Monday, June 12, 2017

DRIVING

It's hot in Portugal today, real hot.  With the temperature hovering around 100 degrees, castles are the last thing we would be interested in climbing around.  So looking for something cooler do do, we climbed in the car and drove to higher ground.  Our B&B is in the small village of Mesquitela, which just happens to be a the bottom of the highest mountain in Portugal.  At just over 6600 feet we figured Mt. Torre would be somewhat cooler.  Well it was, but not by much at 90 degrees.  We did manage to get out and walk around some and we did see some beautiful mountain scenery and we mostly managed to stay cool.  Driving on Portugal's steep, narrow, twisty roads is plenty entertaining in itself, but to make it even more exciting, add some Portuguese drivers.


 


 


I have written before, on trips to Europe, about driving in foreign countries.  Of course there is somewhat of a learning curve when navigating in new places with different rules as can be expected.  Signage, after a little study, is pretty easy with just a few exceptions.  Of course there is the added bonus of many of the signs being in the native language.  I particularly like the one sign in both Portuguese and English that I saw today after beginning the steep decent down the mountain.  "Try your breaks now".  "Why now?  Shouldn't I have tried them before I started down the hill?"  For many Americans, the traffic circle or roundabout as it is locally known takes some getting used to.  Get in the inside lane in a busy city, you might not ever get out, but for the most part once you get the knack of it, it's pretty easy.


 


Here in Portugal as you enter any city, town or village the speed limit becomes 50 kpm or about 35 miles per hour.  There are a few surprises sometimes, like a raised crosswalk, that if you're going too fast will get you and the rental car alignment specialists attention.  Also Portuguese towns come with a signal light at various locations.  No intersection or crosswalk, just a signal that manages to turn red just as you approach it.  At some of these you may sit there a while wondering "why the hell have I stopped here?"  They are there to slow you down.  "Ok, I'm going slow now, can you please turn green?"


The most exciting aspect of driving in Portugal are the Portuguese.  Usually am tootling along doing the speed limit.  The Portuguese don't do the speed limit, unless they are driving a tractor. I can see them in the rear view mirror approaching at warp speed.  If there is room, I get over as I wouldn't want to slow them down.  But in most cases they arrive at my rear bumper and begin to draft.  I try to identify the make of the car, but they are so close that the brand emblem on their grill is not visible in my mirror.  Under normal circumstances they pass.  Normal circumstances have a different meaning to the Portuguese.  Blind curves, cresting a hill, and vehicles smaller than a semi are all normal and passing is acceptable.  If for some reason they can't past, they just stay there, about two feet behind me, saving fuel while my slipstream pulls them along.  If I slow down to get over, I risk them joining me in the back seat.  So I just maintain my speed until such time as they see an opening and they zip past me.  Then I pull over and get my heart rate under control.  If I'm lucky enough, I have pulled over in front of a bar.  Did I mention that the Portuguese make really good wine.


 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

TURNING AROUND AND HEADING NORTH

I've been having trouble coming up with a post as I guess I'm suffering from writer's block.  So this will be a short update with some photos.  We are a little over a week before our return home and in all probably this will be my last post while on the road.


We left Sesimbra and our view of the ocean and drove the short distance to Sintra, near Lisbon.  Within and near Sintra are 3 palaces and a castle.  We had a B&B reservation in the heart of the city and as we arrived driving became difficult because of the narrow streets and the hoards of tourists.  After dodging the masses and arriving at the B&B, we right away became thankful that we were only spending one night.  The crowds took away all desire to visit any of the palaces.


We left the next morning and continued north to another oceanfront apartment/B&B that we found through Airbnb.  Just south of the coastal city of Peniche it is situated on a narrow peninsula with miles of sandy beach on one side and rocky cliffs on the other.  Our small apartment is one of three, each with a balcony overlooking the rocky shoreline.  We sit outside much of the time watching the surfers and listening to the waves crashing on the rocks below.  It is near here in Nazare that the largest waves in the world occur.  We went and took a look, but we picked the wrong day.  Normally these humongous waves happen during winter storms and some brave soles actually surf them.


