The Ins and Outs of Lisboa (Lisbon)


Truthfully – this ought to be entitled the ups and downs of Lisbon. I’ve never ever been in a city where there were quite so many hills. And sometimes there are hills on hills – so you go up and then down and then up. Then it’s down again, no – up.

Even on our tiny street there are both up, down and flat sections, and our AirBnB is built into the side of a down slope – so while we enter on the flat – and walk straight into the bedroom (except for the dodge around the down staircase), the bedroom is hanging at least 20 feet above the garden in the back. That’s a lot of vertical drop in just 20 feet of so. And it’s fairly typical. Every where we went there were hills – some seriously steep (45 degree angle maybe), and some just – well – hilly for the sake of being hills. We even found alleyways with stair rails, to help folks navigate the paths when it rains and the stones get very very slippery.

Victor’s hip is getting quite the work out here, and our plans really aren’t very extensive. We aren’t planing on any museums, or even any touring. Our goal is to relax, eat, and leave.

Naturally – I’m not that keen on the do nothing idea, and convince Victor to spend at least one day touring Lisbon. I’d heard that the area near the Castle of Sao Jorge is very interesting, and that riding the ‘tourist’ trolley is fun. We pick one day to do both, and it’s ok as an adventure. Getting onto the trolley isn’t easy, there are lines of tourists everywhere, and Victor is a gentleman. He quickly gives up his seat to ladies who board the trolly after us (He’s the only guy that does – all the rest just pretend not to notice that there are ladies standing in the aisles). But this means that he’s standing for the entire ride – can’t enjoy the view, and of course he’s in pain.

We get off the trolley, walk – up hill – thru the area where Fado- the music of Lisbon- originated, and finally arrive at the castle. The mob scene that greets us is incredible. There are tourists and shops selling tourist junk everywhere. Victor announces that he’s not waiting in lines like that to see a Castle, and after spending at least an hour and half just to get up the hill, we promptly walk back down and out the Castle Gates.

Not only is the touring not going well, with the minor exception of those lovely egg custard tarts (Nata Tarts), and a few restaurants that we’ve lucked into like the Suckling Pig and the Seafood Restaurant, generally food here in Portugal has been disappointing. So not great food, iffy weather, and hills – Lisbon is not putting on her pretty face for us.

Victor decides that out annoyance with the food is due to the nature of Portuguese food – it’s comfort food at the end of a long working day, not elegant cuisine. And in Lisbon, this has turned out to be quite true. Our best meals were either Italian (Ill Covo) or the simplest of local grilled chicken and steak places. I must admit that I love the Cafe aux Lait that I’ve been enjoying every morning, and there’s a lovely pastry shop near our AirBnB that offers great toasted almond pies that I simply adore. Victor’s needs for breakfast are much simpler, he just goes for coffee – so the fact that the quality of the pastry is extraordinary doesn’t do much to impress him.

I do find one winner of a museum/touring location – the Palace of Queluz. It’s highly reviewed in Tripadvisor, and when we get there, uncrowded. And to boot – it’s been frozen in time to 1807 – when the Portuguese Royal Family left Lisbon for Brazil out of fear of the fast approaching armies of Napoleon. They packed up everything in the castle – spent the next 14 years in Brazil, and then when things had stabilized in Europe after Napoleon’s exile to St. Helena, came back with boats filled with all the stuff they had taken when they left.

So the current Palace absolutely dates from our period in history – and is perfect. The excellent audio tour, coupled with great signage in English makes it easy to tour the Palace and it’s glorious gardens. We spend almost 1/2 a day here – and think it a highlight of our visit to Lisbon. In a modern part that has been added on is an Equestrian Library – and there are books dating back 200 years on how to do Calvary movements. Victor is thrilled – and I admit to thinking the Palace is quite quite lovely.

Our day ends with an OK dinner – I think we are going to officially give up on trying to find upscale Portuguese cuisine and another late night. When dinner starts at 8:00 – and takes 3 hours – well, you do the math. You are not getting to bed early – that’s for sure.

Our last day in Lisbon arrives, and honestly, we’re kinda glad to go. We did do a bit of fun shopping, I found a lovely lace store and have more treasures to give my dressmaker, and we toured – but didn’t buy anything – in a kitchen shop of chefs. I think we should have gotten one of the lovely copper pots that are so popular here – but we remember that we are downsizing, and while copper looks good, it does require cleaning.

