Thursday, July 6, 2017

Portugal Trip 2012

All our 2012 Portugal Trip Posts are now in this Post on our Travel Blog. I had a great time (July 6 and 7, 2017) putting it all together and remembering what an amazing and challenging trip it was. Looking forward to doing another good trip soon!

Post # 1 - Getting Ready for Trip to Portugal April 11, 2012

Phew! It's past midnight on April 11, 2012 and, finally, we are almost packed for our trip to Portugal. We are only taking carry-on luggage so it was a bit of a challenge to figure out what to take (and what not to take) for a 5 week trip which will mainly be walking through the countryside. Our walks are organized by Portugal  Walks. We found it on the internet and in the Lonely Planet. They have also arranged a lot of our accommodation. 

We leave tomorrow on the 10:30 ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver. We fly out of YVR at 4 pm and, after a stopover in Frankfurt, we  arrive in Lisbon early in the morning on April 12. .Before we catch the ferry, we have to drop Lexy off at "Life of Reilly Social Club" - which will be her doggy B+B while we are gone. I think she knows something is up - so much packing and organizing and far too many hours at the dentist today. Definitely not enough walks! But we will make up for it since the Social Club promises 2 walks a day for active dogs. So goodnight. Our next post should be from Lisbon.

April 14: Quinta Vale de Marmalos (near Elvas in the Alentojo of Eastern Portugal)

For each blog post the photos are first - with revised captions done July 2017. The story then follows.

Hotel in Lisbon

Church in Elvas

Elvas public square (centro)
Trying to keep warm in our room at the quinta - first night
 This is my first post since we left home on April 11. Our flight left Vancouver at 4 pm and we had the added pleasure of being upgraded to business class all the way to Frankfort. It is so classy - huge seats with multiple adjustments, your own TV screen, gourmet meals served with a small white table cloth on your swing out table, stainless steel cutlery, china dishes - wine - and so much space that you hardly know you are on a plane! The only problem - we now know what we are missing when we fly economy. Our transfer at Frankfort was smooth and soon we were back in good old cramped economy on our way to Lisbon. BTW, Portuguese pronounce it Leesh bow ah. In fact Portuguese seem to pronounce all s's as sh's, the r's are strongly rolled, and j's are sort like zs - so it is harder to pick out spoken words than it with Spanish.

We bought a cheap cell phone at the airport - since we could not change the chip in our Rogers phone. Mike has sent the phone number. Then into a taxi to the lovely hotel where we were upgraded again! to their special Executive Suite and pronounced "Guest of the Day" with wine
and cheese and fruit delivered to our room!

We slept really well and the next day caught the noon bus for the 3 hour trip to Elvas (pronounced as you can guess "El vash") The one thing that startled us the most was that there was hardly any traffic on the highway. It was incredible by any standard - basically just us in our big bus rumbling along the excellent divided freeway!

We were picked up at the bus stop by our host Tim and driven about 3 km out of town to his farm or quinta (keen ta) in the Vale de Marmelosa. A marmelosa is a quince - marmelosas were the original fruit used for marmelade. The house is about 100 years old with 3 guest bedrooms on the the 3rd floor and a big kitchen on the main floor where we have breakfast. The walls are stone and about 2 feet thick. They have a big commercial plant nursery in the garden, plus chickens and a couple of acres of potatoes and peas. Orange trees are everywhere. Although it is surprisingly cold, roses and petunias and geraniums are out. Apparently they did have some hot days earlier in the month. Tim is English and his daughter and her three little girls are visiting from England - very homey feeling.

We walked into Elvas for dinner last night and Tim picked us up afterwards. Dinner time here is no earlier than 7:30. This is much easier than Spain (which is only about 15 km away) where dinner doesn't get going until about 11.

Today we did our first day of walking. We walked back to Elvas and up into the walled city. Some of the stones in the inner wall date back to Roman times. After the Romans left, the Visigoths arrived and were eventually driven out by the Moors. Later the Moors were driven out by the Christians and then there were wars with Spain. I think the last attack was by Napoleon. The walled city is full of very narrow, steep, twisting cobbled streets with a central square - which is where we had espresso and sent our spot (satellite messaging device.) There are several churches and quite a lot of people seem to live there. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but there are virtually no tourists. We walked on the ramparts and then down the steep bank/hillside to the valley below.

After lunch at a restaurant in the valley (by the freeway to Spain) we walked up the next hill where there is another fort (Greco) which is a wonderful ruin like something out of the Lord of the Rings. It was very dramatic up there since the wind was blowing very hard and we had a small shower of rain as we were getting ready to walk back down through the olive groves. Apparently they are having a drought here but we seem to have brought a least a few showers. We climbed back up to the walled city of Elvas and eventually down again and home. 16 km of walking - for about 6 hours - plus an hour for lunch.

We have now had dinner and will soon go to bed. The room has a small heater but it is very cold. We are sitting here wrapped in blankets and Mike has his toque on. It is reminiscent of Ooty in southern India where we nearly froze last fall. There is nowhere so cold as a place which is often hot and they simply aren't prepared for when it gets cold. We are so glad we brought some warm clothes with us -as we almost didn't.

Tomorrow we have another walk from here - this time up another hill but without a fort. Lots of olive groves and wild lavender we hear. So goodnight. Our bed has an electric blanket - which sounds very nice at this point, BTW, we were upgraded again at the quinta - to a bigger room with a balcony and lovely view of olive groves, windswept palms and orange blossoms.

April 15: Quinta Vale de Marmalose Day 2
Walking in the Alentejo

Fields near Elvas
Distant view of Elvas

The three photos are from our walk today. We had a nice warm night with our electric blanket and awoke to sunshine and small scudding clouds. After breakfast we set off in the opposite direction from yesterday and walked to another farm and the big estate of a famous bullfighter. We're glad to say that in Portugal, unlike Spain, they don't kill the bull in a bullfight. Then across some fields, up an abandoned military gun range and then up through wild olive groves and cork oaks to the top of the hill we could see from our walk yesterday. No fortifications on this hill - but great views of Elvas, Grace, and across into Spain which is only a short distance away. It was a great walk - about 13 km - mostly on a gravel track. One of the really lovely things was the wildflowers - especially wild lavender growing everywhere, plus white rock roses and yellow daisies, blue borage and pink morning glories. Tim's (the owner) daughter is visiting from England with her husband and 3 little girls. For dinner, Bill (her husband) drove us to Elvas (inside the walls) and we had a humungous meal including pork, veal, rice, french fries, boiled carrots and cabbage - ending with chocolate gelado. The meals here are huge and generally somewhat low on vegetables. I think in future we will only order one entre. even that will probably be more than we need. So - off to bed. Tomorrow we transfer to Terena which is another ancient walled hilltop village - but much smaller than Elvas.

April 16 Elvas to Terena
Breakfast in the kitchen at the quinta

Roman aquaducts Terena
Fields of red poppies
Street outside Casa de Terena
Hilltop walled town of Terena

Senora Boa Nova Fair in Terena
We started the day at the quinta (English people's farm) near Elvas. Today the sky was perfectly blue except for a few con trails way above. Bill drove us to Aleonde (I think that is the name) - a small village but with a few small shops near the Centro. We were mainly looking for cookies and something for Mike to use for shaving. He had forgotten the charger for his electric shaver which would soon run out of power. The only thing we could find was "gillette" in the small all purpose store - but we were happy as they also had biscuits. That along with the stuff we had gathered from breakfast made me feel like we had some food security.

That brings me to the subject of survival on a trip with no car, no nearby shops, very few vegetables on the menu, minimal English and very little heat (6 degrees) after the sun goes down. First, if you can find a shop selling what you need, buy right away. You may not see a shop again for days. Second, try to take everything with you. It's all very well for Rick Steves to say that 700 million European survive on what is available here - but if you can't get to a shop you are out of luck! Third, scrounge whatever you can from breakfast - you may need it later. Fourth, bring metamucil - it makes up for lack of buds and veg! Fifth, bring longjohns, a toque, warm tops and a scarf - if you are going anywhere in April. And don't be afraid to wrap yourself up in the blanket. Sixth, bring a phrase book and share it with kind people who don't speak English. Say "Ola" - "English?" and "Obragada" - "Thank you!" "Quanto" is also helpful!

After Aleonda, Bill drove us to Terena. He brough his 2 oldest daughters with us - Nancy (7) and Nell (4) and it was fun finding out about the toys little girls play with. Unlike our grandsons - no diggers - just tiny dolls and stuffed animals which are made to fight and argue with each other incessantly!

Our hotel in Terena is up at the top of the hill near the castle - very nice. Just 6 rooms. There are no shops or restaurants here as far as we can find out. However, on our walk down to the ancient church we found there was a fair going on in honour of Mary "Senhora Boa Nova" There were a few small rides and tons of stalls selling all sorts fo stuff - useful plastic household things, belts, dresses, jeans, mechanical toys, fruit, statues of Our Lady of Fatima, AND electric razors (10 Euros), a Portuguese hat for Mike (10 euros), batteries and bananas (definitely not local)! So we are now well equipped and looking forward to dinner here at the Casa de Terena - where we seem to be the only guests.

I might write some more after dinner. Otherwise goodnight!

April 17 Terena (still in the Alentejo)

Mike in his new Portuguese cap

Cromeleque (stone circle) in Monsaraz
Village in Alentejo

Ready to walk from Monsaraz

Last night we had the most delicious dinner in the Casa de Terena. Jose, who manages it, is a great cook. He specializes in slow cooking and makes me look forward to using the crockpot when we get home. Chicken, tomatoes, onions and potatoes slow cooked in a clear sauce - plus vegetables and pudding for dessert. The right amount and very tasty. Tonight it was beef with a hint of piri piri (chillies) - also excellent. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I forgot to mention yesterday that when we drove into Terena, in the middle of the day, fireworks were going off. It was part of the fair - and there were more fireworks at bedtime and more this morning - marking the end of the fair. It is a strange thing to see fireworks in the middle of the day - but I think it is that the sound is more important than the display.

After breakfast Jose drove us to Monsaraz - another hilltop town with a castilo and a big church. Jose is about our age and was born in Mozambique - then a Portuguese colony. He was educated in South Africa and has a South African accent. He is very pleasant and runs the casa pretty much on his own. It is interesting to talk to him about the problems being faced by Portugal. How, when Portugal joined the EU, the small farmers were paid not to farm and the small fishers were paid not to fish. Their children were all educated and no longer have the tradition of farming and fishing - but now the pensions are being cutback and there is unemployment - so things are much worse than before.

A funny thing happened on the way to Monsaraz - we got lost. Suddenly we were in the wrong town - because we had been talking too much and he had missed the turn, The roads here are fairly narrow and windy and hilly and it is all olive groves, vineyards, grassy fields and white villages with orangey-red tile roofs - so it is easy to loose track of where you are.

We drove to the top of the Monsaraz and then our walk took us down the hill, through fields and groves, The main destinations were a "menir" (or prehistoric standing stone) and a cromeleque (prehistoric stone circle) - which were very interesting to see.

We ate some bread and cheese and bananas near the first menir. At the end of the walk, we had to climb back up the steep cobblestone track to the village of Monsaraz.

Altogether we walked about 14.5 km with a steep climb at the end. We discovered that Mike's pedometer was calibrated incorrectly = about 25% less than the official length of the walk - so we actually walked a lot further on the 2 days at the quinta.

There is a big European soccer game on TV tonight and Jose has has gone to watch it with his friends - so all is quiet at the casa and it is nearly time for us to get to sleep.

BTW, if anyone is reading this blog, please do make a comment. It is nice to hear from people at home. Even though we are having a great time here in this incredibly beautiful, interesting and historical country, we do miss you. Good night from Terena in the Alentejo of eastern Portugal.

April 18 Terena

Streets of Terena
Wild cistus - in flower all over the countryside
"Ploughed" area with eucalyptus plantings
Flowery fields
Path by the river

Marble chunks holding up fence post
Sheep being herded out of Terena

Today was our second walk from Terena and our fourth in the Alentejo area of Portugal. The day started with a breakfast of delicious baked apple and the usual mueseli and yogurt. We took the extra bread, cheese and ham to have for lunch.

The sky was grey and overcast - lucky for us but not so lucky for the farmers - there was no rain.

