PART 2, Porto and Nazare
Here I am at the end of a glorious summer that overflowed with visits from friends and family (Whidbey Island is where you want to be in the summer…not too warm sunny days, cool nights, and verdant forests), two monumental birthday parties, and enough potlucks to go on Ripley’s Believe It or Not. When the weather gets foggy and the rains descend, I may just pull out pictures of a few of the joyous celebrations to share with you and lift my spirits, but, first, I must get you through Portugal! After all, this is not a family album, but a travel blog. And we’re open for business after far too long a hiatus.
I left you as we were getting ready to take a train from Lisbon to Porto on May 10, day 5. We arrived to find our spacious Airbnb waiting for us in a beautiful section of town with winding streets, steep climbs, and tiled houses, higher in many cases than Lisbon, where the limit seemed to be five stories. We immediately bought two three-day tickets for casual tours on the blue bus…casual meaning that we could get off at any stop, check out the area, and get back on the next bus when it came along. We realized that this was the only way we would get a comprehensive view of Porto and its environs.
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Each morning we treated ourselves to a sumptuous breakfast at a charming restaurant near us. Enjoyed the waitress and the wall decorations. AND the food!
Our first day in Porto, day 6 of our trip, the blue bus looped around the entire city and dropped us off at Vila Nova de Gaia. This is the hub of the port wine industry, peppered with cellars offering tours and tastings. Alas, we never did make it to a wine tasting. We got too lost in the labyrinthian streets and bridges! Nor did we hit the sandy beaches of Gaia.
However, we did visit a gorgeous church, Igreja de Santa Marinha. We called it the Golden Church. From the outside it seemed so simple, but check out the gold filigree inside. I have never seen such elaborate gold artistry or intricate metal and stone carving anywhere in all my travels, including the Vatican.
Afterwards, we took a 50-minute trip on a river boat up the Douro River. We were required to wear masks, as on all other vehicles, but the wind made it almost impossible to keep them on! We had earphones during our tours with a genteel Englishman explaining the sights in exotic rhetoric.
It was past six by the time we reached town, again, and we started walking back over various bridges, hoping to find one of the famous wine-tasting cellars. We went back and forth, being waylaid by numerous construction sites. Evidently, the underground (subway) was being repaired, and google did not relay that information to us.
Finally, we wandered the beach and, without any help from google, came upon a terrific restaurant, met two delightful women from Canada, and spent the evening getting acquainted and discussing how to save the world. This conversation seems to be unending, but looking for solutions is better than giving up and spending your time complaining!!
The next day was every bit as exhilarating as the previous one. It was crisp and sunny as we waited for our blue bus to take us to another section of the city, passing a huge beach with rocks and surf, and surfers stretched out along the horizon. Only a few were braving the choppy waves. The bus drove further along the shore and stopped at another beach next to Fort de Sao Francisco Xavier de Queijo. Unfortunately, the sand was too gritty for my ancient feet, so we eschewed a walk on the beach and went directly to the old fort. I was immediately struck by how much it reminded me of Fort Casey near Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Old canons, chains to pull up the equipment, windows broken, thick walls, and a scary stone staircase with no handrails. At the bottom of the staircase was a small coffee shop where we sat and drank coffee with an Englishman and his Japanese girlfriend. We never failed to meet interesting travelers!
Back in town, we grabbed a quick pizza at a small Italian restaurant, while enjoying superb violin music played by a local busker. Relaxed, we walked to a place that intrigued us every time we passed it…the Church of the Clerics, Iglesia de los Clerigos, a Baroque-style church built by the religious brotherhood of the “poor clerics” on a large piece of land donated to them in the 18th century.
Its 75-meter-tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clerigos, can be seen from various points in the city and is one of Porto’s most characteristic symbols. This time we decided to enter….
The tower was incredible and scary! There were 220 steps to the top and it started with a very narrow, winding staircase with no handrails. You felt like pressing your shoulders against the sides for safety. Believe me, nobody was going fast! At each level were several rooms, and ever-higher views of the sanctuary. In one large room there were paintings of Christ’s crucifixion lining the walls and in others a plethora of saints. As we started up the final section of steps, I was greatly relieved to see that there had been metal handrails added. Unfortunately, they were absent on the last small segment to the very top, so I elected to wait while Martha scaled the heights and viewed the vastness of Porto. I am not good with extremes of elevation. Never have been!
Be sure to visit one of their train stations before you say farewell to Porto. We were enthralled by the tile work (1905-1916) that greeted us in the Campanha station. Over 20,000 of the famous blue and white tiles (azuejo) were used in making the magnificent panels that line the walls and depict the rich history of Portugal.
By seven we were racing up and down the hills, once again, looking for a restaurant that was open and served something besides fish. Found a perfect place nestled in a small square with a superb saxophonist, who soothed us and deepened our gratitude for the day.
On May 13, we said goodbye to our spacious Airbnb and headed for the bus station situated next to the beautiful Campo 24 de Agosto Garden. We sat in the park next to a small pond and watched the modern buses come and go. Such a progressive country and such friendly people. In no time Martha had loaded our bags into the bus storage compartment and we were off to the coast and the famous surfing town of Nazare.
