Leaving Portugal.

Sitting in the lounge having our last Pastel de Nata. Going to miss these delicious egg custard tarts!

We left the apartment a little after 10 am and were in the lounge a little after 11. No line at the Ryan Air check in desk (probably because we were so early-our flight doesn’t start boarding until noon) but a long but quickly moving one at security.

We elected to take a cab directly to the airport rather than a cab to the metro and then the metro three stops where we would have had a 45 minute wait for the connecting train to go two stops. According to Moovit (the app we use for local transportation) it would have taken us at least an hour and fifteen minutes from when we got to the station in Vila do Conde. With the cab from the apartment to that station (we could have walked the 15 minutes to the metro but with roller bags on cobblestones-ugh) the total cost would have been about 11 euros. The cab all the way here was supposed to be about 15-20 euros but with the luggage surplus and a tip it ended up being 30. Oh well, when we run out of money I hope we won’t have this one can ride to blame!

We should be in Milan at 4:30 and hopefully at the Hilton Garden Inn by 5:30 if we make it to the 5:15 complimentary shuttle, 6:30 if we do t. This will be our third time here, we always plan on using Hilton points for a free room but the price is always so low that we end up paying instead. Tonight it is costing us 64 euros which is over our $50 a night Budget but with the following six nights where we are sharing 2 bedroom apartments with Peggy & Lowell we will be under our budget.

So, tchau Portugal, ciao Itaia! (Interesting how that works)

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Porto!

Actually we are in Vila do Conde, one of many seaside villages near Porto and connected to it by the metro. We arrived last evening about an hour later than planned but given the possibilities that come with a hurricane we were happy.

The view above is from our bedroom at our Airbnb:.https://abnb.me/NNIdaRZf2Q. It’s as expected though we had missed the fact that it is on the third floor so we will be huffing and puffing for two weeks! We have only explored the town as far as the super market last night and a takeaway place for lunch today as it was raining this morning and is still cloudy…so great weather for a nap which is where I’m headed (first once since June!) as soon as the first load of wash is finished and I can hang it up to dry. Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to walk down to the end of the street in the photo above to the now haze covered beach.

Porto?

Doesn’t it figure that the first hurricane EVER to come ashore in Portugal would decide to be our welcoming party? We are supposed to be staying in Vila do Conde which is a beach town north of Porto. I’ve tried to indicate it with the red squiggles.

From what I can find online it appears the storm came ashore north of Lisbon (and therefore south of Porto) and has caused damage there and 300,000 are without power. Our Airbnb host says that the water is rough and some tree limbs down but otherwise all is good. ūü§ě

We are currently in the Dublin Airport Lounge where our flight is showing a 50 minute delayed departure. Hopefully that will not get extended but if it does then we will just continue to enjoy the lounge. #FirstWorldProblems

San Miguel de Allende

We have had a relaxing and uneventful two weeks here in Mexico. ¬†We have ventured out for meals and happy hour a couple of times but frankly really haven’t done much sightseeing. ¬†The town is picturesque and the center is only about a mile stroll (mostly flat) along cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks from our place but other than the churches and shopping there isn’t that much to see…its more about being here. ¬†And we have enjoyed that!

The locals and the expat Gringos are all very friendly and helpful. ¬†The weather has been incredible. ¬†We have had a day or two of temperatures above 80 degrees but the humidity is so low that as long as you aren’t in the sun it is very comfortable. ¬†In the evenings the temperatures fall to the lower 50s. ¬†So while most of our friends and family have been suffering through a very hot summer, we have been most pleased that we elected to be here! And having the pool has been nice in the warmer days.

Our “Vacations Rental by Owner” (VRBO) condo is one of about 30 in a small complex with a pool. ¬†While there is a huge rooftop terrace, it is accessed by a very tight spiral staircase from the kitchen balcony with the view of SMA you see at the top of the post, so we haven’t really used it. ¬†But I have enjoyed coffee in the morning and wine in the evenings from the kitchen balcony.

Several have asked about any issues with visits from Mantazuma. ¬†The condo has purified water in one of the kitchen faucets and by law all SMA restaurants have to use purified water for ice and since its such a tourist town, most of them use it for everything…so thankfully, we haven’t had any issues ¬†It is strange to have to wash everything from the store that isn’t going to be cooked in anti bacteria solution. ¬†But given the issues in the USA with romaine and such this summer, maybe we ought to all be doing that!

