Portugal for the Mild Ones
Portugal had always seemed a great place to go to. Port, tapas, tarts and the decriminalisation of hard drugs. What could go wrong?
So in late September 2019 after a day long Qatar Airlines flight from Sydney, myself and the magnificent Ms Chatter arrived at Lisbon’s major International airport at around 7.30 am.
This dribble is not for any other reason than to record an already fading memory of our trip and to perhaps help a few of our mug mates in their future wanders.
DAY 1 : Landing in Lisbon
The immigration line up took about 20 minutes. The female officer couldn’t have been more disinterested. She stamped both our passports with the fervour of a drugged librarian. Customs was just a hand written sign of “Nothing to declare” and we were free. We’d booked a cab with a mob called Welcome Pickups (EU 24) to take us to our booked hotel Casa das Janelas com Vista. Our driver, Fernando had texted me via WeChat after I’d logged onto Airport’s free wifi. Nice guy perfect English.
MUGS TIP: Uber is a cheaper go at Lisbon Airport if you aren’t jet lagged and know where your digs are.
We got to our hotel in the Barrio Alto (possibly Portuguese for “lots of bloody steps”) in twenty minutes. No chance of an early check-in we thought. But the dudes had offered a complimentary breakfast or was I mistaken?
All good for not only a breakfast but they had a room ready. Breakfast was a help yourself to fruits, cereals and they offered to cook eggs or scramble them. Perfect. Our room was on the first floor.
No view except a wall but a good firm bed and a very good bathroom. Later we found that sound travelled from the rooms above as some little kiddy decided to flamenco in the evening. On reflection the great breakfasts and lovely staff didn’t really add up to the around €140 a night. However if you can snare a room up the top with a view it would be good option as your first spot when landing in Lisbon.
MUGS TIP : AirB&B is probably a better deal in Lisbon.
Showered and refreshed we headed out for a free walking tour of Central Lisbon run by Sandemans New Lisbon Tours (www.neweuropetours.eu). You just turn up at the allocated place. We met in a square with a statue of a plump bloke on a horse (Praca Luis do Camoes). There are a bucket load of these babies around. Took a ticket from the girls wearing red t-shirts.
We got put into an English speaking group of around 20 people with a young guy, maybe thirty, with a pony tail who introduced himself as João (John). He said he was a jazz musician. Guitar. He took us to Barrio Alto, where we had just come from. Irony? He asked for questions. I asked what he knew about the decriminalisation of hard drugs. He let that one go through to the keeper saying he didn’t talk about drugs on his tour. Well I’ll be – a muso who doesn’t want to talk about drugs.
MUGS TIP: As soon as you hit a city or town do a free tour
He took us to the top of the lift (Miraudouro Santa Justa Lift) that takes fatties just a few hundred metres from below up to the start of the Alto. We came in from the top and were able to see the same view without paying. It’s a rip-off with long wait times. João was a crafty son but I was beginning to get bored with his dribble. Fortunately we stopped at a pastry shop and bought two Portuguese Tarts for 1€ each. We went down to the water looked at some more excessive big dick public statues celebrating bad kings and then allowed João to buy some new guitar strings by flipping him 5€ each. He insisted on a hi-five from everyone who tipped him. I was tempted to pants him for that but we left and trudged back up a million steps to Casa Janelas.
That evening around six we headed on recommendation to Black Sheep – a very very small wine bar near a petite park. You could fit around a dozen thin people in here. The owners (husband and wife) were Yanks who had chosen to leave Trumpland for a wiser and better life by flogging good Portuguese booze. There was a nice vibe after about three drinks. A wee artistic fella in a small straw hat and lots of rings attached himself to us at the bar. In his sixties I’d say and according to him a bit-piece actor originally from Cape Town via Portugal and now Ireland. Hard to know but when the wee chap started mentioning bit parts in Streep and Kidman movies it seemed like Salvador Dali had written his biography.
MUGS TIP: Have a wine at the tiny Black Sheep but then head next door to the craft beer joint, Cerveteca Lisboa, (Praça das Flores 63, 1200-192 Lisboa)
We stumbled to a recommended restaurant, Sant Elmo. Fortunately we had booked as the hordes were gathering. Sat down and ordered a beer and some white wine. A large platter of cheeses, pickled carrots and other shit arrived plus a lot of bread. “Danger, Danger Will Robinson!” This was the dreaded “Couverts” that every thieving cafe pirate puts down as if you’re the special guest at tonight’s soirée only to find out that you’re charged €4 for something that you really didn’t want at the end. But I felt like a real turd when the waiter said no this was in fact complimentary- no charge.
We ordered the grilled octopus( €13) and the pork cheeks (€16). The octopus was strangely oily and the pork cheeks a bit stew like. It was reasonable without hitting the target. On reflection the garlic shrimp and the sliced grilled pork may have been wiser choices. People were lined up to get in so obviously I know bugger all. Bill total was around €44 plus tip. Tipping is not big here – although a modest round up seems to be appreciated. A further trudging up the hill of a million steps to a firm bed. It had been close to 40 plus hours since heads had hit pillows.
DAY 2 Timber trams, Belem Tarts, Jesus and wetness
After another substantial breakfast at Casa Janelas we headed down the hill. It was a bit chilly but looked like the cloud was clearing. The German girls gathering outside our digs in their hike and bike gear made disparaging girly boy comments when we asked whether it was going to rain. Never trust the Krauts. How can you? They lost two world wars and eat a lot of pickled cabbage.
Down the hill to the rail station of Cais do Sodré station on the harbour and bought two Viva Viagem cards. They type is “Zapping”. Zapping allows for pay-as-you-go fares of €1.33 with metro and €1.35 with Carris (buses, ferries and trams, with a hour-long re-entry period). You can add credit of denominations between €5 and €40 at stations.
We put 10€ on each of them and headed outside the station to catch the old timber tram (No 81) to Belem. There was a large line-up of sundry Ports and other chancers. I took the gamble and moved us to the front area – the way the tram would be travelling. The tram arrived and stopped directly in front of us. A win for the Aussie Fox as we popped on board and got a seat and for the princely sum of €1.35 each and headed along the waterfront past some busted arse infrastructure projects, flash dodgy bars, a copy of the San Francisco bridge and naval stuff.
We were here to see Jeronimos Monastery and the Belem Tower. However we’d arrived far too late as the line snaked back for a good 300 metres. This Manueline ‘jewel’ would have to wait.
The tip is to get there at sparrows or buy a Lisbon pass or tickets online and waltz straight in. We wandered through a waterside park and came across a fortified stone structure that ran into the water – the Belem Tower. Interesting but even a smaller line-up deterred closer inspection. The whole parkside area had the look of a seedy seaside circus that the Boss would sing about but probably wouldn’t be bothered.
The rain started to mist in. We headed back across the road next to the Manueline jewel to the ‘famous’ Belém tart clip joint. Another line but mercifully the rain was melting the hordes so after five minutes we got in and purchased two of their finest for a €1.5 each. Simply put into a bag we stood outside under the awning and disposed of the tarts in under 30 seconds. Back onto the wooden tram and back to Cais do Sodré station.
Despite the rain we hopped onto a ferry at Cais do Sodré ferry terminal which is on the waterside of the station of the same name. Using the Zapping card, for a couple of euros we headed across the river to see the Big Jesus (Cristo Rei Christ Statue) at Almada. I’d seen photos. It was a discount take on the big one in Rio. Ms Chatter was keen, I was only making up the numbers. After about twenty minutes we hopped off and turned left and waited for the 101 bus to take us up the hill to see BJ.
