Matt week 14
“A Bit More Wine Tasting”
Well the week started off at the same place as the week before had ended, on a campsite in Vila Cha about 25Km North of Porto. We had spent time over the weekend catching up with our blogs but decided that on the Monday we would take a break and go down and spend a day in Portugal’s second city Porto. We had not got around to reading a lot about what to expect or things to do in Porto, so decided we would try and do some research on the half an hour train ride there. So we packed a rucksack for the day and walked the 3.5Km to the train station and worked out which zone we were in, which zone we were travelling to and which zones we were travelling through, all of which had to be entered on to the screen before it would issue us a ticket! The cost however was fairly reasonable at 4.3 euros each for a return. We arrived in the area of Trindade which is quite high up in the town which meant we could take a nice leisurely walk down towards the older part of town which we had read on the train was highly recommended. On the walk down to the old town I was pleased to see a well looked after town with impressively wide tree lined roads and although there were a lot of older buildings there was a sense of modernity and the place had certain vibrancy.
Around lunch time, getting a bit peckish we set about trying to find somewhere to eat. We had made it to the old town down by the river but were put off by most of the restaurants whose employees were pounding the pavements trying to entice customers into their restaurants and after a quick inspections of some their menus which consisted of mainly fast fried food we decided to head inwards away from the river and the sunshine in search of something a little more authentic. It wasn’t long before we were in luck as we walked past a place up a small narrow lane that was almost entirely full of people and thinking about the saying you should always follow where the locals go we went in and were seated at a nice table. As it turned out what we had failed to notice before entering was that about 90% of the people in there were Japanese tourists, so we may not have followed the locals but we were taking some hope from the fact that they were there with a local tour guide who we hoped would be unlikely to take 40 Japanese travelers out to eat somewhere that was terrible. As it turned out the service and the food were exceptionally good and we had a great meal, Ellie with salmon and me with steak as well as rather nice Douro wine.
After lunch we were wandering around looking at the sights when we chanced upon one of the towns many Port cellars and having promised ourselves we would take a bottle back with us that night we went in for a look. Inside a friendly girl came and spoke to us and asked us what type we were looking for and seeing us both looking quite bemused she offered to let us taste some different varieties to see which we preferred. The tastings were all done in rather large wine glasses which we were told allowed the full aromas to escape, we were also told the importance of serving port at the right temperatures. We started with a white port served at 8 degrees which reminded me of the Madeira wine we had had whilst there a few years previously. The next was a Tawny Port served at 10 degrees, which had a lovely sweet caramel scent. Then followed the more well known Ruby Port served at 12 degrees, which after the previous two seemed a little bland. Explaining to the girl that we would rather buy a Port from a smaller supplier she suggested a young Quinta das Lamelas from a family who had been running the same piece of land since 1836.
From there we headed to a large tower that once climbed gives you a view of the whole city. It was 3 euros each to go up and we follow a tiny stone staircase up 240 steps to get to the great views at the top. We walked around the ramparts trying to identify as many of the sights as we could find on the map with only limited success. After climbing our way back down we tried to find the library which we had been told by the girl in the Port cellar was where all the” cool” people hang out but maybe we just weren’t “cool” enough as although according to the map we seemed to be standing exactly where it should have been we just couldn’t find it!
With our day in Porto coming to an end we decided to walk back up to the train station going via a supermarket for some supplies for that evening. After getting to the station and swapping platforms a couple of times before realising that platform we had been on the first time was the platform back to Modivas, we only had to wait a couple of minutes for the next train. On departing the train at Modivas for the 3.5km walk back we realised the journey maybe slightly more tricky than the walk had been there, as being dark, with few street lights and almost no pavements meant dodging out of the way of a variety of oncoming vehicles. We must of walked about an extra kilometer crossing the road so many times!
The next day we washed clothes, which was becoming essential and carried on getting up to date with the blog. We knuckled down and by the end of the day all our clothes were washed and dried and our blog was written and ready to be uploaded in the campsite cafe the next morning before we left. So on the Wednesday morning we uploaded all our writings and pictures and headed off from the campsite in an Easterly direction.