Our walk was about 15.5 km. We walked directly from the Casa - heading down the steep cobbled streets of Terena and then along country tracks where a four wheel drive could go - but we didn't see any traffic. It was a pleasant walk with a only a couple of places where we weren't sure of the directions. Our biggest puzzle was searching for the Castelo Velho which was supposed to be our destination. I think the countryside in the area had been covered with "bush and scrub" when the walk was first written up. However, in the meantime, there has been quite a bit of ploughing and planting of what we think are eucalyptus. Apparently eucalyptus are planted for firewood because they grow so quickly but also use up a lot of water. The new plantations meant that there were a lot of extra tracks - so we didn't know where we were. We did notice what we thought was an old walled garden but it didn't seem to be in the right place for the castle and it sure didn't look like what we thought a castle would look like. But in the end, we decided that it actually must have been the castle or at least the castle walls. Eventually we found ourselves back on the right track. The ploughed fields revealed how completely rocky the ground really is. What appears to be a rock patch is actually a newly ploughed field-  where formerly millions of white blossomed rock rose (cistus) bushes and some wild lavender grew. Other fields, of course, seem much more fertile - with green wheat, yellow daisies, or even potato and vegetable patches.

We saw a few people - a couple of shepherds with sheep and each time they had one large white dog and one small black dog. As we passed one herd, a couple of sheep got away from the dogs and galloped into the nearby wheat field - but after being chased by the black dog and yelled at by the shepherd they eventually returned to the wild grass in the olive grove or cork oak forest where they belonged. We also saw a couple of men working in their vegetable plots. Everyone basically ignored us - so it was a very peaceful walk. We ate our lunch sitting on a log beside a dried out section of the reservoir. There is water in the reservoir - but the water level is very low for this time of year.

Portugal is the world's second largest producer of marble and they literally build roads out of the small bits of marble and prop up their fenceposts with marble chunks! The biggest excitement came at the end of the walk. We were crossing the paved road to go up the cobbled road to the Casa, when we saw 4 sheep heading up the steep narrow street into the town. Two local men eventually convinced the sheep to go back down again but they knocked down some washing that was hung out to dry above the sidewalk on the way. When the sheep got to the of the hill, they turned up another cobbled street where there was a big argument going on between 2 women. Maybe they were yelling at the men who were gently trying to guide the sheep or maybe they were yelling at the sheep - or maybe they were arguing with each other. Whatever it was, the yelling went on even after the sheep had passed.

When we got back to the Casa we were hoping for a cup of tea - but no-one seemed to be in and we don't have a kettle in our room. Se we ate a couple of oranges and half a KitKat that I bought in YVR. Dinner was at 7. We shared the big dining table with some people from Ireland who were just here in the Alentejo for a week. It was fun to talk to them about their travels. They particularly liked Ephasus in Turkey. The meal was delicious and when we finished, Jose went off to his friend's to watch the soccer game. Michale, one of the Irish people was also a huge fan of ManU (Manchester United) and set off shortly after to see if he could find the small bar where the local men were probably all watching the game. It seems that the Portuguese and the Irish are as mad about soccer as Canadians are about hockey and Indians are about cricket!

April 19 Evora (still in the Alentejo)

Ancient ruinsin Evora
Today, our host Jose at the Casa de Terena drove us all the way from Terena to Evora - at least 70 km. We spent the whole afternoon exploring this very historic town. We did not see any megaliths - but there are some in the countryside which are much older than Stonehenge. However, we did see Roman ruins, Moorish arches around the Centro square, and medieval and baroque churches - also a couple of excellent museums.

We are getting quite used to the cobbled streets and white stone buildings with red tile roofs. All the houses in the Alentejo look like this. Some have been modernized inside and others are almost in ruins. However today we saw our first tourists and tourist shops. Because of the many cork oak forests in the Alentejo, many of the tourist treasures are made of cork - including not just trivets but also hats and purses. We had a few rain showers and were glad we had brought our travel umbrella.

We had a nice simple lunch, delicious tea with a pastry (chocolate), and a truly delicious dinner. My dinner was roast lamb and clams and potatoes with lots of salt, olive oil and garlic. Mike's was a bread based soup with lamb (he thinks it was pork but I'm sure the waiter said lamb) and potatoes - very authentically Portuguese and as tasty as any of the South African dishes made for us by Jose in Terena. Also a sort of Greek salad and delicious cinnamon flavoured dessert.

We are trying to pick up a bit of the language. Our insight today - "Officers Mess" comes from "mesa" which of course means table. At least that's what we think.

Today was our last day in the Alentejo. Tomorrow we catch the bus for Silves in the Algarve where we will meet Julie who set up the walking tours for us. It's hard to believe that we have been here for more than a week.

April 20 Terena to Silves (in the Algarve)

Silvas at night


Silvas castle

Silvas church

Our night in Evora was very noisy. We had been offered a street facing room or a back lane facing room and thought the street room was nicer. This was a BIG mistake. People were walking up and down the streets shouting and yelling all night long. It's hard to figure out who was doing it and why no-one stopped them - but it went on until at least 4:30. I was really reluctant to use earplugs because I was afraid we would miss the alarm so, although Evora is a lovely city, it was a bad night! The alarm did go at 7 and we hastily ate breakfast and then hurried down the cobbled streets to the Evora bus depot to catch the bus to the Algarve.

I think we both dozed a bit on the bus as we soon arrived in Albuefiera - at about 12:30. So we are now in the Algarve - a favourite seaside tourist area that faces onto the Atlantic - outside Gibralter. Julie, our Portugal Walks guide, met us at the bus depot and drove us to Silves which is where we are staying for 2 days. Silves is inland - though I'm not sure how far we are from the ocean. Julie seems very nice and helped us find a place to stay in O'Porto after we leave the Algarve. We discovered her on the Internet and also in the "Lonely Planet" Portugal Travel Guide.

Our Silves hotel is across a small river  from the hilltop town of Silves. An ancient Roman Bridge still crosses the river (though no longer used for cars). Silves has an excellent castle where you can see the archaeological work that has been done and walk all around the walls. You can also look down into an ancient 50 ft stone lined well which is the centrepiece of the excellent museum and you can climb down inside an ancient Moorish Cistern inside the castelo. The cistern held enough water for 1200 people for a year. It reminded us of the cenotes in the Mayan Peninsula - though they were natural limestone formations and this seems to have been dug out. Although we have not heard that there is a drought here in the Algarve, we are becoming very aware of the longstanding importance and scarcity of water in Southern and middle Portugal.

The Algarve seems to be a little warmer than the Alentejo at this time of year. There are lots of orange orchards and we actually ate our dinner outside tonight - though it was getting a little nippy by the end. There are some tourists here and tourist shops - but not the throngs that come here in the summer.

For dinner tonight we opted for the "Tourist Menu" - It included bread, olives, wine, soup, huge pork steak for Mike, sword fish and potatoes for me, plus two giant pieces of cake and tea or espresso - for 30 Euros - quite a good price we thought. Our room is lovely and warm with reverse aircon and a lovely view of the castle and town.

Oh, BTW, I don't think I wrote that we looked up the Castle Viho near Terena on the Internet and we discovered that it was an important archaelogical site dating from the copper age. Scientists have been analyzng the charcoal to see what people burned and discovered quite different plants have grown in the area at different times. This probably indicates that there have been a lot of climate changes over the millenia.   So - goodnight.

April 21 Silves - Day 2

Panorama of Silvas

Path near Silvas

Wild lavendar

Wild cistus

Mike on the path

Penny taking a break

Bicycle tour bus

First laundry - in Silvas Hotel

Today was a long, fairly hot walk. We set out at 10 am when it still looked as if it might rain a bit but by mid-afternoon Mike's thermometer read 32, The countryside was lovely. On one side of the river it was hilly with lots of cistus (white rock roses), lavender and eucalyptus plantations. On the other side of the river it was hilly with many orange and tangerine groves. We also saw vegetable gardens by the river, "beaver tail" cactus and century plants. We ate our lunch of bread and cheese and custard tarts by the side of the track. According to our map, we walked about 16.5 km but according to our pedometer it was more like 21.5. We got home about 5:30 and after having showers and me doing the hand laundry we walked into town to the Lidl (supermarket) to buy some water, fruit, tarts, etc. for our walk tomorrow.

The practical travel note for today - if you go away for 5 weeks and only take 3 tops and walk around in the hot sun, you will eventually have to do some laundry. This is not too hard if you have a sink - but the worry is getting things to dry overnight. However, Portugal is so dry that I think everything will be dry by tomorrow morning when we leave for our next walk and next hotel.

Dinner was delicious and again a very good bargain - $15 for couvert (bread and olives and sardine paste), mistrel (mixed) salad, chops or hake plus carrots, beans and fries, dessert and a small bottle of wine and a smaller bottle of water - and tea. Which leads to next travel tip - getting enough to drink in Portugal is a challenge because the water is very high in calcium and we have been warned several times not to drink it - but bottled water costs as much as wine (though not that much). With us in the dining room were 24 cyclists from Germany, traveling in a big orange coach with all their bikes in a trailer behind - they ignored us... We have never seen so many thin people in one room together.

Tomorrow on to Monchique to walk up the highest point in the Algarve. 

April 22 Monchique (in the hills in the Algarve)

Wild roses

View from the Picota

Logging eucalyotus

Wild flowers

Terraced fields

Today we were driven from Silves to Monchique (Mon sheek) up in the Algarve hills.The hotel in Silves was very busy this morning. The cyclist tour group was leaving on their bikes and a couple of tour buses were coming in for coffee or something. Driver Pete said he had never seen the hotel so busy. Like Tim in Elvas, Pete is English and has lived here permanently for about 6 years.

Monchique is a smallish town on the side of the hills with a steep valley below. It does not seem to have a fort or castle - but the farms and gardens are very interesting because they are all steep terraces. It took about 45 minutes to get to Monchique by car and once we got there, who should appear but the lead group of the German cyclists from our hotel in Silves. There were also quite a few local cyclists groups on the road. Portugal is a great place for cyclists.

Once we had dropped our bags off in our new hotel, our mission was to walk up the Picota - the second highest peak in the Algarve. It was a long steep climb up various linking roads and  tracks and eventually a scramble up a huge granite hillock to a viewpoint at the top. On the way up we saw all sorts of wild pink peonies in bloom and there was heather, yellow potentilla and and other pretty flowers growing in the cracks of the rocks. The view at the top was spectacular! We could see the lower hills and flat lands of the Algarve and to the south and west we could see the distant blue Atlantic Ocean. We could also see rivers flowing to the ocean and several large cities (Lagos with its many skyscrapers was one). We could also see Cape St Vincent which is the south western point of Portugal where it sticks out into the Atlantic.

We ate our picnic lunch on the Picota and then headed down and down and then up again through eucalyptus plantations. Pete had explained that eucalyptus is sent to Spain where it is made into paper. some of the plantations had been logged off and there were stacks of small logs here and there. The weather was much cooler than yesterday because we were much higher - more like the Alentejo.

Eventually our path became just straight down, down, down into the valley through terraced orange and lemon groves and plots of potatoes and peas. Amazingly the walk back up from the valley floor to Monchique was not too bad. Monchique is much lower than the Picota - thank goodness. We can actually see it from our bedroom window. This was a long hard walk with lots of elevation - about 17.5 km. As with the other walks the written directions were good - though we had moments when we didn't know where we were. This was not helped by the fact that we had adjusted the pedometer to match the distance walked yesterday and the pedometer and the directions did not match at all. In fact the pedometer said we had only walked about 11 km which is definitely wrong since it took us about 6 hours. I think we probably walked about 21 km yesterday. So the mileage is adding up and I`m sure we are getting more fit.

There doesn't seem to be anyone else staying in our small hotel and it is very quiet = just frogs croaking away outside. Now that we have had our showers, done a bit of laundry and had a good dinner (beside a lovely wood stove), it is time to say goodnight. The odd thing for me is that I am reading a detective novel set in India and, honestly, it is easy to think we are back there in India in a cold hill station like Ooty. The Portuguese were early traders in India (Goa) so it is not completely silly - just a bit. 

April 23 Lagos (in the Algarve)


Poppy fields

Bensafrim River estuary

Marina on Bensafrim River in Lagos

Sailboat in the Atlantic

Cliffs near Lagos

Replica ship in the harbour

This morning we awoke in the hill town of Monchique. Actually, by European standards, this is a mountain area because it is over 1000 meters high. We were served a big breakfast - omelleto, plus buns, mueseli and a small piece of pound cake. As usual - way more than we could possibly eat. So - using my hunter-gatherer skills - I took most of one omelet and stuffed it inside a bun to take for our lunch.

