Friday, 27 May 2016

TILE WONDERLAND- Azulejos in Portugal

Sal's slight obsession with the wonderful tiles seen everywhere on buildings in Portugal has come to a head right here!!! Hope you enjoy as much as she did!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

PORTY MCPORTFACE- Coimbra and Porto, Portugal

We had realized a couple of things by this stage of our travels. 1. Our idea about traveling into Andalusia, Spain was not going to happen at the moment, due to us being unable to find affordable accommodation, and 2. Our time was running out.....In our constantly traveling life style, we always have departure dates for  countries hanging over our heads due to visas, but Europe was a different challenge. Sally, having an Aussie passport, is subject to the visa rules of the Schengen convention. Many people have no idea what we are talking about when we mention this, so take a look at the link, which explains it in detail-  Basically, Sal has 90 days out of 180 days to spend in the Schengen countries. After these 90 days, she must leave for another 90 days before she can return. Confusing? Yes. Stupid? Definitely. Three months is way too limiting to do what we want to do in Europe!! So anyway, we decided we should get a move on in Portugal to leave more time for other places we want to travel. 

So, we left the big city of Lisbon for the smaller, university town of Coimbra. The train ride showed a changing climate and environment as we heading further north, with pine trees now coming into the picture, and what we thought was a glimpse of rice fields (??). We had an Air B and B host lined up, who again picked us up at the train station (we could get used to this!!). Although the host was lovely, and there were a lot of positive things about the self contained unit we had booked, the barking dogs in the area (Rich's pet hate!) drove us to despair during our six days in Coimbra.

The half hour walk to town was flat (yay!), and we spent our time in the area slowly exploring the old part of town (back to the hills, churches and narrow lane ways similar to Lisbon, but not as charming), antique market, busy town squares, sunning by the river, trying to avoid the hideous accordion players, sitting in the sun with a wine and a book, walking in the nearby forest park and exploring old cemeteries (the Portuguese go all out for their dead).

Streets of Coimbra, Portugal

Clever graffiti, Coimbra, Portugal

Ornate tomb, Coimbra, Portugal

After only a few cool, rainy days in Lisbon, we were happy the weather had changed back to blue skies and lovely 25 degree days. The breeze in Portugal can be fresh at this time of year, but in Coimbra we were far enough inland not to be bothered.

Market in Coimbra, Portugal

Who's coming down the road? Coimbra, Portugal

To be honest, we wished we hadn't allowed quite so many days in Coimbra due to it's similarity to Lisbon in many ways, our average accommodation and the expense. We were, by now, very fed up with the constant charging for everything in Portugal. Maybe it happens in other countries we visit, and we don't notice as it's so cheap, but 3 euros here, 5 euros here start to add up when we wanted very much to see certain things. The historic university was the biggest rip off at a whopping 20 euros entrance per person. Needless to say, we didn't enter. We even asked the tourist office if there was anything free to see around town, and she just laughed, said "Some churches", and tried to sell us a Hop on Hop off tourist bus ticket!

Lovely doorway, Coimbra, Portugal

Catholic church, Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra streets

The last church photo, we promise! Coimbra, Portugal

Despite developing bad colds during our stay in Coimbra, we made ourselves get up and out on the day we had decided to visit Lousa. We didn't have many day trips in Portugal, due to the expense of the buses, and spent more time exploring towns by foot. But Lousa was one place we'd made an exception for- we felt the need to get out in the countryside and see some nature! We were so glad we did, as we had the best day of all our time in Portugal. We stepped off the bus looking lost, and a friendly local man with no English walked us with his bicycle to show us where the beginning of the walk to the castle and further away villages were. Lousa is a mountainous district covered with ancient villages in the hills that were depopulated in the 1960's due to urban migration. My 20 year old guidebook suggested they were still abandoned, but apparently people are now moving back, doing up some of the old stone cottages and renting them out for holiday makers.We preferred not to see that side of things, so enjoyed the gorgeous and challenging walk through heavily forested hills to the old decrepit parts of Talasnal village, having a picnic in the ruins and enjoying the sunshine. Apart from a few other hikers, the walk was peaceful and scenic, helped us feel better, and we were glad we had made the effort to come. It made us wish we had of chosen a few more natural places to visit in Portugal, can't see it all!!

