Category Archives: Food

Portugal, Fishing Pictures

Fishing Collage PortugalPortugal Fishing

How can anyone put it? One thing is certain – here we have always been and here, whatever happens, we shall remain, listening to the voices of the old sea.” – Norman Lewis

Everywhere in Portugal there is celebration of fishermen and women.

The reason that fishing is such a major economic activity in Portugal is because the Portuguese people eat an awful lot of fish.  It has the highest per capita fish and seafood consumption in Europe – analysis reveals that the Portuguese consume almost 50kg per person every year.

Spain is second but a long way behind at about 30kgs. Surprisingly for an island which keeps going on about how important fishing is to the economy the UK can only manage 13kg, Germans eat a lot of strange things but only 9kg of fish, which is just about the same as Australians and the US and Canada are down at only 5kg and most of that is shrimp,

To be fair however a lot of Australia, Canada and the USA is a long way from the sea.

At only one hundred and fifteen miles Miranda do Douro on the Spanish border is the Portuguese town furthest from the sea.   In the USA Lebanon in Kansas (the geographical centre of the country) is six hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico, in Canada Calgary is three hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean and in Australia Alice Springs is about five hundred miles from the Gulf of Carpentaria so I guess the supply of fresh fish from the coast can sometimes be a bit of a problem.

Fisherman Pavoa de VarzimPortuguses FishermanPortugal Furaduero Fishing Boat

Traditional fishing methods have declined since Portugal joined the European Union, I took this picture in 1984 on the beach somewhere on the Algarve…

Algarve Beach Fishing Boats

And this is me discussing the catch of the day with a local fisherman in Praia de Luz in 1994…

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Portugal, Coimbra to Furadouro

Coimbra Postcard

When we woke in the morning, instead of the blue skies that we had become accustomed to there was a thick mist over the river and the city and it didn’t look like clearing away any time soon.

We had planned to have a final hour exploring the streets of Coimbra but after a second excellent Hotel IBIS breakfast the mist had become a fog so we made breakfast last a while longer, waited around for half an hour or so and then made our way to the railway station and waited for the train to Aveiro.

The plan now was to spend a few days at the coast, relax and to take a break from the city visits.

The train was on time and it didn’t take long to get there and as we crossed a spur of the River Boca and looked out towards the lagoons and the Atlantic Ocean we could have been forgiven for thinking we had been transported to Venice because the city has a very Italianate architecture and a waterway full of Gondolas.

Not surprising then that Aveiro is sometimes called the Venice of Portugal.

Aviero Postcard

Other places have their own associations with Venice – London and Birmingham in England are two examples as are Amsterdam in the Netherlands, St Petersburg in Russia, Prague in the Czech Republic and Edinburgh in Scotland who are all sometimes called the ‘Venice of the North’.  There is a Little Venice in Michigan USA and another in Bavaria in Germany, there is a casino in Las Vegas designed as Venetian canals and there is even one entire country that is called ‘Little Venice’.

The name ‘Venezuela’ is believed to have originated from the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast of South America.  When he landed he saw people living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the country resembled Venice so he named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’.  That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!

We thought that we might like to stop a while and explore Aveiro but there wasn’t really time because we had a train connection to make and needed to dash to the Porto Metro line for the train to the nearby city of Ovar.

On first impression we weren’t quite sure what to make of Ovar, it seemed like the end of the World, almost like that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they first get off the train in Bolivia and wondered why they had gone there.

Furadouro Stone Fishes

We needed to travel about three miles west to the seaside town of Furadouro and rather unsure and completely disorientated we broke our no taxi rule for a second time in four days and hitched a ride to our hotel, the Furadouro Spa.  The taxi dropped us off outside reception and we went inside to register where on account of a nippy wind coming in off the sea the staff were in thick jackets and expressed surprise that we were wearing our summer clothes when, in their opinion, it was so cold.  We explained about being from England and living on the North Sea East Coast.

After we had approved our accommodation and settled in, good but not as good as the last three in Lisbon, Tomar and Coimbra we stepped outside to take a look at Furadouro.  This didn’t take very long, but we found a restaurant that caught our eye for later on and a nice pavement bar to have a beer and then we made our way to the seafront.

