Bathtub on a beach (Setubal – Troia)

It was time to leave our palace and head off south, and to new adventures. We had to drive back to Lisbon. Ooh-wee! It was peak hour and we still had to cross the Ponte de Abril bridge. We heard “stories” about the traffic but, believe it or not, it was green lights all the way. We sailed through to the other side of the Rio Tejo (Tagus river), throwing an air kiss or two towards the Cristo Rei statue and hoping that this would be the last high, long and scary metal thingy we would have to drive on. ūüėĪ

It was a warm and fabuloso morning as we reached the ferry port in Setubal. We chose this route to our next destination, Sines, because we wanted to hug the coast all the way down. From Setubal it’s a thirty minute ferry ride across the Sado Estuary to the Troia Peninsula, then another hour from there to Sines. Sounds quick, but then there’s so much to see on the way. Let’s just say that we arrived at our hotel late at night. Dark late. Oops!

We had to wait quite long for the ferry in Setubal, so used this time to explore a bit, and eat ice cream. Slurp! A pity that we did not go into Settable town, but we did see the little marina, the dock, and also strolled a bit on the promenade.

A lovely day for a ferry ride, no wind and no choppy waters, just blues and greens all around. Blue skies. Blue waters. Green ferry. Green face. Yes, one of us has a problem. ūü§Ę. Whatever, we arrived safe and sound on the other side. No upchucking, and no dolphins. We hoped to see at least one! We did see a few cargo ships, and the view towards Setubal is also interesting.

Okay, so we were a bit “surprised” about the Troia Peninsula. At first there’s not much to see other than dunes and trees all along the road leading to the town itself. Troia is small but very popular as a holiday resort, with fantastic beaches and a lovely and informative wooden boardwalk. We picnicked on the marina then strolled along one of the beaches.

The bird can be explained, but how did a bathtub get washed on the beach?? ūü§£¬†ūüßź¬†ūü§™

This route to Sines is amazing! We spent a lot of time on the coast. The road is almost on the edge of the ocean, with only sand dunes between you and your car. Where the road did not meet the ocean, we detoured until the sand came through the air filters lol! Yep, crazy couple. We stopped quite a lot along the way, climbed over the dunes, more like stumbled hee-hee, and took the time to wait for the sun to set. Then it got dark quickly! At least we arrived at the hotel in time for supper…

Rattling americanos in Lisbon

BOA VIAGEM LISBOA ESPERA POR TI (Have a Nice Trip, Lisbon Awaits You)

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The first thing we were thrilled about was that the city of Lisbon was not very far away from our hotel in Estoril. The second was that it was cheaper and very easy to take the train rather than drive to the busy city. No parking problems, and definitely no driving stress. We chose well. Our hotel was not only fancy, it was just a few steps away from the beach (depending on who’s walking, or talking¬†ūü§™¬†), with the train station right next to it, and only a thirty-minute train ride away from Lisbon. We bought a 24-hour return ticket and only paid six euros each! What they don’t tell you though, when you buy the ticket, is to make sure you sit to the right in the direction of travel towards the city. We only chose that side because of the morning sun and were rewarded with a lovely train route along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and as we neared Lisbon, we travelled along the banks of the Rio Tejo (Tagus river). Ooh-aah-ohh-wow! Yep, it was obvious who the tourists were.

We didn’t know where we wanted to start first once we reached Lisbon, nor did we have any concrete plans on anything special we wanted to see. The concierge at our hotel gave us a map and a few tips, but we ended up exploring it our usual way, by getting lost.

The final stop is at the Cais do Sodre train station. This not a spectacular building on the inside, even though there’s quite a few typical Portuguese¬†mosaic panels (Azulejos) and artworks on the walls, but its plus point is that it sits next to the Rio Tejo, the watery introduction to Lisbon, and our orientation or focal point.

Another highlight is just outside at the front of the building, the most popular tourist attraction that squeaks, screeches, and rattles all day long, the one and only, rat-ta-tat-tat, electric americanos. These colourful historical trams haven been rolling, climbing and honking in Lisbon since the first one came over from America (Americano) way back in 1873.

The most famous one used by tourists and locals alike is the yellow number 28. It tends to get very full, but if you’ve managed to get at least a standing space, it is worth the noisy ride. They squeak, that ear-piercing metal on metal kind of squeak, around every curve (there are lots of these), or have to screech to a halt quite often when silly people cross in front of them. Then they honk. All. The. Time. As a “honk-honk-shake-rattle-and-roll-it-is-me” warning, or when a parked car has blocked the line. The rattling, well, it is what it is…¬†ūü§£¬†Ouch! It is quite amazing how those drivers manage to move through all those narrow and curvy streets without hitting anything!!

