Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lisbon & around 16th to 19 May 2009

Lisbon to NZ: Wednesday 20th May 2009

We were out at the Lisbon airport at 8:00am for the 10am flight through to London Luton (2 hours). Took the express bus to Heathrow (1 hour 15 min). At terminal four we found there were only minimal facilities. Now that Terminal 5 is operational and BA is based there Terminal 4 has been earmarked for renovation and needs it.

It was a very windy day as we came into land at Wellington and the plane was buffeted around. However as we got close to the ground it became very calm and the landing was surprisingly smoooooth.

We had a marvellous time. So many contrasts and experiences. We saw and experienced many cultures, ate well, drank well and had so much fun together. A brief summary:

one marriage
3 months
12 countries
24 different beds
10 trains, 6 metros, 6 boats & 9 planes
1 lease car 5,500km in 6 weeks
cost unknown
still married

Caiscais: Saturday 16th May 2009

We visited the market across the road from the Cais do Sodre station – Mercado da Ribera where plenty of fruit & veg, meat and fish were for sale; however there weren’t that many customers.

We headed out on the train to Caiscais, a seaside town popular with wealthy Lisbonites and golfers situated 30 minutes from Lisbon. After walking along the coast for a couple of kilometres to see a rather underwhelming sea blowhole we headed to our main purpose of being there – the beach.

There were a few people dotted about on the sand. Andrew bravely went into the water which was rather colder than expected given the warm air temperatures we had been experiencing.
After warming up we sat above the beach for a while having a beer; watching the activity on the beach and in the water.
On returning to town we went down to Rossio square to watch a “Iberian Mask Parade” which started at 16:30 and we stayed for 2 hours and it continued for another hour or so. Groups from towns/provinces in Spain and Portugal performed rituals associated with masks linked to their cultural history. Many had similar themes – bulls, bells, bright costumes, drums, dancing and music etc. All were passionate about their performance, it was entertaining, and there was lots of interaction with the crowds watching. It was fun.
General scenes from the parade
This group was completely passionate about their drumming - the red marks on the drum tops are blood from where they had drummed their hands raw.
Costa da Caparica: Sunday 17th May 2009
The ferries shuttle across the river Tejo all day from the Cais de Sodre station and for 0.81 cent we took the 10 minute trip.
After a coffee we hopped on a local bus 25 minutes to the Costa da Caparica. This is 8km of beach and is apparently the favourite summer weekend escape for the Lisbonites.
We had a set lunch in town for €4.80 for a bowl of soup, a warm chorizo filled bread, a drink, sweet rice pudding and a coffee. Simple food, but exceptional value.
The beach stretched on for 8km and ‘beaches’ were set apart by a series of sea walls. Not a lot of swimming going on here either due to the water temperatures but the surfers, in their wetsuits, were out in force. Quite a safe beach but with enough waves to provide some fun.
We walked along the beach front which was an area of 2 halves. The 1st half we walked along had been undergone a ‘rejuvination’ program with the aid of EU money. Here there were a series of designer beach buildings, set well back from the beach, which were cafes and restaurants. All very smart and similar. Signs showing what projects were undertaken suggested it was part of a €50 million project – how much related to the beach was beyond our Portuguese. The 2nd half of the beach still had old beach houses, painted in primary colours. Many looked abandoned, but one was definitely in the process of being renovated by an owner.
Back in Lisbon we went back down to Rossio square where Iberican tourist agencies had tents up promoting their regions in association with the parade we saw yesterday. Going from tent to tent we managed to sample some wines, try some port and generally have a pleasant time.
Lisbon: Monday 18th May 2009
We purchased an all day ticket for the transport system and decided to do the complete route of tram 28. We were familiar with part of the route as it had been our tram home when we stayed in the Alfama, but we realised we had never done the full route. It was interesting to see a bit more of the city.
Police on Segways (also saw lots of Mall security guards riding these things)
We headed out to a huge mall Colombus Centre where we looked around but didn’t buy much.

On the way to dinner up in the Alfama we took another tram No 12, which took another route again and a little more of the city was revealed to us. Dinner was at a lovely restaurant which overlooked the Lisbon harbour. Andrew and Chloe had found it in their time in Lisbon. The meal was fantastic we both had the soup and the black pork and the accompanying wine was divine.