The bus finally arrived. The driver had missed Service 1.01 in his training. After a winding trip through a lot of dishevelled flats we arrived at the Big Boys Compound. The rain was getting worse. No gear. We walked through garden seats with piped church chant music coming out of them. Only handful of true believers had bothered. We went into the back of Jesus’s legs and paid the rip-off fee of 6€ each to take the lift part the way up to (I’d estimate) the holy nuptials. Of course this was where the crafty Catholics had placed their tat and tinsel gift shop.
Navigating narrow steps we headed up to the viewing platform. Nothing. The misty rain had set in. No view except to look upward through the mist to JCs beard. Apparently it was erected as thanks for no Portuguese being sacrificed in WW2. The reason being, the fascist Salazar who was heading the crew, claimed neutrality. Apparently he died falling from a chair and hitting his head. They obviously didn’t have beanbags back then. Back on the 101 bus, ferry and then a bloody miracle… oh BJ you’ve done it again, the sun comes out as we reach the wharf.
MUGS TIP: Don’t waste your time or money going across the river to see Big Jesus.
We headed to nearby Comoba (Rua de S. Paulo 99, 1200-109 Lisboa) – a recommended coffee shop. After a bit of a stuff up between espresso and flat white Ms Chatter got a great cup of coffee.
We ordered fish tacos (€12) to share – not cheap however the waitress forgot to place the order and after 20 minutes no fish so they apologised profusely and didn’t charge us for the coffees. The barista was an Australian lad from Geelong but had no beard so I couldn’t take him that seriously. Great coffee though.
Up the hill – again for a rest. That evening we headed about a pleasant ten minutes walk to a local cafe we located on the net, Restaurante Churrasqueira da Paz (R. Paz 80, 1200-320 Lisboa). Honest homemade fare was the claim on TripAdvisor. Laminex tables with butchers paper. Dad grilling fish as you came in the joint was great to see.
A bloke who looked like one of the Beagle Boys showed us to a table jammed against the wall. I ordered a large draft beer and the girl a carafe of white. Alongside us sat an older couple from Sheffield. Good company. They said they’d been here before and had even been that morning for breakfast. I ordered grilled chicken and Ms Chatter the grilled sea bass. A young French couple sat nearby and Ms Chatter started the standard interrogation – where from? Married? Children? Another big beer and discussions with Mr Sheffield about his team Sheffield United and his dislike of Sheffield Wednesday. He informed me that the Hammers had beaten Man U the previous evening. Bravo. About €24 got us out of trouble and back up the hill.
DAY 3 : The Tile (Azulejo) Museum and our best Lisbon Coffee and Dinner.
After another ample Janelas breakfast and the realisation that I had thought the lovely young man serving breakfast was called Homola was actually called Romola. Wasn’t game to look up what Homola meant in Portuguese. Lovely chap, he’d studied International Relations at University. It seemed like most people in Portugal studied this as we came across quite a few other young punks who’d studied the same discipline.
We went down the hill again with the wearisome realisation we would be trudging back up again later in the day. We went to the beautiful Oriente Square and boarded the 728/794 bus to the museum. We – I mean Ms Chatter got talking to a young Korean couple. Trip took about twenty minutes past the Alfama district to an area that had seen better days. It was a few hundred metres from the bus stop to the Azulejo Museum – a few euros in with the Senor discount.
Everything in Portugal seems a work in progress either being restored, tarted up or knocked down. The museum is housed in the grounds of a convent and the church and there are sumptuous, intricate timber ceilings. A video told us that the term azulejo is preferred over tiles – it probably means you can charge more too – a bit like being called a hairdresser as opposed to a barber.
One of the most interesting tile pieces was on the first floor. It is a panoramic view of Lisbon from the river in your standard blue and white tiles. This was done before the cataclysmic earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 1758.
We caught the 794 bus out on the main drag back to Lisbon Centro and popped into a newly opened coffee shop Neighbourhood (Largo do Conde Barão 25, 1200-163 Lisboa), recommended by Mr Marionette. Lovely airy feel with excellent coffee. Spoke to Ricky who had opened the joint with his younger brother.
Coffee was so so good I had another (we will be back). Onto the Time Out Markets nearby. It was lunchtime but I’d had a ham and cheese croissant at Neighbourhood so we could only fit in yet another Portuguese tart at one of the many shops in the market – before we waddled, again, up the hill to Casa Janelas.
That evening we headed to a restaurant Ricky had recommended, Taberna da Rua das Flores (Rua das Flores 103, 1200-213 Lisboa). We shared three small dishes (pestiscos)- white fish cerveche , grilled pork and garlic shrimp on skewers – delicious. The only hiccup was a translation of carafe of wine became crap wine which caused a momentary stink. The menu comes to you on a blackboard and is explained.
With beer and a of carafe of wine it was quite reasonable value. There was a constant stream of punters trying to get a table, poking their heads in the door. A guy would take names but it looked an arbitrary system. If you arrived at a suitable time when a table was free he just slotted you in. Go early and take cash – no cards.
DAY 4 : Sintra and the crowds and Quinta Regalia
We caught an Uber down to Oriente Station (€2.8) from Casa Janelas. Up the escalators we used our Zapping Cards to enter platform (€2.5). The train was packed so I rode shotgun on our two bags for the 45 minute train ride to Sintra. Passed town after town of high rise apartments and the inevitable graffiti – everywhere.
During the journey I had a chance to check out your typical post-middle aged Portuguese couple. One word comes to mind. Short. They are all fundamentally midgets. There must have been a lot of Snow White acts doing the Porto to Lisbon circuit in the 1950s. The women, mostly of solid stock tend to dye what was once black hair but they don’t quite pull it off. Most men have moustaches and most keep their hair. Bastards. I couldn’t live here.
Off the train at Sintra there is your usual hordes. Chancer cabs, tour operators selling their once in a lifetimes and older confused tourists reading large maps. I called an Uber (€2.8). Victor was our driver. Vic was upset that one prick had given him just two stars that morning. Why? His car was clean, he was efficient. I tried to discuss the ‘master servant power relationship’ with Vitor but he was more than happy to self flagellate.
We arrived at the Casa Midoura (Rua Sotto Mayor 55, 2710-628 Sintra : (€95 a night) . An elegant three story mansion five minutes walk down the hill from the old (historico) section of Sintra. An efficient welcome and we were shown to Room 7 (of course on the third floor). Lovely views below to the sea. We discovered stately lounge rooms to louche around in with copies of recent editions of the New York Times. There was also an honour drinks system. I found this deeply challenging.
After a freshen up we headed via foot up the hill (of course) to the old town and then headed about a further kilometre up the hill to Quinta Regalia. Our senior discount worked a treat halving the toll down to €5. We wandered the lovely grounds, full of follies for a couple of hours then walked home. Worth a visit but go early or late.
For dinner we went to Dom Pippas via Uber. Every time I tried for a ride I was “being connected to 8 nearby drivers”. We were early – around 7.00pm. A taciturn Dom Pippas himself took us to the table. No small talk – no personality just a world worn look of a bloke who’d had to deal with thousands of fat, dull Poms, Germans and Yanks for far too long.
There was an average acrylic painting of the Dom tucked away in a corner. A young bloke, João, who spoke perfect English arrived and we ordered the sardines and the rabbit. All good. Two Pommy couples plonked down alongside. One fat crew-cut joker dropped his wallet and got a tad shirty with a throw-away line I sent his way. They ordered Mateus Rose. No DNA testing required. A half bottle of green wine and a beer did the trick and probably cost all up €30.
