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Portugal

PORTUGAL | Tuesday, 6 August 2013 | Views [643] | Comments [1]

Temple of Diana - Evora

Temple of Diana - Evora

Porto

Despite our initial plans to “overland” it from Madrid to Portugal, there just isn’t a convenient or even slightly direct way to get to Porto, Portugal.  So we opted to treat ourselves and fly. However, I was bound and determined to travel on the cheap when available, so we took the train from the airport to the nearest stop to our B&B instead of a taxi.  The one problem with that was schlepping our bags and Jackson all the way up hill during one of the few heat waves Western Europe has seen in quite some time.  It was really, really hot – and this is coming from people who just came from Central America.

Although our B&B was out of the main Ribiera (riverfront) area, we were so happy to stay there, and was almost worth the trek.  The owner, Augustine, was the nicest man I think I have ever met.  Porto is where port (sweet dessert) wine was developed, and Augustine had a bottle waiting for us when we arrived.  He even left us an extra bottle to take with us (and share with Chris’ mom, Carol later in our trip). His wife also baked cake (I think daily) and seemed so joyful in sharing it with us.  But most of all, they enjoyed Jackson – apparently they are grandparents in training with no grandchildren to dote on.  Augustine performs opera at local churches and would sing to J in the mornings during breakfast, as well as bring out instruments for J to play with.  His wife even fed J one morning when we were struggling to get him to stay in his seat at the table. They gave us rides to the beach and to the train station when we left (both way across town). 

Porto was somewhat unexpectedly pretty.  It is on the Douro River and the bridge across it was designed by Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower).  We explored the riverfront, having dinner there three out of four nights, and even did a short river cruise (although I wouldn’t necessarily say it was worth the money).  We did some port tasting, which was well worth the money – as you get much more per tasting than we are used to in California. In addition to being the home of Port wine, Porto is also full of churches and is one of the main areas that was conquered by and then retook their town from Napoleon. Most of the churches are gilded inside, but the best was actually the small Santa Clara church where Augustine performs, as it was one of only a few that allowed you to take photographs and had free admittance. Porto’s Cathedral (Se’) was beautiful and the town tower was the first of many we will be climbing[CS1]  in the next few months.

Jackson’s favorite part of Portugal so far has to be the “baby cars” that are in every grocery store and bus/train station. You all remember those mechanical rides that were outside big stores like Kmart when you were a kid – well they are everywhere in Portugal, and we can’t seem to go by one without him getting so excited I think he’s going to explode. We figured we are doing the majority of what we (the adults) want, that we can spoil him a little and do a two minute ride for him when we find one. Oh yeah – there was also a carnival ride for him at the waterfront – happy happy boy!

 

Lisbon

So right off, I have to say – we like Lisbon!  Easy train ride from Porto and there you are, in a city so familiar to San Francisco, yet so much more.  It has a bridge that looks like the Golden Gate, but positioned where the Bay Bridge would be in the city. It is hilly with pockets of distinct neighborhoods. There is great shopping, food and nightlife.  Of course, S.F. does not have an 800 year old castle in the middle of it like Lisbon, so in that way, Lisbon wins! My planning for where to stay here was very last minute and we ended up on the middle of the “partying” neighborhood of Bairro Alto, a 6x6 block pocket of town dedicated to having fun late into the night/morning. It was great in that we were able to get a taste of the fun, but we were a little envious of the non-family tourists who could truly enjoy all it had to offer. Our private room in the hostel was surprisingly beautiful and large and sealed up well from the noise of the street. The hostess, Lucia (an actual paid model who moved to Lisbon three months ago) made us breakfast and was so very sweet to Jackson.

We spent a day at Castelo de Sao Jorge, originally an early Iron Age fort, later inhabited by Moors and lastly by Christians - quite a history!  It was our first, but again not our last, European castle and quite fun to explore. Another day was spent in the suburb of Belem, known for their custard pastries (which being a cream brulee and cheesecake fan, I enjoyed more than Chris). We also saw a gigantic riverfront statue and the impressive Monestary (Mosterio dos Jeronimos), which houses the remains of Vasco de Gama.

Our three nights extended to four due to a desire to see more of the city and make a day trip to Sintra, which is described as “like a fairytale”.  However, the morning of our last day there was an incident… Just after breakfast, Jackson went running down the hall of our hostel and tripped over himself, as two year olds do, right into a large decorative glass vase holding flowers, rocks and sand.  Neither came away intact.  After two hours of trying to stop the bleeding, get a bandage on and clean him up (as he truly looked like a horror movie victim), we spent the afternoon in a pediatric clinic getting three stitched to the middle of his forehead.  The stitches were far more traumatic than the fall itself, due to it taking three of us to hold him down while the doctor did the stiches.  After all that, Jackson did surprisingly well, playing with his sleep monkey (who also got a new little band aide on his head). First real injury out of the way, and given the size and how well the vase shattered, we consider ourselves lucky it wasn’t more serious!

