Monday May 8 2006
Air Transat cares just as much as Air Canada. There was great confusion at Toronto because the plane was late in arriving. Even the crew were late in getting to the gate. There were no announcements. Club service was excellent and I had a restful night.
There was a delay at Lisbon where they cleaned the plane.
The airport at Porto is amazing. It is enormous and brand new and it was practically empty. Our brightly marked bags came quickly and we tried to find the airport bus to no avail. The light rail station will be opened shortly - the overhead is up already. (it opened on 27 May)
We decided to take a cab because we had been travelling a while and it would take us directly. Hotel check in was quick as everyone there seems to speak English. Room is good.
We went out for a walk to find a supermarket. Sao Bento station is close and we were able to figure out the system. Bought some whiskey for Mary's mouth and some goat cheese for Colin. Dinner was at the hotel because is was quick, easy and close.
Consommé and Portuguese fish soup.
Pork mignon/roast duck.
All was very good.
Tuesday May 9
0930 Porto Sao Bento to Braga 1040 urbano train 15213 e1.90
1507 Braga to Porto Sao Bento 1614 urbano train 15230 €1.90.
We walked to the Sao Bento station and bought our tickets for Braga at the machine which would only accept cash – it kept coughing out Colin’s €5 bill.
The station is very clean and so are the trains. The electric trains are modern, four car articulated units with full width corridor connections between cars. The trains are well used.
It was sunny and the weather became warmer, particularly the air was warmer. Many vines, mostly they have been trained high above the earth. Many flowers.
Braga is an interesting mix of very old buildings and very new ones. There are a lot of fountains and the municipal parks are beautiful. We stopped in at the tourist bureau where a somewhat nervous young girl gave us some information. We found the market but it was only clothes and hardware.
Restaurant at Braga ( Adega O Pregao) was a very local one, it was busy with a lot of local people eating and waiting for tables:
Pate de sardine and a small cow cheese (soft and mild but with a crust) with a wonderful selection of rustic bread, including corn bread (called Broa, a golden, thick textured maize bread with a thick crunchy crust, this comes only from northern Portugal). Mixed salad - drenched in olive oil.
Fried hake/Roast lamb with chestnuts (all the tasty bits, ribs etc.).
A jug of the house vino verde was slightly petillant and very good.
Coffee was very good, although strong.
It was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was great. People taking time out from work - several looked to be workmen. The waiters were very busy and several tables were used three times. It was a good job the waiter steered us to half portions. The bill was an amazing €28.70.
We walked around a little after lunch then caught the 1507 train back. Several teenagers had black uniforms with three cornered hats, black scarves with badges and white, high necked blouses. Their hair was dyed black. Then a girl got on with a red silk top hat and a red cane/walking stick. When we arrived at Sao Bento it became obvious that there was a procession in the offing - kids were wandering around wearing top hats and matching shirts and carrying walking sticks painted the same colour as their hats. In the Praca Libertad people were already beginning to stake their claims for where to get the best view. There were still lots of kids coming in so we found a cafe where we had a beer (€1.40 each) until it looked as if something was going to happen. There was one drummer who wasn't very good and then came the kids. It seems that all the kids were graduating from various schools and universities. The parents had come in and many carried flowers which they presented to the kids. In a country where, until recently, education was not very common, the parents are very proud. This tradition has been carried on here and in Coimbra since the 1800's. It was a lot of fun but after the first hour or so it became a bit repetitive, the only variation being the colour of the uniform.
Part way through an ambulance came roaring out and had to use part of the route while the kids quickly made way for it. There was an enormous die made from polystyrene which was being batted around and into and out of the spectators. It eventually died just outside our hotel. The kids all go up to a park for a concert where the hats and sticks are burnt and the ashes are saved as mementoes.
Wednesday May 10
A glass of champagne at the breakfast buffet in the hotel got us off to a good start.
We spent the day wandering around Porto using our one day Eurocard which was good on all forms of transport. Canaries were singing in many houses. Many buildings were decorated with elaborate coloured tiles.
We took the funicular although it was hard to find - it looked pretty new.
Walked under Gustav Eiffel's double deck bridge and along the riverside to the Museum of Port. Thus was well done but there was not a lot of content.
We continued our walk as far as Massarelos where we took the tram to Passeio Alegre. We were held up by a large truck parked along the way and the lady tram driver drove furiously to make up time. We walked around a bit and then caught the tram back to Massarelos where we transferred to the tram to Carmo, again driven by a young lady. The climb up the hill on the reserved section was pretty tough for the old four wheeler.
Last night’s polystyrene die finished up in small pieces in the fountain near the Carmo tram stop - along with purple drapes which dyed the water.
No chicken on restaurant menus although many for sale in butchers shops.
Lunch was at the Guarani.
Caldo verde - kale soup
Vinho verde - Quinta de Avelada
Cod fritters with rice and beans (light on the cod)/Magret of duck in a port sauce with potatoes, strawberry and pineapple.
A workmanlike meal but not outstanding.
