Crossing The Bridge to Malmö 🇸🇪

It wasn’t my first trip to Sweden, I had actually been a couple of times previously, out in the countryside, close to the Norwegian border, when my parents used to visit a couple of times a year to hike and canoe. I was never as into outdoor pursuits as they were though, and I remember one cabin we stayed in, it was a 30 minute drive to the nearest town, my parents loved it, but for me it was too remote.

So I had always fancied returning and to somewhere a bit more lively and after a friend and I became obsessed with the Scandi-Noir TV show The Bridge, we booked a two centre long weekend, to visit Copenhagen and then travelling across ‘The Bridge’ to visit Malmö.

Although Malmö does have an airport, there are no flights from the UK, but luckily for us, there are many cheap flights from its neighbour over the water in Copenhagen. Once you land, you can catch the train from Terminal 3, and in 24 minutes costing only £11 you can arrive in Sweden’s 3rd largest city.

Of course there is the small matter of Øresund, the 73 mile body of water acting as the border between the two countries, but that’s no bother for the train, as it travels across on the the Øresund Bridge. As seen on the TV show and what prompted my interest in visiting this region, the bridge allows both car and train travel across the 7.5 miles from Copenhagen Airport to Malmö. But what I really loved and was excited about was that for the first 2.5 miles after leaving Copenhagen Airport, you travel underground through a tunnel. Once you pop up and into the daylight, you are on the manmade island of Lernacken in Sweden in the middle of the strait, with the final 5 miles spent travelling high up on the bridge itself, before returning to dry land in Malmö.

By the the time we arrived it was mid afternoon so we dropped our bags off at the hotel, and as it was warm and sunny we grabbed a local beer, people watched and took in our surroundings, happy to be back in Scandinavia.

We didn’t really have an agenda for our trip, if I had been travelling solo or with mum, we would have had a long list of everything we fancied seeing, all the local historic sites, traditional restaurants etc. But this was a semi-relaxing city break, with my friend who was coming out the other side from a painful divorce, having to renew her passport just to come along. So our plan was to chill, soak up the local culture, geek out on Scandi-Noir television and catch a few historic sights along the way.

We spent the remainder of our afternoon exploring Gamla Staden the ‘old town’ and wandering though the 3 main squares and along the canal. It was June, the weather was beautiful and everybody seemed keen to enjoy the outdoors and the warm temperature.

Along our travels we passed a proud statue of famed Swedish business man and founder of Malmö, Frans Suell. We spotted the The Knotted Gun a poignant non-violence statue which was erected after the murder of John Lennon and intrigued by the twisted skyscraper dominating the skyline, found ourselves curiously wandering around the base of the Turning Torso. All the while exploring local market stalls, gift shops and stopping for the obligatory coffee and cake along the way.

That evening, we found a lovely local restaurant with stodgy food and decent beer and got stuck in, finishing the night off with a walk through Lilla Torg, the historic small square for a nightcap.

The next day we started slowly by going for a swim and then sauna, although the home of sauna is of course its neighbour Finland, Sweden does still have a real appreciation for the practice. I had many happy memories of my previous trips to Sweden when we stayed in log cabins complete with saunas, it became a daily ritual, one that I still miss to this day.

Once cooled off and fully clothed again, we headed out and ended up window shopping in a large mall, the food court was pretty impressive and so we stopped for coffee and pastries, as hunger started to hit after our earlier swim.

By early afternoon the sun was out and it was glorious, we were to leave later that day, but still had time to take a walk along the waterfront and through some of the parks, including the Kungsparken and Slottstradgarden. All around the area was full of dog walkers, cyclists, families picnicking and children running around, it had a real friendly, welcoming feel. We passed beautiful fountains, a windmill, and saw Malmö Castle, which we didn’t have time to explore, but I know Sweden is a place I have to see more of, so I made a mental note to return in the future.

Taking one last look across the Strait, the Øresund Bridge glistening in the sunshine, I could see the cars and the train making their journeys between the two countries, that I had seen so many times on TV. Then it was our turn, we took a quick detour to collect our bags, then returned to Malmö Station ourselves, to board the train and cross the bridge back over to Denmark.