We were heading to an area El’s had found called Foz Coa which is a Paleolithic stone carving site in the East of Portugal. We had decided to split the drive of about 200Km into two days as the remoteness of the place meant we would not be able to take main roads all the way there and would have to venture along some of the mountain passes. As it was, on the first day things were pretty easy, the A4 motorway was almost complete and took as the first 75Km from Porto to Vila Real where we stopped off to get some supplies at a rather disappointing “Jumbo” supermarket (which although large had very uninspiring choices). From there we dropped south about 40Km to our overnight stay in Peso Da Regua which was a small town that had kindly put in a nice run of motorhome parking bays under 2 road bridges and the towns train bridge! Thankfully by about 10pm the roads were silent and the last train had run leading to us getting a pretty good night’s sleep.
The next morning was to be more of a test as on our route to Foz Coa the map showed only a series of squiggles for the entire 90Km drive which could mean only one thing hills, hills, hills. In preparation for this the previous day we had filled the tank with advanced diesel instead of the cheaper regular stuff as we thought Heidi would need every bit of extra horse power we could find. This turned out to be a good thing and somewhat surprisingly seemed to make quite a big difference to her performance. The hills were steep and long and windy but Heidi coped well other than developing slightly annoying squeaky brake on the downhill sections than we had noticed before. From the tops of the Mountains where we rose to just over 1000m the views were sublime, full of distant vistas and overlooking miles of vines. There were also many olive groves which were intermixed with almond trees, with the occasional sight of a groups of people with nets around an olive trees giving them a damn good thrashing with long sticks reminiscent of the scene in Fawlty Towers (the one with the branch and the car). On a couple of occasions when we could pull over we got out to take it all in and get few photos. The roads thankfully weren’t as bad as we thought they would be but we still had to pay attention as there was quite a few agricultural vehicles on the roads and often not much more than a few cobbles between us and a rather precarious drop. The journey according to the sat nav had estimated it would take us 3 hours travelling at 30Km per hour ( 19m) which was only a little optomistic as it took 4.5 hours including a couple of pit stops. That night we stopped at an aire about 10Km from Foz Coa (as the aire in Foz Coa itself looked pretty grim) and we could easily travel there in the morning to spend the day.
So early the next morning we got Heidi ready to go and we were off. The drive was easy and the place was very well sign posted and we arrived by about 9.30am. On arriving I think we were slightly taken back by the building as it was made from large pre- cast blocks of concrete and set deep into the ground and formed a large triangular shape. Even our first glimpse the building alone was worth the drive. To get to the reception you had to walk down a long walkway that made you feel like you are entering some sort of military underground bunker. Once inside it was no less dramatic with little natural light and an amazing sense of calm. We decided to book a tour for later that afternoon to one of the three sites open to the public to view rock carvings dating from 30,000 BN (Before Now) to 10,000 BN at a place called Penacosa. So for the rest of the morning we were able to look around the museum, grab some lunch and make our way to where we were to meet our guide in a small village about 20Km away.
The Museum was interesting and gave a lot of detail about all of the various finds around the excavated sites and created an area showing how they may have lived at the time but again I was slightly more taken with the building which reminded me of a nuclear bunker I had worked in 20 years previously. At the end of the exhibits there was a section of three rooms given over to a conceptual artist who attempted to make his interpretations of the area and the significance of it’s history which I found particularly awful! We then went down stairs to the museum restaurant for coffee. We were surprised to find out that the restaurant was still open in the evenings and having noticed on the way there that there was not a lot around we decided we would come back that evening if for nothing more than a choice from one of the largest wine lists I have ever seen.
That afternoon when we arrived at the meeting point we introduced ourselves to 3 French people who were also going on the tour with us and then met our guide. We bundled into the back of an old 4×4 and bumped and rocked our way the 6Km to the site. On arrival there was a perfectly dressed security guard waiting to check us in, who then proceeded to follow about 10 meters behind us the whole time we were there as if he had been given a tip off that one of us “was real trouble”! The carvings were interesting even if though they were mainly incomplete or almost completely faded away. For me there is only a certain level of interest you can show in an outline of two thirds of a type of ox or a lower jaw and a stomach of a horse! I guess my interest may have also been waning as the guide had been told we were all French and was therefore giving these very intricate descriptions of every aspect of the carvings and there relationship to the surroundings whilst I was only understanding every other word!
We finished the tour and headed back to the museum aware that we had booked a table for 7.30 which would give us an hour or so to get changed and ready. When we got there Heidi was the only vehicle in the customer car park and by 7.30 she was still the only one there. We walked down the slope to the entrance once again this time it felt properly eerie with fluorescent tubes flicking and humming.
