Parts of Portugal & Spain and then the Fasa Valley of the Dolomites

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RB

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I thought I would add another to the Trip Reports that I have posted previously. I hope people find something of interest and maybe there are some tips for people planning to visit Europe in the future.
We are visiting parts of Portugal & Spain (never been to either country before) & parts of the Dolomites (posted a report in 2013 on the Alta Pusteria & Gardena valleys) & then we are going back to our mates at Lake Como. Flights are via LM redemptions on Thai-J on the way over as that got us all the way to Porto (no F FRA-OPO) & F on the way back MXP-SYD. Both trips were caught up in the Thai schedule changes. Out of Aust we now have a morning flight & then 7hrs 25min to kill in Bangkok. On the way home we now have an overnight stop.
Being our 1st visit to Portugal & Spain we are visiting more cities than we normally do. As previously we are relying on public transport while in Europe. We are away from home for around 7 weeks and most of the accommodation is apartments (using Airbnb more this time) and it was arranged prior to leaving Aust.

PMQ is our home airport & that is our start point. Prior to flying out of Aust we visited mates in Thirroul and spent the last night at the Mecure Sydney.
In Sydney we had lunch down at Chinatown-very busy with families getting together for Mothers Day. Dinner was at the Crown Hotel (Cnr of Elizabeth & Goulburn)-this is a small pub with good atmosphere, a regular flow of drinkers and was a good people watching spot.
The location of the Sebel meant is was easy to walk up & catch the Airport train & we had plenty of room for our bags. We wanted to be early as Thai had advised that J exit rows were blocked & you had to be sighted to get them allocated. No problems with a very quick check-in & our checked bags were only a combined 25kg. We were advised to visit the Air NZ lounge & when I asked they also said the Singapore lounge was an option. The ladies at SIN lounge advised they had no food because of a power problem so we went to the NZ lounge-not particularly busy early on a Mon. Despite some stories I have read about the Singapore lounge I think they were genuine in turning us away that morning.
Below are a few photos to give you a feel of some of the places we visited
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Flippantflyer

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Really looking forward to your trip report! We're going to Portugal and the Basque country in august/September and hoping for some tips!
 

RB

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Is that the Douro in Pic 1 and the Tejo/Lisbon in Pic 2? Looking forward to seeing and reading more!

That is a pretty eagle eye you have there, correct about both! Will be getting more photos & info posted soon.
 

RB

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A Bit of a summary of our flights

TG 476 SYD-BKK J in 16J & K 747-400
Good seats upstairs with 6 spares in the cabin. Smaller tv screens in the exit row but better access to the cabin than the other rows where one passenger is against the wall. There is very good storage beside the K seat. Pushback was right on time. The cabin was very quiet & service was efficient but no personality shown & very few smiles. The starters, entrée & garlic bread were good but the steak main was old boot material. The seafood linguine got just a pass mark from Mrs RB. The Singha beers were cold, the JW Black was poured freely & Mrs RB stuck to the Piper Heidseck.
We obviously had plenty of time to kill in BKK. We visited 2 J lounges. No sparkling or champagne to be found & just 1 wine bar in the corner of the extensive main lounge-I heard one woman being cut off but being told she could drink onboard! :eek: This main lounge had no showers so it was back to the other lounge for a shower. We also used up our 1/2hr massage (both had neck & shoulders) & my decision to ask for “strong” was maybe not the most wide decision I made that day ( I very much underestimated her strength)

TG 920 BKK-FRA 17A & 18B A380.
We were well & truly ready to go by the time this flight came around. It was a long walk to the gates but priority boarding was again very well handled. The upstairs cabin only had a handful of empty seats but the crew seemed to handle things much better than we experienced on the SQ 380 J in Nov. While very efficient there was little character showing & certainly no individual interaction. It was an interesting layout of seats & both were good but the rows with the seat right next to the wall are more private. There was very good storage & great screens for the entertainment. The food I got was ordinary-the salmon just not up to scratch. Generally we slept very well but one passenger decided to share her music with the cabin during the night-my complaint saw her visited by 2 flight attendants but alas she did the same again an hour or so later to attract 4 staff (someone beat me with the complaint this time). A first for us was the extra over the shoulder strap ala a car seat belt-this was after seeing the SQ air bag belts in Nov. The tail mounted camera was an excellent view on takeoff & the last 30 minutes or so as we came into FRA through cloud & 9c temps.
From touching down through the passport & security & the long walk to the Lufthansa lounge over at the A gates took us 45 minutes. The priority line at security saved a bit of time & it was certainly more than a cursory check-quite a few people pulled aside for more checks & the wands & “touch-ups” were very thorough. The lounge we visited had showers, a choice of barista or machine coffee, a good variety of food, some computers and a good variety of beverages. Strangely there are no separate urinals in the mens so there was a line up more typical of a ladies toilet.

