Porto = Paradise

Porto is a port city that ships port wine. 🙂 I think the story is that Porto really gained its international prominence in the 1700s when England was at war with France. England couldn’t get wine so easily from France so it had to look elsewhere. English people developed a taste for the sweet port wine (as did we) that came from the Douro valley region of Portugal. Porto is at the end of the Douro river, on the Atlantic coast – a perfect location to get the wine to England. So a bunch of English firms established their homes in Porto to ship out the sweet stuff. Even today in Porto, you’ll see a bunch of “wine lodges” with English names.

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We had a great time wandering through Porto – I think it was even my favorite city! As we took the metro in from our hotel and strolled through the downtown area, we ran into a photoshoot just outside the Camâra Municipal do Porto at the Avenida dos Aliados. The model was lifted on a metal ring into the air by a big crane.

We wandered through the city, past buildings covered in beautiful blue and white tiles, making our way down to the bustling riverfront spot. We took a beer and sangria break (don’t worry, we did have some delicious Portuguese wine with our dinner) at a tavern on the Ribeira Pier and watched as people and boats rolled by. Then we walked across the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge. At the end, some teenage boys were putting on a show for the tourists, saying they’d jump down into the water below for 5 Euros. I don’t know if they got any money, but they still seemed to have a fun time making splashes.

dscn5511One of the coolest things to do in Porto is to take a tour of one of the big wine lodges. We were disappointed to find out that tours end at 6 pm, but we headed out early the next morning to get in a tour before leaving for our next destination. We signed ourselves up for the 11 am English tour at the Croft wine lodge. The first part of the tour involved tasting a few of their special wines. So maybe drinking fancy wine before noon is not normal, but hey! When in Rome (or Porto), right?! dscn5508Because it was so early, it ended up being a private tour for just Reini and me. We learned a bit about the process of making port and got to see the swimming pool sized barrels that it’s stored in. The tour concluded with some more glasses of wine. And of course, we bought a bottle of our favorite port to take with us. We definitely should have bought more, but we were flying back and suitcases can only contain so much wine… 🙂

Beach towns and proposals

While at the beach, I discovered the true reason for Reini’s desire to be there… He was planning on proposing!! Somehow he snuck an engagement ring in his luggage without me figuring out he was up to something. We had a hotel spot right on a beautiful beach (Praia das Maçãs) and we were really enjoying walking around and lounging. But that night, Reini said we just HAD to go to a place he found in his guide book at sunset – Cabo da Roca. I’m not going to tell all the personal details, but Cabo da Roca is the westernmost point in continental Europe. Reini said this was the closest spot to home for me 🙂 The point has a fun red and white lighthouse high on a cliff and the spot is also marked with very large cross. It’s a really cool place and great for a romantic sunset proposal!

All the beaches in the region were really lovely. Praia das Maçãs was rather empty, so we were able to get prime spots on the sand. We did some reading and some splashing in the (cold) waves. There are also some cool cliffs that you can walk up. We didn’t get as close to the edges as the fishermen with their really long poles, though. But it made for some beautiful scenery.

As we headed north, we made a stop at another nice beach town – Nazaré. According to legend, it used to be a sleepy fishing village. It’s now a beach vacation spot for Portugal’s families. One of my favorite things were the beach cabanas!! Set up on the beach were at least a hundred little rustic beach cabanas that Portuguese grandmas rented out to the tourists for the day. For less than $7, this fair skinned girl couldn’t refuse! We really enjoyed this beach, but it was a bit more crowded and the waves were pretty big. In fact, the biggest wave ever surfed was in Nazaré. Needless to say, we did our wading close to the lifeguard stand… But the water was so clear and clean that we had to go in at least a bit.

Our favorite spot just outside of the town was called Sítio. It’s a short funicular ride (or in our case, a steep hike…) up to the top of the cliffs overlooking Nazaré and beaches below.

