Tag Archives: Portugal

Eat Portugal – Part 2

Back in January, I ate my way through many of the Portuguese treats on offer in Porto whilst visiting my friends for a week.   Well, 6 months later I was back.  And having just stretched my stomach enormously by trying as much of the typical food in the Azores as possible, there was more to try on the mainland as well!

More Porto food

I arrived in Porto to be greeted with a box of my absolute favourite Portuguese treats – Jesuitas from the Confeitaria e Pastelaria Moura.

Then, a few hours later, it was off to the seaside for a delicious feed of grilled Sardines – very Portuguese – and one of my absolute favourite dishes!

Sardines - Porto - Portugal

First of all though, as a starter, I tried Mílharas – a large plate of fish eggs.  These were delicious but there was a heck of a lot of them!  I think you are meant to share…

Mílharas - Porto - Portugal

Fish eggs

I also horrified my friends and the waitress by ordering hot milk with the meal (something I re-discovered last year in La Palma, El Salvador).  Well, I felt like something warm and didn’t feel like tea or coffee, and when you don’t drink alcohol – there is a rather limited selection!

Other bits and pieces I managed to try while I was in Porto this time:

Limonetes

Need I say, more sugar and eggs brought together in another great Portuguese pastry. Apparently some prefer the Limonetes to the Jesuitas, but the Jesuitas still win for me.

Limonete - Portuguese Treat - Portugal

The Limonete was good – but the Jesuita is still the best!

Farturas

These are very much like the spanish Churros but, in my opinion, even better because they are fluffier!   Fried dough + sugar + cinnamon – you can’t go wrong with this combo!

Farturas - Portuguese Treat - Portugal

The Fartura is the fatter one poking out on the right. Compare with the Churro that you can just see on the left – the vendor gave it to me as a bonus.

Natas from Manteigaria

Yes, I ate a lot of Natas last time I was in Portugal (my second-favourite pastry after Jesuitas), but the ones from Manteigaria are special.  Apparently the pastry is made with even more butter!

Natas from Manteigaria - Portuguese treat

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro

Translated, this is “roasted cod with punched potatoes”, and it is made with lots of garlic and olive oil.  Pedro’s mum made this very traditional and amazing dish for me, and followed it up with a beautiful dessert of a queijada and fresh fruit.  Million thanks for the lunch – it was wonderful to meet you guys!

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro - Portugal

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro for main. Queijada and fresh fruit for dessert!

Sandes de Pernil

Basically a pork sandwich made with sandes de lombo assado (the bread) and pork thigh.  We (well, Raúl did – Pedro and I went and grabbed a table) lined up at Casa Guedes – a very traditional tasca (tavern) for 1/2 hour to order this very tasty quick bite.

Icecream from Gelataria Portuense

If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that I’m a mad icecream fan.  In January, we were supposed to visit the Gelataria Portuense for what was touted as the best icecream in Porto – but it was closed for renovations.  Needless to say, we rectified that situation this trip, and I can definitely say it is some of the best icecream I’ve ever had!  Very smooth, and you can’t go wrong no matter which flavour you choose!

Amazing Icecream at Gelataria Portuense - Porto - Portugal

Regueifa com manteiga and Galão

For my final breakfast in Porto this trip, Pedro, Raúl and I headed downstairs to partake in this very traditional Sunday-morning special.  Yes – it is bread and butter, with coffee served in a glass rather than a cup 🙂

Regueifa com manteiga and Galão

Thanks guys for yet another awesome time in Porto!  Let’s see what you can find to feed me next trip 😉

Great friends at breakfast in Porto - Portugal

Me, Pedro and Raúl having Regueifa com manteiga and Galão for breakfast

Food from the Algarve

After leaving Porto, I headed down on the train to the other end of Portugal.  This was my first trip to the Algarve region – Portugal’s “summer playground” – where my friend, José, and his family were spending 3 weeks on vacation.  

Jose's family and me

I was only there for 3 days, and we mostly ate at home (still loving the grilled sardines!), but there was definitely time to try a few things 🙂

Sopa do Mar

We went out to a very specific restaurant, Restaurante Ideal in Cabanas, to have their famous Sopa do Mar.  This is a slightly spicy and very tasty seafood soup served in a bread bowl.  In an effort to eat enough but not too much (already a bit of a lost cause by this time) I scraped the insides of the bowl to add bread to the soup and only dunked the top in.  Delicious!

Sopa do Mar - Algarve - Portugal

Doce de Vinagre

Though of course, you can’t just have a main course, and after the soup I couldn’t resist trying the Doce de Vinagre – “Vinegar Sweet”.   After all, it sounded intriguing … how do those things go together at all?   Turns out it doesn’t taste like vinegar at all, as one might suspect.  Instead – it is yet another take on a milk + egg yolk + sugar confection, where the vinegar is just used to curdle the milk into clumps. 