Our Uber trip to the airport goes flawlessly – and costs only 10 Euros. Quite the deal after the 25 Euros it took to get from the airport to our Air BnB after we dropped off the car. I’m positive he went the wrong way, but what can you do. We fly from Lisbon to Paris in one of those inexpensive flights, and Uber into Paris for the night.

Our lodging in Paris is a darling 2 star hotel called the Londres St. Honore and it’s right near the Louvre. I know what I’m doing tomorrow – I’m going to the Museum.

Bed at last – Tomorrow we will ‘Musee’, then get picked up to start our Champagne Cruise. Signing off in hopes of a good nights sleep… The Soup Lady

Sintra – The Tourist Capital of Portugal


Up till now, our journey has been delightfully free of crowds – but that changes drastically when we arrive in Sintra.

There are bus loads of tourists everywhere! And the sizes of the tiny streets are just not up to this kind of congestion. In an attempt to deal with the onslaught, the city fathers have made almost all the streets of Sintra one way – and driving thru the maze of city streets packed with cars, tourists, and the occasional local is daunting.

Victor does a wonderful job of it however, and we manage not to get divorced en-route. I can’t say that we escaped without a bit of yelling at each other – including my finally screaming – JUST PARK THERE!

Our resting place is a legal, albeit heading the wrong way space, quite close in fact to the National Palace of Sintra, our destination. Victor’s hip (not the artificial one) has been bothering him this trip – and I’m sensitive to the fact that walking up and down hills isn’t comfortable for him. So I’m thrilled we found a parking spot that won’t require miles of hiking, and more than will to pay the price for it – if we can find a parking meter!

We search right and left for something that explains how to pay for parking, and finally decide that maybe it’s not required. Strange, but I’m willing to believe anything some mornings.

Fortunately, our walk to the castle takes us right by a meter – and they don’t need your space ID – they need your license #. Whew! We took a picture of the back of the car early on, thinking we might need this number – and are prepared. 5 Euros later – we’ve paid for our parking spot. What a relief.

Parking paid for, we walk to the main square – predictably packed with tourists. I’m both starving and dying for a toilet stop, so we pick the nearest restaurant (expensive, very pretty, and not very good) and empty one end and fill the other. Rest stop over, we are ready to visit the Palace.

We’ve been warned that the crowds here can translate into insane waits to get in, and poor visiting conditions, but luck is with us. We’ve managed to catch a break between tour groups and bus loads, and sneak in with no hitches, and no crowds.

The Palace is a stunner. Built by the Kings of Portugal after visiting the Alhambra in Spain, it has moorish influence, and has seen countless renovations. There’s a free audio tour, and senior pricing. We’re happy.

The highlight of the tour, for me in any case, was being in the room where Columbus was given his commission to find a path to India, and where Vasco Da Gama returned to announce to King Manual I that he had found the Cape of Good Hope and sailed to India and back. Wow – history happened right here…

I’m glad we came to Sintra, but I total understand why some folks have given us conflicted reports. The mobs are daunting, and we are not even in high season. I can not imagine what this place will be like in just a few weeks. But for now I’ve seen it – done it – Don’t have to come back.

Our plan for the rest of the day is to navigate our way into Lisbon (Lisboa for those in the know – like the Portuguese) and park the car. Tomorrow we are going to return the car and be done with it. And I for one will say good riddance. Cars are nice to have, but getting lost isn’t any fun, and we’ve had our parking challenges. So all in all, I shall be happy to return it to Europcar.

And for once, our plan actually works. Our directions to the AirBnB are easy to follow, and while it’s on the slope of a hill (Not good for Victor’s hip issues), it’s quite lovely.

Occupying two floors, we walk in to a hall, dodge around a staircase to squeeze past the bathroom to another hall and the bedroom. Our bedroom has a massive window overlooking the garden below and from there out to distant buildings and eventually the ocean. There’s even an orange tree to admire. Down stairs is the kitchen (kinda old and crummy – but all we really wanted it has – a fridge and a clothes Washer (heaven..)). The main room has a dining table (perfect for Victor to use with his computer), and a comfy sofa. Outside of sliding glass doors that take up the entire width of the apartment (about 12 feet – max) is a tiny garden with a paved floor and several plants. It’s sunny, and the birds are having a blast. It’s perfect.

For dinner we go to the near by Journalist Club, one of the top restaurants in Lisboa, and certainly interesting if not overwhelming. After dinner it’s a short walk down hill back to our tiny palace. It’s late (of course) and it’s bed time. I’m out like a light. Give me a good bed and an open window – I’m a happy camper.

