Sunday, October 9, 2016

Portugal...Oporto & Lisboa (aka Porto & Lisbon)

We left Sitges at 7AM for the airport in Barcelona for our RyanAir flight to Oporto. RyanAir is the airline once noted for charging for toilet access (or maybe that is urban legend). We chose their Business Plus level of service which included sufficient luggage and priority access. It was fine and reasonably priced. 

After the transfer from the airport we settled into our riverfront apartment. Then we headed downstairs to Bacalhau (Spanish for "cod fish"), the restaurant directly below our apartment, for lunch. The cheese and bell pepper appetizer was very good as were the home made chips that came with Bill’s Cod dish. Pat had Monk fish. Both worked with the Dao wine, a light red. We topped things off with an apple dessert and expresso.

After a short break we took a stroll around the neighborhood. The streets of the old town are lined with restaurants, wine shops, and wine bars. It’s a busy area on Sunday. We returned to the apartment and spent a little time booking accommodations for Thanksgiving in Mexico City, wrapping up notes on the Barcelona area for this blog, and enjoying the Rio (River) Douro from our apartment windows.
Our apartment felt like the perfect cruise ship... a beautiful view without a rocking boat...
View from our (tiny) balcony

This being the home of Port wine, our rental agents left us a small bottle of Rozès Tawny Port. This port is quite sweet so would work well as a dessert wine but it also went well with our evening snack of toasted nuts and seeds.

We went out for breakfast and then picked up a few supplies. Our plan for the day was to wander up the river to the 2-tier Dom Luís I Bridge. The bridge was designed by Théophile Seyrig who had previously worked with Gustave Eiffel on a nearby bridge. The wrought iron beauty is definitely reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. 
View of the Luis I bridge (and our apartment...left hand side, near the edge)
from the cable car across the river. For further details, read on...
We crossed the bridge on the lower level (shared by cars and pedestrians) and walked to Taylor Fladgate (a major Port producer) to try some of their port.

The self guided tour took us through (by that we mean walking by, not sampling) many casks of port including one very large wooden tank. By the end of the tour we had learned more about port and the special climate zones along the Douro that make creating this wine possible. Neither of us liked the white port but we both thought the LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) was quite good which led us to purchase a taste of the Vintage Port, also quite good.
Barrels of Port wine. Thelarge tank in this photo is just a baby
compared to the really large one mentioned above.
Our tasting lineup
We washed down lunch with a half bottle of red wine. Bill had a Francesinha sandwich (a local speciality). The sandwich contained slices of steak and ham, as well as sausage between two slices of bread. All this was topped with melted cheese and gravy. Yeh, he knows. It wasn’t that good for his arteries and in fact it was probably his first and his last such sandwich. Pat had a caprese salad and a folhado (crispy phyllo dough like pastry) with sausage and a sauce described as “bittersweet” but the sauce was basically just too sweet.
Bill's cholesterol filled sandwich came with fries!
We then headed off to Ramos Pinto for another port sampling. As we are novices regarding port wine, we chose the 5 port sampler, one LBV, one Vintage, and 3 tawnys (10, 20 and 30 year). All were good but we preferred the younger LBV, the vintage and 10 year which were described as “ruby” style (basically fruitier) and which reflects our prior (extremely limited) experience. 
Love their sign...

We headed back to the Luis I bridge via a cable car that took us to the upper span, shared by street cars and pedestrians. Pat loved the airy sensation of being high above the water and surroundings with the bright blue sky above and great views around the area. 

View of the bridge & Oporto from the Cable Car
Views from the bridge (above & below)

We then continued to the train station, noted for its fine porcelain tile work. We also intended to buy train tickets to Lisboa but learned that if we returned with ID showing that we are over 65, we could get the tickets for half-price. It seemed worth coming back another day. We then head back to our apartment. A bit later we went to a local wine bar and had a snack and a glass of wine.