We visited the “Tuesday Market” this week. ¬†AMAZING. ¬†I couldn’t get over how big it was. ¬†Imagine the largest flea market you have been to, combine it with a farmer’s market and an arts and craft show, add in some food trucks and then double or triple it and you might be close to this spectacle. ¬†We had intended to eat lunch there and there were certainly lots and lots of tasty morsels we wanted to try but our lack of spanish combined with the crowds and not being sure how to order (do you order and then sit down, sit and order?) meant that we simply bought some veggies, fruits and aqua frescos (fruit waters) and then grabbed a cab back to the condo. ¬†Then we walked towards town for lunch.

Never seen huge chicoronnes before:

And who knew you could buy peeled watermelons?

Speaking of food, below is the SMA food porn to date. ¬†I am particularly enjoying the abundance of beans and mole’. ¬†We have also made good use of the well equipped kitchen here to eat in. ¬†There is a huge supermarket a short walk away (with $2 taxis waiting to bring us home) that has not only mexican foods but also american ones….peanut butter was a welcome sight after four months without any!

Chicken Mole and Chicken Enchiladas

There are a ton of places with Tacos El Pastor-stacked marinaded chicken cooked on a vertical spit and served with a slice of pineapple, onions, cilantro, lime and your choices of salsa. Yummy! Usually only 7 pesos each or about 35 cents!

Black bean soup, goat cheese stuffed chili’s in mole and “Mexican Vermicelli”

Mexican breakfasts-huevos with chorizo and chicquiles ( nacho chips with verde sauce) and eggs.

We are here until next Monday and then we head to Raleigh (via Mexico City, DFW and MIA) for two nights. From Raleigh we go to Seabrook Island for a few days to celebrate Claudia Freidank’s birthday (her 29th of course) before heading to Danville and Mike’s mom where we will generally be until we leave with her for Copenhagen and the Baltic Cruise.

While we have been here, we have also been working on our travels after Lois leaves us in Lisbon on 9/27. Jenny and Brian, a couple of Brits we met on the Viking Transatlantic foolishly invited us to come visit them in Scotland and to their surprise, we are taking them up on their offer. ¬†Hopefully they won’t come to regret it! ¬†We will leave Lisbon a few hours after Lois and spend four nights in London before flying to Aberdeen where if all goes as planned, Jenny will pick us up and take us to their place nearby. ¬†After some time at their place visiting the sights near Aberdeen (we have been promised the best fish and chips in the world) all four of us are going to spend a night near Loch Ness and then two in Glasgow. ¬†They will then head back to Aberdeen and we will jump a train to Edinburgh for two nights before we fly to Dublin for three. ¬†From there we fly to Porto where we will have rented an Airbnb on the coast for two weeks. ¬†Yost and Sam (our friends from DC who invited us to join them on our River Cruise a few years back) are coming to spend five nights with us there. ¬†From Porto we will fly on the 29th of October to Milan to meet Peggy and Lowell on the 30th. ¬†The four of us are going to take the next six days to drive to Rome (two nights outside Milan plus four more in Tuscany somewhere) to catch the transatlantic cruise home on November 5th.

We also have had several discussions here about our future plans. ¬†We agree that we both miss having our own place so I don’t think we will be becoming full time nomads…but we also agree that we have enjoyed slow travel and being someplace longer than just a few days. So we are beginning to think about what 2019 holds for us.

The possibilities are broad – Tommy Barrett, Mike’s friend from college is working up a plan to go to Cambodia and we are considering that, we really enjoyed the transatlantic cruise so that would be fun to do again, and we are loving the cool summer here in San Miguel so that is also a possibility for next year. Lucky for us, we don’t have to make any decisions anytime soon!

Porto Week 2

Had a fun albeit steamy week. The temperatures reached into the 80s and without an air conditioner we took the advice of Vasco, our Airbnb host and became “best friends with the fan”. There were only two days when we considered finding s hotel room for the evening but in the end a cool shower and our best friend nearby we were able to make it through.

On Wednesday we were up bright and early (what’s that? Oh crap it’s the alarm clock) to be at the train station by 7:45. We road west for about two hours where we boarded a tri leveled scenic cruising boat (looks like they can do large dinner cruises) for the ride back down the Douro to Porto.

The valley is known for its wine production and the hills were terraced with grape vines everywhere.

We were served a nice lunch aboard (in air conditioning!) so Mike and I spent a good bit of time there enjoying the cool. We were seated with a nice Swedish couple and had a great time discussing everything from healthcare and education, Trump and IKEA.

The trip downstream was broken up at three places by dams with locks. The highest is over 34 meters tall. The others are under half of that.