Signing off to get a good nights rest – finally – The Soup Lady

Seafood Dinner in Peniche


Peniche is a tiny – seriously tiny – sea coast town located between Coimbra and Lisbon. And it’s claim to fame, aside from some of the best surfing waters in all of Portugal is a single restaurant- the Marisqueira Mirandum.

Leave it to my hubby to dig out information on this tiny but amazingly good restaurant. I think a book on the best restaurants of Portugal might have been a contributing factor – but in any case – we made reservations, and even found a lovely Air BnB near by.

Getting to Peniche was interesting – very interesting. There’s a famous Napoleonic battle field in between Coimbra and Lisbon, Bussaco, and naturally that rated highly on our must do list. Finding the battlefield was almost as hard on us as it was on Massena – the Marshal who was involved. It’s on a high ridge, and the land in this part of Portugal is best described as seriously hilly. It’s a tortured landscape, up and down and round, with hidden valleys, drastic cliffs, and huge marshes. In1810, this was contested space – with the French attacking, and the Portuguese with the leadership of Wellington on the defence.

Wellington wasn’t that interested in winning – the royal family of Portugal had already fled to Brazil. His interest was in delaying the French long enough to get his troops off the mainland of Europe without losing more men that needed, and to succeed he had to slow the French down.

This he did in great style at Bussaco. He even spent the night at the Santa Cruz Convent, currently closed to visitors, but easy to find – once you find the Forest of Bussaco that is! I’m not going into detail on the battle (read about it here), but the Forest was a lovely place to visit, even just as a drive thru!

After visiting the over-the-top Palace Hotel of Bussaco and enjoying the painted tiles that celebrate Wellington’s ‘Victory’ – we headed down the ridge towards Mealhada, the auto-route, and Peniche.

Mealhada is famous – really really famous – for Suckling Pig. And I’m a fan of Suckling Pig, so as it was lunch time – I’m routing for us to stop and try it out.

Conveniently, there’s a tourist info booth located right at the entrance to town. And you can see immediately that the town is devoted to it’s ‘Piggy’ reputation. There are easily a hundred ceramic, papier-mâché, or plaster pigs decorating the tourist booth. They come in all sizes – and are mostly hand painted by local kids. I ask for advice – and of course they can’t recommend a specific restaurant, but they are willing to point out several options on a handy tourist map.

Back in the car – we check out tripadvisor – and the #2 restaurant in Mealhada is Rei dos Leitoes – which I translate to King (or Queen?) of Milk Pig – aka – Suckling Pigs. I’m on it – that’s the place. We are heading there. (Yeah, I thought about going to #1 – but it was closed on Mondays…)

And the Rei dos Leitoes totally delivers. Probably my favourite meal in all of Portugal – albeit a bit on the touristy side. This is the high end of eating Suckling Pig – at least a half dozen wait staff, white glove service, a full bar, Portuguesas Business men entertaining clients, and the occasional touring oriental family. And us of course. They seat us quickly, and bring over plates of appetizers for us to choose from.

We opt for the pork patties – which in hindsight was a mistake. The dinner portion (the only option available, even though it was lunch time) of Suckling Pig turned out to be a huge portion, and we couldn’t finish it, our appetites ruined by the pork Patty. But that’s a minor complaint, and of course our own fault. If you visit Mealhada and go to the Rei dos Leitoes – stick to the reason you came. Don’t get distracted by the other offerings – it’s Suckling Pig for everyone.

And it was delicious. Skin crispy, meat juicy, properly cooked, served hot, and with the outstanding chips (fresh potatoes cut into flat circles and double fried) that we’ve come to expect in Portugal.

I love everything about this restaurant. The decor is modern with an enormous collection of pig sculptures – large, small, silly, cute, dignified – you name it, they had it. And I adored the toilets – very modern with lighted sections to push to flush either strong (+) or light (-). Very fancy.

We head out to find our way to Peniche, and yet another meal. We’re Eiser’s – we travel from meal to meal.

Our journey this time is uneventful – it was getting to Bussaco that was the challenge – not getting away! I can’t figure out why Massena didn’t just follow the route the current auto-route takes to Lisbon, it would have saved him a lot of time and effort. The auto-route runs along the coast, and while I understand it would have been marshy, it still would have been easier than going up and down and up and down the hills to the West. But he didn’t – and thus the Penisular War was lost.

