Adventures in Lisbon and Porto

Our adventures this month continue to require maximum flexibility on our part.  The original plan was to work on the boat, supervise the installation of the new standing rigging, and then fly out to Portugal for some exploration before beginning the Camino de Santiago.  We encountered a hang up with the materials for the standing rigging, so we made the decision to head to Portugal early before returning to the boat to finish up the work.

We arrived in Lisbon late in the evening and grabbed a Bolt (like Uber) to our apartment in the heart of Lisbon.  It turned out that our driver was also a tour operator, so we were able to arrange a 9 hour private tour of the highlights in and around Lisbon.

The next day we headed out on foot to explore the beauty of Lisbon.  Lisbon is extremely hilly with many, many staircases throughout the town.  Our apartment was also on the 4th floor, so the amount of climbing we did over the few days we were there was phenomenal (and exhausting).  As with most European cities, the old town was lined with quaint little alleyways and cobblestone roads.  There were many small cafes and restaurants tucked up in alleys and in the main squares.  Cathedrals and churches were all around.  After a long day of exploring the surrounding area, we returned to our room for some rest before heading out later that evening for a 4 hour Portuguese cooking class.

We left a little early for our class to sample some of the local wines and a sour cherry liqueur, Ginjinha, which is a specialty of the area.  Everything was quite delicious.  When we arrived at the cooking school, we were greeted by the chef and met the 10 other people in the class with us.  8 of us were from the U.S. and 2 were from Portugal.  The class was structured a little bit different than ones we have done in other countries.  Here we would be making many different dishes, so each of us took on a variety of different tasks.  Throughout the experience there was wine…..lots and lots of wine!  We began with a charcuterie board of local cheeses, meats and bread as well as a fired chorizo.  Then it was time to cook.  We made cod fish croquettes, chicken gizzards, a marinated chicken, tempura fried long beans, a carrot dish, a rice dish, and an orange dessert.  Once everything was prepared, we all sat down to enjoy the food we had made.  We were sent all the recipes which we can’t wait to try out (maybe not the gizzards) when we get home.

The following day would be our last day in Lisbon.  Our driver picked us up at 9:00 a.m. for a full day of exploring before catching a 7:00 p.m. train to Porto.  Our first stop was a famous pastry shop (Pasteis de Belem) known as the original place of the Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart.  We bought several to enjoy later (that was a mistake – they are best enjoyed fresh from the oven!) From there, we headed to the river front where we explored a monument dedicated to explorer Vasco de Gama and the famous Belem tower.  We drove an hour outside of Lisbon to a lovely town called Sintra, home of the summer palace of Portuguese royalty.  We climbed steep hills and walked hundreds of steps to explore this amazing garden,  Reguleira, with an “inspiration well” that spiraled deep down into the earth where we then passed through long tunnels before popping out amongst waterfalls.  The grounds were very tropical and lush providing a sense of peace and serenity.  It was definitely scenery fit for a king.  Sintra is also home to Pena Palace, a 19th century castle (and UNESCO world heritage site) built by King Ferdinand.  

Pasteis de Belem – Home of the original Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Nata – the signature Portuguese dessert!
Monastery of Senhora and Tomb of Vasco de Gama
Belem Tower
Vasco de Gama’s starting point in 1497
Inspiration well in Reguleira
Pena Palace – Sintra
Castle fit for a King!

We toured many of the rooms inside the palace

I found it amusing when our driver told us that we would likely spend 2-3 hours in the palace.  Really?  That seemed like a really long time.  Nope, we spent that long!  By the time we hoofed it back down to the car, we were ready to take a break with a ride to our next site….Capo de Roca.  This is the westernmost point of Continental Europe.  The rock formations and crashing surf provided a spectacular backdrop.  There is nothing beyond this point until you hit North America.  Before long, we were making our way back toward Lisbon through a coastal fisherman’s village called Cascais.  The reality is that it was a fisherman’s village of the past.  Now, it is one of the wealthiest areas of Portugal boasting the pseudonym of the St. Tropez of Portugal.  For Dan and I, it was very reminiscent of driving through the ritzy beach towns of Southern California.

Westernmost point in Europe…
With our tour driver – Pramesh from Mozambique
Seaside town of Cascais

It was hard to believe how much we saw in our 9 hour window.  We loved every minute of it, but I would not recommend blazing through all these sites in one day.  Take the time to stop and really smell the roses.  You won’t regret it.  Sadly, it was time for us to say goodbye to Lisbon and make our way to Porto.  I wasn’t super excited by the idea of a 3 hour train ride (and that was the high speed version) nor arriving at our apartment after 10:00 p.m.  It had already been a really long day!