DAY 5: Sintra and the Pena Palace
Breakfast at Casa Midoura was an extra €10 pp and we availed ourselves of it. It was on the lower floor that looked out onto the landscaped grounds. A couple of young Filipino girls were wrangling breakfast. The scrambled eggs with fried prosciutto were excellent along with the freshly squeezed orange juice.
It was then off via Uber to the Pena Palace. We were lucky we’d bought tickets online and so waltzed in. . By the time we were in the lines were starting to snake up and the tour groups were gathering. The rooms are magnificent.
MUG’S TIP: For all Sintra sights book your tickets in advance from https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/commercial-area/ticket-office-2/ and get there early in the morning or late afternoon
We then headed down through the forest a further 20 minutes to the Moorish Palace. Our Pena ticket didn’t give us entry so a few more Euros and we started rock climbing. Fundamentally this is a series of rock walls with equally great views. A cynic could say just a bunch of rocks. Luckily I was in a good mood after the scrambled eggs.
The walk back down into the town of Sintra was sheltered by the forrest. Pleasant. Came across a couple of large Yanks (is there another kind?) that were starting the climb up the hill on the edge of the town. I advised them they wouldn’t make it and to go to the Quinta Regalia instead. In the interests of good cross-Pacific relations I made no reference to the fact that both were porky and already puffing.
That night a recommendation to go to a dinner joint backfired. We’d read on TripAdvisor the owner was a dick. But we Ubered into Sintra and met Mr Dick in a tired restaurant. I wanted to exit but I think Ms Chatter feared we would have a bottle of port broken over our heads. We ordered the safest menu options – grilled sea bass and sardines. Both were ordinary as was the service and the whole deal. We heard that Incomum, while a tad expensive is quite good.
DAY 6 : Sintra Rattle and Hum
Next day was the rattle tram that leaves Sintra and heads to the coast to Praia das Maçãs, 13km to the west. The Sintra tram uses classic 1930 Brill trams. The old tram leaves from a virtually unmarked destination near the Sintra Modern Art Museum. With the senior discount it was a ripping €2 each for the half hour trip. The driver wrestles the controls as it stumbles around corners, screeching and farting. A real hoot and a must do.
You arrive at the beach and there’s dirty dark brown sand, black rocks and a raging surf. The summer hordes have gone and it looks like a seedy beachside joint for perverts and luckless retirees. The walk along the cliffs reveals further black rocks, fishermen and no real way to have a walk along the beach. A crap coffee and an old Portuguese tart compliment things nicely.
We call an Uber (€8) and get driven to Palacio Monserrate. A little gem in beautiful gardens. We’d booked online but as it is a little out the way of the heathen hordes but there was no need.
As we walked down through the gardens there was a very strange occurrence. In front of us two chaps in their late twenties with identical backpacks were ‘prodding’ their girlfriends from behind in unison as they stepped down the path. It was like watching some weird mating ritual. They were most likely JWs or Masons on break. Strange.
An Uber home to Casa Midoura and that night we returned to Dom Pippas as it seemed there wasn’t much else of value in Sintra.
DAY 7 : A long train trip to Tomar (Toomar)
Grabbed a 10:30am train from Sintra to Oriente. Although our tickets to Tomar were from San Apollonia- it passed through Oriente. We had time to explore the large shopping centre nearby before our departure. Nothing new just a centre flogging the usual. An outlet of a shopping chain named Pull & Bear tweaked my fancy for some reason. On the way back there was a group of modern dances performing on the ground floor of the station, wonderful. I watched while Ms Chatter went back to buy water.
We were in first class to Entroncamento and then peasant class to Tomar. Trying to work out where the first class carriages are in Portugal is a bit like train roulette. Talked to a couple of Yanks and they’d bet on the front end. I knew it was a 50-50 call. Wrong they were down the back. Scramble. Ms Chatter got into the right carriage but myself and an elderly woman (well older than me) couldn’t get the connecting door open because some doofus had jammed their bags against the door. Fortunately Pedro the Buffet Man stuck his head through and in what was a send-off told said fool to pull his bags and finger out of the way.
We arrived in Tomar finally and dragged our bags for over a kilometre and a half to the old part of the town. It was hot and Tomar wasn’t giving a good first impression. It’s actually pronounced in some quarters as Too-mar which must send the shivers up the Yanks. We went past the church square and turned right into Rua Serpent Pinto and found our digs in the main drag. This was a cheap joint – Residencial Uniao (Rua Serpa Pinto Nº94, 2300-592 Tomar: €45 a night). We dragged our bags up to the first floor reception and hit the bell. An affable signor appeared, did the deeds and took us around the corner to Room 103 overlooking the Serpent. Old, a bit torn but fine.
After a shower, headed out and across the Nabão river. There was a lovely park at the end of the street. Found a pub that had decent beer. Ms Chatter extracted a restaurant recommendation from the young barman. No 60 just across the road. But sadly it had wrapped up lunch and wasn’t open for dinner on that night. We found an obviously named joint on the Serpent called “Drinks” (R. Serpa Pinto 41 2300).
We avoided the gasper brigade outside and went into the wine area. They looked serious with a lot of wine. We struck up a conversation with two keen goggle-eyed gents. We settled for wine with a goats cheese and assorted meats. Bread, olives and home fried crisps accompanied. With three glasses of good wine it came to a cheap €14.
DAY 8: Tomar, Knights Templar and a great lunch
Next day it was the Convent of the Corpus Christi. The Knights Templar joint. Possibly one of the only reasons people go to the Tomar. We started with a milk coffee at Cafe Parisienne from one of the shortest waiters I’d seen in this country – so far. He obviously had a lot of competition but I think ‘Danny’ was the runt of the litter. Ms Chatter got talking to two lovely brothers from the Azores Islands and we noted they had tostas (toasted sangers) so we ordered one – nothing better than ham and cheese.
MUGS TIP: The Portuguese aren’t big on breakfast so a Tostas (toasted sanger) is often your best bet in a cafe.
We wandered up (always up in Portugal) a track that went from the church square. About a kilometre. It was 10.00am and there was already a couple of tour groups lining up. It looked like pensioner groups from Lisbon. Short and dark. Ms Chatter pushed in without fear of the wee people. It’s a wonderful place. Full of Emanuele flourishes and the chapel alone is worth it. I will not bore you with the wonderful history of the Knights Templar but Tomar is worth the detour just for the Convent of the Corpus Christi. Come early to avoid the crowds.
For lunch we went to the recommended Tabernaculo Do Rio ( Rua Marques de Pombal, 60) which is the across-river extension of the Rua Serpente Pinto. The cook and part owner was a lovely, world weary woman with a wry smile. Only her mother was sitting in the restaurant. She did it all. There were two dishes on the menu. Well by menu I mean the oral menu. We selected both and a couple of small draft beers. The first was pork and pippies in a tomato base sauce with croutons – wonderful, tasty dish. The second was a pasta of minced beef and cheese – once agin full of flavour. They were served with bread and a small tomato salad. We cleaned it up. The bill came in at a ridiculously cheap €13.23.
That night we went back to Drinks and sat out the front with the pilgrims, Russian drunks and a tiny local old geezer who we saw all over the joint drinking wine, smoking and chattering, mainly to himself. We ordered a couple of burgers and a beer and wine.