If you stand with your back to the Rio Tejo, beautiful Lisbon lays in front of you, and yes, get your knees ready because it’s only uphill from there!¬†ūüßóūüŹĽ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ¬†ūüėȬ†Worried? No! Why? If our patellas did not pop in Porto, then they will not limp in Lisbon, so bring it on! Haha!¬†Seriously though, the area between the Cais do Sodre station and the Pra√ßa do Com√©rcio (Commerce Square) is very flat with an interesting and bustling¬†waterfront promenade. Hmmm. Step to the right, step to the left, step back – one, two, three, now step to the right, step to the left, turn around and hop, hop, hop. Hee-hee! That’s what it felt like trying to decide which way to go as we did not want to miss anything. We zig-zagged. Promenade, little garden next to station, cross over to Duke of Terceira Square, back to Rio Tejo at the Commerce Square, promenade. And in-between all that, there was something fishy!

Keep your eyes peeled so as not to miss the Loja das Conservas, (photos below) a shop created by the¬†ANICP – National Association of Canned Fish Industry, to highlight and sell the products from the Portuguese canning industry. An amazing shop if you’re looking for variety. There are hundreds of colourful cans stacked on two walls with information about each of the companies. There is a huge assortment and it’s difficult to choose only one tin to buy. We ended up with three. Oh, and there are also a few free fishy nibbles to try. This is not the only shop selling traditional canned fish in the area, but this one is more touristy, so tends to be more expensive. Whatever, enjoy and feel the holiday spirit!

The Commerce Square is probably the most important square in Lisbon. Eavesdropping on one of the guides, he said that at the last New Year celebration, hundreds of thousands of people gathered here to welcome the new year. There are two long archways on each side of the square where you will find restaurants, shops and…a beer museum. Slurp! We only looked, even though one of us was starting to get thirsty, lol. We bought a take-away snack instead, the traditional Pasteis de Bacalhau or codfish cakes. It was lekker, BUT the price shocked us though. Oh well, tourists we are…

Now we start to climb. Up. Up. Up. Then, ta-daa, a church. Hallelujah! All those pews just waiting for weary feet ūüėᬆūüėᬆThis is a very special Catholic church. This is where Saint Anthony of Padua was born, a gifted preacher, teacher and patron saint of lost things and small miracles. His birthplace is accessible for everyone to see, though the room is a bit tight, especially when there are a lot of people. The Church of Saint Anthony is right next to the Lisbon Cathedral and has colourful ceilings with a very attractive altar. It is also much quieter, so easy to while away for a few hours. We did not have the time, so up and out! Lisbon Cathedral was waiting hee-hee…

The Lisbon Cathedral, or Saint Mary Major Minster or simply the S√© de Lisboa¬†(below) is the oldest church in Lisbon and has survived many natural disasters in its eight hundred and seventy-odd year history. During this time many renovations have taken place that is why there are so many architectural styles to be seen, like Gothic, Baroque and Rococo, to name but a few. To visit the cathedral does not cost anything, but if you want to see more, like the cloister and the treasury, then it costs a few euros each. It was worth every penny because the view from the gallery is awesome! It’s also quite something else being covered in bright rainbow colours while standing under the rose window! The sun shone through the window for only a moment, covering the walls, and us, in beautiful colours! Ooh, getting emotional here…

Outside the Lisbon Cathedral is a tuk-tuk “terminus”. One of us had to empty the bladder, hop-hop-squeeze, so we asked one of the drivers where the nearest waterhole was. A few minutes later he had convinced us to take a ride with him. The most hilly part was still to come, he said. Just then an¬†americano¬†came by, seeming to drag itself up the hill, honking and squealing as if to say, take-the-tuk-tuk! We took the tuk-tuk. A very expensive ride! A one hundred euro adventurous ride. Getting in and out was not something for short legs. The only way was to do a bum slide, then drop. Don’t ask. Besides, the beauty of Lisbon can NOT be enjoyed to the full when you’re being tailgated by an angry americano! The¬†28! Yep, he was one of those always in the way. Honk-Honk! LOL! No problem, he said. It is normal, he said. So we’re not going to get bumped or pushed out of the way then? Nooo, everything okay. Alrighty then. So we wobbled our way up to Our Lady of the Hill viewing point. What a breathtaking view over Lisbon! The weather could’ve been better though…too many clouds…BUT, no rain!

Next stop was the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon, the Alfama District. WOW! We were gobsmacked! It is a maze of narrow alleyways, cobbled streets, old houses, little squares, restaurants, cafes and what else, lots and lots of stairs. It survived the big earthquake, with subsequent tsunamis and fires, in 1755, so has retained its cultural and historical heritage. We really enjoyed our time here!

We tuk-tuk’d our way through many other interesting attractions. At some we asked him to stop so as to have a closer look, bum slide drop, and others were enough to see in passing. Our tour ended at the Baixa Food Market. YAY! We were famished! We said good-bye to Mr. No Problem and followed the smells of food. It is not a big place, but there are more than enough choices of meats, cheeses and other traditional foods on offer. We had the typical fried sausage washed down with a sangria. Dessert was past√©is de nata.¬†They were created in Lisbon, so, when in Lisbon, nom-nom-nom, then eat what the monks created so many years ago, custard tarts!