High speed train to Porto

The train ride turned out to be relatively painless and before we knew it, we were in the lovely riverside town of Porto.  Once again, our apartment was on the 4th floor.  The worst part was that there was a flight of stairs to get to the starting floor of 1, and each floor had 2 flights of stairs.  Our apartment was on the top floor which overlooked the city and rooftops which was absolutely stunning!  The downside was there were also 3 flights of stairs IN our apartment.

The next morning, we headed out on foot to explore the historic center of Porto.  Once again, we found ourselves climbing hills and hundreds of stairs to reach the many beautiful churches and cathedrals.  Just like Lisbon, the streets were crawling with people. Despite being April, tourist season was already in full swing….boo!  All around the town, musicians played beautiful music for coins and the hope you’d buy their CD.  The city runs along the river which has 7 beautiful bridges running across it.  On the opposite side of the river, there were many, many port (the wine) makers and tasting rooms.  

Azulejos of the Igreja do Carmo
Porto has a vibrant street music scene

On our next outing, we took the foot bridge across the river in search of some port tastings.  Our first stop was Calem caves where we sampled one port before deciding to move on.  We had been told by a friend to go to a place called World of Wine which consisted of many shops, restaurants and bars.  This was indeed a gem as it was very quiet and free from the hoards of people milling around.  We headed for a spot called Angel’s Share to enjoy a port tasting.  We were seated on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river and city center.  We were given 3 different types of port and an explanation as to what to pair them with.  Our tasting came with a tray of several different items:  cheese, rosemary sourdough crisps, pumpkin jam, carmelized walnuts, and a dark and fruity chocolate truffle.  It was amazing!  I am head over heels in love with the cheeses they make here, and the pumpkin jam they pair them with puts it over the top!

Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia – home of famous Port wine
Most of the world’s port is produced in this area
Burmester Port wine cellars
Trying some Calem Port
An example of the river boats that delivered Port from the Douro river valley
Fun Port wine tasting at World of Wine

After our tasting we walked the riverfront and came upon this tall building with quite a bit of action going on.  As we wandered in, the walls rose 3 stories high and were lined with books.  The whole place was brightly colored and on the second level an organist played fun music like we were at some kind of old fashioned circus.  There were a couple of stations where you placed an order and received a cod fritter packed with hot, runny cheese and a large glass of port all served up on this small painters pallet that they hung over your thumb.  You could enjoy your treat in the place of walk the riverfront with your goodies and the glass and pallet were your souvenirs to keep.  Now that was fun!

Bacalhau (codfish) and glass of Port to go!

For our last night in Porto, we followed our friend’s advice again and made a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant called Elemento.  We felt very fortunate that we were able to get the reservation as it can be very difficult to get last minute reservations.  We opted to do the chef’s tasting menu which is always a lot of fun.  Tasting menus can always be a little challenging if you are like me and averse to some tastes and textures.  Every item was unique and unusual and everything hot is cooked over an open fire….no ovens or stovetops.  Most of the hot dishes had a bit of a smokey flavor or used a smoky flavored sauce.  We were treated to several seafood and meat tastings which included things like dried fish eggs on mackerel, raw shrimp, and venison loin.  It was a very nice experience.

Elemento Michelin starred restaurant in Porto

We were a little sad to be leaving Porto.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops despite the crowds, but it was time to make our way north and begin our pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago….120 miles of fun filled walking!  Stay tuned as we trek our way from Portugal into Spain to the place where the Apostle, St. James, is interred.

Let The 2024 Adventures Begin

It’s hard to believe that the time had finally come to make our way back to Europe.  This year the trip back to Zoe had us flying by the seat of our pants and following some  rather unconventional routing.  To say that I am a high stress traveler would be a huge understatement and yet, I found myself very comfortably (and calmly) just going with the flow.  Well that’s an interesting twist!

It all began with a Sunday evening wedding in Las Vegas.  Our plan was to leave Vegas Monday morning on a flight to Los Angeles and then on to London.  Dan and I usually fly standby (Dan retired from American Airlines) which already makes travel very unpredictable (and yes, very stressful).  The empty flight we were listed on out of Vegas somehow filled up over night, and things only got worse as the day went on.  As far as the flights to London, Monday was our best shot at getting seats.  Flights to London got fuller and fuller as the week went on.  We made a last minute decision to drive to Los Angeles rather than fly.  Turned out that was a brilliant decision since the next flight out of Vegas cancelled and, we would have missed every flight available to us from Los Angeles to London.  As it was, we arrived at our gate within 30 minutes of boarding and standbys were already receiving their seat assignments.  Not only did we get seats together, but we got the last couple of seats in business class…..woo hoo!