In the afternoon we had a feel for the city by riding the metro taking first the yellow line from Sao Bento to the southern terminus at Joao de Deus and them returned to Jardom de Morro where we walked in the garden and half way across the Eiffel bridge. We then went all the way to the northern terminus of the yellow line at Hospital Sao Joao and returned to the interchange station at Trinidade.
The blue line runs through some interesting suburbs to Senhor de Matosinhos. There has been some redevelopment in places and the metro is built along the road and some former railway lines. In one part it is the only form of transport along a main shopping street.
We returned to the hotel exhausted. Colin provided supper in the form of a bottle of red port, some cherries and some requeijao, a light goat's milk cheese which tastes more like yoghurt.
Thursday May 11
1020 Porto Sao Bento to Porto Campanha 1026
1126 Porto Campanha to Livracao 1222 Interregional train 867 €5.50
1228 Livracao to Amarante 1254 regional train 6007 €1.12.
1732 Amarante to Livracao 1758 regional train 6010 €1.12
1804 Livracao to Porto Sao Bento 1905
The hotel elevator is wood paneled and nicely carpeted. There is an upholstered bench to sit on if there is any delay.
Crossing the street at a crosswalk can be a little intimidating. The drivers keep coming until you signal an intention to cross by stepping on to the crosswalk when they will stop. That first step is a tentative one. We watched people just jumping out on to the crosswalk exhibiting a faith that the drivers will stop.
We visited the produce market before going to Sao Bento station. It was pretty much as we expected although most of the fish was frozen. Lots of pigeons. Saw what looked like sausage skins.
At Sao Bento we were able to buy return tickets right through to Amarante.
There was quite a wait at Campanha. Everything seems to be new. There are about five new platforms and these were right next to the new metro platforms. Our train was an old diesel electric clunker (shades of the Hastings diesels) but it had plenty of power and got us to Livracao just a couple of minutes late.
The narrow gauge car was a gem. Diesel but air conditioned. We left on time and climbed all the way to Amarante. There are some wonderful views over the river in the valley below. At Amarante the first order of business was lunch. We passed over a couple of local joints that would probably have been alright and went into the town, crossed the river and found Restaurante Estoril on a balcony over the river with a good view of the river and the old bridge.
Cod cakes and rissoles with shrimp
Bottle of Sao Goncalo (Amarante vinho verde)
Beans, sausage, cabbage, vegetables and pork/Roast lamb - the best bits with the bones.
House pudding (pudim casero - caramelized flan), cheese with marmelada.
Two coffees and red port wine - all for €27.
We walked around the town until it was time to get back to the station. The return train to Livracao was full with many passengers going to the intermediate halts and stations. As we left five dogs watched us go from the first floor balcony with their heads through the balustrade. There is a lot of heather and gorse and eucalyptus trees are to be seen everywhere. We saw several haystacks built around a central pole, maybe 6 feet in diameter and covered with a thatched "roof".
At Livracao our connecting diesel to Porto arrived about two minutes after our train - very good connections. The 1988 vintage diesel electric gave a pretty lively ride on the mostly downhill run and the smell of the brake shoes was strong in the train during station stops.
On the entire Porto network the stations are either new or completely rebuilt as is the track and signalling.
Friday May 12
1045 Porto Sao Bento to Guimaraes 1155 urbano train 15157 €1.90
1615 Guimaraes to Porto Sao Bento 1725 urbano train 1516d €1.90
All of the local trains leave San Bento at xx20, xx25, xx30, xx35 and xx45 mins. past the hour. This gives good track capacity by fleeting but means there is a big gap in service every hour. All the trains seem to be the same four-car articulated ones built at roughly the same time.
The station at Guimaraes was pretty grotty and left a bad first impression of the town. The toilets were dirty and the whole area was filled with smokers. We walked into town via the tourist office and then went to the castle and duke's palace which looked as if they had been constructed out of grey polystyrene blocks. There were several chestnut trees in bloom. Not many tourists in town. Motorists seemed reluctant to stop for pedestrians.
Lunch was at Restaurante Regional Santiago.
Glass of white port
Snacks with local breads including maize which went well with sardine paste.
Bacalao a bras/Sardines grilled
Vinho verde de Guimaraes Cava de Sezim - a honey coloured fairly dry wine with practically no gas, but fairly heady. This is quite a difference from yesterday which was much lighter.
Desert - flan made with eggs and a sweet pumpkin thing with red port.
The waiter tried to explain, unsuccessfully, why their national dish, cod, came from Canada.
Went up the teleferico but the view was hazy. It is evident that the places where the real people live are not particularly pleasant and Guimaraes suffers from a lot of urban blight.
Saturday May 13
0620 Porto Sao Bento to Porto Campanha 0626
0726 Porto Campanha to Tua 1000 Interregional train 861
1006 Tua to Mirandela 1140 regional train 6203
1631 Mirandela to Tua 1805 regional train 6202
1813 Tua to Regua 1856 Interregional train 964
1916 Regua to Porto Campanha 2056 Interregional train 966
As we walked to the station the buses were full of students going home from a night's partying. The train to Campanha was full of young people, some still wearing brightly coloured top hats, but all trying to sleep. Most had digital cameras and cell phones.