Lisbon can be seen from many viewpoints across the city. One can take a boat ride and enjoy the view from across the Rio Tejo, or use a tuk-tuk (pricey), or the trams, or go up in a lift. There’s a metal thingy, the Santa Justa Elevator, with an observation platform presenting panoramic views over the Baixa District and beyond. This lift is also used as an easier way get from upper Lisbon to lower Lisbon or vice versa. It’s very popular, and only twenty or so can use the lift at a time, so long queues.

Below are some very interesting buildings, statues and artworks Lisbon has to offer. Click on the photo for more information. Enjoy!

There are only two bridges over the Rio Tejo in Lisbon, the Vasco da Gama and the 25 de Abril. The latter is the one you see from most viewpoints, and also has the Christ the King Statue almost next to it, but it’s a bit arduous to get there. A fifteen minute ferry ride to the other side of the river, then another twenty minutes with a bus.. Too much hassle for us, and it was too late anyway. Hotel!!!!!!

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Our walky-talky-clickety-click-snap-slurp-munch-munch day in Lisbon was over and we had not even seen half of what is has to offer. We were tired, but happy. We spent the night rubbing shoulders with VIP’s and drinking cocktails. Tum-di-dum. Shh…

Getting beachy along the Silver Coast

We waved good-bye to the gondolas bobbing on the water as we headed off to our next destination, Estoril Cascais. Our goal was to drive as close as we could to all the beaches along the beautiful shores of the Silver Coast. This route would take two or more hours longer than the quicky on the highway, but whatever, talk to the sand! Someone’s ample gluteus maximus had just about moulded itself into the drivers seat when your beefiness wanted to take a quick look at the Aveiro Lighthouse (Farol de Aveiro), or mostly known as the Lighthouse of Praia Barra (below). Said! Done! Little beach walk! Awesome! ūüėĀ

We only managed to drive a total of twelve and a bit kilometres since leaving the hotel in Aveiro, so no, we did not get far. Oops! Shortly after leaving the lighthouse, these unusual and attractive candy striped houses (below) looked too interesting to ignore, so of course we had to stop. We’d never seen anything like this anywhere else in Portugal. Costa Nova is a colourful fishermans village on a strip of land with the Atlantic ocean and a vast beach at the back, and probably the widest part of the Aveiro river to the front. These colourful houses (palheiros) were once used by the fishermen as storage spaces, but have since been converted into holiday homes, restaurants or shops. Some of the other houses are painted in bright colours or¬†adorned with beautiful local tiles.¬†We did not spend a lot of time here, what a pity, and only stopped to take a few photos. Next time, baby! ūüĎć

Okay, let’s get outta here already! Vroom-vroom-screech! Geez, we’re such acquaholics! A bit of water and we screech to a halt. A dog sleeping on the grass jumped up and growled at us. Did we scare you woofy-woofy? Lake Barrinha, near the Praia de Mira, seems to be a much loved area for joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers. We decided to walk a few metres in, take a few photos, then be on our way, but someone’s camera was giving problems. She handed it over to the expert. He took the memory card out and !PLOP!, it fell through the slats of the wooden boardwalk, and right into the mushy ground below. That’s it, bye-bye, but he was having nothing of that. As calm as the sliced cucumber we’d just had for breakfast, two long legs with boep started to scramble over the splintered railing. !PLOP! Small space, wet ground, spider webs? No problem! He got the card! Ta-daa! A Knight in shining armour!

Happiness comes in waves, and we saw a lot of them along the Silver Coast. We stopped for a quick picnic at the Praia do Norte (North Beach) near Nazare. What a lovely way to nibble, and we were the only ones far and wide!

Next stop was the famous Nazare lighthouse and the Fort of Saint Michael the Archangel. ¬†The crazy aunty was at it again. She navigated us on to a holier than thou dirt road, yes, there were potholes and bumps everywhere! Too much effort to direct us to a new tarred road through town, hey? Grrrr! Whatever, we know how to rock and roll, baby! So there! Wow! The view from the top over towards the town of Nazare is simply breathtaking! It was also very busy, and every Dick, Tom and Maria wanted to take a selfie with the red thingy. We walked around, waved at the fishermen below, admired the view and finally managed to get a few photos of the lighthouse, sans selfie sticks hahaha…

Modes of transport to the lighthouse, wink-wink. A horse-back rider or a tuk-tuk?

We left our car parked nicely on the side of the dirt road, but when we got back, some flipdiot (flipping idiot) had parked us in. Now really! All that space and he had to kiss the back of our car?? A lot of stinky brake fluid and clutch fumes later we managed to get the car out without dropping over the cliff. It was getting dark and we still had a long way to go. Bring us to the highway, you crazy thing. She did, but via, via, via! We found our hotel quite easy, BUT, we were at the wrong end. We went round and round like a merry-go-round around the block trying to find the entrance. We throttled the nutty aunty and one of us walked to try and find it. Geez, how complicated, but we eventually found it. A Valet and one of the Doormen took over the parking and baggage stuff while we checked in. It was another one of those old Palace Hotels that we love and so luxurious. The Palacio is also famous because a James Bond movie was filmed here. Kings, queens, spies, writers, famous actors, athletes and other celebrities have stayed here. Photos of their visits line the walls of the hotel. We were so happy that our top floor suite had a view over the bay, so we opened a small bottle of wine, and enjoyed this awesome sunset. A soothing end to a very long and eventful day. All the nights we were there, we took romantic walks in the gardens opposite the hotel, and loved these colourful dancing water lights. Ooh! Love!