Castle near Lousa, Portugal

Ruined buildings, near Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

Rich in the country side around Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

Lovely stone work, Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

Large farm gate at start of walk, near Lousa, Portugal

Nature taking over, near Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

Beautiful day, beautiful countryside, near Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

It's been a while since people lived here, near Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

Getting knackered towards the walk's end, near Tasanal, Lousa, Portugal

It was another pleasant train journey from Coimbra to Porto- a town long on Sal's lists of destinations to see (that is a very long list!). Scenery included lengthy beaches, small villages and the ever present eucalyptus plantations, giving us flashbacks to the Aussie bush. Once we located our young Air B and B host, we were whisked away to his apartment in a great location and had a bit of chat with the 20 year old student. He had a lot of advice and maps for his city, and we were easily able to walk into interesting areas and the city center from his place. Although the daylight hours in Portugal were now about 6am until 9pm, we stayed in our rather strange habit of getting up around 9am and going to bed at around 9pm!

Anyone home? Porto, Portugal

Rich in the shadows, Porto, Portugal

Porto lived up to it's reputation as a cool, diverse, colorful and very pretty city, with a definite retro feel. It certainly had a different feeling to Lisbon, mainly as it lacked the ethnic minorities of Indians, Nepalese, and North Africans, but we loved it for it's different styles of buildings all jumbled together, and the focus for us, for once, was not on churches and winding backstreets in the old town (although we did explore that too), but the stunning river area with it's views, lovely historic bridges and walks. We came across a run down, poor looking area near the river, that in most other cities, including Lisbon, would have been developed due to it's proximity to the river and views, and it's funky character. 

Porto through the Louis Pont bridge

The classic Porto view

Washing day in the riverside streets, Porto, Portugal

Glimpses everywhere of the river, Porto, Portugal

The old streets were a mix up of trendy bars, empty derelict buildings and old fashioned shops. We did pop into a few churches, and were freaked out in the Carmelite one, where several huge mannequin style Jesus had been placed around the room, each one more gory and tortured than the last.

Left to decay, Porto, Portugal

More hills through the streets of Porto, Portugal

Pretty window boxes, Porto, Portugal

Traditional tiles, Porto, Portugal

Freaky Carmelite church, Porto, Portugal

The different styles of buildings in Porto included some Art Noveau and Art Deco lovelies (including a famous Art Noveau bookshops charging 3 euro entrance!), and we were surprised to see corrugated iron being a common siding for many old buildings, giving a ramshackle and strangely "outback" look. 

Pleasingly designed tobacco shop, Porto, Portugal

Art Noveau beauty, Porto, Portugal

What a waste of a gorgeous building, Porto, Portugal

Art Deco "Sell you cheaper", Porto, Portugal

Not sure what you'd call this design- definitely Moorish influenced! Porto, Portugal

Another Art Deco beauty, Porto, Portugal

Of course, we had our usual coffee and cake breaks around town, and wine stops. We had to try port while in Porto, so headed to the famous area across the river, Vila Nova de Gaia. We had heard (admittedly from our 20 year old guidebook), that most of the many port producers over there have free tastings. Well, that ship had sailed long ago, and most places were charging at least 15 euros. We weren't having any of that, and found a basic bar with less than clean glasses, and a view of the picturesque Louis Pont Bridge and colorful tall buildings by the river, with port (red and white) by the glass for a euro, where we sat and watched the bus loads of tourists and enjoyed the view!

Our little port bar, Porto, Portugal

At the riverside after a few wines! Porto, Portugal

Other interesting sights in Porto, were the "trying to be brave" young boys jumping the long way down to the river from the large bridge, students running around town in their black gowns and top hats celebrating end of exams and the many buskers that especially came out on sunny weekends.

