Saturday, January 3, 2015

So this is where Port comes from...



Our accomodation in Lamego
We headed north and towards the centre of Portugal. The idea was to stay in a smaller town and use that as a base to look around the countryside and bigger cities. We found ourselves at the charming town of Lamego, its main claim to fame being the Sanctuario. Around 650 steps from the town centre to the top and then even further to our hostel. Again snagging an amazing deal on amazing accommodation due to the low season. This place was more like a chalet than a hostel with a huge lounge with fireplace and a kitchen. It was supposed to be shared with two other rooms but since we were the only ones there we had the house to ourselves. Our friendly host showed us around and let us into his wine cellar built into the hill itself. He would even have the fire going and the house warm for us by the time we returned from our outings.

The Sanctuario from the town of Lamego
Even though this was the off season the weather was amazing. Out of two weeks we lost one day to rainy weather where we had to slum it in front of the roaring fire, catching up with some movies in English on the large television and cooking in the well stocked kitchen. Hard times. On the other three days in Lamego we spent one driving around the countryside following the Douro river, one exploring the town itself and one catching a train into and exploring the large port city of Porto.

Enjoying a Tawney port in Porto
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal but does not come across as a sprawling city. The home of port wine, this heritage listed city is full of charm, old buildings, the river Douro and plenty of samples of port wine, my favourite being a tawny port with Elizabeth liking the rose port.

The heritage listed town of Coimbra
It was time to head back down to Lisbon with one last stop, the town of Coimbra, another heritage listed town. Finally and with a huge sigh of relief, I was able to drop the car back off to the rental company, scratch free. I really thought after driving in five countries that this would be the time I would have an accident, the drivers here are just so aggressive. During a free walking tour later through Lisbon, the tourist guide told us they are considered the second worst drivers in Europe. Don't worry guys, I am sure you will get top spot soon :-)


Our last few days in Portugal were in the centre of Lisbon in the Living Lounge Hostel. One of the fanciest hostels we've ever been in, each room is individually decorated in a different theme by local artists. We explored the more out of the way old quarter of Lisbon, the Alfama district and its Jewish sector. We learnt about the huge earthquake that destroyed 80% of the city in the 18th century (9.0 on the Richter scale) and saw the shell of the church that is still standing today. The earthquake happened during the 'day of the dead' where everybody put out candles and went to church. The earthquake lasted for a massive 9 minutes, the lamplights spilled their oil, the candles fell, lighting the oil, and most of the houses were made out of wood. People rushed to the water only to be met by a huge tsunami. The topography of the town was rearranged in the process with new hills and flat spots. Religious leaders, typically, said the town was cursed and should be abandoned, due to all of their sins, but luckily the leaders did not listen. The church itself was studied to find out why it was not destroyed and they built a stronger Lisbon that is still standing today. Fascinating stuff, love travelling.

Fabulous Fado
On our last night there we made it to a quaint little bar that specialises in the local Fado music, a type of folk music with guitars as accompaniment and sung with great feeling and dramatising gestures. Very flamenco sounding but with the soulfullness of jazz. Even though we could not understand what was being said the beautiful guitar sound and the emotion of the singer made it very entertaining. The location was perfect, reminding us of the small country pubs in Ireland with the performance occurring amongst the customers in the middle of the room. The night life only gets going after 10 and the wine was VERY strong, so with Elizabeth's help I stumbled home about 2am and only got about 4 hours sleep before needing to get up to go to the airport and our last location for the year.
The town of lamego from our hostel

Sanctuario from a the winter statue

Main train station in Porto

Porto

The Duoro river in Porto

The old town in Porto from the other side of the river

Coimbra streets

Coimbra streets

Coimbra streets

The Alfama district in Lisbon

The Alfama district in Lisbon

Lisbon

This is a full cup of coffee?

Still working tram in Lisbon