 

 

Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal

The rainbow over the wine barrels of Quinta da Pacheca must have been a very good sign that all will be well because we reached Aveiro without any dramas (thousands of roundabouts do not qualify as a drama…yes??) or nasty surprises with aunty GPS and her mid-life crisis. We would have liked to spend another day sniffing sweet wine barrel vapours, but we needed some vitamin sea as soon as possible. It was still cloudy but at least the rain had stopped. Yippee-Yay-Yay!¬†In all the years visiting Portugal, this was the first time we experienced such a lot of rain in one go. Typical in the north, we were told. ¬†We wanted to take the more scenic route through the countryside towards the coast, but sight-seeing and raindrops are not best friends, so we used the highway with many tolls and high bridges…gulp! A few hours later we landed on the Praia da Granja beach (farm beach…BIG question mark) in Espinho, and only because we took a wrong turn. We used this “mistake” to stroll along the boardwalk (below) and enjoy a mini picknick . Oh happy day!

Aveiro is a more than one-thousand-year-old lovely city with canals, colourful Moliceiro boats (gondolas) and interesting bridges, and this is why it is mostly compared to Venice in Italy. Okay, we don’t know how busy Aveiro is during the holiday season, or if they too have thousands and thousands of tourists squish-squashing one another, but we found it pleasantly quiet.

Aveiro boasts many historical buildings in all sizes, architecture and colours, one more interesting than the other. The Cathedral with its impressive bell tower, the New Art Museum and the Municipal Building, and not forgetting the little tiny houses seemingly hugging each other, as if they’re keeping each other from falling over. There’s also a shopping centre next to one of the canals. No time to shop. We walked everywhere, and were so grateful that it was not a too hilly city! We did not take a boat trip, nor did we go on the little choo-choo. Per pedes it was, that is how we found a little shop selling South African goodies! Yoohoo! Biltong!

As almost everywhere in Portugal, typical blue azulejos tiles adorned a few buildings. The old train station, pictured below, is currently being renovated so should look even more amazing once finished.

Wonderful street art/grafitti donning the walls in and around the city (below)

Many hours later our sore feet reminded us that we needed to put them up, so we made our way to the Praca do Peixo (Fish Market Square). We were also famished! The Square is the nightlife hub of Aveiro with its many restaurants and bars. During the day visitors are also spoilt for choice at the many eateries where one can try traditional Portuguese food, be it meat, fish or otherwise, or eating standing, sitting or on the go. We felt for something fishy, but without having to take our shoes off hee-hee, so one of us ordered eel stew ew eww…uhm…sorry…yumm-yummy…ūü§•¬†washed down with a cold beer, glug-glug,¬†and the other, the not so adventurous one, grilled sea brass. Hmmm…lekker! ūüėč

Okay, there was just one teenie-weenie little drama when we arrived at our hotel. The elevator was out of order so we had to use the stairs. We were on the top floor! Oh, okay! Thanks to their porter service we did not have to lug all our bags up ourselves, that’s why it’s only an itsy-bitsy drama ūü§™ūüėė

 

 

Springtime in Upper Swabia

Same procedure as every year … M√§rzenbecher und Kelchbecherling in der Schw√§bischen Alb (Brieltal, Lautertal, Wolfstal)

Ende März bei Briel (Brieltal) 

Ende März bei Briel (Brieltal)

Ende März bei Briel (Brieltal)

 

Im Brieltal: Fr√ľhlings-Knotenblume (Leucojum vernum), auch M√§rzenbecher, M√§rzbecher, M√§rzgl√∂ckchen oder Gro√ües Schneegl√∂ckchen genannt

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Brieltal: Scharlachroter Kelchbecherling (Sarcoscypha coccinea), auch Zinnoberroter Kelchbecherling oder Zinnoberroter Prachtbecherling genannt

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Sonnenuntergang im Brieltal

Sonnenuntergang im Brieltal

 

Im Lautertal:

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Im Wolfstal

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Wanna Kill Devil? Drink Rum!

Our ode to rum. This post is not a history lesson in rum, because no-one REALLY knows EXACTLY when rum was first produced nor where the name originated from. Is it pirate juice, or rumfustian, romani, kill-devil, demon water, medicine or something else, or was it first created in the east, or west, maybe somewhere south, or to fend off the cold on the north pole? Really very complicated stuff, that’s why for us it’s simple. We love it. Loooove! We drink it. Neat. Well, as neat as possible, or until one little sip starts killing all those devils gathered in your throat¬†ūüė¨.¬†A¬†very complex and high-spirited (pun intended) liquid in a glass. RUM.¬†ūüė欆That’s why we were quite excited to visit a distillery or two in Mauritius to try some homely spirits. Okay, so we’re also avid collectors…enough said.