We opened the door to the restaurant and saw to no shock whatsoever we were the only ones there. The host almost looked shocked we were there even though it was him we had booked the table with. He was however very friendly and showed us to the table we had had coffee at earlier in the day which now had a snazzy portable heater next to it as it was getting a bit chilly in the large empty space. We went through the menu which all looked very tasty, and ordered starters and by chance had picked the same main of Veal in a port and apple sauce with Ellie finishing with a poached apple in a port jus and me having a chocolate mousse with local toasted almonds, all of which was great and made even nicer with a great bottle of local red wine that the host had recommended for us which was all washed down with dark strong coffee. At the end we got chatting to the host who had now brought us over a free glass of port, he was watching the football in the next room so we joined him along with the chef and the kitchen hand in watching the football and drinking some of their lovely Port. They were really nice guys who gave us lists of places to visit in Portugal many of which had already made our list from previous recommendations and some of which we will now add. They explained that almost all of their custom comes in the summer which fills the 100 seat restaurant day and night but in the winter it just stays open just to keep everyone employed for fear by the following year they would have to find all new staff, which I guess makes sense. That night our bellies full and we slept well.
The next day we had booked a second tour for 9.45 am so were up early to get ready as we wanted to head off as soon as we got back. This tour left from the visitor centre and again started in a similar 4×4 drive of about 5km up and down some tricky terrain. The weather that day was cold and thick with fog and so different from the glorious sunshine of the previous afternoon. It was however going to be similar to the day before in another way as today we were with two lovely Spanish people Andreas and Maria, which meant on that tour I got to not understand a word in Spanish as opposed to not understanding every other word in French! That said the carvings were interesting and luckily Andreas spoke good English so translated the highlight of what the tour guide was saying. Although at one point whilst describing a round tower on the hillside I had thought Andreas had said they were built for dogs and that their excrement was used as fertilizer for the olive and almond trees but after a few minutes of trying to get my head around this point I questioned him to find out he had meant doves and not dogs which made quite a lot more sense! At the end of the tour Andreas gave us his number and said if we were passing his home town of Caceras in Spain we should give him a call as he would be happy to be our tour guide for his home town, which was very kind of him.
After our tour finished and we got back to Heidi and headed off. We were heading for Lisbon which was about 400Km away so would stop two or three times on the way wherever we could find good aires.
The fog that morning had been thick and icy wet but after about an hour of driving and as we got lower the fog burnt away and it became a glorious day. The dual carriageways had less traffic on than any road in the uk at 4am in the morning and we drove for ages before seeing any other form of human life which was all the more remarkable as it was on a Saturday afternoon!
We had made good time and got to our first aire more speedily than we had planned and therefore decided to head a bit further and the driving was easy as the weather and the views were so pleasant. The second aire we got to was in a small town called Velha De Rodao, we found the aire but unfortunately by the time we found the tourist office there was not enough time to go and see what looked like a fairly interesting collection of galleries and a museum of local artefacts including fossilised tree trunks and examples of rock carvings not dissimilar to what we had seen in Foz Coa, but even worse it would not be open again until Tuesday which was a bit too long for us to hang about there. The woman in the Tourist office did however give us a little guide which had a lovely 8Km way-marked track around the area which looked really nice, so we decided we would stay another day and do the walk the next day which was Sunday. That night we popped to a little supermarket to get bits for dinner and had a quite night in (well until 4am when about 20 local cockerels decided they had had enough sleep).
In the morning we packed our rucksack for a walk, the weather was looking clear and sunny so we took plenty of water as although the distance wasn’t that long we were by a river and in every direction we could see there were hills. It was great to get back out doing some real walking again as we had been town hopping recently and although we had walked miles around towns there is something special about climbing hills in nature and seeing the view of the place you had been earlier but now from high above. The walk was hard for the first 2k as it was steep and on pretty uneven ground but after that it seemed to level off to more gentle climbs and drops. At one point as we came out from a section of trees we could see that we were being circled by a venue of vultures which were enormous and I am sure if they had been inclined they could of swooped down and taken either one of us away with them! At the end of the walk we came down the hill through the upper parts of the town where multiple building and amenity improvement schemes were underway in what appeared to be a pleasant town.
The next morning even though we were pretty sure all three of the museums and galleries were closed we decided to take a walk to bit of the town where they were to double check. They were closed but the walk was nice and we stumbled across a pretty little church and small square lined with beautiful orange trees all full of fruit. We finished our circuit with a trip to the shop for some bits for breakfast and for our “Journey to Lisbon”.