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…🤥 washed down with a cold beer, glug-glug, and the other, the not so adventurous one, grilled sea brass. Hmmm…lekker! 😋

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 🤪😘

 

 

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 Pastéis 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!  😋

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. 🍷 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 🤣 😍

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 🤓 ) 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!! 🤪 Oh, and we were still alive, just.

Our plane landed in Porto tilting from wing to wing. We all screamed in terror 😱 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!  😰 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! 😝🤣

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! Saúde!