Pete arrived at 9:30 and drove us down to the railway station near Lagos (La gosh) on the coast. We could see the Picota in the distance - partly hidden in cloud. We met Julie at the railway station and went for about a 2.5 hour walk with her around the river estuary. There were 5-6 local clam diggers digging for clams in the wide sandy beaches and we met some European birders at the beginning of the path along the dikes. I think Julie called them "twitchers" and said they were hard to take on a walk because they want to stop all the time and look at birds. The walk was very pleasant and ended with a ramble through fields of poppies and wild marigolds (yellow daisies). Julie told us that the estuary had been filled in with sand by the tsunami that followed the 1755 earthquake which destroyed most of Lisbon. We had some good chats about the politics of the US and France - we all seemed to see things eye to eye. After the walk Julie drove us to our new hotel in Lagos - where we ate our picnic of omelet, bread and cheese and tomatoes in our very nice room. We even have a balcony which looks out over the bus depot - not quite the rio but very entertaining.

Then we headed out to have a look at Lagos. The hotel is called the Marina Rio and is across the road from the huge pleasure craft marina. Along the river from the marina is the fishing fleet moorage area and a replica of a caravel which was the type of boat which the Portuguese used to explore the coast of Africa and all the way to India and China. Lagos is the first safe moorage that boats come to when sailing from the Atlantic towards Gibralter. There is foot swing bridge across the river to the marina which allows  boats and big cruisers to get into the rio and out to sea. While we were there we bought our train tickets at railway station - which we will use to go to O Porto on April 27 - so are ready for that fairly long trip - after our walks in the Algarve are over.

We wandered along, what in Mexico would be called the malecon beside the rio, and were invited by many boat tour operators to take a boat ride out to sea. There are caves and grottos and small sandy beaches west of Lagos and the boat operators take tourists out for a short cruise and a look. We declined and walked out to the mouth of the river and then along the coast past huge condos and along the coastal path out to a small cape. It was a lovely sunny and breezy day on the path - with great views out to the Atlantic and along the rugged coastline. By the time we got to the cape, we had walked another 6 km for a total of more than 18 today.  

On the way back to the hotel we went through the old city part of the Lagos where we saw the original slave market - the first that was established in Europe. Later we ate our dinner in a large restaurant not far from the hotel. The restaurant was set up with many very long tables and was very busy. We had the "touristic menu" - couvert of bread and olives, salad and soup, grilled chicken and French fries finishing up with fruit salad. Along with that came a jug of red wine - all for 9.90 euros each - very tasty and good value. Hunting and gathering again, I took some of the chicken in my handy plastic bag to have for lunch tomorrow. We have a small fridge in the room so it will be fine overnight - along with olives, pastries, and cheese which we bought at the small nearby grocery store. Our waiter was a very jolly fellow and by the time we left, the whole place was full of tourists and local Portuguese families with big TVs in every corner showing soccer. Soccer is a real mania here in Portugal.

Now we are back in our hotel and watching the ITV News (which is in English) on a small flat screen TV - a bit of change from the totally Portuguese TV on the small old fashioned in TVs in some (but not all) of our earlier hotels and B&Bs.So good night for today. 

April 24 Walk from Lagos to Salema (in the Algarve)

Walking track on the way to Salema

More spring wildflowers

Beach near Salema

View toward Salema

Amare Guesthouse in Salema

Salema Beach

Another day gone by - with a beautiful walk and a great dinner.

We started out in the nice hotel with the pool on the roof in Lagos across from the marina - with a variation on our usual breakfast. For me - mueseli, yogurt and fruit. For Mike toast and jam. Plus, of course, 2 cups of coffee - this time served in vacuum jugs not from the multi-purpose coffee machine. An English person in the elevator (lift) complained to me about the weather.

Pete picked us up with our bags at 9:30 - my red Rick Steve's bag, Mike's red MEC backpack and the green carry bag that Elspeth gave me - that has our food and other odds and ends that would otherwise be in our black Rick Steve's day packs. We like to keep our day packs light for walking. Pete dropped us off at an old chapel by the side of the road on the way to Salema and then took our bags on to our next small guesthouse hotel.

For the first part of the walk we were in the countryside passing farms and fields. Then it was down a fairly rough track to the Bundes Wetlands - a large marshy area where they apparently grew rice between the wars. A couple of campervans were boon docked on a side road at one end of the marsh - with all their laundry hanging out to dry.  Once past the marsh it was up some steep tracks until we came to cliffs above the coast. It was quite grey and cold and windy and we had our picnic lunch (including chicken from the previous nights dinner) overlooking the Atlantic in amongst bushes - to keep out of the wind.

Suddenly after lunch the clouds broke up and it was hright and sunny - with a fresh breeze from the north. We walked along the cliffs amongst blooming cistus, thyme, potentilla, yellow daisies and other lovely spring flowers and interesting prickly bushes - looking out to sea to where boats occasionally sailed by. Then it was down off the cliffs to a small golden sand beach - where I had a paddle in the Atlantic waves - some of them quite large. On each side of this beach were abandoned stone fishermen's houses, the ruins of a 17th century Spanish fort (destroyed by the 1755 earthquake), and the last remains of an old Roman villa. In the parking lot were more boon docking campervans. And in the distance, the wetlands we had walked around in the morning. More steep cliffs and a rider on a grey (snow white) horse riding near the cliff edge. A final set of treks across the top of the cliffs and then down to the ancient - but also touristic village - of Salema. We found our guesthouse perched on the side of the hill. The manager, Bettina, had left various written messages about checking in without her - because she was shopping. So we found our nice room and made ourselves some tea on the small porch.

Showers and hand laundry and a walk on the beach below yellow and red cliffs. Dinner at the "Fish House" - absolutely delicious fish soup and mussel stew, plus salada mista, "green" wine, and orange tart. Not one scrap of leftovers today - we were hungry and the food was excellent. Most of the other clients were English people who seemed to own houses in the area.

Now we are back at the Amare guesthouse where I am writing the blog in the breakfast room. Our total walk - more than 15 km. Tomorrow - a 17 km walk along the coastal pathway to Sagres. Pete will transfer our luggage there again. Walking along the coast is really wonderful and reminds me a lot of walking on the Jurassic Coast of England (Dorset) a couple of years ago. I highly recommend it! Good night!

April 25 Salema to Sagres

Wild lavendar

On path to Sagres on Atlantic Coast

Panoramic view of Sagres

Rocky path on headland

Looking out to sea at Sagres

Henry the Navigator

Today we walked 20 km from Salema to Sagres (means "sacred".) The walk began with about 1.5 km of steep steep road up from the Amare Guesthouse in Salema. Mike had a good chat with the person who provided our breakfast. Like others we have talked to, she told us that things are not good in Portugal. The cost of everything is going up, the VAT tax is 23%, there are far fewer tourists than usual and high unemployment. The average wage is only 600 Euros per month. Others have said that the Portuguese are not complaining like the Greeks - but times are obviously tough for many people. Today is an important national holiday celebrating the Carnation Revolution when the Portuguese decided to give up on their colonial wars in Africa - another hard time in their past. We are so lucky.

After the initial climb we walked inland, then back to the coast. Part of the time we were up on the cliff tops and then down to small beaches and back up again. A lot of going up and down. I haven't mentioned my cough but it was particularly trying today despite taking extra medication - especially on the ups which often started after a rest on a beach. Tomorrow I am going to take the ups more slowly and remember that you have to warm up for any cardio activity - including hill climbing. One of the neatest features today was the wide expanses of rocky fields full of thyme - in bloom. Plus all the other usual Portuguese wildflowers. Lovely.

We started at 9:30, had coffee on one beach, picnic lunch on another and lost the path on the top of a couple of different headlands and came very near to the cliff edge - but by about 4 pm we were back down on the big beach just before Sagres. In fact we were at the end of the beach where people were windsurfing and paddle boarding - mind you - wearing wetsuits. Those on the beach were sitting in little circles of stone built up at the back to provide protection from the wind and sun. We sat in one and had the last of our lunch. We were happy to find our hotel around 5:30. Like all the rest it is very nice - but not very busy.

We ate dinner at the nearby Italian restaurant - great salad, piri piri (hot pepper) pizza, and chocolate cake - followed by mint tea for me and a tiny glass of free port - very sweet and tasty. Outside the restaurant in the square is a statue of HENRY the Navigator - an important person for Portugal's age of discovery - reminds us of another important person...

Tomorrow we walk to Cape St Vincent - which is the furthest west part of Europe and an old pilgrimage destination. And by the way, Mike got sunburned on his arms so even though it was overcast, there must have been sun shining through.

April 26-27 Sagres and Porto

Mike and I  decided to share doing this blog. He will put up pictures he has taken, along with comments. I will write the story. This post starts with Sagres in the Algarve. The next section is about Porto.

Sagres (in Algarve)

Walking toward Cape St Vincent

Wildflowers on the way to Cape St Vincent

 Waves from Atlantic pounding on cliffs near Cape St Vincent

Chapel above small beach

 Fishermen fly casting from top of cliffs, hundreds of meters high

Yesterday we did our walk from Sagres to Cape St Vincent. It is actually only about 6.5 by road, but our walk was much longer and took us out through pine forests and across unspoiled areas called Parque Natural where we saw many wildflowers and lots of low growing juniper. We got to the Cape and found that there were quite a few tourists there - plus even some souvenir stalls. The end of the cape is now (for 100 years) a lighthouse. Apparently this cape was sacred back in times to the Phoenicians and Romans. Sagres comes from the word for sacred. We also saw Sagres Point where Henry the Navigator is reputed to have had his naval academy. Henry was very important in getting people to think about crossing the Atlantic and inspired Columbus's voyage of exploration.

Porto (northwest Portugal on Atlantic Coast)

Rreading on high speed train to Porto (max speed we noticed was 225 kph)

 Walking along River Duoro from our posada to Centro

Looking back to our posada (the pink building with fascinating history)

Today we got up at 4:45 to be ready to be picked up by Pete at 6. He drove us about 1 hour to Tunes (on the way to Faro) where we caught the high speed train to Porto in the north of Portugal. Here we had our first real adventure of the trip. (BTW Porto is often called Oporto by the English but the Portuguese call it Porto. I think the "O" part means some like "the" Porto. also - Porto is about 200 miles north of Lisbon. The entire length of Portugal is about 350 miles. )

Now for our adventure: Julie had advised us to buy Comforta (First Class) tickets but we didn't know which of the 6 cars in the train was "Comforta" and could not see the numbers or recognizable words on the exterior. The train only stopped for a couple of minutes so we got on the train closest to the engine and thought it was fine - though we were riding backwards. The conductor checked our ticket - but when we stopped in Lisbon, people came on board who said we were in their seats. First Class was at the end of the train. Since the train only stopped for a couple of minutes, we had to make our way through all the cars and the linking parts to get to our correct seats 6 cars back - dragging all our luggage with us. Mike gave me the tickets and off we went. We found some new seats and were getting comfortable when it struck me that these seats were no better than the originals - in fact worse because we were sharing a table with 2 men. I asked if this was First Class and they said "No - tourist." This time, Mike and I scouted ahead without our luggage to try to find our correct seats. After a lot of swaying and bumping around and risking our lives going though the connections (the train was now going 220 km/hour) we found our seats. We went back for our luggage and had to work our way around the food cart (like on a plane) that was working its way through the train. Finally we had ourselves and our luggage in the right spot when the conductor approached us again. We tried to explain and I looked for the tickets. Where were they? I started looking though my pockets and daypack - pulling out buns and jam and bananas - clearly not an indication that we were first class passengers - but no sign of them. I must have dropped them at the second set of seats. We started back again - our 3rd venture through the fast moving train. Mike kept saying : "You have them." I kept saying: "You gave them to me but I don't have them." Thank goodness after we reached the next car the conductor said not to bother. We could stay in our new seats to Porto. So we did - and finally got to Porto a few hours later! Were the First Class seats more comfortable - maybe - a bit.

We are now staying in a very lovely pousada beside the Duoro River a few km from the old town.  Pousadas are a chain of luxury, historically interesting hotels througout Portugal. This was the most expensive place we stayed. All the accomodation booked by Portugal Walks was in the moderate price range - interesting but not luxurious (as befitted people on a walking tour). A converted to pousada 2003 by Fernando Tavora)There are quite a few tourists in the centro and tomorrow we are going to take the get on/get off yellow bus and see some of the sights. Our dinner tonight was truly gourmet and delicious - twice the cost of the usual restaurant dinners - but well worth it. Mike even had a dry martini.

