Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Minho travels - Day 1

As Leigh would be visiting the Minho region while in Portugal for the first time, I wanted to take her on a trip to one of my favorite places and introduce her to the great Alvarinho wine.   This white variety is grown specifically in Galicia and is a much mellower variety than the tart white wine "vinho verde or green wine" that most people associate Minho with.  Once we pulled into the massive driveway of the 18th century Palaçio da Brejoeira wine estate, visions of grandeur much like Downton Abbey, crossed our minds and we were transported back in time.

                             A panoramic view of the estate

Luckily we were the only two there so we received our very own tour guide, a young lady only 18 years old who was very eager to practice her English with us. While we allowed her to go through her usual tour "schtick", we often interjected with questions about any insider stories she may have heard and even made up our own along the way just to keep things interesting.   Not that the visuals weren't enough!   We were however sad to hear that the current owner, the sole heiress of the estate and 97 years strong and still living there, to our guides' knowledge never documented her life at the palace in any story form.  What incredible tales she must have, to think they may be lost once she passes is incredibly sad.  She never married and has no heir so it isn't even known what will happen to the estate once she does pass away.

We took plenty of photos where we could but were forbidden inside the incredibly decorated interior rooms which entertained kings, queens, dignitaries and dictators throughout the years.  Beautifully furnished rooms were filled with carpets from Persia, silks from France, furniture and porcelains from the Orient.  
Should you ever find yourself close to the town of Monçaõ, I'd highly recommend stopping by. You'd be traveling back in time and wishing you could have lived the lavish life.  But even if you can't,  the least you can do is treat yourself to a bottle of the estate's fantastic Alvarinho wine!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The clouds have disappeared and the sun shines brightly on our last morning in Porto.  We take in the glorious view one last time before heading out for our morning coffee and pastry.  I order a queijada for us to try and it quickly becomes our favorite.  It has the consistency of a super moist sponge cake with a strong taste of vanilla and lemon. So good and I can't believe in the years I've traveled her I haven't discovered it before.  Always something new.

As we say good bye to Porto and head over to the Avenida dos Alliados to catch our bus north, we pass buildings both old and new, people both modern and traditional.  Porto is a great city that allows you to appreciate the beauty, culture and attitude that it has to offer.  We only experienced a fraction of what we could see in a small amount of time but we vowed to return with a new, more ambitious itinerary to conquer one day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mom and I get up early to meet Leigh at the airport.  From there mom will take the bus back to Valença and Leigh and I will go back to the city of Porto...but not before the ritual coffee first!

quick nap and refreshing shower for Leigh at the apartment (not before an "Oh my God, that view is amazing!!!") and we're off.  The cathedral, pillory and river view are also first on the list along with the Saõ Bento station tiles.  

Many "OMG's this is so beautiful!" later we found ourselves ready for lunch.  I researched high and low and because we would be in the very hip Victoria neighborhood, I chose BOOK restaurant.  As the name would suggest, it was once an old bookstore so it had tons of vintage/mod character.  Even the menus were presented to us inside old novels.  It's a fairly new restaurant on the Porto food scene but it had already received accolades from the New York Times so I figured it should be a winner.   Happily, it did not disappoint!  Leigh had prawns with a squid ink pasta and I had the grilled octopus and it was complimented with a glass of the regional house Douro wine for each of us. Delish!  For dessert we shared a slice of the chocolate paõ de ló con frutos silvestres  (sponge cake with macerated berries) that the restaurant proudly boasted as the world's best and again, it was a real winner!  Welcome to Portugal Leigh!

A slow walk down the Galeria de Paris brought us to A Vida Portuguesa, a store offering a selection of popular Portuguese products, many that are well know everywhere - from Claus Porto soaps to Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro pottery.  It took up the second floor of another one of those jaw dropping, ornate but not over the top turn of the century buildings.  The hall wood staircase display of ceramic swallows in flight was my favorite.

And speaking of jaw dropping, over the top...down the street was the Lello & Sons bookstore.  Coined as the oldest bookstore in Portugal AND rumored as the inspiration for J.K. Rowlings' Hogwarts interior.  Did you know she was once married to a Portuguese man and wrote the first Harry Potter novel in Porto where she resided for a period of time?  It's true!  One look at my interior photo and you'll know why.  It's was very beautiful and very detailed, something to see at every corner.   We were glad to have visited it even if we did have to pay 3 Euro each as entry.  Tacky I agree, but a good (and probably necessary) form of crowd control!

At this point, full in the belly and a bit tired we make a loop back towards the apartment stopping by the Carmo Church and Clérigos Tower (249 steps to the top were NOT going to happen this time around!).

The later part of the day found us walking down the Rua das Flores (a beautiful pedestrian street full of great architecture, shops, cafės and restaurants). Remarkably hungry again we decided to eat a lighter dinner of the regional sausage, cheese, bread, olives and wine at the Mercearia das Flores.                     So good!

On our way down to the Baixa we stopped at MANY shops along the way.   I showed Leigh the bustling Baixa, Rio Douro, Ponte Luis I bridge and Port Lodges...not to mention the naked mannequin on the balcony (See Monday's blog ;)  

We ended our evening sharing churitos with Nutella (our girls would be jealous!) before passing out in sheer exhaustion.  
Monday,  October 5, 2015 - PORTO, Portugal

With a full day planned today, our first stop is inside the Saõ Bento train station to look at the amazing tile designs depicting moments in Portuguese history and everyday life. Truly amazing work.

Mom and I walked up the busy shopping street - Rua de Santa Catarina - and stopped to admire the ever busy  Majestic Café, which has been extremely popular since its' completion during the Belle Époque period (as shown in it's beautifully ornate interior and exterior architecture).  

A stop at the Bolhão Market also proved a feast for the eyes (not to mention nose) with rows and rows of stalls selling everything from flowers to fish to vegetables to smoked hams & sausages to breads & pastries, etc.

Doors and fixtures throughout the city develop amazing patinas through time.  I discover so many on our walk towards the Cais da Ribeira (the riverside quay of Porto) to the Douro river...and then there was the naked mannequin propped on the balcony!  Hysterical!

Mom and I cross the 1886 built Dom Luis I bridge over into Vila Nova de Gaia where the famous port lodges are.

The rabelos carry barrels of each estates'  wine down from the Douro valley region to begin maturing in their prospective lodges. On the Vila Nova de Gaia side we have a great view of many of these boats with the city of Porto in the background.

Again, boa noite Porto, we've had a great day!