Quick trip to Madrid 🇪🇸

Whilst randomly searching flights online with mum one afternoon, it soon became apparent that we could fly to the Spanish capital after work on a Friday afternoon and get home in the early hours of Monday, giving me just enough time to catch up on sleep before returning to work.

So, with money left on our Ryanair voucher to spend up, it ended up costing us less to fly to Madrid that a train ticket to London, so it was a no brainer and as neither of us had been before, we had a full itinerary soon planned out.

We had an apartment booked, and a free taxi curtesy of Booking.Com that took us right through the heart of the city on our way to the accommodation. Seeing the incredible buildings, tree lined streets and vibrant nightlife bursting from the streets, gave us a taste of what was to come. But we had had a long day, travelling almost straight from work and with my 75 year old mother, meant once we had arrived in our apartment and kicked off our shoes, it was almost 11pm, so we decided to call it a night, and would hit the ground running in the morning.

When I say ‘hit the ground running’, I actually meant grab a shower and walk 5 mins round the corner to Chocolateria 192 to grab breakfast and when I say breakfast, I mean Churros.

As well as its convenient location and excellent reviews, another selling point of Chocolateria 192 which won out over its local rivals for me, was the fact they offered a dairy free chocolate to dunk your churros into and it was delicious.

Boosted by caffeine and chocolate, it was only a short walk to the Royal Palace, via a statue by Salvador Fernández Olivawhich we spotted just off the Calle Mayor, it was of a man with a shiny bottom, so of course I felt obliged to give him a friendly pat.

The Royal Palace is an impressive 18th century Baroque building, built on the site of a Moorish castle, it’s no longer used as a permanent residence for the Spanish royals, meaning a lot of the rooms are now open for the public to explore.

Its a very popular tourist spot, and although it opens at 10am the queues form much earlier, so mum got in line, and I went off to take some photos whilst it was relatively crowd free.

At over 3000 rooms, it’s the largest palace in Western Europe, and although you only get to see a small portion of it, the rooms on display are the most interesting and ornate ones. No photos allowed beyond the entrance hall, but from memory the Throne Room, the Gala Dining room and Charles III’s bedroom were all as elaborate as you would imagine.

Facing the palace is the Almudena Cathedral, I really loved this building, and to save mums legs we took the lift up to the top of the dome. It’s well worth making it to the top as the views across the city are spectacular, but even more so is the inside of the dome, which is a beautiful square cupola painted dark blue and gold.

When you get back down to the main part of the cathedral, make sure you look up at the nave ceiling, it has an incredible multicoloured geometric pattern, I hadn’t seen one like that before. The apse at the front of the cathedral is hard to miss though, with more colourful paintings and modern stain glass windows and with the sun streaming in, it cast an incredible rainbow light across the walls, it was heavenly.

What should have been a short walk to the Metro station, turned into quite a long walk down and round the back of the palace to Ermita De San Antonio De La Florida. Not that we got lost, but there was quite a lot of construction work happening and the direct route to the church was blocked off.  Had we known how long it would take us, we probably would have turned around, but happy to build up an appetite we powered through and made it to the small church with the Spanish painter Franciso Goya’s famous painted fresco’s. No photo’s allowed, but I managed a quick sneaky blurred one before we left, as pay off for the long walk to get there, apologies for that.

We finally made it to the metro station and bought our tourist card and loaded it with 10 single trips, you can share it between people, so basically it was 5 trips each for me and mum for €14.70. The metro is easy to use, safe, inexpensive and has stops all across the city, close to pretty much all the sights you would want to see, so we ended up topping up our card during out stay as we found it so convenient to use.

With the Spaniards taking their main meal of the day in the early afternoon, we decided to follow suit and went to the vegan restaurant B13 Bar for a big lunch, before grabbing a coffee to go at Celicioso and then headed back down to the metro onward to the south of the city.

I love Atlas Obscura and always take a peak at the website before a trip to see if there is anything I fancy adding to my hit list. The Rocker Grandma is a statue in the south of the city, a short walk from the Nueva Numancia metro station, and was erected in tribute to la abuela rockera, who discovered rock music in her 70’s. After starting to attend rock shows she became a famous figure within the Spanish rock scene and as I’m a bit partial to some loud music myself, I had to go and pay my respects.

