Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Nazare and Obidos

Oct 1-2 2019

Click Nazaré to view photos of our visit

Suzanne and David suggested we visit Nazaré beach on our way from Coimbra to Óbidos. They had visited the town several years ago and wanted to see if it had changed very much. We arrived via the beach road, and immediately noted that the surf was up and a few surfers were riding the waves. A "photo of the week" in the Globe and Mail Sports Section,Saturday November 23, brought back memories of Portugal. Apparently the underwater Nazaré Canyon causes huge waves to form along this part of the Atlantic coast. There must have been some storms the week the photo was taken as the photo depicted a large crowd watching the surfers from the upper town bordering the beach. As we learned in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, another surfing Mecca, the word spreads in the surfing communities as soon as the weather patterns predict the best surf for aficionados.

The upper town built on the top of the cliff was shrouded in fog the day we were there. That meant a funicular ride to the top of the cliff was not in our plans. Instead we walked the beach, admiring the collection of small boats, used by the fishermen going out for the sardines that frequent those waters. A local woman, sitting on the beach, was hoping for sales of fish drying in the sun on large frames. We found a good beach side restaurant serving seafood for our lunch. Suzanne had fond memories of sardines cooked on a fire right on the beach promenade. The restaurant didn't offer sardines cooked the traditional way but we did see a man tending a fire on one of the side streets in the beach front town.

After lunch it was time to continue on to Óbidos, where we had reservations for the night.

Click Óbidos to see photos of our visit

All's well that ends well. We were given directions to our small hotel in Óbidos: "follow the signs to the castle". That sounded easy. It wasn't. We circled the hilltop fortress, a few times, trying once to go the wrong way, much to the ire of a local taxi driver. We ended up at the south end of town, even when we thought our accommodation was at the north end. Ray and I volunteered to find our lodging. We were directed to one place that turned out to be a sister of our lodging. Ray went back to stay with the Andrews in our car and I walked through the village and found Casa de Sao Thiago do Castelo, right next to the castle at the north end of town. When I explained that the rest of our group was waiting at a parking lot at the other end of town and we didn't know how we were going to find our way to the hotel, Alice, the receptionist, came to our rescue. "l am going off duty in a few minutes and I can show you the way on my drive home", said Alice. I drove with her all the way down to where the others were temporarily parked, making sure I knew the route back to a parking place near Casa de Sao Thiago. We made it, but we couldn't have done it without Alice's help! 

Óbidos was established as a Roman settlement at the base of the escarpment, on which the town exists today. The town, later built and fortified on the ridge, became known as the "wedding city" when King Afonso II gave the title of this village to Queen Urraca in 1210 on their wedding day, establishing a tradition for later kings to deed Obidos to their bride on the wedding day. The town now survives as a National Monument and a tourist attraction, popular for commoner's weddings. The castle is now a "pousada", a boutique hotel with nine rooms. The town has recently been named "the City of Literature" with several book stores, one in a former church, and a literary festival that was to start the week after our departure. 

Our small hotel, just eight rooms, was within the walls of the town, just below the Castle. Our rooms were very comfortable and the hotel was close to everything in town. We had time that afternoon, after the busloads of tourists had left, and the next morning to wander the streets of town and walk part of the walls that surround the small village before the crowds arrived. We learned to avoid the crowds by exploring the side streets while the vast majority of day tourists kept to the narrow main street. 

A recommendation we followed up on was to sample, Ginjinha d'Obidos, the local cherry liquor accompanied by dark chocolate. It was sold at several spots on the main street and tasted like more.

We celebrated the end of our visit with a very nice lunch of pizza at Bar Lagar da Mouraria, located inside an old wine press  house. After lunch, we drove to Lisbon airport in time to get our flight back to Canada.

