A Travellerspoint blog

Day 12 – Wednesday 8 July

Porto – Salamanca

sunny 34 °C

The morning started at a leisurely pace as we did not have to leave the hotel until 9.30. Now, even though we had seen lots of shops with cork products, we still did not have any pieces for ourselves. We asked Tom if we had shopping time this morning and he said that he was happy to drop us off in the centre of town while the rest of the tour group headed off to the port tasting tour. So we waited for the shop to open and then went in to buy some bits and pieces. It was a short taxi ride through the tunnel, over the bridge and to the right and we were at Sandeman Winery, a very flash looking joint. I didn’t want Ross to miss this one so we were lucky enough to arrive in time for an information video about the grapes the company grows and where they were grown. We were also there in time to do some tasting and, of course, spend some money.
We had an early lunch stop at a servo somewhere – fresh sandwich and coffee. The journey today was through a mountainous region but the road system leaves our roads for dead. After another quick toilet stop, we arrived at the beautiful walled city of Salamanca. What we didn’t know was the bus could not get us to the hotel. We had to mount the steep slope to our accommodation. As it was 32 degrees at 4pm, this was quite an effort, especially for those on a walking stick or bad knees. Once we checked in we rounded up Denise and Bill and went back down the ramp to view the Roman Bridge that spanned the local river. It was quite beautiful where the water was running as rapids. As you could imagine, it was very hot but worth the look. The hard part was getting back up the hill again.
The afternoon tour was organised to leave at 6.15. Salamanca is a very old, dating back to the Roman times. The cathedral is of a Gothic structure but it has been blended with a newer construction as well. The buildings are absolutely magnificent, with bells ringing on the half hour. Salamanca is also home to three universities. We were privileged to go through one of these. There is also a story about a frog and it is found upon the skull on the front of the university. One of the churches had some renovations done and the architecture students were given the challenge of completing this. The church now has an astronaut and other features that should not be represented around the doorway sculpture. Apparently they wanted to give the upgrade a more modern perspective. The old city was magnificent but the group found it very hard to stay alert due to the heat and the fact that we had had a long trip on the bus and this tour didn’t finish until 7.30pm. The tour guide was related to Hitler I think and she told us the story about some Chinese people who dropped out of the group without her permission and she found them sitting in the square. Then she discovered 80 year old John who has a walking stick and Dave, who has terrible knees, sitting in the main square drinking beer. They too had not sought her permission to leave. They tried to hide behind their hats. You have to laugh. I was quite embarrassed by her comments as we have two Taiwanese/Australians in our group. I hope they were not offended by her comments.
Finally, we were released from our tour in the main square. We found a pharmacy to get some cough medicine (Yes, the Scenic boat people spread their germs to us) and then settled into a lovely spot on the square where we ordered beer and a sangria for me. Bill had some food stuffed with crab and we three had sirloin steak. The steak was very nice but the meat had a very different texture to our meat.
We had several discussions at this hotel reception about our inability to log on to the wi-fi and also our inability to phone Denise and Bill’s room. Tea and scotch and we were off to bed.

Posted by gpric6 23:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Day 11 – Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lisbon - Porto

overcast 30 °C

Before I start today’s exciting recount, let me tell you about Uncle Bill’s experience in the bath at the Intercontinental Lisbon. On our first night at the hotel, Bill was having a shower and scrubbing his feet. He thought he would hold onto the long chain that hung down almost touching the bottom. Unfortunately, he didn’t see or couldn’t read the sign that said “Emergency”. Before they knew it, Denise had the maid knocking frantically on the floor. She started singing out to Bill, “Bill, let go of the chain. It’s the emergency bell.” You have to laugh.
Our morning was smooth as usual – breakfast, final room check, on the bus. It’s the first day that there has been a bit of cloud cover. We headed out of the lovely city of Lisbon on route to Oporto. We caught our final glimpse of the beautiful Roman aqueduct that stands proudly in the city. There was quite a bit of traffic but we were soon on our way past a large stadium. The countryside was noticeably different to what we had seen in the south, much more fertile, green and productive. Wind vanes were prominent on the ridges, creating wind power. Eucalypt forests were also seen as these trees are now grown for their timber. Tom pointed out that we would see windmills on the round hills as the earth has risen over the centuries. Some have been restored.
On the left of the highway, we past the walled city of Obidos. It looked very interesting but we didn’t stop there. The area surrounding this city was once an inland sea or lake but apparently it silted up and now there is no connection and it is covered in crops. The rooves of houses north of Lisbon as peeked and not flat but the traditional white wash is still prominent.
Finally we pulled off the highway after around two hours so as to visit Nazare. It is a city on the Atlantic coast with beautiful beach frontage and bounded by an overhanging, weathered cliff face that towered over the village. We headed straight for the funicular tram that took you to the top. There were steps but we only had two hours. There were many little stalls for us to spend money on and this village relies on tourists for the season that they come for. After quite a bit of time on the hill we returned to the beach, a €2, 40 return journey. On our return we found a sandwich shop and ate quickly before meeting the bus.
After a brief stop at a service station outside of UNESCO World Heritage city of Porto (Porto was an outpost for the Roman Empire), we arrived at the Sheraton around 4pm. It was time to have a bit of a rest in the room ready for our outing at 5.30.
We left on the coach for a brief city tour with a local guide, stopping in the main city centre surrounded by beautiful buildings. The buildings along the way were grey in colour, mainly being made from granite, many in disrepair. The facades cannot be changed: only the interior can be renovated which is very expensive. It was certainly a charming sight. Back on the bus, we headed for the water front to catch the boat for our cruise on the Douro River. This cruise was called the five bridge cruise. The Douro is crossed in several places in close proximity by these bridges. Old buildings cling to the banks of the river. It was a spectacular sight and very relaxing.
Dinner was included tonight after the cruise. We wandered along a narrow street, to our booked event at Postigo Do Carvao Restaurant. We had tapas, followed by soup, main meal (fish or steak) and finally “Picasso” – a dessert to die for. We rolled out of the restaurant and made it back to the Sheraton. Victor the driver, squeezed our bus up the narrowest of streets beside parked cars – unbelievable – my heart is always in my mouth watching out the window!!