Distillerie de Labourdonnais (formerly known as Rhumerie des Mascareignes)

One word. Magnificent! Impressive! Amazeballs! So who’s counting…eh!? We were there in June, winter time in Mauritius, when sugar cane harvesting starts, and also the time when probably most of the distilleries are not in full production. We were lucky to have a chat with the charming and very knowledgable Master Distiller of Labourdonnais, Mr. Dassa, who explained how they produce their rum. We really appreciate the time he took to answer our questions too. Let’s just say we were so impressed that we had to declare our extra bottles at the customs of our local airport. ūü§ó¬†Why buy only one? ūüėú¬†We also sat down at the rum tasting bar to sample a few of their flavoured and classic rums. We loved the one with lemongrass, what else, but to be honest, they all tasted good. Yes, we sipped all of them! After that we sat down to eat at the restaurant right next door where we had the most delicious fresh salmon. We went back to eat there a few days later for a buffet of local food. Hmmm…

The Chateau de Labourdonnais

On the large and impressive grounds is a large nineteenth century mansion/chateau that has been restored to its full glory of years gone by. This is how the better half lived in the late 1850’s. As soon as you step through the door it’s like going back in time, the wooden floors and polished furniture, the murals on the walls and the glassware. The mansion is smaller than it looks, and some rooms have modern arty stuff on display (for sale) but both¬†verandas, upstairs and downstairs, encircling the whole house are huge. From here one has a wide view the well maintained gardens with many old and imposing trees. It was very peaceful when we visited, but also busy due to some preparations for an event. We took the time to sit down and watch the videos about the history, the renovation of the property and also about the distillery. There is an entrance fee to visit the Chateau. The price includes the rum tasting. To visit the restaurant and gift shop no entrance fee is charged.

Labourdonnais Gardens and Orchards

There is a vanilla plantation, an orchard with many tropical fruit trees like passion fruit, mango, guavas, and lots of plants and trees. Some trees are very old, like more than one hundred years old, old. Wow! We meandered through the gardens and were delightfully surprised to find a few very big tortoises lazing in the sun. We were accompanied by a butterfly or two and many happy chirping birds. It was worth the visit!

As we walked towards our car we were met by this magnificent rainbow, the fourth one so far. An awesome end to a fantastic day!

Labourdonnais Gardens and Orchards

 

La Rhumerie de Chamarel

This was the furthest we travelled from our hotel in the north of the country and it was also the most adventurous, especially on the way back. This rum distillery lies south west of Mauritius and it took us about two hours to get there. The scenery was lovely though the weather was not so nice, with more bouts of rain than sunshine, and windy. It was also a bit confusing to find the distillery and we thought we were lost when it appeared as we were driving up the hilly road. The La Rhumerie de Chamarel seems to sit on top of a hill surrounded by acres of sugar cane fields which they cultivate themselves. From July they start harvesting, by hand, and the sugar cane is delivered to the distillery within four hours. We had a guided tour, in English, which is included in the entrance fee, together with a rum tasting. The tour was very short, just about twenty minutes. Unfortunately the rum producing plant was shut down, but we did get to see all the equipment they use. There was also a little video for more information if needed.

After a short walk from the main gate you arrive at this imposing entrance (below). The whole area inside is not big, sometimes overcrowded, but the stone buildings are nice.

There are about four rum tasting stations where each group gathers/stands around to sip from nine varieties of their agricole rums. The coconut one was delicious! We wanted to sample some of their special varieties, like the VO (very old) and single barrel, so had to pay an extra fee for this pleasure. Was it worth it? No comment. We bought their coffee…

Before leaving we had the most delumptious meal at their restaurant. Wow, the portions were generous and the highlight was dessert, Chamarel Gold Rum Baba. The best baba to papa and mama ever! A “doughnut” swimming in rum with fresh cream and home-made vanilla ice cream hugging it can get some hormones out of retirement. Shoo! After that glorious attack on our taste buds, we took a walk in the garden outside, then headed on the looooong road back home…but first with two more stopovers…

 