Breakfast was at, Restaurante Parana, a bar across from the Campanha station - coffee with milk and a toasted ham sandwich/pastry thing. There was a long line of saucers and napkins on the bar waiting for customers. The seating area was presided over by an old man with a deep loud voice who brought our purchases to the table. The whole thing cost €3.10 and he was very pleased with his €.90 tip. The place was pretty full, most people sitting quietly, many smoking while several had aguardiente. A big black mangy dog outside was pretty skittish and barking at just about everyone who passed by.
There is a vast new intermodal station here. The CP can really show the Italians how to run a railway, the trains seem to leave to the second. The train was pretty full and many people had live plants with them - for Mothers' Day? An old lady dressed severely in widow’s black sat across from us. I was surprised to hear her cell phone start to ring - it took her some time to find it in the depths of her black bag. A mixed party of scouts/guides got on at Ermiseinde - complete with rucksacks and camping gear. Suddenly our car was filled with small scouts and guides complete with large rucksacks, ground sheets, large empty plastic water bottles and even a plastic kitchen sink. They were either well behaved or sleepy.
At Paso da Regua there were at least seven dumped narrow gauge steam locomotives.
The stations all seem well cared for and the trains run to time. We arrived at Tua on time, in spite of the single line and having to pass several trains. The scouts and guides also got off at Tua but piled into a bus. As the journey progressed they began to wake up and started to take their pictures on their cell phones and send them to each other using infra red transfer.
The train to Mirandela was two cars, the second being for a group.
It is a little more modern than the Amarante one, both being air conditioned. One thing they have in common is that the seats are spaced exactly so that the gap between the windows is blocking your view - nobody gets a good view. The Mirandela line seems to be better known by the tourists. It climbs continuously out of the Douro valley for the first 40 minutes or so. It is mostly olives although there were a few vines. At places there was a continuous carpet of wild flowers - red (poppy), white (daisies), yellow (buttercups) and purple (vines and thistles).
Lunch was upstairs overlooking the railway and the water at Restaurante Tavora.
Cheese with quince jam
Litre of local house wine. This was local and was not very good although it contained the requisite amount of alcohol. The waiter seemed intent on steering us to the cheap parts of the menu. Both chicken and lamb were very tasty although the cuts were a little difficult to sort out. The chicken was literally half a chicken including the neck.
After lunch Colin went around the old town. A couple of ladies were sitting at the curb selling small plastic bags of what looked like lupini beans.
The journey back went as planned but it was long. On the narrow gauge there was an emergency stop to pick up a parasol that was lying on the track. There was also a stop for a smoke break then to get some water and for the driver to relieve himself
At Regua there was a 20 min break where we managed to get two cans of beer and some water.
Sunday May 14
Tram service provided by 216, 143 and 221, all four wheelers.
Mary was unwilling to climb the hill to the Ardim Botanico so we tried to find a bus. She insisted on asking two women where we were even though Colin knew and these two gave a long explanation in incomprehensible Portugese which demonstrated that they didn't know where they were but were just sitting at the bus stop. We walked up to the Jardim Botanico and then caught a 204 bus to Mercado de Foz from where we walked along the sea front.
Lunch at Restaurante Espltanada
White port - even the dry is sweet.
Well baked cod in a tomato sauce with dead green beans/Goat- very good.
Vinho verde Muralhas de Monçao
Dessert and coffee
A bit of a weird place which was painted a bright yellow, including the chairs - the Maitre D' didn't want to give us a good place and tried to stiff us on a salad. Colin got even by stiffing them on the tip.
The Pizza Hut is sandbagged. We took the 500 bus to Sao Bento and later we took the funicular down to the water front. Port tasting at Vinogue "La Maison des "Porto"". The proprietor was very good about explaining the various ports. He came from Bordeaux and he was more comfortable in French than English.
-Extra dry white - like a medium sherry, pruny nose
-White - quite sweet
-Ruby large barrels sweet
-Late bottled vintage 2000 large barrels almost a hint of tannin
- tawny 10 years small producer small barrels
- tawny 10 years small producer quinta de Santa Eufemia small barrels, very good, caramel with a little cid
1985, bottled in 2005.
1952 golden white very complex, not too sweet, difficult to describe. Very good but €140 per bottle.
He also gave us a tasting of an organic rosé which has not yet been approved for sale as a wine from this area. It has a strong nose of raspberry and blackcurrant - so much so that he originally thought that the producer had used fruit other than grapes in his wine.
On the way back by the river the sun was just going down and threw the other bank of the Douro and Eiffel's bridge with a gorgeous warm light.
On the way back to the hotel there was celebration going on at the centre. Porto had just won the Portuguese soccer cup by beating Setubel 1-0. Everyone was wearing blue and many cars were flying enormous flags and using their horns. Even the dogs were dressed in blue. There was a big drum band providing entertainment but everyone was just happy. The cops were standing around in pairs and fours quietly watching things.
