A Travellerspoint blog

November 2021

Portugal - What Else?

sunny 20 °C
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Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, Coimbra

Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, Coimbra

Apart from travelling about and eating, what else did I find to do in northern Portugal at the end of October?

I was lucky because the weather was very kind to me, and placed no limitations on what I got up to. In Porto it was sunny and around 20º. It was a little warmer inland in Coimbra, and a bit warmer still (25º) in Lisbon.

Dusk. Douro. Porto

Dusk. Douro. Porto

Another factor was how content I was just to be somewhere else, and somewhere outside the UK as well. It was a massive factor, to be honest.

Everything else was almost a bonus!

The first day in Porto I dug out my Lonely Planet and followed one of the walks it recommends. As well as seeing stuff, I thought it would help my general orientation in the city. It took me a couple of hours - slowly so I could soak up the rhythm of the city, and without going into any of the sights along the way.

Torre dos Clérigos, Porto

Torre dos Clérigos, Porto

The next day I took a wander around the Centro Português de Fotografia. Entry was free. It has a wonderful collection of old cameras, and even a Photomaton! We are always learning (assuming we choose to) and on this visit I learned the Photomaton’s inventor was born in Russia but had migrated to Hungary at an early age.

Centro Português de Fotografia, Porto

Centro Português de Fotografia, Porto

Those of us who are old enough will have lots of memories of cajoling those machines into producing the instant (well almost) passport sized photos we needed.

A real highlight of Porto was visiting the Livraria Lello. I invested in a priority ticket, and was glad I did. At 5 minutes before opening (09:30) on Sunday morning the other queue was 150m long. I love a good bookshop, and this one is special.

Livraria Lello, Porto

Livraria Lello, Porto

I had my food tour and port tasting on other days.

Coimbra is another city where just wandering around is sheer pleasure. I covered the University area that way on my first day, without stopping for anything more serious than coffee (and pastéis de nata). On the second day I visited the botanical garden, and enjoyed my meanderings there.

Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Coimbra

Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Coimbra

Easily the highlight of my brief time in Coimbra was a guided tour of the University by Sara from Go Walks Portugal taking in the Biblioteca Joanina, Paço das Escolas, Capela de São Miguel and Prisão Académica.

University of Coimbra

University of Coimbra

Her knowledge is amazing and gave me some fascinating insights.

Coimbra is certainly on my list of “places to go back to”.

I only had an afternoon and evening in Lisbon. I saw quite a bit of the city during my previous visits, so I was content to relax in and around my hotel while trying not to get anxious about my flight home the next morning.

Posted by IainT 16:42 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon portugal porto coimbra Comments (0)

Portugal, Episode 3

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Taxca

Taxca

The food is one of the things I was really looking forward to – drooling over, almost – ahead of my holiday in Portugal last month.

This is normal for me, but the feeling was enhanced by distant memories of visits to the country in 1994 and 2003. Added to that was too much of my own cooking over the last 18 months, especially when we were under restrictions and not even able to go out to a restaurant.

I was not disappointed.

One particular highlight was a food tour I took in Porto. We visited the market (Mercado Temporário do Bolhão) and after touring the various sections we sat down to eat petiscos and drink vinho verde. I think we learned a lot from guide Alex from Porto Walkers and one of the stall holders who explained the local love of tinned fish like sardines, cod and mackerel.

Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde

Then we hit nearby Confeitaria do Bolhão to have green soup and rissoles, and learn about how a place like that works in terms of offering a good, cheap and quick lunch. More vinho verde was consumed. Alex explained it would be rude not to. I was satisfied with his explanation.

Our next stop was Taxca in Rua da Picaria, a bit to the west on the other side of Avenida dos Aliados. On offer was papas de sarrabulho (“blood soup”), chicken gizzards and bifana. We drank espadal*. We were told Taxca is a modern version of the traditional Porto “taberna” which are now rare.

From there we staggered downhill a bit to Manteigaria to sample their pastéis de nata straight off the production line.

Popular

Popular

Our last call was Pao Quente Muralhas Do Olival Porto for coffee and (another) dessert. Needless to say the coffee had a shot of ginjinha in it.

A tour programmed for 3 hours somehow slipped over the 5 hour mark… Fun, educational and delicious.

The same could apply to the port tour/tasting I took with the same company – and also with Alex guiding as it turned out. We visited 3 houses and sampled 7 ports over 4 hours – Calém, Piano and Porto Cruz.