A barrel for two wine-o’s

ps: Pre-Lockdown Travels

We were a bit sad to leave Porto, but happy that the day started off sunny, and best of all, dry. Yoo-hoo! No drip, drip. Ha! Ha! Haaaa! Little did we know that the two hour drive to our next lodging would be filled with drama and lots of drip, drip. The sweaty kind of drip, drip. We started off with taking the wrong exit on the highway. It might be a laid back country, but in this city there was havoc on the highway. It was peak hour and we were driving too slow. We had to find somewhere to make a u-turn, (was that a no entry sign? Oops!), drive all the way back and start over again. The further from the city we were, the quieter the road became. We could relax! No wait! Those bridges! High, higher, highest! Geez, and over one of them, the highest and the longest, it rained non-stop. Vision was non-existant. We crawled along, hoping that no-one bumps into us from the back, or that we bump into someone at the front. After fifteen minutes the spook was over. We needed something to settle our nerves, so made a detour to the nearest supermarket. After scoffing at least four Past√©is de Nata’s (Portuguese custard pies) each, and on a too-much-sugar high, we were so ready to get to our hotel asap. Ha! Ha! Haaaa!¬†We did not reckon with our GPS! That nasty little so and so directed us to hell. We should have relied on our own brains and turned back when we saw that the road got narrower and narrower as we proceeded, BUT, there was nowhere to turn, back or otherwise, so onward we went. We had to flip the side mirrors inwards, which made it worse because now we really could not see the rocks and bushes threatening to scrape the car. One of us squeezed out through the door and tried to “navigate” the other one. A mess! Big car, tiny road (what road!!??) and to top it all, a downhill gradient of at least thirty percent! We had to roll down inch by inch, trying to keep all four wheels from slipping into the deep ditches on both sides. Drip! Drip! Drip! The German was a superstar! He got us out of there despite ear-piercing screams filling the air. We now really needed something to drink!

We stopped along the banks of the Douro river to catch our breaths, calm our shaking legs and also to admire the beautiful scenery. We were now on the wine route and all would be well again…wink…wink!

 

Quinta da Pacheca (our choice of stay)

There are a lot of wonderful places to stay in the Douro Wine Valley, but we chose the Quinta, because they had the barrels…

We did a guided mini tour of the cellar (below). This one is not in production and is only used for touristic purposes. Thereafter we had a complimentary wine-tasting with four of their wines, two of them port. The highlight was the 40-year-old. Other than the four on offer, we could also try some of the other wines. Needless to say, everything tasted so good, that we spent a lot of money, a LOT, buying lots of wines, LOTS. Hot cash card hee-hee. Thank goodness for their postal service! We tipsy-toddled over to our sleeping quarters to prepare for supper.

Wining and dining in style. We were so mellow by now, forgotten was the drama of a few hours ago. It was time to eat, drink and be merry! ¬†ūüėč

The Wine Barrel! What an amazing experience. As mentioned, they are the only hotel in Portugal where one can sleep in a real wine barrel, smack in the middle of the vineyard. A wine-o dream! We were astounded at how roomy and cosy it was, with all the luxuries one needed, especially the complimentary bottle of port wine. ūüć∑¬†The round bed worried us a bit because we were afraid to end up on the floor, but wow! it was very comfortable and big enough for tossy-turvies ūü§£¬†ūüėć

The next morning we woke up to this amazing rainbow! What a special way to start the day! After a scrumptious breakfast we packed the car (guess which one ūü§ď¬†)¬†and zoomed off to our next adventure. It was time to be beachy…

Porto, Palaces and Port Wine

ps: Pre-Lockdown Travels

One can never get enough of Portugal. We should know, because we have been visiting this beautiful country for the last six years already. This is where we escape to from the bleary winters up north, where we spend a lot of time when we’re here hiking along the cliffs of the Algarve, or exploring the vast countryside. This is where we have friends and where we feel at home. One of us always had one foot in southern Europe, had already set plans in motion to move when, !BOOM!, love happened. We met, we kissed, and then discovered that we both have the same dream, braaivleis, sunny skies and sea bouquets! Go figure! So when we left the snow-covered airport and set foot in Portugal for the first time so many years ago, it was love at first warm sea breeze for both of us, even though it was quite dark due to a horribly delayed flight. Bem-vinda!!

This year we needed to see the other coasts of Portugal, for personal reasons, so decided on a two week road-trip, starting from the city of Porto in the north, then closing off in our favourite area, the Algarve. What an amazing journey it was! So much to do, so little time!!¬†ūü§™¬†Oh, and we were still alive, just.

Our plane landed in Porto tilting from wing to wing. We all screamed in terror ūüėĪ¬†as we were thrown from left to right, right to left. Those plane wings were literally mowing the grass patches on both sides of the runway! Then it suddenly screeched to a jittering halt. Hallelujah! Amen! Breathe out. Breathe in. Woo! Woo! Woo!¬†Clap! Clap! Clap! Happy cry. Laugh. Kiss-Kiss. Hug. OMG! We were safe! ¬†ūüėį¬†Apparently Porto is a very windy city, but personally??? Methinks that the pilot made a boo-boo…

The Hotel (an 18th-Century former Palace)

Okay, so we get our rental car and make our way to the hotel. Easy peasy despite heavy traffic and rain. We were met by a very friendly car valet and a dashing doorman. Bags and parking sorted. Service at its best! We were escorted to reception and could not stop oohing-aahing and omg-ing at the amazing interior surrrounding us. We had just stepped into a two hundred and seventy year old former palace and national monument, and it seriously felt like being whizzed back to very posh times gone by. Mirrors everywhere! Oh no! Quick! The wild hairs on two tired heads were discreetly patted down, or tamed, and a bit of lippy applied before we sat ourselves down to check in. YAY! What a lovely surprise! We were upgraded to a fancier top floor suite facing the Douro river. The view from our window was absolutely amazing! Birds and boats by day, and sparkling lights at night (see photos below)

The interior, as mentioned, was jaw-dropping! Everything was tastefully decorated and it oozed eighteenth century feel in every nook and cranny. We spent both nights of our stay sitting on elegant and comfy couches eating delicious bar food and slurping one or three of the best port wines on offer. The bar food was more like that found in a fancy restaurant and cooked to perfection. One of us had the traditional Bacalhau (codfish) and the other one had grilled salmon. Important though, was the sweet and tingly port wine. Hic! There was also a beautiful young singer who sang some soulful and jazzy melodies in her soft yet powerful voice. Obrigada Carol, you are amazing!