When we reached the hotel the clerk could not tell us who Porto had beaten. "I don't have the soccer disease."
Monday May 15
1015 Porto (Campanha) to Lisboa (Santa Apolonia)1325 Alfa Pendular train 126.
On our way from the hotel to the Sao Bento station we saw two flat bed trucks, each loaded with one panel section for the new tramway. They are fabricated complete with two lengths of rail and the complete concrete pad, about a foot deep. They are ready to lay and all that has to be done is to weld up the rails and lay the concrete sections between. This is a way to lay rails quickly and accurately yet ensuring a minimum of disruption on site.
Our route was:
Villanova de Gaia; Espinho; Aveiro; Coimbra; Pombal; Entroncamento; Santarem; Lisboa Oriente; Lisboa Sta Apollonia
We decided to have lunch at a very small place across from the station.
Salad (no tomatoes)
Fried fish/deep fried sausagey(alheira) thing, fried egg and fries.
Bottle of vinho verde branco Ponte de Lima.
The meal was nothing pretentious but very good and cheap. We took a taxi to the Estoril electric station and found the trains are frequent (every 20 minutes). Lisbon has a graffitti problem, as does Cascais, the only difference being the Cascais graffitti is better quality. Cascais is a small coastal village which surrendered to the tourist some time ago. It will be hard to find places not devoted to tourism. The hotel is a big box. We have a small box facing the sea underneath a bunch of drunken Scots.
We had a couple of salads in the evening along with an excellent vinho verde branco Alvarinho which had a good taste of fruit - apricot, lemon and green apple. A dog walked past one of the tables from the restaurant next door and peed on one of the chairs. Our waiter just laughed. Perhaps he had trained to dog to do this.
Tuesday May 16
Took the train into Lisbon where we purchased Seven Collinas cards good for travel for four days (€3.20per day). Our first trip was on the metro to Oriente to get our tickets to Albufeira next week.
We got off at Intendente on the way back and were surprised to see a lot of cops about. It turns out this is the red light and drugs area. We took the 28 tram right through between both termini Martim Moniz to Saraiva de Carvaiho and back to the Alfama. Our tram was turned back before the end but, even so there were three trams together at the terminus. After much discussion it was decided that the first should be last and so he went around the circle empty so that he would be the last to leave. All switches seem to be operated manually and they are not replaced to normal afterwards so tram drivers have to keep a sharp look out for the position of the switches as they approach them. The wheels stop before the body does - the body sways backwards and forwards with a big creaking every time the tram comes to a stand.
Lunch was on a sloping table at Largo das Portas do Sol.
Vegetable soup/melon with port
Mirandela sausage/shrimp on a bread soup/paste - something to be tried once..
Bottle vinho verde branco
Afterwards we walked along the amazing tram route (12 & 28). The streets are very narrow indeed and the tram lines are single at some points and also gantletted. The trams occasionally have to go across and travel on the wrong side of the street. The gradients are fierce at times.
We then took a 28 and walked down to the Santa Justa elevator which is a very ornate wrought iron structure with a cafe right at the top. We went to the Largo do Carmo and had coffee in a very pleasant but smoky tea house. Mary tried an apple tart. We walked up to the top of the Gloria funicular only to find it is closed for repairs for six months. We decided to walk down it and then took the metro from Restauradores to Cais do Sobre and the Estoril electric back. Walking back to the hotel Mary tried pastel de nata (similar to dim sum egg tarts but with vanilla and more tarty) and ice cream. We couldn't find home made ice cream in Porto - the sort where you can choose a scoop. It was all the prepackaged type, probably made in Spain.
Wednesday May 17
Quote of the day "It is difficult to put on sunscreen when you are prancing around naked sweating buckets."
Our first order of business was to ride the funicular do Lavra which was driven by a young lady who kissed all the locals. We then walked back down to the Praca de Figuera and took the first tram which came along, the 12, which went through some very narrow streets and up fierce gradients. We transferred to the 15 articulated tram at Praca do Commercio. There was a sign showing the number of minutes until it arrived but 5, 4 and 3 were very long minutes and then it went back to 5 again while 1 was very long indeed.
These are good air conditioned trams but they wouldn't go around the curves and vertical curves of the 28 or 12 routes. The trams on these difficult routes use trolley poles while the others use pantographs, the four wheel trams being fitted with both.
We took the 12 as far as the Torre do Belem.
Lunch at Vela Latina which is close to the Torre do Belem. There was an air conditioned section but we were seated in an open air section which was very pleasant.
Bottle of Alvarinho Soalheiro 2005 which was very fruity (lemon, orange and apple).
Marinaded salmon with dill, mackerel Algarve style (the mackerel were very small, about three inches long)/Medallions of veal fried with a coating of egg and parmesan/baked octopus with turnip greens.
Frozen coffee parfait/lemon sorbet with vodhka (lots of it)/pastel da nata.