Tile work within the rail station depicts famous scenes from Portugal's history.
In the morning, we headed back up the hill to get our train tickets to Lisboa and for a lazy day of exploring. We went to lunch at Cantina 32. The Portobello mushroom appetizer with goat cheese, bacon, caramelized onion and red pepper jam. Really good!  Pat followed this with a iceberg lettuce wedge with poached  pear, nuts, crispy onion and roquefort. Yum. Bill had grilled cod with “jacket” potatoes (steamed potatoes in their skins) and onion. As is frequently the case here, Bill’s fish was “salt cod” but this version reflected more success at reducing the salt level before cooking. All went well with our glasses of wine & cider. Bill got “Dialogo”, Pat got “Quinta de Cidro". After lunch we continued up hill to a lavishly-decorated bookstore and later just wandered through the neighborhood.
Inside the Lello & Irmão Bookstore

Church decorated with local blue & white tile
We went back to the apartment to drop off a few purchases. After a short break we went to one of the local tasting rooms to sample Portuguese wines. After 3 whites and 8 reds we were ready to head back to the apartment. The wines were mid-level in quality but we learned a bit about the types of grapes used here, as well as the regions. 
Portugal is a small country but has a lot of wine regions. 
On our way back to the apartment we picked up some potato chips and a nice Carm Duoro Reserva (red wine) from the the restaurant/wine shop located below our apartment.

In the morning, after working on the blog a bit, we went to see the ornate Palacio de Bolsa (former "stock" exchange / commerce building). The building, currently used for civic functions was planned to convey power and success to existing and potential trading partners. It features lots of impressive woodwork (carved and inlaid) that combines exotic woods from the far flung Portuguese empire.
While this room seems to be decorated in carved wood, our guide demonstrated
that only the lower 1/3 is wood, the rest is shaped and painted plaster.
This area combines carved wood and painted details that reflect the moorish influence
Afterwards we had a light snack in apartment then returned to the Luis I bridge for Pat to enjoy that airy feeling up above everything (and for Bill to once more fight his difficulty with heights. Oh what he wouldn’t do for Pat.) In the evening we went to the Wine Quay Bar for wine and tapas… 3 glasses of white and 4 glasses of red accompanied by tuna picante, cheeses and chorizo. The first two whites one light and one medium bodied, ..we most liked the third, a Viognier. We gave the reds mixed reviews, 2 preferred by Bill and 2 by Pat.

We were off in the morning for Lisboa. We arrived around 1 PM. After dropping the bags in the apartment we went out for lunch and to purchase a few supplies. We discovered that we were in the middle of an area with markets, restaurants, and many shops that would make the stay here very easy.

Lunch was at a local Italian place, Vincenzos, where Pat had mushroom risotto and Bill had Carbonara with red wine. Both quite tasty.

After lunch we picked up items for breakfast and other snacks for the apartment. After a short break Richard and Cynthia (who live around the corner from us in San Miguel and rent an apartment in Lisboa, also just around the corner from us here in Lisboa) arrived to show us around the neighborhood.  We had a wine break at a weekend market featuring products of Portugal and then went to Caneca de Prata for cod fritters. The fritters were excellent, very light and even better with the slightly picante olive oil. The wine: White by Planalto from the Douro Valley made from Viosinho Malvasia, Gouveio, and Codega grapes.

In the morning we joined a walking tour of Lisboa commencing at the waterfront Praça do Comércio (Plaza Commercial). 
Monument to King Jose I in Praça Comércio with Arco da rua Augusta 
(Arch of Augusta Street...which sounds much less romantic) in the background
The open plaza is the result of the 9 point earthquake that occurred on All Saint’s Day (November 1) in 1755. The earthquake was followed shortly afterwards by a tidal wave. The combination destroyed most of the city. Any remaining buildings in the waterfront area were razed to make way for a MAJOR urban renewal project. A grid pattern with large squares was created. These buildings likely comprise the earliest seismically protected urban area in Europe. The new city design was directed by the prime minister Sebastião de Melo (the Marquis of Pombal). While being officially a noble, the Marquis held both the old nobility and the church in contempt. Consequently he “very equitably” insisted all buildings reflect the same image (same size, same design), churches, homes for the nobles, homes for commoners and shops.

