Sunday, June 12, 2016

Portugal (12-18 June 2016)

12-June:  Bus ride from Santiago to Braga, Portugal and arrived 5pm or so and checked into the Sabrados Gelados Pension.  It's actually above an ice cream shop and probably not the best choice to have made (my bad!) but we do have a nice central location.

We were surprised to find a festival in full swing - a celebration of Vinho Verde, the wine of the region.  We bought coupons and a glass of wine and were tasting rather generous "pours" of local wine for ~80 cents per glass!  Perhaps twenty wineries were present plus several booths selling snacks and food.  There was even a Bacalao (salted cod) food tasting but we stuck to the wonderful wine!  As we were watching the people, a couple (Pedro and Paula) started talking to us and we had a great time visiting with them, learning a great deal more about their country.

13-June:  The next morning, we caught a bus to a nearby town, Guimaraes, known for its UNESCO heritage old town, castle and ducal palace.  We visited all of that, had another great lunch then caught an afternoon bus back to Braga.

14-June: The next morning we caught a 10am bus to Viana do Castelo, a small city on the coast of Portugal.  Arrived in rainy weather but made it to our lodging (Pensoa O Laurenjeira) and checked in.  This is a small (7 room) pensionne run by a family and above their very nice restaurant.  The current manager is the granddaughter of the founder, a 94 year old woman who was there and seems quite healthy.  We had a very nice lunch of grilled codfish - reconstituted salt cod and you would not know it had been salted rather than fresh - plus a bottle of vinho verde.  We explored the town, walked to the beach, rested in our room and then had dinner in the hotel restaurant downstairs.  At dinner, the owner's family (4 generations!) were at a big table near the kitchen.  The youngest is the 17 month old daughter of the woman who checked us in.  We had broiled mussels, grilled small squid and a bottle of red wine from the Douro river valley.

15-June:  We woke to a rainstorm that eased up and showers were scattered throughout the day - but not too bad.  We had breakfast downstairs in the restaurant and then took the funicular to the church on the "mountaintop".  We walked up small staircase to the top of the church and enjoyed a spectacular view of the rain squalls, coastline and city below.  Lunch was at a deli recommended by our pensionne and I had a very interesting dish of local sausage topped with a fried egg and roasted potatoes.  

We toured a restored hospital ship that had been stationed in the fishing grounds off of Greenland and Newfoundland.  In this city, "Codfish is king" and we see evidence of that in the restaurants where many dishes are based on reconstituted salt cod.  It's actually much better than it sounds and unless one asks, difficult to be sure it's not fresh.  

16-June:  We left almost all of our clothes yesterday to be washed (at the pensionne) so were happy to get our laundry this morning and put on clean things.  After breakfast at the pensionne we packed and then caught the 10am bus to Ponte de Lima, about an hour away and also on the Lima river.  This is considered to be the "first town in Portugal", receiving its grant from the first queen of the country.  There's a very nice old town and the big landmark is a multi-arched medieval stone bridge across the river.  The 15th century bridge is actually connected to a portion of an even older Roman bridge at the far end.  The river changed course so the Roman bridge had to be extended to cover the new riverbed.  We had an inexpensive set lunch at a riverside restaurant then went sightseeing.  The Camino Portuguese crosses the river on the old bridge and there's an albergue on the far side, along with an old church and other ruins.  We toured an international garden exhibit and then came back to wander around the old town.  Dinner was Baccalao gratin and a nice bottle of vinho verde.

17-June:  Bus travel between Ponte de Lima and Valenca is a bit spotty with only one direct bus per day and that's fairly late.  We got advice at the tourist office and took bus to another smaller village, waited a bit and then another smaller bus to Valenca.  The bus station is very small and there was no indication where we could buy onward tickets to Spain.  In any event, we wanted to get train tickets so walked ~400m to the train station and were able to buy train tickets to La Coruna - that was a relief!  So many train stations now days are very poorly staffed and no way to buy tickets.  Our train ride requires reservations on the last leg so we most probably could not have purchased tickets on the train.  

Once we got that problem solved we found a great bistro/bar restaurant in part of the train station building had had a nice "daily menu" meal.  Several small hotels were within walking distance so we picked out a very reasonably priced place (Hotel Val Flores), got settled and walked to the nearby fortress. The fortress is more of a walled town and was built in the 14th and 15th centuries on top of an old fortified Roman town.  In later years it was expanded and formed a key part of the defenses against Spain - just across the river is the Galician city of Tui.  We were tired of codfish so found a very nice nearby Italian restaurant where we celebrated our 44 wedding anniversary.  

18-June:  In the morning we walked onto the bridge between Spain and Portugal (designed by the Eiffel firm) and enjoyed the views back into Valenca.  Then we caught the train to Spain.  First was a 45 minute ride to Redondela and then we changed to a faster train with stops in Santiago and then on to La Coruna.  

Vinho Verde festival in Braga, Portugal

Woman grilling sausage and meat for "snacks"

We arrived in Braga in time to catch the last three hours of Vinho Verde Fest!  We learned quite a bit about this wine region and loved the wine!

Guimaraes was once a center for tanning of leather

Interior of old church

Portugese buildings often covered with colorful tiles - this is an old convent.

Interior of another old church

Simple lunch of grilled fish, vegetables and a nice bottle of Vinho Verde wine.

Castle in Guimaraes dating back to 11th century

"Codfish for two" - reconstitued salt cod, grilled and served with roasted potatoes, collard greens and a bottle of vinho verde!

View of Viana do Castelo and the coastline from the top of the church 

Santa Lucia church on a hilltop overlooking the city

My lunch - local sausage of smoked meats topped with an egg, roasted potatoes, tomato and greens!

Large bronzes of a peasant family at work.  The figure in front is a woman leading a team of oxen pulling a plow and using the stick to guide them.  

Medieval bridge, Ponte de Lima, with an even older Roman section at the far end.

The Roman portion of the bridge

Pork products at a meat shop

Baccalao gratin and Vinho Verde wine.
Ponte de Lima - view across the Lima river in the morning.

Balance - View from fortress looking across the Minho river into This, Spain 

Walls of fortress in Valencia, Portugal 

Tomatoes, cheese, roasted peppers, olives and anchovies plus bottle of Mencia from Ribera Sacre

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