Peniche turns out to be easy to find – and we are quickly lost in the maze of tiny one-way streets that are characteristic of small town Portugal (or big town Portugal for that matter). With much squeezing between parked cars, and the occasional folding in of rear view mirrors, we find our BnB and make ourselves at home.

We have time for a nice walk thru town before dinner, and I definitely want to check out the famous surfing beaches. It’s a chilly walk however, and we move quickly thru the walled portion of the city, admire the sole surfer willing to brave what must be freezing water, and head back to our BnB to prepare for dinner.

And what a dinner it is!

World renown for the Seafood – that’s our obvious choice. There is a tank of Lobsters – some of whom are well over 4 pounds, but we decide to go for the two person shellfish dinner – and are not disappointed. It’s a feast of epic proportions.

The platter holds a stacks of those tiny snails that we loved in Spain, several sautéed Shrimp, Clams cooked in butter, 2 crabs, some chunks of Lobster, a pile of Barnacles, boiled shrimp (heads on of course), and several oysters. I allow Victor to eat the Oysters uncontested – he lets me enjoy most of the clams. We basically eat everything, including tasting the barnacles – which our clever waitress assures us we will love – if not this visit, then the next one.

It’s totally yummy.

We walk slowly back to our BnB, and tuck ourselves in. Tomorrow will be another busy day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Students Party HARD in Coimbra


We either lucked into an amazing party – or got kicked in the butt by one! It’s a bit hard to tell right now – but I shall let you decide.

We planed on visiting Coimbra to see the National Museum there, and to visit the University. We didn’t plan on coming on Graduation Week – but that’s exactly what we did. And man, do those students know how to party.

There are thousands and thousands of students at Coimbra University – it’s the largest in Portugal, the best known, and the most respected. And it’s a university town – there’s nothing but students here – and on grad week – their parents.

Students normally dress in black pants, white blouses, and have coloured ribbons that indicate their school of study. Yellow = Med School, Blue = Liberal Arts, Red = Law, etc. But during Grad week, they kick it up a serious notch. Students getting advanced degrees wear top hats and frock coats with lapels in the colour of their discipline – and if they are a dual major (law and say Literature) they wear two colours – Red and blue in this case. And they carry walking canes that match. Students with canes – now that’s going to get interesting.. fast. They have a lovely tradition though – if one grad student meets another – the first takes their cane and knocks 3 times on the top hat of the other one – then they hug (boys) or kiss (girls) and wish each other good luck!

We chatted up several of the students, participated in the hat knocking – and traded kisses and hugs! It’s fun.

The 2nd tradition we witnessed concerns beer. Not like students need a special occasion to drink beer – but Coimbra Students have taken beer drinking to an insane level. It’s not just quantity, it’s about shaking the can and spraying everyone you possibly can! I don’t mind the pouring of beer on heads (as long as they don’t do it to me), and I don’t mind the shaking and spraying – but there were kids with water pistols filled with beer! That’s taking beer spraying to a completely new level.

And of course they know they are going to get totally soaked – so they all carry around their necks a plastic pouch that features those discipline colours – and holds their cells phones, a bit of money, and I’m hoping an ID!

Yet another tradition we witnessed were the floats. These have been decorated by each discipline, and they of course feature the colours. They are also loaded up with the graduating undergrads – who have wrapped themselves in ribbons of matching colours. Most of the girls had the ribbons in their hair. I leave it to your imagination to figure out what the boys were doing with them.

Undergrads also wear capes! Since it was hot on the day we visited, the capes were rolled into long tubes, and slung over their shoulders and tied around their waists. Some capes were blazed with badges – but I never found out what the meaning to the badges were – it was rare to see the emblazoned ones – most were – as one student told me – Harry Potter Capes!

There is a tradition that we didn’t see, but read about. Apparently at the end of Grad Week, all the ribbons are burned in a frantic release of energy! Given the number of ribbons we saw, I’m guessing this is a pretty massive bonfire.

Students we chatted up told us that there is a heady feeling of belonging in Coimbra – that grads come back year after year for this party – and I’m not surprised. It was intense.

After the parade of the floats – there is a rock concert in the Coimbra Stadium – and that’s where we ran into trouble. I don’t mind Rock music – I love it in fact — but our absolutely lovely BnB faced right onto the Stadium – and the noise of the concert was beyond belief. And it lasted for hours… Ending sometime after 4:00 AM.

So – good news – we got to see the party. Bad news – no sleep!

Good thing we’re leaving Coimbra today – we didn’t get to see the Museum (it was closed on Grad Week), and we didn’t get to tour the University – I wasn’t going up that hill twice. But we did get to witness Grad Week – up close and personal.

