Friday, 30 September 2011

beautiful Evora

We only planned one day in Evora. We arrived midday yesterday and left everything in our room to wander around this ancient walled city without backpacks, camera etc. It was hot, so we jumped from side to side along the narrow cobbled streets chasing the shade.

Maria did it again with the hotel selection. Much more laid back than Lisbon, but extremely good. Reception feels like a lounge room, all the food is organic and local, and the staff, including an Australian, are as friendly and helpful as you could imagine. Our room is off a little courtyard (I think Maria just took a picture or two) that is classic mediteranian, terecota tiles, big shade umbrellas surrounded by plants. People sit here and have breakfast, tapas and wine or whatever they fancy.

We are about to check out, and then have a couple of hours before we jump onto a bus for the four hour trip south to Faro.

Another day, another exotic city ... Aaahhh.

One of the highlights of this place has been the food and ambience. It is almost the opposite of our previous hotel, here it is rustic (think Tuscan B and B) with local and organic produce - for breakfast local peaches and figs, homemade jams ( I tried the pumpkin), honey, freshly squeezed juices etc... Last night we went to a small restaurant recommended by the hotel. We sat outside on a warm and balmy evening and shared a huge clay baked pot of a kind of seafood risotto but with lots of liquid (almost soup like) It was fantastic. 
Only problem is we are eating far too much!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

the bus goes east

Sitting at the bus depot waiting for our bus to Evora. We were a bit sad to leave Lisbon this morning, we have had such a good time here and enjoyed staying at our hotel. The one unfortunate thing is that we got incorrect advice this morning re where to catch the bus and had to back track from the end of a train line lugging our cases and when we finally arrived at the right station we couldn't find the bus depot. It was not well signed. Anyway we are here now, luckily we aren't in a hurry to get anywhere!

We had an enjoyable and interesting last evening in Lisbon. Our hotel booked us into a Fado House for dinner and to experience the phenomena of Fado-think folk singing cum opera with a dash of theatrics. A very pricy experience in the end but we figured we won't be doing it again so what the hec. It was just as interesting watching people's response to the singing, it is a bit out of the ordinary for the tourists but a few of the locals really got into it, singing along and obviously really appreciative. The lights dim every so often and the musicians come out (usually three, playing guitar) and each time a different person sings, usually three or four songs. The last woman was obviously the diva, she did have a fantastic voice (and loud) the locals came just to see her I think, they all knew who she was. Needless to say we didn't buy a cd.

Now for our next adventure, Evora and Faro, here we come.

amazing hotel internationale

OK, one more comment on our amazing little hotel. I've mentioned that is it a bit quirky. Examples of this are things like the crockery and glasses having sloping bases so that glasses sit on the table like the leaning tower of Pizza, the are little messages on things such as on the glass front door that says something like 'hello, I am glass'.

By the two little messages I like most are on the welcome mat and the shoulders of the hotel staff uniforms;
The welcome mat says, 'I am curious about you.' I reckon that is a great way to welcome someone.
On the shoulders of the hotel uniforms is the phrase, 'the world fascinates me.'

I'd love to meet the person behind the place, I suspect they would be a rally interesting person. But I'm satisfied just to have experienced something of the little Lisbon experience that they have created for people like us.

fado and more

We are sitting under an umbrella, sipping sangria and looking out at boats moored in a blue sea. The shore is rocky, old buildings hug the coast line. It is thirty degrees, a bit hot in the sun but lovely in the shade. (When Colin first suggested we try sangria I was a bit dubious, red wine, beer, fruit and sugar, plus who konows what else, mixed together sounded like an odd mix, but it is surprisingly good, I'm hooked now)

We caught a train this morning, taking our first venture on the Portuguese underground (tame in comparison to London), and headed west along the coast. We have done a bit of beach hopping, getting on and off the train at various places. Colin had a dip in the sea at our first stop, there was actually sand and some waves there, most of the rest is rocky with the occasional sandy bit. The coastline is beautiful and the old buildings right on the foreshore is something you don't see in oz. We had a craving for a salad sandwich for lunch but it is surprisingly hard to find one, the Portuguese just don't seem to do baguettes and when you do find one they aren't anything special, but we were happy just to find something approximating one.

Some interesting observations-smoking is very common here, which is somewhat annoying when you are eating.
They don't have laundromats here, we had to take our washing to a dry cleaners and pay twenty dollars to have some jeans and tshirts washed (the rest we do by hand each evening)
it is also hard to find a decent salad here, not sure if the stuff we see all the time is what they think tourists want (lettuce leaves, grated carrot etc...) We went Italian last night, a simple pizza and finally a real salad, rocket and Parmesan cheese with oil and vinegar!

I think I need to change my FB photo. Maria handed me the iPad to add a few sentences and I see myself in woolley top and hat. Was wearing the same thick wool top in Wales just a week and half ago, it seems a world away sitting here overlooking coastline with blokes walking around without shirts and people sun baking.

Tonight we take a deep dive into Portuguese culture and experience Fado. Think mediteranian men singing lamenting folk songs ... Can't say it immediately strikes as something we would rush out and do, but hey, when in Portugal ...