We all enjoyed our visit to Portugal, but we really only tasted what the country has to offer. I would love to go back and visit more of the country again.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Aveiro and Coimbra

Sept 29 - Oct 1 2019

Click Aveiro to see photos of our visit

No, we are not in Venice, Italy in a gondola. We are in Aveiro, the "Venice of Portugal" in a boat, a barco moliciero, once used by fishermen to collect seaweed as fertilizer for their gardens. Our guide, a charming young lady from Columbia, South America, is telling us all about Aveiro, a small city set on an Atlantic coast lagoon, Ria de Aveira. We are navigating through several canals learning that Alveiro was a center of salt and trade by the Romans long ago plus enjoying the varied architectural styles of the canal-side houses. It is still an industrial city and an important port, but tourism is increasingly important. Gondola-style boat after boat pass us as we make our way through the five canals between the town and the sea.

It was only about an hour from Porto to Alveiro, the perfect place to take a break from our trip from Porto to Coimbra. We enjoyed a good lunch, walked some of the streets and of course, the boat ride was the perfect way to get the true flavour of the city. It was later in the afternoon by the time we continued on to Coimbra.

Click Coimbra to see photos of our visit

I recognize those fellows. They are wearing the traditional black cloaks, called "Traje" attesting to the fact they are students at a Portuguese University. In Porto, they are nicknamed "bats" for their cloaks. After a first year student participates in a "Praxe", an initiation ceremony, they are permitted to wear the full formal outfit, consisting of the famous black, wool cloak, a black jacket, white shirt, black tie, black pants for men and black skirts for women. The cloaks were an inspiration for the gowns worn by J. K. Rowlings Harry Potter students, but they are also similar, but in a lighter fabric than wool, to the gowns we wore to class at Bishop's University in the 1960s.

We arrived in Coimbra the previous evening, staying at the conveniently located Stay Hotel. Coimbra is home of the oldest university in Portugal, founded in 1290, so a visit to Coimbra University, situated at the top of a hill was a must. We took a taxi up the hill to the University and bought tickets to visit the famous library. The University is an impressive compound in a formed Royal Palace, in use when Coimbra was the capital city of Portugal. It was an interesting visit. We took in the Grand Hall, where students attend formal ceremonies, such as graduation or defending a thesis, all outfitted in the full traditional outfit. Down the corridor from the grand hall was access to a narrow observation platform stretching around two sides of the roof with a great view of the city. We made sure we were at the door to King João's Library at our appointed time, as late arrivals were not permitted entry. The library, reminiscent of the Spanish libraries in Mexico, holds 40,000 volumes and is one of the best surviving 18th C Baroque style libraries in Europe.

We walked back to the top of a funicular that took us right to the center of the old town. We took in some of the the sights along the way and ended at the Church of Santa Cruz, next door to Cafe Santa Cruz. The Cafe, originally a church, was de-consecrated in the 1830s when monasteries and other religious buildings were taken over by the government. Every evening at 6 PM the Cafe is host to a free Fado performance, performed in the space occupied by the altar. We made a reservation to attend that evening and were glad we did. We ordered a carafe of Sangria and sat back to enjoy the Fado ballads performed by an older gentleman who organizes the events. He was accompanied by a classical guitarist and a traditional Portuguese guitarist, both very accomplished. The performance made up for the disappointment of our Porto experience.

After the Fado performance, we were ready for a good dinner at the Restaurante Solar de Bacalhua. Cod is their specialty and it was very good, ending an enjoyable stay in Coimbra.

The next morning we left Coimbra heading for the seaside town of Nazare and ending in Obidos, a the hilltop walled town.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Porto: After Leaving the Villa

September 28-29 2019

Click Porto to see photos of our two visits.

The Andrews, Ray and I drove to the airport after leaving the villa, first dropping Jack at the Porto Airport Hotel where he would stay overnight before flying home to Calgary. Our second stop was the airport where Margaret left us to fly to Brussels and catch a train to Bruges. Finally, both the Andrews and Burnhams returned their cars to the rental agents at the airport and took a taxi to the very comfortable Grand Oceano Guest House, conveniently located very near the train station in Porto.

You don't need a car to explore Porto. The center is well set up for walking, provided you don't mind climbing hills. There are no flat area in Porto Center.