Signing off to get some sleep before we travel… The Soup Lady

The Toilets of Portugal


I’m fascinated by toilets. It’s true. I seem to spend hours in them – so I’m very aware of the good, the bad – and the oh I’m so sorry I needed this one – ones.

Here in Portugal, we haven’t seen any that compete with the hole in the floor, pig underneath one in China, but we have been treated to some pretty odd experiences.

First off – bidets are alive and well, and living in Portugal. The first time I saw one – I thought, well – no one has renovated for a while. But now I’ve seen them several times, so it’s clearly considered a plus. Not a useful plus of course – but something to have. Personally, I’m a fan of the Japanese version – one piece seat that washes and drys you by pushing buttons – but if the bathroom is large enough for a separate porcelain bowl, who am I to argue.

Lights in bathrooms however seem to be optional. I’ve not had as many disasters on this issue as my husband, who reports having to leave the door to the toilet ajar at least 3 times in order to be sure he’s using the toilet – and not the bidet! I’m guessing burnt out bulbs are the cause, I mean they didn’t deliberately not put in a light, right? But I have noted that motion sensitive lights are popular. Maybe men move less than ladies?

Drying your hands is, it appears, optional. Some bathrooms provide a towel – which after a few dozen guests gets looking pretty gross. Some bathrooms go the US and Canadian root of having blow dryers, and my favourite bathrooms offer both a blow dryer and paper towels. Once so far this trip I used a bathroom with folded hand towels – it was that up scale. This particular toilet was in a restaurant called “Roi dos Leitos” – King of Pork, and it was easily the nicest one we’ve seen so far. I loved the lighted buttons for flushing – so upscale…

Toilets in Portugal are consistently short. Seriously – what happened to comfort height, huh? Falling down to those low toilets is hard enough – getting back up requires serious leg muscles – and a lot of umph.

But here’s my biggest complaint about the toilets of Portugal. Several times now I’ve gone into a public toilet to discover that the toilet seat is missing. Where do they take them? And why would they take them? How odd is that. Is it done for hygiene? Is it that dangerous to sit on a toilet seat? I don’t know – but I can tell you that sitting on a porcelain rim is definitely hard on the bum.

One toilet I went into had the seat up. When I went to lower it – it fell off and landed on the floor. How embarrassing! I had to pick it up, clean it off – and then put it back in place. It was still broken of course – but at least it was in the right location.

What we have not run into are the truly fancy toilets I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe, particularly in France. Toilets in Portugal, even in nice hotels, tend to the practical. Toilets in BnB’s can be better or worse than average – and we’ve seen both.

In one BnB the bathroom was so tiny that you could not sit on the toilet and have your legs in front of you. There was simply not enough room. You had to sit on the toilet sidewise.

Worst Toilet so far? In a crummy mall in Lisbon. Dirty, no toilet paper, no toilet seat, and no way to dry your hands. I’m being picky though – there’s no toilet here that compares to the some of the ones I saw in Asia – but still. This is Europe. Surely toilets are a basic necessity- is it so hard to keep them clean. And where did they put those missing toilet seats?

But enough Toilet experiences – I’m signing off to think of something else to write about… The Soup Lady

Averio – the Venice of Portugal


Well – not quite. But they do try! There are definitely Canals – and what look like Gondolas if Gondolas were much larger, had much brighter paint jobs, and the Gondoliers wore T-Shirts.

But leaving the comparison to Venice aside – I kinda liked Averio. It’s very touristy = and the side walks are rather hard to navigate between the undulating terrain and the mobs of people, but the canals are definitely pretty. I liked the jovial atmosphere and particularly liked the buskers (we saw a group of actors doing a pirate imitation that got the kids really excited, and one of the best living statues I’ve ever seen – it was a woman with a baby carriage dressed as a Victorian lady – and very cool).

We stayed in a lovely hotel – The Averio Palace, located right on the ‘Grand’ Canal. We ate an over-the-top dinner that while not overwhelming, was at least a better value than the one we tried in Porto, and we managed to even tour the old convent/museum. Altogether it was a nice over-night.

It was getting to Averio that proved complicated! I’m not sure what it is about our two – count’m two GPS systems – but neither is being all that easy to use.