Upon arrival in sunny Nazare we collected our bags and walked up and down through alleys and in front of the ocean until we found our gorgeous Airbnb on a narrow, winding street near the beach. Like the one in Porto, it was beautifully appointed and outfitted with kitchen utensils, coffee pot, microwave, dishwasher, and washing machine. We noticed that white seemed to be the decorating choice in the places where we stayed.
We were on the third floor and the apartment had two balconies entered through glass doors on the front and the back of the building. We lived in the spacious rooms in between. We enjoyed sitting out on either balcony and watching the activity down below. There were also metal hangers attached to the front railings for drying clothes. The back balcony was a bit smaller and you were almost close enough to touch your neighbors across the way.
The alleys were all paved in small diamond-shaped tiles with borders, and street names were written on the side of the building.
After settling in, we took off to the beach and walked barefoot, reveling in the warm sand and crystal water. Martha ran to the water’s edge and collected miniature shells and colorful stones strewn here and there. A handful of sand held untold surprises. Later we bought some gorgeous tiny boxes made of tile to house our treasures.
Fortunately, we had brought a perfect blanket for sun-bathing, but after dipping a toe In the water, eschewed swimming! Anyway, even if it had been warm enough at this time of year, the tide was too unpredictable.
This evening our search for a restaurant on the beach produced a gem (Tabernasse). Jose (pronounce Joe-say) became a favorite next to Carlos at the Lawrence Hotel in Sintra. Martha was skeptical of the menu at first, one taste of the sangria (with red wine and loads of fresh fruit) and she was sold! We returned for another treat the next evening.
Our days in Nazare were our most relaxing. We lay on the beach until the wind became too brisk, we poked around the many open-air stores facing the shore, and we wandered around the narrow streets at all hours.
Our biggest adventure was taking the modern funicular from the beach up to the small city of Sitio.
Since 1889 the funicular has connected these two communities: Nazaré…down in the center by the beach…and Sitio, up on the cliff. It departs every 15 minutes, and offers a gorgeous panoramic view along the way. It travels up 318 meters (1042 feet), and is used by both tourists and locals. I found it fascinating and a bit scary as it slid up the steep hill, but the locals treated it like a mundane trip on the Times Square shuttle to Grand Central Station in NY City. The station we entered was spacious and modern, decorated with the typical elegant tiles of Portugal.
The huge square at the top was rimmed with small shops and vendors selling souvenirs, but we were more interested in the view overlooking the craggy cliffs, where 100 ft. waves smashed the rocks during prime surfing season. Small houses were nestled in some of the crevasses, but it was hard for me to believe that anyone could live there, safely. Made me dizzy just looking at it!
At intervals along the beach and in front of shops, elderly men would sit and carve swallows, a symbol of home and solidarity, and small boats, celebrating Portugal’s sea-going heritage. Wherever I travel I always bring back one small souvenir that speaks to me of that particular country. This year I brought back two.
For the rest of the day, we continued our exploration of Nazare, going up and down hills and bumping into people from around the world. One such group was a caravan of young people from several countries: Montenegro, the U.S (New Jersey no less), Germany, and Holland. They were all traveling together, having hooked up along the way. They were staying in hostels, and doing their various jobs online. How about that? I hope it was a while before they were required to return to the office, as has happened, recently, to several of my friends and relatives.
On our last evening in Nazare, we decided to go wild and try something different…an Indian restaurant, Little India, located on a narrow street not far from the beach. It was dimly lit, so we asked if we could sit outside in the sun. A table and chairs were hastily assembled and out we went into a back alley. We realized, immediately, that this was definitely makeshift, for the laundry from the apartment above was hanging low over our head. Not exactly optimal for a fancy dinner. Chuckling to ourselves, we headed back inside, only then realizing how beautiful it was. The walls were all tiled, and colorful decorations hung like clouds from the ceiling. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, interesting, and informative evenings of our trip. The Indian food was excellent! The portions were small and tasty, with ample choices. Palak paneer with garlic buttered naan, an unusual eggplant dish with creamy vegetables, and a traditional lamb curry with Greek yogurt. And, of course, Portuguese white wine! Had a great time talking with the waiter, Mo-Rizwon Kabir, who turned out to be the manager and part-owner of the restaurant. He reminded us of our many years traveling through India. And we were impressed hearing his experience of setting up an establishment in another country. An example of “if you don’t take chances, you won’t succeed.” How true.
Early the next morning, May 16, day 11 of our journey, Martha made the most wonderful cheese omelet, and served it with the remaining Kangaroo Coffee she had brought from Colorado. As we boarded the bus for our return trip to Lisbon, we knew for sure that we would survive until lunchtime.
Thank you for all your patience as I struggle through the end of summer and make plans for the coming year. Stay tuned! The end of our trip is in sight and you will be treated to an extensive meander through the world’s most exquisite garden, Quinta de Regaleira in Sintra.