We also went under a slew (it’s a scientific term-look it up) of bridges including the ones closer to Porto. Other than the iconic one in all the Porto pictures, there was this one designed by Eiffel. The most amazing thing about all of them is how tall they are-well except one very low one.

We finished our day by walking across the big bridge and enjoying a cocktail in Gaia. This is the town where port was traditionally aged (cuz it was cooler???). Now all the port companies have tasting rooms and tours. We elected to enjoy our White Port & Tonic and Ruby Port Fruity cocktail (with some Olive Tampanade and Octopus toast) while people watching and lookin across the river to Porto.

After laundry day on Thursday, we rode the metro/tram 20 minutes or so out to Matosinhos, a suburb on the coast. We enjoyed walking through the market-the first floor is all seafood while the mezzanine includes stalls with vegetables, flowers and live chickens, turkeys and rabbits. I thought it interesting that there were no men selling or cleaning fish. I suspect this is a remnant if the old tradition that the men caught the fish and the women made sure to make some money from them!

After a coffee and roll stop, we walked through the town towards the wide beach here passing many restaurants across the street from the municipal marina getting ready for lunch by firing up their grills. Unfortunately it was rather early so we weren’t able to partake.

We were impressed with the beach and it’s promenade and saw several places that we thought would make a great retirement place. Especially because Matosinhos is FLAT! There is an interesting sculpture at the beach memorializing 72 fisherman lost during a storm. It is based on a painting of those left behind agonizing for those lost. I found it interesting that the artist included the Portuguese widows cankles.

We continued along the waterfront south towards the mouth of the Douro passing a fort as well as an interesting artwork over a huge traffic circle. It is made out of netting based on the inspiration of the Portuguese fishing nets.

Eventually we reached La Foz de Douro. This town is located where the river meets the Atlantic and is where Porto’s wealthy had (have?) second homes. We entered Foz through its Pergola along the water.

We stopped and had a delicious lunch across from the promenade. As usual we split everything. We started with a Caesar salad (meh), our final grilled octopus-tasty but not as good as some others, and risotto with asparagus and shrimp-it was incredible!

We then continued towards Porto along the riverfront until we finally decided it was time to get off our feet. We got on the bus and after a change in the center of town we’re dropped just down the street from our apartment. So only had one small hill that day but we got in 5.5 miles!

Porto’s big festival is held for St John (The Baptist) day. All week long we saw people setting up stages, banners, flags for it and noticed souvenir sellers had lots of plastic hammers and florists had these really tall stalks with an onion at the bottom and a huge purple flower sphere at the top. Turns out these are two of the three traditions of the Sao Joao Festival-the other being grilled sardines of course!

After some research we learned that the evening of June 23rd each year is the biggest party night of the year. Everyone gets together and eats sardines, heads toward the river “blessing” you with their leek (that flower) and bopping you on the head with the plastic hammer. By midnight both sides of the river and everyplace with a view is packed with partiers and at midnight there is a huge fireworks display from the bridge and from barges in the river. It is like New Years Eve and Fourth of July in New York City all rolled into one.

After the fireworks there is a concert and then everyone heads to Foz along the riverbank stopping to drink, eat and dance with the goal of being on the beach at sunrise.

Well, your faithful correspondent knew that sunrise was impossible and that if he made it to the fireworks at the riverfront that he would be arrested for public sleeping since he knew there was no way he was going to walk the 2 miles all uphill from the river to the apartment. Where else do they name stairs???

look closely in the picture below for the stairs….and the poor girl climbing them!

So our plan was to go down earlier in the evening, take it all in and leave early enough to catch an Uber or the bus back up the hill. So we slept late, had lunch at home and left about 7 pm with the idea that we would find some food trucks (we are tired of grilled sardines) and have a bite to each. Unfortunately unlike Valencia and Lisbon where every intersection or small park becomes a carnival, it appears in Porto that EVERYTHING happens at the river. The only food available was in restaurants and they all had lines of folks waiting to get a table and eat…sardines of course. Additionally it was still very warm and had turned humid (it looked like it was going to rain all day but never did-intercession of St John I guess!). So after 30 minutes or so of downhill wandering we turned around and headed home. It felt like we were salmon going the wrong way. Everybody, kids, millennials, middle aged parents and the elderly were all moving downhill.

During our walk however we did get bopped but never leeked. My most memorable bopping was from the youngster in the picture who motioned me to bend over and then said yada yada yada selfie…hmm I tried to figure out what he was saying when he suddenly looked at me with the “you big dummy” look in his eyes and said Selfie Selfie Selfie!

