May 5 to May 21 - Viana do Castelo to Lisbon
04.05.2012 - 21.05.2012 25 °C
Before I start raving and glowing with praise for Portugal, silly Paul forgot to mention that we visited Santiago de Compostela on our last day in Spain, and asked me to tag it on to the start of this entry ☺
Santiago de Compostela is a few things… it’s probably most famously the finishing point of the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, undertaken by young and old (and a whole range in between, as we saw along the way) from all over Europe, along the signposted routes through the north of Spain. There are many routes that can be taken to reach Santiago, the most popular being 780km long!
When the trek is done, pilgrims mosey on into the main sqaure and gaze in awe at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, built over centuries and therefore a mix of gothic, roman and baroque infuences – this is the supposed burial place of St James (Santiago), and you can go inside, underneath the floor and view his final resting place.
The rest of the town is full of alleyways and medieval style buildings, but unfortunately the tacky cafes and gift shops/money grabbing have somewhat overrun what is meant to be a classic, spiritual and peaceful town (in my opinion).
Our first stop was the northen seaside town of Viana do Castelo, the closest campsite being over the river and part of a nationwide chain called Orbitur (we have become very, very familiar with them!) We biked into town and wandered the waterfront, through a small but popular antique market. We took the funicular railway up Santa Luiza Hill to get a great view of the town, the beach and the area in general. Up there is also the Templo do Sagrado Coracao de Jesus (another church), which you can access the dome right up the top and get an even better view via numerous, steep, and very narrow stairs ☺ Fun!!
We found ourselves at the local shopping centre and absolutely starving… we overshot Maccas and opted for a more local looking takeaway joint (I’d been dying to find some Portugese chicken, but I guess here it’s just chicken…). We ended up with flame grilled ½ chicken, chips, rice, salad and a drink for EUR5.50 each… what a bargain, and the servings were huge!
After a couple of nights I couldn’t take it anymore… I had a jingle in my head…
Just Gotta Go… Porto!!
Only about an hour further south, Porto is the 2nd biggest city in Portugal and most famous for producing port. Aside from knowing I wouldn’t be able to find a Bondi Burger anywhere, I’d read an article online awhile ago stating that Porto had been listed as one of the best summer cities in the world, alongside the likes of Barcelona and Sydney but didn’t quite know what else to expect, but I was really excited nonetheless.
We stayed at another Orbitur near Vila Nova de Gaia, south of the city, which is where most of the port cellars and manufacturers are based. The weather was gorgeous and we were looking forward to riding the bikes into town the next day, and planned to walk everywhere, see everything and eat everything!
When we woke up it was pouring rain and really windy – so we decided to take the local bus instead! The buses in Porto are quite regular and announce the “proxima paragem” (next stop) as you’re going along which was a bit of a godsend… but the roads and alleys that these buses fly up were so narrow and crowded at times, it made me glad to arrive in town safely! We climbed the 200 odd stairs to the top of the Torre dos Clerigos to get a fantastic view of the city, had coffee and pastries at a great little shop up a sidestreet near the Town Hall, and sampled 6 different local ports paired with fruit jams and chocolate at Vinologica. Feeling warm and fuzzy, we strolled the Ribeira (riverside) area towards our bus stop, and made sure we didn’t leave empty handed…
We then stayed at a nice little seaside town called Figueira da Foz for a couple of nights before we arrived in Peniche, the surf capital of Portugal – we loved it so much we ended up staying for a week! The municipal campground there was so cheap and close to 2 great surf beaches, including the world famous Supertubos.
I had a friend, Sara, stop by for a few days to hang out and catch up between a trip to London and the USA (hope you’ve ended up with the time to read this!) The 3 of us spent a day checkng out the nearby village of Obidos, which is surrounded by a wall and was once a wedding present… the whole town!
While there we sampled some of the local produce – sour cherry liqueur served in a dark chocolate cup…. Like the best Cherry Ripe you could imagine!
After saying goodbye, it was time for a few days of lazing on the beach in Baleal and surfing… I finally decided to have a go for the first time and got a couple of lessons, and I think I’m hooked!
We’ve now been in the Lisbon area for about 3 days, 2 of which we spent checking out the city on 24 hour Yellow Bus tour and transport tickets (I hadn’t done enough research and we ended up a bit overwhelmed with what to see or do!). On weekends the city opens up most of it’s attractions to the public free of charge from 10am to 2pm (monuments on Saturdays, museums on Sundays with the exception of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and a couple of other smaller ones) so this worked out really well for us. While in Lisbon, we had the opportunity to try pasteis de nata (portugese tarts) from their birthplace in Belem, specifically one shop in particular and I’ve never seen a pastry shop so crowded - literally, lines out the door! They are worth the wait though. Tarts so creamy and so fresh that they were still warm from the oven! Also, on recommendation from multiple guide books and other resources, we went out for dinner and drinks at a late night fado club in the Alfama area of the city. Neither of us knew what Fado sounded like, or what a 'club' would be like, but we were both very pleasantly surprised! Though the music has a very melancholy sound (and no doubt, lyrics... if we could understand them) it was a very spirited performance from the 3 singers, and the atmosphere of the club was fantastic! There also appeared to be some off duty singers having their dinner, as at random points during the night, the performers would single out certain audience members and get them to join in with what can only be described as well-trained singing voices. It was possibly the most culturally rewarding thing we have done on the trip so far, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for something different (insiders tip though - don't go to the big clubs if you are looking to save a bit of coin, they charge like a wounded bull! We went to a small restaurant/club after checking out some of the other more expensive places, and the atmosphere was far more entertaining, while the food and drinks were a 3rd of the price!)
We are now off to Sagres in the Algarve area of Portugal for some more sun and surf, before heading on to Lagos and Seville. Hope to have some more pics etc. for you soon!