And then we were back in Vila Nova de Cerveira (you’ll be needing my map for this one…) for the night. Travelling the way we do means we often have problems challenges to work out. Our attitude when one of these challenges arises is key to getting through it without killing each other life changing consequences. So whenever we solve something like the lack of strong data we celebrate with a high five or an extra coffee or even a meal out.
We found (thank you google maps) a great tapas restaurant called Curt’isso in Vila Nova de Cerveira. Tapas is a Spanish thing and it means a small snack but they are so much more. They are usually small but small is a relative measure so you can end up very easily ordering too much. I suppose it’s like getting lots of starters instead of one big meal. They can be cold or hot, simple or exotic. I love it. It’s difficult but I always try to start with one and order a second if I’m still hungry. Denis does something else…
Anyway we decided to celebrate and go to Curt’isso and we were not disappointed. Every dish was different and my mouth is watering just thinking about them now. Denis was a little disappointed because he couldn’t finish… he ordered 4, hmmm.
Next day we head for Spain and the city of Pontevedra (see map below) and would you believe we have a problem again with data. So off we go along the inlet to what turns out to be a beautiful place called Poio. The data there was great and at the end of the day we returned to the city.
Unfortunately, there was a new problem when we arrived back – no space at the motorhome parking. Made worse by the fact that we had received a recommendation for a tapas place from a local and we had been imagining all day rushing off to dinner the moment we arrived back. But no… we had to drive on. And on. Two hours later we arrived at a car park in the Camino city of Santiago de Compostela! (Hello Helena!)
Fortunately for us the Spanish eat late. We were sitting down to our celebratory tapas dinner at 10pm. The following night we had breakfast cereal for dinner. Living the dream.
We arrived at the border town of Vila Nova de Cerveira and we thought this would be our last full day in Portugal. We were already missing the people and their natas and then we had to go to Spain for the day. Bear with me while I try to sound like I know what I’m talking about, there are technical reasons.
Ok so 4G and 5G data for mobile phones can do something interesting that the 2G and 3G can’t do and it’s especially useful at borders. They can decide in which direction or how strong they want to send their signal. So today we are in Portugal and we are accidentally getting Spanish data service. Unfortunately it’s just not very strong Spanish data.
That might be because they don’t want to be sending strong data across the border and away from their customers… But for some reason this data from Spain has meant the Portuguese data is gone. So… we have to move to Spain for Denis to work and take video calls.
We found a place about twenty minutes over the bridge and around the headland facing the Atlantic. We weren’t expecting much except better data which we got… but we also got amazing views! Plus, we’re parked beside a Camino path so we see pilgrims passing by. They have another 160km to walk to their destination of Santiago de Compostela.
We feel very lucky. We’ll be back in Vila Nova de Cerveira tonight and we’ll get our last Portuguese coffee in the morning but for now we are breathing in this amazing Atlantic air.
We were off and the first thing we learned was Clara knows Ireland! She once visited her brother who works in Dublin. Both she and he love Dublin. I was chatting with a friend on emails about how we Irish always think we’re going to meet a neighbour (or cousin or someone who knows someone) who just happens to be in the same county on holidays at the same time as us… And here we were in almost that situation… no, not exactly but you know we are going to look up her brother.
Our tour was off to a great start, we were now discussing how very alike the Irish and Portuguese are, something I have believed for a while. We’re very friendly, curious, interested, maybe even a bit nosey? We’re a bit, sure it’ll be grand, no rush, have another cup of tea – the Portuguese love tea too. But Clara insisted we really had to get on with the tour so we did. First stop was an old fashioned grocery store. It was a small exquisitely cared for space. There was fruit, nuts, sweets, wine, port, tins of sardines and chocolate. All Portuguese products.
Clara explained that these shops have had approaches from big food companies interested in buying their property in order to put in a fast food (or other) outlet. We felt very grateful that this hadn’t happened and we could stand in a place that had served generations in Porto. But I can imagine these shops and others like them in cities all over the world won’t be here forever, especially if we’re not buying from them, supporting them.
Then we were off to the Bolhão market. This farmers and producers market has been closed for renovations for three years but now it’s back in business and it’s busy. Everyone seems very happy to be back. The market building itself is open to the air but the market stalls are covered. This makes for a very pleasant visit, no fishy smells and protection if it rains. One thing we noticed was plenty of people sitting around eating and soaking up the atmosphere.