We then hopped back on the metro and alighted at Estacion del Arte, not surprisingly because we had planned a visit to one of the famous art galleries. Museo Reina Sofía is Spain’s national 20th century art museum and is part of Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art, along with Museo del Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza National MuseumWe chose Reina Sofia because of the large number of Picasso, Dali and Miro available to view, and mum especially wanted to see Picasso’s Guernica, his famous black and grey anti war painting. No photos were allowed of this particular piece, but there was so much more to see, and although we only managed to visit a portion of the gallery, we still managed to cram a lot in.

By the time we left it had gotten dark, so we wandered up the world heritage Paseo del Prado, to see if we could explore the light show inside the Botanical Gardens. We weren’t so lucky though, the queue was huge and sold out for the evening, so we joined others peeking through the gates, then made our way back down the tree lined Paseo del Prado, soaking up the Saturday evening atmosphere before jumping back on the metro.

Our final stop of the evening was to grab some food at the San Miguel market a 100 year old food market, selling everything from local fish, Iberian hams, fresh fruits, desserts and of course wine. There are over 20 stalls from which to sit down, sample and buy tapas and drinks from, although if you are vegan like me, you could struggle to find something, other than a fruit cup.

Luckily, I found an empanada place called Las Muns just outside, and got myself a hot pastry to go with my salad from the market, and we headed back to our apartment to rest our feet and prepare for the next day.

On a Sunday morning in Madrid, the place to be everyone told me, was to head to El Rastro. A large flea market spread along a beautiful tree lined street, jam packed with stalls selling both new and old, such as hand made cute tote bags, antique watches, colourful socks and leather bags. As it approaches lunch time, local tapas bars open up for those wanting a break from all the haggling, but we were still full from another breakfast plate of churro’s, so we did a full circuit of the stalls before heading onward.

One place I knew I wanted to see was the restaurant, said to be the oldest in the world, Sobrino de Botín. `It’s been serving local dishes, such as roast suckling pig and poached egg continuously since 1725, not that I was interested in actually sampling the food, being plant based, but I wanted to grab a quick picture outside, because one of my friends dad’s used to work there, and I wanted to send her a surprise text.

IMG_8396

On our way back to our apartment, we passed through Plaza Mayor, the original main square and heart of old Madrid. Although it was still waking up, people were wrapped up warm and starting to find spots to sit outside the many bars and cafe’s that line the edges of the square, drinking coffee and eating brunch. As well as a large Christmas tree in the centre, there were quite a few antique stalls selling stamps and coins, surrounded by Spanish pensioners all comparing their collections, giving it a real authentic, less touristy feel.

We popped back to our apartment to check out and store our luggage in the reception for the remainder of the day, then it was a short walk to the Sol metro station to take us over to newly Unesco certified El Retiro park.

This huge park is right in the heart of the city, close to all the main art galleries and the Paseo del Prado with them both sharing a newly awarded World Heritage status in 2021. We entered via the gate opposite the Retiro metro station, picked one of the beautiful tree lined paths and joined the many other tourists and locals enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon stroll. There are plenty of statues, fountains, a boating lake, a rose garden, cafes, a glass pavilion, 15,000 trees, including a 400 year old Mexican conifer as well as spaces for exercise, bike rental, a puppet theatre and library!

Highlights for me included the beautiful shimmering boating late, the famous ‘fallen angel‘ fountain (which is the only statue in the world known to be dedicated to the devil), we loved watching the children take rollerblading lessons and seeing the many dogs getting just as much enjoyment out of the park as the humans did.

We managed to walk pretty much in a full circle and exited the park the way we came in, so we could get back on the metro at Retiro and take Line 2 up to Ventas.

Neither myself or mum are supporters of bull fighting in any way shape or form, but had read that even if you aren’t a fan of the bloodsport, the building itself is worth a visit. The building is directly outside the metro station, making it really easy to quickly squeeze in a visit. You can take a proper tour of the stadium, to learn not only about the building but also about the history of Spain’s controversial sporting event that takes place here, but at almost €15.00 a ticket, its probably not worth it, unless you have a keen interest.

We did a lap around the ornate 4 storey, red brick bull ring complete with colourful tiles and a statue at the front depicting a matador and bull in mid-fight. Inside there is seating for over 23,000 people, there’s a museum, a chapel and a state of the art operating theatre, eeek, this is purely for the matador though, if the bull isn’t killed by the end of the match, then it’s taken out back and killed there instead.