We had enjoyed our Rick Steves walking tour so much on our previous visit with the Carvers that we were happy to introduce the Andrews to Porto the same way. he tour. A special treat were the magnificent tile murals covering the walls of the entrance to the train station. We couldn't get enough of them. By using the accounts given in the guide book we were led through the history of Portugal and village life in the area.

By that time we left the train station, it was almost time for lunch. We found an excellent small restaurant, Petiscaria, where we feasted on tapas. Well fed and refreshed, we walked down to the Ribiera waterfront, a must see for all tourists.

A funicular ride from the waterfront brought us back to the upper part of the city center. We walked back to Liberty Square where a busker was performing a clever tango dance with a dummy partner attached to his shoes.

We had hoped to see a Fado performance while we in Portugal. On our way back to the hotel we passed a restaurant advertising an evening show and dinner. We booked to have dinner and take in the 8:30 PM show, with two addition sets that evening. The Fado singer had not checked her schedule and thought this was her night off! The first set started closer to 9:30 PM. The musicians and the singer were very good but we could last only part way through their second set. It was not a good introduction to Fado.

The next morning we had time to visit a few spots on the tour we had bypassed the previous day. We took a break at the Base cafe, built on an attractive grassy park camouflaging an underground parking garage. It is a popular spot for tourists and local to have a drink and a snack or lounge on beanbag seats on the grass. More cities should use Porto's example and build a park, complete with cafe, over a parking garage.

I had hoped to visit the famous bookstore if I arrived when it still opened. That was not to be. The lineup was even longer that either our first visit to Porto with the Carvers or the lineup the previous day. Oh well, you only get about 5 or 10 minutes to look inside the store anyway.

It was time for us to check out of the hotel and take a taxi back to the airport rental agency to pick up our car for our trip back to Lisbon. We headed off to stop briefly in Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal, and spend the next two nights in the University town, Coimbra.

One thing we learned about Porto; just like Lisbon, the city is definitely worth a visit of several days to truly see all it offers. Ray and I didn't even get to the Port Lodges, but we certainly enjoyed a glass of Port after our meals at the villa.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Villa Quinta Dos Agros, Portugal

September 20 - 28 2019

Click Quinta Dos Agros to see more photos of our week together

Ten of us met up in the Porto Airport and Business Hotel the previous day. We had come from all directions. Six of us had flown from Palma, Mallorca to Porto. The Carvers had flown from England where they had been hiking in the Cotswolds. Barry and Sheila had been on a driving holiday in Spain and Southern Portugal. The waitress in the airport hotel had a hard time getting us to stop talking long enough to order our meals, we were so eager to see each other and catch up on news of the previous two weeks.

The next day we all drove to Villa Quinta Dos Agros. The Carvers and Burnhams were cooking the first communal dinner. Ray had researched the best route to stop in Marco de Canaveses, about 17 km from the villa, where we could pick up food supplies at the Supermarché.

Pat and Bruce Marshall were the last to arrive, just in time for dinner, having flown from Toronto that day. We all arrived without incident, excluding some problems finding the best roads. Those who depended solely on Google Maps for directions were led astray when Google chose the shortest route, regardless of the whether the road was a turnpike or a cattle track. The result was often finding yourself on a very narrow, rutted road winding through the hills and sometimes through even narrower back alleys. That is the downside of travelling in the ancient hills towns in Europe. The upside is the spectacular views and interesting old towns.

The property of Quinta Dos Agros consists of several hectares with a large football or games field, vineyards, wooded areas and several private homes. We were met and shown Quinta Dos Agros by Dominique, who lives in one of the houses on the property with her family. The villa was built in the 1970s in a chateau style by the father of the current owner, Dominique's brother, David Azevedo. Outdoors is a large swimming pool for the use of tenants of the villa and residents of the private homes. A few of our group braved the pool just once as it was unheated and the weather was cool.