This is the market where I wanted to ask lots of questions about how I should behave in general at markets. Like, Can I take pictures? How will I cook unfamiliar foods? Will they gut the fish? The big answer is, Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! That’s actually the answer to most of my questions about behaviour… but maybe that’s not just me. The gist of what Clara said was, Just open your heart, trust your voice and ask. Most people will speak English or the other shoppers will help. And yes, it’s ok to take pictures. The stall holders are so passionate about their produce that they are happy to help in ways that allow you to support them. They won’t be here either if we don’t buy from them, support them.
Minerva have been canning sardines (and other fish) in a Portugal since 1942. I had to admit I thought all the tins of sardines were just for decoration. Well, they are very attractive, but no, they are also for eating. We tasted tuna in olive oil and it was very good. The lady who was giving the tasting loved her product and that made the visit very enjoyable. Clara’s other job is in advertising or maybe it was marketing… anyway, we had a very interesting conversation about packaging. Packaging helps us buy and support producers. I love Minerva’s packaging.
We also visited the Portuguese chocolate shop, Casa do Chocolate, where I had a caramel chocolate (yum!) and the Pastel de Nata bakery where I had another lovely nata… cannot get enough of the natas.
What do you get when you cross a chemist with a painter? Meia Dúzia! Here we tasted the food created by a chemist who was a painter in his spare time. His creation looks like paint. This tasting was the most fun and really appealed to me because I never feel creative when it’s time to make dinner but… ingredients that look like I’m about to play with paint? I can enjoy that! You are probably familiar with a crushed garlic product that you get in a plastic tube? Well this is much more interesting. There were over 30 different tubes of things like olive paste or chocolate orange or fig. We tasted most of them! There wasn’t one I didn’t like. And all made with Portuguese produce.
Our last visit was to a tiny restaurant where we chatted about writing, poets in Portugal, history including the dictatorship that lasted for 50 years in Portugal and ended in 1974, when the dictator died, followed by a peaceful revolution. And while we chatted we ate threes different types of ham, three different types of bread and olive oil. And then it was all over. We were sad to say goodbye to Clara, she had made our visit to Porto so enjoyable and we won’t forget her… and we’ll definitely be looking up her brother.
Clara pointed us in the direction of São Bento and we rambled down the steep hill. We were tired and ready for bed but it was only 3.30pm and we had a train journey to take first.
At the station we saw a photo exhibition with photos from journalists taken in 1974 on the day of the peaceful revolution. One showed two soldiers with rifles and in the muzzle of each gun was a carnation. Clara had told us earlier that the people wanted democracy and the army were fed up fighting with their own so when someone put flowers in their guns, they didn’t stop them. Freedom Day is celebrated on the 25 of April each year.
The train driver got off the train again on the way home but this time we knew what to do – wait, soon you will be going in a different direction. We loved our tour with Clara in Porto. I know what to do in the markets and on the trains and I know flowers can be powerful.
As I was saying yesterday we were parked right beside the train station. We had our tickets and we were ready to go so we got up early-ish and got the 9:18am train. But not before taking some pictures of the old station. (beautiful blue tiles) Then off we went delighted with ourselves. Very soon we realized we were sitting on the wrong side of the train… every seat on the left side going towards Porto was full, we were sitting on the right side. That’s the side the sun was pouring in… we were soon roasted, but grand.
Within an hour we had arrived in Porto at a station called Campanhã and then the train driver got out – a bit disconcerting. We were supposed to be going to Saõ Bento. You know how it is, you’re watching everybody else wondering what they are going to do? Asking yourself, “is this really the last stop?” And then the train started up again and we were going backwards… into Porto.
We saw some beautiful views over the river including the bridges but I wasn’t able to take pictures because like I said, we were sitting on the wrong side of the train. But, it was spectacular. If you ever go to Porto get on one of the trains that go over the river, any of the trains and any of the bridges. Also there’s a walking bridge that has a metro line running on it too. Walk on that one too. I’ll see if I can find the name of the bridge and the metro line. (It’s the Don Luis I Bridge Metro Yellow or D line.) There are amazing views of Porto from that bridge.
Now we were in the train station at Saõ Bento in Porto and we had until 12.30pm to wait for our tour. We had decided not to have breakfast or coffee, we wouldn’t eat anything until the tour because it’s a food tour, there will be food… oh I nearly forgot Saõ Bento station is impressive and it’s worth taking a moment to look at the blue tiles covering the walls of the big hall at the entrance. Lots of people are doing the same thing – just standing there taking pictures. Then we walk out of the station and see the most people we’ve seen in one place for years! Literally. The streets are jampacked… we look at each other and decide to change our minds about the no coffee and sit at the first free seat in a cafe across the road from the station.