Then it was back on the metro, and back to Sol to grab a late lunch/early dinner at Freedom Cakes, which doesn’t sound like it would serve full meals, but it does, and they’re all vegan and the portions are huge!

We then took a last stroll up the busiest and most popular street in the capital, the Gran Via for some window shopping and to take in some of the incredible architecture, before finishing up with a coffee and ice cream at the delicious and super friendly Mistura Coffee.

Once we retrieved our bags, we took the metro across to Atocha which is the central station, and here we boarded the train to the airport, taking about 30 minutes, terminating at terminal 4 and we reluctantly headed home. Madrid was truly surprising, friendly, easy to navigate and I’d definitely return, maybe using it as a base to visit some neighbouring towns next time as well as have another plate of churros of course!

EATS –

Christmas Eve Bansky hunt – Palestine 🇵🇸

I am a big admirer of Banksy, the British street artist/political activist and have been to various spots around the UK to see his art. I had heard that he had opened a hotel in Bethlehem, that also housed a museum, art gallery and restaurant, so I eagerly started planning my visit once our flights to the region had been booked.

hotel

You can book specific Banksy tours over in Palestine, taking you to some of his work found around the area, as well as to the hotel, but we decided to make our own way on public transport and enter Palestine on foot via the notorious Checkpoint 300.

When you tour Palestine on a tour bus you are let through the border without any hassle, its quick, safe and easy, but a privilege that actual Palestinians don’t have. Having had that tourist friendly experience earlier on in our trip, I wanted to make the journey on foot this time and experience it as a local would.

We boarded the 234 bus from Damascus Gate in Jerusalem which stops right outside the Checkpoint on the Israeli side, it takes about 25 mins to get there and costs around £3.

I didn’t take any pictures as we made our way through the border checkpoint, maybe you weren’t allowed, but also, out of respect for all those who aren’t free to wander between the two countries like I did with my British passport.

8502014F-E59F-49FB-A1FD-09024A0DBD7E

When you arrive on the Palestinian side you are greeted with a combination of Israeli Army personnel and lots of eager taxi drivers. We avoided both, as its only a short walk from the checkpoint to the hotel, but we arrived about an hour before the hotel opened for our Christmas Eve lunch on purpose, so we had lots of time to walk alongside the separation wall, which in part has been turned into a ‘museum’.

This ‘museum’ comprises of 270 stories pasted onto the wall, recalling tales from local Palestinian women and children, telling the daily struggles they face living inside the walled off region. It gives a human face to the conflict, and a narrative usually missing from world news reports, it made a somber reflective morning walk, but it was an important part of why I wanted to visit. If I just wanted to enjoy sun, sand and sanitised safe tourist spots, I would have just stuck to the Spanish coast for my holidays.

We continued our walk, alongside the wall, taking in all the art and stories, spotting some of the more well known pieces of graffiti, including ‘make hummus not war’, a alternative New York subway transit sign, a possible sighting of a Banksy rat and the Angels, which is a certified Banksy.

If you keep following the direction of the wall from the checkpoint with the wall to your right hand side, its probably not more than 10 minutes to walk to the hotel, but of course if this is your first visit, like it was for us, it will likely take you a lot longer to walk there, as you take in all the messages and artwork on the concrete.

Soon Banksy’s hotel came into view, called ‘The Walled Off Hotel‘, a play on the famous Waldorf Hotel, as well as by means of its location as it’s effectively ‘walled off’ from the rest of the world. Opened in 2017, this boutique hotel has 10 rooms, varying from presidential suite, to no frills budget room with shared bathroom, all with the worst view in the world, the 8ft concrete wall outside.

7731AB2B-720B-4658-BF3E-21638241963C

The hotel is open to none-residents from 11am – 10pm daily, wanting to make sure we would get a table for our Christmas Eve brunch, we arrived just as the doors opened. On arrival you enter straight into the Piano Bar, fashioned on an old colonial style dining room, you can sit down for food or drinks, surrounded by many of Banksy’s works as well as a haunted piano, playing works recorded specifically for the hotel from musicians such as Flea and Trent Reznor.

IMG_1738

We ordered a ‘walled off salad’ with some dips and bread and whilst we were waiting a camera crew walked in, only the day before a new Banksy installation had been put on display in the hotel, some friends had even texted me from home about it. So overwhelmed and excited to be in the hotel, we had walked straight past the ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ in the entrance, a take on the Nativity scene, which instead of taking place in a straw laden manger, takes place beside the concrete wall, complete with bullet holes.