Afterwards we walked to the monument to the Discoveries and then admired the Museum of Archeology before going into the Jardim Botanico where we were set upon by a herd of ducks. They have one lookout who stands with his head over a low hedge. When he sees a likely prospect he alerts the others. As you walk in, all you see is this one small head stuck up above the hedge. After a couple of quacks the whole flock appears looking for a handout.
The botanical garden is well maintained and is mainly for rare tropical trees and there were not a great number of flowers. There a number of large colour pictures with trees as themes.
We caught a noisy 15 tram with flat wheels to Caso do Sodre and the train back to Cascais. One of the doors of the tram was locked out of use. Bad sign.
In the evening we walked around Cascais. This gave us a better idea of the place and we now have a much better feeling about the area. There are a lot of narrow streets with a number of local restaurants and stores.
Thursday May 18
The hotel is full of middle aged lager louts who are golfing. There was one group who, at first, we thought were speaking Norwegian. They turned out to be from Newcastle. The east enders at the next table certainly would have had trouble understanding them. Everyone was bemoaning Arsenal's 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the European cup last night.
This morning we took the train as far as Alges where we went into the street to find the #15 tram to the tram museum. Traffic was bad and three articulated trams were bunched together.
We visited the excellent tram museum where we were given a ride around the car barn on a beautifully restored car #2. The small exhibits are well arranged while the restored trams and trailers are extremely well done. They are under cover so they should last for some time. There were several double decker busses - they look to be an RT and an STL just like Colin used to go to school on but with the driver's cab on the other side.
We were looking for a local place to eat and found a restaurant across from the streetcar barns - St. Amaro. It was clean, bright, noisy and there were no tourists in sight.
Vinho verde branco Muralhas de Moncao
Grilled sardines/pork with shrimp
The pork came in a ceramic pot and there was a big plate of fries and rice with it accompanied by half a canned peach and a slice of pineapple.
There was a table of four pensioners next to ours and one of them mentioned to us that the sardines were very small - next month they would be much bigger. As it was, six sardines made a good meal.
The whole place was buzzing and there were many workmen from the carbarns - an inspector in uniform came in, shook hands at his table, took his jacket off and tucked in.
We took the #15 tram to Cais do Sodre and the metro to Oriente. The bougainvilleas make a wonderful splash of vivid colour while the Jacarandas, some of them enormous around Cais do Sodre, make a delecate light blue background.
Oriente is the location of an international exposition and, while impressive, is not built for people. The train part contains vast avenues of curved concrete structures yet the two things travellers need to find, a ticket office and a departure board, are hidden away. The ticket windows are a series of Atco shack type boxes while train information is from small tv screens.
In a similar manner, trying to find the Oceanarium was not easy among the vast avenues and plazas and it was very poorly signposted. The Oceanarium itself, is essentially one big tank and is not nearly so large or diverse as Genova. There were a lot of school groups making a lot of noise. One interesting feature was the large number of sea birds living in the habitats. The giant Manta Ray was very impressive. There was an interesting video showing how they looked after the fish and other creatures. Divers go into the tank a couple of times a week to feed the bottom feeders. They distill their own water and add pure salt from Israel. That way there are no pathogens introduced into the water. Even the anemones are fed shrimp by hand. Only frozen fish are used because this kills all undesirable parasites.
Metro back to Cais do Sodre and train to Cascais.
Thursday May 19
Into Lisbon again by train today and took a look through the Ribeira market. This has everything except cheese. Although there was a lot of fish the place smelled very clean indeed.
From there we walked to the foot of the Bica funicular which was probably the most interesting. There is an entrance house at the bottom where you pay the fare or validate your card. It climbs quite steeply along a street all the way and there are several cross streets. We passed several restaurants and stores and the whole street is decorated with streamers. Many people climbed the street on their own and several just jumped on the car after it had started. The locals all knew the driver well and there was a lot of good natured repartee.
We went down again and caught the 25 tram to the Jardim de Estrella. It was then a drop down and a climb up the other side to the Jardim Botanico which was pretty good although the plants have been allowed their own way. The next part was a somewhat pointless walk down the hill to the Jardim Eduardo VII which was being remodelled and in which we were not tempted to linger, even to get a drink.
The metro quickly brought us to Cais do Sodre where we had a drink in the ferry terminal before catching the train back to Estoril. From there we walked back along the beach to Cascais.
Dinner was in Cascais.
Bacalau a bras/duck in orange sauce
Two local deserts Queijada de Sintra & ground almond tart
Bottle house white.
Saturday May 20
Down to the Cascais bus station today and caught the bus to Sintra via Cabo do Roca. The latter is just a lighthouse with some tourist facities although the area is quite wild. The flowers, particularly the bougainvilleas, are a riot of colour in places although the wild flowers were not as flamboyant as at Mirandela.
Going this way we saw the tracks of the Sintra tramway from Colares through Galamares and up into Sintra itself. We got off at the station and walked back to the tram and took the 1200 to Praia das Maças. It was a delightful trip in an open, four wheel car with just hand brakes working on the wheels and rails. It was used quite a bit by the locals, not surprising because the one way fare was €2.00 each. The tram seems well liked locally. At one point we went through someone's back yard and the people out there waved to the driver. A couple of dogs barked by a number of rabbits which were sitting happily in their hutches.