Our first GPS system is my cell phone – and the issue with using it is two fold. First off – it costs Data Plan, and I don’t have unlimited Data here in Europe. So I have to use the trick my daughter taught me – you turn on Data, download the directions, and immediately turn off the data. This works great – unless you make a wrong turn. Then of course you are in big trouble. There’s no re-routing ability – and by the time you turn back on your data and request your destination again – you are seriously lost.

How lost became very obvious when we spent an hour driving back roads (one lane, unpaved) thru what looked to be endless forest in search of the former and quite famous convent in Arouca.

We did manage to find it eventually – but not without a great deal of yelling at each other – and the phone!

Our 2nd GPS is a Garmin. And in theory should be better than the phone since it is constantly hooked into the GPS system, no data plan needed.

The issue with the Garmin is that often it just can’t find a place. Case in point – that convent. Which is why we were using my phone in the first place.

But never mind our GPS issues – we did manage to leave Porto with little problem. I must admit that I loved our Air BnB booking – it was a one bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor of a condo building. There was an elevator – our one and only elevator in Portugal as it turns out – a tiny kitchen area, a nice sized living room, a bathroom that required my husband to sit sideways on the toilet to have room for his knees – and a perfect location.

It definitely provide that old real estate maxim – The 3 most important things in buy real estate? Location, location, location!

After a lovely breakfast at our local coffee house (only 4 days – and they greeted us as old friends) we headed south. Our first stop was the castle at Santa Maria de Feira. It is really a castle – exactly like one would expect from the Middle Ages – complete with curving stone stair cases, a great room, and a long involved history. My husband loved it. Our 2nd stop was the afore mentioned convent – which was not only almost impossible to find – was a bit of a disaster as far a visit went.

We arrived in Arouca, and after finding parking (always daunting in these tiny towns) we opted for an extremely locals only dining experience. Mom in the Kitchen, Dad acting as waiter -and when folks arrived who spoke only English – the 20 some Son showing up to help out! He had to check with Mom to find out what was on the menu – we had a choice of steak or veal stew – a local speciality. And I must say – both were delicious. We shared a bottle of wine, and throughly enjoyed ourselves. A good thing given what happened at the convent.

After lunch, we walked to the convent ticket office – where a sign clearly stated – opens at 14:00 (that’s 2:00 PM). No worries, we’ll wander for 5 minutes and be back. We wander, get back – and get told that the ‘tour’ won’t start till 2:30 PM. What is the point of opening at 2:00 if the only way to see the convent (by tour guide) is only happening at 2:30? But never mind – we wait the 30 minutes – to be told, there’s a group coming, they are short staff – and could we please wait till 3:00? Sigh – I drove for almost 2 hours to get here – I’ll wait. So, we wait. Only to discover when the group finally arrives that it is huge – 2 full bus loads. That’s it. I’m not touring a convent with 60 folks who speak only Portuguese. So we tell the gal running the ticket booth – forget it – we’re leaving.

She takes pity on us – and says – I’ll open the doors – tour by yourselves. So she does, we do – and we admire the outstanding work done in the choir stalls for the nuns, the huge kitchen, and the fabulously over the top altar pieces that make up the wealth of this former convent.

From there it’s back on winding roads to Averio, a quick walk around the canals, dinner and bed.

Tomorrow we are going to Coimbra – home of the largest university in Portugal.

But for now – it’s enough.

Signing off to get some much needed shut-eye – The Soup Lady

Porto Vs Malta – a Tale of two Cities


It’s hard not to compare Porto and Malta. To start with – I just spent 4 days in Malta, and now I’ve been in Porto for three days – so they are clearly placed in direct comparison.

Secondly, they are actually quite similar in many ways – and very very different in others.

Language of course is the first major difference. In Malta everyone spoke English – it’s the 2nd official language after Maltese – and all the signs, menus, and shop keepers are more than happy to use English. Porto is of course in Portugal, and Portuguese is the first, and for many of the folks we’ve met, the only language. For the first day, my husband was feeling very disoriented, but by day 3 we’ve gotten used to using sign language and are finding it very easy to get around.

Porto is a much larger city than Valetta in Malta, in fact – it is more populated than the entire island of Malta – so there is a great deal more hustle and bustle. And a lot more of everything – more restaurants, more ice cream shops, more cars, more buses, more of almost everything. But there is also less. I haven’t seen a hobby shop, or a store for buying lace or trimmings. There must be shops for hobbies, but in all our walking, we’ve yet to see one here in Porto. However, we have seen hardware stores, linen stories, lots of clothing stores, shoe stores – and grocery stores. Not to mention wine and port shops. There are also more touristy things, albeit crammed into a small area of the city. This is where Malta and Porto share a bit. Valetta was a tourist heaven – everything in Valetta revolved around making the tourists happy. That is the same in the part of Porto closest to the Douro River. If you are looking for souvenirs – you don’t have to look far once you’ve walked past the train station. Packed in from there down to the Douro are restaurants with lively Terraces, stores selling stuff only a tourist would want, and in the spaces not occupied by these, the occasional church.