Below are a few photos of the Syd-Bkk leg, I felt too shattered to take photos on the 2nd leg. Next is our LH flight to OPO

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Plenty of room in Row 16 & nice entrees












































































The steak was not a smart choice for a main















Mrs RB was not overly rapt about the seafood linguine
 

RB

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LH 1176 FRA-OPO J 2d
Boarding is via a walk down stairs to a holding pen where we are all released to a waiting bus & driven 5 minutes or so to a 321-200 waiting on the tarmac ( the ride around the airport seemed a bit similar to Heathrow). We are told the plane is full. Our welcome is very warm & the staff maintains a welcoming, easy manner throughout. Breakfast is probably the best meal of our whole trip so far. A flight path takes us over Paris & as we near Porto we see many small settlements, masses of wind turbines & plenty of hills. Porto airport is very new in appearance but eerily quite-we are the only flight until a Ryanair lobs as we wait for our luggage. There was certainly no priority baggage but we walk straight through customs, have time to get a ticket for the Metro & then take the short walk to a waiting train.


Porto
The metro ride from the airport is only around $3.50 (ticket can be topped up later). There are around a dozen stops on a very open carriage with good announcements & visual guides as to which stop is coming up (also no worries with space for our luggage or the security of it). Our stop is Bolhao & then we have to catch some stairs & escalators to street level. Our street is one of the outlets & then we are only 100 odd metres to our apartment where we are booked for 3 nights.

I have posted a review of our apartment here http://www.australianfrequentflyer....iews/bolh-o-tomato-apartment-porto-61582.html

Hopefully these photos give a bit of a feel of the city-certainly there is a variety of old & new & there are some lovely spots around the river
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RB

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As outlined in my intro we had never visited Portugal and our last formal history studies were around 40 yrs ago. We were really looking forward to the faded old memory bank getting a revival & we were not disappointed by Portugal.

Around Porto
We are pretty tired from the long haul so our 1[SUP]st[/SUP] arvo is a leisurely walk down to the river while taking in some of the “highlight” buildings. It seems to be a bit of a step back in time with small individual shops, older looking clothing trends & old sit down cafes abounding. There are probably more tattoos than smiles on display-not sure if this will be the theme throughout Portugal who has been suffering after the GFC & unemployment still sits at 15%. The walk back up is not as steep as we had expected from our reading. We try one of Jose’s dining recommendations (Flor dos Congregados), but while it is a nice building & friendly, our traditional meals of pulled veal & soft sausage were very ordinary.
The 1[SUP]st[/SUP] full day we walk part of hop on hop off bus route taking in many of the older buildings. As we follow Avenue Boa Vista we start to see the newer parts of Porto, more students & a generally more lively existence. Lunch at the beach at Matosinhos restores our belief in the food as we enjoy a fish & veggie dish (baked bread crumbs on top of the fish) with a wine & beer after our 10km or so tramp. We caught the bus back & were surprised that some stops were only about 100 metres apart at one stage-the locals are very insistent at giving up seats to the elderly but also very competitive in sourcing their own seat. We also notice the city streets are very clean-there are a few Maccas, KFC & Subway but not in the quantities of Aust, perhaps there is a tale there?
That night the Europa League Final is on & we settle into the café/bar downstairs for drinks & food & mix with the locals who are supporting Benfica tonight. Our host does a nice burger & chips covered in his own sauce-nicely done. We finish our complimentary ruby port when we get back upstairs-the finish of a good day.
Our next day involves plenty of walking with visits to the famous railway station, the equally famous bookshop, the 200 steps up to Clerigos Tower for fantastic views over the city and the port wine museum on Rua do Monchique. We then crossed the Duoro to see the various port company caves. We walked (there are easier ways!) to Grahams- our 5 Euro tour option involved a good background talk, a wander through their operation & then samples (samples depended on how much you spent for the tour). There were 4 other couples in tour so certainly not crowded!

We went back via the city elevator which is a short but steep ride and then walked through some shopping streets with more modern appearance than those that we encountered on our 1[SUP]st[/SUP] day. We notice a thermometer showing 33c. There are only a few bus groups & it is not particularly busy anywhere. Bakeries/cafes everywhere are a cheap but good food & drink option for everyone- we visited Cafeteria Batista around corner from the apartment & Café Lua Nova right downstairs (about $1 Aust for a glass of wine & about $3 Aust for a 400mm draught beer. Includes a 23% tax by the looks of it).