The one exception: the street lights. Certain blocks could have street lights with 6-8 sides to reflect the higher desirability of areas where nobles lived. Square street lamps were for commoners. And churches, with the exception of the Saint Nicholas church which survived the earthquake, were only distinguished from other buildings by having a cross on them. 

Inside one of the hard to detect churches
We walked through the Praça da Figueira market square, and tasted the traditional pastel de nata (custard tartlets) at Confeitaria Nacional bakery, a national treasure operating since 1829.  

We then visited the church and nearby the square where huge numbers of Jewish people were executed during the inquisition. There are two plaques commemorating their contribution to Portuguese history and their execution during the inquisition. In fact the church is a monument as well. After a fire that destroyed the highly decorated interior, they decided not to fully renovate it, leaving it very plain in honor of the victims and as a reminder of the shameful event.

The simple interior honors Jewish victims of the inquisition
A noted sight in Lisboa is the Santa Justa Elevator. This is a wrought iron beauty that connects the lower town to one of the upper town areas. Lisboa sprawls over several hills elevators are quite welcome. But we toured our way up the hill and then walked over to the top of the elevator and finally took the spiral staircase up two stories for the view.

View of Castle San Jorge from the Santa Justa elevator
Saturday we went to Belém, the departure port for many of the 14C Portuguese voyages of “discovery”. Our first stop was at the amazing Royal Coach Collection. The collection includes state carriages from across Europe spanning the 16C through 19C. There are dozens of ceremonial coaches, most of which are seriously ornate...gilded, elaborately carved, enameled. All are in beautiful condition. Cinderella would have had a difficult time here picking from the many suitable for her appearance at the ball. Also included were child-sized coaches, open-air hunting coaches (to allow the ladies to observe the hunt while comfortably seated somewhere in the shade), one that could serve as a portable meeting room complete with a round table, and the coach used for Queen Elizabeth when she visited Portugal in 1985.

One of the most impressive is the lavishly decorated ceremonial Coach of the Oceans a carriage belonging to Pope Clement XI which was given King John V in 1715.
Decoration on the rear of the Coach of the Oceans
Our next stop was at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery) a lavish building that reflects the wealth of Portugal’s 16C spice trade. It is the final resting place of several loved Portuguese, including the explorer Vasco da Gama. The monastery is breath-taking, with beautiful stone carvings throughout the vast site. Most notable is the ornate 2-tier Cloister replete with numerous gargoyle rainspouts and intricately carved sculptural designs.

View of the dome through highly decorated arches of the cloister
Across the street from the Monastery is the Jardim da Praça do Império (Imperial Plaza) one of the largest plazas in Europe and a great location for photos of the Monastery (and photographers of same.)

There’s much more to see in Belém: the Discoveries Monument (the photos show a modern design with a ship undersail loaded with standing passengers. It is being restored so all we saw was staging and canvas mesh), the Belém Tower (which guarded the Targus River from attacks), the Royal Garden, … Next time.

Lunch was at the Enoteca de Belém, some of the best food and wine we had on the trip. Scallop “Ceviche” to start with a very fine white wine. Followed with lamb chops for Pat and boar for Bill paired with two different reds that matched the food quite well. We were very happy. Desserts were listed on the menu as “Calories”. Who could resist such frankness?  We chose the “chocolate, peanuts & caramel ice cream” accompanied by a rich vintage 2003 port from Krohn. Oh did we mention, the wine-list?  It is simply the wines displayed on the shelves. You are given binoculars to read the labels. Better yet, just let the staff make the selection.
Bill reading the wine list
Chocolate, peanuts & caramel ice cream dessert
Finally, they get points for the most colorful and unique toilet paper storage.  