Porto Cruz Tasting

Porto Cruz Tasting

The food tour set me back €47.70 (£41.73) and the port one was €37.10. Both were great value for money.

Porto Cruz Views

Porto Cruz Views

In Porto I stuck to local restaurants close to my studio rather than head closer to the city centre. One was literally next door, and another just 50m away. I loved the food at all the three which I tried out – Glutenfreak, Real Hamburgueria Portuguesa and Zé De Braga. Each very different to the others, but great in their own ways.

Glutenfreak

Glutenfreak

When I was in Coimbra the stand out restaurant I tried was Giro. It is just a little local place with the menu in Portuguese only, and entirely populated by locals eating during their lunch break. I had a marvellous fish soup followed by stuffed roast veal.

Giro, Coimbra

Giro, Coimbra

  • A sparkling rose wine from the Minho region, just north of Porto. Taxca sells it on draught.

Posted by IainT 02:16 Archived in Portugal Tagged food beer restaurants portugal porto coimbra Comments (0)

Portugal, Part 2

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São Bento Station, Porto

São Bento Station, Porto

The travel arrangements for my 9 nights in Portugal worked out very well.

I flew from Edinburgh to Porto with Ryanair (yes, I know) paying £52.47 for their deal which includes an extra legroom seat, 20kg of checked in bag, a tiny cabin bag, and fast track at security. The plane was about 70% full, so it did not feel cramped. Passenger compliance with distancing, masks and so on was mixed. Good with masks. Less so with the rest.

The whole process from bag drop to luggage retrieval at Porto reflected very well on the airline, apart from one glitch which left us all standing on an airbridge at EDI for 20 minutes after passing through the gate.

My Lisbon to Edinburgh flight with easyJet was a very similar experience, without the airbridge nonsense. I paid £170 for their Flexi fare, which includes an extra legroom seat, speedy boarding, a 23kg bag in the hold and some kind of bag in the cabin. I forget their rules.

In both cases we walked to and from the plane from the terminal, and did not get stuffed onto one of those transfer buses to catch whatever nasty virus happens to be going around.

I took the train from Porto Campanhã to Coimbra B (70 minutes) on one of Comboios de Portugal’s Alfa Pendular services. It cost me €11.50 (£9.76) in 1st class - very affordable because I got a discount for booking in advance and another discount (50%) for being old. The carriage was not busy and the journey was very relaxed and comfortable. On time, too.

The fare included connecting urbano/regional trains from São Bento to Campanhã and to Coimbra from Coimbra B.

Porto Campanhã

Porto Campanhã

To travel from Coimbra to Lisbon I took the train as well. I paid €17.50 (£14.86) this time for 1st class on an Alfa Pendular service. It took 90 minutes. Again it was very relaxed and comfortable. On time, again.

Alfa Pendular to Coimbra B

Alfa Pendular to Coimbra B

Those routes are also served by intercity services, which seemed to be a bit cheaper but slightly slower. The Alfa Pendular trains offer a café service which I did not try.

Alfa Pendular 1st

Alfa Pendular 1st

I did use the station cafes at Coimbra and Coimbra B. They were delightful. To a Brit it was lovely to be able to buy real food at reasonable prices in a railway station, and in a very traditional setting. An espresso and a pastel de nata sitting outside on a terrace in a railway station – I had to pinch myself to check I had not died and gone to heaven.

Coimbra to Coimbra B

Coimbra to Coimbra B

I was apprehensive about my travel to and from Portugal under all the pandemic restrictions, both in terms of the paperwork and testing required and the risk of catching the virus in the close contact situations of being on planes and passing through airports. As for the former, it all turned out fine and I would be less apprehensive in the future armed with that experience of doing it for the first time. Whilst flying is highly regulated in terms of keeping us safe from infection, I still rate it as high risk on account of the stupidity and selfishness of other passengers.

I had to take and submit a Covid 19 test within 48 hours of getting back, at a cost of £68. It produced a negative result.

Posted by IainT 15:11 Archived in Portugal Tagged trains lisbon portugal porto airlines coimbra Comments (0)

Portugal, Part 1

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Rooftop Bar, Coimbra

Rooftop Bar, Coimbra

At the end of October 2021 I took my courage in both hands, and booked a 9 night trip to Portugal.