Below are some photos of the exterior and gardens of the hotel. There is so much to see and admire! Unfortunately we did not have much time to sit down and relax at the pool or use the spa facilities, but there will be a next time for sure, God willing.

Porto – City of Surprises and older than JC (300BC)

It was raining. Again. We decided to explore the city anyway. Our hotel had a free shuttle service into town, so we used that instead of bothering with a bus. At first look you think, dab and grey. Then you look closer and all the walls start staring back at you. Walls filled with blue and white mosaic tiles, telling you stories of the past. Walls colourfully painted or sprayed with graffiti. Walls coated with oddities to create an artful mural. Walls lined with freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry. Wonderful walls that say: Hi, look at me!

Porto is also a city with a lot of steps and stairs and is quite hilly. Up, down, down, up through tunnels, interesting passages and narrow alleyways. To explore it is to have no knee problems or heavy lungs hahaha! We are grateful to be fit but…phew!…it was quite challenging at times. At least there are a lot of places all over the city to sit down and catch your breath. We spent at least eight hours exploring, so yeah, we deserved all that sweet-tasting port wine. Shhh! Oops!

Porto is also called the city of bridges, Cidade das Pontes. We ambled across the lower part of the busy double-decker Dom Luis 1 metal bridge over to the other side of the Douro river, and back over the upper part, over the arch. Going was not as adventurous as walking back, OMG! By then it was raining cats and dogs, with a wind velocity so scary that the acrophobic one thought we were going to be blasted off the bridge. See how high it is?? And this just after getting off a swaying cable car! So yeah! There was a lot of scary African screaming going on, especially every time a metro train came rolling by! Why oh why did we not use the tuk-tuk or a boat! ūüėĚūü§£

There are also a lot of interesting buildings, churches and statues all over, especially in the older part of the city. The higher you climb, the better the view!

The Douro river divides Porto City and Vila Nova de Gaia. There is a lot to see and do on both sides of its banks. There are also a lot of eateries and wine cellars here. Hic!

As we mentioned before, it was mostly a rainy day, but even through a camera lens filled with raindrops, the beauty of Porto could still be seen.

If you don’t like getting wet, there are also a lot of interesting buildings to escape into and explore from the inside, like one of the many wine cellars, sip-slurp-slurp-numm-hic. Or there’s a modern, made to look like an old traditional Portuguese restaurant serving freshly made Bacalhau balls with a glass of wine. Some say it’s a tourist trap and way too expensive, but hey, it’s your choice if you want to spend the money or not. It was full so we walked around the upper gallery, admired and left when the rain eased up a bit. The chandalier was spectacular though!

After many hours spent on our feet enjoying the sights and sounds of Porto, and after hanging ourselves out to dry for a few minutes heh-heh, we would relax in the lounge downstairs and enjoy the ambience, talk to fellow guests, and¬†always holding a glass in our hands. Shhh! A well deserved end of day after being blown away by the life and uhm…wind of Porto. Live, learn and enjoy! Bottoms up! Cheers! Prost! Sa√ļde!

 

Sucre – The Sugar Thing

The main thing you notice when driving around Mauritius is that, as far as the eye can see, the landscape is densely green. A green jungle filled with lots and lots of sugar cane using up about eighty five percent of arable land on the island. Left, right, front and back, there they are, with white flowery feather-like tops dancing in the wind. It is winter and there can be a lot of wind. Can be…whoo-oosh! The flowers are beautiful and only appear at this time of the year because they’re ready to be harvested. Yep, that’s nature for you. You struggle to grow up, then just when you all sweet and pretty, you get the chop. Sugar cane is actually a type of grass, just fatter and juicier. The island is known for its sugar industry, and also for its rum. That’s where we tumbled in, right into the rum door…uhm…many rum doors ūüė̬†but more about that later. Below left, sugar cane by day and right by sunset.

At first we wanted to learn more about this delicious plant, so we visited the Sugar Museum in Pamplemousses, called the “L’Aventure du Sucre”. This is definitely a MUST DO MUST SEE. There’s a guided tour where you will learn about the history of the island, hear interesting details about the sugar industry and get to nipple on a few rums. Jumping for joy…oops! There’s also a restaurant to ease those hunger pangs. Before the tour we took a walk around the grounds (pics below) and then had some lunch where we chose to eat the Mauritian food on offer. It was very tasty.

