Just navigated our way past tiny shops specialising in handles and hinges, or tablecloths or wheels to find this internet cafe (except being in Portugal, it is an Internet bar!) We are in Porto on the river Douro and it has been a morning of misty rain. As a result we have visited the Se or Cathedral which was surprsingly pleasing inside with simple lines and vaulting arches. Outside it stands heavy on the cliff above the river joined to an old part of the medieval city walls. Then we wandered by bus along the river´s edge,until it dried. YThanks to Hilary´s suggestion we packed a couple of ponchos which finally had an airing. I have to say D looked pretty alarming with his backpack/hunch covered in waves of blue plastic. No doubt I was my usual suave self in a fetching clear number.
Menus here have lots of rather good fish but a shortage of salads. We stocked up on some cheeses in Granda and I enjoyed the EC support of its farmers- prices were noticeably lower. Where we can buy fruit etc in mercados our meals are much cheaper but vegetables are harder to manage. Pastellerias are in good supply with yummy pastries and recently some violently yellow tinged croissants. We made a special effort in Lisbon to test a speciality - pasteis do Belem- a Portugese version of a vanilla slice.
I hope you notice the casual multilingual touch! Actually we were just starting to pick up some useful words in Spanish when we moved on to Portugal, which is quite different. Portugese is spoken here by 10 million and by 130 million in Brazil, plus in 5 African nations. However, it sounds like Russian!! And the pronunciation guides give me a headache. I can do "Bom dias" and "Obrigado" but dribble to a halt quickly after that. This can pose a challenge when booking rooms on the phone. Fortunately, there are huge numbers of people here with English who help.
We are staying in a pension in the Ribeira area of Porto, down near the river. The street looked a bit dodgy when we arrived but it is clean and quite roomy with friendly staff. Only one speaks English but the other two ladies are sure that a rapid continuous flow of Portugese will ensure our understanding. Mostly it works. On the street, a set of steep steps lead down to the river - or we discovered the funicular. What a terrifying experience!!! It has been a day of extremes. First I plummetted down this steep slope in a tiny vehicle, then D urged me to climb 225 steps up a tower where being just a teensy bit thinner could have seen me slip through the ridiuclously wide gaps in the balustrade. The guard at the bottom was just amused by the idea of tourists in the tower when the multibell peals were bellowing in their ears!
We head off tomorrow back into Spain via long distance bus for a brief stop at Burgos, then to San Sebastian.
It is frustrating not to have more time here and in northern Spain. Granada and Cordoba gave us some memorable images and experiences. They were both cities where the "special" places more than met our expectations. We stayed in Granada in a small white walled house in the old Albaicin area, the Moorish part of the town, and could see the Alhambra from the roof terrace. In Cordoba, we were beside the wall of the Mezquita. This has the advantage of acting as a highly useful landmark when wandering in twisting laneways of old cities, which was of course why I selected them!
We have been musing over the ubiquitous pigeon and its droppings. Two pigeons are enough, but that is not how it works. There is often a generous supply of dog droppings as well. And of course, there are challenges to the sewerage system of places with so many people and such old pipes.
I have been hugely entertained by how workers manage to get materials up to and out of high apartments in tiny streets. Some very enterprisng solutions, like the sets of bottomless buckets which make a tube for rubbish. The best show was watching over a couple of days as guys dismantled scaffolding around a magnificent building in Lisbon after it had been renovated. They tossed steel cheerfully down the levels to each other and then flung them with brio into a truck below. It was like a dance.
We decdied to head for teh countrysied earlier in the week and visited the small town of Tomar, which had a fortress adn monsatery form the time of teh Templars. It was a good choice a s we travelled through farming country to a busy but pleasnat town. The local students were building up to graduation and intiation ceremonies of the next intake. Dramatic street procession with the graduates dressed in black with great black capes, stitched with badges. The weather was kind and we enjoyed an evening dining outside as the sky slowly coloured, with conversation with some Slovakian architects working in Dublin and a Danish student working for his masters in water studies in Lisbon.
Yesterday we enjoyed a surprise meeting with Geoff, from Narroign book club, and Claire, who are staying in the same pension! Going in different directions tomorrow.
Might not manage another posting until Nice. Loooking forward to staying still for a while but not keenly to returing to work...