Once I had a rough outline of my plans for my visit, I set about organising accommodation.

I wanted to spend most of my time in Porto, and settled on 6 nights there. An Airbnb type place is my normal preference for that length of a stay, and it has the added advantage in current times of minimising interaction with other people. In turn that eliminates both the chances of picking up the virus from another hotel guest and the inevitable frustrations of being subjected to other guests failing to follow the local pandemic rules. More on that later…

Airbnb Building, Porto

Airbnb Building, Porto

In Porto, the good news is I chose extremely well. The studio was quiet (very important), spotlessly clean (also very important) and comfortable (ditto). It is in the Cedofeita neighbourhood, about 15 minutes walk north of the Torre dos Clérigos and 20 minutes from the São Bento railway station.

Airbnb Neighbour, Porto

Airbnb Neighbour, Porto

It had local shops - the bakery was vital to my wellbeing first thing in the morning - within 400m and several excellent little restaurants too. I tried 3 restaurants which are within that radius, and all were excellent.

Breakfast, Porto

Breakfast, Porto

The Airbnb managers arranged a car to pick me up at the airport - usually public transport is my preference, but it was a late evening arrival and a quick transfer was €25 well spent.

One feature of the studio was a shared garden and swimming pool! I did not use the pool, with it being late October, but in the summer months it must be an excellent facility to have. I did have my sandwich lunch in the garden one day. Very pleasant.

Shared Facilities, Porto

Shared Facilities, Porto

The studio cost me €57 per night, and was excellent value for money.

After Porto I moved south to Coimbra and stayed at the Hotel Oslo for 2 nights. I chose it partly because it has good reviews on You-Know-Where but also for its location just around the corner from the city centre railway station and on the edge of the old part of town. It was relatively expensive because I opted for a superior room - more space and a good view. I paid €145 per night, and that included an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast.

Hotel Oslo, Coimbra

Hotel Oslo, Coimbra

The only time I encountered any difficulty with Covidiots in Hotel Oslo was at breakfast. As usual with these things, 95% of guests did what was required. Since my impression was that locals were very good at mask compliance, it is tempting to assume the Covidiots were foreign. Fortunately most of them were on the other side of the room from me, so all I had to do was avoid them at the food stations. A Russian speaking group at the table next to me were trying to comply, but were a bit half hearted or just not good at it. Have you seen Russia’s death figures?

In those situations I feel sorry for the hotel staff who are spending their whole working days in masks, and otherwise trying their best to ensure the environment is safe for the guests. We owe to them to play our part.

The hotel’s breakfast was excellent and for me was a pleasant change from having to run around the streets of Porto in my pyjamas to buy breakfast and take it “home”. I used the hotel bar both evenings (drunken sotter* that I am) and had a burger there one evening. I had scoffed a huge lunch that day and could not face going out for another meal in the evening. The burger just hit the spot.

The hotel has a rooftop terrace (6th floor) which becomes part of the bar at night – great views of the city to help encourage the guests to use it. One of my golden moments was sitting there in the dark enjoying a glass of vinho verde while taking in the sights.

After Coimbra I had one night in Lisbon, and chose the Tivoli Oriente in the Parque das Nações locality. Neither the hotel nor the location would have been my optimum choice, but I knew I would be arriving by train from Coimbra to catch my flight home, and the hotel is across the street from the Oriente railway station just 10 minutes (€8.50) by taxi from the airport.

Tivoli Style, Lisbon

Tivoli Style, Lisbon

I paid €128 for a superior room, inclusive of another gut busting buffet breakfast.

The hotel turned out to be ideal for my purposes, although its food and drink prices brought tears to the eyes of this parsimonious Scot used to the good value in Porto and Coimbra. It is an expense account type of place.

As in Coimbra the staff were working very hard to make things safe for themselves and the guests, with support from 95% of us. They were friendly and efficient too. The highlight for me was heading to the hotel’s Sky Bar on the 16th floor about 5pm for (yes, another) glass of vinho verde and a salad. It was that afternoon, so it was a delightful experience (apart from the size of the bill).

Sky Bar, Tivoli Oriente

Sky Bar, Tivoli Oriente

Looking back at a distance of a few days, I made good choices about where to stay and enjoyed all three of them in their different ways.

  • Scots. Perhaps best translated as "a mess, a muddle..."

Posted by IainT 09:32 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon portugal porto coimbra Comments (0)

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