Denis went in to order coffee and a nata while I kept myself busy watching dodgy looking characters. There would be no leaving my bag, nonchalantly on a chair here. To be honest I saw nothing out of the ordinary but my nervous system was indeed on full alert. Probably didn’t need the coffee then… hmmm.
After coffee, we headed off to Trinidad station (to meet our guide) just walking the streets of Porto is so nice and was very comfortable. Not every part of the center was as busy as the station and it was a beautiful day, not too hot in the shade with a nice breeze. We spent time in a book/stationery shop and I got a book of poems from the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa and Denis bought a phone cover.
It was time to meet our guide, Clara, she had sent me a WhatsApp earlier and we were to meet up outside a cafe near the Trindade train station. We were supposed be waiting outside the café but it was hot so we were waiting in the shade and we could see the cafe in the distance. It wasn’t long before I realised that she may also be waiting in the shade somewhere and we really better go stand outside the cafe… in the hot sun.
Almost immediately I saw someone who couldbe our guide, I went up to her and said, “are you Clara?” No it wasn’t Clara, the clues were, her lack of response and the fact that she was vaping. Fortunately, at that very moment, a friendly voice said, “hi, I’m Clara, are you waiting for a Clara?” Clara had a huge smile and shook hands confidently and I thought, yes, I picked the right tour. The power of first impressions.
Remember when we were in Vila Nova de Milifontes? And I got the the idea for some kind of tour that would help me navigate food markets. Well, there were hundreds of food related tours you can go on in Porto and there are thousands of reviews. A lot of information to wade through and choose. So I chose the one that felt right… having no idea if this tour would do the trick but trusting it would be grand.
So here we are with Clara and she sets off at a quick pace with the two of us tagging along. You know how it is when you’re in a new place and every junction needs to be paused at just in case you’re going the wrong way? And more importantly you need to look both ways twice because you’ve forgotten again which way the traffic flows? Well, Clara always knew where she was going and was confidently walking across junctions. And I was happily trusting her with my life. (Yes, I did secretly look both ways, ready to grab her if she missed something speeding in her direction, did I mention my on full alert nervous system?)
Well, we did the food tour in Porto and had a really great time! It’s been a long time since we were in a big city and you forget how exhausting it can be. Not just the walking, the talking, the stepping around people, the finding your way, the eating. Full-on days need quiet days. Will tell you all about Porto soon but first I need to tell you about the town of Batalha. We went there last Wednesday.
There’s a huge monastery and cathedral in Batalha built in the 14th century. It is one of the most important Gothic sites in Portugal and one of the most visited monuments. And that’s not a surprise, it is very impressive.
On the way out (as we exited through the shop) a book title in the display caught my attention. Does that say, Murphy? Well of course, I had to check, is this Irish? From inside the cover I read, Murphy is an academic journal architectural history and theory published once a year in Portuguese and English by the Impress da Universidade de Coimbra. (Oldest University in Portugal.)
It went on to say the name comes from an Irish born architect, who was the first to promote Portuguese architecture to the rest of the world. James Cavanagh Murphy came to Portugal to study the architecture at Batalha and his drawings of the monastery were published in the 1700’s. Imagine that!
There was no more about James in the book but I searched the internet and… James Murphy was born in Blackrock, Co. Cork (well, of course he was) in 1760 and was a brick layer. He loved drawing and went to Dublin to study either drawing or architecture. He seemed to have a natural ability in drawing. He was involved in work on the House of Commons and the building near Trinity College Dublin that became a bank.
When he was 28 he was commissioned by an Irish politician called William Burton Conyngham, to make drawings of the monastery here at Batalha. James Murphy seems to have travelled back and forth from Ireland to Spain and Portugal studying and drawing beautiful buildings for the rest of his life. What a lovely way of life.
The restorers are in the middle of cleaning/restoring the monuments at the moment. The cleaned stone looks great and really sparkles but I also love the grubby stone, it reminds me it has been here a long time and it’s not perfect.
On a different topic… Do you see the captions on my photos? My friend Yvonne has noticed that the captions are not being added to my photos in emails from WordPress. This makes me sad because I love reading captions on people’s photos. If you get this blog by email and you’re not seeing the photo captions I’m sorry 😞 I don’t know how to solve this problem… yet. But in the meantime you might want to try getting the emails from mail chimp by visiting the blog directly at… www.maireadhennessy.com and clicking the Sign me Up link there❤️
The rains came and the heatwave is gone. And normal service can resume. I don’t know what happens to me but I can’t function in full heat. If it wasn’t for the box of ice creams Denis bought in Silves, I think I’d be writing this from Greystones.
