Thursday, July 05, 2018

MENU's Iberian Exploit 15. Return to Porto and home to Cape Town

It was time to leave Madrid and head back to Portugal. We left early in the morning of May 6th, as we had several hours drive ahead of us. At lunchtime, we stopped in the small town of Ciudad Rodrigo near the border which is the last stop at which we could buy petrol in Spain, where it is much cheaper, than in Portugal and we were after some lunch. Well, we got the petrol.... and then encountered this religious procession celebrating Spanish Mother’s Day, we think, which is why they were carrying statues and banners of Mary
Lots of mums in the procession
We liked the look of this place but, when we saw the menu, we realised
that they only served drinks and teas - yes Rooibos has reached Spain
and we found this place on the main square, so tried to get a table
Service was very slow and then we noticed that people were only drinking
and eating small plates of tapas, so we had a beer
This was the tapas (bites) menu we were served and I am afraid that, although we are adventurous eaters, this turned us right off. We wanted a proper lunch, so we paid for the beer and fled. We walked through many of the streets but failed to find a restaurant that was opening or serving food. Not our lucky day, so we drove on
Another wonderful hilltop castle on the outskirts of Ciudad Rodrigo
We saw a sign pointing to a hotel and, thinking they might do lunch, we drove down the pretty road, only to find it was Residents Only. Worth the trip to see these blue cornflowers, red poppies and white daisies on the side of the road
It is poppy season
Goodbye Ciudad Rodrigo, we are leaving you, hungry
What a pretty scene along the way
Just before the border, we found a restaurant with many cars but, when we entered,
the manageress shouted at us very rudely and aggressively to leave immediately unless
we had a booking. Which of course we didn’t. "You are Very unfriendly to tourists here!"
Lynne shouted back,  "We are leaving you to eat in Portugal!"  That,  unfortunately,
meant stopping off in desperation at a BP petrol station more than two hours later.
And the food was dreadful; they even messed up a cheese toastie and the empanada
John had was stuffed with tasteless goo. Some days just don’t work out in your favour
It was very clean!
Finally, at about 4, we arrived back in Porto, to stay in our third AirBnB there, this time
right  by  the  sea,  which  we  had  been  missing  (We  booked  three  different  places
specifically  so  we  could  see  different  aspects  of  Porto).   If  you  live by  the  sea,
it  is  like  an  essential part of your life and when we travel inland,  we feel its absence.
It  was  Sunday  afternoon  and  the  scene  was  so  familiar.  Everyone  was  out  walking
on the promenade of Lavadores in Vila Nova de Gaia
The sun was out, it was warm; you could smell the Atlantic sea salt and ozone and hear the
waves. So we got a table, sat down and had something to drink - a beer for John and a gin
and tonic for Lynne while we waited for our landlord to say our accommodation was ready
Another Cape export! Vygies, members of the Carpobrotus branch of the Mesembryanthemaceae. Apparently our Sour Fig plants are causing all sorts of problems in Europe
A tiled house across the road from our accommodation
The view of the estuary of the Douro into the Atlantic from our AirBnB balcony
A comfortable and calm bedroom and a nice spacious flat. Our landlord, Gergely Suto, is a Hungarian who has lived in Portugal for many years.  He is a professional musician who plays the clarinet in the Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto and was a mine of information about the area and where to shop and eat.  He told us of a local restaurant where we could eat fresh fish and seafood very cheaply
Once we were settled in, we headed for the restaurant called Café Vapor, which he had mentioned and found him there, also waiting for a table and he invited us to join him.  It is on the riverside in the Fishermens’ village  on the sea side of the Ponte d'Arrábida bridge  and only about six minutes
from the apartment
Loads of character,  no booking and lots of chaos.  We had to stand and wait for a table for what seemed like hours (actually a bit less than an hour), but it was worth it.  The waitresses are more concerned about getting the food out to customers than about who should be getting seated first,
but that is how the cookie crumbles here
They were not sure who this order of a prawn skewer was for. It found its owner eventually.
We think they need a manager to sort out the chaos
A bottle of Vinho Verde to begin with
Light, crisp, medium pétillant and just what the Doctor ordered.
(Actually, what the musician ordered...)
Sunset at our table on the roadside
The grill was covered in everything it was possible to find on the menu
Should have had those prawns, a big regret, instead had the squid on the right
They were a bit expensive
The squid tasted amazing with the fire smoke and was tender,
BUT they do not clean the squid at all, so it was a case of avoiding half of it
Here comes more food
First, a plate of tapas. From top left: baby prawns, so sweet; you can eat them whole or just pluck off the heads - it takes too long to take off the shells; small empanadas, a very,  very good octopus salad, huge fresh mussels in garlic and olive oil
Those squid, fresh from the fire, dressed with olive oil, lemon and onion
Huge fresh sardines for the boys, Lynne does not enjoy all the bones
We had another bottle of wine and enjoyed the late evening air. The bill was ridiculously cheap, we split it three ways,  as requested by our landlord,  and it came to €39 for everything, so  €26 for us. Head there if you are going to Porto, but do be prepared to wait for a table, for service and for the food. As we said, it’s worth it
A great end to a very long day. Porto by night
The next day we wanted to go back into the centre of Porto, take a look at the town market, return to the Allianca Bar for their beer and Duck rice and to visit some of the Port Houses. But the best laid plans......  We took the No.11 Bus after a false start;  the computer told us to take another number, which went nowhere near the city centre.  The bus drivers do not speak any English,  so it was a bit stressful but, eventually, an elderly couple saw that we had been waiting at the stop outside our flat for an hour and gave us the best information. It was a lovely trip into town too, you go through some very interesting areas, past the Port Houses and over the Luis I Bridge