By the time we had finished our brunch complete with virgin cocktails, the camera crew had left, so we had space to investigate the piano bar further, along with the nativity scene, the place was packed with Banksy paintings and installations, including my favourite Flower Thrower.

Upstairs there is an art gallery to visit, this time no Bankys here, this space is purely for Palestinians, some known artists such as Suliman Mansour have their work on display here, as well as a temporary area for rotating new and up and coming work. There was some really cool stuff on display and we felt lucky to have been able to see artwork that due to restrictions you wouldn’t normally get to see outside of the country.

Back downstairs is a museum dedicated solely to the separation wall. It’s a really modern interactive space, as you would expect if Banksy was involved along with the help of a British university professor. There’s lots of information about the history of the wall right up to present day with little films, audio, military artefacts and a camera on display from the incredible Oscar nominated Five Broken Cameras, which I really recommend watching. The plan is for the exhibit to be expanded as more artefacts are collected over time, but it was a thought provoking, humbling experience to see and hear how this wall has changed the face of the landscape and its people on both sides.

5E7F5F66-D865-4B18-9FBC-53F1569050EE

Final stop was obviously the gift shop, where we were lucky to chat to the manager of the hotel. A lovely man called Wissam Salsaa, he was keen to know where we had travelled from and what we thought of the hotel, in short I told him, if we were to return to the area, I would absolutely plan on staying here next time around.

There were a few Banksy items for sale in the gift shop, and I did think long and hard about a £70 keyring, which was the cheapest item for sale that was certified by the artist. But then the frugal part of my brain kicked in and I just bought postcards and a couple of tote bags instead, realising I could use that £70 for another flight somewhere instead (not realising Covid was about to happen and I wouldn’t get away for almost another 2 years!).

I desperately wanted to stay for longer, but we had really explored every part of the hotel that is open to none residents, also we were conscious that it was Christmas Eve and the tourists would be flocking to the centre of Bethlehem for the celebrations. So we headed back to Checkpoint 300 which was practically empty as we passed back through, the security guard barely looking at our British passport, and the local bus was waiting ready to return to Jerusalem on the other side. With so many places I still have to see, I rarely make plans to return to a visited place but Palestine makes that list and hopefully one day I can return, whether the political situation will be any calmer, I’m doubtful.

 

Winter in the West Bank 🇵🇸

My last trip abroad before Covid hit was another Christmas spent in the Middle East, using East Jerusalem as our base, we travelled around Israel and Palestine both independently and with guided tours.

Our first trip was a full day booked with Abraham tours, leaving by the old Jaffa gates of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t long before the separation wall came into view, with evidence of recent tension and fighting becoming apparent, with abandoned buildings and barbed wire taking over the view from the well paved roads and souvenir shops. Once we had officially passed into Palestine, our guide jumped on board, as he wasn’t allowed into Jerusalem without paperwork, our first experience of the many restrictions facing the people of this torn land.

We alighted the coach on arrival into Ramallah, a place I had only really heard of via news reports I am sad to say, but now is a bustling, busy city. The main business and cultural capital of Palestine, full of coffee shops, offices, and people rushing past to get to their next destination, all the while I was still very aware of the concrete wall that now surrounded us.

Although Ramallah is a predominantly an Islamic city, historically it was Christian, and so being a few days before December 25th, it was no surprise to see a Christmas tree erected in the centre of the city. We had time to explore around Al Manara Sq and saw the infamous Star and Bucks, as well as many Palestinian flags proudly flying in the cool winter sunshine.

Our next stop was just outside the city centre, to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum. A temporary resting place, Arafat actually wanted to be buried in East Jerusalem, but of course like the rest of the Palestinians, alive or not, he’s not allowed to cross beyond the separation wall. The area comprises quite a minimalist, simple white building of glass and stone, with water on three sides and although not visible, there’s an underground rail track, ready to take him to his final resting place at some point in the probably far distant future.

Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world, and was about an hours drive, through the Judean desert from Ramallah. The sign that welcomes you to the oldest part of the city, states that there has been a settlement here for around 10,000 years, making it an incredibly important site where historians can learn about the first group of humans that settled in a one place and made the move away from being nomadic hunters.