That evening we were roused from our sleep by marauding students from the Tomar University. The first few groups at around midnight sang but then it descended into your normal dead shit drunken banter. Unfortunately there was nothing heavy enough I could throw from our balcony that would cause death to the caped clowns so we just rolled over. There is, in most Portuguese university towns, a sense that once these toads put on a cape they can with absolute impunity become as dull as all. I think if I were to live over here I’d form a select group to hunt them down. Nothing too nasty, just a net, some rope and a large vat of manure.
DAY 9: Roman aqueducts just outside Tomar
Next day after tostas and milk coffee from Danny Devito at the Cafe Paraiso we headed to the rail station to buy our next day tickets to Coimbra. It was a joyful experience as our Billiteria Bill had obviously just had his daily turd sandwich. He forensically examined our drivers licences. He scowled and grunted as he reluctantly pushed across our two tickets. I’d suggest if he could have farted as well he would have.
Job done we then sauntered across the road to the taxi rank to negotiate a return ride out to the Aqueduct. It’s about three kilometres uphill and out of town and too far for normal people to walk. Pilgrims with silly sticks and mad Northern Europeans may disagree. Settled on 15€ set fare and we were off with Tomar’s shortest taxi driver. I checked to see if he was sitting on a pillow. No. I guess he’d had his seat raised. He was a cheery chap who spoke no English. He wasn’t taking chances of the meter getting anywhere near 15€ and drove like a demon.
The Aqueduct was built by the Knights to deliver water six kilometres to the Convent. Our driver was proud of the thing and stopped a few times to allow us to take plenty of photos. Definitely worth a visit. We got our driver to drop us near our digs and F1 Freddy pocketed the €3 difference as a tip. He smiled broadly and I felt like telling him to go and cheer up Bill at the station but I think it may have been lost in translation.
That night we returned to Tabernaculo Do Rio. Not many in again and an English group pipped us at the post by ordering first. By the time we got to order there was only a chicken dish left. We shared it and it was equally delightful and so cheap again.
DAY 10 : Heading to Coimbra
We had an 11am start to Coimbra. Danny D served us our regular tostas and coffee and I thought I detected that he was in a good mood when he actually nodded. Our train wasn’t too full and after about an hour and a bit we got off in the middle of nowhere. We had 15 minutes to the next train and there were four platforms. There were two girls equally confused. We made the right choice. Another hour and half and we alighted at Coimbra A.
We dragged our bags a short way from the station to our Air B&B. It was at the end of a bit of a tourist strip. We found no 5. There was an optometrist shop there. Ms Chatter went in and the charming young woman took us to an ancient lift and we went up to the fourth floor. All good and our host Sara welcomed us and we went up another 20 steps to our rented joint. Tiny but good. No view but a small kitchen. The shower was a tad small. I reckon it’s trapped a few fatties in its time.
The efficient Ms Chatter had booked us into a guided tour of the University at 4:30pm. www.uc.pt/en/informacaopara/visit/contact. A bit of a steep climb up the hill and we were there in twenty minutes. At 15€ it was well worth it and it departed from the main courtyard. Went to three locations but the gem is the Library. Due to the huge number of Waddles on Tour that flow through daily we were limited to just twenty minutes. About 5,000 books up to the ceiling and a very impressive interior. We’d looked at a few rooms prior and one with all the chancellors peering down at you was damming evidence that most academics are pretty dull characters. The ceiling was interesting. It was badly done. I’d say Pedro the Brush may have been a bit pissed when restoring it.
That night we went to Taberna Laura (R. dos Gatos 12, 3000-150 Coimbra) just down the river-end of our street. A lovely Brazilian waiter was initially confused by irony but soon got into the swing. This was interesting food but with very strange presentation. Three dishes. A pork dish with an accompaniment of bacon infused greens, crumbed sardine fillets presented pegged to mini- clothes line and a roasted spatchcock impaled in a dish on a ceramic spike in the middle – called “naughty chicken”. We had it with a bottle of nice red (14€). Great food but you began to wonder about what chef did in his spare time.
DAY 11: ‘Ruined’ in Coimbra but fine with a bit of free Fado
On the main drag we had two ordinary and cold lattes and I availed myself of a cold crumbed stick of sausage meat. It was like someone had crumbed a whole swag of Pecks Paste.
I got suckered into it when I saw a short local businessman tuck into one. It was in appearance a bit like a mini-Chiko Roll. Should have known that not all locals are good eaters. It was all a bit dull, cold and tasted like poor man’s pate. We had a bit of time to fill in so we poked around the ally ways and early on it was mainly locals shopping for meat and veg. Miss Chatter was in looking for a bargain at yet another bag and shoe shop and I Just happened to come across a lingerie shop titled Miss Curvey that stocked your XXL undergarments. I was peering in jthe window just checking out what price you’d have to pay for a really good big bra when a short elderly local female brisked past and looked at me as if I’d just got out of the slammer.
We then headed to a decent size supermarket. We stocked up on a bit of fruit and cheese but I was particularly taken with your older style butcher carving up a roast pig and offering samples. Lovely.
We then headed down to a stop near Coimbra A Station to get the 12.30 bus to some Roman ruins. It was about a 40 minute trip and we’d planned to do a quick tour then hop on a bus back leaving 40 minutes later. Sadly no one told us that on a Sunday that particular bus wasn’t a go. So after doing the Roman Empire Express Style we had another two hours to kill. Some lovely mosaics and a little museum but I’m not sure whether it’s a must unless you have a stiffy for your Roman ruins. On the way back our bus was driven by Pedro Knievel. He was either pissed or on a promise.
I only had a scant understanding of Fado. But we headed to free rehearsal at a bar within 300 metres of where we were staying. Cafe Santa Cruz (Praca 8 de Maio) was next to the church. We got there ten minutes before the showtime of 6:00pm . It was packed but Ms Chatter thugged her way onto a table occupied by a couple of reserved Germans. I knew we had nothing in common when I spied a set of walking sticks. Ordered drinks. Two young guitarists emerged followed by an older gent. I was expecting mournful tunes that may border on dull – like our Kraut table companions. But I was wrong. Our singer – a tenor – was wonderful and the guitarists excellent. One played a lute like instrument. A great time. Recommended, but get there half an hour before the Germans and have a drink.
That night we went to a ‘boutique’ style of eatery. Goggles at the front was a tad snappy for my liking and told us to wait. I thought that was his job? I wanted to leave. Ms Chatter told me to settle. We were eventually taken to our table by a large female who had the personality of very plain wallpaper. We ordered two malt Sagres beers and three dishes. The first was “Hunting Sausage”. I was thinking a decent gamey snag. But what arrived was a weird melange of the slightly cooked sausage meat in an omelette and spinach mix. It seemed like chef had taken a few of this morning’s crumbed babies and just winged it. A sliced duck breast on a mound of pumpkin sauce was next. Nice duck but chef, pumpkin? Chef was on track however with his garlic prawns with baby eels. All up not too much damage at €25.
DAY 12: Coimbra still – across the River to Santa Clara and some bones to chew on
With not much to on our last day in Coimbra we walked across the bridge near the station to Santa Clara.
There was an interesting coffee shop/ wine bar/art gallery there called Galeria Bar Santa Clara (Rua António Augusto Gonçalves 67) we had some wine and beer but it looked as if it was just tostas and tapas. It however looks interesting and is in a lovely setting – perhaps an evening joint. I’d noted a little joint on the way and we retraced our way and called in to Cantinas dos Notres. Ordered the goat in red wine to share. With a beer and a little salad, rice and a scattering of chips. Quite good fare at all up €12.