We made a special stop to pick up a man who turned out to be our replacement driver.
There were some good views of the forest to the south - pretty tall trees. This is part of the Sintra forest reserve. Some attractive trees had bare trunks and then great balls or layers of foliage, the sort of trees modellers make. The entire ride was delightful.
At Praia das Maças a piece on the internet had recommended the Marisqueira Restaurante Oceano which is just at the tram terminus so we decided to try it. They quickly brought us English menus and an English speaking waitress took our order because our waiter didn't speak English. They were all very good.
Tuna mayonnaise and olives in garlic and orange peel.
Fish grill for two :
Large fish, sardine, calamar and large shrimp each, with kale in garlic and olive oil.
Lemon meringue pie/almond tart
All this with a view of the tram terminus. An unadvertised tram (an enclosed one) arrived and disgorged a party of about 20 who descended upon the restaurant which obviously makes a lot of money from the tram.
Afterwards, we walked along the front to see the very nice sandy beach and then walked out along the cliffs to look at the heavy breakers. Praia das Maças is billed as the most westerly resort in Europe and presumably the same goes for the railway. Soon it was time to climb on the 1500 deparure for Sintra. At Galamares we passed the next outbound tram and just after that they stopped in the backyard to exchange insults with the people. The man had just finished skinning a rabbit and the rest of the rabbits didn’t look as happy as they had a couple of hours ago.
A little further on a lady waved us down and asked the driver to deliver a small packet for her.
The trip back to Cascais was by the more direct bus passing Cascaishopping which looks to be as big as the Ottawa International Airport.
Sunday May 21
We bought day rover tickets for the bus today and made good use of them. Lots of grumpy people around today. The bus driver was pretty miserable, possibly because he had to double park at the loading bay. One of the passengers came to the front and gave the driver hell because he had not waited for an old lady at the bottom of the stairs at the Cascaishopping stop. She should have been at the stop on time but, by our reckoning, the bus was running two minutes early. We went to Sintra and took the tourist bus up the steep hill to the Palacio da Pena. We entered the gardens and, after a steep climb, made it to the Palace. This was the last place used by the Queen before she abdicated. It is the sort of place that could have been designed by a mad Salvador Dali. It is full of small excesses and individual pieces but there is nothing to bring it together. There is a wonderful concrete demon rising out of a seashell above an entranceway, surrounded by imitation coral but it is on its own and there are tiles next to it. Virtually every piece of floor in the royal rooms has something on it - it seems that there was a fear of open, empty space. They have kept the original curtains and materials but they have become badly faded to brown and give the place a morbid feel - just like Versailles.
There are two parts to the garden. The formal garden is not much but the wild part, by far the greatest, is wonderful with tall graceful trees. The microclimate here is conducive to creating a rain forest.
We walked back to the Moors' Castle which is little more than a ruin which has been restored as a ruin so nothing is original. There are good views over Sintra and to the coast but it was nothing to make us linger. It was a long wait for the bus which was pretty full. Back in Sintra we found a restaurant and had a late lunch.
Glass of white port
Pork with potatoes/chicken in beer with fries sliced so thin as to be almost chips.
House white wine.
The salad was as good as anything we have had so far with nicely prepared lettuce, tomato, beets, carrots and the whole smothered in the wonderful Portuguese olive oil. The meat was well cooked, portions very large and the wait staff were very good which was surprising for a tourist location.
A quick walk through the historic town which had an incredible number of tourist shops and we decided to head for the bus stop, stopping to buy some roasted chestnuts. These were properly roasted, dusted with salt in powder form like icing sugar and served in a newspaper cone - €2.00.
At the station we had a minor panic when we were unable to get the Bank Machine to dispense cash as it was asking for a six-digit code. Finally we figured out all we had to do was to input our four digit code and press "continuar". It then worked like a charm for both our bank cards.
We came back to Cascais the long way via Colares and Cabo da Roca because this is a much more scenic route.
Monday May 22
The Cockney lager louts have left and have been replaced by Lancashire lager louts.
We decided to have an easy day today. We first walked through the marina and then through the very pleasant Cascais municipal gardens with several stands of tall trees.
On to Cabo do Inferno which is where the sea comes into an enclosed space. It wasn't very impressive but the sea breaking on to the rocks close by was much more interesting.
The basic material used for paving is small stone cubes about 1.5" on edge. Most of the time they are placed and sand is tamped around them. Water is then run over it to consolidate it then the excess sand is swept off. This looks attractive but it is a very uneven surface which is slippery when wet and it doesn't last very long. The surface at the bus station is very dangerous because there are great areas which have lifted. Unless the foundation is good the surface will soon become very uneven. These cobble stones must provide a lot of employment because they must continually be attended to. Give a man a shovel, some stones and he has a job for life. In some cases the stones are set in cement which provides a longer lasting surface. They go to great lengths to pattern the sidewalks with white and black stone but it is not a lasting solution.