As well as being the oldest, it is also the lowest city in the world as it is situated so close to the Dead Sea, so it’s no surprise this place should be on everyone’s itinerary who visits this area. Our tour avoided the more modern centre, concentrating on the excavated ruins of the ancient city, including Hishams Palace, one of the Desert Castles found across the Middle East. It really was other worldly wandering around the dusty, sandy walled remains, with the Judean mountains towering in the background, it really felt a special place, even if I couldn’t quite comprehend how it must have looked all those thousands of years ago.

As lunchtime was approaching we headed down to the River Jordan, which also acts as the border with Jordan itself, and the previous year we had been on the other side as we spent Christmas in Amman. As the people on our tour excitedly visited the baptism site of Jesus and looked on as pilgrims got blessed in the river, mother and I grabbed a drink, found some shade and investigated the souvenir shop, There were a lot of soldiers on this side of the river border and lots of religious tourists in white robes queuing up to go in the river, I remember it feeling much more peaceful and calmer on the Jordanian side, but I’m happy I got to experience it from both countries.

703A6608-52F8-4B49-A371-50C35788895A

One of the things I loved about travelling in this part of the world was the incredible history, literally everywhere you went. For example, the countryside views surrounding the cafe where we stopped for lunch was said to be where the story of the 3 Wise Men took place, as in was in the adjacent fields where they saw the Star of Bethlehem in the clear night sky as they hiked on their way to Jerusalem.

Our final stop on this particular tour was back close to the ‘border’ and a place that must have changed beyond all recognition from biblical times, Bethlehem. It’s a place swarming with pilgrims just like Jerusalem is and if you have any passing interest in history, then this place must be on your to do list. The main draw is the Church of the Nativity, Jesus was born in a grotto on this spot and the church itself was built over the top, and as a result it’s one of the holiest spots for the Christian religion. It’s such an important site to the Christian community, but because the religion itself is split into many different denominations, this church is one of a handful of buildings shared between different Christian communities, with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Catholics all sharing various parts together.

As it was only a few days from December 25th, the church was decorated and packed full of pilgrims from all over the world, often wearing T-shirts with their particular church logo’s on, all of them queuing up to see the exact spot where Jesus was born.

Although I love a religious building of any kind, I don’t class myself a follower of any, plus we didn’t have time on the tour to queue for what would have been probably an hour for a quick 20 second peek at the site of his birth inside the dark grotto. But our tour guide took us ’round the back’ down into the cave to explore from the other side, so I feel we still got the same experience, but with less crowds anyway.

The church itself was quite plain, with the exception of Christmas baubles and ornate incense burners hanging from above, red limestone pillars along the sides and various fresco’s partly uncovered on the walls, but of course, the decor isn’t why you visit. There is another church just off to the side, actually sharing a wall with the Nativity Church, called Church of St Catherine of Alexandria and it is here where the televised service from Bethlehem is filmed every year. After visiting both churches, we had a brief explore around Nativity Square where a large Christmas tree had been erected, and the whole area was in the midst of getting ready for the crowds of worshippers who would be visiting on Christmas Eve, so we planned to return later on our trip at our leisure.

Before returning to Jerusalem, we had a walk along part of the separation wall, which is only a short distance from the heart of Bethlehem. Graffiti from famous international artists cover large swathes of the wall and we successfully spotted a few Bankys’, all the while being aware of the imposing watch towers looming overhead.

It was then back to the bus for our return to Jerusalem, but for an introduction to Palestine and the region as a whole, it was outstanding, it was an experience I feel incredibly privileged to have had and the memories will stay with me forever.

We were to return a few days later, venturing back past the wall under our own steam, for a completely different adventure . . . .

Travels resume – 1st stop Porto 🇵🇹

I first visited Portugal, The Algarve to be precise over 40 years ago, which I know must be hard to believe, as I don’t look a day over 30 (joke).

I’d been wanting to visit Porto for a long weekend for quite a few years, but it always got pushed back for a number of reasons, last year it was actually booked, but then Covid had other plans.

It took a few stressful hours of figuring out the paperwork and which tests were needed and although it felt like a lot of extra work for just a 3 day trip, I hadn’t been off the UK in 22 months, so it was something I was happy to overlook.

With all the documents loaded onto my phone and also printed out, mum and I speeded through security in minutes and after a short delay, boarded our half full plane for a brisk 2 hour flight south. Due to our late evening arrival, we checked into our hotel and went straight to bed, ready to hit the sights early the next morning.