The entrance level of the villa had a bar and lounge area on the right side of the entrance and a reception desk in the center, left over from the time the property existed as a hotel and served meals and drinks to residents and casual customers. On the left of the entrance was a raised area with a dining table large enough to comfortably seat all twelve us for our meals. A large kitchen in which to prepare our meals formed the back of the main floor, complete with a washing machine and door to an outdoor balcony where we could dry our clothing. On the two floors above the entrance were nine bedrooms with ensuites.

Our routine was established that first night; drinks and snacks in the bar area of the villa followed by dinner and glasses of local wines. Breakfast was make your own from the communal supplies and lunch was either in a restaurant wherever you were that day, or a sandwich made at the house. It always seems to work out very well.

Activities during the day were not a group decision. The Carvers and Ray and I found some short walking trails to explore the area. Pat and Bruce were more adventuresome. They had arranged for a guide to take them on day long hikes in the Douro Valley and hills. The Andrews, Dunphys and Sheila and Barry took driving tours to visit some of the interesting towns in the area, including Peso de Régua and Pinhão. They also drove to Porto for tastings at some of the Port Wine Lodges.

Our guidebook listed the scenery along the Douro between the towns, Peso de Régua and Pinhão. Because there was no direct road along the river, the Carver-Burnham quartet decided to take the train. We thought we could get on the train at one of the smaller stations along the route, but that was not to be. Some of the smaller stations are just whistle stops, so we drove to Marco de Canaveses, a regularly scheduled stop with a ticket office.

If I had any Portuguese language skills we would have not encountered any problems. However, the trip provided one of those "life lessons learned". I asked the Ticket Agent which track was the train to Pinhão and he told me Track 2. We all made our way to the train sitting on Track 2, picked our seats and made ourselves comfortable. Shortly after, we were approached by a woman who asked if we were going to Pinhão. When we answered yes, she informed us that the train we were on was leaving in two minutes, headed to Porto! We all got up quickly and rushed out the door just as it closed behind us.

Wow, that was a close call, but where is Claudia? We tried to tell the station agent who was signally the engine to start that Claudia was still on the train. He didn't understand our problem. Neil said Claudia would be panicked, as she had no ticket, no money and no ID with her, as he had taken responsibility for everything. What were we to do?

Another train agent, who spoke good English, approached and asked about our problem. We told him what had happened and he ran off managed to solve the problem. He returned to assure us that the phone calls were made to the Porto bound train and the train that we were supposed to be on headed for Pinhão. As per instructions, both trains stopped at the first small station after leaving Marco de Canaveses and Claudia was transferred to the train headed for Marco de Canaveses and Pinhão. We were finally able to join Claudia when the train stopped at Marco de Canaveses. We were all together again.

Claudia explained that her sun glasses that attach magnetically to her regular glasses had fallen on the floor as she attempted to get up. By the time she picked up the glasses and got to the door, the door was locked and we were outside. She said she was approached by a man in the Porto train, as it was headed to Porto, who assured her that everything would work out and thankfully it did. We also think that we got on the wrong train in the first place because the signs identifying the direction as Porto were not in place. Each of us now checks very carefully that the train is going in the right direction and that we each carry our own ticket, ID and some money.

We arrived in Pinhão just before lunch. We were approached by a fellow who suggested we go to a new restaurant, Writer's Place, with a good view of the Douro River. We followed him to the restaurant and table with a good view over the river. The restaurant was just opening for lunch, so we were one of the first table to order. We still had to wait longer than usual for our food and when it came, half the order was still missing. We were told by the waiter that we could not share an order as the portions were small. That was not the case. We had more food with the half we had received to satisfy all four of us, so we asked the waiter to cancel the rest of the order. After some discussion, they agreed to bring just one more dish, not two. We concluded that the view was good and the food was good, but the staff needed more experience both cooking for the lunch crowd and being honest about portion size.

The Andrews and Dunphys made plans another day to drive to Pinhão to board a tour boat at 4 PM for a two hour sail farther east on the river. We had told them about our experience at Writer's Place, so they decided to go and just order a mixed cheese and meat tray, hoping that the simple order would come in time for their departure time a little more than an hour later. That didn't happen. The food took so long to come that they left with doggie bags of the order to eat on the boat. Maybe the restaurant will do better next year, if they last that long.