For dinner –Restaurant Girassol great service & about a dozen other people dining. Presunto ham was put on table as a taster -send it back or you eat it/you pay as with everywhere in Portugal. Main course we ordered Pork with clams-as with all meals so far, a big serving & very tasty. Coldest beer so far & good white wine (verde). We had an early night before moving on.

Photos below
Part of Porto railway station interior, view within the bookshop, some of the port vats at Grahams, pork with clams without formalities, view from Clerigos tower

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RB

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Porto to Pinhao
From our apartment it is a 5 minute walk straight down to the rail station. We had purchased tickets the previous day while visiting-they use a number system to allocate an order for buying. Apparently it is just 1 class on the train & sit anywhere. Our bags fit on the rack up the top & there is good leg room and a clean carriage. Our reading correctly suggested to sit on the right for the best views. The cost is 10.95 Euro per person for approx 2.5hr trip & we left spot on time.
We had to change to the front carriages during the trip, but this was one of the better rail journeys we have done as far as scenery is concerned-vines down to the waters edge, close high peaks, roads leading off everywhere & right on the river for the 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] half of the journey. The train station at Pinhao is renowned for its tile panel display.


Around Pinhao-The geographical centre of the Douro Valley
This village is located at the confluence of the Pinhao & Douro rivers. We spend the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] arvo having a late lunch by the river, a nanny nap & then a nice fish dinner at Restaurant VelaDouro. The food is good & fresh but the service is a bit haphazard.
Day 2 we walk about 16km on a round trip to Provesende- this takes us up about 600m on the way up so all the walking at home pays off. There are fantastic views all the way-vines everywhere & great valley views. The track we take is a mix of road, cobblestone & dirt & we are helped out by a few locals via much arm waving. Our end stop is now a very small village that is blessed with an incredible church. Our walk back to Pinhao is highlighted by a passing of half a dozen senior citizens placed on seats out in the sun beside the roadside- but with no regard for traffic conditions. Another lunch by the river & this time we avoid the dreaded orange (Francesinha) sauce that seems to be splashed over a lot of meals. We have a lazy afternoon & then dine at Segredos Do Douro-a roast pork dish (home style cooking) that was very nicely done but the house wine didn’t match some of the others we had tried-perhaps very reasonable though considering the price!
Our last full day was a general wander. We visited the cemetery-some impressive family crypts, saw some of the back residential streets, crossed the Douro & walked a few km & saw some quintas-there were amazing rose gardens, veggie plots and masses of orange trees skirting the path. Back in town we checked the progress of some of the many fishermen-some nice fish had been landed.
We also took a “Royal Tour”- (only 1 other couple) basically a mini bus ride to the peak over the river from Pinhao. The driver spoke very little English but had a good itinerary for photos & we enjoyed a port at the end of what was a great 90 minute tour!

Photos are: Europe 2014 P1090424.JPG Looking downstream from Pinhao, Europe 2014 DSC04741.JPG Pinhao railway station & its ceramic tiles, Europe 2014 DSC04743.jpg A local soaks up his lifestyle on the river, Europe 2014 DSC04775.jpg Part way on our walk to Provosende and Europe 2014 DSC04794.jpg Provesende church-apparently dates from 18th century
 

RB

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Some more images from Pinhao
River life, one of the big port producers, the bus for our "Royal Tour" and views back to the river from our tour- now you know where all the port grape vines are!
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RB

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I have posted a couple of reviews of our apartments/villa for Pinhao & Ponte de Lima here
http://www.australianfrequentflyer....s/casas-botelho-elias-pinhao-douro-61615.html
http://www.australianfrequentflyer..../mercearia-da-vila-apartment-ponte-61645.html

Pinhao to Ponte De Lima
A transfer day of 3 trains, a taxi & a bus. All easy with plenty of time, short walks & no complications. The trains were around $20 Aust each, a $7.50 Aust taxi ride & then a $2 Aust each bus ride. Our experience of the trains & buses in Portugal saw them to be reliable & comfortable and general infastructure is in good supply & running order.
The weather had turned-a bit of rain, max 15c temp & wind chill. Some of the trip was back towards Porto & then we headed north west towards the coast. Towards Ponte De Lima the farms become larger, grape vines lose their prominence, the soils appear heavier & the veggie gardens still dominate the countryside. The lack of solar uptake is still noticeable (perhaps the Govt hasn’t had the money to throw at it) & we start to see small (up to 20 cars) used car lots.