That evening we actually lined up 20 minutes before the opening of Restaurant Zé Manel Dos Ossos (Beco do Forno 12, 3000-382 Coimbra). There were 8 people before us in a bright red ally way. The numbers grew quickly. We got talking to an English couple and their two kids who were living in Portugal. Unfortunately they had dogs with them and couldn’t get in. May have been a dog and bone issue.
It opened at 7:30pm however prior to that a chap went down the line ascertaining table numbers. The menu is in Portuguese so ‘bone’ up on the menu before you go and get there 30 minutes before opening. Yes the pork bones are the speciality. I panicked when quite a few of the dishes I’d considered were off! Settled for the pork bones and grilled lamb steak. The bones were good. The lamb average. But a worthwhile experience and we only had a little way to waddle home.
DAY 13 : Heading north to Porto
On the train to Aveiro we were sitting near an old Canadian pilgrim who was being tutored by a nice Portuguese bloke that he had to change at Aveiro on the way to Porto. The Portuguese guy extracted from the conductor that it was Linhas 1. Which was subsequently confirmed at Aveiro by the only helpful station staff chap we’d met so far. We had 12 minutes to negotiate the change. When it arrived we rushed to get into car 22 and our allocated seats – it was chockers having come from Lisbon.
The very small luggage space was full and when I tried to put my case on top of another soft bag (big enough to hold a panzer tank) all hell broke loose. Adolf and Helga started fuhrering. They said in clipped English “put it above your seat”. I suggested if they moved their circus sized bag the whole carriage could shove their gear in the space. I complied as Helga looked like she may have had a Maschinengewehr 42 in her bag. At Porto (Campania) we passed the Hitlers on the way out. Looking dull and unhappy. Sadly I couldn’t resist a final childish jibe as we passed. It may have referenced something that happened in 1945. A 4€ Uber to Sweet Porto by Bloom in the Bolhao area of Porto (Rua de Santa Catarina, nº 504 /512). They give you a complimentary mobile to travel around the city with plus a small bottle of port. Lovely.
The digs were wonderful. We couldn’t get in straight away and had a geek around Rua de Santa Catarina. A bustling pedestrian mall with everything from low to high class tat, a Nutella joint and sundry tourist traps. We headed down to another tiled church, then around the corner a bit to a decent coffee shop, Bird of Passage (Rua do Duque de Loulé 185). Quite funky with a roaster out the back. The coffee was creamy and a tad under strength but possibly the third best we’d come across. They didn’t miss you at €3 a cup. An enthusiastic Croation kid was twiddling the knobs and I noted avo mash on the menu with a Porto twist. Worth a visit but if you like a strong coffee order a triple shot.
We showered and headed off for a ‘free’ guided tour leaving Libratore Square at 4:20pm (down the bottom end – near McDonalds). We looked for the orange umbrellas. An effervescent young girl, Dianna was our English speaking guide (Pancho was the group). We met under another statue of another dude on a horse. It was more a cultural tour so we went around all the significant areas and included a stop for a beer break. It was worth it. Dianne was fun and we tipped her €15. She had all the right info for me and mentioned that Porto and Lisbon have rivalry and that Portonians consider the Lisbon beer, Sagres, to be “horse piss”.
On our tour we’d gone past a highly recommended grilled chicken joint – Pedro dos Frangos (Rua do Bonjardim 223 312, 4000-124 Porto). So we returned that evening. . It was full. You can sit at the bar by standing up and waiting till someone leaves after stuffing a whole chook down their guts. There is plenty of seating upstairs. Just order the chicken and chips with a salad. Enough for two. The grilled chicken with fries is €10.50. You pour over the piri piri sauce. I ordered a large beer and a pint came. Yee har!!!!
DAY 14: Porto – Ribeira all the tiaras and tats
We tried to find another coffee shop. We headed for Combi. Ordinary. The guy wasn’t coping. I headed back to Bloom to watch the RL Grand Final. Ms Chatter went shopping or to church (same thing really) and I had some chocolate and port for breakfast. Breakfast of scoundrels. We headed down to the river. The Ribeira. It was hot. All the Tatts and Tiaras were on display at the waterfront bars.
We walked across the bridge and then returned. Porto looked magnificent.
We looked for a lunch place just off the water. We went into one called Vime (R. Nova da Alfândega 12, 4050-253 Porto). I’d been itching to try the infamous Porto sandwich the Francesinha (means ‘Frenchie’ in Portuguese) . It was on the menu so what could I do. Ms Chatter had the sensible and tasty Duck Rice. The Francesinha is a gut busting sandwich of thin steak, bacon/’wet’ ham and sausage encased in two slices of white bread followed by a layer of melted cheese that’s then sat in a spicy tomato & beer sauce. Oh yes, then there’s a fried egg on top and a side of chips (€12). Washed it down with a dark beer. Only just managed to waddle up the hill to our digs while wondering if the nearest hospital had a decent cardio unit.
DAY 15: Porto – Tram 1 out to the Atlantic.
Had a good triple shot at the Bird of Passage and headed down to the river and managed to get on the Tram 1 out to the sea at Foz. The lineups for this baby get long on weekends and in summer. Get there early in the morning. It’s €3.5 one-way or €5 return. A young bloke in his early thirties asked if this was Linhas One? Sounded like one of your Frogs. In the spirit of cultural cooperation I said “Oui. Then the piece of ‘merde’ cut in at the front of the line as did a few others….Detente be buggered. No dramas plenty of room as it was early. It’s a good trip along the river and we got off a stop before the end of the line and walked. Small fishing boats along the way with old salts talking about the ones that got away. Returned and went to a restaurant near Sao Bento station, “Restaurant Rapido”. They were booked out for lunch but snuck us in. Food wasn’t bad. We had grilled marinated octopus that was so tender it was almost fish-like and some cod balls. Not bad but would only go there if I wanted a quick lunch before catching a train.
DAY 16: Train from Porto to Douro and Dodgem Cars
Breakfast in our rooms at the wonderful Sweet Porto. Then an easy drag of bags downhill to Sao Bento. We’d got the “senor” train discount and had paid the princely sum of €5 each. Got there 25 minutes before and the train from the Douro had just arrived. We sat on the right hand side heading to get the water views of the big river Douro. There were glimpses at the beginning but then not much until we got close to Régua.
Got out at Régua at dragged bags 600m down the hill to Eurocar. Lovely young guy Renate looked after us. Ms Chatter was designated driver as I don’t do “stick” as the Americans strangely say – only automatics. Once set up we went 300m further down the road to the Wine Museum. At €2 for the esteemed senor it was quite good. Sadly the tasting room was closed. Went out onto a terrace where there was a bar and had a couple of nice glasses of wine and looked out over the river.
It was crunch time. We had heard that the 20km drive to Covelinhas where we were staying was challenging. It was. So much so most people sound their horns before every corner. No guard rails. And a very sharp drop of a few hundred metres to add spice to the adventure. When we arrived at Quinta Das Travessa (Covelinhas) it was a great relief. We were welcomed by our hostess Christina with freshly made lemonade and then went to our wonderful room with river and vineyard views. There are only three large rooms with en-suites.
MUG’S TIP: Stay at Quinta Das Travessa and enjoy the wonderful three course meal every night with Christina and Nuno
That evening we were treated to a magnificent three course meal (at an additional cost of 25€ per person). The roast pork was exceptional as was Nuno’s wine and port. Christina makes most things that are served including the jams at breakfast. A good breakfast was included in the per night fee.
