Saturday, April 7, 2018

Porto and Environs...

While we took in the sites at Belem, I programmed the GPS to take us to the Historic City of Coimbra, the former capital of Portugal which is now famous for its University. I locked in on "Centre Ville" of Coimbra and off we went. After about an hour we passed a sign that indicated to take the next exit for Coimbra. But the gps in the car said to turn in 40 kms. So, I believed the gps. Jacques thought we should have exited, but I kept going. I don't usually believe the gps in the States, why would I believe it in a foreign country. So, we soon stopped at a service area and checked one of those paper things with lines all over it called a MAP and saw that we were probably about 35 kms off track. As we had missed having our lunch in Coimbra we decided to eat at the high end restaurant at the service stop. It was a "Self-serve" restaurant which only meant you served yourself to the tray and silverware, then a guy would serve you one of two things. You had a choice of "this" or "that". The "this" was codfish which seems to be the national dish of Portugal. Jacques, Claire and Judy picked "this". I picked "that" which I'm still not sure what it was.

Anyway, we backtracked and headed to our hotel in Porto, the Castello Santa Catarina.

We found the hotel with the gps and Judy was pretty nervous. It was in a pretty sketchy neighborhood and one a street with a lot of boarded up buildings.

But, after roaming around the street a bit, Jacques found the entrance to the parking area for the Castello San Catarina.
The entrance was a bit deceiving as we couldn't see much of the castle/hotel and what we saw was covered in scaffolding as they were doing major repairs to the outside of the building, especially one of the towers. But here are a few pictures of the hotel.

Our room, small but very comfortable


Very modern bath.


A sitting area in the garden


The Chapel for the castle


The Tower being repaired and cleaned


The breakfast was terrific too. All in all, a very nice place to spend a few days. It will  be even nicer when all the upgrades, etc will be finished. Don't let the blue skies fool you. There was a downpour soon after this photo was taken.

As mentioned, the area seemed a bit sketchy, but the Rua Santa Catarina lead directly into town and became a pedestrian walkway with many restaurants and shops. Kinda touristy but nice. We walked from the hotel a couple of times. We ate dinner at a local place downtown that the nice guy at the hotel desk recommended. The special of the day was, you guessed it, Cod. I think I had turkey.

When we had a little sun, so we took our time on the walk and stopped into a beautiful old church that had one whole outside wall that was tiled with what looked like the history of Portugal.



The next day we planned on the Hop On/Off bus. We got absolutely drenched walking down Rua Santa Catarina. I even bought a 5 euro umbrella on the way to find the bus. When we got on, we realized that all the people were enclosed in the inside of the bus due to the storm(no one on the open air top)  and all the windows were totally fogged up. Seats were at a premium and dry seats were impossible to find. We nearly had a major battle between a French woman who said she needed to put her leg up on a free seat and a Portugese woman who said she wanted that free seat.
As we couldn't see a thing out the window, we had no idea where we were in the loop of the city. Once we crossed the river, we had an idea where we were and then soon Hopped Off where we had Hopped On a couple of hours earlier.

Walking back towards the hotel, we stopped in a charming old Cafe, The Majestic, to dry off and have lunch.
The food was OK and the service was pretty good. In fact, the maitre d' even took my meal off the bill when I showed him the plastic wrapping paper that I found in my cheeseburger. But, look at the presentation of Judy's dessert. They put the fork on the plate, then sprinkled the cinnamon and then removed the fork, leaving this shadow of the fork. Really clever.

The rain let up a bit so we walked to an indoor market, loaded with meat, cheese, fish and vegetable stands.

And this happy lady selling Port wine. I bought a bottle for Jane and Chris B. I hope it makes it all the way back to the states.

From Porto we headed to the small town of Braga on our way to our next stop at the Pousada.


Our next stop was at Viana del Castello, a Pousada north of Porto. The Pousadas are former castles or large residences that have been taken over by the government and turned into hotels. They are all over Portugal and Spain. We had lunch at a small cafĂ© just below our hotel. Codfish was  the specialty of the day.
We were just above the church of Santa Luzia. Claire, Judy and I had massages at this spa and enjoyed a nice dinner in the spacious dinning room where the waiter gave Judy a free re-fill on her glass of Champagne.
This is a view from our window with the Atlantic in the background. 
When we left the hotel, we road down the windy road to this church but didn't get out of the car because we were in the middle of a hail-storm. After about an inch or more of hail piled up on the windshield, I made the management decision to head down from the higher altitude to sea-level. 

The sun came out by the time we came down from the  hill, so we stopped to get a good luck at the Atlantic. "The seas were angry that day, by friend."

Our last stop on our quick tour was a  little town suggested to us by the hotel manager, Ponte de Lima. It had quaint little old section along the river. We parked our car  in the banks of the river and walked around the town.
The bridge (ponte) over the Lima river.


Did I mention we had a lot of rain during the week?


Old town, Ponte de Lima


Ancient Church, one of thousands in the cities and towns of Portugal


Calling to confirm our flight back to Paris...

After lunch in a restaurant crowded with locals, we had our last taste of Codfish and drove back to the airport in Porto and our flight to Paris aboard our favorite airline.

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