There was a strong wind blowing, towering Atlantic breakers and red flags flapping furiously, rather unnecessary in my opinion because only a crazy person would go into a sea as mad as that.  Only half crazy we went into the sea but only up to our ankles with an occasional waist high splash and we walked the beach for about two miles or so.

Furaduero Beach Portugal

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one blue flag every three and three-quarter miles.

It was certainly storming today and as we walked the salt spray splashed our clothes and the wind whipped sand stung our faces.

We could have walked forever along pristine sands between Sahara like dunes on one side and crashing waves on the other but eventually we reached an agreed point and with only more sand and surf stretching out before us as far as we could see we turned around and returned to Furadoura.  We hoped the sea might be calmer tomorrow and we might be able to go for a swim.

Later we found a back street fish restaurant overflowing with local people so on the basis that this is always a good sign we requested a table and had a first class meal for a very reasonable price and we agreed, as we always do, that we would come back tomorrow.  On the way out we attempted to book a table but the waiter told us they were closed now for an end of summer vacation.

We were having a lot of bad luck with restaurant closures in Portugal that was for sure!

Furadouro fish restaurant

Portugal, The Vampires and The Fado of Coimbra

Coimbra Portugal

The very reasonably priced IBIS hotel was not as grand as the Conde de Ferreira Palace  in Tomar but was in a perfect central location situated on the River Mondego with the historical centre of Coimbra rising up in dramatic style behind it like a sheer mountain face and perfectly placed for a short walk to an attractive and vibrant square busy with restaurants and bars basking in the sunshine.

From there we made our way to the old town and the University district and quickly discovered that Lisbon isn’t the only hilly city in Portugal.  Coimbra is built on the top of a hill, not all of it of course, because it is the third largest city in the country but the bit that we wanted to see was certainly on the top of the mountain.

It was hot again and the climb was a bit of a chore but as well as getting our bearings and seeing some of the sites we needed to find somewhere suitable to eat later and after our successes in Lisbon and Tomar there was a lot to live up to.  We found one or two likely looking places but none really stood out and then we tired of examining menus and made our way to the very top.

Portugal Coimbra University

Kim wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about visiting the inside of the University today so we concentrated instead on the exterior and agreed that we might come back tomorrow (a certainty for me but doubtful for Kim).  There were some wonderful views from the top and we strolled around the ornate courtyards and admired the Palaces and the churches and the two cathedrals and it occurred to me that Coimbra could easily be tagged the Florence of Portugal.

There was a lot of activity at the University because this was first week of new term – ‘Freshers Week’.  I remember ‘Freshers Week’ when I pitched up at Cardiff University in September 1975.  With hormones raging in overdrive I thought this was going to be opportunity to meet new girls but I quickly realised that this is the week when second and third year students turn up in force and get all the girls before a new student gets a look in and it looked very much like it was exactly the same procedure here in Coimbra.

University students in Coimbra wear a black uniform complete with a cape, they are known locally as ‘the cloaks’ and if I hadn’t known it was a University I might have mistaken it for a convention of Vampires.

Coimbra University Freshers Week Vampires

We weren’t going to visit anything today that had an entrance fee so we made our way back to the river and I became interested in a sign outside a small building that was advertising a Fado show, traditional music of Portugal.  I was keen to go along but I couldn’t persuade Kim to join me so I bought a single ticket and would return later alone.

On the way back to the IBIS I spotted a small restaurant that looked traditional and welcoming and had a reasonable menu so I suggested that we try this one.  Kim agreed and I worried then that my bad luck with recommendations might strike again and I would come to regret ever having mentioned it.  As I have said before I prefer to leave restaurant selection decisions to Kim and then no blame can be attributed to me in the case of a bad one.

Fado Coimbra Portugal

Later I returned to the centre for the five o’clock Fado show and after only five minutes or so I realised that Kim had made an absolutely brilliant decision in declining to accompany me.  I didn’t enjoy it at all, it was terrible; if had had the sense to consult Wikipedia before impetuously buying the ticket I am certain that I too would have rejected the idea…

Fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia”

… this, let me tell you is music to get seriously depressed to.  There was zero chance that I would buy one of the CDs on sale at the entrance.  If I could have sneaked out then I would have left there and then but I was in the middle of a row quite near the front and it would have been impossible to leave without drawing a lot of attention to myself.  I had no alternative but to stick it out, thankfully it only lasted for an hour and there was the consolation of a complimentary glass of port wine when it finally came to an end.