Around Ponte De Lima
Now a market town (around 2,800 people), this is one of the oldest Portuguese settlements dating back to 1125 and set on the Lima river with a magnificent Roman bridge with low arches. We arrive to a bleak afternoon but the fortnightly markets are on-a volume that exceeds anything we have seen before (along with the amount of packaging left behind, but also quickly cleaned up).Some seem to get carried away by the festive time & there are many who have obviously imbibed over an early lunch-nothing wrong with that mind you! We find the tourist office & they are very helpful & provide some good walking options.
We do a random walk through the stalls & then head for a local bar & enjoy a wine & beer. By 7pm the area is very quiet & all the stallholders have packed their anonymous white vans & moved to the next market location. For us dinner is a pork loin meal where again we encounter the menu option of a dish for 2 (seems prevalent in Portugal). By now we are used to not eating dinner until 9.30pm or so. Our 1[SUP]st[/SUP] drinks at this bar also saw some free tasters-sliced pork apparently produced from his own pigs.-
The first 2 snaps show small parts of the Ponte de Lima markets, I enjoy how European towns acknowledge their heritage, the Roman bridge and one of the town squares

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Next will be more details of our time in Ponte de Lima
 

RB

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The weather reports are for a few days of showers & storms so we try to make the most of things. We walk the approx 4km each way of the Troco das Lagoas. We had the track to ourselves & found the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] km closest to town to be the more scenic. However the rest was very enjoyable as we passed market gardens, viewed the crystal clear water of the Ponte & smelt the masses of wildflowers. A poddy sheep probably posted the most noise while we walked the flat track. In the village over the river there was not much activity but we bought a couple of ceramic fridge magnets. Over lunch we met a couple of Aussies from Kangaroo Valley-they have purchased a house over here as a bolt hole from the Aussie winter.

Our night includes our 1[SUP]st[/SUP] pizza for this trip- a tidy effort from Beira Rio. A thin crust “meat lovers” where 1 is enough for 2 people. The vino verde here is a bit drier, maybe more flavour. Back at our new favourite bar (O Porao Limiane) there is a show “1000 Ways to Die” on Tv- the chainsaw version is not good nor is No 830 that is on YouTube.

Walk to Ponte da Barca-this started at the medieval bridge (a very charming custom is that classical music is piped to speakers mounted on the bridge) & then hugged the river for much of the 14 odd km walk. The land here is not as manicured as yesterdays walk but everything is still super organised & clean. We see no other walkers, a couple in a car at a viewing spot, only 3 gardeners & about 50 double kayaks making their way downstream. We also happen upon a BBQ spit-a huge pig was being prepared but it was in the middle of nowhere so we are not sure of the significance. The last 4 or so km into town are very spectacular with many pools of super clear water. As we arrive at Barca (about 3 hrs walk) the markets are closing down. Our arrival also coincides with the heavens opening & the temp plummeted. We dry out at a great little bar that has hot soup & cold drinks as we wait out 3 hrs (less buses run around siesta times) for the bus to take us back to Ponte De Lima.

Photos are the pig spit being prepared, a view from our Troco das Lagoas walk, a look back at Ponte de Lima, some traps ready to go on the river and a view of Barca Europe 2014 P1090493.jpg

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RB

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Sunshine greets us next day & we bus it about 45min to Viana Do Castelo-another super clean historic settlement that was a very important seaport during the Age Of Discovery . We caught the funicular up to the St Lucia Basilica (apparently modelled on the Sacré Coeur in Paris) which dominates the mountain. Apparently the building “only” dates from 1898 but is 1 of the more famous monuments in Portugal. You also get good views of the Atlantic up here. We walk back down & also take in the marina & some of the 15[SUP]th[/SUP] & 16[SUP]th[/SUP] century buildings in the nearby old town. The area is also popular for wind and kite surfing. Our bus back is via the other side of the river so we get another run through suburbia & the veggie gardens. We use our CitiPlus for the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] time this trip & it seems to have a daily max of 200 Euro at this particular bank. Rain showers set in again after lunch so we have timed our run well.
A turkey dish, lasagne & a few beers & wines at O Foral Da Sorte Café rounded off what we thought was a great stay in Ponte De Lima.