Signing off from Porto! Goodnight!

April 28 Porto Day 2

 Panoramic view of the river from our hotel window

 Part of hotel with restaurant, lobbies and meeting rooms (built 1742)

 Part of hotel with our room (originally the soap factory

 On the ' Yellow Bus'

 River walk seen from way up on the white bridge

 Cycle trail west of Porto

 Pousada restaurant

We had a great sleep-in this morning - no train to catch and no big walk to take. After a leisurely breakfast in our truly lovely pousada, we explored the place. It is made up of a baroque palacio built in 1742 and the renovated soap factory next door - converted to pousada 2003 by Fernando Tavora. Around the palacio are gardens including a formal Italian (Islamic) garden and a terraced rose garden. Inside the ceilings are about 20 ft high and there are ancient frescoes on some of the walls. You cross a covered courtyard to get to the building where the rooms are. The palace is an offical national monument. Our room looks out over the Duoro River and one of its many bridges. It's about a 4 km walk along the river to get to the old city.

Instead of walking to the city, today we waited until the Yellow Bus came to the stop near the hotel. This is a sort of jump on jump off bus which has 3 separate routes which take you around the city and out to the river mouth. You ride on the open upper deck and get good views along with a commentary through headphones. When we got on the bus we were surprised to see a woman we had met yesterday at the train station. We had all come to Porto from the south on the same train. Like us, she was trying to find a regular bus to take her to her hotel. We chatted briefly on the top of the Yellow Bus before she got off in the middle of the old town. The tour around the "blue route" featured the many bridges of Porto including one built by Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. We had lunch in the big touristy lunch area - hundreds of tables and chairs out in the spring sunshine for tourists to enjoy. Who should we see but the same woman - so we ate lunch together. She is from Perth Australia and on a 3 month tour of Europe.

In the afternoon, we took the "orange route" out to the river mouth. We saw many interesting 18th and 19th century buildings - plus quite a new art nouveau in the area known as Foz. Porto really is a lovely city with its river, ocean and red tiled houses - plus ancient churches and other historic buildings and the red-tiled "caves" where the port wine is aged. Even though it was sunny, the top of the bus was a little chilly. Mike took tons of photos of the great sites we saw.

We walked the 4 km home from the downtown and decided to try find a less expensive less upscale restaurant to eat at. The gps indicated that there were a couple nearby - but neither of them materialized. People looked a little puzzled (Penny thinks) to see us so clearly out of the touristic area. So we went back to the pousada and tried to make ourselves look a bit more presentable. Not that easy since we only have carry-on luggage designed for walking not glamorous dining. Dinner was super delicious again. We realized that the couvert was bread, butter and olive oil plus "greetings from the chef" which was a miniature dish of tasty tidbits. Tonight I had a bundle of vegetables (in a light pastry "bag") plus creamy peas and small baked tomatoes. Mike had black fettucini with prawns. Totally delicious! We think this must be French cooking as the wait persons mainly talked to us in French. What a country this is for languages - Portuguese, English, French, German, Spanish - you hear them everywhere and realize that if you had grown up here you likely would speak about 5 languages. We make do with "Ola" "Obrigada" and "Merci." So good night. Tomorrow we will probably do more walking around the old city. 

April 29 Porto Day 3

 Looking over Porto from cathedral square

Cloister inside Porto cathedral

 Mike in the cloister

 Sunset on the walk home

 Home in sight at sunset - another bridge

Today is day 18 of our trip. Tomorrow will be day 19 - the mid point of our trip to Portugal. What a lot we have done in these 18 days. From the hill top villages if the Alentejo to the headlands and beaches if the Algarve and on to Porto in Northern Portugal.

Today we had breakfast in our lovely pousada and then set out for the old town. Rain clouds were looming to the east over the mountains so we took our rain jackets - but out in Porto 3 km away, there was no rain all day - though there were puddles when we go back to the pousada tonight.

We climbed up the very steep roads to the cathedral area where we took the scenic walk recommended in out DK guide. The high point was the Cathedral also called Se. It was originally medieval but had been updated during the baroque period and its many small altars had wood carvings that had been gilded with gold - presumably brought home from South America. We also toured the cloister and sacristy where many precious religious items were kept and where the walls were decorated with blue painted  tiles. Nearby there was an architects office - which had been built on what was originally an iron age site.

We walked down to the Christel Garden - which is a huge glass dome set in a park. Inside they were having a big book fair with all sorts of tables with books for sale. Kids were playing basketball in the park and there were lots of rhododendrons, azaleas and camelias - stuff that would not have grown in the south. We walked back to the outdoor cafe area near the river and had salad, pizza, beer and sparkling water - all for 17 euros. Not to the standard of the pousada but less than a third the price. We were back at the pousada by 9 pm as the sun was setting and the moon rising.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Porto. Unfortunately most of the historic sites are closed on Mondays - but we plan to take the Yellow Bus on the lavender line out to fortress a short way up the coast. And so = goodnight.  

April 30 Porto Day 4

 Waiting in front of the Pousada for our taxi to the Vodafone store

 Waiting with 20 cents in hand to use the public WC

 In front of Capela des Almas - notice the tiles

 Inside the meeting room of the Third Order of St Francis at Soa Francisca church

 On our way home we saw the Red Bus crossing the lower level of the bridge

 The stairs to the upper part of town

Scrumtous dinner - fish wrapped in puffed pastry on top of creamed peas & carrots

After buffet breakfast at the Pousada, we decided to seek help adding time to the 3G sim card on Mike's computer. The man at reception was very helpful but ultimately we had to go downtown to a Vodaphone store. We actually took a taxi and were soon fixed up with another 30 euros. This should certainly do us for the rest of the trip. We walked around the upper part of downtown - passing the train station where we had stopped yesterday - to watch  dancers who were demonstrating, tangoes etc to the appreciation of a large crowd.

After lunch at a small cafe, we went to  stop #1 for the Yellow Bus Lavender Line - which goes north past some castles. We should have known we were going to have trouble by the side of the crowd waiting at the stop. Everyone pushed themselves aboard - but by the time we got on there were no seats on the top deck and only 2 backward facing handicapped seats on the main deck. Too bad - but we could see some of the sights as we went along - hoping some of the other passengers would get off. Unfortnately - no-one got off. Instead, a crowd of about 10 Italians boarded the bus half way round. They had obviously been enjoying a lot of wine with their lunch and were in high spirits. Because there were no seats they climbed up on the luggage section at the back of the bus. Because there was nowhere for them to plug their earphones in to listen to the tour guide and sweet background music, they turned on their own radio and sang along. Mainly to Abba! It was pretty rowdy as other passengers joined in. Not the best tour of Porto - but another  good adventure.

 After the bus tour, we visited the Church of St Francis of Assisi. It was interesting to see the catacombs and the church itself was incredibly ornate with many many altars with wood carvings gilded with gold. It and the cathedrals are 2 of the top sights in Porto - but I think the thing we will mainly remember are the many wonderful bridges crossing the Duoro River and buildings built on the steep sides of the river. After a cup of tea at the lunch area, we walked home to the pousada. But not before buying me a neat scarf with a piece of jewelry to tie it together - hard to describe but very nice for 10 euros. Now we have had our last gourmet dinner at the pousada and it is time for bed. People eat quite late here in Portugal - a normal start time is about 8:30 - which means there is not much time between dinner and bedtime. Amazingly there are always small children at dinner - as late as it is. So goodnight. 

May 1 (Labourers' day) Porto to Viana do Castelo

 Breakfast in Porto Pousada, Penny looking at fresco remnants

 Picture of worker restoring fresco 

 Pipe & drum group walking through town celebrating May 1 - Labourers' Day in Viana do Castelo

  Gil Eannes from wheelhouse

Gil Eannes Museum

 May 1 Union concert in plaza

Paper flowers decorating the streets

 Real flowers decorating the streets

 Walking home after a wonderful fresh sea bass dinner at a seaside eatery.

We had our last breakfast in the Postada do Porto and packed up our bags to get ready to leave. Our bags - Mike's red backpack, my red wheeled bag, our 2 small black daypacks and our green carryall - pretty much full of food and snacks (buns, cheese, fruit, olives) bought in the Porto market yesterday.  It had been pouring with rain in the night and it was still showery. Our taxi driver Benjamim picked us up before noon and drove us up the toll roads to the coastal town of Viana do Costelo - another seaport at the mouth of a river. This time - the Lima River. Our hotel here is quite small and faces onto a main road between the old town and the docks. The colour scheme in the lobby area is turquoise and red - very bright. When I asked Benjamim what he thought the weather would be like he passed me his cell phone and said it looked as if we were in for a week of the same (wet cold) weather.

When we got to the hotel we noticed it was decorated with a sprig of yellow flowering broom - just like the broom we have at home and that we think came from Scotland. It is quite common here in Portugal - so maybe it actually came from here. Anyway, apparently everyone in Portugal decorates their home, car, boat, etc, with sprigs of broom on May 1 to bring good fortune for the next year.

We donned rain jackets and toques and walked around the old part of Viana to get a sense of the place. It was cold but the rain held off.

One of the first things we noticed was a portable stage set up in the main square or centro. It was to celebrate May 1 - workers' day. Unlike other parts of Europe where (according to the BBC) it appears there were demonstrations against government restraint measures today, there was only a three piece band - keyboard, drums and accordian - making very enjoyable music plus a few dignitaries standing on the balcony above the union hall. All the balconies around the centro were decorated with wreaths - partly made of broom. May 1 is the second national holiday we have experienced here in Portugal - so again quite a few things were closed. I have read that people in Europe work shorter hours and get more holidays than those in North America and this seems to be true in Portugal.

The next thing we noticed was the basilica on the top of the hill to the north - very high up and very impressive.

The third was the former hospital ship Gil Eanne tied up in the harbour. We had a bit of lunch and then spent a good hour touring the Gil Eanne. It had been built in Viana in 1955 to go to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (Terra Nova) to support the Portuguese cod fishing fleet. It was only about 57 years ago that the cod fishery was at its peak - yet it now seems ages since the cod were over-fished almost to extinction. Very sad - but an interesting connection to Canada that I didn't really appreciate living on the West Coast.

Later in the afternoon we found the big multi-story mall in Viana. It is a lot like every other mall I have ever been in - including "Body Shop," the "Undercolours of Benetton" a typical food fair, and lots of teens - plus a deck with a great view of the city. We finished the day having dinner at a seafood restaurant near the castle on the waterfront. We had sea bass (a small white fish) with tasty potatoes and thinly sliced green beans. Having read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" a couple of years ago, I am slightly aware of the problem of over-fishing many of the world's fish species and hope sea bass, being a smallish fish, is not among the endangered.

Tomorrow we have a choice of 2 walks - I hope we opt for "Coastal Forts" but if we choose "Canoes  de Agua" I hope we take the funicular up to the basilica where that walk begins.

May 2 Viano Do Castelo (north west Portugal)

 Hiding behind an old windmill on the beach to get out of the wind & rain

 Waves crashing on the beach

 Hotel (above Penny's head) in Viana

Inside our colourful hotel - dinner was delicious...

Mike says I should start the blog by saying that today - like everyday - I did exactly what I wanted to do. And that's pretty much true!

We seem to be the only people staying in our small hotel - at least no-one else was there at breakfast. It was raining quite a lot in the morning so we decided that rather than take the bus or taxi to the beginning of the walk about 11 km up the coast and walking back to Viana, we would simply start from the hotel and go as far as seemed reasonable before retracing our steps. We bundled up in our rain gear and set out into the rain. After about an hour we got to a restaurant by the beach where we gratefully found a toilet and also had coffee and a pastel de nata (custard tart). Then on we went along the coastal path past a  lot of ancient stone forts and several round stone structures which had formerly been small windmills for grinding cereal. On the tree-covered hill tops were modern wind turbines rotating in the quite strong wind which came behind us from the south. Eventually the rain more or less stopped and we had our buns and cheese on the beach near a windmill. Then we walked back to town - against the wind and rain. The beaches are quite interesting with a lot of black jagged rocks and round pebbles and quite a bit of surf beyond the rocks. In all we walked a bit more than 12 km - all on flat paths - very pleasant really. (Yesterday we walked 6 km around the town.)

