Last week in Portugal

14 Apr

We have been in Portugal for two and half months. Tomorrow we leave for Paris.

Spending our last 10 days closer to the centre of Lisbon has been great. We went for walks everyday, there was so much happening everywhere we went. Especially over the Easter weekend where there were lots of tourists and the town was beaming with energy.

When we moved to the new apartment we were worried about what we would do, or the lack of things to do as we had visited most interesting tourist locations. We felt in limbo. Surprisingly the days went by very quickly. With six days to go we started feeling sad and contemplating our time in Portugal. I’m not sure if we were sad about leaving Lisbon or the fact that by moving on to Paris we are getting closer to the end of our trip.

Over the last two months we mainly ate at home. In the last week we chose to eat lunch out everyday and experience more of the Portuguese cuisine! We chose local little restaurants away from the tourist areas . The food was simple and delicious!

On Tuesday we did a day trip to Sintra. This town is beautiful, it’s 40 minutes by train from Rossio train station. We visited back in 2009 but there is so much to see that we had to return. This time we visited the Palacio National de Sintra, which wasn’t as impressive as we thought it would be. For 14 Euros we only got 30 minutes of entertainment. There were also numerous steps to go up and down, I think I saw a sign saying 100 steps! Camilla loved going up and down the stairs but by the end of it I was carrying her, my legs were killing me!

We had planned on visiting the Monserrate Palace, we waited at the bus stop for 30 minutes and the bus that was supposed to take us 4 kms up the hill was a no show. I asked the bus driver of another bus where the 435 bus was and he tells me it’s at the mechanics getting fixed and he has no idea when it’s going to be on the road again. Argggh, that ruins our plans of getting to the Park. The only option walking distance from the centre of Sintra, which we hadn’t seen before, was Quinta da Regaleira. We walked ten minutes up a hill and arrived at the entrance. We go about purchasing the entry ticket. For some reason the sales lady asks if we are under 26, which we  thought we were obviously not. She then she asks if we are students, which I reply “no”. Then she asks our proffession, which I answer “unemployed”. I think she felt sorry for us and gave us the tickets at student prices, a total saving of 4 Euros.

We started our visit to the Quinta da Regaleira, luckily Camilla had fallen asleep and we explored the gardens in peace and quite. Kimble took lots of photos with his vintage “old” camera. The Quinta da Regaleira was magical, two hours after we arrived we were still wondering around its gardens, I could imagine growing up here as a child. We saw a 27 metre tower but instead of going up in the air it goes straight into the earth.

We finished the visit by visiting the chapel and house, which were very impressive as well.

This place has an interesting history and over the years it was purchased and resold various times. In the late 80s it was owned by a Japanese corporation before being purchased by the municipality of Sintra where it really belongs.

On Thursday 12 May we did an overnight trip to the town of Evora. We caught a bus from the Sete Rios bus terminal, the return trip cost 45 Euros. I wasn’t looking forward to the one hour and 45 minute bus ride but Camilla did OK. Portuguese people are super nice about screaming toddlers. A lady gave Camilla a pack of chocolate biscuits which I’m not sure helped with her hyperactivity but it did keep her in her seat for a good five minutes.

After arriving at Evora we walked about ten minutes to our hotel which was located just outside the medieval walls that enclose a big part of the town. We checked in to our tiny hotel room and left for a walk within the walls of Evora.

We saw the Roman temple of Diana, which sits on the highest point of the city and is believed to have been built around the first century A.D. It’s an amazing site to see in Portugal, sometimes it’s hard to imagine the extent of the Roman empire but the Iberian peninsula were their most loyal citizens.

The following day we checked out of the hotel and went back within the walls to visit the Chapel of bones. The chapel is indeed surreal, it’s very strange seeing so many human remains attached to the walls.

Afterwards we stop at a  restaurant and have lunch,  sopa verde (green soup) and bacalhau lagareiro (salted cod fish with garlic and potatoes). We roamed around the central square and popped into a Cafe for cake and coffee before heading to the bus station to catch our bus back to Lisbon.

The bus ride was good as Camilla behaved herself and sat playing and eating for the entire trip. Again, she was her charming self and a lady gave her a chupa-chupa which she loved.

Today, our last day in Lisbon, we did some last minute shopping, Camilla and I both got new shoes!

