On our way to Portugal
December 31, 2016

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

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