When we got back to town, we walked around the big stone castelo at the mouth of the Lima River and, after hanging our clothes up to dry in our room, went to a very interesting small museum directly behind our hotel. It housed a display showing the various civilizations which had existed in the area, displaying artifacts from the beach we had just walked as well around Viana. The description was in English as well as Portuguese and very enlightening. It started with round cobbles which had been chipped to a point dating back to paleolithic times - as long ago as 2.5 million years. (Paleolithic means "old stone age.") Then more polished stone tools dating back 10,000 years when agriculture, pottery making, and weaving first began. (Neolithic means "new stone age." Stonehenge and menhirs date back to neolithic times.) There was also information on bronze and iron age civilizations. Then the beginning of Christianity followed by  Romanization. After the Romans came the Visigoths followed by the Moors and then recapture of the area by Christians and the beginning of medieval times. (The big pilgrimage centre Santiago or St James (of Camino fame) is not too far away in Spain. I think Viana is probably on the pilgrims route to Santiago from Portugal.) It really was fascinating to see it all portrayed as having happened here in Viana. We also visited the truly lovely and extremely modern public library across the street from the hotel.

We had dinner in the hotel - pasta with grilled chicken bits and salad. It was very good. The dining room is decorated very colourfully. The atmosphere here is very relaxing. We had a great chat with the young woman who was looking after reception and cooked our dinner. She had been born in Thompson, Manitoba of Portuguese parents who had immigrated to Canada. Her family had moved back to Portugal when she was 12. Her English was perfect and it was interesting to talk to her about the economic problems in Europe. Her sense was that things were improving in Portugal - but she thought Canada was smarter because we are planning ahead to delay the retirement age to 67.

We have been told that the weather this last year has been very unusual - the hot fall  Pete & Barb experienced (people swimming at the beaches here into October), and the very dry winter - the only rain this winter has been in the last three weeks!

So that's it for today. Tomorrow we will be picked up at 9:30 and driven part way to our next hotel in Ponte de Lima - not really too far up the river from Viana.

May 3 Viana to Ponte Lima (on the Lima River in northwest Portugal)

 Start of walk - street with grape arbour

 Open fields of wild flowers - near where we got lost

 Along the boardwalk in the wetlands

Frog in wetlands

 Approaching Ponte de Lima - the medieval part of the bridge in sight

 Old fort across the river in the centre of the old town

  'Chapel' of the Third Order of St Francis - now a museum

 Replica of the Franciscan vegetable garden at the entrance to the church in Ponte de Lima

Fire going, wet clothes hanging - ready to go out for dinner...

Here we are already May 3 and we are well into our third walk in Portugal - organized by Julie of Portugal Walks. We had breakfast at the very colourful hotel in Viana. Today Mike actually had scrambled eggs and I had my usual mueseli and yogurt. Our taxi driver Benjamim arrived on the dot of 9:30 and drove us along country roads to the hamlet of Barriendos. Here we walked into the protected wetland area. We started by walking down a quiet road beside a high wall with grape vines forming a ceiling all the way along. Unfortunately the wetlands were more wet than unsual - it was really raining for a lot of our walk - but occasionally there would be a break in the clouds and the sun would shine through. Also, unfortunately, the directions for the walk missed some basic information - so we weren't as relaxed as we could have been in this beautiful area. We actually got quite off track at one point because we didn't know a house and a barn counted as "a couple of houses." However we got back on track and found the promised board walk which wound its way through the wetlands - very pretty with ivy growing everywhere. We ate our lunch in a birdblind - to keep out of the rain.

After our loop through the wetlands we found ourselves back in Barriendos and walked 4 km up a narrow paved bicycle route called Ecovia which runs along the Lima River to Ponte de Lima. Rather than crossing the old bridge, we turned left at the church and soon found the big black gate into Casa do Arrabalde. The directions said to ring the bell but there was no bell to be seen so we knocked on what might have been the front door to a hotel. Some ladies opened the door, welcomed us and asked us when we wanted out petite dejeuner. Fortunately we know a tiny bit of French - so realized they meant breakfast - nueve, please. A man, who introduced himself as Miguel, appeared. He spoke good English and he lead us through some lovely gardens with lawn and orange trees and a swimming pool to our place. When I asked if he thought the weather would improve, he said: "no!" The weather was completely mixed up and it had been 29 degrees Celsius in February and they are now having winter in May.

Our place turned out to be a complete casa with 2 bedrooms, living room, kitchen and big bathroom, The only problem seemed to be that it was only heated by an open wood fireplace, without even a grate, which he said we would have to make do with. OK. We're not wimps. I learned how to make the coal fire work on our narrow boat "Badger" in England - so we can cope. But we were very wet - especially our shoes as we had walked through a lot of puddles. With the front door open, the breeze got the fire really going and we added wood - warming up the living room. Then - thank goodness - we found a small electric heater in the main bedroom. We hung our wet clothes out to dry in the living room and after a cup of "smooth digestion" tea that I have been carrying around for a couple of weeks, we walked down the back street and across the old bridge to visit the town. We visited a museum related to the Third Order of St Francis, bought a rain cape for Mike because his rain jacket is leaking, and then walked home. There was a big funeral going on at the church on our side of the bridge. We stopped in a small shop to buy wine, cookies and chocolates for tomorrow.

Isabel the owner just dropped by to make sure we are OK. She advised us on dinner, saying the portions are too big and we can share without causing offence. So - off we went to dinner. The restaurant we chose had two waiters - one for French and one for English. We were the only guests. It was lovely - an ancient stone building with a view of the bridge. We had salmon with delicious potatoes and veg - lots of olive oil and very tasty. Biscuit cake for dessert was good - all for half the price of the Pousada. The cool thing was that when they turned on the music, it was Diana Krall singing. I tried to explain she was from  our town to the English speaking waiter - but I don't think he understood. BTW, the bridge actually dates back to Roman times - though it was updated in medieval times.

We walked back over the bridge to our casa - but when we got there - not only had the fire burned out - but the power was off. We tried different combinations of switches and Mike even checked the electrical panel to try to get it working. No luck. We tried phoning to the main part of the hotel - no answer. We tried phoning Julie - no answer. We only had a tiny little flashlight (though we had extra batteries bought at the fair in Elvas) so we were worried that we would soon be in complete dark. We tried to find the house by going through the beautiful but dark wet garden. It began to rain heavily. When we found what we thought was the front door, no-one answered our knock. So went back to our casa and tried again by going around by the backstreet. Knock, knock, knock. Thank goodness Miguel was still up; Back we all went to the casa through the wet dark garden - waiving at the motion sensor lights to see where we were going. Eventually he was able to fix the fuse box in the neighbouring casa where people from Australia were already asleep.They had given up when the lights went out and just gone to bed.

So here we are sitting by our fire drinking "smooth digestion" before we go to bed. Altogether we walked more than 19 km today.  Tomorrow we will be driven by Benjamim up to a mesa where the wild horses live and will walk along the route of the 6 abbots. BTW, Ponte de Lima is on the pilgrim route to Santiago in Spain and we met a few backpacking pilgrims on the bridge. I am glad we are only doing walks with taxi support - not carrying everything on our backs for miles and miles. Goodnight.

May 4 Ponte Lima Day 2

 Roses in the Roman garden beside the Roman section of the bridge to town

 View of church from one of several beautiful  public gardens in Ponte de Lima

 Lunchtime - it's warm inside!

  Super Bock improves lu

 Penny leaving the Casa to test our new rain gear

 The pool

 Roman Legions - May the 4th be with you!

Today we decided to do the walk that was scheduled for tomorrow instead of going up into the mountains where the wild horses are. This was because it was so wet today. The forecast was for 90% POP while tomorrow is only 70% POP. By Sunday it supposed to actually get nice - that is the day we are scheduled to walk from Ponte de Lima to Ponte de Barque - up the river.

So today we mainly just wandered around the small quite touristy town of Ponte de Lima. We started the day with an interesting breakfast with Miguel and two people from Australia who are touring around Portugal in a small car - our neighbours from last night. It was fun to chat about all the usual things - especially the weather which is causing everyone a lot of concern. Are we really seeing global warming and/or climate change? Many people in Australia apparently refuse to believe this - but something odd is going on.

We wandered through the town, looked at a local art gallery, had lunch, bought some more cheap plastic rain gear and walked back down the river toward Barriendos for a couple of km - on the other side. This is the side where the pilgrims or peregrinos going to Santiago walk and we saw the neat yellow painted arrows marking their way. There is an auberge (refugio) not far from our casa - because Ponte de Lima is an official stop on the Portuguese route to Santiago in Spain. Walkers are not allowed inside until 5 pm so a few pilgrims were standing around in the rain waiting to get in - like homeless men waiting outside the Salvation Army in Nanaimo. We actually talked to a couple of walkers in our favourite restaurant this evening. They had walked 33 km with their packs in the rain today. Tomorrow they have to walk up into the mountains. They said they were doing it because it will be an achievement and that they had met many wonderful people along the way. Of course the weather and climate change came up again. They had a sister living in West Vancouver who thought the weather was changing because the earth is wobbling on its axis.

Almost bedtime. Hopefully the beds will be warmer tonight. Last night it was like lying on an iceberg. The mattresses are spring mattresses with not much on top of them (i.e. no foam) and the cold air beneath just sucks the warmth out of you. You could get warmed up on the side that was under the blankets - but if you rolled over your pajamas on the side that you had been lying on were cold to the touch. We ended up putting wool blankets on top of the bottom sheet and and lying right on the blanket. It was a bit warmer that way. However, tonight the whole casa is quite a bit warmer because we have "kept the home fires burning" and the thick stone walls have absorbed some of the heat.   

May 5 Ponte Lima Day 3

 Our casa - the lower one in front

 Feeling good and ready to walk at Costa in the hills above Ponte de Lima

 The 4 abbotts' tables - a place where 4 parishes meet...

Checking the route instructions - where the heck do we go from here?

 A green monk - Penny in her new rain gear!

 Looking up the valley (and below the clouds) from 600+ metres

 Ponte de Lima in the distance

Looking happy, feeling dry (yet to find out we are lost)

 Longhorn cattle - we're being watched!

 Wild horses blocking the trail

 Ah - civilization. The irises in our casa's garden

Yesterday we heard that the weather would be better today - only 80% POP - oh well, time to walk in the mountains east of Ponte de Lima with benefit of our new green plastic rainwear. We ate breakfast with Isabel and Miguel. Apparently Isabel owns this whole huge estate with the big ancient house, the 2 casas and the lovely garden. She is also a teacher and has 2 teenagers. We think Miguel is an Economics professor - but don't know for sure.

We packed a lunch of fresh bread from breakfast, a cheese round, mandarinas, pastel da natas and a chocolate bar - plus water. Benjamim arrived right on time and drove us up the valley and into the mountains above Ponte de Lima. The altitude was 540 metres - about 500 metres above Ponte de Lima. He dropped us in the village of Costa and we made the first short part of the walk to the Mesa dos Quatro Abades (the table of the 4 abbots) which is a place where 4 parishes come together (kind of like Four Cornersin Arizona)  and where there are religious festivities. All was quiet with moss covered stone tables and benches. Then we headed up through the village, past the restaurant expecting that we would soon be back as the walk was only 9.8 km.

The start of the walk was up hill and more up hill. Thank goodness my lungs were much more clear than yesterday. Yesterday, I could hardly make it over the bridge without having a rest - but today I felt almost normal as we climbed up at least another 200 metres to a fabulous viewpoint overlooking the Lima valley, the valley to the south, the freeway and above it, the  pilgrim's path to the north and even as far west as Viana and the Atlantic Ocean. Big black rain clouds kept rolling in and we put on our green plastic, took it off, put it on again a few times. At one point we had hail and it was never nice enough to stop and have lunch - so we kept going and going.

The pilgim's path to Santiago looked very long and steep. Benjamim had told us on the way up that the stretch north of Ponte de Lima was the hardest as it was long and steep and we felt sorry for the pilgrims we had met yesterday who were already exhausted. However, he said, the walk did not need to be so hard. There are other stops along the way where people can stay and he often transported pilgrim's luggage from stop to stop as he was doing for us. We kind of wonder why people don't usually do it that way - maybe doing it the hard way is sort of equivalent to the Boston marathon and you don't have bragging rights if you don't follow the usual tradition.