 

Neighboring castles

Once we had our fill of Lisbon, Reini picked up a rental car and we headed west to the Sintra area to tour some castles. This particular region was ripe for beautiful castles, most with views out to the ocean. After a brief stop for lunch (we ate at a restaurant that served Italian and Indian food – go figure), we landed at the Palacio da Regaleira. Its owner, nicknamed Monteiro the Millionaire, made his fortunes in Brazil and then moved back to Portugal around 1900 to live the high life! And man! He must have really enjoyed this place! The palace, incredible alone, is enhanced with gardens containing so many interesting things. There were secret grottos where you’re sure Ariel and her mermaid sisters would pop out of. There were magical wishing wells, watch towers, and gardens galore.

We were spending a couple of days at the beach (just maybe 20 minutes away) and the next morning the weather was pretty gray and a bit chilly. So… we decided to visit another castle! Regaleira was on Reini’s list but Palacio da Pena was on mine! We could see it glowing is orangey hue from the Regaleira palace and thought it would be worth the short drive. I love Disney a lot, but I was amazed that I was in a totally real fairytale princess castle. This castle was built in the 1840s and 50s by King Ferdinand and his German architect. The building is incredible and very bright, even in the gray sky. During the inside tour, Reini questioned the king’s need for so many ‘sitting rooms’ but I really enjoyed the richly adorned interiors. Once the place started to get crowded (we were very happy we got there early), we ventured into the park. Because Reinhard is Austrian, we had to hike to the highest point. Though the climb was longer than we thought, the sun greeted us just as we got to the top.

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There are a few more castles in the area like the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Sintra, but we didn’t have time for it all. I was happy, though, that I got a little time to pretend like I was a Disney princess 🙂

Portugal and its capital

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-4-42-28-pmWhile living in the center of Europe, we are granted the wonderful opportunity to have relatively easy access to so many unique locations. Reini wanted to spend time at the beach and I wanted to explore a different culture – so we somehow settled on Portugal! It was Reini’s dream to rent a car and drive along the coast. We did that and a whole lot more! Above is a Google map showing our route. Portugal is a small country – not much longer than the state of Georgia. It’s squeezed against the Atlantic Ocean, and it only shares borders with Spain. They speak Portuguese – it looks similar to Spanish when written, but spoken Portuguese sounds TOTALLY different. Portuguese people start their mornings late, enjoy an afternoon siesta, and then have dinner late in the night.

I’ll start off with our story about Lisbon, our first stop and Portugal’s capital city. Lisbon is an old city and has seen its fair share of rulers throughout its history. But now it has an interesting mix of old with new. We mostly stuck to the beautiful Alfama district. It supposedly retained its Moorish influence with its Arab-style street layout, which just seems to wind about aimlessly. The story is that other parts of the city are more logical because the city had to be rebuilt after a devastating series of earthquakes and a tidal wave in 1755. The Alfama is built around a rocky hill (I guess providing it protection against the quake) and makes for some beautiful sights. We hopped on historic Tram 28 and rode to the end, at the base of our first castle of the trip – Castelo de São Jorge. We wandered a bit through the streets, climbed a few flights of steep stairs, paid our admission tickets and then were rewarded with sweeping vistas of the city below.

Lisbon was boiling hot when we visited (100+ degrees) so we decided to make a pool stop to escape the heat. Our hotel didn’t have its own pool but gave us passes to use one across the street. It was definitely a hang out spot for the locals! There I learned that Portuguese women all wear the smallest bikinis possible, no matter their body type. I already stood out with my pale complexion, so they must have thought I looked really silly slathering on the SPF 50 while in my butt-covering bikini!

We really enjoyed the food offerings in Lisbon after the sun went down. Reini loved their fresh fish options and I found their food tasty and different. One of my dinners included ‘pork lizards’. Not actually lizards, but they looked like it! Kind of silly, but worth a try! We ended the night walking through some beautiful parts of the town, along the waterway.