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

sangria in Sintra

We took the train out of Lisbon for a day trip west to Sintra. I expect the photos will speak for themselves, suffice to say that what we saw today was breathtaking. In particular the Castelo de Mouros (Moorish Castle) and the Palacio Nacional de Pena (Pena National Palace) were amazing. I've upload a small sample of Marias excellent photographs ... Again the colours are spectacular.

We had some good advice from our helpful hotelier today about food too. He told us which areas to avoid (tourist trap food) and told us we just 'had to' try some particular little tarts from a bakery in one of the narrow, steep back alleys of Sintra.

So as well as being immersed in ancient architecture we jumped head first into Portuguses food today too. For lunch we had grilled sardines and baked codfish (shredded with tomato and potato) and washed it down with the unbelievably refreshing sangria, of which we drank a full jug. Mmmmmmmmm.

Then for desert we found the recommended bakery, I had the obligatory coffee (standard issue good quality espresso), and we ordered a couple of said tarts as well as a standard Portuguese custard tart. After you've had these it's hard to imagine every eating a custard tart back home again, as good as they are they pale compared to the real thing.

For amateur foodies like us, a great afternoon. After I emerged from the bath (yes our daily habit is to soak in the tub before dinner) Maria announced that we're going Italian tonight ... For her and me now too, Italian food has a kind of 'centring' effect.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

discovering Portuguese tarts

We took some time this morning to have a sticky beak around the hotel. Each floor has a theme, ours is 'urban', there is also tribe, zen, and pop. Each floor has a piece of art in the corridor that reflects the theme, and the walls and pictures beside the doors reflect the theme with appropriate colours as well and each door has a word on it that has something to do with the theme. Makes for interesting wandering.

I discovered Portuguese tarts at breakfast this morning and ate half of Colins and two more of my own (they were very small ones!) needless to say they are divine, hope they have them tomorrow as well. I have also discovered that ice-cream in a cone is very expensive, but one on a stick is cheap, about two dollars fifty for a Magnum, what a bargain, I'll also be having more of them. Coffee and beer are cheap also, wine so, so, baguettes or sandwiches not very inspiring and dearer than France or the UK. 

We have adjusted to Portuguese time, having lunch around two and dinner after eight in the evening. But true to form kids, we are still old fuddy duddys and go to bed straight after, just when all the young people are heading out, you guys would fit in well here. You should have seen the receptionists face when an American couple wanted her to make a dinner reservation for them at six, she just about fell off her stool. She said she didn't think they were open then!

P.S Heidi I had mango for breakfast (along with paw paw and numerous Portuguese tarts) and thought of you. Zac you would love the salami here, I have been eating one that is like chorizo sausage but made in a salami (also for breakfast with cheese) If I could bring some home for you I would.

P.P.S Carol, when you need something healthy for lunch next time you are in London go to Pret a Manger, a franchise that has great healthy baguettes (also sandwiches, soup, fruit and other healthy stuff) Colin says the coffee is fine, it is also environmentally friendly, has a social conscience and has thought provoking quotes on the wall. I think you would like the place.

Today we abandoned the bus and took the tram. Yesterday the buses took us along grand wide boulevards, today the tram took us through impossibly narrow, winding, steep cobbled streets. At the top of the hill we got out and explored the Castle of St Jorge, a week ago we would have been awestruck by the 1000 year history, but after a week of London and Lisbon it's a bit ... 'neh, whatever'.

I've already put some of our photos up from today, the colours of the red tiled rooves against the brilliant blue sky is pretty amazing. Even though the photos don't capture is properly I hope you get a sense of the beauty.

One of the good things about being in a place for more than a couple of days is that once you've got the 'must see' sites covered off you can settle into long slow coffees, cold drinks in the outdoor areas and do some people watching .... At least that's what we do. 

The world is such an amazing place. Heidi, you have already begun to explore, but we hope thhe rest of you kids get the chance to experience some different cultures and places too. Rachel, you've also had amazing times with indigenous communities and we are excited for you for next year too.

We feel extremely privileged. We take one day at a time, and even though we hope to travel lots more in the future, we try to experience every place as if it is our last opportunity.

Monday, 26 September 2011

history gets to you

Lisbon is waking up and some early bodies are beginning to wander throughout the square. From our hotel room we can see into parts of two squares. We are in the Alfama, old part of the city, narrow, winding and cobblestone alleys and majestic old buildings (unfortunately many of which are in various states of disrepair), you can see that Lisbon is not as wealthy as some of it's neighbours. 

The hotel is a boutique hotel, arty farty in a renovated old building. We've taken some photos of art work in the corridors, door entrances etc... we will put them up later.We are enjoying a bathroom that works and having a bath to soak in at the end of a tiring sight seeing day!

Yesterday we hopped on board a tourist bus and visited some of the significant sights, getting off to explore St Jeromes Monastery and Belem Tower. The hop on, hop off bus works well here where public transport is limited and walking is not ideal (Lisbon sprawls over seven hills) We got a feel for the place and saw some of the newer areas to balance the older areas where we are focusing our time and attention.