One of the perks of being a retired airline person-standby travel for free

The majority of the flights that leave the US for Europe depart in the evening.  Our flight left early in the afternoon.  That turned out to be a rough flight since I can’t force myself to sleep in the middle of the day.  Oh well, I struggle to sleep on planes anyway.  Once we were cleared in London, our plan was to fly to Marseille, France (the closest airport to Zoe).  Well, that was a bust too.  The earlier flight to Marseille had cancelled which meant the one that we were suppose to take was now full.  My brilliant, travel planner husband quickly listed us on an open flight to Lyon, France.  This worked out great since we got our boarding passes right away despite being standby and seats together without a third person in our row.  Things really seemed to be turning out great!

Three flights and two unplanned rental cars but we made it

During all of this, Dan was quickly readjusting the pick up location of our rental car.  I am always amazed at his ability to pull off these quick itinerary changes on the fly (no pun intended).  From Lyon, we were going to fly to Marseille which would put us at a one hour drive from Zoe (versus 4 hours from Lyon).  At this point, I’ve been up for more than 24 hours and really have no desire to get on yet another plane for another flight to another airport.  We quickly strategized and decided that driving sounded better.  We figured we would drive and enjoy the beauty of the French countryside until Dan felt too jet lagged and tired to continue and, we would stop for the night.

We ended up stopping in the little town of Montelimar, home of the world famous nougat of France.  Dan found us a cute little apartment for the night before continuing on to Zoe the next day.  

Lovely place we booked enroute from Lyon to Marseille area in the French countryside

As we hit the road the following morning, we decided to stop for some much needed coffee.  We pulled over at this massive truck stop and headed inside for coffee.  Not only was the line for Starbucks huge, there were bus loads of kids milling about as if on a field trip.  On a side note, Starbucks in Europe is sooooo much better than in the US!  While Dan waited in line for our cappuccinos, I noticed a large nougat shop within the building.  I figured I’d go in and explore.  The amount and variety of nougat on display was mind numbing, and I’m not sure I even like nougat.  I selected a few small bags of several different kinds to try.  I mean, it’s world famous nougat from this town, you gotta try it….right?  FYI… was delicious!

We finally arrived back to Zoe by late morning.  We also arrived with a very strong Mistral (a strong wind that is famous in this region).  The winds were blowing between 30 and 65 knots!  It was hard to walk or even stand outside.  The waves on the Rhone River and nearby bay were pretty big for such small bodies of water (out on the sea, the waves were averaging over 15 feet!).  Talk about sapping your will to do work.

50 plus knots of Mistral wind greeted our arrival
Upon arrival to Zoe, the Mistral was blowing more fierce than normal. Our boat yard neighbors clocked 65 knots! Locals told us it was one of the worst.
Zoe looking pretty naked without her mast. She is 10 years old and in need of new standing rigging (the cables that secure the mast) especially if we are planning to cross the Atlantic.
60 feet of mast waiting for new goodies. Look how little Dan looks in comparison!
After 10 years in the heat and salt air, the seal around the doors became this gooey, tar like substance. It took me hours to clean the gunk out (never mind the sticky mess that ended up all over the boat which then also needed to be scrubbed)! Luckily, the installation of the new seals was quick and easy.
Our old lazy jacks (which guide the sails back into the bag) were extremely weathered and crusty. Time to make some new ones. Unfortunately, this is not a common knot for me, so I had to carefully deconstruct not only the crazy knots but how each line would run to the mast and through each pulley to the various connection points on the sail bag.
After a full day of frustrating work (and you can see the disaster behind that still awaits), you can’t beat our favorite Sardinian beer!

Zoe is always a mess when we return from being gone for so long, and this time was no exception.  If anything, I think she looked worse.  My heart sank.  The amount of work ahead of us seemed overwhelming, and in this wind the entire boat was shaking and rattling as it howled through the boatyard.  I was very worried the wind was going to knock us off our stand.  It was just as bad at the nearby lodge where we were staying.  The walls and windows shook violently for hours on end.  For me, the worst parts of owning a boat are getting her ready to launch and shutting her down for the season….a lot of work and no fun.  Everything in between is awesome!

These lodges aren’t far from the boatyard
After a hard day of work on Zoe a bit of local red wine and a sunset
Port St Louis du Rhone
Walks from the boatyard
The beach isn’t that far away
Our winter storage yard – this is the third country we’ve stored Zoe

Our plan is to be out here until mid May before returning home for the first birthdays of our granddaughter and grandson, then returning mid July to start the sailing season.  In the meantime, we are having a lot of work done to the boat in preparation for sailing her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean in the next year or two.  We have also been preparing for another bucket list adventure while we are here and out of the water.  While waiting for work to begin, we will be heading to Portugal where we intend to do an over 100 mile trek of the Camino de Portuguese following the path of St. James’ body to his final resting place in the Cathedral de Santiago in Spain.  Stay tuned for some fun and exciting land adventures in Portugal and Spain before we return to Zoe and then home. 

Onwards and Forwards!