Pretty students in their formal gowns, Porto, Portugal

Busker in the sunshine, Porto, Portugal

Beautifully decorated Sao Bento train station, Porto, Portugal

Looking down at Porto from the Louis Pont bridge

Sal discovered  two new Portuguese treats whilst in Porto- one was Portuguese hot chocolate, a thick creamy decadence, and the other was the beloved (by Portuguese) franceschina, an artery clogging Welsh rarebit gone mad, including bread, various smoked meats and masses of melted cheese in a tomato sauce! Rich stuck to his firm favourite of pork steak sandwich (bifana), or sometimes beef steak with egg and salad (bife).

The weather was truly glorious, with warm days, full sun, cooling light breeze, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood- the parks, cafes and public areas were full of happy people in summer clothing (including us!). We took advantage of this on our last day in Portugal with a trip to the seaside near Porto. Although it was a Monday, it was a great atmosphere, with all sorts mixed together on the course sand beach- elderly women, sexy young things, old fellas playing cards, posers, tourists, fat, thin .....and us! The beach itself was average, but the bright mood was infectious, and it was a wonderful way to spend our last day.

Rich on Foz beach, Porto Portugal

As a last thought......don't want to seem obsessed with bidets, but a friend sent us a hilarious website about how to use one, and since we've had a lot of feed back about them, we thought people might get a giggle out of this:


A note about expenses in Portugal:

Comparing Portugal costs to other Western European country's it seems to be very affordable. Of course, comparing it to Asia, it is not! We spent an average of 42 euros/AU$63 per day, and anyone who knows us, will realize that's huge for a couple of tight arses such as us! Lucky for our Indian Summers savings! About half of the daily budget was spent on accommodation.

Staying at Air B and B, and cheap hotels, we kept the accommodation costs down to an average of 20 euros/AU$30 a night. The accommodation was generally a very high standard compared to what we are used to, and one place also included a buffet breakfast. As we've previously said, we loved Air B and B for the feeling of a more personalized stay in someone's home. But the couple of dodgy hotels we stayed in were also fun, and we had more of a feeling of doing our own thing.

The transport was a bit of a killer for us. Trains were cheaper than buses, generally, and while not hugely expensive (compared to UK), because we were moving around a lot, the costs added up. The trains and buses were very comfortable, and usually perfectly on time. City public transport was great in Lisbon and Porto- we simply bought a card and loaded it with money for the 1.20 euro trips around the cities. Other, smaller places left a lot to be desired when it came to transport around those areas. The reason given was that they were economically deprived areas, but we weren't convinced about that. Some other travelers we met had cars, and this would make the remote places far more easy to see.

Food was cheap. We mostly stuck to supermarkets, of which there were plenty, and would spend between 5- 10 euros/AU$7.50-15 on food and wine a day, usually this lasted into other days. There were plenty of pleasant parks to enjoy a picnic, which we often did. Having use of a kitchen at most places we stayed helped keep the costs down, and it was great to be able to store food to use the next day. Coffee and cake would set us back roughly 5 euros/AU$7.70 at a cheap pastelaria or cafe, while a "snack" (usually enough to fill us up) would cost about 10 euros/AU$15. The odd occasion we had a full blown restaurant meal, it was about 20 euros/AU$30 for a several course meal and much wine! Drinking out was inexpensive, with a glass of wine or beer costing 85 euro cents/AU$1.30 at most establishments (or less than a euro for a bottle in the supermarket!), freshly squeezed OJ about 1.50 euros/AU$2.30, a bottle of water next to nothing, a coffee usually about .85 euro cents/AU$1.30, and a can of drink about 1 euro/AU$1.50 (more than the alcohol!). It's very "European" how alcohol is treated, with most people having a glass with meals in moderation, and seeing people drunk out of their minds in the street doesn't happen. Even McDonald's includes wine or beer with their meals!

As stated (several times, probably!!), we were quite annoyed at the entrance prices for almost everything of interest, mostly lesser sights were 3-5 euros, and major cathedral and historic sights could be as much as 15 euros. Sal was especially disappointed with this, as she loves historical buildings and design, but we soon realized that if we stuck to wandering around towns, soaking up the atmosphere of the everyday parts of town, with their many old buildings and scenic spots, and sought out the free art galleries, major churches and museums, combined with people watching and interacting in cafes and bars, we could experience a different, probably better side of Portuguese life.