Sunday we went to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, artworks collected by the namesake and donated to the city on his death. The museum is in two buildings. One houses contemporary art. The other houses his personal collection, an extraordinary selection with many "best of the best" pieces spanning 4000 years. 
This Art Deco piece, titled "The Spring" is at the entry
There are numerous fabric and tile "samplers".  This tile piece is from 16C Turkey.  
 Pat especially liked the René Lalique works...starting with this mirror.  
And this "patinated" vase with doves
And this "corsage ornament" decorated with jewels and a peacock.
Nearby is El Corte Ingles. We know this is a department store but we had the impression that it was just the lead store of a larger shopping center. And specifically Pat had expected to find a Desigual store. But being Sunday, she expected all of the stores to be closed (like other stores in Portugal and the countries we visited on this trip.)  It turns out the El Corte Ingles was indeed open but it was the only store there and it only had a small Desigual "boutique" (department). The best feature of the store is the Supermercardo (supermarket) which includes a gourmet food & wine "boutique".  We bought some snacks and wine at the mercado and then headed back to the apartment.

Monday we headed to nearby Sintra, the lovely region favored by the nobility of Portugal. Among the earliest nobility to reside there were the Moors and there is an outstanding "Moorish Castle". Today the Moorish Castle consists mainly of extremely picturesque defensive walls. We were astounded by the beauty and location. The tall, narrow walls with their crenelations are so picturesque that Bill couldn't resist "climbing them" despite his difficulty with heights. The views of Pena Palace, Atlantic Ocean, National Palace, and countryside were outstanding.
The walls of the Moorish Castle...reminiscent of the Great Wall of China
National Palace as viewed from the Moorish Castle
Pat relaxing at the Moorish Castle
From the walls we viewed the hilltop Pena Palace, our next stop. This Palace looks like it is straight out of Disney. Colorful. Delightful. Expansive. Great tilework. Spectacular views of the Moorish Castle, Atlantic Ocean, National Palace and countryside. And it is still furnished as if the royal family just recently left, rather than having left it over a hundred years ago. For you Castle lovers, you may not know that the builder was King Ferdinand II, a cousin of King Ludwig of Germany who spent so much time & money building lovely palaces for tourists of today...

Pena Palace, above & below

Lunch consisted of salad with grilled Sardines for Pat and grilled Sea Bass for Bill accompanied by a nice wine, white from Monte Velho in the Alentejo region. We then headed off to the National Palace. Also a nice visit with the period furnishings and gardens...but not nearly as marvellous as the Moorish Castle and the Pena Palace. 

National Palace as viewed from the Moorish Castle
While the National Palace was generally less impressive it's ceilings painted with birds were interesting. Each has a story. One was decorated with swans in honor of the King's daughter whom he missed very much. She loved swans so he had the ceiling covered with swans. Another, decorated with magpies reflected the gossiping of the court.

After all that we discovered that Sintra had much more to see. In fact we didn't even make it to the Trip Advisor top rated attraction, Regaleria Palace or the many gardens! They have to wait until next time. 

Regaleria Palace as viewed from the Moorish Castle
On our final touring day in Portugal and in Europe we visited the popular coastal town Cascais with Richard and Cynthia. Cascais is on the tip of land where the Rio Tejo (Targus River) meets the Atlantic. We had lunch at one of the restaurants along the riverside walkway that leads into the town. Pat had Calamari. Bill chose Swordfish. We selected a white wine (BSE) from across the river in the Setubal wine region. After lunch we explored Cascais. Apparently the town has a large number of ex-pats but overall it is touristy with several small beaches, cute shops & bars, ... 

Pat, Bill & Richard at Cascais

One restaurant has an amusing way of marketing itself with very "frank" remarks on their blackboard. 

We returned to our apartment later in the afternoon to finish packing.

Wednesday morning we said goodbye to Europe and headed to California.  We arrived about 5PM CA time and after renting a car drove down to Los Altos to visit Patty (one of Pat's business school buddies). We had hoped to also see Matt but he is in Bulgaria on business.

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