After 4 nights listening to the surf, we tore ourselves away and made a right turn and heading inland.  We are in a funky B&B in a nature preserve, just a few miles from the Spanish border.  And it's hot, in the low 90's.  Our pick of lodging is just ok, a little run down and lots of daddy long leg spiders.  The pulse side is that our room is below the house and the 2+ feet thick stone walls keeps us cool.  On the top of the mountain above us is Marvao, a beautiful fortified walled town.  Within it's high stone walls, the town is full of whitewashed homes and business.  At the highest point is the castle, which is in excellent condition.


We got an early start for our visit to Marvao while it was still cool.  We were mostly by ourselves as we explored the town and the castle.  After about 3 hours, we found a small cafe with outside seating under a huge tree and a view of the landscape spread out before us.  With cold drinks and a cool breeze we lingered for over an hour before heading back down the mountain.


Tomorrow we continue north on the eastern side of Portugal.  We will spend 4 nights at our next stop and then return to Santiago and begin our journey home.


Well I guess, the writer's block has left me for the time being, but that's enough for now.  Enjoy the photos.


 

OUR VIEW

THE GALLERY WATCHING THE SURFERS 
 
THIS IS WHERE THE BIG WAVE ARE, WELL, NOT TODAY
 
NOW THAT'S A BIG WAVE
 
TRIED MY HAND AT SURFING




 
OUR BEACH
 
PENICHE COASTLINE
 
PENICHE FORTRESS 
 
OUR FUNKY B&B
 
MARVAO
    
 
    
 

Friday, June 02, 2017

LIFE'S A BEACH

As of tonight we will have been at the beach for 5 nights and Cathie's loving it.  We used Airbnb for the first time and we rented an apartment in a high rise, pretty much right on the beach.  We are on the 4th floor with a commanding view overlooking the beach at Sesimbra, a fishing village that also is a popular spot for tourist and locals alike.  We are told that due to it's proximity to Lisbon, about 30 miles south, most visitors are from the city.  Just south of us is, Arrábida National Park, with about 20 miles of pretty much unspoiled coastline.  I say mostly unspoiled because most parks in Europe sport a cafe or some eating establishment.


Also a few miles away is Cabo Espichel, a windy headland, with towering cliffs overlooking the Atlantic.  At the western tip of the cape sits the lighthouse, Farol do Cabo Espichel, which we heard was open to the public on Wednesdays for free.  Not to miss out on the free part, we headed out in the afternoon.  We were met by Pino, an officer in the Portuguese Navy, who is stationed, along with two others, at the lighthouse.  He led us to the top, where in his broken English, he explained to us the workings of the light, which included turning it on.  It was a nice personal tour.


Also on the cape within sight of the lighthouse is the Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel, (Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Cape).  There is a chapel and was once a pilgrims hostel.  The chapel built between 1701 and 1707 became a destination for pilgrims and the hostel was built.  The hostel consists of two long two story buildings, with rooms for the pilgrims on the upper floor and shops and stores on the lower.  Even though pilgrims still come to the cape, the hostel is no longer in use, its' windows and doors filled in with cement.  You can still see sections of the aqueduct that brought water to the hostel.


We keep thinking about trying some of the seafood here, but it is difficult to decipher most of the menus to see how it's prepared.  As mentioned before, cod is a Portuguese staple and under most circumstances, I like cod.  But when my translator app translates a menu offering as "Cod boiled in sea water", I tend to shy away.


After listening to the waves for the past 5 nights, it's time to move on.  We will now turn around and begin our return to Santiago.  Not too fast though, still about two weeks to go.