We had to walk a long way up hill to get to the food market, only to find that it
was closed for renovations.  On the way, we had walked through Rua das Flores
and discovered that the Allianca Bar was closed, so no Estrella Galicia beer and
no duck rice (this photo was taken earlier, when it was open).
We needed another plan.  We found and then went into the Tourist Information office and this was where we learned that the market was closed. We asked the lady where she recommended that we should go for lunch, as we wanted to eat more traditional Portuguese food.  She directed us to two restaurants at the top of town that we just could not locate
But eventually, after lots of walking up hill following the Tram lines to Rua de Santa Catharina, we 
found  ourselves in the  area of the  famous Francesinha  (transl.  The Little French woman)  -  the  Portuguese  version  of  a  French  Crocque  Monsieur, apparently   must to have  while  in  Porto.  Its supposed to be steak, ham, and a Linguiça sausage wrapped in two slices of bread and then covered in melted cheese and a secret beer, tomato and chilli sauce. And it can have a fried egg on top of it. Cholesterol heaven or hell according to your health. Apparently the locals ration themselves to only two a month. But where to go, which was better? Exhaustion chose Casa Ribeira for us and the sight of these two lovely beers was inspiring
A portrait of the Photographer, looking weary
The menu, in English, had lots to choose
And then we spotted what our neighbours had ordered. They were a friendly couple about our age from Germany, so conversation was not difficult. They had also done a trip very similar to ours. We had to ask what this was,  assuming it was a folded  Tramezzino.  But no, it was a rather disguised Francesinha wrapped in Pizza dough. We decided to order it, but there were two sizes on the menu. This they informed us that they had the small one! Thank heavens we knew, it was enormous
It came with chips and was indeed topped with cheese and the beer sauce. You can see the large steak, the ham and the sausage inside. Absolutely, wickedly good. But not to be repeated in pizza dough, which mostly got left on the plate. We have to try the one in bread another time
Back down the hill was a good way to walk off lunch and we were heading
for the Port houses on the other side of the river
Still lots of construction going on over there, it will be superb
when they finish the roads and the access is restored
Halfway across the Ponte Luis I, you can see the tour boats
We had intended to take a trip on one of these, but time was running short
Porto from the South bank of the Douro
And a view through the bridge
Tours cost  from about  €15 to 18 for half an hour  to 40 minutes;
you go up and down the river briefly and visit one or two port houses
We decided that we had such a good experience at Sandeman in Jerez with the sherry tasting that
we would try their Port tasting. That was until we found out the price of the tour, which ends with a tasting of just two ports, the Red and the Non Vintage, was going to cost us €45 each. Think of the magnificent meal we could have for €90?! (at that time nearly R1350)
So we settled for a table at the bar outside and ordered a glass of each of those ports to share
The doorway into Sandeman’s. The River Douro’s flood levels, as recorded at that point,
are painted at the left side of the door
The date at the top left, just below the lintel, is the highest ever recorded.
It couldn't have made for a wonderful Christmas
Tasting portions arrived; they are not generous and they cost €7 (R105). The red was like raspberry cool drink and the non vintage was intensely sweet without any character whatsoever. Had we paid the €90 we would have been furious.  Sorry Sandeman, you have to do better if you want people to drink more port, show them something worth drinking.
There was very loud beat and hip hop music playing and the atmosphere was slightly frenetic
The best thing was the views of the river and the boats and this beautiful city
Our flight home the next day was not till the early evening and the car had to be back by 10am.
One last trip to our favourite shop before then. They tell us we don’t have a big enough customer base for them to open in South Africa.  We think they are so wrong,  we think most of the rest of
Africa will head our way to buy the very good quality and well-designed things that IKEA sells. Each time we go to Europe, we bring things home to aid our lives. This time it was tiny LED spotlights on movable stalks for over the bed, so we don’t need bedside lamps. More space for books!
We returned the car and caught the courtesy bus to the Airport, where we had a rather long wait reading our books. Lynne had bought us Pasteis de Nata (2 for €1 and Pölser (Swedish sausages on rolls with crisp onions and mustard) for lunch at IKEA. Their restaurants must be the very best value anywhere. Previous meals we have had there are the Swedish meatballs, Duck rice, huge Eisbeins, and amazing Dime chocolate cake)
Time to board the Air Angola plane for home, with a 2 hour stop off to change planes in steamy Luanda; It is a really reasonable way to get to Europe and much quicker than going via Istanbul
or the dreaded Dubai. From Portugal, you can take Easy Jet or Ryan Air to anywhere in Europe
for very little money
We arrived back, quite exhausted, to Cape Town at about 13h30 and John had a great inspired suggestion - that we go and have some lunch at the Spur,  as we had nothing waiting for us at
home and we would be too tired to go to the supermarket or cook
A Hamburger each with avo, cheese, bacon and onion rings, chips and a beer cost us R300. Almost
the same as a Menu del Dia in Iberia! Uber home to bed, recovery and unpacking.  And a thousand 
emails each to deal with. Happy days. What a great trip it has been, barring a few detours

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