Now it came to restaurant time and I worried that my poor judgment might continue but it turned out to and it turned out to be excellent, so good in fact that we agreed that we would return there again the following night.  Once we find a place we like we don’t like taking unnecessary risks!

Statue Coimbra Portugal

Portugal, Lisbon to Tomar

Tomar Festival

It took about two hours to purchase the train tickets from Lisbon to Tomar (well that’s what it seemed like) and then another two hours to travel the hundred miles or so north.

Kim finds it difficult to stay awake on trains (or on airplanes or boats or in the car) and slept for most of the journey and left alone I charted our progress through the window.  Out of Lisbon the railway tracks followed the course of the River Tagus, the fifth longest river in Western Europe and the longest in Iberia and down here near Lisbon rather wide I thought, almost like a lake.

As the train clattered on we passed through salt flats then surprisingly lush green fields and fertile farmland, browning vineyards, straining olive groves, tired terracotta houses, wide dusty fields long since harvested for this year and every now and again the train punctuated our journey with a series of regular stops along the way at towns and villages whose names I didn’t record and don’t now remember.

Eventually we arrived in Tomar and I immediately worried about the decision to stop over here.  It was quiet, the streets were empty, it seemed almost abandoned.  The contrast with Lisbon hit me like a punch from a heavyweight boxer, it was like driving a car and going from sixth gear to first missing our five, four, three and two on the way.  I grew concerned about what we would do here for three days.

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It didn’t take long to walk to our accommodation just a few hundred yards away from the station.  This was the Conde de Ferreira Palace which turned out to be an old farmhouse in the process of being converted into a guest house.  An intriguing sort of place, part hotel, part family house and the owner gave us a history lesson and a tour of the property before showing us to our room on the second floor.  Wonky floors and yard sale furniture but we loved it immediately, probably one of the crankiest places that we have stayed in and after we had settled in we took to the streets and looked for somewhere for lunch.  My doubts and worries were beginning to ebb away as though King Canute had ordered the tide to retreat.

I generally leave restaurant/bistro selection to Kim because she is so much better at it than me and I have made previous mistakes so on the basis that if I might unfortunately choose somewhere that disappoints then there is no comeback on me.  I find that tis arrangement generally works well.

Portugal a simple lunch

Kim spotted a likely looking place with pavement tables and rustic green check tablecloths and trusting her instinct selected a spot in the shade and requested menus. The lunch time food was excellent and on the basis that once we have found a place that we like then we will return there again and again (what is the point of taking risks we tell ourselves) we agreed there and then that this would be the place for us for evening meal later.

Fearful of doing everything there is to do in Tomar in one day we did nothing in the afternoon, just dawdled about the streets and down by the river, stopped for a drink in the main square and made our plans for the next two days.  By late afternoon we had begun to adjust to the pace of Tomar and were beginning to put the frenzy of Lisbon behind us.  As I have said before it is important not to be too hasty when making early judgements.

Later we returned to the back-street restaurant for evening meal and it was excellent.

Tomar portugal Main Square

Portugal, Train Tickets and The Palace at Sintra

Lisbon Urban Wall ART

Everyone I know that has been to Lisbon said that we should take time out and visit nearby Sintra.  I watched the celebrity chef Rick Stein on TV and he said visit Sintra but what I forgot to take into account of course is that Rick Stein has a backroom staff of researchers and can always be guaranteed a place at the front of the queue and later a table at a top restaurant.

After breakfast in our temporary studio home we made our way to the railway station and set about purchasing some tickets.  In Lisbon this is not an easy process let me tell you.  It is probably the most inefficient ticket purchasing process that I have ever encountered.  There is no ticket office, just a row of automatic self-service metal monsters.  Half of them are out of order and there is a rugby scrum around those that work and the single overworked assistant who is there to try and help.

Lisbon Street Scene

Everyone needs a personal travel card so you have to buy that first and then every passenger has to individually purchase their own ticket.  I cannot buy a ticket for both of us and a family of, say five, cannot make a single purchase.  Every travel ticket has to be bought individually so if customers are paying by credit card this is probably the most frustrating travel experience on the entire planet.  I could probably solve a Rubik Cube puzzle in the time it takes to acquire a train ticket in Lisbon.