DAY 17: Into Pinhao on the train
The train into Pinhao from the little unmanned and deserted Covelinhas rail station was 30 minutes late. In Pinhao the hordes were gathering. They were after the Douro wine experience and there were lots of buses. We decided we’d just get a bottle of rose by the river (€8) and sat back and looked up to the magnificent vineyards that stretched up the steep and very high banks of the Douro River.
We wandered back up town and for a euro each we trained it back home for recovery before Christina’s next wonderful meal. Goats cheese and home grown tomato’s drizzled in their own olive oil for starters followed by a wonderful duck rice. The cream fraiche cake and strawberries with port was the knockout. Oh dear something has to give soon.
Day 18: A cruise on the Douro and a Vineyard Tour
Next day we trained into Pinhao on the 9.20am and did an hour boat trip. Good. Don’t do the two hour trip unless looking at hills and vines are big in your life. On return we walked across the bridge to Quinta das Carvalhas (on the left as soon as you cross the bridge).
For €12.50 each we did a magnificent 90 minute vineyard tour to the top of the mountain – well hill – it was 550m from the river. Fernando was a passionate guide. Getting us to crush native sage and rosemary and picking grapes from the 100 yo vines. He reckoned there were 42 different varieties in one patch alone. A taste of their ruby and tawny ports then back across the river to catch the train back to Covelinhas.
MUG’S TIP: Do the one hour river cruise as well as the Quinta das Carvalhas tour
Another culinary triumph courtesy of Cristina and Nuno. We were joined by a young Israeli couple and an older Kiwi couple – good fun.
DAY 19: Douro Valley & back to Porto
Next morning said goodbye to our hosts and Ms Chatter ably steered our vehicle back to Ragua. What a gut wrenching drive! We then waited for the Porto train and by 12:40 we were marching up the hill from Sao Bento to our Airbnb palace. Our host Ana had been a bit tardy in sending entry details but after a solid thugging in English and Portuguese she parted with details. The apartment was magnificent when we finally got in with the help of two Canadian girls on the same floor. The lock was tricky. (Rua do Almada 295, 4000 Porto).
We then went to lunch the nearby Conga (Rua do Bonjardim 318, 4000-115 Porto – opposite the chicken joint) for a small bifano & chips. Two pints later Ms Chatter wanted to climb the nearby Clérigos Tower. I decided that the cardio unit was too far away and sat on the steps and watched a tuk tuk driver samba with a plump fellow driver. It wasn’t pretty.
That evening the waist took a belting with a return to the grilled chicken joint. Portugal were playing Luxembourg so the place was almost empty except for us and sundry Chinese.
DAY 20: Day Trip to Guimares and the wonderful Palais des duc de Bragance
A decent coffee at Moustache (Praça de Carlos Alberto 104, 4050-159 Porto) with a good croissant. The reason I say a good croissant is that some joints serve up third division ones that obviously aren’t made on butter and they taste like shit. Down to Sao Bento for a 10.20am trip to Guimares (€3.7 return for codgers). Hopped off the full train, turned right when you get out and follow those with back packs down the hill. Veer left at the church and you’ll see the tour buses. Wander up the hill to Le Palais des duc de Bragance.
With a French influence in the design what they now call a palace was built as a manor house in the 1400s by the first Duke of Bragança. Apparently someone felt it needed to have 39 chimneys.
It’s all been restored from 1937 onwards. The timber boat shaped ceilings and the tapestries are wonderful.
Afonso Henriques and his allies fought and won the key Battle of São Mamede (1128) nearby. Guimarães Castle (just 100m away) became one of the greatest historical symbols of Portugal. There’s a lovely statue of Afonso as you approach both buildings. If it’s still on get a combined ticket (€5.5)to the exhibition of medieval torture devices. Man those tykes sure knew how to split a heretic. It gave me a few ideas that I considered applying to some of the English tourists that were always going past and annoyingly saying “You know what I mean?”
The nearby squares down the hill are full of touristo tucker and you should be able to feed and water for two for under €25. The couple, (I guessed German as they had that haughty air about them) on the next table, got some sort of dick-like bratwurst on a little ceramic dish with fire and coals. I was envious as I’d been suckered into a very nice, slimming tagliatelle al gorgonzola for €7.5. I consoled myself with the thought that no doubt the sausage contained a considerable amount of carcinogens.
We returned to Porto by train and that night we left our AirBnB and sauntered 10 metres to a little bar – Almadd Minha (Rua do Almada 291, 4050-038 Porto). Knock yourself out.
They had cocktails so we lashed out on a whisky sour and a margarita for €6 each. An extravagance but then some free tapas came. A couple of lovely Portuguese girls at the next table, Jennifer and Claudette, alerted us to the deal of ‘tapas circuit’ that was running that weekend across Porto in a number of locations. So we secured a couple of pastry style things covered in a sweet sauce matched with a couple of double malt Estrella beers for a total of €6.
DAY 21: A fancy Porto breakfast joint across the Douro and more tapas
The rain had finally come. Not much just enough to wet your duds and make you inconveniently slip arse over tit on the cobblestones. Down to the Douro and across the bridge to the area where the Big Port Wine people hustle tourists with tastings from the bottom of the barrel.
We were in search of a decent coffee joint and came across “7G” (Rua Franca 52, 4400-174 Vila Nova de Gaia). It was a roasting concern and breakfast place/cafe that seemed to be part of an apartment complex. The coffee was very good but the scrambled eggs and bacon was a bit hit and miss. The joint was humming.
Ms Chatter was keen to get into Igreja de São Francisco ( Rua do Infante D. Henrique – near where we took the tram out to Foz). A museum as well as the gold bedecked church cost €7.5 per person. I passed on the deal not wanting to put any loose change in Pell and Pope’s already fat pockets. Ms Chatter came back to our palace with a photo of a painting from the museum. Well I’ve heard of clergy flagellating themselves but this was gold glass.
That night we hopped on the tapas trail and found a sports bar nearby that was doing panko crumbed chicken strips with lime aioli plus the beers. Netherlands were playing Belarus. The next bar was quite but had a lovely bifano. All good for €3 a go with beer.
DAY 22: To Lisbon by train and the bloody Alfama Hobbit’s House
Next morning it was drag bag. Sao Bento to Campanhã then to Lisbon (€16). We got there early to secure some luggage holders on the train but it was being cleaned and they didn’t let us on til 15 minutes before departure. I took pole position and despite some attempts at sly moves by the ‘pilgrims’ I kept the hordes at bay with a bit of strategic bag placement. Try and get past and go under the wheels type of placement. A nice train. Full, but plenty of leg room. A bit under three hours.
Unfortunately there was a loud mouthed Yank behind with his mousey spousey and quieter cross-aisle companions. They spent the first hour of the trip discussing the merits of certain seats on various planes and then king turd got up rearranging his above head gear and pushing his fat arse in my face. Fortunately I had headphones and music to drown out Bore FM. Such are the joys of travel. Sadly passports are issued without intelligence or simple travel protocol tests.
A drag a bag from Sant Apollonia Station (Lisbon) to our ABnB in the Alfama district. It’s cheap and I’m not expecting much. The Alfama district is known for its Fado clip joints – average meals with often ordinary music. Having heard and enjoyed our one and only Fado experience in Coimbra we had decided to grab a bit of tucker and get ready for an early train to Évora.
Expectations for our Alfama hovel were downgraded. A nice young man let us in. That was the highlight. It was next to the Memmo Hotel. Firstly you had to bend your head to get in the front door and then there was a jumble of a kitchen and bathroom suitable only for midgets. The area came to probably a total of four square metres. Upstairs was no better. It was simply a cheap shithole. What was stunning was the reviews on AirBnB . A few were “charming little cottage” and “tastefully decorated”. Well charming perhaps if you were a hunchback on holiday and tasteful if you like pea green shag rugs and tiger stripe pillows. Most of the reviews came from people like Doreen from Scunthorpe and Ester from Woodend.
