Category Archives: Portugal

Portugal, Guimarães – a day a trip from Porto

On a very rainy day I took the suburban train from Porto Sao Bento to Guimares (the place where Portugal first began to exist – allegedly). If I thought it was rainy in Porto I was about to see a lot more of it in Guimarães.

Like all old towns – at least the ones I grew up with in the UK – this has a proper castle and a palace that used to belong to the Duke of Braganza (one of the most powerful nobles of the town).

Even though it was raining it was quite fun to clamber around ramparts and castellated architecture – kind of like some of the school trips I used to do (including the rain).

It is actually a “real” castle of its time and so I thought I would play around with the photos to show it off in different ways.

The Duke’s Palace was again typical medieval – large halls, heavy furniture and lots of stairs!

There used to be a very old and large chestnut tree by the palace which came down recently in a storm, so the authorities asked a modern sculptor to repurpose it for posterity. I think he did a brilliant job – it was my favourite thing that I saw all day.

The old town was what I was expecting with more rain – yes I am whinging a bit!

Finally I noticed that one of the good things about rain is that flowers look especially lovely afterwards and certainly Spring has sprung here so I discovered a few new tricks with my iPhone camera and took theses which I am quite proud of!

I think Guimarães is a perfect day trip from Porto – just over an hour away and Euros 7 return but because a lot of it is about being outside choose a sunny day!

Next stop my 104th country!

Portugal, Porto

It’s been four years since I was last in Porto so I did fewer of the obviously touristy things but instead enjoyed wandering about and seeing some art museums and taking a couple of easy day trips from here (Aveiro and Guimarães – see separate posts).

Last time I stayed a couple of kilometres out at a lovely palace hotel along the river: this time I stayed in the centre of the town in a great apartment (strongly recommend Leftheshomes if you are thinking of coming).

The city retains its charm and is very colourful.

The bridge below connects the old town to the port wine cellar area. Didn’t visit any this year but if you haven’t been port wine tasting while sitting outside and surveying the old town on the other side of the river is a must.

Like Lisbon there are plenty of old style trams and fabulous tiles everywhere you look. Coffee shops abound tempting me to enjoy far too many pasteis de nata and pretty green squares.

The building below is officially one of the worlds most beautiful book shops Livraria Lello. Thankfully I visited last time I was here. Why so popular that you have to pay Euros 5 to get in? It is supposedly the bookshop that JK Rowling used as a model for parts of Hogwarts – they urban myths abound as she lived here for a couple of years before she became famous. Still even from the outside it is gorgeous.

This the beautiful Sao Bento station interior with spectacular tiles – this is a place I never get bored of visiting.

The week I arrived happened to be student graduation week when the city goes a little crazy with celebrations and lots of different outfits warm on one day when thousands of students walk down the hill on their knees in the costume of their college. On the Sunday which was calmer I snapped the more formal – with parents – grad day. The colours and badges they wear relate to the nature of the course they have taken. The urban myth is that JK Rowling took these as inspiration for the clothing worn by Harry Potter and others in the four houses of Hogwarts. Could be …..

As usual I took an evening food walking tour which involved a lot of wine and a speciality chicken sausage. Not my favourite but interesting to me because it is based on the sausage the “converso” Jews used to make and hang outside their doors during the inquisition to prove they had truly converted to Catholicism- apparently back then no-one has the imagination to believe that a sausage could be anything other than pork!

Loved the coffee grinders in the old style grocery store we visited. Locals come just to grind their coffee in these machines.

In the 1930s Guyana cafe the artwork was cool and there was a local poet doing his thing as apparently he does every day. Loved that.

I also visited Serralves – a museum/garden that I’d never heard of before. I especially loved the art nouveau house and garden.

The interior was mostly empty except each room had one feature left from photographs from its heyday. I really liked that idea and it gave the opportunity to appreciate the architecture.

The gardens (and it was raining by then) are lovely in their own right but also had an excellent exhibition of giant sized sculptures by Joanna Vasconcelos whose world enjoyed – especially the giant stilettos made out of saucepans and lids!

Inside the museum these sculptures made me smile. Two made from irons, an adult roundabout (that you can ride on) made from old office chairs and a telephone switchboard.

Portugal, Aveiro – a fun and easy day trip from Porto

Today I took a local train for just over an hour to visit Aveiro (a bargain at Euros 3 return!) which is known as the “Venice of Portugal” as it has canals in its centre. Aveiro used to be a fishing port and most of the people who lived there were fisherman. Funny sculpture just outside the station – maybe a take on lost tourists?

One of the reasons I enjoy travel is that once in a while you get to connect the dots. Last year I was in Greenland and Newfoundland where I learned all about the cod fishing done there which was then shipped to Spain and Portugal. I never gave much thought as to who did the fishing – actually, it turns out that for 6 months of every year the men of Aveiro went to those locations plus Norway to fish, salt and pack their catches for shipping back to Portugal and for the rest of the year they fished for local fish eg. Sardines.