We had two very nice meals at two different restaurants near our apartment. Dinner was a nightmare though. We think Cami was overtired as it was way past her bedtime. She wouldn’t stop running around pestering the other customers, luckily for us the owners, who also happen to be the cook and waiter, were happy to play with Camilla while we ate.

Tonight we go to bed early for a 6am start tomorrow!

Adeus Lisboa! See you again in 18 days time when we return for a quick layover before hoping on another flight taking us to London.

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On the move again…

5 Apr

Yesterday we moved to our third and last rental apartment in Lisbon.

We checked out early at 10am so we had a couple of hours to burn before we moved to the next apartment at 12pm.

Kimble decided to finally get a haircut. After 4 months without a haircut his hair was out of control! It was funny because I was translating to the hairdresser what Kimble wanted. Then Kimble shows a photo on his phone. We had no idea how the haircut would turn out but for 7.50 Euros he got a great haircut. The hairdresser seemed good at what he did and used scissors for most of it.  I thought Kimble looked like Christopher Walken with his hair brushed back.

At about 11:30 we headed back to the apartment to collect our bags.  We had a nice chat with the landlady about Lisbon and life. We say our goodbyes, Camilla blows a kiss or two and we leave.

We took  a 10 minute taxi ride to the our new home. We are staying in a street called Calcada de Santana in the Frequesia of Pena. It appears to be a colorful suburb, with a mix of tourists, Portuguese, Indians and Africans. Location wise it’s great, about 5 minutes walk to the centre of Lisbon with lots of cheap restaurants near by.

staying in the yellow building on the ground floor

The apartment itself is a huge downgrade from our last. But that is what I  get for booking two weeks before Easter. The place is tiny and only has two windows, one in the living area and one at the back. Every single room is extremely small, with the bathroom being the smallest of them all. Thank god we are only here for 11 nights. 

Tagus River

small bathroom, it must be 90cm wide.

The first day was a bit of a pain as when we got to the apartment the TV and Internet weren’t working. Camilla was going crazy and we had nothing to keep her entertained. The landlord told us that the technician would show from 2-6PM. He turned up at 6PM and managed to get it fixed by 7PM.

We started cooking dinner, roast chicken, and the power keeps going out. Having the TV, heater, stove, oven and lights on doesn’t agree with this place. We turned everything off with the exception of the oven and waited for the chicken to finish roasting. Arghhhh, at this stage I feel like packing my bags and going to a hotel. But luckily once the oven was turned off  we were able to turn on the TV and other electrical equipment without the power tripping.

I almost forgot to mention…Kimble found his dream camera at the Flea Market  ,  it’s a Canon QL19. Kimble says it’s 40 years old. I bargained the priced from 45 Euros to 40 Euros. Not a bargain but Kimble says it’s cheaper than buying it on eBay. He has been having lots of fun with it.

We now have 10 days to kill before we move on to Paris. We have seen most tourist attractions in Lisbon so we really need to leave the city and go on day trips.  We are determined to go to Sintra and Evora in the coming days. Fingers crossed the weather improves as it has been cold, cloudy and raining for the last week.

Bad things comes in threes?

2 Apr

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted last.

We have been busy taking Kimble’s mum sightseeing around Lisbon.

Last week Kimble’s dad arrived from Sydney and stayed with us for three nights. We had two intense days of sighseeing. My feet were hurting so badly after day  one that on the second day I chose to stay home while they went out to visit the Fado Museum.

Kimble’s mum and dad left a couple of days ago. They have gone off on their own European adventure, travelling around Italy, France and the UK. The apartment felt very empty the day after they left. We didn’t do much for three whole days. It’s been hard getting used to getting up early again. Margaret was such an angel looking after Camilla first thing in the morning while both Kimble and I slept in until about 10am.  We are slowly getting used to our old life and have re-introduced the sleep in roster.