First things first, I had to try a Pastel de Nata and a short walk from our hotel was the semi vegan bakery Pastelaria Tupi. Still slightly sleepy and not quite believing we were abroad at last, we ordered coffee, the famous Portuguese pastry and planned the day ahead.

I hadn’t done as much research for this trip as previous city breaks, mainly because so many trips had been cancelled since the pandemic, and I didn’t quite believe we would actually make the trip. So, with a mini Porto guide to hand, we decided to let that do the organising, and followed their UNESCO walking tour for the first few hours.

First up, it was a short walk downhill (Porto is very hilly by the way, so be prepared with good walking shoes) to the ridiculously ornate Church of São Francisco. The gothic building hints of its splendour inside by the rose window and spiralling columns that great you as you enter, but nothing quite prepares you for the opulent, golden baroque interior. The alter is particularly impressive and you would be hard pressed to find a spot that hadn’t been covered in gold at all.

It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the natural light as we exited the church and into the adjoining museum to see all the related religious art.  We then descended the stairs into the catacombs, where monks and notable local families are buried, you can wander along rows of tombs decorated with skulls and an ossuary filled with thousands of bones, truly fascinating if a bit eerie.

The church is just by the River Douro, so we walked along the river’s edge, past market stalls full of local crafts made of cork, towards the huge arched Dom Luís I Bridge, spotting boats full of barrels of port along the way.

Once we reached the bridge, our map took us left back towards the city centre, up some high steps and bricked walls, every so often as we stopped to get our breath, we were afforded some stunning views of the terracotta red roofs and the river below.

After a few lost turns, we made it to one of the cities oldest and highest buildings, the Se do Porto, otherwise known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady. A Romanesque style of architecture, comprising the Cathedral itself with a porch, rose window, narrow central nave and large silver altarpiece. I particularly liked the 14th century cloister decorated with beautiful blue tiles and somehow ended up being the unofficial photographer for the many other tourists all wanting their photos with the blue backdrop.

After a stop for lunch, we stumbled upon a speciality coffee place called the Calma Coffee Room, housed in the 150 year old Porto Commercial Atheneum. The room itself was originally the tea room, and the only place in the building where women were allowed, its small, but packed full of history, tiled walls, chandeliers and a large window which opens out to the busy street below, perfect for some people watching over your double expresso with oat milk.

IMG_7747

Next up it was a short walk to what looks like at first glance a very large church, but on closer inspection its actually 2 churches with a thin house in the middle. Carmo and Carmelitas Churches comprise of one church originally just for nuns, whilst the other was specifically just for the monks, the house in the middle was possibly there to uphold an old law that says 2 churches can’t share a wall, or maybe just to keep the men and women apart! You can buy a ticket to visit all 3 buildings and it’s well worth a look inside and don’t miss the beautiful blue tiles on the outside side wall as well.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering the streets close by, scrutinising menu’s for a place to eat our dinner and ended up at Noshi. It was a lovely friendly place, with a fully plant based menu, we sat outside and watched the trams pass by our table, and when the rain hit hard, our waiter arranged a taxi for us back to our hotel, even letting us wait inside after closing until our driver arrived, if we had stayed longer in the city, we would have definitely returned.

The rain continued into the next day,  so after a snack in our hotel, we headed back down to the gothic Church of Sao Francisco, where the No 1 tram starts its journey along the bank of the River Duomo west to its final stop in Foz. This neighbourhood of Porto lies on the Atlantic Ocean, with beach cafes, bars, and a promenade with views of the rocky, sandy coastline, complete with lighthouse.

We went straight to The Bird for a tasty veggie lunch and it had pretty much stopped raining once we were replenished and ready to explore the front, so we headed down to the beach.

With the main tourist season over and of course Covid restrictions still in place, we had the beach almost to ourselves and it was wonderful to get lost in the views, the crashing of the waves against the rocks, boat spotting in the fog, dodging the high rising spray and of course keeping a close eye on the rising tide around our feet. I could have stayed longer, there is just something about a windy, wet coast line that is just invigorating and life affirming.

Foz do Douro lighthouse is located at the end of a breakwater as you walk back towards the tram stop. I was impressed by the waves crashing along the beach, but it was nothing compared to huge swell of water rocking and rolling around the red topped Felgueiras Lighthouse, which lies pretty much where the Douro River and Atlantic Ocean meet and if you look carefully you can see the colour changing as fresh river water pours out into the salty sea.