As part of the tourist deal, today we will catch a tram that winds it's way through the older part of the city, saving our legs from all the up hill treks.

(Col here now)
So this is a big call but I reckon this hotel is probably the best Maria has found on our various travels. I really like the quirkiness, and the breakfast, which is included in the rate is exceptionally good in a bright and funky room.

It was great to get out yesterday and explore, and yes, the shorts and T-shirts were the go, along with sunscreen. The open top buses were fantastic. Perfectly clear skies and high twenties temperatures. My health is coming good too so all good.

It's kind of cliche to say so, but coming from our part of the world the history really gets you in Europe. At every turn there are buildings that have been there before Europeans even knew Australia existed. We'll check out some more today, and then tonight we've got a reservation for dinner at a place that was recommended but was booked out last night.

I'll put some photos up from our excursion yesterday ...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

a bit more on London

About to head out to do the tourist bus thing here in Lisbon today, but first a couple of things about London. I loved the history, old buildings and architecture, bananas for 50p (had one most days), getting around on the tube when it wasn't busy and Marcus Wareing is a legend in the kitchen. Things I didn't like so much were catching the tube during peak hour, poor water pressure and a shower that sometimes stopped, boggy British food at some places (often chose not to have something when there wasn't a single thing that interested me on the menu!) Would love to visit again if I get the chance, so much that I didn't get a chance to see or do....

Colin is finally finished in the bathroom so we are ready to head off. we can see right into the square from where all the tourist buses leave, the line doesn't look too long so we better get going.

Lisbon bound

‎'Sitting on the plane from London to Lisbon. We have both got our headphones in listening to music. The sky is blue. I'm listening to my surf, yurt, cruise playlist to get me in the mood for Portugal. Even though the last couple of days has been OK weather in London my memories will be of grey skies and drizzle, in part because I have been a bit miserable with snuffly nose and cough.

I'm looking forward to being with Maria in Portugal. It feels like a proper adventure, going somewhere unfamiliar and exotic. I expect to ditch the jeans and pull the shorts from the bottom of the bag. I'm crossing my fingers and toes that once my body feels the warmth and smells the salt air I'll bounce into health.

(U2 is singing, It's a beautiful Day - it is)

They served us a salad roll. Maria said, 'That's your lunch' except when she saw hers she didn't even open it announcing she was going to wait for something better when we land. That'd be right. 

(a few hours later)
Settled into our hotel now and wandered around the streets. Maria has done it again, this place is totally cool, right in the cent of town on the city square surrounded by classic old buildings and alfresco eating at every turn. Photos to come ...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

by the seaside

On the train back to London after a very pleasant day in the south east. We wandered along the foreshore in Herne Bay, and I had an early lunch of fish (cod) and chips; figured I should have fish and chips before we left the UK and what better place than by the sea.

Canterbury was a lovely surprise. Maria did the audio tour of Canterbury Cathederal, the oldest in Britain. Majestic and steeped in history. Unbeknowns to us, it was the Kent food ad wine festival in Canterbury, starting today, so we enjoyed browsing the stalls and sat around sampling some produce on white chairs on green grass with old buildings as a backdrop ... So British.

I've been a bit miserable actually, stuffed head and asthma-breathing, so Maria has had to put up with me blowing my nose and moping around.

Tonight we finish our UK adventure and are pointing ourselves toward Lisbon. While we were sitting in Canterbury today we felt the warmth of the sun for the first time, a little taster of what is to come. Not sure what we'll do for dinner tonight, we had a bit to eat back at the food and wine fair, but either way, we probably won't get to do the celebrity chef thing tonight for a change.

Hope you are all well, love you heaps. We'll upload some more photos later tonight.

Friday, 23 September 2011

old universities

We are currently sitting on a train heading down towards Canterbury for the day. Yesterday we also caught a train out of town and headed north to Cambridge. We joined a guided walking tour and got a history lesson of the various university colleges, the famous people who have attended etc...The colleges and chapels are magnificent, Kings College, Queens College and others, such a long history and tradition. Cambridge is obviously the place for the best, brightest and richest in society. We did the obligatory punt along the river Cam where our guide talked non stop for the full fifty minutes on all matter of minutiae associated with the each college, famous old boys and the pranks they got up to etc...

On our way back to London we stopped off at Leicester Square for dinner and found our way back to Jamie Olivers Italian restaurant (which we inadvertently stumbled across in our wanderings around the area a day or so ago) It was a stark contrast to last night, busy, bustling, food for the masses at a reasonable price. The food was pretty good though, despite flogging Jamie Oliver merchandise around the walls. An interesting experience and a contrast to the fine dining of the night before.

While Maria has been writing we've been speeding through picturesque countryside and are stopped now at Rochester. It has been good to get out of London and see a bit of the sweeping hills and villages.

It's a nice day today so we are thinking we might hire some bikes and ride along the foreshore ... We'll wait and see.

We haven't got the cord to connect the camera with us so we'll have to put our photos from Cambridge up later.