Posted by gpric6 14:48 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Day 10 - Monday 6 July 2015

Lisbon - Belem - Cacais - Sintra

sunny 27 °C

Intercontinental Lisbon put on a beautiful breakfast. Many of the staff speak English and are only too happy to do so. The city as I have probably said was raised to the ground on 1 November 1755. Half of its population was killed. The planning has certainly benefited today’s people as there is plenty of room for everyone to move around the place. The buildings remind me of Poland as there are many in disrepair and in need of some money spent. We drove down the avenue from Liberty Square passed hotels, apartments, theatres and restaurants and commenced our walk around the city square.
Our local guide pointed out, as we looked above the centre square, all that remained of the Gothic cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake. Further down the square was an escalator that took people to the higher part of the square. Once again, the buildings in this area were very drab and needed money to be injected into them. However they have a good deal of character and there were some lovely shops to be seen. The tiles on the ground made you feel like there were highs and lows but they were actually flat – optical illusion. Once we had visited the shops we were back on the coach and headed for Belen Tower.
This tower was to protect the harbour from pirates. It actually looked like a governor’s residence so it fooled many sailors. There was also a replica plane there that commemorated the first flight across the Atlantic. We drove around the harbour looking at the bridge and the Christ statue on the hill. The harbour looked magnificent under the brilliant sunshine. It has not been as hot as Spain we have to say. Nearby, there was a beautiful church, with a flat block of rooms which was once the monastery but is now been made into two museums.
Our next experience was a visit to Pateis de Belem, established in 1837. It is famous for making custard tarts and OMG, they were delicious. Tom had organised for us to have an area to eat our morning tea – a tart and a drink – away from all the other customers.
Before we knew it, we were on the outskirts of town and heading north along the beaches of Portugal. What a glorious sight. There were people swimming, sunbaking, kite surfing, paddling in rock pools, paddle boarding and swimming in the clear blue water. We stopped at a town called Cascais where we had time to look at the shops before heading for Visconde da Luz restaurant to have our seafood lunch. Initially we had cheese, bread and olives, followed by Iberian ham with honey dew melon. The piece de resistance was seabass with vegetables, mussel and a prawn. The fish was so delicious. The wine and beer was pretty good too.
After wandering back to the bus, we headed to the palace at Sintra up in a mountainous area. On route we passed a race track, Estoril, used for the Portugese Grand Prix. The bus driver, Victor, deserves a medal. He manoeuvres that bus along narrow mountain roads. Some cars had to back up to let us through. The National Palace was a summer palace for the king of the time, quite cool and picturesque. On top of the mountain, there are the remains of the lookout battery. Inside the palace, there were many features worth seeing. The feature that impressed me was the ceiling in one room that was once the patio but was closed in. It looked like a beer barrel or the side of an old sailing ship. It was a rounded shape and there were simple paintings of galleons. Other features included elaborate doorways and ceilings, furniture, the kitchen and the bedrooms of the king the guests and shell top shaped lights.
After a quick trip back along the motorway, we had a cup of tea with Bill and Denise. A taxi was flagged so that we could go back to the town square to do some shopping. As it turned out, the shop with the cork handbag that I had seen was shut (it was 7pm) so we had to settle for a walk to the harbour, looking at the statues and buying some alcohol for the men. We took a taxi back to the little restaurant where the music was already playing. Denise and Bill had beef stew and Ross and I had a lovely plate of pasta. It was a delicious meal. The tour guide was eating there as well and we had a chat and a good laugh. Finally, it was tea and toddy in the room. What a great day!