Dinner was at Crep's Grill, a restaurant in one of the narrow backstreets of Cascais.
Endive salad with roquefort and walnuts/terrine of leeks and foie gras.
Grouper with wild mushrooms/duck breast with mango.
Bottle of Alvarinho Labarinto 2001.
The entire meal was very good and the chef showed obvious french influence. It was interesting to see what could be done by a Portuguese chef with local ingredients. Other restaurants have no imagination.
Tuesday May 23
1321 Lisboa - Oriente to Albufeira 1636 train 572 1st €21.00
From Oriente station we stopped at Entrecampos and then took the new rail bridge, hung under the road bridge across the Tagus to Pinhal Novo, Setubal.
Many paddy fields with storks fishing.
Grandola, (cork plantations) Funcheira, Messines Alta, Tunes.
We stood for a minute or so on the bridge but were precisely on time at Albufeira even though it was single track from Setubal. CP is very good at running trains - every one we have taken has run precisely to time. First class is very comfortable and the old UIC coaches run very steadily. Everything works.
We took a taxi to the hotel which is old but alright.
Dinner was at a little place with a view of the sea and the town.
Cod with cheese/chicken piri piri (nothing special)
Chocolate cake/figs in red wine (nothing special)
A national disaster this evening in the Under 21 soccer as Portugal were beaten 1-0 by France.
Wednesday May 24
Albufeira is a very confusing place to find your way around. The narrow streets wind around and have no set plan. In addition the centre has been ripped out and is being completely rebuilt. In spite of the tourist office map it took us a long time to find the beach. It contains the expected tourists and their accompanying junk but it is surprisingly easy to get away from it.
Using the ABM was very easy now that we know the system. However there is only one ABM in town.
This afternoon we went with an organized tour of Lagos and Sagres. Lagos is not so dug up as Albufeira. Several storks were nesting on large chimneys. There was nothing of interest at Sagres but we did visit Cape St. Vincent the most southerly and westerly point of Europe. It was pretty windy there. The excursion was interesting although the tour guide was a real pain who just liked to hear himself speak.
Dinner was at a churrascaria which they claimed to be called Canada but didn't seem to have a name. We originally went to the hotel dining room but the Maitre D' was pretty snooty and they only had table d'hote.
The churrascaria was great fun. It was the local hangout and everybody knew everybody else. It was presided over by the wife and mother of the teenaged waitress who served us because she knew some English. The husband arrived later and took over the barbeque, which was outside in the street, while the wife held down the bar. Various characters came in and helped themselves to a beer which was kept in a Sagres fridge behind Mary - it even showed the internal temperature of the beer on an external digital readout. Three small dogs were running around and came into the restaurant and were looking noisily for scraps. A little boy came in to show off his new spiderman mask which lit up with green eyes. He lived with his parents across the street and was well known here. A couple of women came in and bellied up to the bar. They were evidently well known and they gave the young men a hard time.
Pork escallop/steak Portuguese style, as many fries as we could eat and then some.
Bottle of (bad) house white.
The steak came with a thin slice of ham over it and was covered in a thick glop that seemed to have apricots and tomatoes in it. The whole was covered in fries so Colin had to mine through the fries to reach the steak. All for €23. What fun.
Thursday May 25
0930 Albufeira to Faro 1002 Regional train 5905 €2.18.
1604 Faro to Albufeira 1637 Regional train €2.18.
We took a taxi to the train station and saw our first late CP train. The Lisbon express was five minutes late and this delayed our train to Faro by (5mins) which had to wait at Tunes. There was an incomprehensible announcement before the Lisbon train which arrived at the time the Faro train was due and Colin had to ask the conductor where he was going. We had a three car diesel electric unit which arrived and departed unannounced. But then everybody knows it is going to Faro.
There were many swallows' nests in the station platform awning. One bird had just started to fly and was standing on a ledge trying to make it back to its nest. It must have made it as we didn't see it after the Lisbon express had left.
Seen on a menu in Faro - Crumbed chicken snitchew.
Faro is completely different from any of the other towns we have so far seen on the Algarve in that real people live and work there. It is not frantic and is very pleasant to stroll in. The tourist office was very helpful and there is a self guided tour of the town. The historic centre is excellent and easy to walk through with a marked absence of cars and people. We walked around a corner and were surprised to see a blue park - it was the Jacaranda trees. Parked cars were covered in blossom and a municipal worker had a full time job sweeping up the fallen flowers. Suddenly we became aware of an infestation of pigeons. Then a man came along and sat on the bench next to ours. Immediately he was set upon by the birds. He produced a bag of food and fed them. A little boy came up and asked the man to help him to get the birds to eat out of his hand. He left the food to the boy and his grandmother and walked off.
Having walked around, we decided to return to the Cathedral where the restaurant Mesa dos Mouros had a very quiet patio with a good view of the cathedral and the three cranes which were nesting there. Most of the noise was provided by the swallows which are very active.
Overseen by the storks, we had:
Shrimp and garlic/cod with chickpeas and garlic.
Monkfish filet with rice and shellfish/fried rabbit(cut into pieces, each of which contained bone and swimming in oil and garlic).