Lisbon 14th to 15th May 2009

Porto to Lisbon: Thursday 14th May 2009 We took the train from Porto at 11am and arrived in Lisbon at 2pm. A smooth journey. The only issue was a couple came along and had been allocated the same seats as us. Luckily the conductor found them alternative seats. The interesting thing was the elderly gentlemen spoke good English, where many of his younger countrymen have next to no English (we don’t expect people to speak English, it’s just a comment) We arrived at Santa Apolliana station, took the metro and found our apartment off Rossio square and settled in. ( four floors up narrow stairs) Lisbon: Friday 15th May 2009 We took tram 15 the 6km out to Belem. Here, our destination was not the Jeronimo Monastery or the Coach museum it was simply to visit the famous Pastelaria that makes literally thousands of these custard tarts each day and has been doing so since 1837. The recipe is top secret, but they are sold slightly warm, with a light eggy custard encased in crisp pastry. Across the top is icing sugar and cinnamon. The calling for these pastries has been long (more than 18 months since I was in Lisbon with Chloe). They are just such a delight that I required four of them in a single sitting to address the deprivation. Luckily we had purchased 2 packs of six.
We came back to Lisbon city and headed out to the massive Spanish department store El Corte Ingles. We checked out the seven floors from top to bottom. It was more a browsing mission as there was not much needed, but managed to purchased some food, wine, a couple of books etc. Next was the number 28 tram up to the Alfama district so I could book a table at a restaurant for Monday night. Having stayed in the Alfama we knew the trick about getting on the tram at an early stop. The tram was full and the tourists are terrible: they line up like lemmings!
After the table was booked, we sat at a lookout over the city in the sun and had a beer had looking over the water.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Porto 11th to 13th May 2009

Porto: Monday 11th May 2009

We woke at 4:15am and left the airport hotel for the early flight to Porto.

We had a walk around to revisit some of the places we had both been in 2007.

Wonderful Porto bookstore with ornate panelling and staircase
Lunch was a €6 menu du jour – Vegetable Soup, Turkey kebabs and a cup of coffee. A definite contender for best value, enjoyable meal of the whole trip.

Amarante: Tuesday 12th May 2009

After consulting the Lonely Planet for a day trip suggestion we headed to Amarante, up the Douro Valley.

We purchased a ticket from a vending machine but when the conductor came along to check it turned out we had bought a cheap ticket – but had got on a faster, more expensive train, so had to buy another ticket for €5 each.

All this process was done in Portuguese, a fellow passenger translated it into French for us. Again, it was surprising out of 10 people not one spoke English, we were just lucky one man could speak French. On the next journey the conductor spoke good English, so sometimes we are lucky. People however try very hard to be helpful.

To get to Amarante we needed to change trains and take a narrow gauge rail 25 minutes up the hill. But we found out it was under repair and the journey was being done by bus. This was a disappointment as the hillside train trip had been a big reason why we were going to the town.

On arriving in Amarante our 3rd piece of ‘bad’ luck occurred. We arrived at 12:50 and the next Train (replacement bus) was not until 17:00. We had planned to return about 15:00, the town is only small and four hours seemed a bit daunting.

But things picked up after we had some lunch. We found out there was an express bus to Porto at 15:40, Andrew got his hair cut and we had a brief walk around the town.

Set on the Rio Tamega it is pretty and has an old church and Monastry in the name of Sao Gonçalo – the patron saint of marriage. It has a particularly impressive carved and gilded altar in a baroque style.

Porto: Wednesday 13th May 2009

Andrew went to the Sheraton for a catch-up with his Portuguese wine contacts. An excellent wine tasting and a great lunch at the coast made for a contented man.

We went to a local café on the river front on a very wet evening and enjoyed a good meal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

St Hilaire to Marseille Airport: Saturday 9th & 10th May 2009

Our time in Languedoc has come to an end and it has been fantastic. In our short time here we have done a lot of exploring both in cities and in the countryside and villages. We have seen the vines around our village grow like mad and now they are much taller & lusher and are sporting lots of tiny green grapes. The red poppies have come out in the last week or so.

We have eaten well and tried to perfect a recipe we found for duck breast in an orange & lemon sauce (nearly there). The daily visits to the bakery have convinced the ladies behind the counter Andrew can speak fluent French: as long as it is “deux Baguettes s’il vous plait & merci and they make conversation with him and he smiles sweetly. The trials of local & Côtes du Rhône wines have been extensive. Not all have been winners, but they were only a small portion of the sample. The weather has been superb, with one day of torrential downpours, the remainder have been warm and sunny. It is a lovely and extremely varied area of France. It was sad to come down to the airport today for our 6:10am flight to Porto tomorrow.
The local crosses, found along the roadsides in abundance

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Les Concluses: Friday 8th May 2009

Today is a national holiday, Victory in Europe day, so the village had a quiet start to the day.

