave a free glass of Portuguese sparking wine (with their compliments) and also crisps with a paprika dip (which Helen and Stephen both loved as evidenced by ho much they are of it). The menu was only in Portuguese but they translated the whole menu for us.

8cbfac70-ee2f-4f27-8b81-d7c8e12c5a36The main courses were also excellent. Lara had a vegetarian risotto; Michael & Stephen had Barrio steak (done their special way with a poached egg and mushroom sauce); Chloe & Helen had duck risotto and Oli and I had the local fish of the day with a vegetable parcel (the restaurant is right near the fish market in the town so I have no doubt it was purchased fresh there – pic of my plate). The chef is only 22 years old but he is right up there with top chefs in my view. The food was of a very high standard and definitely the best we have had in Portugal (probably from any visit). It ws definitely the best meal Lara has had so far and she went on to say it was probably one of the best Vegan meals she has had ever from a restaurant. Add to that the service we received from the waiter (he was exceptionally good and I am not exaggerating at all), the whole experience was the highlight of the day.

Until tomorrow

P, O (because of finding the restaurant), S, L (because the two of them have mocked me the least and Lara not at all actually), M, H, C (because she ‘kindly’ pointed out all the no-entry signs the rest of the day)

{I apologize if you receive this twice as the first edition seems to have lost a whole portion so I re-sent it)

Porto

43793765-9a58-41ce-a15d-63fc9a8495caWe had expected it (thanks to our weather apps) but this morning we woke to it having rained lightly overnight and being totally overcast. The good thing was it stayed overcast but fortunately never rained (while we were out) so we could spend the day walking around Porto without getting wet. I definitely haven’t walked so much in a long time and my feet are really very sore this evening. The biggest issue is that to get anywhere you seem to end up walking up hill all the time. 474fc0ce-aa86-4975-805b-4df6fb4cec08This morning was no exception as we headed out to Lello bookshop (the oldest bookshop in Portugal and the most beautiful one I have visited). Michael’s route to the store took us up the steepest incline that could possibly be found. We were all out of breath when we got to the top (even the runners).

00aaaa61-1de2-4ae9-83a0-528ff6be4508It was also the first time in my life I had to buy a ticket to a bookstore (€5.50) but I can fully understand why they do it as the place was packed.  It was a beautiful bookstore and the photo’s don’t really do it justice. With your ticket purchase you do get a €5 voucher off any book purchased which basically means you only pay 50c if you actually do buy a book (which 4 people out of the 7 of us did). By this point we were ready for a coffee break. Only in Portugal would you be able to get a beer at Costa Coffee though.  We were right next to Clerigos Tower and some people were f269bf1a-cb98-4ca1-a53a-d3ce625d1382thinking about climbing it but as it is attached to a Church (Catholic of course) there was a fee involved and so we ruled that one out (one thing paying to get into a bookshop, another whole thing paying to walk up a tower).

We walked across the top of the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge. The top-level is for pedestrians and the metro only. No fence between where the people walk and the tracks. It would never to be allowed in the Ub5dd03bd-fa01-4989-95f9-c3c057179eaeK as it must violate every health and safety law. I wonder how many people are killed every year by the metro on that bridge?! The views are really good from the top of the bridge across both Porto and Gaia (the other side of the river where the Port Lodges are found). We took the Gondola’s from the top of the bridge down into Gaia. Lara was a touched fre183d31be-2534-4eaa-9974-423824fc0603aked out (she is scared of heights) but managed to still enjoy the view and the good news (Bryan and Sharon will be pleased to hear), she is still alive when I last saw her a few minutes ago.

We then walked up the hill to Graham’s which is arguably the best port wine producer in the world9fd7e2e4-04f2-47e9-a704-22e5021f4c0e. We did a port tasting and then afterwards a bought a bottle of crusted port (it was exceptionally good) which I am hoping Helen will take back to SA in her luggage. We walked back down the hill and had lunch at a riverside restaurant and then headed back across the bridge (lower level this time), over the river and back to the hotel. On the river bank you still find the old port boats (called rabelo boats) that are used to transport the port barrels from the estates (up the river) to the port lodges (cellars).  These days they are no longer used but still line the river in front of the port lodges (they are used once a year only).