Vinho verde Alvarinho Aveleda.
It was good but the kitchen was painfully slow.
A man walked past with pointed red leather shoes. He took a corn cob pipe from his pocket and pretended it was a cell phone. He then put the pipe in his pocket and took out some rope, walked into the cathedral and started to make a noise. He took off his shirt, threw it on the ground and started to smoke the pipe. The police were called and handled him well. He finally just walked off.
We went to the roof of the cathedral to see the cranes close up - didn't realize we were standing right by the bells when one of them rang. The two parent birds and one juvenile were unconcerned. They obviously receive a lot of visitors. Several other tall chimneys have cranes nesting on them so this is not unusual. On one roof they were nesting in a metal basket which had evidently been out there for the purpose.
We then bought some speciality sweetmeats and ice cream and returned to the station. One of these regional specialities was a fig that had been flattened and had almonds stuffed into it. It made a creaking sound when bit into.
The CP may be able to run their trains to time but their passenger information systems are lacking. Essentially the only train information is in the form of posted timetables. One must be able to read a timetable. Departure platform information is sometimes non-existent. The surest method is to follow the crowd. At Faro there was a choice of five trains but the schoolkids went to platform 6 which was also the one with a green signal.
The amount of railway equipment in Faro was amazing. When we went down for the 1605 train there was:
1 electric mu for the 1605
4 diesel electric mus
2 UIC coaches and an electric loco hauled dead/out of service from Lisboa
1 electric loco.
The line has recently been electrified - signalling is colour light multiple aspect.
Friday May 25
Portugal in general, and Albufeira in particular, is one of the last refuges of the smoker. There is no control over smoking and restaurants don't even have separate smoking and no smoking sections. The one good sign is that there is no smoking on the trains. It seems that they cater to the poorer educated lower class louts who smoke a lot.
In a similar manner there is very little control over the automobile and there is indiscriminate parking, even on sidewalks which forces pedestrians out into the street. Portugal has a long way to go.
The entire central section of Albufeira is being ripped up and new pavement, sidewalks, and services installed. This involves a lot of concrete and a lot of workmen, especially those laying the small paving stones in sand. The town must have found an incredible amount of money from somewhere. What is surprising is that it is all being done at the same time, presumably before the high season. Tourists are forced to walk in the mess having to avoid the odd deep hole and piles of rebar. Most workmen have proper protection but some are working in sandals while we saw one man cutting concrete with an electric saw without any eye protection.
Restaurante Tipico Aruina had a very pleasant terrace overlooking the beach and the burning skin.
Alvarinho Quintas de Melgaço 2004
Salad of shrimp/salad of roe
Flan/regional almond cake which contained something like spaghetti squash - very good.
The people in the room next to ours chain smoke on the balcony the entire day - without let up. Colin refers to them as Mr. and Mrs. Smokeslaot. They would be good for a Monty Python skit - "And now, ladies and gentlemen, meet the Dumfucks".
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
"You can burst into flame for all I care."
"How did you enjoy your holiday?"
"It was alright but the weather was foggy all the time."
And now folks, the latest in holiday bargains. Smoking Holidays. This all inclusive package gives you travel to your chosen holiday destination with all the cigarettes you can smoke. Our tour guides know all the best restaurants, bars, hotels etc. where you can smoke to your lung's content. Also included is a smokers' guide showing you how to choose the location that will cause the most annoyance to non-smokers in restaurants and how to use the wind to drift your fumes into others' faces.
Saturday May 26
Albufeira - Silves - Albufeira
The Lisbon Express bus was about 20 minutes late leaving the bus station this morning. As it was leaving a very well stacked young lady arrived and was immediately noticed by the three local bus drivers waiting for their next runs. She had wanted to go to Lisbon. One of them rushed over to his car, fired it up, picked up the girl and gave chase to the Lisbon Express.
There were only a handful of people on the Silves bus and these were all local. At the start a lady sat down with her little girl and started to embroider a table cloth - they got off after about five minutes. There were many fairly small farms with a lot of oranges and many big expanses of flowers. One lady couldn't get the stop bell to work so the driver came down and demonstrated that it did in fact work. Another lady at the front must have made a blue remark because he tousled her hair as he got back into his seat.
The market at Silves was quite lively (we were offered sardines several times) and one lady was selling the "roadkill" figs with almonds.
The street market was as busy as the inside one. The tourist office was closed so we didn't have a map and took some time to find the castle. The ramparts are in good condition but the entire centre part is being ripped up with a Euro grant.
Much of the rest of the town is a bit sterile and we decided to taxi back to Albufeira.
Lunch was at Tasca do Viegas.
Alvarinho Deu la Deu 2004 very good, green apple and some citron.
Fish soup/cockles cooked with a great deal of garlic.
Tournedos/chicken piri piri - again a very funny cut which produced bone in every portion.
Sunday May 28
0915 Faro to Toronto 1240 Air Transat TS 633 seats 3E&3F
1630 Toronto to Ottawa 1733 WestJet 654