Apparently this area was once inhabited by Visigoths. An afternoon walk around the Alfama showed that there are still a few of them here. Surprisingly, in the middle of October, there were enough stupid people wandering aimlessly around the cobblestoned streets gawping at fuck all. If you really want to hear Fado buy a CD and play it when you’ve drunk a dozen schooners of cheap wine. Frankly I wouldn’t bother ever coming back to this area of Lisbon. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it was a real pity the big 1755 earthquake spared this apocryphal area.
However we found a good little bar serving tapas and craft beers. Stuck to the beer. Ended up chatting to lovely young couple from Ireland. Jimmy and Enya. Jimmy was in logistics for Nike. Champion folk. We went onto to a tiny joint with its walls covered with graffiti – not bad stuff.
DAY 23: Leaving Alfama (thank heavens) for Evora by Train and then a drive to Vila Vicosi
A sleepless night in our hobbit hovel wasn’t helped by a 2am washing of the cobblestones by a couple of staff from nearby Hotel Memmo. Obviously there was a competition between the two of them of who had the shiniest rocks. Jesarse. Had scheduled a 7:30am Uber to Oriente Station for a ninety minute train trip to Évora.
Jawa Sheikh was the name of our driver. He told us he was from Pakistan. He said his real profession was as an Urdu poet. He also mentioned that he was quite famous in India. I was not sure if this was the LA equivalent of a waiter telling you he is an actor. Anyway I checked on You Tube and there he is performing in Urdu and he is famous.
For a few shekels more we’d booked first class to Évora (€7). The carriage wasn’t full so I decided to keep our bags on the ground. Unfortunately the conductor was skilled in very little and demanded I put them in the overhead racks. Thanks Adolf.
A cab from the station to Evora Hertz (Thrifty) and Claudio sorted us into a small Renault. It was already equiped with inbuilt navigation. Car hire was through Rentalcars.com for three days. You get shivved at the counter for insurance so I’d arranged online insurance for just €22 via Rentalcover.com. It’s a good idea to activate the automatic toll device at the car hire joint (€1.5 a day) in case you stray or wish to go on the A roads. We stuck mostly to the N roads and they were fine.
After a bit of a navigation stuff up on my part we finally arrived at Vila Vicosi around lunchtime. It’s one of the three “marble towns” near to the Spanish Border. It was quiet. Most places out of the reach of the tourist boats and busses are.
We dropped our bags at the magnificent Casa do Colegio Velho (Rua Dr. Couto Jardim, 34, 7160-263 Vila Viçosa). This joint is a palace. It was formerly owned by one of the better branches of the god botherers, the Jesuits. Bought by the current family in 1943 it has a great pool, beautiful gardens and great lounge rooms for guests. The rooms and bathrooms overlook the gardens. At €78 with a great breakfast it was stunning value. One of the children of the original owners, a lovely women in her 70s still owns the place and lives and works there. It was delight to hear the history from her. I’d stay there again.
Had a light lunch at Restaurant Safari around the corner as the wastrels at the Palace were on their 90 minute lunch break. The lunch specials were gone and the salad and omelette were underwhelming.
It was only 500 metres to the Renaissance palace, Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa. An impressive facade with a massive marble forecourt.
They didn’t offer the senor discount. It was €7 each. Obviously we were paying for their long lunches. We hooked onto a Portuguese guided tour. The guide had a high pitched voice and strangely lapsed into English a lot of the time. He was rather dour. I’d rate him an “F”. No one laughed so obviously he hadn’t nailed the historical jape as yet. They were cutting down on their electricity bills and so every room was dark and filled with furniture. Dull all round including the group. I had a feeling some of them may be practicing the dark arts on weekends.
Ms Chatter was keen to go to the Marble Museum so we headed around the corner. I loved the concept of a certain type of rock being honoured in such a way. We were the only ones there and it was free for codgers. Bonus. A young girl with a smattering of English showed us around. To be honest there was bugger all there but it filled an hour.
That evening we walked a short way through the deserted cobbled streets of Vila Vicosi to a newly opened Burger and Craft beer joint. Aptly named Craft BBS – Burgers, Beer, Spirits (Av. Duques de Bragança 9, 7160-209 Vila Viçosa).
It didn’t look promising. One young dude sweeping up outside. We went in. He followed and we ordered some beers. A wheat IPA and a standard IPA. Both excellent. Some droll piece of work had decided to name all the burgers on the menu after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We ordered a couple of Sneezies (€6.9 with home-fried potatoes) and weren’t disappointed. The “Snow White” was a codfish burger that was pitched on the menu as “Delicate but with a strong personality”. I think the concept could catch on back home in certain places. I’m thinking Cessnock would be just ripe for a Dwarf Burger Franchise.
DAY 24: Up the mountain to Marvão
Off mid-morning towards the Spanish border and the town of Marvão. A hill top walled town with allegedly only 120 inhabitants. After about an hour of driving we started the climb up. A further twenty minutes we were parked at the towns arched gate. It’s a bit of twist and turn so we decided that a five minute walk in with an overnight bag each may be judicious.
We found our digs – Dom Dinis Marvão (€72 with breakfast) right next to the Church Museum and Castle. A great location and a good room. A friendly chap by the name George checked our bags in. He suggested the buffet across the street (run by the Hotel of course) for lunch. The Castel. I availed myself of the three courses for €9. Excellent.
The Church Museum was tiny and had a rather large collection of timber religious figurines. For a €1 it was a bargain. It was however a rather eclectic collection. Some of the religious figurines definitely had the shits with their lot. There was an interesting set of fur pilgrim crawling pads that looked like they could double as twin merkins.
A stroll of a hundred metres saw us extort our way into the castle for a princely €1.5 for both of us. The young bloke in a smart red jacket was a tad peeved by having to hand out the senor discount. He wryly noted that it was soon going to stop for people outside the EU. I felt like saying that I wouldn’t pay anything over a euro to see his jumble of rocks. But of course I let it pass. He was probably related to all of the other 119 Marvaoites and had some kinship issues.
Forgetting all things the castle is a little gem. The views from the battlements across the valley and to Spain are wonderful.
There were only a few tourists around and the town was winding down for the winter. Varanda restaurant was open and a Chinese tour group were finishing their chow before heading back to heaven knows where. George who also checked us in at the Don Dimis waited our table. The poor bastard was knackered. He suggested a good local red for €15 but sadly the food was ordinary.
DAY 25 : Down the misty mountain and back to Evora.
An adequate breakfast assisted by Ms Chatter knocking off buns and cakes for our journey. She looked a bit like Billy Bunter’s sister Beryl as she shoved buns and a few Natas into her bag. Light misty rain made the drive down the hill challenging. In two hours we arrived back at Hertz in Evora. We had misunderstood the good humoured Claudio when he said that if the car was empty on return they would fill it up at normal cost. Sadly it had to be near empty and we would now be charged for a full tank. Well I’ll be. Fortunately he waited while we went and got topped up then called a cab for us. Well done Claudio.
A cab to the main square of Evora. It was misting rain as we trundled our bags 100m to the exotically named Hotel Riviero (Rua 5 de Outubro, 47-49, 7000-854 Évora – €72 a night with a continental breakfast an extra €5 each). On the tourist strip we mercifully got a small but adequate room out the back.