Posted by gpric6 15:21 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Day 9 - Sunday 5 July, 2015

Seville (Spain) to Lisbon (Portugal)

sunny 30 °C

Today was very special. It was our first visit to Portugal. We crossed the border around 10am and we gained an hour.
Our first stop was at a seaside town of Tavira (region of Algarve) and it was a bit of a shock for them to have so many people visiting at once. There was chaos. No ham left at one café as Bill and Denise got the last bit. The second café was flat strap and English was not their second language so we went across the road. The chap there was able to understand us and we had some lovely fresh ham and salad rolls, coke and a Portuguese beer (8 euro lunch). It was certainly a pleasant stop for our first time near to the Atlantic for this trip.
Portugal might be the poor sister of Spain but their highways certainly outshine ours in Australia. From the time we left Seville we were on a four lane carriageway. The land does not appear to be farmed as intensively as it was in Spain. It is still hilly and we travelled through the inland once we left Tavira. For some time, we could see the ocean in the distance. Farming is of a different sort in Portugal. We have actually seen some cows but the main industry appears to be cork trees. These are harvested every 9 years. The cork is used to make bags, umbrellas etc. Rice is also grown alongside the roads in some areas where there is an adequate water supply.
Our compulsory stop for the driver was at a small service station on the freeway two hours after Tavira. We all had our nanna naps in between. Ross and I shouted Denise and Bill ice-creams and Bill shouted coffee. It was the nicest coffee we have had. So here’s hoping that Portugal can at least give us nice coffee.
Lisbon we were told, was destroyed in an earthquake on 1 November, 1755. It has had to be rebuilt and large avenues were put in place to allow for growth – fore-thinking you might say. We drove in over a very large bridge that would make you think you were driving into San Francisco. To our right was a smaller version of Christ the Redeemer. Tom our guide, changed our schedule so that we visited a carriage museum. It housed carriages of various sizes and colours from the 16th to 19th centuries. Impressive! One carriage was used for the last time for Queen Elizabeth 11 in 1957 for her visit to Portugal. There was also one where King Carlos and his heir to the throne were shot, the bullet marks still evident in the side door. Anyway, it was a lovely way to start our visit.
Victor, the driver, took us the long way to our hotel so that we could become orientated with the city. The Hotel Intercontinental, Lisbon, was ready and waiting for our arrival. Tom pointed out that if we were to go to where the huge flag of Portugal was flying we would get a great view. So the four of us headed off to see what we could see. It was a beautiful sight across the city to the harbour. We walked down a pathway to the huge monument that Victor drove around on our way to the hotel.
Tom had pointed out a tiny restaurant not far from the hotel so we decided to check it out. It turned out that the owner could speak pretty good English so we settled in for dinner. Kathleen and her husband Neil decided to eat with us. We had vegetable soup and pork with plum stuffing. I ordered squid but I must say, the reality of having it served up with the full body and tentacles was a bit much for me - and several of them as well.
We had a quiet walk home and had a cups of coffee and tea in the lobby before heading for bed. Big day tomorrow.

Posted by gpric6 14:03 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Day 8 - Saturday, 4 July 2015


sunny 39 °C

Today we had the opportunity to learn how to make sherry. We had a drive of one and a half hours to a town called Jerez. The tour was to the Williams and Humber site, esta4 July blished in 1877. In 1974 they built this new building made up of 14000 pre-fabricated concrete pads to cover an area of 75 000 square metres. The reason they use this method is to create a micro-climate and keep the sherry at a temperature of between 12 and 24 degrees. The building stores 50 000 barrels of sherry brandy, rum and vinegar. The floor is covered in sand to help absorb moisture. Window in the building allow the breezes from the Atlantic to cool the air inside. The loamy soil in the area contributes to sherry productions as, once it rains, a crust is formed and water is trapped in the ground for the grapes to get moisture over the hot dry months. There are four levels of barrels, the highest being the newest and the bottom being the more mature – Solera. The grapes used to make sherry are palomino, pedroximenez and muscat. Our guide explained the process of fermentation. Following this we were treated to tasting three sherries – a dry, semi-sweet and very sweet.
Then our long awaited Andalusian horse show was on. We had our own special show with a brown and a white horse performing for us. Simply beautiful.
Back in Seville we did some shopping and returned to our café for a similar lunch once again. At 6pm we left the hotel in a horse drawn carriage and travelled to a park where the world trade show was held many years ago. From there it was off to the Flamingo dinner and show. The meal was Tapas and quite filling. The dancing was amazing. I don’t particularly like the singing component. The guitars are great as well. There were 3 women and two men doing the dancing – very talented.
After a scotch and a cup of tea we were off to bed.

Posted by gpric6 15:02 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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