Portuguese people are an interesting mix- mostly surprisingly small, with beautiful dark hair and eyes- apparently in the north there are fair people with blue eyes. They are a very tactile lot, and it was nice to see couples and families kissing and hugging freely. We also felt they were very soft hearted, with many people giving to beggars and expressing sympathy, although many of them seem to be struggling financially themselves. They were generally kind to us, and most of our meaningful encounters were with locals we met through Air B and B. As with most countries, they loved to hear us struggling with their language, and our attempts raised many a smile and laugh. Portuguese are quite laid back, and we were particularly amused, then frustrated by the check out lines in supermarkets, where the servers were amiable, but SO SLOW, chatting and mucking around, regardless of how many people were waiting in the line!

Overall, we very much enjoyed the new experience of traveling in Europe, and Portugal is unique and engaging. If we ever came back though, we would prefer to focus on the north, and get out into nature more, having seen quite a lot of the cities.

Enjoying a sunny day, Porto, Portugal

Thursday, 5 May 2016


At this stage of our trip in Portugal, we became sick of all the forward thinking and planning. We really missed our usual Asian travel style of turning up in a place and finding a cheap place to sleep. It seemed every evening involved internet time to find the next cheap train fare, or organize an Air B and B. We felt we were not living in the here and now and relaxing and enjoying places fully. The decision in advance of how long we should stay in one place was also a pain, as we prefer to decide the day before what we're doing next. Oh well, poor us!!!

It certainly wasn't all gloomy, though! We arrived in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, and were easily picked up by our Air B and B host- a lovely illustrator , who took us to our digs for the week. We were sharing a flat with two young female students, one of whom was extremely friendly, and after a wine and chat about all sorts, took us out to a cafe in an renovated, atmospheric ex factory down the road she thought we would enjoy (we did!). The apartment was in the suburb of Belem, which we enjoyed for it's being away from the tourist center, and it's cute pastelarias (cafes, and great places to sit with a coffee/beer/wine/pastry/sandwich available all day, and watch the world go by for a few euros), hilly back streets, tiled terraced houses (Sally found tile heaven in Lisbon, Rich was very patient during the constant photo taking!),  parks and art galleries.

The weather turned for the first few days, and we experienced some cool, rainy weather, with a proper storm one night. We wouldn't let it stop us, though, and donned our super duper Cambridge raincoats and  continued our exploring of the city.

First stop was Belem, which is famous for it's huge Manueline style (VERY ornate late Gothic) monastery built in the 16 century, and the matching tower on the river to celebrate Vaso da Gama's discovering of the trade route to India, and his purchase of a ship load of pepper. Apparently designers and architects were given free reign and endless money on these projects, and although not to our tastes, the results were sumptuous and opulent. However, with the continuing trend of nearly everything in Portugal being expensive to enter, and the addition of long queues and tourist buses out the front, we chose not to go in. We instead chose the amazing Modern Art Gallery, a picnic in the park, and a long walk around the shoreline and backstreets, ending in a hole-in-a-wall bar trying ginjinha, a local cherry liqueur.

Rich dwarfed by the monument to the age of discovery, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

The huge and magnificent Jeronimos monastery, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Beautiful sunny picnic in the park, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Andy Warhol's Judy, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Rich getting inspired in the Belem art gallery, Lisbon, Portugal

Pondering the art, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Awesome Dali telephone, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Actually, we found Lisbon to be a coulourful, quirky city, with unexpected art popping up everywhere, and great murals and bright scenes around many corners.

Tile shop, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Street art celebrating the famous fado song of Lisbon

Pretty tiles, Lisbon, Portugal

Colourful posters, Lisbon, Portugal

Decrepit art, Lisbon, Portugal

Multi ethnic mural, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon has the most varied forms of public transport we've ever seen in one place. Added to the local buses, taxis and trains, there are electric trams, two funicular railways, a "lift" to a hilly area, tuk tuks and various other tiny retro trucks and vehicles doubling as people carriers and food outlets. Some of these we tried, some we avoided due to the heavy tourist traffic.