Architecture is also somewhat similar. No, Porto doesn’t have the crazy glassed in balconies that were so common in Valetta, but they are both walled cities, they both have narrow winding streets – and here’s the strongest shared strength – pedestrian only sections.

I love these sections – you can walk down the center of the street in both Valetta and Porto and not fear for your life. It’s fantastic. Why don’t more cities try this wonderful approach. I realize it’s hard to get supplies in of course – and while I never saw them stocking the stores in Malta, we did spot that happening here in Porto. The traffic jams were of gigantic proportions – cars and truck everywhere as drivers grabbed boxes out of the backs and ran to deliver their orders before the streets were closed to traffic. And the Portuguese have the coolest way of controlling access to these ‘blocked’ streets. There are posts controlled by phone that block the roads. Drivers apparently either use an app on their phones, or call to some central number – and a minute later – down goes the post. Pretty cool, eh?

Both Valetta and Porto also are filled with churches and religious iconography. In Malta the churches are generally gothic or pre-gothic, dating back to the times of the Knights. Here in Porto, the churches are covered in glorious tile work. Either plainly coloured, or patterned, or my personal favourite – huge graphics of religious images. These glint and gleam in the sun, contrasting sharply with the occasional graffitied wall painting.

The inside’s of the churches of Malta, with the stark exception of the Co-Cathedral which is decorated from stem to stern, are fairly plain. But in Porto, over the top is the way to go. The altars, with few exceptions, had staircases leading upwards towards either the crucified Christ, a version of Mary, or sometimes the patron saint of the church. Once we saw a Church were the top of the staircase was empty. I asked – and it was explained that the ‘insides’ varied according to the season. At Easter time, it was the host, at Christmas, the Christ Child – etc.

I also asked about the staircase motif. I’ve been in dozens and dozens of Catholic Churches, and never seen this before. Apparently it’s a Portuguese thing – they had their own version of Catholicism- and is designed to help the faithful find their mental way up to G-d.

Food options in both Valletta and Porto abound, and since this is the start of the season of eating outside – there were terrace options everywhere. In Malta, which is a bit warmer than Porto, huge umbrellas are used to define your terrace from the terrace of your neighbor. And curiously – the terrace didn’t adjoin your restaurant. Instead, you occupied the center of the walking street – with space for pedestrians on the left and right. In Porto, the terraces are much more likely to be adjoining – absolutely the case when the street was open to traffic, but often true even on the walking sections.

Side note – in Coimbra – our next to next stop, I also spotted the use of these huge umbrellas in the center of walking paths to delineate the Terrace area of a restaurant. A ‘Terrace’ that disappeared when the umbrellas were folded and put away. It’s pretty cool.

Pastries in both cities were of course delicious – and if I don’t stop trying all the delicious options, I won’t fit into my uniform. The ice cream in Malta was better – I’m a fan of the Italian style ice creams. I tasted some in Porto – but they didn’t measure up in my opinion – neither in looks nor flavour. But hey – they were cheaper.

We naturally ate well in both cities. Maybe a bit better in Malta, we had meals supplied by locals that were delicious, and did consistently well when we branched out on our own. In Porto we ran into some losers (bummer), but also some pretty decent winners. As noted in an earlier blog, I absolutely adored the roasted chicken – and the Port Houses serve lovely wine.

So – a tale of two cities – both of which you should put on your must visit list.

Signing off to travel to other cities in Portugal….

The Soup Lady

Porto – Surprisingly Wonderful


I think I’ve fallen in love with a new city. Porto is amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the stunning architecture either – nor the fact that we’ve been blessed with lovely weather. Nope – my love affair with Porto is based on what always works great for me – the food!

Oh my but we’ve eaten well here. And not just fancy either, although the Bib Gourmet Restaurant – Dop was right up there. Our first night was a holiday night – and most things were closed, but not Pedro dos Frangos. It’s clearly a local joint – my kind of place. There are dozens of chickens roasting on an open flame in the window – and a long counter with a very mixed crowd relaxing while they enjoy a quick glass of wine with their roast chicken.