Last up was a walk back through the Jardim do Passeio Alegre a 19th century garden complete with palm trees, sculptures and fountains, and whilst we were there, also a little market selling local honeys and cheeses. Back on the tram into the centre of Porto, we headed to Amorino Santa Catarina for one of their famous flower ice creams, it was my first time to the ice cream chain, no actual dairy free ice cream was available, but there was a decent range of sorbets. and it looked so pretty, I still couldn’t resist.

IMG_7581

Had a bit of a fail for dinner, all the places on my list were either close on Sundays, closed for private functions or fully booked. So we settled on a tapas bar close to our hotel, and I managed to just about make a full meal with the plant based dishes on offer, along with a couple of bottles of Super Bock of course!

Our final morning, and still a little hungry from the night before, we headed to Manna Porto for the most delicious breakfast and fresh coffee.

Then for a second time we walked past the Livraria Lello book shop, it’s next door to the ice cream parlour we had been too the day before and had a huge queue outside. Thinking it may be better at its opening time of 10.00am we walked past after our Manna breakfast, but the queue was even longer, so we decided to pass, always leave something to return to right?

One of the famous and striking features of Porto are the 6 bridges that span the Duomo, and its most popular is the double decker, iron arched Dom Luis bridge. You can drive or walk across the lower tier, and walk or catch the metro across the top tier. We walked across the top, for outstanding views across the river, full of pleasure cruises and the Rabelo‘s with their barrels of port setting off on their journeys.

Another advantage of taking the top tier across the river is you have less to climb to get to the Monastery of Serra do Pilar once you arrive on the other side. Unfortunately for us, it was closed on Mondays, but we still managed to walk around the exterior courtyard and got to enjoy more stunning views across the city.

They say what goes up, must come down, and as we wanted to stay on this side of the river and explore the area known as Cais de Gaia, you have two options, either walk back down to the riverside or you can catch the Cable Car. Mum wanted to save her legs, and I wasn’t complaining, so we slowly and smoothly floated above the city and the Port houses to arrive in the heart of  Cais de Gaia full of bars, restaurants as well as the famous Port wine cellars. We wandered through little markets and down narrow streets dodging the hustle and bustle of the Port houses getting ready to export their sweet fortified wine across the globe.

We gradually made our way back along the Duomo, lined with heavily laden Rabelo’s and colourful riverside houses, it really feels like nowhere else, truly beautiful and unique.

We then took the lower tier of the bridge back across to the old town for a late lunch and final pastry, so we returned to Pastelaria Tupi for their vegan version of the traditional Francesinha sandwich and of course a Pastel de Nata.

We just had time for a walk to burn off our lunch before heading back to collect our bags and get a taxi to the airport, there was still a few things I would have love to have seen within the city, and future day trips I have my eye on.  I definitely don’t aim to leave it another 40 years before my next trip. Portugal, you were wonderful.

 

EATS – For tasty pastries and traditional Portuguese lunches with lots of vegan options, Pastelaria Tupi was perfect and we visited more than once during our trip. As was Noshi, this fully plant based cafe was so welcoming and with a full creative menu, if we had stayed longer, we would have returned for sure. Less vegan, but fully veggie was The Bird over in Foz, and with its gorgeously decorated birdcages hanging from the ceiling it was a lovely discovery, as was Manna Porto back in the city centre, which is also a yoga studio, so unsurprisingly it’s a peaceful calm cafe, but with an outstanding vegan menu.

DRINK – Now I’m over 2 years alcohol free, I was pleased to find that it was still really easy to find alcohol free local beers and wine, with all the places we ate offering at least one alcohol free option. It was no big surprise that Portugueses biggest selling beer, Superbock‘s alcohol free brand went down very well with both mum and I.

COFFEE and CAKE – Dairy free traditional Pastel de nata was found at Pastelaria Tupi, another reason for our repeated visits, and the ice cream chain Amorino offered a wide selection of both dairy and dairy free ice creams and sorbets too. As for coffee, we couldn’t fault Calma Coffee Room for delicious coffee and ambience.

TOP TIP – bring your walking shoes, Porto is HILLY, and although we travelled on the trams, some were only running every 30 mins, so instead of waiting around, we ended up walking more than we planned.

ALWAYS BE POLITEBom dia “Good Morning, Obrigada ‘thank you’, De Nada ‘you’re welcome’