The next train ride for the Carver-Burnham Quartet to Porto, went very well. We spent the day following Rick Steves walking tour. We had time to enjoy a coffee break on a small square dedicated to Firemen who saved the city from total destruction in 1888. I was interested in visiting Irma and Irmão Bookstore, the inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, but a visit entailed an hour wait in line, too long for me. Lunch was delicious rectangular slices of gourmet pizza, bought from a small shop near Clérigos Tower, and ate it on a bench in Henry the Navigator Square.We ended our walk at the waterfront, along with all the other tourists enjoying the warm afternoon.

Click Porto to see photos that combine our visit to Porto with the Carvers and a second visit with the Andrews.

David Azevedo recommended the Paiva Walkways along the Paiva River, in a conservation area about an hour or so from the villa. The park center is set up for swimming in the river, but the weather was better for walking. We followed a large guided group up a long series of wooden stairs leading to a ridge with a good view in all directions. There was a large billboard advertising a long pedestrian suspension bridge to be completed next year. It would span the river canyon giving access to waterfalls on the other side of the canyon. The large group proceeded on foot for a much longer hike. We weren't prepared for a long afternoon hike and merely returned to the center for a sandwich lunch before driving back to the villa.

The Caarvers had booked an early morning flight home to Canada on Saturday, so they had arranged to stay Friday night at the Porto Airport Hotel. We drove them to Marco de Canaveses train station where they boarded the train for Porto, where they would get a connection to the airport hotel. 

The rest of the day gave us time to explore some of the sights near Marco de Canaveses. Ray and I drove to the spooky abandoned ruins of Obras Do Hidalgo, Vila Boa de Quires. In the mid-18 century, António de Vasconcelos Carvalho e Menezes, a wealthy landowner started to build an elaborate Baroque mansion. It was never completed. The theories as to why it was not completed include the main architect of the project dying and the prospective owner losing all his money and abandoning the project. All that remains is the facade of an impossible dream. 

That same day we also visited Tongóbriga, Roman ruins that hint of a once prestigious city. It is not in the same category as Pompeii, but the ruins are partially excavated and are being promoted to schools as a local archaeological project.

The Douro has become one of the most popular cruise boat river. There are five dams on the river for boats to navigate. The first built, Carrapatelo Dam, was quite near the villa. We drove to Carrapatelo, arriving just in time to see a mid-sized cruise boat navigate through the lock. It took a long time for the boat to drop 35 M before continuing on to Porto, quite an engineering feat.

And so ended our week together at the villa, celebrated with an elaborate last meal prepared by Pat and Bruce Marshall.

The next morning we said our good-byes. Some of the group were heading home to Canada, some of us were staying longer in Portugal. Ray and I joined with Suzanne and David Andrews for a last road trip, starting in Porto and visiting several towns on the way south to Lisbon Airport.

If you haven't yet seen our photos of our week together, click Quinta Dos Agros 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mallorca, September 2019

Sept 13 - 20 2019

Click Mallorca to see photos of our visit

Ray, Margaret and I are speeding up the switchbacks to reach the small chapel in Polença. A struggling biker looks rather envious as we pass him easily. We have rented eBikes and they make a long, steep hill a piece a cake. We had come to Mallorca on the recommendation of our friends, the Potters, who had stayed on the island several times to ride the well-marked roads and test themselves on the hills. We came to see the countryside and to try a few hills. We are no longer good enough to join the big league bikers. You still have to pedal an eBike, but there is nothing like a small motor on a bike to make you feel like a real pro.

We flew from Lisbon via Madrid on September 13, where Ray and I and the Andrews met up with Marg and Jack Dunphy in the Madrid airport. The Dunphys had just visited their daughter and family in their new home in London, England.
The six of us arrived in Palma Airport after 5 PM, rented cars and drove to the three bedroom house we had rented, through, in the old, walled town of Alcúdia.  It was dark by the time we got to the house and we were all hungry. As soon as we had moved our suitcases into our bedrooms, we set off to find a restaurant still open for dinner. We lucked out. It was still warm enough for us to choose an outdoor restaurant in one of the small plazas near our house. The food was good, the staff friendly and the atmosphere just perfect. We knew we were in for a good week.