By the time we got back to the hotel it was 3pm and we relaxed for the balance of the afternoon. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant (Tapas place though only Stephen and I had tapas in the end). I am sure everyone will sleep well again tonight after all the walking.

Until tomorrow

P, S (because he had tapas with me), L (because she definitely doesn’t mock me as much as the rest of the them or for that matter she doesn’t mock me at all), M, O, C, H (close call but the last two as they both enjoyed mocking me today but Helen wins out today)

Coimbra to Porto

img_2084Stephen, Lara and Chloe managed to stay up and go and see the fireworks last night over the river. While I was awake, I had run out of the ability to take another step (my feet feel like they are bruised underneath). I could hear the music and the noise of the fireworks but had to content myself with Stephen & Chloe’s pictures and video this morning,

After a late breakfast (we only went at 9am), we packed up and headed out further north to Porto. We had plenty of time as we only had to travel just over 100 kms. We took the ‘scenic’ route which turned out to not be that scenic. After going through the 50th roundabout, we were ready to get back onto the motorway and get to Porto. We arrived just after midday and as we couldn’t check into our hotel yet (check in time was 3pm), we went to the mall with the distinct purpose of getting lunch there. a5502bb0-49a8-4fce-98ae-451b1440b222Everything was closed in the mall except the food court. Everyone’s tastes could be covered in that Stephen, Chloe and Michael had MacDonald’s and the rest of us went to ‘Wok to Walk’ (which was pretty good Asian noodles with whatever ingredients you wanted). Probably the best meal Lara has had so far.

By the time we were finished lunch we thought it was close enough to check-in time and so headed back to the hotel.  We are staying at Hotel Carris Porto Ribeira (http://www.carrishoteles.com/en/hotels/hotel-carris-porto-ribeira-porto/). It has a great location but as many hotels in e18622d3-ebdc-4a33-b2d5-60a25f78c98eEurope there is no obvious place to stop outside and offload the luggage. It has become pretty much standard routine for Michael to go in and find out where we stop and he again did that and he was told that we should stop and offload in the taxi rank. The problem was that by this stage we were already past it and to do a U-turn is near impossible (see pictures of the narrow roads and bear in mind I am driving a Mercedes Vito around these roads!). We eventually managed to get back to Michael after 10-15 minutes and offloaded the car and then Michael and I took the car to the car park they had directed us to (again another challenge of driving skills).

6b066f46-87d1-4b9a-95d9-176ec0a48a33The hotel rooms are pretty small and Helen and I are going to have close fellowship tonight in the double (definitely a double and not an inch bigger than that) bed. We rested this afternoon and went out at about 6pm for a walk around the area and to find a place for dinner. The number one attraction in Porto is the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge.  Yes a bridge is the top attraction. It goes over the Douro River and carries cars at the bottom of the bridge and the metro at the top. It is the bridge in the background of the picture. Construction of the bridge started in 1881 and the architect was the partner of Gustave Eiffel (who designed another bridge in Porto and some other things in Paris I believe). Across the river are the Port Lodges (which we hope to explore tomorrow). The second top attraction is the Cais da Ribeira which is the boardwalk along the river right where we are staying. We walked along there tonight and there were many restaurants open and buskers out playing their music.

c0702b5b-ec12-41be-8198-0b7a3c49a6b2We then walked up the hill (no such thing as a flat walk in any Portuguese city it seems) and eventually found our way to the train station which is also one of the top things to see in Porto. It is beautiful inside (and outside) but unfortunately it was littered with rubbish on the floor which really spoilt the beautiful architecture. The panels inside the station depict the History of Portugal. By this stage we were ready for dinner and as we had walked past a really nice looking restaurant we headed back there.  I had been told that goat was the local specialty and so Stephen and I decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed. I thought it wimg_2105as going to be tough but it was very tender and tasty. Definitely worth repeating.

Even though we didn’t walk as far today, I still feel pretty tired from both the driving and the walking this evening and so I can foresee another early night.

Until tomorrow

P, H, M (for his assistance with the parking, driving and hotel management), H, S, L, O and C (because despite my hope that posting the blog last night would bring less criticism this am she sat at breakfast opposite me and read the blog and picked up on the odd mistake!)