Eventually I made it to the ticket machine and after going through the tedious ticketing options proposed to pay with a €20 note but the machine won’t give change for anything over €10 so I have to dig around in the bottom of my pockets and in the inner recesses of my rucksack for some loose change and by the time that I have done that the transaction has been timed out and cancelled.  I could sense frustration and fury in the line of people behind me, I know how they feel, I felt exactly the same way just a few hours earlier when I joined the queue.

Buying a simple railway ticket in Lisbon is like the eternal labour of Sisypus.

Tickets eventually purchased we boarded the train and set out with five million other people to Sintra.  When we arrived the train doors opened and all five million passengers spilled out onto the platform like a people tsunami. I hadn’t expected this and the next challenge was to get past the ticket touts and taxi drivers waiting outside the railway station like fishing trawlers with gaping nets.

Sintra Taxi Guide

I had no idea that Sintra was going to be this busy, the queue for the bus to the National Palace was five miles long, it was cloudy, dull and cold and eventually I gave in and allowed us to be talked into a tour taxi ride to the top.  It was only €10 so I didn’t stress out about that for too long.

As we climbed through a pine forest to the top of the mountain the cloud cleared and ahead of us was the fairy tale pastel painted Royal castle all pink and yellow and glowing brightly in the sunshine.

The Tourist Information guide describes it like this … “The town of Sintra is Europe’s greatest example of the whimsical and colourful Romanticism style of architecture. This elaborate 19th century design style was inspired by the love of art and the mysticism of ancient cultures, to create decorative and flamboyant buildings, of which the Pena Palace is the finest example.”  It attracts over two and a half million visitors a year (a genuine statistic by the way) so we should have been prepared for crowds and queues.

We bought our tickets which at €21 seemed a bit expensive to me and then we walked up ten thousand steps to the entrance and joined another queue.  It took five years to shuffle our way to the visitor entrance moving slowly forwards as though our shoe laces were tied together and then we spent an hour or so cramped like sardines in a tin as we made painfully slow progress through a succession of rather boring palace rooms.  King somebody or other slept here, Prince so-and-so sat on this chair etc.  Personally I was just so glad to get out the other end, find a terrace bar and order a cold beer.

National Palace of Sintra Lisbon

We walked back now to Sintra, about two miles or so somehow missing the entrance to the Moorish castle on the way down, I think Kim probably spotted it but distracted me at exactly the right moment to prevent a suggestion that we pay a visit.

In the town we found somewhere for a small salad lunch and then bypassed the overpriced and tacky tourist shops and made our way back to the railway station via the Gothic style National Palace.  I confess that I found Sintra to be rather disappointing, a tourist honey trap and an unnecessary diversion to our visit to Lisbon.  I wouldn’t go back and I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend anyone to go there.  Go to nearby Belém instead, it is a lot more interesting and much less touristy.  I wasn’t that impressed with Sintra as you can no doubt tell.

It was hot again in Lisbon and after we climbed the hill from the railway station to the part of the city where our studio was located we were glad to stop in a shady park for a late afternoon cold  drink in a nearby park.  Later we dined at the restaurant that we had spotted the day before and we were glad about that because the food was absolutely excellent.

One day left in Lisbon.

Sintra01

Portugal, Lisbon and Mountaineering Sightseeing

Lisbon Tram

It was hot in Lisbon, very hot indeed, everyone kept telling us that Portugal was in the grip of a heat wave and that it was too hot, but we didn’t mind, we were on holiday.  We settled into our studio apartment, cranked up the fan and then left and made for the nearby centre of Baixa.

By now it was late afternoon and the heat was beginning to drain away into the deep shadows cast by the tall buildings and the sun was melting into the deep pools of shade of doorways and courtyards so we enjoyed a walk to a shady park where we stopped for a beer and then took a stroll through the elegantly tiled but grotesquely graffiti scarred streets of the town.  I was shocked by the urban scrawl which some call art but I call vandalism.  I didn’t like it.

In contrast I liked the views from the top of the city even though there was a lot of construction work going on.  From a high vantage point we looked across to the castle and the cathedral and down to the river and the commercial centre.  We continued to walk down and down, I had no idea that Lisbon was going to be so steep and hilly and it was beginning to make Rome or Valletta seem like Florida in the USA or Lincolnshire in the UK.