Each Sunday and Tuesday, a large outdoor market takes place around the main entrance to Alcúdia. The timing was perfect. We needed to buy food for our communal dinners and the produce on offer was fresh and inviting. There was also a super market near by where we could purchase everything for our breakfast, snacks and dinners that the outdoor market didn't supply. 

After lunch, we found our way to ECO Bikes near Alcúdia Beach and picked up the five eBikes that Ray had reserved for us. Unfortunately, Jack Dunphy was not able to bike this year. Even after two back operations in the past and heart surgery last winter, Jack was determined to join us in Mallorca and Portugal, but he was not biking. The five of us got fitted on the bikes and took off for our first orientation ride along a quiet road parallel to Alcúdia Beach. There were still many people enjoying the sun and the sea, mostly families with preschool children, as holidays were over for school aged children.

We all biked back to our house and settled into our new home. On the main floor was a good sitting area, a fully equipped kitchen with a small table and a good-sized outdoor patio, big enough for all six of us to enjoy our dinners together. Yes, we took turns preparing dinner for the group, with great success. The main floor also had a double bedroom with an ensuite and there was a large entrance hall that became very useful to store all the bikes. The upper floor had two more bedrooms, sharing a large bathroom. We were very comfortable.

We discovered what happens when eBikes are left outside in the rain. Unknown to us, a severe rainstorm hit Mallorca, closing the airport for two hours on Friday morning, the day we arrived in Mallorca. The eBikes were all rented by a group that got caught in the rainstorm. They found shelter from the rain, but the bikes all got soaked. Our second day in Alcúdia we prepared to go for a ride on our newly recharged bikes. The motors on several of them did not turn on. Back we rode to the bike shop in Alcúdia Beach. It was then that the shop recognized the problem. The contacts between the bikes and the motors had started to corrode. The solution is easy, if you have the materials in your bike kit. You need fine sandpaper to clean the corroded contacts and Vaseline to coat the contacts, preventing another motor disconnect. We should have carried sandpaper and Vaseline with us as the problem persisted. 

Ray discovered another glitch with the motors. He is too speedy. Spain has decided that any motor vehicle capable of travelling more than 25 km/hr is designated a motorcycle and requires special training and license to operate on the roads. Therefore all eBikes in Spain have to be set such that the motor ceases if travelling above 25 km/hr. From then on, we just had to slow down a bit if we found we were travelling on flat roads above the limit. If that happened when we were descending one of the many hills in the area, it could just be ignored because we didn't need the power assist until we reached the flats. We certainly enjoyed the ability to climb hills without being exhausted.

Most days Ray, Margaret and I spent the day exploring more towns, most within the vineyards and market gardens but a few more, besides Polença, at the top of a hill. One day the three of us biked along the coast to Port Polença, where windsurfers and kite surfers braved the waves. We had lunch in the beach community and headed out for our first exploration ride.

Another day, we explored both the coast just east of Alcúdia Beach and the north side of Cape Victoria. We stopped at Albergue de la Victoria, once a convent, now a hostel.  A chapel below the hostel was being decorated for a wedding. We had a chat with the British Anglican priest who would perform the ceremony. He told us he was on a break in his capacity as representative to both the Church of England and the Vatican in Africa, where his main duties were identifying and burying victims of the recent wars.

Ray and I biked on our own to Cala Sant Vicenç, a lovely cove with two small beaches set between steep hills. Ray was all set to bike to Cape Formenter, but decided not to, much to my relief. It would be necessary to start at first morning light to avoid the traffic lineup of tourist buses, cars and cyclists all heading to the top for the view. 

Those not biking took road trips, once to Port de Sóller and another day to the top of Cape Formenter for the incredible view. Both destinations brought back rave reviews but the Formenter trip took longer than expected by car due to the traffic and numbers of cyclists on the narrow switchbacks.