 

THE VIEW FROM OUR APARTMENT

 
SESIMBRA 
  

 
THE LIGHT WITH SPARE BULB READY TO GO



PINO 

 
THE HOSTEL AND CHAPEL
 
INSIDE
 

 

 
THE CAPE

 
  
YOU HAVE HEARD OF WINE IN A BOX, NOW WINE IN A CARTON 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

CONTINUING ON IN PORTUGAL

We had a couple of really hot days with temperatures in the mid 90's.  One such day we had decided to pay a visit to Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal.  We toured the palace which was nice because it was cool inside, but we hadn't thought through our decision to see the castle.  The castle consists of it's four walls and some towers, so walking around inside really meant walking around outside in the heat.  Cathie and I decided that over the years we had seen enough castles, so no more castles, at least on this trip.  To further enjoy the heat, it took us a while to figure out where we had parked the car, so that added to the fun.


THE PALACE 

 
THE CASTLE

 

The next day we said goodby to José and Luisa before continuing further south.  There's a good chance that we'll see them again as José and I are Camino veterans and we talked about meeting in Santiago when we are there again.


We have been at our next B&B in the very small village of Pereira somewhere in the middle of Portugal for the past four days.  In choosing places to stay, it really came down to where my finger landed on the map.  Now what this place lacks in location is far outweighed by the B&B itself and our hosts.  As for the village, there is one street, a small chapel and a cafe, that we have yet to see open.  Henk and Myriam found this house two years ago and fell in love with it.  Built in the 30's it had been in the same family and vacant most of the time.  The home had been on the market since the 80's with no takers, primarily because of it's location.  Henk and Myriam spent the last two years restoring the house and upgrading plumbing and electrical systems.  They continue to work on the extensive garden, with it's grape trellis and several fountains.  For them it is a labor of love.


 

THE B&B


 

B&B TILE


 

B&B WINDOW


Each morning at breakfast, we discuss with Myriam things to see and do in the area and her suggestions have been right on.  We had heard before our arrival, that the Joanina Library on the campus of the Coimbra University was a must see.  Myriam agreed so we headed the 40 miles or so to the city.  Coimbra University is the oldest University in Portugal and there are many historic buildings thereabouts.  The Library is the most popular and timed tickets are sold for a visit.  Our luck was with us when we arrived at 10:30 we found a free parking spot on the campus one block away from the Library.  Our luck continued when the line for tickets was only three deep and our appointed ticket time was at 11:00.  Besides the library our ticket included the chapel, both of which were very beautiful.  When we left, the line for tickets snaked around the building and we had 3 people fighting over our parking spot when we left.


 

THE JOANINA LIBRARY 


 

CHAPEL CEILING 



We then drove to the town of Luso, where there is a small national park.  First stopping for lunch at one of the many restaurants in the region that specialize in roast pig.  They eat a lot of pork in these here parts.  If you don't like pork, then it's Cod fish.  After lunch we paid a visit to the park, where, from the outside, you can see the Palace Hotel and it's garden.  Only guests allowed inside.  Another beautiful building.  One thing very prevalent in Portugal, is the blue tile on many of it's buildings.  Not only the Palace Hotel but Henk and Myriam's home is no exception.


DINNER 

PALACE HOTEL MURAL

PALACE HOTEL 
 

 The next day, with the desire to stay out of the city, Myriam sent us to the mountains for a hike.  With Cathie feeling better, we figured it was time to give her hip a test drive.  Following Myriam's, instructions, we took the long slow way on narrow mountains roads, through numerous perched villages clinging to the hillsides, ending up in Piódão.  This beautiful small village made of the native stone and slate, clings precariously to the steep mountainside  overlooking a deep canyon.  The sides of the canyon have been terraced for farming for centuries and to this day remain in families who continue to plant crops on some of them.  

 

PIÓDÃO


 


 

 


We took a hike down one side of the canyon and back up the other.  About 6 miles in length, it was just right for Cathie to try our her hip.  Although tired by the time that we climbed back up, Cathie said she was pain free.  We ended the day with a late lunch, early dinner, in the town square.  On our last day, Myriam sent us to another mountain top, again with steep narrow winding one lane roads.  A beautiful end to another wonderful B&B stay.


 



    

Tomorrow we continue south just past Lisbon, where we have rented an apartment on the beach.  Perhaps we will find something besides pork and cod to eat.