Car 54 (Where are you?)

Some of you may have been wondering where we’ve got to since the last entry a few weeks ago. Well, the answer is Portugal. After spending four or five days in Porto to the north, we jumped on the train to Lisbon where we spent another week checking out the local scene, from trams to custard tarts.

Porto is situated near the mouth of the Douro River which flows down the Douro Valley, the heart and soul of port wine, and consequently there are hundreds of places to buy the famous (and surprisingly variable) product. More to my liking were some rather nice peaches and early figs but if you’re into wine then this is a good place to visit for that as well ;-) Oh yes, it was really nice to get back to somewhere that has some decent cheese too!

So our first morning was a fog enshrouded wander through the old town to the famous Luis I arched metal bridge that is one of many that span the Douro in Porto. Our previous (very brief) experience in Portugal several years ago was also in similar conditions, possibly due to the moist Atlantic air and quite different to the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsular in that regard. It didn’t repeat itself though and for summer the weather was deliciously cool but pleasant.

Lisbon was bigger, louder and warmer than its northern cousin, and we found a week there got a bit tedious in the end but the same can be said for many large cities in our experience. A day trip to the town of Sintra ended up being much cooler in temperature and, yes you guessed it, blanketed by fog while Lisbon was completely clear. The architecture there had some interesting variations but it mostly seemed superficial and showy for the sake of itself - a lot like the original inhabitants and there intentions, which were the royal and the wealthy. We arrived quite early, well ahead of the bulk of the tourists, and ended up walking up to the castle by way of a forest path that we randomly stumbled upon which was very atmospheric in the mist. By the time we were leaving the crowds were only just arriving.

After checking out some of the local view points and various sights we left the big smoke in our newly hired car and headed for more regional parts, starting with Tomar, home to the Convent of Christ. The Convent and its associated castle sit high above the rest of the town that was all originally designed by the Knights Templar and is quite extensive. The convent seemed a bit empty and unused (which it is, even with all the tourists inside which ironically I didn’t want in the photos so waited for no one to be there) and we kept trying to imagine what it would have been like when it was at its height of use, but it was interesting enough to spend several hours exploring the many cloisters, halls, passages and other rooms of varying purposes. I much prefer the more austere places like this to the gold encrusted churches and cathedrals that are more usual in Catholic countries and we left satisfied with our visit.

The only other places of interest up to this point have been a quick trip to Viseu with its ubiquitous church and cathedral, and the villages of Pindão and Foz d’Egua in central Portugal, both constructed using the locally abundant schist, the latter also having a picturesque double bridge made from the same stone. Much of the landscape around here is still showing the aftermath of the devastating fires experienced only last year but it seems quite patchy in the areas it affected.

We are now almost back up as far north as Porto again, where we fly out from in another week so the final commentary, if any, from the northern area will be included with the next short stopover destination. Ciao for now.

Using Format