We headed east of Lussan, to an area called Les Concluses for a walk along the cliff tops of the L’Aiguillon river. The river valley is far below and the path took us down there before climbing back up to the cliffs on the other side.

Andrew climbed a steep track to look at a menhir (dolmen) further up the hillside. These are associated with neolithlic or bronze age culture.

After following the signposted directions for 1 & ½ hours we got to an intersection where, having read the maps at the car park, we expected to be able return to the start point via a circular direction. We decided to walk down an unmarked road that our detailed walking map showed but after 10 minutes decided to return to the car by retracing our steps. As we walked back to the intersection we saw 3 people walking towards us and we started thinking how we were going to ask in French if they knew the track. Bonjour, we said. Bonjour they said, and then said do you speak English. It turned out they were German tourists who didn’t know anymore than us.

It was an excellent walk, a couple of good inclines that were good in helping improve our fitness. The day was only early 20s today so walking was much more pleasant.

La Roque sur Cèze: Thursday 7th May 2009

The valley of the Cèze river was our destination today. We parked in a shady carpark outside the town, which was lucky as today was the hottest so far. Temperatures were in the late 20’s and early 30’s

The medieval village is built up a hillside and only a limited amount of the village is accessible by car. Even getting across the river to the village side of the river means crossing a one lane medieval bridge. A lot of restoration has gone on and its a lovely place to visit.

From there we walked to the Cascades du Sautadet. We weren’t sure what we would find (we had left our guide book at home) but they were marked on our tourist map as a highlight, so we thought we should investigate. The racing water through natural rock formations were definitely out of the ordinary. The river up until here was gentle, flat and calm. Then a series of geological formations turn it into a ravaging torrent, and once through there it is back to a gentle river. Andrew went for a swim in pool up from here. The water was on the fresh side, but he was pleased to see lots of fish, suggesting the water was clean and healthy.

We visited a couple of other villages along the river Gourdargues and Montclus, but the highlight of the day was La Roque

Man and fire -perfact holiday

Chusclan: Wednesday 6th May 2009

After picking up some bread and ham for lunch we headed off on a walk to a vineyard of the senses and a castle.

Just out of the village of Chusclan an area had been ravaged by forest fire in 1992 and then again in 1999. Rather than replanting in pine forest it was decided by the local vignerons to plant vines to break up the forest blocks for future fires and to showcase wines to those on their way to the Château de Gicon.

They took the approach of walking around the vines and providing sights and smells of the area – detailing which varieties of grape were planted, detailing the colours they would be, planting plants that provided the smells wines have – peach blackberry etc and also highlighting the plants of the area. One we found interesting to be a highlight was Broom…but otherwise it was a interesting venture and good luck to them.

We continued up to the Château de Gicon. We didn’t know a lot about it and there wasn’t a lot of information after we climbed the hill up there.

But it was a great castle to visit. It had atmosphere that many perfectly maintained castles just don’t have. It is in good condition in some parts and in others in rubble showing the ravages of time. It does date from the 11th or 12th centuries and has a 360˚ view over the countryside. It doesn’t appear to receive a huge number of visitors and there are no admission fees, one can just wander around

Interestingly for dinner we had a bottle of wine picked at random which had come from the town of Chusclan – just a little co-incidence for the day.

The weather today was superb, sun shining and the mistral had dropped. It was hot work walking up when the temperature was at least 27˚ and we were definitely rather tired by the end of the day.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Arles & The Carmargue: Tuesday 5th May 2009

The Carmargue is an area of South France 40 min from our apartment. On our way there we stopped in the town of Arles.

Arles, like Nîmes, was an important component in the trade routes of the Romans, it lies on the Rhône and was a busy port. Arles also has a superbly preserved Amphitheatre, but not wanting to overdose on Arenas we decided not to go inside this one. Reading the info board outside, in the 16th century the arena had 200 houses built inside it and 2 churches. These were cleared in the early 19th to leave the arena free for bullfights.

An 11th century church, St Trophime, has numerous tapestries on the walls, much decoration in a Romanesque style church and a huge number of relics.

16km further on is the area known as the Carmargue. Between the two arms of the Rhône (Grand & Petit Rhône) is a vast marshland through to the sea. The black cattle native to the area have been used for bull-fighting and the white horses were ‘farmed’ by cowboys (guardians). Today much of the area is a protected regional park. Around the huge Lagoon Etang de Vaccarès there are pink flamingos. Today being exceptionally windy – the Mistral- the water was very rough and we only saw a few at a distance and one close up.

One of the main crops of the area is rice. We were surprised to see paddy fields and initially Paula did not believe Andrew’s pronouncement that it was rice. However with the amount of water at their disposal we understand why this is possible.