The tour, as mentioned, was very interesting. Amazing is also that nothing of the plant is thrown away. They use every bit of it, for juice, sugar, fertilizer, rum, bio ethanol and the fibres, the so called “bagasse” are burnt to generate at least sixty percent of the electricity needed to power up the whole island. Here you can also taste some of the many varieties of sugar produced (see glass bottles). Don’t mind the pink cow…

A rum tasting can be done after the tour as an optional event for an extra price. All the rums and liqueurs on offer for the tasting including those for sale are made by the Grays Distilling Ltd distillery and marketed under the brand name “New Grove”. We would have liked to do a distillery tour but it was not possible from their side. The tasting includes only rums from the standard range with very little poured into a small glass. The more exclusive single and double cask bottlings are not offered and cannot be purchased at the shop either. Other than rum and liqueurs there are also sugar goodies, souvenirs, textiles and some arts and crafts that can be bought if you wish.

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We also loved the paintings on the walls on some of their buildings.

We ended off our day with a “not-really-there” sunset at our resort that was still pretty, and lots of dancing afterwards. Yep, we did the twist again ūüé∂

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Grand, Grand Gaube…

Believe it or not, but there is nowhere in this world that is too far away to travel to energise your soul. This time we are on the amazing island of Mauritius, and so far, five days in, we’re having the time of our lives. Staying in one of the most luxurious hotel resorts we’ve ever been to (and we’ve been to quite a few) makes it soooo easy to let our hair down and simply just relax. That’s it. Relax! Well, almost ūüėú

We were welcomed by a very large and bright rainbow, while we were still in the air. As soon as the plane broke through the clouds while descending to land, there it was, in all its glory! It seemed to say “welcome to paradise‚ÄĚ. It took very long before we were allowed off the plane, and even longer before all our suitcases appeared on the baggage carousel, but so what, the friendly smiles everywhere made us feel good. Our driver had a long wait but was very patient and kept on assuring us to ‚Äútake-your-time-no-problem‚ÄĚ when we needed to exchange currency and ‚Äúundress‚ÄĚ. It was humid! He was also quite informative and the landscape en route to the resort was also interesting, with lots and lots of sugar fields as far as the eye can see. Oh, and another rainbow winked at us! So far we‚Äôve seen four!!!

Our resort hotel is WOW! Before our driver stopped, two staff members came to greet and welcome us. One took care of our luggage and the other did all the necessary and stayed with us until we were in our suite. We‚Äôre not new to such an experience but it‚Äôs still amazing every time it happens. The service here is fantastic. Nothing is too much to ask for and everything is done with a smile. Let’s not talk about the free bubbly and the bottle of local rum as a welcome gift. Did I mention the cocktails??? Slurp-Slurp-Yummy! There’s also a Rum Tree! Yep, a Rum Treehouse set in a very old Banyan tree.

 

 

Talking about the Banyan tree. Every night just before the sun sets, all the birds gather in the Banyan trees, the most in a tree right in front of our suite. You should hear the noise! Beautiful chirping, tweeting, singing, and so loud it‚Äôs almost deafening. It sounds like there are millions and millions of birds in there! Absolutely amazing! A story related by an elderly Indian man says that the Banyan tree is a sacred tree where the birds come at night as souls to meet and renew themselves for the next day. Whoa! Just LOVE this spiritual meaning ‚̧ԳŹ¬†‚̧ԳŹ¬†‚̧ԳŹThe Banyan is also the national tree of India.

 

 

 

 

Soooo, in the last four days we’ve already had one of our complimentary Spa treatments, sat in a steam bath, did a bit of sauna, bubbled in the jacuzzi, got beach sand between our toes and ate a lot of ice cream. A LOT! We’ve seen many sunsets and had short bursts of rain at least once a day, (very short, like whoops, no time to run, so you get soaked from head to toe and dried up after five minutes). We‚Äôve walked the vast resort (almost like a hiking trip ūüėÜ) and¬†lazed at the pool! We‚Äôve had delicious breakfasts with fruits so sweet and fresh, lunch on the beach or supper at the pool. OMG, the hips! Whateverrrrr!

 

 

Live bands have been entertaining us almost every night so what else to do but loosen those limbs and dance. We slow danced, did some hug-me-tight-moves, a bit of boogie-woogie, some disco and lots of jump-jump! Dem bones, ooh-na-naaa!

We‚Äôve already ventured out on our own, driving on the “other” side. It was uhm…okay hahaha. No Oops! or Sorry! or WTF! just OMG! but we got back in one piece. We needed a sip or two of some nerve juice hahaha…We‚Äôre really enjoying our sundowners too…

 

 

 

Oh, and here are a few local birds that we’ve seen so far…

 

 

 

… Green-Backed (Striated) Heron, Mauritius Common mynah,¬†Yellow-fronted canary

 

 

 

… Red Whiskered Bulbul

 

 

 

There is still so much to do! Tennis, Badminton, Snorkelling, Yoga, Zumba and many, many other activities offered free of charge here. We’re also going to explore the island on our own, with a bit of hiking too. Watch this space!