For our own part, we expected to find a "wooded enclosure" where the wild horses are sometimes kept - but the closest we came to it was 3 wooden posts in the ground. We did see lots of wild horses amongst the trees and heard them whinnying to each other. We also saw a shepherd with cows and sheep and a few free roaming cows with big horns. Since we did not see the wooden enclosure, we also did not see the "red and white antenna" in the distance or "the lake with all the frogs" - though we did pass a bit of a swamp lower down among the trees. We also did not see the clearing where the track goes down. So we walked and walked until we could tell by comparing the GPS with the map that we were lost. It was already 2:30 and we had not had lunch and Benjamim would be in Costa ready to pick us up in an hour. We ate a couple of bites of cheese and bread and kept walking. Soon we could see another village far below us. As Miguel had said, this is urban wilderness with people never far away - but still how to get back to our original village? Mike picked a route with an old sign saying Vilar do Monte - which looked about the right place on our map - and down we went. Down, down, across and down some more until we suddenly found ourselves above the right village - and it was not too far away. What joy! 15 minutes to make our way down a path that was more like a creek, over a bridge near where a lady was doing her washing in the swift running water. She gasped in surprise to see us in our green plastic emerge out of nowhere.  And then said: "Bom tarde" - good afternoon.

Benjamim was in the parking area by the restaurant waiting for us. The sun was shining. Suddenly we were safe and in the taxi on the way back to our a casa. I could hardly believe it. Back at the casa, the sun was shining and I sat our in the sunshine for awhile enjoying Ponte de Lima as we had expected it to be - lovely. The garden is full of rhodos, orange, tangarine and lemon trees, irises, hydrangas, roses and other familiar Vancouver Island plants and flowers. Then we walked across the bridge to see what was going on. The Saturday fair seemed to be over but there was some serious competitive kayaking going on is the wide fast flowing river. Later, the music from "Chariots of Fire," "Space Odyssey 2001" and a Russian Mazurka rang through the valley over and over again - from the Clube Nautico where the winners were receiving their awards.

We went to our favourite restaurant for dinner again tonight. They all know us now – the English speaking waiter, the French speaking waiter and the fellow who looks like he just stepped out of Fawlty Towers and is probably the owner. We sat at our favourite table and they served us a huge dish of veal, potatoes and cabbage and played Diana Krall again. When we left, the sky was clear and a huge full moon was shining. What a difference from yesterday. Something was going on in the main church – even though it was 9:30 at night. We went inside for a few minutes and there were a lot of people inside and some singing going on.

Tomorrow we walk further up the Lima River to Ponte de Barca. The walk should be about 16.7 km – but it is supposed to be flat and there's no way to get lost since we just follow the river. Today the walk was supposed to be under 10 km but our pedometer now reads 30.37 - our longest day. Since we did walk steadily for 5 hours up in the mountains and we have walked into town across the bridge twice, this is probably accurate. I don't think I could have walked that far when we first started this trip. 

May 6 Ponte Lima to Ponte da Barca  (still in the north)

 Sunday market with local goods (see sausage hanging from rack) in Ponte de Lima
 Made it - went through the market and didn't buy anything

Goodbye to Ponte de Lima - our bridge and church in the background

 See the flooded trail!

 Antique bed in huge room in Ponte Barca

 View of church from our window

 St Monica is looking over us in our hotel bedroom

 Our boots are drying

Selfie - still enjoying Portugal

Last night I think we really got the hang of the wood fireplace in the Casa at Ponte Lima. We had a really good hot fire going before we went to bed. Then I worried that a piece of wood  might roll out onto the floor since there was no grate or fender - but also not much to burn in the stone casa. Nothing happened and in the morning, it was all burned out. We packed and ate breakfast with Isabel. Miguel was hurrying off to see his mother. Isabel said that he was unemployed and had now got a job in Timore. What a long way away! He is leaving on the weekend and his contract is until December. If it is extended, he will stay longer. Portugal is an "old country" and there is no work here. It was sad to hear how difficult things are for the people living here.

We walked across the bridge and headed east on the other side of the river. The first thing we saw was a big Sunday festival going on with men and women in traditional dress selling food to local people. Then it was farewell to Ponte de Lima and up the Ecovia pathway. (Ecovia refers to the path being ecological.)  There were a few people walking dogs on the path and quite a number of cyclists riding along in groups wearing their spandex cycling gear - the Sunday morning cyclists I think. They were quite friendly - calling out "Bom dia." The weather was cloudy and the river was very full. The path was actually quite good - not too many puddles until we got to one low section where it was - yes- completely flooded. The only way round was to climb up about a 20 ft bank and walk along the edge of a field. At that moment a group of cyclists came by and there was a lot of shouting and splashing as they paddled through the flood - definitely half way up their wheels  Our trail guide was not very complete - missing some significant features and not being clear about others. We think we should tell Julie that she needs to do some work on the northern guides. For example, it would be helpful to have all significant features (such as a huge under-construction bridge) identified so you knew where you are - since when you are walking alone and have never been there before it's hard to figure out how you are doing. We ate bread and cheese and natas by the trail and ran into some rain and one huge downpour. Thank goodness we had put on our green plastic by then.

Finally we reached the end of the Ecovia and after a bit of a walk on the busy road, we were in Ponte da Barca. This town is named after its old bridge which was originally made of a string of boats (barca) from one side of the river to the other. There is a story of 9 people dying when they were fleeing across the boat bridge and overloaded one of the boats. The "new" fouteenth century bridge is a major attraction in the town. The town seems quite small - but our "hotel" is  huge. It is a large imposing stone manor house built on the side of a hill overlooking the Lima River. The directions were to climb the steep cobbled road beside the igregia (church) where we found a set of old green doors with a buzzer. We rang and eventually heard sounds inside and someone came to the door and let us in. He was fairly young and only knew a few words of English - mainly "follow me." Which we did - up stone and wood staircases, down stone halls with mysterious doors and eventually to the doors of our room. Inside we found a large anti-room (normal sized hotel room), large bathroom and huge bedroom with all sorts of antique furniture. There is a good heating system  and the floors are wood - so it is much warmer than our casa. The ceiling is about 20 ft high and we have 3 big windows with wooden inside shutters. As you can see in the photos, the bed itself is an antique. We were also shown the breakfast room, the sitting room and the huge billiard room - plus taken down several flights of open stairs in a sort of a tower to the main door to outside. It really is a most amazing place - and sadly, I think we are the only people staying here.

We had a rest, cleaned up, ate chocolate cookies and beer since we had not found a kettle or fridge and then went out to a lovely restaurant by a stream for a big dinner. Again - no-one else there but us - but I think maybe others had been in for a big lunch - since they had run out of fruit salad. The waiter spoke very little English - but like many others we have met - basically communicated to us in French. While eating dinner we heard from the TV that Sarkosy had lost the French election. Many people are very worried about this and wonder what it will mean for the European Union and Portugal.

Tomorrow is Mike's birthday. I hope he has a good day.  We are supposed to find a taxi to take us to the beginning of our walk up in the mountain (hill) tops. I wonder how we will do that and how good the walking directions will be. Also - it seems to have cleared up again this evening - will it rain again tomorrow? And where will we find stuff for lunch? And is the restaurant really closing until June (as we thought the message in the window said)?. Oh the joys of being a traveler in a strange but lovely land. So good night from our castle in Portugal.

May 7 Ponte da Barca Day 2

 Go downstairs to the garden door to leave for our walk (looks like an old tower built into house)

 Pass the side entrance into our room under these stairs...

Taking a short refuge from the rain under the overgrown cottage.

 To the chapel at the top of the hill - wind blowing rain too hard to find a place to have our picnic

 Looking past the chapel there is a view forever (at least on clear days, so we are told)

 Back to the Romanesque church to meet our taxi - slightly damp

Even this tractor driver had his umbrella up too

 The museum in the breakfast room (same kinds of things I have in my workshop)

Tthe grand billard room - too cold to play

 Our hotel - the grey roofed building beside and to the left of the church

The single lane, 14th century bridge - what a day!

Today was our last walk with Portugal Walks. It was also the wettest day we have spent here. Oh for the cold dry Alentejo or the hot sun of the Algarve. But it is the "high rainfall" (as mentioned in the Eyewitness Guide) that makes this area so green - so we should not complain. Besides, they badly need rain as the winter was hot and dry. In fact it didn't start raining anywhere until we arrived. (Also, we learend later it was raining everywhere in northern Europe - so not just in northern Portugal.)

We started our day with breakfast in the museum quality breakfast area - very good ham,cheese, buns, and various types of jam - with coffee - and managed to get Ricardo, our young host, to understand we needed to take a taxi to  Bravaes. I'm sure he has done this before because it all worked smoothly and we were soon on our way to the small town about 5 km away. We were dropped at the very interesting church with monkeys and other animals carved in the stones. It was pretty wet but we set off anyway up through the cobbled roads and gravel tracks which eventually led to the top of the mountain. The tracks were very steep - passing through highly terraced areas and lots of small waterfalls. We mostly followed the red and yellow slashes of the Nature Trail and only got slightly lost on the way up. At the top was another church (with regular chimes every 15 minutes - giving us hope that the top was within reach). We had thought we might eat our lunch there - but it was teaming with rain and the wind was blowing clouds of water across the top. I'm sure there are fantastic views from the top but we only saw one passing glimpse of the valley far below before the clouds, rain and mist obscured the view again. We got quite lost on the way down as the directions were not very accurate (you cannot cover 200 metres with only 60 steps)  - but with the help of the gps and Mike's great sense of direction we made it back down the steep cobbled roads to the original church - 15 minutes before the assigned time. We ate a bun and cheese in the parking lot expecting the taxi at 2:30. We then realized we had said "four hours" meaning the length of time until he should pick us up and he had likely thought we meant 4 o'clock. Fortunately we had his phone number so we called and he soon appeared. Cell phone coverage is really excellent in Portugal and we are so glad we bought a little 15 euro Vodaphone when we first arrived in Lisbon.

Back in our huge manor house we tried to get dry. The place is well heated and things actually do dry off. We read. It was Mike's birthday and he had received a great little video by email wishing him happy birthday - so he spent some time videoing a response. It is so nice to get messages when you are away - because, no matter how much fun you are having, you always miss people back home. 

It was quite funny earlier today when we went looking for Ricardo to tell him we needed early breakfast. We heard a loud voice coming from the lower levels bellowing Ricardo's name. We knew the feeling - where was he? The man apologized and phoned Ricardo on our behalf. This is such a lovely place to stay - with an outdoor pool and jacuzzi and 10 lovely rooms. But nobody else is here but Mike and I. Maybe it will get busy when the weather turns back to normal.

The rain stopped and we walked around the town for awhile - even walking across the 14th century bridge which now carries traffic - one way at a time. Then we went to O Minho Restaurant for dinner. Tonight we had grilled pork, spinach, Portuguese bread, white wine and a sweet icecream dessert. It was a little less expensive than last night's toristic dinner. Did you know that little Portugal is the 6th largest wine exporting country in the world with over 200 different unique varieties of grapes?

Tomorrow, Benjamim will pick us up at 8:30 to drive us to Porto where we will catch the fast train to Coimbra. What a wonderful way to spend a birthday - never to be forgotten!

May 8 Ponte da Barca to Coimbra - central Portugal

 Waiting for our train to Coimbra in Porto

 Our Coimbra hotel room

 The University of Coimbra Patio das Escolas from the Via Latina

 Our hotel, the one with the round tower, seen from beside the University bell tower

 View out the middle window in our hotel room

 Unique guitarra used in Fado concert

When we got up this morning it was pouring with rain - even more than yesterday. We packed our bags, ate our breakfast and were ready to go when Benjamin arrived in his taxi. He drove us about 90 minutes on side roads and the main A3 to Porto. It was very foggy and there was more traffic than we have previously experienced in Portugal. He was talking on his cell phone a lot of the time - though it was a hands free arrangement. He had told us earlier that his cell phone plan gave him 5000 minutes per month and we could see how he might use them all.