A day to recover and rest for all of us and then on the Peniche.

 

Peniche – the surfing town with no waves

Have you ever been to North Shore in Hawaii and there were no waves?  Well that was our experience of Peniche.  An international surfing community, Peniche is touted as the best surfing in Portugal.  However, the waves were a sad 0-2 feet the entire six days we were there.  Chris only bothered to rent a board three days, it was so flat. We stayed in a great hostel (Peniche Hostal, go figure) and enjoyed the company of the friendliest group of people – most of whom were also there to surf.  We have been missing social contact and have decided to stay in hostels whenever possible to meet and interact with other travelers. Despite the lack of surf, we went to the beach daily. The beaches are beautiful with wide, white, soft sand and we both worked on a great tan. Jackson made sand castles and practiced his soccer skills on the beach. Because of the great people we met, it was our best stay so far, but the little town of Peniche and its sister town of Beleal were both rather depressing. They were unlike any beach town I’ve ever been to, with sterile apartment buildings right on the sand and an Eastern block sort of feel to the entire area.

One part of the Portuguese culture that we didn’t quite understand until we got to Peniche was their use of “appetizers” during meals.  Unlike most restaurants (anywhere else we have ever been), when bread, butter, olives, etc are delivered to the table when you sit down, you have to actively refuse them or you are charged for them (yes, that’s right, charged for butter). It’s fine when it’s only a couple of euro, but when it includes 15 euro worth of items that you didn’t order or ask for it becomes irritating.  Our first night in Peniche, we were beginning to recognize this trend and selectively chose our first offering.  We then ordered one entre to share, but were later charged for two because they doubled the order on one plate (again we did not ask for twice as much food).  Frustrated with this custom, we ate Italian the next night, but returned to the fantastic seafood and local cuisine later on in Portugal where it did not appear to be such an issue.

Rather than chase the waves (which were poor that week throughout the coast), we decided to stay put and move less over the next week, skipping southern Portugal all together. Scheduled in a day back in Lisbon (to have the stitches removed) and then overnight to Evora before leaving the country to travel back into Spain.

 

Evora

Most people do not venture east of Lisbon to Evora when traveling to Portugal (of course, not many Americans seem to go to Portugal at all).  It is a quaint little town which was one of the few hold outs against Moorish invasion and control in the country.  There is a very well preserved Roman ruin right in the middle of town (Temple of Diana), which apparently was used as an internal structure for a later building, helping to keep it from weathering for several centuries. In town is also the Capela do Ossos (Chapel of Bones), a room off the main San Francisco church that was built using thousands of bones from the local cemetery as well as those from then nuns and monks of the parish. It was originally used as a contemplation space, but now is just a tourist attraction.  Fascinating, beautiful and a little creepy all at the same time.

Although this is all nice, the main reason people go to Evora is to see the prehistoric Megaliths outside of town.  These are structures and rock placements (think early Stonehenge) that date 5000-6000 years old, into the Neolithic Age.  Our wonderful guide, Mario, was a true archeologist and excitedly shared the history of the tomb (called a Dolman) and stone circles used for astrological understanding (called Cromeliques). The most impressive was Cromelique dos Almendres, which consists of 95 granite monoliths with some symbolic markings.  Interesting, but arguably not as impressive in appearance as Stonehenge.

We were only in Evora 24 hours and then returned to Lisbon (for the third time) to transfer out to Spain.  Traveling between Portugal and Spain is not easy, causing us to spend way too much time researching bus and train schedules, connections and even feasibility of travel to certain areas.  Within Portugal the public transportation has been fantastic, and we hope that the rest of Europe “connects” between countries more easily.  Due to Jackson’s accident, travel time and extension of stays, we again simplified our plans and didn’t make it to the southern coast (Sagres, Lagos, Faro).  Our next trip we will do more there and also tie in southern Spain where we are off to next… by bus.


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Comments

1

I just caught up with the last three entries (I was behind!) and it looks like you are having such a great adventure! Your pictures are awesome and the stories very interesting. I can't believe you have done so much already and it's been "only" three months. Looking forward to the next posts and hearing about it in person this Fall/Winter.
Love, Gessica

  Gessica Aug 10, 2013 6:43 AM

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