Photos show the view from the Basilica, the Basilica itself, part of the old town & an acknowledgement of the importance of the maritime past

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carwashhair

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Wonderful pictures. What specifically made you guys choose northern Portugal? Not a place many tourists or Australians tend to rush to compared to other parts of Portugal. Also great to read about your walks - I started a camino in Barcelos and walked thru Ponte de Lima. The landscape is just gorgeous.
 

RB

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Wonderful pictures. What specifically made you guys choose northern Portugal? Not a place many tourists or Australians tend to rush to compared to other parts of Portugal. Also great to read about your walks - I started a camino in Barcelos and walked thru Ponte de Lima. The landscape is just gorgeous.

I think it was a mainly lot of reading by Mrs RB. For the last few years (Czech Republic, Black Forest, Sicily, Dolomites etc) we have ended up going to areas highly recommended on non-English speaking sites rather than the mainstream Trip Advisor/Lonely Planet type recommendations. We have found some gems this way.
 
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RB

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Ponte De Lima To Coimbra
The day dawned fine so our 15 minute walk uphill to the bus station was easy. Absolutely no signs exist at the station so we had to constantly ask around to check on where our bus would leave from. The seat numbers on the tickets bought online while still in Aust also mean nothing- the locals like to sit up the front so we had heaps of room down the back. Both buses (changed at Braga) were very comfortable and had free wifi equipped. We passed through many smaller settlements and were constantly using flyovers to get between the various motorways. The road surface was excellent & we encountered very little traffic. We arrived a few minutes early & walked 20 odd minutes on a flat surface to our hotel.


Around Coimbra
The Uni seems to dominate the skyline. There certainly are more newer cars here & also more SUVs. There are still plenty of incredible cake shops but there seems to be far fewer cafes/bars than where we have been previously. As a pedestrian it is very noticeable that the walk times for crossing the roads are very short-you are expected to get moving quickly. Also as we walk up the hill to view the Uni we are inspired by a one legged fellow handling the incline easily. Again it is obvious we are in a land where ladies are into very tight jeans!
The next day dawns fine but with a cool breeze-we walk back to the Old Town centre & we are entertained by a piano accordion band marching through the street. There are plenty of markets being held also. Along the river a cultural festival has started- there are small marquees housing food, handicrafts, many books, snacks wines etc. The town has a nice vibe but unless you were doing more in depth looking at the Uni (20,000 students, dates from 1290 & apparently one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world) a 1 night stay is probably enough.

Photos below show the Uni at the top of the town, we were a little overwhelmed by the number of pastry shops throughout Portugal, a stand at the cultural festival, typical market stall and our band providing entertainment

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RB

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Great photos...what type of camera do you use ?

We have actually got 2 (long story where the Panasonic by resurrected after being written off by camera store employees-read the internet, gave it a good bashing, hit the reset & away it went) but most are taken with Sony DSC HX20v. The other one is Panasonic DMC TZ15.
 

Anna

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Your TR is making me want to go back :)

I didn't have time for Setubal or Estoril and wouldn't mind seeing them, and the Douro valley. Also to go back to Sintra but to heed my guidebook this time and go not in the middle of the day when the place is overrun by tour buses.

Anyone thinking of going to the south - the beaches are cough by Aust standards and the coastline is fairly hideously developed, but you don't need to go very far inland before it is gorgeous again. One of my lifetime travel memories will be arriving jet lagged and tired at Faro airport to a warm sunset after travelling all the way from Aust, to be greeted by the aroma of orange blossom everywhere as we drove 10 km inland to the quaint village of Estoi to stay in a renovated old palace. Old cobbled roads, stone walls, olive groves and orange trees, with incredible views down to the coast. Just amazing. I thought I'd landed in heaven.
 

RB

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Your TR is making me want to go back :)

I didn't have time for Setubal or Estoril and wouldn't mind seeing them, and the Douro valley. Also to go back to Sintra but to heed my guidebook this time and go not in the middle of the day when the place is overrun by tour buses.

Anyone thinking of going to the south - the beaches are cough by Aust standards and the coastline is fairly hideously developed, but you don't need to go very far inland before it is gorgeous again. One of my lifetime travel memories will be arriving jet lagged and tired at Faro airport to a warm sunset after travelling all the way from Aust, to be greeted by the aroma of orange blossom everywhere as we drove 10 km inland to the quaint village of Estoi to stay in a renovated old palace. Old cobbled roads, stone walls, olive groves and orange trees, with incredible views down to the coast. Just amazing. I thought I'd landed in heaven.

Hope you are enjoying the report, I will be posting about Sintra in a few days-maybe we were lucky to avoid the masses. We stayed a night in Tavira so that might also revive some memories.
 
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