Over the last week lots of bad things have happened.
Anxiety levels are currently high!
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  1. Kimble’s laptop slows down to a halt and he can’t work. One day his computer decides to not start. We discovered that the hard drive had lots of bad sectors,  it took over two days to fix it. He still needs a new hard drive and we have no idea where to find cheap hardware in Lisbon. But for now his computer is working again.
  2. Car Accident. I get a call from my parents saying that they received a call from Chatswood Police Station. It appears that my 10 year old Daewoo Lanos which is parked outside Kimble’s parents home has been hit by a car. I  recently renewed the rego, spent almost 800 bucks for a car I probably won’t drive again. Luckily the idiot who hit my car is a Mercedez owner and has insurance. Fingers crossed the insurer writes off the old bugger and give us some cash. Annoying that we are not going to have a car when we get back but hopefully we will get more $$ than we would if we sold it privately. Check out the damage.  
  3. Lost 280 Euros.We had initially planned to stay in Portugal for 3 months, but we changed our minds and decided to go to Paris instead. Our flights are frequent flyer flights.  We decided that we didn’t want to use the Lisbon to London flight we had originally booked.  I went ahead and booked all the transport and accommodation for Paris.We decided to do a stopover in Hong Kong which we didn’t book before we left Sydney. So I rang Qantas to tell them of our new plans and advise them that I would like the Lisbon to London flight cancelled and use the unused stopover for Hong Kong.The very unhelpful Qantas staff says  It couldn’t be changed and if we didn’t turn up to the to London flight they would cancel our last flight back home (London to Sydney) out of the computer system. Everything I booked for Paris is NON-REFUNDABLE!! arghhh. We had no choice but to book a flight back to Lisbon so we can catch our Qantas flight and not have our flight home cancelled. Plus we lose the Eurorail tickets I had booked.  So on the 3rd of May we have to fly back to Lisbon to catch our original Qantas London flight leaving on the 4th of May. What a pain! I wish I had called Qantas before I made our plans for Paris. Oh well, live and learn.[/ordered_list]
Do you believe in the old saying “Bad things comes in threes”? We are feeling very annoyed with all these bad things happening,  fingers crossed nothing else bad happens.

Our time in Lisbon is running out. We have thirteen more days before we head to Paris.  In two days time  we move to our next rental apartment closer to the centre of Lisbon. We have been extra lazy ever since Kimble’s mum left and we still have a whole bunch of places we have been meaning to visit for the last 2 months which we haven’t. By being closer to the action we hope to actually get off our butts and visit these places.

Portuguese Inspired Cocktail

25 Mar

I traveled to Porto recently with mum for a couple of days while Priscilla stayed in Lisbon looking after Camilla. While there we had to do a Port tour. Seeing how Port is made and of course tasting some. While there I was introduced to white Port and fell in love with it.

After proudly bringing back a bottle of white Port and making Pris taste it she decided she didn’t share my passion for it. So, tonight I looked through the cupboard and put together a cocktail. Here’s how it’s made. Put it all together in a small wine glass.

  • A splash of gin, just enough to coat the glass
  • A shot of white Port
  • Top off the glass with Vinho verde – hard to get in Australia but any mild, medium (not dry or sweet) wine such as one of the New Zealanders would make a good substitute. Vinho verde is like water almost

This trio of alcohol makes a lovely golden straw coloured drink that has a spicy bitterness that is offset by the sweetness of the port.

Change of plans

20 Mar

We had initially planned to stay in Portugal for three months. This decision was based around three things:
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  1. Money. Portugal is very cheap in comparison to cities like Spain and France. For two months worth of accommodation we  spent 1,300 Euros. That works out as 21.50 Euros per day!
  2. Weather. We wanted to live in a country that would be warmer during the winter months. Portugal met that expectation, most days have been around 18-25C and we  only had a handful of cloudy and rainy days.
  3. Ability to communicate. I wanted a coutry where I could easily communicate with the locals. Speaking Portuguese met that criteria for me and Kimble has actually learned some new words. He is not fluent, but much better than before.

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So what has changed?

Our stay at the rental accommodation in Lisbon ends on the 4th of April. We were trying to work out where to go next and felt like we had to explore more of Europe. After all it seems silly to only stay in one country for three whole months. So after much research and budget crunching we decided to go to France!

We are now spending 18 nights in Paris. Our EasyJet flight is booked for departure on 15 April. I found a nice apartment in the 16 arrodisement for 1,740 Euros, this is tre expensive considering we paid less for 2 whole months in Portugal. But I figure this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we don’t want to get back to Sydney and regret not having gone to Paris. It will break the budget but I hope it will be worth it.

The next challenge is to figure out where to go after Lisbon. Before we head to Paris we still have 11 nights in Portugal that needs to be planned out soon. Especially since it’s over the Easter break. We are thinking of going to the Alentejo region which is suppose to be very pretty, but I am unsure of where exactly to go.

I find it extremely frustrating not knowing where I am going next and not having accommodation booked. But these things always work themselves out and we always ed up with a place to stay.

