Day 29 – A drive along the Douro

Day 29 = Monday, April 9, 2012

After enjoying the lovely hotel shower one last time, we headed out of Braga. Our first stop: Amarante. We wanted to go to a super-cool museum we’d heard about (the museum of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, a famous Portuguese cubist) but it was closed on Mondays. We went to the tourist info office next door and were given loads of brochures about sights in the area, though we did not end up using any of them. (Not environmentally friendly or even just friendly-friendly, I know.) Instead, we went to the main square and watched a small boy in gleeful pursuit of the town pigeons.

The square contained a main church, but right beside it, up a stone terrace, was yet another church. We climbed up the terrace for a beautiful view of detail of the main church, of the São Gonçalo bridge (where the town’s residents withstood Napoleon’s troops for two weeks, until bombarded with barrels of gunpowder), and of the town.

As we climbed up, we’d picked up Very Small Rocks (name that movie) for Quinland to use with her slingshot. Sadly, the rubber strap had broken loose at one end. I managed to MacGyver it back into shape, of course, and she was able to shoot rocks into the river. She is really making me look like a shorty in this photo.

David went across the bridge to snap some photos from the other side and returned with a small fortune’s worth of pastries (though not the city’s famed phallic-shaped fertility pastries). We are all addicted to the Belem-style tarts, which have a creamy egg-yolk filling, but he also discovered some new egg-based delicacies. Yummmmm…

After saying goodbye to Amarante, we drove on to Regua, where we stopped and got a map of the Douro vineyards. The Douro region grows all the grapes for the famous port wine that is made down the river in Porto (Oporto, to some… but not to the Portuguese). The area is quite steep, and the grapes are grown on terraces on the sides of the hills that slope down to the river. In very rocky areas, small terraces are built on any available land, some holding only one grapevine.

A number of the quintas (vineyard estates) hold tastings and give tours, but the price can be a bit steep. This would be especially true for us: one person driving, one under-age, and one on alcohol-enhancing medications. We really wouldn’t be getting our money’s worth.

David found one quinta that was supposed to offer free tours, so we headed out to it. It did offer free tours, but when we arrived we found it closed for lunch from noon until 3:00 pm. With our jam-packed schedule, we would not be able to wait and still get to Porto on time to meet our next landlady. Still, we poked around the exterior, got some lovely pictures, and had a chance to stretch our legs and sit in the shade (and visit the facilities).

By this time, we were all starving. We drove on to the Alto Douro (high above the river), to a little town called Sabrosa. After peeking into (and rejecting) a pizzeria, we stopped and had an amazingly good lunch at a restaurant that looked like a truck stop from the outside. David asked for a recommendation and got a special kind of sausage stuffed with chicken and garlic and onion and bread.  He said it was the best food he’d had in Portugal so far. After lunch, we raced back to the highway so we could get to Porto by 5:00 pm.

We got to our cute little apartment, where we met Cristina, the landlady, and saw Quinland’s very own room-slash-closet. We took a nap (yeah, we nap a lot) and then raced to meet BGG-er Felipe and his friends at Café Santiago (oops – had that wrong, now corrected!) to try some francesinhas, an iconic Porto treat. We had to wait ages for a table, so we got to chat and share info on ourselves. Felipe’s friend Miguel and his girlfriend were wearing robes like wizard students from Harry Potter; apparently JK Rowling had lived in Porto with her first husband and was inspired by the students’ traditional garb. (Q went to Pingo Doce to get laundry soap, as we have to take advantage of any apartment that has a washing machine.) We learned all about Porto and the chip the residents on their shoulder because they are not respected by Lisbon.

The francesinhas were crazy. They are smothered sandwiches of steak and egg and bread and cheese and tomato-and-beer sauce, served on french fries… and apparently different restaurants purport to have the very best versions (and have their own legions of fans). The name means “little French girl,” for reasons unknown to me.

I wish I had taken a photo… you can Google away if you’d like to see one up close.

Afterward, they took us to the Majestic Café to get café. Quinland and I had hot chocolate which was MELTED CHOCOLATE IN A CUP. When you are expecting chocolate-flavored milk, the moment when the chocolate hits your lips is something you’ll never forget. We talked politics over our drinks, then said our goodbyes, kissed and kissed everyone (in Portugal, all women kiss – and are kissed – twice on hellos and goodbyes; men shake each other’s hands), and went home. I tried to put on a load of laundry so that it would air-dry by the time we had to pack in two days, only to discover that the soap I’d asked Q to get was the wrong kind of soap for this machine. Argh. At least it was a good excuse to go right to bed.

Expenditures: Pastries in Amarante, lunch in Sabrosa, dinner and drinkable chocolate in Porto, worthless laundry detergent, rent.

Experiences: So many! New food delights, gorgeous scenery, Portuguese student traditions, Lisbon/Porto rivalry, that lovely melted chocolate… and more. A fabulous day, all around.

Home away from home, part 2

We love it here.

This is our fabulous apartment, our new home in Lisbon.

David has been so pleased with it that he has been complimenting it – and me for finding it – over and over. “What a great place this is.” “How did you ever find this place?” “We are so lucky to be living here.” “We are going to be spoiled after this, because we will never find such a great place anywhere else.”

It is right near a train station, a Metro station, a post office, and a grocery store. We have a view of the river and of the Lux nightclub, which rumor has it is the Best Nightclub Ever. (Ask me again after tonight if I still love it here… I have no idea how loud that place is on the weekends.)

The kitchen is stocked with free wine, and if we drink it all, we are supposed to just ask for more. We won’t drink it all, but it’s a happy thought.

Don’t forget to plug in your keys!

Daily Check-In:

  • I’m grateful! for David, who booked us flights to Barcelona and to Munich in April (and also to Nicole and Bryann’s companies for sending them on business trips to Germany! Whoo hoo!)
  • I’m lighter! I just feel so much better today after getting on a regular sleep schedule. Oh, and my Blazers are lighter by exactly one coach and by Lynette’s favorite, Gerald Wallace. Hmph.

All photos by David. Check out his photo-a-day blog at europix.tumblr.com

Portugal time

David and Quinland's view from Graca today.

We first discovered Portugal Time back in 1994. We had come to Portugal to visit our friends Ana Paula and Elisa, and had just arrived in Tabua, Ana Paula’s hometown. We had dinner around 10, friends and relatives were still dropping by around midnight, and we were invited to go out dancing after 2 am, because it would be dead before then.

This way of looking at time suits me fine. I love to stay up late and sleep in! After the chaos of the past two travel days, though, I am really looking forward to being on a daily schedule. I’ve made a list of things I want to make time for every day: prayer/meditation, exercise, studying some books I brought with me, blogging, doing schoolwork with Q.

We also need to spend time planning our upcoming weeks. David is doing a great job of keeping in touch with Portuguese gamers, who are amazingly helpful and friendly. One of them is helping us plan a jaunt around the northern part of the country, which we’ve never visited. It’s hard not to make this “The Year We Went to Portugal,” as there is so much I want to see and do.

Daily Check-In:

  • I’m grateful! for all the extra sleep I got today. David and Q went on an amazing uphill hike, as shown above. I decided to give the leg a good rest.
  • I’m lighter! I know that we are not supposed to spend the trip online, but it has been cool to see people at home in real time!