Another area we enjoyed wandering (or, rather struggling up and down the hills!) around was Alfama- the oldest part of Lisbon. In the previous blog we briefly mentioned the great earthquake that destroyed  a lot of Portugal. After reading a bit more, we had to share more.......On All Saints Day, 1755, most of the residents of Lisbon (and all over the country) were at church. Within ten minutes, there were three major earthquakes, and the candles from the church services started fires that set the entire city alight. A tsunami then swept the seafront, and 40,000 of the 270,000 population died........and it was felt as far away as Jamaica!! Anyway, Alfama was somehow spared, as were the monuments in Belem, but the main part of the city was destroyed. The streets still had an ancient feeling, with many abandoned buildings in pastel colours (made a nice change from all the white we had seen so far). There were also tourists, dog shit everywhere (people here just don't pick up after their pets), views from in between tall narrow buildings- even with the drizzle, fado bars, little restaurants, street art and the ubiquitous churches.

Hilly laneways, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Rich with a lovely wall, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Back streets, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Window box, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Rich in the "oldest urinal in Lisbon" (we heard this from a tour guide!)

Unusual church feature, Lisbon, Portugal

Moody church interior, Lisbon, Portugal

A Sunday service, Lisbon, Portugal

Lovely detailed church ceiling, Lisbon, Portugal

The best thing we enjoyed in Lisbon was a brilliant flea market held on the weekend, and full of all kinds of weird and wonderful items we would have looked at more closely had we had a home! The smell of marijuana was sweet in the air (possession for personal use is legal here), and colourful people selling cool stuff mixed with tourists, residents and old timers.

Weekend flea market, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

A particularly unique (and not just because there was no entrance fee!) church we visited on our last day in Lisbon was Igreja de Sao Roque. It really summed up the Baroque style to us- the gold, mosaics, lavish carvings and paintings on the roof were over the top, extravagant and designed to show off the wealth of the church.

Could you get any more gaudy??

Sal loved these ugly fat cherubs!

Random display with men and arms, no idea what it was about.

After five days, our Air B and B hosts was leaving town, so we moved to a more central hotel, which had the same old fashioned quirkiness and price of the place we stayed in Faro. This one was run by a lovely, very Indian family from Gujurat, who, true to form, tried to charge us an extra 10 euro on our arrival, then pretended it was a mistake!

So, we touched briefly on bidets in the previous blog, but the obsession continued (especially for Sal not being a sophisticated European!). Every house, apartment or hotel in which we stayed had the facility, but the exact purpose was still not clear. Were they for a post coital wash, as someone suggested, or to use after number twos, and if that is the case why did one hotel room we stayed in have a bidet, but no toilet in the room?! And surely, it's all a bit messy- to move to a different location mid defecation to wash?! Does one hover or sit down- there is no seat? And how to stop water from splattering the surrounding area? And another problem posed to us we hadn't previously though of, is the temperature issue- apparently it's vital to make sure the water is not too hot or cold! Maybe we have been in Asia too long, but isn't it easier to sit where you are (or squat), and have a bucket of water or hose to clean oneself?!!

Glamorous bathroom where we stayed in Lisbon, with another bloody bidet!!

Overall, we enjoyed Lisbon, especially the older parts of town- to be honest the huge city squares, with their statues, marble surrounded by showy Neoclassical buildings, left us cold. There was no character or charm.

Wonderful old trams still in use, Lisbon, Portugal

Tiles galore, Lisbon, Portugal

Old retro sign, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram depot, Lisbon, Portugal

Port wine ad, Lisbon, Portugal

Street art, Lisbon, Portugal
Photogenic Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

One of many backstreets, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon apartments

Lovely old window, Lisbon, Portugal

Unusual lift transport, Lisbon, Portugal

Grand fountain in a grand square, Lisbon, Portugal