We caught the train in Porto and saw the bridges and Pousada in the distance (in the rain) as we zipped out of town. The trip to Coimbra (kweem bra) took about 1 hour with 4 or 5 stops. As we were going along I noticed that I was feeling a little stressed. I looked back fondly on places we had stayed - where we had started as strangers but eventually figured out how to keep warm and dry and have things to eat - and I realized that I didn`t really know where we were going and even wondered if we would get off at the right stop. I felt a little discombobulated. Then it struck me - that`s what traveling is all about. First you are somewhere safe and familiar. Then you jump into the unknown and feel a little stressed and uncertain. Then you get used to the new place and gain a bit of an understanding about how it works. You feel safe again. Then, just when you are feeling safe and things are familiar again, you step out into new unknown. Good travel gives you a good balance of both the familiar and the unknown - it`s not boring and it`s not too scary. I think learning is like that - you start out with a lot of confusion and then things begin to make sense and you feel comfortable with your new knowledge - then you move onto learning something new. 

When we arrived in Coimbra - the sun was shining. People were wearing short sleeves. It was warm. Hurray! We found our new hotel which is very cool. It is a very old narrow building and we have a room at the end. Since the end of the building is rounded, our room is actually a half circle and we have views of 180 degrees. It is very nice. The area is very touristy and there are many small cafes, souvenir shops and ancient sites dotted around the narrow cobbled streets. We ended up walking up the very steep roads to the top of the hill where the University of Coimbra is situated. It is an ancient university built on a site once used by Celts, the Romans, the Moors, the Medieval Christians. In 1500 it was a royal palace that was given over for a university. It is a functioning university with many ancient traditions - including the wearing of black suits by the students with big black capes over top.

Later in the day we went to a Fado Concert put on in a small hall not far away. Fado music is big in Coimbra and it was fun. Three musicians who were graduates of the university played the guitarra, viola and sang the beautiful poignant Fado music of Coimbra to a full house of about 60 people. The last song was a student song and we all sang along - very effectively. Afterwards we were given a small glass of port wine.

We had noticed 2 Portuguese ladies sitting across from us on the train. Later we saw them in the hotel and then again at the university. When we went for dinner, they were seated next to us. Quite a coincidence. Apparently they are on a 3 day vacation from Braga - one of the cities we drove through on our way to Porto.

So - it was a good travel day and we are comfortable in our new place - the Astoria Hotel in Coimbra, Portugal. 

May 9 Coimbra Day 2

 Breakfast in the art deco dining room of Hotel Astoriain Coimbra

Waiting for the bus to Conimbriga (site of Roman ruins)

 Roman ruins from the 1st century BC onwards

 Wall built over a wall - the Romans got scared in the 3rd century AD and built a huge defensive wall over everything

 Rruins of beautiful house - nice garden with irises too

 Mosaic floors


 Once home in Coimbra, a walk along the river

Passing the giant venue for the midnight music show - multi-stage, multi-drinking tents!!

Our hotel - the one with the turret - we are on the 1st floor of that turret

Last night we went to bed relatively early (about 10) planning to get up early in the mornning and catch the bus to the famous Roman ruins in Conimbrega - outside of Coimbra. The only problem was that this is the week (May 4-11) when the university students have one huge noisy party all night long. We had heard a bit of music from across the river during the afternoon - but at midnight they turned it up full blast. We discovered that there are several open air sound stages in the park across the river with vast areas dedicated to selling and drinking beer. Plus there is a bar in the side street below our bathroom window - serving drinks all night long to screaming drunk students. It really was awful and no doubt was the reason we were able yto get such a nice room in Coimbra at the last minute.

It was hard to appreciate the nice warm dry room, the clean beds and the original art deco decor - with all that racket going on. The worst thing is that we know it's going to happen again tonight. We remembered sleeping through a Mexican wedding in the trailer but realized we could drown out the noise by turning on the fan - not an option here. There is no fan. We tried to find some white noise on the computer to cover the pending noise - but we need to be on wireless all night - otherwise the it will only run for a max of 60 minutes - so no use. We know it will be bad because the desk clerk only shook his head when we mentioned the noise and two lovely young ladies in the smart black suits that the students wear were sitting on the sidewalk under our window drinking wine straight out of a large bottle when we came home from dinner. 

Anyway - we did make it to Conimbrega on the local bus this morning and had a very interesting day looking at the ruins of an early Roman town with its accompanying museum. It was wonderfully set up and included a nice restaurant. So we spent most of the day there. Portugal is so fantastic for getting a sense of the history of Europe - so many different civilizations have come and gone. This particular site is stunning. Once we got back to Coimbra we walked to the station and bought our train tickets to Lisbon.  We had an interesting dinner at an Italian restaurant where our pizza turned out to be folded over like a pie. Quite tasty. The tiramisu was just what we hoped for. So goodnight and we'll make our next post from Lisbon.

May 10  Coimbra to Lisbon
 One last picture of our hotel in Coimbra - we are first floor up, windows on the end

The peaceful scene of the river across the street from our hotel in Coimbra

 Whizzing along on the train to Lisbon - the slower Inter City train

 The front of our train in the Lisbon station

 Our very interesting and colourful hotel room in Lisbon

 First walk in Lisbon, down to the river from our hotel

We survived the noise in Coimbra last night by putting earplugs in our ears and then putting our neck scarves (buffs) around our heads to hold the earplugs in place. It was very effective. Mike happened to wake up at 6:30 and when he looked out the window he saw the students streaming back across the bridge from their all night rock concert and a lot of shouting still going on. So here's a new travel tip - earplugs and a scarf - don't leave home without them.

An interesting thing I forgot to mention yesterday was that there are hundreds and hundreds - thousands really - of Portuguese pilgrims on the roads near Coimbra - walking to Fatima.  The walkers are in organized groups and all of them wear bright green high-viz vests. They are all ages and fitness levels and each group seems to have a support vehicle to provide water and food and pick up those who can't go any further. I think May 13 is the big feast day in Fatima (the anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the 3 shepherd children in 1917). When Mike looked out the window at 6:30 am - the students in their black capes were coming  into Coimbra from the other side of the river and the pilgrims in their green vests were going across the bridge in the other direction to Fatima. I don't think Portuguese people go to Santiago del Compostela - but they sure do go to Fatima.

As you can see by the photos, we took a couple of connecting trains to get from Coimbra to Lisbon and we are staying in a very nice hotel right in the centre of the old town - about 1 km from the Rio Tejo The hotel is the "International Design Hotel" and it claims to be very eco-friendly. It has 4 floors - each decorated in a different theme. Also different sized rooms - our is a small "pop" room. (We could have had zen, tribal or urban. The main reception area and staircases are decorated with purple florescent lights.) Our room is very colourful with a terra-cotta and pink floor, yellow walls, white walls and black walls. Everything is done in a very modern style and all seems very efficient. There is almost no noise at all from street level. I think it is very relaxing and cheerful.

Outside, the weather here in Lisbon is very hot and dry and the sun glares on the white walls. There are lots of tourists, street cafes, souvenir shops, high end clothing and furniture shops and many historic monuments. There are several large squares with big statues and kids on skateboards. The part of the town we are in was destroyed by a terrible earthquake and tsunami in 1755 - so the architecture dates from that time. We walked around a bit but could not find one "mini mercado" to buy some cookies, fruit and bread   - until we finally found a Chinese grocery store with a few things. We took a break from travelling and relaxed by watching one of our favourite British detective show "New Tricks" on the big flat screen TV - really the first TV we have watched (excepts of Algeveera and BBC News) since we got here. (Please excuse my spelling - I've lost all sense of how English should be written - since most signage is in Portuguese and we are very often talked to in French.)

Tomorrow our plan is to join a walking tour down by the river and do some exploration of Lisbon on foot. So goodnight!

May 11 Lisbon Day 2

 8 AM and this is the view from our hotel room window to the east - Praca do Figuiera

 To the west - Praca dos Pedro IV (see what it looked like later below)

 Church at Convento da Corma (ruined in 1755 earthquake and ran out of money while re-building it)

 Wonderful miradour (viewpoint) at Senorha de Monte chapel overlooking city 

   Narrow street -  one is one person wide - no passing!

 Panorama of Alfama from Sao Vicente church to Sao Miguel church (and small cruise ship)

 Back to the hotel - a parade and concert in the square below us.

We had a good sleep last night as the rock concert  (which we had watched in horror being set up yesterday afternoon) ended at midnight and all was quiet. Tonight another performance has just started and it is noisier than last night - more drums and higher pitched howling  It is all electronic loudspeakers and very annoying (to me).. I don't know what the occasion is.  Let's hope the same rules apply as last night. There was a parade there this afternoon - as you can see in the photo above from our window.

This morning we visited the ruins of the carmelite convent with its good museum and also the St Rock church which had belonged to the Jesuits. This church has a very very gold baroque chapel and good museum about the wealth of Jesuits. You get the impression that their main purpose for converting the "heathens" throughout the Portuguese colonies was to get a lot of gold to decorate their churches. For some reason the Jesuits were kicked out of Portugal - and later in the 1800s all the religious orders were abolished.

We made arrangements for a walking tour for the afternoon and walked about 16 km altogether today - most of it through the very steep and windy area called the Alframa. The Alfama surrounds St Jorg's castelo which we toured yesterday and the layout follows the original street layout of  the old Moorish town. Our guide was an architect and she was very informative. She explained that the Moors were here between the 9th and 12th centuries - having  kicked out the Visigoths who had themselves kicked out the Romans a few centuries before. St Jorg's castilo is named for the English St George - because the English helped the Portuguese Christians kick out the Moors during one of the crusades. She also told us that the buildings in the Alfama mostly survived the earthquake of 1755 because they were built on rock. It was the lower area (where we are now) that was destroyed because it had been built on land that had formerly been a part of the river. The land was not stable and, being at river level, it was severely damaged by the tsunami that followed the earthquake. This area was redesigned and built in a modern grid system with wide straight streets. Most of these streets are now lined with restaurants and shops - but the upper stories are in a shabby state because rent controls will not allow the owners to charge enough rent to fix them up. This is a shame since it should be a lovely area. I guess our hotel is an exception and hopefully others will follow. It was a very muggy hot day - unusual for Lisbon - because of the rain during the previous week.

We are going to take 2 more walks with the same walking company. On Monday we'll go across the river by ferry and see that part of Lisbon. On Wednesday we'll go to another old area on this side of the river called Belem - which is where there will be more stuff related to the Age of Discovery - since this is where the ships left from.

So - hoping that we have a good night and that all is well with you.

May 12 Lisbon Day 3 

 Ahh - breakfast

 Wow - coffee
 Looking a little weather-worn

 Drummers in the plaza across the street


The monument to Pedro IV

 The most amazing gallery - Calouste Gulbenkian for a special modern art exhibition

 Mobiles- beautiful

 Giant abstracts in this amazing space

Great food - a major theme of this blog - we're walking so much an always hungry!

  Gallery gardens complete with bamboo forest


Book fair complete with children's story time

  Audi's everywhere

 Amazing combination of new and old

The funicular complete with graffiti (which is everywhere)

 Our hotel room - dormer at the far left

 Home at last - to our purple and green elevator

Mike has pretty much covered what we did today in the picture part. We had a great experience at the Gulbenkian Museum a few km up the Avenida in a modern part of Lisbon. Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in Turkey, educated in England, lived in France and died in Portugal - who made a fortune in oil and collected art from Egypt, Turkey, Persia and Europe. A very interesting part of his collection is made up of 16th and 17th century Persian carpets. He also had some nice paintings including Rembrandt and Manet. He only lived in Portugal for the last 14 years of his life - but his legacy is a wonderful art museum here in Lisbon which is free to the public on Sundays. The modern art show was stunning.  It is not part of the tourist district - so quite a nice change.

The festival in the nearby square had its last day today and we stopped to enjoy the music after we had walked back from the museum. I'm glad to say that last night's rock music actually ended at about 11:15 pm last night - so no problems sleeping. Tonight it is strangely quiet.

We had a bit of a chat with English table mates at dinner. They travel a lot in Portugal and love it here. They  reminded us of the sadness, known as suadade, that typifies the Portuguese. I think that believing it is your national character to be sad is actually quite a cheerful idea. You would never feel guilty for feeling depressed.

Today is Mothers Day (we think) but it is not celebrated here in Portugal. Happy Mothers Day to all the Moms.  And happy birthday to grandson. And goodnight from Lisboa in Portugal, the Land of Tears.

