Thursday, August 13, 2015

Iberian Adventures: Lisbon

Monday, July 6
We arrived in Lisbon before sunset, and found our Airbnb in the Graça neighborhood, but there were no parking spots. The apartment greeter had us wait while she looked for a spot, and I became cranky that she did not let us in the apartment to wait. Finally, the parking was sorted and she showed us the place. It had a great view of what looked like the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently it is called the Ponte 25 de Abril. [Tip: Do not bring a car to Lisbon]

View from the balcony

Then the greeter explained sights in Lisbon on a blurry map. She meant well, but we were very tired and hungry, and finally asked her to stop. She seemed disappointed. We had dinner at O Pitéu, which was hopping with people. More roast meat and fish. And potato chips. Then it was bedtime!

Tuesday, July 7
My lovely brother picked up coffee and pastries for breakfast, while I admired the view from the balcony. We tried another pastel de nata, better than in Porto. 

Golden Gate Bridge!

Castelo de São Jorge

Then we set off to explore. We checked out the wares at the Feira da Ladra (flea market), peeked in a couple of churches, watched a ceramics artist at work, and admired the views of Lisbon.

Feira da Ladra

Ceramic shop


Then it was time for lunch! My lovely brother treated us to an epic pre-birthday lunch at Belcanto. Amazing. I don't even remember how many courses we ate (a lot). One of the highlights was a golden egg. And of course dessert and petit fours.


Lunch at Belcanto

After lunch we wandered around and did some shopping. I had a list of Lisbon's 10 most beautiful shops, and we visited A Vida Portuguesa, Tous, and Luvaria Ulisses. Then it was time for gelato.
Doors in Lisbon


Checking out the glove shop


Gelato at Santini

I wanted to reach a skybridge that we could see from the street, which led us to the line for the Santa Just elevator. We saw several plazas from the viewpoint, so we explored those after descending, and saw a cool Art Deco building.

Elevator in Lisbon



Wavy tiles

Art deco

We walked through a busy restaurant area that was very unappealing. Then we took a cab up the hill to the apartment, which was next to a popular viewpoint (hence the lack of parking the previous day). Lots of people were there to see the sunset. Dan picked up some groceries and made us salads for dinner. It had been another busy day!



Wednesday, July 8
I wanted to visit Sintra and Cascais (hence the rental car), but we got a late start to the day. Dan made scrambled eggs with jamon iberico for breakfast, yum! We decided to go to Belém, and Dan drove along the crazy winding narrow hilly streets of Lisbon. [I do not recommend it.] Our first stop was Pastéis de Belém, where we stood in line for pastel de nata. Definitely the best so far...warm from the oven, flaky crust, soft custard...mmm. Then I went next door to Starbucks for coffee. My iced drink had coffee jellies in it. Delicious. They should put coffee jellies on the menu in the US.

Pastéis de Belém

Coffee jelly at Starbucks

Then we walked to Jerónimos Monastery. The interior of the church was impressive, and I enjoyed the cloisters.

Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery

Dan checking out the confession doors



We walked toward the water to the Monument to the Discoveries, where I saw a very cute green frozen yogurt vendor. I was quite taken with it and took many photos, then ordered a frozen yogurt. It was okay. We also saw a large group of school children, or maybe summer camp, with their adult wranglers.

Monument to the Discoveries


We walked along the water to the Torre de Belém. The school children were also going in that direction. There were fishermen along the way, and the Ponte 25 de Abril was still a surreal sight, since it looks so much like the Golden Gate Bridge.

Torre de Belém

View of the Golden Gate Bridge

There was a business enterprise at the park that seemed to involve renting out picnic blankets with a view of the Torre. We did not inquire about rates or if food was included. But Tina and I did get orange juice from an orange-shaped vendor. And Johnny and I hugged an ice cream cone.

Rent a picnic spot with a view!


Ice cream

We had a late lunch at Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, which I enjoyed very much. Shawerma baguette for Dan and roasted eggplant for me, all made to order. Yum. My brother tried the falafel, which was different from home, and also tasty. Next stop: National Coach Museum, but it was in the midst of moving into a new building, so there were just a few coaches in the old building. Also we arrived shortly before closing time, so the gentleman didn't charge the full price. Dan and I admired the painted ceilings. I wonder what will happen to the building after all the coaches are moved? I think it used to be a riding school, if I remember correctly. But maybe not.
National Coach Museum

Dan checking out the ceiling

We decided to take the ferry to Porto Brandão, which was a very quiet town. I enjoyed the ferry ride. While we were waiting for the ferry back to Belém, I peeked into one of the warehouses along the dock, and saw a gentleman working on a wooden surfboard. He explained that they were in the style of ancient Hawaiian surfboards, and also showed us wooden handplanes used for bodysurfing. Very cool to see hand craftsmanship in action. The ferry back was filled with young people who had spent the day at the beach. [I guess we should have gotten off at the next stop.]