Lisbon

Eventually we reached the ruins of a cathedral but it was getting late so we didn’t pay to go inside.  Ruined because it was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake which was one of the World’s major catastrophic seismological events – ever!

It occurred before the introduction of the Richter Scale of course (1935) but today it is estimated that the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 9.0  to 9.5 which, on a scale of 1 to 10,  is just about as big as it is possible to get and makes the event possibly the biggest ever in the history of the World.  The resulting Tsunami reached the Caribbean in the west and as far as Greenland to the North.  This was one hell of a bang let me tell you!

We were struggling to get our bearings but managed to grope our way back to the apartment passing on the way a restaurant that caught our eye for evening meal.  I found a shop for beer and wine and next day breakfast essentials and then we sat and relaxed, changed and wandered back to the restaurant.  It was full, really full and no slots left all evening so we booked for the following night and set off to find an alternative.

After a long walk I liked where we found but Kim was still sulking so we didn’t linger long after dining and returned and spent our first night in Portugal in our tiny studio.

Lisbon Doors and windows

The next morning the sky was blue, the sun was rapidly rising in the sky and by the time we had prepared and eaten breakfast, tidied up and left the apartment the mercury was already rising rapidly.

The plan was to make our way down to the River Tagus and then take in some of the sights along the way.  Some way along the planned route we took an unnecessary detour and we managed to get sucked into the labyrinth of back streets and got quite lost.  I confess that this was entirely my mistake but happily Kim didn’t seem to spot this, or, if she did, she generously chose to overlook it and not mention it.  I kept quiet about it.

lisbon streets

We eventually emerged from the streets down to the river and some way away we could see the famous 25 de Abril (previously António Salazar) Bridge and we started to walk towards it.  It turned out to be further than we estimated and the view wasn’t that special anyway so eventually we abandoned the walk and made our way back up a another steep hill to the city centre.

At the top of the hill we visited the Basilica but I have to agree with Kim on this point, it wasn’t memorable and it looked like any similar church or cathedral in Catholic Europe and as we walked out of the door I immediately forgot all about it.

Lisbon Commecial Centre

Back at the river we stopped for a drink and an hour in the sunshine and then we tackled the walk back to the apartment. We passed through the Commercial Centre with its magnificent buildings where it was possible with a bit of imagination to conjure up a vision of a major naval and commercial centre with ships and dockyards where now there are tourist river cruises and ice cream parlours.

Eventually we found our way back to the apartment where we sat and enjoyed the local environment before making our way to the chosen restaurant which turned out to be absolutely excellent.

Later we made plans to visit nearby Sintra the following day.

Lisbon Lisboa postcard Trms

Portugal, Travel Plans, Research and Arrival

Portugal Postcard Map

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.

We had decided to use the Portuguese railways so we plotted an itinerary that started in the capital Lisbon and then worked north through the town of Tomar, the city of Coimbra, the seaside at Ovar (Furadouro) and then finished in the second largest city in the country at Porto, a couple more days by the coast at Vila do Conde, visits to the cities of Guimarães and Braga and then back home.

Portugal Tiles Ajulejos

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.

Egg Custard Portuga

Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and our travel itinerary was going to take us to six – The Tower of Belém in Lisbon, built to commemorate the expeditions of Vasco da Gama, the National Palace of Sintra, the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar, the University of Coimbra, The Historic town of Guimarães and The Historic Centre of Porto.

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.

Furaduero Beach Portugal

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964.  Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.

In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand.  The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.

On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.  England (UK) and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.

Lisbon Tram Postcard

We arrived at Lisbon Airport early in the afternoon and took the metro into the city centre. A rather odd journey as it turned out because the automated on board information system curiously announced arrival at the stations one after the one we were stopping at next so we had to be careful not to get off one stop too early.  Anyway we negotiated the journey and then after a bit of map confusion which we sorted out over a beer at a pavement café walked the final half a mile to our accommodation.

We had selected a studio apartment for our four nights in Lisbon and it turned out to be most satisfactory. The Travel and Tales rooms were situated in a domestic block of apartments so we were going to spend our time in Lisbon rubbing shoulders with real locals and we were happy about that.

We were allocated the Fernando Pessoa apartment who according to Wikipedia turns out to be… “a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language”.

I apologise immediately for my ignorance in this matter but I have to confess that I had never before heard of him.

Fernando Pesa Poet Travel and Tales