May 13 Lisbon Day 4

 First thing this morning - the fair is over in the square in front of our hotel; trees  being removed

 On our guided walk to the south shore we passed what becomes the hanky-panky district at night

Copy of Brazil's Christ the King monument overlooking Lisbon harbour

 Here is the harbour

 Lisbon from the south shore

 Passing another  construction site

 and another Audi

 Museum of Modern Design - yes - they are covering it with Post-Its

 Men's colourful shoes for sale

Today we spent some time in the morning getting ourselves reorganized so that we will be ready to leave on Thursday morning. We have collected a few things we don't want to take home in our suitcases since there will likely be a weight restriction - so we need to leave them here. One of the heaviest items is Mike's plastic raingear - and we certainly don't need it in Lisbon these days. It is really hot and dry in Lisbon and lots of tourists seem to be sporting sunburns. We prefer the beduin approach of keeping covered up and in the shade where possible! But we'll definitely leave the green plastic rain gear behind

In the afternoon we went for a second walking tour with "Lisbon Spirit." We were the only 2 walkers and our guide was excellent. He provided so many insights into questions that had been intriguing us. I guess one of the most interesting was his views on the popularity of the Fatima pilgrimages. As I understand it, one of the things that happened in the 19th century was a big revolution (liberdade) that included closing all the monasteries and convents and secularizing Portugal. This revolution was really only popular with the intellectuals in Lisbon and was not supported by the people living in the countryside. So even though Portugal is a Catholic country - religion was officially censored and, as a result,  the Pope excommunicated Portugal from the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Portugal joined the allies in WWI and many Portuguese soldiers lost their lives - but after the war was over, the country did not gain any benefits. The apparitions at Fatima happened during WWI and when Salazar came into power, one of the changes he wanted to make was to bring Catholicism back to Portugal. The appearance of Our Lady in Fatima was just what was needed to raise the profile of religion - not just in Portugal - but also with the Vatican. The Vatican lifted excommunication - much to the relief of the average Portuguese. If there had not been a political will to reinstate Catholicism, it is unlikely that anyone would have believed the stories of the 3 children. Ironically however,  most Portuguese still don't go to church regularly - but they do have a great devotion to Fatima and the biggest church in Portugal is in Fatima. Portuguese pilgrims go Fatima because it is a Portuguese holy place - not to Santiago - because St James is a Spanish saint and there is a lot of suspicion between Spain and Portugal. Only non-Portuguese pilgrims walk the Portuguese route from Porto to Santiago and, from my view anyway, most are doing it because it is a high profile endurance test (equivalent to the Boston Marathon) not because it is a spiritual activity. Anyway - a very interesting interpretation of history. Also - Portugal did not join WWII - maybe because one of the Fatima predictions was that a much worse war was coming so why get involved.

Our walk included a ferry trip across the Tejo Rio to Almeda and bus trip out to the famous statue of Jesus which towers over that side of the river. The statue is modeled on the famous one in Brazil and was instituted by Salazar. Then we walked back along the river's edge - to the foot ferry landing. It is a bit like the ferry to North Van from Vancouver and coincidentally, the nearby bridge is a suspension bridge - a lot like the bridges in Vancouver and San Francisco. People commute from Almeda to Lisbon - because nothing is happening in Almeda.

Tomorrow we are planning to take the train to the nearby area called Sintra where there are many interesting ancient sites - mostly restored in the 19th century - but quite delightful and in the countryside. So good night.

May 14 Lisbon Day 5

 Mike in our room in the international design hotel (pop floor) - boots on, ready to go

 Penny at the Rossio station- that's our train

1 An arch in the Palacia Nacional de Sintra looking toward the Moorish Castle
 Penny in the Palacia - tiles abound

 Our lunch restaurant in Sintra - we spot an Audi taxi

 Panorama from the Moorish Castle - you can see all the way back to Lisboa

 Battlements of the Moorish Castle - high on the hill with no railing and steep sides way down there

 Archway in the Pena Palacia

 Gargoyly thing on the Pena Palacia

Today we went on a short sidetrip out of Lisbon to the very turistic town of Sintra - about 40 minutes away by train. It is located in the hills west of Lisbon and I think you can actually see the Moorish Castle at the top from the south side of the river. Taking the train is actually quite easy since the next station (proxima paragme) and final destination (Sintra or Rossio) appear on a changing signboard inside each car and you always know where you are.

The train trip starts right near our hotel and travels through the suburbs of Lisbon - mainly miles of somewhat drab looking apartment buildings. Eventually it reaches the small red-roofed town of Sintra with several major interesting tourist sites. We visited three of them. The first was the nacional palace which was built on an old moorish site and was the home of Portuguese royalty until about the 1880s. It is very moorish in appearance and an interesting spot. The second was the Moorish Castle which was started by the Moors but rebuilt in a Romantic style in the 1800s. It has fantastic gardens, steep paths and a rather scarey high walls to walk around.   The third was the Pena Palace which is a very strange palace built on the next hill over from the Moorish Castle - with all sorts of towers and a strange mix of architectural styles. It was used by Portuguese royalty at the end of the 19th century. It was built by Ferdinand who was married to the Portuguese Queen Maria II and also the cousin of Prince Albert who was married to England's Queen Victoria. Both the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace are sort of Disneyland versions of history created by Portuguese royalty who must have been out of touch with the feelings of the people. Anyway, they were ousted in 1910 when Portugal became a republic.

It was a very hot day and there were lots and lots of tourists who had come up in tourist buses. We really enjoyed seeing this part of Portugal - both for the fact that it is currently a very successful tourist site and the fact that it was a sincere attempt to honour the past by the Portuguese monarchy.

We have been told several times that when Portugal joined the EU, they received loans and gifts to encourage them to give up farming and fishing - and focus on tourism. To support this they built a lot of expensive toll highways to bring the tourists into the country. Now, of course, Portugal is in an economic crisis and they have huge debts which they must deal with. What will happen next? Hopefully the tourists will come - but it seems a mistake to have pinned major economic development on something as unstable as tourism - despite the fact that Portugal has huge tourist potential.

When we got back to Lisbon we found a new restaurant for dinner - off the main tourist strip of outdoor restaurants. We had "cataplana," a traditional meal, which was super delicious. It is slow cooked all day long and includes seafood, pork, onions and vegetables - and lots of salt and spices - delicious. By strange coincidence we ran into our 2 walking guides as we were returning to our hotel. They had just taken 2 Canadians from Victoria on a walking tour - for tasting port wine. It is always nice to see someone you know when you are in a strange city.

Tomorrow is our last day in Portugal and we are going on a walking tour in Belem which is up the river toward the Atlantic and focuses on the Age of  Exploration.

May 15 Lisbon Day 6

 Museum of Modern Design - post-its still going up

 A full view of the wavey pattern on the square in front of the hotel - waiting to meet our tour guide

 Beside us in the shade of the statue of Edward VII - a sketching class

 Aat the Belem marina - an Albin just like ours

Henry (the Navigator) on the prow of the monument

 Side door on the Sao Jeronimo Church

Standing guard - St Peter with the keys to heaven.

We are packing to get ready for our trip which starts in 7 hours at 3:45 AM so no commentary - that is it for tonight - off to bed...

May 17 2012 - Home From Portugal
Our last day in Portugal was May 15, 2012. We put  some pictures up on the blog that night - but didn't have time to write anything- since we had to get up at 3:45 am the next morning and didn't finish packing until about 11 pm. We left the green rain gear tidily rolled up into a bundle.

Our last day was another interesting adventure in Lisbon. In the morning we walked down to the commercial square and visited the Modern Design Museum - which is housed in an old bank. The museum had a display of clothing and small items of furniture from about the past century - with a written interpretation of what was happening as design changed. Since we were alive for more than half of the past century a lot of it was familiar. However, it was interesting to see how the changes had been interpreted by the design historians. I think that an awful lot of stuff that was going on in society was ignored.  To me the main thing missing was that there was nothing on the design of the technologies that came into existence during that period - but I suppose other museums covered that. I guess that is how history gets created - by people sifting out what they think is important or what is their area of interest and ignoring everything else. That day there was a temporary installation being made on the front of the museum. People on cranes were sticking thousands and thousands of post-it notes on the face of building. Apparently they are going to be arranged so that they represent a large M. I imagine the purpose is to reflect the impermanence - using the familiar square shape of not only the post-it but also the trillions of  square blocks which make up many of the roads and sidewalks in Portugal.

We had the best lunch - a bun with salty thinly sliced prosciutto and the freshest juiciest Portuguese cheese (almost cottage cheese) you ever tasted. After lunch we met our walking guide and took an old tram out to Belem - which is on the river closer to the Atlantic. There are many interesting cultural sites out there including the ancient art museum - all worth visiting - but the walk focused on the Age of Discovery. We started at the small stone chapel where the sailors went to pray before setting off on the long journeys of exploration. Our guide thought that only about 1/2 of them returned safely. The discoveries were driven by a desire for the gold and spices they had been trading with the Muslim traders. they were looking or the "motherload" which they thought was in India. Early Portuguese routes included longer and longer trips down the west coast of Africa. Henry the Navigator, who was a prince, made one of those trips and became interested in the idea that the earth was a sphere and developed navigation theory which allowed others to explore further. Ultimately the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope - a terrible journey - and made it all the way to India and Indonesia. Meanwhile, Columbus sailed west - on behalf of Spain - looking for India - and found the West Indies and the Americas. Soon the Portuguese sailed to South America. A deal was struck between Spain and Portugal about who could claim what - and the Portuguese were able to claim Brazil while Spain got everything to the West. I think it is all quite extraordinary - especially given that it wasn't really very long ago.

Interesting to us - we saw an Swedidh built Albin like our boat "Skol" in one of the pleasure craft marinas in Belem.

Our poor guide had a bit of a mishap when he dropped his business cell phone into the shallow water near the chapel and, when he went in to retrieve it, slipped and fell on the slimy bottom. However, he cleaned himself up and gamely carried on - showing us other monuments and important buildings. The tour concluded with a most delicious pastel and tea at a famous Belem restaurant. Then it was home to our hotel on the new giant tram and goodbye to the two people who had shown us so much of Lisbon and helped us to understand Portugal better than anyone else.

I think the most unnerving thing we learned that day was that the whole of the downtown had been built on a river delta and supported on wooden pilings - sort of like Venice. When the 1755 earthquake struck, it was mainly the buildings on the delta that fell down. Those on the solid rock on each side were largely untouched. Recently walls around underground  parkades have been built which are damming the flow of water under the buildings and wood pilings are beginning to rot. It seems to me it is only a matter of time before the next earthquake when the whole downtown will be destroyed again. Even our neat hotel will probably not be immune. No wonder no-one wants to spend money upgrading the existing buildings.(Of course we have a similar problem in BC where the city of Richmond is built on Fraser River delta and will also probably suffer badly when/if there is a "BIG ONE" out here.)

Our trip home wasn't quite what we had planned. We arrived at the airport at 5 am to discover that our flight was delayed until 9 am. Eventually we learned that the air traffic controllers were doing 2 hours strikes during each shift. We were assured our flight would go - and it did - but we arrived in Frankfurt too late to make our connection so were re-ticketed to a flight that went to Toronto. We had to run miles through the Frankfurt airport - but made it in plenty of time. We were upgraded to business class for the first 8 hour hop - very delightful service - but then had to endure 6 hours in domestic economy to get to Vancouver - what a come down - from free gourmet meals and huge comfy seats where you could almost lie down - to a giant  sardine can - where you were bumped by everyone passing down the aisle and you had to pay for your own pizza. An unfortunate person 2 rows ahead of us suffered a heart attack on the plane - so we were definitely not the worst off.

Because we arrived at 9:30 pm (instead of 2 pm as planned) we could not get home that night by ferry or plane. We were kindly picked up by our family at the end of the Canada Line and spent the night in North Van. How great to see them again!

Now we are home. The house is bigger than I remembered and the garden looks very lush. The dog was very happy to see us. We've talked to family members and caught up on the latest news. We've watched the TV news and learned that the EU is having to rethink its austerity plan because countries like Greece are electing non-austerity governments.Was the whole austerity package just another example of people's deep sense of guilt - no matter what time period we live in or what religion we adhere to - we know deep in our hearts that we must eventually pay severely for the good times? Saudade?

 The fields and forests around Frankfurt.

The joy of Business Class.

From the cold, dry Alentejo, to the sunny Algarve, charming Porto, the green Lima Valley, energetic Coimbra, and the  lively city of Lisbon - it was all interesting. We were more than tourists - we made a sort of pilgrimage - walking hundreds of kms and experiencing the long history (and prehistory) of Portugal. We need to think a lot more about what we learned from our trip to Portugal.  But not right now - it's time for a good home-made lunch.