We headed to see the sights. Well let’s be clear I wouldn’t be heading to Evora to see the sights if I knew what I know now. For €7 you get to see the Capela dos Ossosa. A few walls of bones and a museum of religious statues. The oblique Christian logic to justify the sicko practice of putting the bones in was so that the mere mortals could see what was going to happen to them further down the track and start betting each-way on God.
The logic is exceptionally flawed as one only thinks of death only when you are old and about to die. I think it was all a bit of post justification by the Christians. I think they were simply short of cement that year.
I don’t know whether it was the drizzle or the bones but Evora was beginning to give me a case of the roaring shits.
Fortunately we lucked a great restaurant recommendation on Fodors, Adega do Alentejano (Rua Gabriel Vito Do Monte Pereira 21-A). We arrived down a cobbled goat track at 7:00pm and there were a few groups gathering around. The cook and the waiter dragged out a bin of vegetable waste and then opened the door. The little waiter with a permanent worried look showed the ten waiting people to tables and then read out the menu so that everyone could hear at once. He explained he only had three fish. The restaurant is famous for a meat soup. He came out of the kitchen and that was off. We opted for the tomato and bread soup. Magnificent. The black pork dish was also quite good and with half a litre of house Tinto we escaped for €22.
DAY 26: Much do about nothing in Evora but a good night on the grog
We wandered pretty aimlessly around Evora. I vetoed a trip out to see some stupid rocks poking out of the ground. We’d met a lovely Scottish couple the night before. Ronnie was a percussionist come academic that was about to present his thesis in a few days time in Evora. He was as ‘mad as a cut snake’ in a wonderful Scottish way and a lot of fun. We met up with him and his partner Christine at a wine tasting joint. It was called Enoteca Cartuxa (Rua de Vasco da Gama nº15, 7001-901 Évora) and it was showcasing its vineyard’s wines. Excellent. We tried quite a few reds and whites and I got talking to a lovely bloke Miguel at the bar. Miguel is what makes Portugal such a wonderful place to visit – generous and completely willing to share his great country with bumbling tourists like us. In the end the five of us dined together and shared plates and a good bottle of red. Stuff the bones this is living!
Day 27: Early morning train back to Lisbon, the Estrella District and a bit of culture
Had an 8.40am train trip to Lisbon. Drizzle. Got a cab in the main square. Trip uneventful. We hopped off the train and got an Uber to our AirBnB in the Estrella district. Here the wonderfully enthusiastic and delightful Maria Rita showed us through her quaint flat. It was perfect. (Travessa de S. Plácido 48, 1200-806 Lisboa). Headed for yet another coffee at Neigbourhood then off, via Uber to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Av. de Berna 45A, 1067-001 Lisboa). It was now raining heavily. Senor discount and a ticket gets you into both collections – The Founder’s Collection and the Modern Collection.
Regarded as one of the best museums in Portugal, the Gulbenkian Museum goes from Ancient Egypt to the present day across its two collections. The Founder’s Collection and the Modern Collection.
We started in the modern section that seemed to concentrate on modern Portuguese artists. I’m sorry most seemed derivative and rubbish to this vandal. Ms Chatter and I took a wrong turn looking for the toilets and were chastised furiously by a woman who had done her c.s. training booing Santa Clause.
We then went via a lovely garden to the magnificent collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Asian, and European art. It is wonderful. One of the world’s finest private art collections, amassed over a period of 40 years by oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian, who was one of the 20th century’s wealthiest men. In his later years he adopted Portugal as his home, and donated all of his art treasures to the country when he died in 1955 at the age of 86. I think Calouste was dudded if he invested in any of the rubbish across the park but he certainly had a great eye for pre-1920s stuff.
That evening we walked about 20 minutes to the Campo de Ourique Market. It wasn’t bad but at 7:00pm on a Saturday night there wasn’t that much of a variety of food. Had a couple of average wines that weren’t cheap and a very good squid soup. It made it worthwhile. The evening may have been coloured by a turd behind one of the bars. I wanted a draft Guinness. Mr Snot kept me waiting then sauntered up as if he was doing moi a por favor. I didn’t like his air of insouciance and went elsewhere.
DAY 28: LxMarket Lisbon
Another great Neighbourhood coffee and we grabbed a bus (761) and headed towards the LxMarket (Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501 Lisboa). The bloke behind the wheel was determined to put every new passenger through the experience of the wheel of death. As soon as you tapped your card the prick would tear off propelling passengers like pin balls down the back of the bus. Nice work Erton. The markets are worth a look. A large industrial block under the massive cross river bridge. Lots of food and drink and your usual glad bag and hustle artisans flogging the usual. We bought some of those fancy Sardine Tins with year dates on them as presents. 1969 and 1979 for the son-in-laws. Hopefully not a use by date. There was a dodgy looking mescal bar with a couple of fat nasty blokes hanging on the verandah. It looked my sort of joint but at 11.30 in the morning it may have been dangerous.
At another stall a chancer with bad teeth tried to sell me a t-shirt. I was mildly interested but he was South African and I couldn’t abide bad dental hygiene. He was a million to one and blowing.
DAY 29: Lolling about in Lisbon
We headed down the hill to Neighbourhood and had some great coffee and shared a delightful sharp cheese, leek and ham toastie. We wandered around Estrella area and sat in the park up the road. Lisbon has some great parks for just lolling about.
Around six we headed to Black Sheep and had a glass of wine but the attraction of the craft beer joint right next door was too strong.
Our new best Portuguese friend, the delightful Miguel joined for some lovely IPAs (no 5) and a rich creamy stout (no 10). Miguel then took us for a night sight seeing tour of Lisbon. We then went to a local restaurant Adega das Gravatas (Travessa do Pregoeiro 15, 1600-588 Lisboa). The joint was full of locals and was decorated with thousands of neck ties hanging from the ceiling. I assumed this was to signify a place to relax.
Miguel ordered from a muscly dude. A great bottle of red, the best BBQ octopus we have eaten (anywhere) and a pork dish. Stunning and cheap at €43 for the lot.
DAY 30: Last day in Lisbon and sadly Portugal
We walked up the hill and across the park and caught the tourist tram (no 28). The trick is to do it early in the morning (8:30am) before the heathen hordes awake from their port coma. If one comes past packed let it go and wait for one that’s not full. They’re frequent enough to do this. These little rattle and hum machines lurch around corners like a drugged cowboy on a spirited pony so it’s desirable to have a seat.
It’s better to have your Zapping Ticket as you can ride the loop around Lisbon for €1.5 but if you buy off the driver it’s closer to €3. You just hold it against the lower part of the machine just past the driver. If you want to keep travelling on it you can often bluff your way by simply sitting tight. A couple of big cruise boats were in and there were a few large Irish boyos and partners on this tram. The Portuguese (who do use the trams) looked decidedly nervous as they contemplated the thought of one of these lardos hurtling off balance and crushing them on a corner.
Hopped off down near the river and came across an old fashioned deli that sold good sardines at half the price that the fancy tin sardy arcades do.(Perola do Arsenal – Rua do Arsenal 100). Also bought some piri piri sauce from the old dude.
Popped into Neighbourhood for our last good coffee in Lisbon then home to pack. That night we retraced our steps to the beer joint, Cerveteca Lisboa and then the chicken again at Restaurante Churrasqueira da Paz.
And that was it. Thirty wonderful days in a great country.
Would we change anything? Not much if anything. Maybe a day less in Sintra, Tomar and Evora. In our travels we heard great reports about Óbidos. However whatever you do in Portugal you’ll have a great time.