Mallorca is another place we didn't stay long enough. It is back on the radar for another visit.

Click Mallorca to see photos of our visit

From Mallorca we all flew to Porto, Portugal to meet the rest of our group and spend a week at a villa.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Portugal in September: Lisbon

Can you believe it? This was our seventh biannual get together. Our group is centered on friends we first met during our student years more than 50 years ago during our student years at Bishop’s University, and we are still friends. The group has changed a bit over the years and a few good friends and spouses, who missed going to Bishop's have joined us. It is still an eagerly anticipated event. Our first week together was May 2007 in Southern Ireland, suggested by Claudia and Neil Carver. That trip set a precedent. At the end of each trip, the question is always:  Where are we going next time?

We try to avoid the most popular tourist season and look for a reasonably priced villa big enough to accommodate between 12 and 16 people. After our Irish adventure, we have explored Wales, Brittany and Provence in France, Sicily, southwestern Italy. This year we chose Portugal. We are currently taking recommendations for the next place to visit together two years from now.

Portugal has had rave reviews from several of our friends and Ray and I had never visited the country. Therefore, Portugal was our choice for September 21 – 28 2019. We found and reserved a large villa just north of the Douro River, about a 75 minute drive east of Porto. Very soon, Suzanne and David Andrews, Claudia and Neil Carver, Margaret and Jack Dunphy, Sheila MacDonald and Barry Mair, and Pat and Bruce Marshall were signed up.

Since our friends live in various cities in Canada, each person is responsible for making their own arrangements to arrive at the villa in time for our week together. The villas we have rented tend to be in the country, a distance from the nearest town. That means that rental cars are required, either individually or with others who have the same interests. Once at the villa, everyone is free to explore the area on their own or join others for whatever activity might be planned. To avoid having to choose a restaurant for dinner that would require driving after dark, we share preparing a communal dinner each night. That has worked very well. Besides getting together to share experiences of the day, sharing the cost of the villa and all food and drink bought for our time together makes for a very economical and enjoyable holiday.

There are always interesting places to explore that we didn't have time to visit during our weeks together. This trip was no different. Before going to the villa, we chose to visit Lisbon and then spend a week in Mallorca. After our stay at the villa, we explored more of Portugal before flying home from Lisbon.

Click Lisbon to see photos of our visit to the city. 

Ray and I joined Suzanne and David Andrews in Toronto and flew together to Lisbon September 9 2019. We had rented a two bedroom an apartment for three nights with It was a great place to see some of Lisbon and to get over jet lag. The apartment was very close to Mercado da Ribiera, built in 1892, to get over jet lag and enjoy the city. The Mercado da Ribiera consists of a farmers market and the new Time Out market, a huge food court with a central area of long communal tables surrounded by small restaurants cooking and serving meals with an emphasis on local specialties. It was in this market where we first sampled Pastéis de Nata (a small custard tart), which has almost become the national symbol of Portugal. The Time Out Market concept is very popular in Lisbon and is spreading to other cities, including Montreal and soon, Toronto.

The best way to see a city is to walk the streets and that is exactly what we did. We followed Rick Steves walking tour of the Baixa and Bairo Alto areas. The weather was just right for walking, there were more than enough interesting places to visit and we found a wonderful little restaurant for lunch in the Bairo Alto. The friendly waiter spoke good English and told us more about the area. He even gave us a small glass of local port to end our meal.

We had a choice for our second day in Lisbon: take another walking tour or take the Hop On, Hop Off Bus. We chose the bus. It was quite expensive and didn't live up to similar tours in other cities. We did get to see some of the northern reaches of the city from the bus and we enjoyed the end of our trip at the Monument to the Discoveries on the shores of the Rio Tejo. 

Our visit to Lisbon was too short. We will have to return another time to see all that we missed.

Click Lisbon to see photos of our visit to the city.

The next day we flew from Lisbon to Palma, Mallorca.

Read the next blog to hear about our Mallorca visit