Life in Lisbon

16 Mar

It has been almost two weeks since we arrived in Lisbon. On our way here from Cascais I noticed the instant change in scenery; from spaced out and clean to tightly packed, older and dirtier. I instantly questioned my decision to stay in Lisbon for a month as Cascais was so beautiful in contrast. Lisbon is definitely an acquired taste, it took me a week to get used to the abandoned and neglected buildings, tons of people, traffic and the faster pace of life. But I can now say I like this place, in fact it is quite charming. Living in a nice apartment with views of the Tagus river does help one to love Lisbon.

With my mother-in-law staying with us we decided to take her out to see the sights we had already seen back in 2009 and also visit some new places. It’s strange but It feels like I have lived here for ever, everything seems so familiar.

Our first outing was to the Oceanarium, apparently the second largest in the world.We spent about 2 hours wondering around, the turtle exhibit was impressive. I loved watching the turtles swimming up to us, they are beautiful creatures.

Our second tourist outing was to Belem. This is a tourist Mecca with several sites worth visiting.

We saw the Monument to the Discoveries, the Tower of Belem, the Modern Art Gallery, the Monastery of Jeronimos and our last pit stop for the day was the Pasteis de Belem shop. This place is packed to the brim with people wanting to eat their famous Pasteis de Natas. The warm pastries were indeed delicious!

We have also been to the Baixa, Chiado and Bairo Alto. These areas are by far the closest tourist attractions to our home. It takes us about 10 minutes to reach Baixa by bus. Below is the view from the top of the Santa Justa lift, which connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo. 

There is a famous market near our place, it’s called Feira da Ladra (Thieves Market). This is a flea market with a variety of used and new goods.
Kimble has been to it twice already. He is hoping to find an old film camera, but unfortunately all the cameras he has seen are not working or not what he is after. Anyhow, it’s a very interesting market. I particularly enjoyed the people watching, there were some interesting characters about.

The other day whilst walking past the Rossio area I was offered hashish. I thought this was very funny as I was pushing Camilla in her stroller when it happened. Who offers drugs to a mother with a toddler? The poor guy must have been desperate for some cash or  maybe the area we were walking through was dodgy. We were outside this building: 

For some reason Camilla has been waking up super early these days (6am). Perhaps she is excited to see her grandma every morning, so as soon as the sun is rising she is out of the bedroom looking for grandma. Kimble and I both hate getting up early, so having Kimble’s mum around has been wonderful! We now get to sleep in until 10am everyday. Thanks Margaret! Also, the other day we went out just the two of us for the first time in 3 months. It felt very weird leaving the house without Camilla. When we got home Camilla was fast asleep and we had a great time out shopping at Vasco de Gama Shopping Centre.

Staying in a city for a month has allowed us to take our time to see the sights and also gives us “relax time” at home which makes this extended travel business a little bit more bearable. It’s hard to believe  that we have been traveling for over 100 days. The old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is very true. We only have another 2 months before we fly back and a lot more exploring to do!

More sightseeing for us tomorrow, we are heading to Sintra to see a Palace or two.

Beer Blog: Portuguese beers

9 Mar

Those who have made it to Portugal before know that this country is not really known for its beers. In fact the two main breweries in this country (Sagres and Super Bock) both produce a lager which is hard to tell apart. Like the generic lagers of most countries not known for their beers.  Of course I shouldn’t complain. These beers are readily available for about 3.60 Euros ( ~ 5 AUD) for a six pack. One third the price of beer in Australia.

I was almost desperate to get hold of a foreign beer before I tried the “special” beers from Super Bock. One which roughly translates as Artisan’s recipe and the other simply named Gourmet. Both are similar and until I tried them side by side I thought they were identical.

Artesanal – This one has slightly burnt notes and a definite blackcurrant taste to it. Along with that sweet yeasty flavour you get in Belgian beers. Without most of the complexity though.

Gourmet – This is the one that tastes most like a belgian beer, reminding me somewhat of Leffe Blonde. Not quite as sweet as the Artesanal and definitely easier to quaff.

The interesting thing about these beers is that the base flavour seems to be the same. I’m pretty sure they are brewed with the same yeast and hops but differ only in the malts used. From my own experiments in brewing you do tend to end up with a very similar product.

For another 30 cents a bottle I think these are both worth drinking over the normal product but as a top end product they both fall into the Crown Lager category. Full of puff but no steam.