After we got home we watched the parade (didn’t know about it) and fireworks on TV. It was a hoot watching the anchors calmly carry on while being hammer bopped.

After our lovely day seeing Matosinhos we decided we owed it to ourselves to see another beachside suburb so we went to the end of the metro line to Povoa de Varzim. The metro took almost an hour (5.60 euro roundtrip) and the second half of the trip was mostly through farm land with some villages here and there. Póvoa though is a larger town and it obvious is a popular beach resort in summer. But it still has a great square (half circle actually) in the older part of town-the bandstand reminded Mike of Stars Hollow for any fans of the Gilmore Girls. The smaller streets in the older part of town are pedestrian mostly and are lined with local shops -and a United Colors if Benetton of course but not a Starbucks in sight!

I had checked Trip Advisor before we left and as it was Monday a lot of restaurants were closed so we had to pass up the top three but I’m glad they were cuz #4 was great!We have been in Portugal for 4 weeks and this was by far our most memorable meal.

When we arrived at Piexiaria Barca we were a little concerned that we were the only patrons at 12:30. However, we shouldn’t have been worried-I think the cool overcast day and it being the Monday after a big party weekend in Porto meant there weren’t many diners. And it meant we got GREAt service and attention.

Amerigo greeted us warmly and we laughed our way through trying to communicate without speaking each other’s languages. After reading reviews we knew we were having seafood rice and thought we would have the monkfish. But Amerigo suggested the sole as being better that day so that’s what we ordered. We passed on starters as we have been disappointed in Portugal in the past when we can’t finish our entrees due to the large portions. We asked Amerigo to select a half bottle of wine for us and it was delicious. While we waited for our rice we enjoyed part of a delicious basket of bread and some processed cheese (the only flaw in an otherwise great meal). Suddenly Amerigo appeared with a plate of meat for us. OMG, delicious. It is called Salpicao and while often a mix of pork and beef, this was all beef. It is smoked and very wonderful. And it was complimentary! We tried to pay and he wouldn’t let us.

But the main dish was the star! While the sole was cooked perfectly and the rice tasty, it is (as another reviewer noted) the broth that is so incredible. Not fishy (at least in a bad way), salty, hint of saffron I think…anyway, we each had four bowls!Needless to say, no room for dessert.

We really enjoyed our meal and our time at Barca and will definitely go back if we make it back to Northern Portugal…which I hope we do.

After lunch we walked to the beach. It is very wide and has a wonderful promenade along its length. The street is lined with Cafes and other retail at ground level and mid rise apartment after mid rise apartment above and along the length.

We both agree that Póvoa is worth considering as a permanent residence. We could live there off season and rent it out during the hot summer when we want to be someplace cooler anyway. After strolling always, we headed back towards the metro arriving home around 6 pm. A fine day for our last day exploring Portugal.

Today we have been lazy except for packing our bags for our flight tomorrow to Copenhagen. We leave here at 2:30 and arrive there at 10:30 via Lisbon. You may recall that we are making this trek in the wrong direction in order to pick up our cheap biz class flights to Miami on our way to Ecuador.

So rather than lounging in a resort in Santorini for his birthday Mike gets to spend his schlepping luggage and sleeping in an airport. We have to check in for our flight (back to Lisbon) by 5am so we figure getting a hotel room for 4 hours is a waste.

As my brother Steve said, Mike needs to fire his travel agent and I agree with our friend Peggy, he now holds the “Golden Ticket”.

Porto Week 1

Hills, steps, hills hills and more steps and that was only Tuesday! Like Lisbon, Porto is just too hilly. Beautiful but too damn hilly.

We settled into our Airbnb which is on the top of a hill in a residential neighborhood about 3/4 mile from the city center and a mile from the river front. It has balconies off the bedroom (circled below) and the living room (front and back) but unlike the sunroom in Lisbon the living room view is of the neighboring apartment buildings.

There is a Lidl down the big hill (which means coming home loaded is a chore) and thankfully a smaller market just down the little hill on the other side. We are tending to eat one meal out and eat in for breakfast and the other. That’s the view up the big hill below:

We have tackled the hills and only called an Uber once to get us back. That was today when I got overheated probably from wearing a ball cap (and probably dehydrated). Below are some highlights from several days of sightseeing.

We used Rick Steve’s walking tours on two different days. The first one started at the center of Porto at City Hall Plaza. This plaza is lined with incredible buildings some of which are commercial and some residential.