TOP TIP – If I’d had a bit more time I definitely would had visited Malmö Castle which is now a cultural heritage museum. I also would have popped into Absmaland for some sustainable home furnishings (I will have to bring a bigger bag next time) finishing off with a vegan lunch in the cafe.

EATS – We ate at Bullen which had a great specials board, including meatballs with lingonberries and an impressive beer list. Next time though, I’m heading to The Veganbar for a burger!

COFFEE AND CAKE – We enjoyed coffee and cake in the food hall at Triangeln shopping mall, although Café Holmgången is on my list if I return, its vegan and dog friendly, always a double win in my book.


ALWAYS BE POLITE – ‘Tack’- Thank You, Hallå – Hello.

The mountainous microstate of San Marino 🇸🇲

In February 2019, mum came along with me to tick off another microstate of Europe, this time the 5th smallest country in the world, and landlocked by Italy, the beautiful San Marino. Like the other European microstates, of which I have now visited all of them, it has no airport, it also doesn’t have a train station, so other than driving there yourself, your best option is to get the bus from the nearest I`talian city, which is Rimini.

After catching the train down from Bologna, it was a short walk outside Rimini train station to the easily marked bus stop on the opposite side of the street. You can buy a ticket on board the Bonelli Bus or at the kiosk by the bus stop, taking about 40-45 minutes till the bus reaches its final stop, which is right in the centre of this tiny country.

The first thing that struck me as we alighted from the bus was the most incredible mountainous views. The capital, also known as San Marino or locally known as Città, sits atop the ridge of Monte Titano and is the highest part of the country, so the views from up high were breathtaking. It’s part of the Apennines mountain range, which spreads across the horizon to the West, whilst on the Eastern side the land slowly descends towards the Adriatic Sea. I think for the first half an hour or so, once we had checked into our hotel, we just stood mesmerised by the dramatic landscape.

The perfect spot we found to admire our surroundings was over in Freedom Square, or the Piazza della Liberta, from here there are spectacular views west across to the mountains and the valley down below. It was also here where we stopped for a beer and some snacks in Osteria La Taverna one of the restaurants lining the square, tourist friendly and not the cheapest, but it was worth it for the views and to soak up the atmosphere of this curious little country, no regrets.

The square is guarded by the white marble Statua Della Liberta, draped in a flag and wearing a crown featuring the 3 towers that stand proud on the surrounding 3 peaks of Monte Titano. It is such an important symbol of the history of the country, that she is featured on their 2 cent coin.

Behind the statue of liberty is the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall where all the official state ceremonies take place, as you would expect it’s smaller than your average for a ‘capital city’, but its still worth a visit. The exterior looks like a mini tower, with battlements, a clock face and the national flag, whilst inside you can explore various state rooms filled with coats of arms, busts of important figures, and a beautifully painted facade featuring Saint Marino, the Croatian stonemason who founded the country after making this mountain his home in 301AD.

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It was then time to explore down the narrow streets, climb up the city walls, peer over at some breathtaking panoramic spots and window shop in the unnerving amount of weapon stores, featuring guns, bows & arrows and samurai swords, the country has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the whole of Europe we later found out.

The entire city centre and Mount Titano is a UNESCO world heritage site for many reasons, all apparent as you wander around this unique place, including all the fortifications, stone walls, gates and towers. We were constantly getting distracted and diverted off the main alleyways and streets as we paused to investigate what was up a wall, inside a tower and behind a gate, leading to lots of fascinating discoveries and ever changing vistas.

With our feet starting to get a bit weary, we had one last port of call before heading for a rest, the tourist information centre. We already had a local map from our hotel, but this was for something even more important, a passport stamp! It’s the only place where you can get one, there are no border checks, or passport offices as you enter and exit the country and although the stamp itself is just a tourist stamp and nothing more, the San Marino authorities consider it to be official, I think it cost about €5 and I couldn’t think of a better souvenir to take home.

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That evening, there was only one thing we fancied eating, and that was pizza`! We found Ristorante Cacciatori and dived into the pizza menu as well as sampling a local red wine too.

The next morning, revived with a delicious espresso, it was another cloudless blue sky that awaited us, rewarding us with more endless mountain views.