View from the ferry

Porto Brandão

Dan and I got another pastel de nata before we drove back to the apartment. I enjoyed sunset on the balcony, and we went out for one last seafood dinner. Then it was time to pack. The next morning we dropped off the rental car and flew to Newark, where I saw a beagle at baggage claim! We took a long cab ride to my brother's apartment, and I ate my way through New York before returning home. Vacation always ends too soon!

Sunset on the balcony

Lisbon Sunset

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Iberian Adventures: Porto

Saturday, July 5 [Tina's birthday!]
Very early in the morning, when it was still dark, Dan woke us up on the overnight train from Basque Country. He went to find the conductor, who was asleep....hmm...but we gathered up our luggage and were at the ready. I saw other travelers at the door, and then the conductor came around to wake us. We disembarked at Coimbra, very tired and confused. We thought the train was late, and we had missed the connecting train to Porto, but it turned out Portugal was one hour ahead! So we had awoken earlier than necessary.

I slept on the train to Porto, while Dan looked out the windows at the sea views and saw storks, or so he says. Then we took a taxi to our B&B, where the wonderful host João greeted us and described sights and recommendations on the map despite the early hour. We wandered off in search of breakfast, and tried our first Portuguese pastel de nata, very different from egg custard tarts at dim sum and Golden Gate Bakery. I loved all the tiled buildings, and Dan said we should buy one. [He says this often.]


Dan and an old car

Green tiles

The exterior tile work was lovely, but inside the train station (not the one we arrived at) was spectacular. We went inside some churches, and walked through the shopping area.


Dan at the train station

The kiddos

Tiled sidewalk

We went inside Igreja dos Clérigos and climbed the steps up the tower to see the panoramic views of Porto and the Douro River. We saw a market from the tower, and walked over to see a busy bird market. So many birds! And bird accoutrements. And bulk bird food. Then we had lunch at a restaurant nearby. Lots of grilled meat.

Duoro river



Despite feeling slightly delirious from sleepiness, we walked to Cordoaria Garden, where João recommending seeing the interesting deformed trees. They lined a pretty shaded path. Dan and I attempted to ride a teeter totter at the park.

Pretty deformed trees

Teeter totter 

Johnny led us to a staircase to see another view of the Douro River, and then it was time for a nap! The rooms were ready! I loved the view of the river from our room and wished we were staying longer than just a night. [Also, Dan asked the receptionist if there were beagles in Porto, and she said they are not often seen, but there are breeders in the area.]

Bridge over Duoro River


View from our room

After our naps, we took a taxi to Gaia, where our host Carmen had reserved a port lodge tour. We learned about the history of port and how it is made. There were many, many barrels of port. Also many bottles behind bars. Then we got to taste! Dan and I bought a ruby port and two tawnys (not the 1952 magnum).

Barrels of port 

Port from my birth year

A very large bottle of port

The terrace at Graham's

We walked along the waterfront in Gaia, admired the views across the river, and did some shopping, then crossed the bridge back to Porto, stopping to see a Beatles cover band playing. Odd.


Boats on Duoro

Beatles cover band

Johnny had made a dinner reservation for Tina's birthday, and as we were getting ready, João brought us bubbly to toast her birthday! So nice. Then we took a cab to O Paparico, where we enjoyed a tasty meal. Then it was bedtime. What a busy day!

Toasting Tina's birthday


Dinner at O Paparico

Monday, July 6
Breakfast was a work of art, with an impressive sculpture of delicious tropical fruits. [Sadly I forgot my camera.] We packed up, left our luggage, and went to explore. First stop: Igreja de São Francisco, which has a crazy ornate Gothic interior. [No photography allowed.] Then we walked to Livraria Lello, where we stood in line to enter the tiny bookshop that apparently inspired JK Rowling, according to Johnny and Tina. I enjoyed the stained glass ceiling and modernisme details; there was also a charming book train with tracks on the ground floor. I tried another pastel de nata, which was better than the first.

Serious men and a streetcar

Livraria Lello

Pastel de nata

We walked through the market and had lunch at Café Majestic. On the walk back to the B&B, Dan spotted a beagle! We followed it, and attempted to converse with the owner, who was on holiday from France. A French beagle in Portugal!

Beans at the market

Lunch at Café Majestic 

Our time in Porto was too short! We all wished we were staying longer. But it was time to pick up the rental car, and Dan drove us toward Lisbon. We stopped in Fátima, where apparitions of Mary visited three local children in 1917. The esplanade where the pilgrims gather is huge. Bigger than St. Peter's in the Vatican! There was construction on the basilica, so we could not go inside. But we saw the outdoor Chapel of Apparitions, and lit candles in prayer. There were also wax figures of children, different kinds of organs, and other body parts for sale. Dan got a wooden sculpture of Mary and the three children for his mother. Then we were continued on to Lisbon!