We then walked to the University of Porto which is located on the same square as Porto’s first department store-Amazens Cunhs. It has incredible neon lights including a peacock on its arts deco (looks like Miami Beach) facade. I like the store’s tag line “new fashions-we sell cheaper”

On the next corner there are two churches, one for the Carmelite nuns and the other for the monks. They are separated by a tiny house so that they could move between the two without going out in public. The inside are beautiful with plaster and gold leaf but it is the exterior of one that is the showstopper. The traditional tile work tells the story of the founding of the Carmelite order.

On the way to our next stop we passed by the oldest bookstore in Portugal which was supposedly the inspiration for the interiors in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Since the success of Ms Rowling and the crowds in the store you can no longer wander into the store. You have to pay 5 euro which is credited to your purchase. We didn’t go in so if you want to see more of the interiors google Lello y Imao Bookstore like I did to get the second picture.

The next stop was Clerigos Church and Tower. The tower can be seen from all over town and the Church was the masterpiece of the architect who designed the Carmelite churches and several other buildings around Porto. We walked through a slash in a hill (yea! flatness) that was created when an underground parking garage was built. The top is a park and the slash is restaurants and shopping. Pretty nice way to camouflage an otherwise ugly structure.

The other tour Mr Steve’s took us on was not quite up to his standards. Basically it was a walk downhill to the river. The only real places of interest were the train station waiting room with it’s beautiful tiles telling the history of Porto from the Middle Ages and the Stock Palace which wasn’t really a stock exchange or a palace but was the office for the commercial association. Still it was a lovely walk downhill. Now the walk back up….not so much. We cheated and took a funicular part of the way…unfortunately it wasn’t far enough! The walk along the river was beautiful and lots of folks were enjoying the beautiful day.

We tried to visit the cathedral today, alas it is apparently closed for renovations but we got to see the outside. We also walked by the fanciest McDonalds in the world. It used to be the Imperial Cafe, it’s on the square in front of City Hall.

We have had some tasty meals this week. One day we had Francesinhas at the place Anthony Bourdain said they were best. This heart attack on a plate is a sandwich that includes ham, pork, steak and sausage with an egg on top that is covered in cheese and after it melts served with a slightly spicy slightly tomatoey sauce. There name translates as little frenchy. They are sorta like an over the top croque Madame. They can be found all over town. Quite tasty and very very filling. But even though I was stuffed, the waiter twisted my arm to try his favorite dessert, Cloud of Heaven. Basically some meringue topped with custard and cookie crumbs. Yummy.

Another day we had lunch at a nearby restaurant, Mike had “the Portuguese Kitchen” which was a pot of chicken, pork, sausage, pot roast, potatoes, cabbage and carrots. I had Brazilian picanha with black beans, rice, plantain, potatoes and greens. Needless to say we brought home leftovers.

On one of our Rick Steve’s day we ate at a local obviously worker class place. For 4.5 euros ($5.22) you got soup, choice of 10 mains, bread and a beverage -including a carafe of wine. I accidentally ordered liver (damn you google translate) and Mike had fish. It was all tasty and certainly budget friendly!

This week our plans are to check out the coastal suburbs-maybe they will be flat? And on Wednesday we are taking a train 2 hours up into the Duoro Valley and then cruising back down the river to Porto. We also will be walking across the bridge seen in the river pictures to Gaia which is where all the Port wine is aged.

Happy Father’s Day! I’m remembering mine (and trying to understand the pants and why he was wearing them on the beach!)

Porto

Arrived safe and sound yesterday evening after a lovely drive along the coast from Lisbon.

We stopped in one of the little fishing villages and had a delicious seafood lunch. After getting used to the big city prices of Lisbon we accidentally over ordered thinking the portions would be small given the village pricing. Oops-but somehow we ate it all! Marinated mussels as an appetizer, big salad, fish skewer (turned out it was two!) and rice with monk fish (turns out it included shrimp, clams, crab, and some lobster) in a delicious soupy sauce. All in for $48 including some delicious lemonade. Not a cheap lunch but we certainly got a good value. Next time we will know to only get one entree!

The airbnb apartment is as promised as are the hills in this city!

After unloading our stuff and returning the rental car. We walked (always uphill it seemed) to the Lidl and then back to the apartment. Had some veggie soup from the store and then made early night of it.

Today we are going to explore our neighborhood and find a Francesinha, one of the two dishes Porto is known for. The other is tripe which I already know isn’t my fav…hopefully this triple decked sandwich with cheese gravy will be!