We join the throng, and delight in moist juicy chicken – fresh off the grill. Upstairs is more seating, but the food is mostly the same – just basic grilled chicken with French fries. Simple, delicious – and cheap.

For breakfast there is an unending selection of coffee bars – some offering seating, others more simple – but all prepared to make you a lovely cup of Cafe aux Lait – or what ever they term it here. Cafe aux Lait definitely gets me what I want – and I’m happy.

The pastry selection is also outstanding – croissants of course, in a multitude of variety – plain, chocolate, almonds, creme – you name it, they have it. There are also Portugal specialities – a cake with a Carmel flavoured top, and of course Pasteis de Nata – a traditional tart with a rich egg custard nestled in a crisp pastry. Oh did that go down swimmingly this morning. Yum.

For Lunch we feasted on a traditional Portuguese Sausage, French Fries (yes again), Pimentoes de Patron (a delight we remember from Spain), and the absolutely totally Porto only invention – Francesinha.

We decide that this is Porto’s answer to Poutine. Francesinha is a sandwich made with thick slices of white bread, wet-cured ham, fresh sausage, steak – and topped with melted cheese. Poured over this is what we in Quebec would recognize as BBQ sauce, but which the Portuguese describe as a thick tomato and beer sauce. Rich, delicious, and of course soul satisfying – this is comfort food at a new level.

And then there is the Port. We’ve only done two Port tastings – but you don’t need to go to a Port House to taste the named drink of Porto. There are hundreds of Port shops around the city – and many offer guided tastings. But old fashioned as we are – we do the more traditional thing of visiting the Port houses.

Our first port of call is Calum. It’s one of the biggest and most commercial of the Port Houses – specializing in the low end ports, but also offering some of the more interesting options. Our 14.5 Euro tour includes a 7D movie (they spray water on you) that quickly describes the basics of port wine production, an interactive gallery, a tour of the storage facilities with the huge oak vats that tower above us, and of course a two port tasting. I don’t particularly care for either port (a white and a tawny), but I did find the tour of mild interest. I definitely hope for something better at our next stop.

And oh boy – does Graham deliver. Getting to the Port House is a hike – and I’m guessing this fact alone makes it harder for random people to just pop in. Plus they offer a selection of fine Port tastings – and allow you to share a single tasting among several people. This is of course a much better way of doing things – we watched in wonder as one woman downed glass after glass at Calum. For sure she wasn’t walking home. But at Graham, the focus is clearly on the tasting, not on copious consumption.

They offer (for more $$ of course) food to go with the port, and we opt for a cheese tray. Eating the cheese and crackers dilutes the impact of the sweet wine, making it easier to keep our focus and taste the distinctions between the varieties. We try 4 Vintage Ports (5 when our host adds a Colheita), and 4 Tawny Ports. I don’t care for the Tawny Ports – but the Vintage Ports are wonderful. The 5 Vintage Ports are all made from wine from a single harvest and include a Warre’s 1980 and a Dow’s 1985. These are our favourites, but then our host trots out the Colheita from 1972. It was only bottled last year – it’s been stored for 36 years in the cellars of Grahams – and it is lovely. It’s a tawny port – so lighter in color than the Vintage Ports – and it’s been filtered, so it will age extremely slowly in the bottle.

It turns out that one of the tricky things about Port is the aging. You must age the Port for at least two years in oak before you can bottle it. If you bottle it unfiltered – it will continue to age in the bottle – those are the Vintage Ports. Like the Vintage Ports, the Colheita is also from a single harvest, but it has been allowed to age in oak barrels, supervised by the Port makers. So – we bought a 1972 Colheita that was only bottled in 2017. We also bought a Dow’s from 1985. Both were outstandingly delicious.

We are warned to drink the Vintage Port within 3 days of opening the bottle (unless you pump out all the air – or have a way to cap the wine with Nitrogen). LBV’s and Tawny Ports don’t have this problem, and the Colheita, which has been filtered, will also hold its own once opened. It’s just the Vintage Ports that are unfiltered that should be opened on a special occasion, and then drunk promptly.

As a special treat – not that it cost them much – they handed me a small glass of my personal favourite, an LBV (late bottled vintage) from 2012. Much simpler than the vintage ports we’d been enjoying – I loved it anyway.

Well plied with Port, and feeling quite ok with the world, we walked back to our lodging – up hill all the way naturally.

This is a wonderful city…

Signing off to figure out what dinner will hold for us… The Soup Lady