Our main aim for the day was to walk to the 3 peaks of Mount Titano and visit all 3 of the towers that are located atop them. But first, we stumbled upon St Quirinus’s Church along with the Capuchin Fathers Convent (Convento dei Frati Cappuccini), and although it has been modified over the years, there has been a Roman Catholic church on this spot since 1549. It’s worth a visit, although it has a simple interior, the walnut altarpiece is beautiful, along with the statue of Madonna of Lourdes, casting an ethereal look as she is surrounded by candles and blue light.

As we slowly meandered our way to Tower number 3, (we were working backwards to Tower 1) , we came across a rather harrowing statue of a screaming boy. On further inspection we learned it was erected in memory of those who died in the Beslam school massacre in Russia back in 2004, I’m not sure if there is a specific connection to San Marino, but it definitely brought a little sober reflection to our morning walk.

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Montale is the third of the towers and stands on the smallest of the 3 peaks. It’s a 14th century tall, thin tower with its door 7 metres up from the ground as it used to be a prison. It’s the only tower that isn’t opened to the public, so we didn’t hang around too much, except to admire the view and then we continued to make our way along the foot path to tower number 2.

Tower 2 or Cesta is located on the tallest of the 3 peaks, this 13th century tower was built on the site of an old Roman fort and also houses the Saint Marinus museum, this tower you can investigate both inside and out and is well worth it.

Tower 1, the Guaita fortress is the most well known and oldest of the 3, built in the 11th century, you can also visit this one inside too, look out for the coat of arms in stone, the bell tower and a display of artillery from the 2nd world war.

Once we made it back down to lower ground, we ventured into the Basilica di San Marino, the main church of the country, dedicated of course to its founder Saint Marinus. The neo-classic style building with adjoining bell tower, has an impressive entrance of wide steps and eight columns across the front, whilst inside another 16 columns frame the interior along with a statue of Mary Magdalene.

Needing refreshment, we got a Piadina to take out and sat in the beautiful Giardino dei Liburni close to the national gallery, easily recognised by its unique sphere shaped fountain. Once we were replenished we spent a nice half hour exploring some of the many pieces of Italian art inside the gallery both classic and modern.

For the rest of the afternoon, we headed out of the ‘big city’ and to the country’s 2nd largest town, Borgo Maggiore. We were curious to explore another part of San Marino, that maybe the tour buses don’t get too, but also because the quickest and easiest way to get there is to take a cable car down the mountain, which is always a fun idea!

The upper station is situated close to the Basilica San Marino and the service runs every 15 minutes, costs vary, but start at €2.00 for a single journey with a Tutto San Marino Card. We had the card and bought a return for €3.50. The views from the car as you would expect down the mountain were outstanding.

Once at the bottom, we wandered around the streets, to catch a glimpse of the every day happenings of the local Sammarinese, of which they make up 4/5ths of the population, with the remainder being mainly and unsurprisingly Italian. How amazing I thought to be part of such a small population of only 33,000 living aside a mountain, surrounded on all sides by Italy, but still retain your own culture and identity. We just had time for a peek inside the Church of Saints Antimo and Marinus close to the lower cable car station, before heading back up the mountain before sunset.

For our final night in the country, we had a lovely meal with incredible views at Ristorante Spingarda followed by a local beer and a final evening walk round the streets and through the city gates, soaking up the views for one last time.

The next morning, we caught an early bus back down the mountain to the Italian coastal city of Rimini for the next part of our adventure . .

Eats – Not surprisingly San Marino cuisine is very similiar to Italian. We ate some delicious pasta and pizza at Osteria La Taverna, Ristorante Cacciatori and Ristorante Spingarda.

Drinks – Despite its small size, San Marino does produce its own beer, wine and spirits, all of which are served in the local restaurants. We sampled the beers Spingarda beera bionda and birrificio abusiv as well as the red wine, Rosso dei Castelli Sammarinesi. Delicious coffee too was to be found everywhere, we had one close to the Giardino dei Liburni at the Galleria Caffe.

Top Tip – We got our free TuttoSanMarino Card from our hotel, giving us lots of discounts around the city, including the reduced cable car fare.

Always be polite – Buongiorno – Good Morning, (Mille) grazie – Thank You Very Much, Arrivederci  – Good Bye

 

 

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.

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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 –

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.

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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.

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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’