In other good news… We found a tour in Porto and we’ll be doing that tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the food, pictures of the food, ways to cook the food and normal (for spring in Portugal) weather.
To bring you up to date, we decided to scoot past Lisboa (Lisbon) and head for Mafra, Peniche and Óbidos and if we did nothing else these three places would provide enough photos for the rest of our time away.
Peniche turned out to be not where we were at all! We were at Ferrel. Not as pretty a name but a very beautiful place… the app we are using tells us the best places to park the van. And so we follow the directions blindly. And we stopped and took some pictures and it was very nice and then we looked across the water to a very built up place and THAT was Peniche. I do prefer Ferrel.
And Ferrel has surfboards for rent. As you can imagine we were very tempted but we drove on to Óbidos and wow! This is an intact medieval town, a bit like Carcassonne but less commercial. Gorgeous narrow streets and a huge wall running around the outside. Lots of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. And bonus, free parking for motorhomes.
We sat with coffee in the shade for a while and walked in the sun for a while and then drove onto a campsite with NO shade. This was the hottest day, I was ready to go back home on a plane but there were ice creams in the freezer and beans on toast for dinner so I reconsidered.
The thing about going on these trips is how do we ever know where we’re going or what it will be like? Sure we can revisit places but they’re never the same or we’re not the same. All we can do is trust that things will work out in the end and remember to save some ice cream for the hottest day…
I’ll grab a picture of a map so you can get an idea where these places are located. I’m guessing you’re missing the maps (maybe you’re not?) but the problem is maps are owned by whoever makes them (or pays for them to be made?) and Facebook blocked me after the last one. So I either start drawing them myself (could try…) or I slip one in the odd time. It’s not really satisfactory, I know.
Well now that I’ve produced my own (not to scale or accurate) map of Portugal I can see why the other map makers might want to keep me from copying…
From Sagres we travelled to a town called Vila Nova de Milifontes where there’s a very old campsite and an old market just across the road. We were really lucky to be there on Saturday morning, market day.
Unfortunately, supermarkets making shopping easy… not a problem but also not exciting. I get a bit overwhelmed by markets… what to buy? What to cook? What is that fish? Will it kill me? How do you cook it so that it doesn’t kill me? How do I explain my anxiety to the stall owner when I don’t speak the language? And also… is it okay to take pictures if you’re not buying? So many questions.
Walking around the market in Vila Nova de Milifontes made me think again about this and got me interested in a food tour I saw that runs in the newly renovated indoor market in Porto… maybe we can find a way to do that tour! If we do I’ll be bringing you along with me and hopefully telling you what won’t kill you when you’re buying unfamiliar food at a market.
We hope to go to Porto this weekend and as the weather is forecast to be not as hot and getting cooler it should be very pleasant wandering around the city.
This is a very quick note because it’s way too hot to think today, over 33 and still rising! But I nearly forgot to send you the storks!
We stayed in Silves before Sagres. We’ve stayed there before and seen the storks and goats beside the motorhome parking.
I still know very little about Storks except they like to build their nests high up on the top of narrow poles or chimneys or electricity transmission towers. We’ve seen up to 7 stork nests sharing one of those transmission towers!
The same nests seem to be used each year, whether by the same storks or not I don’t know.
And the nests are huge. So big the smaller birds build their nests as part of the stork’s nest just underneath.
We travelled to the edge of the known world on Friday, Sagres. Well the known world before the Americas were discovered. And that might never have happened without Prince Henry the Navigator. Prince Henry grew up in the 1400’s. He was also the Duke of Viseu, remember where I left my bag in the cafe? Born in Porto but died here in Sagres.
Henry was a Portuguese prince who poured loads of his father’s (the king) money into researching and exploring. He hired cartographers and designed (or had designed) a sail boat called the caravel. The prince sent his new sail boats to Africa in search of gold.
By the time Prince Henry had died, the trade of humans from African had become a business. Not everything exciting and new is good.
These days the sea around Sagres is very popular as a surfing destination . You can hire boards and wet suits and go on tours of the best surfing spots in the Algarve. The car parks are full of camper vans and motorhomes with surf boards on the roof.
We forgot to bring ours so we watched instead. Maybe next time.