Two bad things happened. First as most people know, cod was overfished and this meant they were no longer allowed to spend nearly as much times as they used to fishing in those parts of the world and their income stream collapsed. In addition to that the area is surround by sand dunes – over time they had become blocked up making local fishing all but impossible and creating a lot of swampy ground causing a lot of unpleasant diseases. As a result for many years there was not much fishing to be had locally either and as a result they dredged for salt and collected seaweed to use as a fertiliser. Things are a bit better now but this is not a wealthy part of the country. Nevertheless it has a lot of charm – starting with a pretty town centre including some pavement mosaic art – I picked the Gemini from the 12 zodiac mosaics.

And the original fish market dating back over 100 years still exists but is quiet. Fish looks good though.

There is a smattering or Art Deco buildings in town as well as a small Art Deco museum – not that much inside but the building itself used to be a home and I loved the architecture

The boats that take tourists around the canals are brightly coloured and often have saucy paintings on them with appropriate slogans – these were the boats that used to be used to dredge for seaweed and they made them so bright to cheer themselves up.

The local food speciality (aside from sardines in colourful cans) is called ovos moles and is a lightweight wafer casing filled with egg yolks and sugar – delicious with a strong coffee.

Headed 10 minutes down the coast to the very cute seaside town of Cosa Nova which has colourful striped houses along the seafront. These buildings originally belonged to the fishermen and were used to store their fishing stuff while they were fishing overseas. Once the market collapsed they had no further need of the properties and they were sold during the 30s and 40s and converted into houses. The stripes are a reflection of typical bathing attire of the time. Pretty – but very windy there!

Portugal, Lisbon – Under the Stars

As I’ve posted many times on Lisbon (you can search for prior posts on this website) I will only post about things that are new.

So today I wanted to mention a must see if you like history, music, creativity and light shows. Many locals don’t even know about this but I discovered it last year and enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again and this time took two of my cruise buddies – Dan and Nellie – to see it.

There are two 45 minute shows each night from early May to the Fall. They last 45 minutes and are at the El Convento do Carmo in the Chiado area. It is an astonishing light show in the ruined but still spectacular (even though roofless) convent that tells the story from the point of view of

He building and what it has seen if Lisbon history since it was first built in the 1300s. I love it and a bargain at 15 Euros.

Pictures can’t do it full justice but to give you an idea here are some.

Portugal, Lisbon – opening soon – the stunning Palacio Principe Real – conceived by my friends Gail and Miles

My friend Gail, who I worked with back in the 80’s has always had impeccable taste so when I knew she was planning on restoring a beautiful former mansion in Lisbon and converting it into a luxury boutique hotel I knew it would be something special.

I was here one year ago when the place was shrouded in scaffolding with a lot of builders doing their thing. One year later it was terrific to see how much she and Miles have done and I have already fallen in love with it and can’t wait to come back and stay there once it is open.

For those of you who may be thinking of a visit to Lisbon in the coming months here is a sneak preview of the Palacio (which by the way is in a terrific location for visiting the city).

Below is the building itself from the garden area – still a bit of rubble around but you can get a good feel for the exterior.

The interiors are already looking lovely even though not yet completed

I cannot decide which bedroom I want to stay in (each one is decorated differently) so I may have to try a few

Love this one

And Barbara, if you are reading this I immediately thought this one was for you two – purple and hippos!

Roll on opening day and congrats Gail and Miles for getting this far – I am in awe…..

Portugal, Algarve, Portimão

Spent the day in Portimão which is about 40 minutes from Salema. It is of course a much busier place and where cruise ship terminals dock. We really enjoyed visiting the ten year old Portimão Museum which is by the waterfront. It is an old converted fish canning factory which takes you through the story of how the fish (mostly sardines) came in each day and was processed into cans. Really interesting and well done.

Then a walk along what looks like a new seafront and into the town which has a lot of apartments but also an impressive beach. In fact there are many beautiful beaches very close by.

And then a final dinner by the beach in Salema where we had fun watching the truck tow out the fishing boats.

Portugal, Salema – great walks, sea views and good food

The area around Salema is blessed with some wonderful walks and we did one yesterday that took us through forests with both skinny petrified like trees and then masses of lush green trees with wild flowers everywhere.

Then we ended up at a terrific view points with beaches in both directions. Perfect for surfing and you can make out all the surfers in the bottom left hand pic. Reminds me a bit of the Australian coast in parts – especially WA?

Such strenuous exercise meant we had to eat lunch at a nice restaurant – check out the size of these oysters – six for 10 Euros! And then the local speciality of cataplana which I shared with Daphne – prawns, port, chorizo, onions, peppers in a tomato based soup sauce. As for the two s’tuffed people”- they were at the supermarket and are all around the town we were in – kind of the Portuguese equivalent of the painted cows I think?