Doce de Vinagre - Algarve - Portugal

Tigelada

More milk+sugar+egg yolks.  More deliciousness!

Tigelada - Algarve - Portugal

Dom Rodrigos

Finally, I bought one of the most traditional pastries from the Algarve region to take with me on the flight to Madrid.  Dom Rodrigos come wrapped in brightly coloured metallic paper and are a concoction of egg yolks+sugar (no surprises there) but also almonds, which are very typical of the region.

Dom Rodrigos - Algarve - Portugal

And so ends my latest foray into Portuguese food!  Like last time, I reckon I put on at least 1kg during my couple of weeks there, but everything is so tasty and my friends are total enablers 😉  

Thanks guys!  I’ll be back!

 

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Salinas de Castro Marim – Algarve – Portugal

This trip to Portugal, I spent 3 days hanging out with José and his family in Vila Real de Santo António, right on the border with Spain in the Algarve region.  During these days, we managed to fit in some beach time:

Beach - Algarve - Portugal

Some eating (of course):

Algarve dining experiences - Portugal

A trip to the lighthouse (all Portuguese lighthouses are open to the public each Wednesday during Summer):

Vila Real de Santo António lighthouse - Algarve - Portugal

The lighthouse, and the views from the top – Vila Real and the forest that separates the town from the sea.

and a trip to the Salinas de Castro Marim – a salt mine and very different kind of day spa just outside of town.  

This was a great morning excursion that started out with a guided tour of the traditional salt mining operation.   As we toured the Travadouros (water reservoirs used for initial settling and evaporation) and Talhos (crystalliser ponds for depositing and harvesting the salt), we learned an enormous amount about the production of salt.  

In particular:

In this traditional method of mining salt, everything is done by hand.  This means that the collected salt is already pure and there is no need for the bleaching or other chemical processes (which destroy much of the mineral content of the salt) that are utilised in commercial salt production.  The size of the Talhos is such that the marnoto (salt worker) is able to easily harvest the salt from the surrounding barachas (dividing walls) without contaminating the water.

Marnoto harvesting salt - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

There are two different types of salt: normal crystalline salt and Flor de Sal – laminar salt crystals which form on the surface of the water.   Flor de Sal is much rarer as it only produced through traditional mining methods (and even then constitutes only 5% of the mine’s salt production), and is therefore much more expensive.

Salt production - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Crystalline salt around the edges, Flor de Sal floating on top of the water

Flor de Sal is harvested every day before it settles to the bottom of the Talho with a mesh coador.  The unbroken crystals are placed in the plastic crates that are scattered around the works to dry.

Flor de sal - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

This mine has a production of around 600 tons of sea salt and 30 tons of Flor de Sal each year.

Salt production - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Salt has been mined in the Algarve region for centuries and has seen the Greeks, Celts and Romans come and go.  During the last century, salt mining in the area was strongly tied to the fish conserving and canning industry, so when that all but came to a stop in the late 1970s, so too did salt production.   Most of the salt mines were abandoned in the 1980s, but one of the Rosa family couldn’t bear to see the family heritage destroyed, and continued to flood this land to keep it “activated”.  Pretty cool huh?!

The guide was actually very talkative and gave us an enormous amount of information that goes way beyond the above.  But I leave it to you to visit and find out the rest for yourself 😉

After the tour, it was time to check out the newest addition to the mining operation … a spa experience!  We nabbed a place under the shade of the very cool bar/cafe area that has been set up to serve drinks and light snacks, and headed into the two pools that have been set aside for bathing.

Salt spa - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Like floating in the Dead Sea. Note that most people have slathered themselves in the mineral-rich mud that can be found in the bottom of the pools

The salt concentration in these two pools is around 250 grams/litre (sea salt is ~35 grams/litre), which makes it a very similar experience to floating in the Dead Sea.  It was great fun to revisit that experience from more than 10 years ago, as it does feel very strange to not be able to sink!  

The bottom of both pools are full of mineral-enriched mud, which you are more than welcome to slather on and let dry like a mud-mask as part of the spa experience.  People pay massive amounts of money to do this in normal spas – here you can indulge as much as you want!  They also offer massages, meditation and yoga if you are so inclined and book in advance.

All in all – a very cool experience, and not one that you would expect in the beach-focused Algarve region.

 

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Did I get a tattoo in Portugal?

Never in my life had I ever considered getting a tattoo.  I didn’t like the look of them, and I couldn’t conceive of why you would want something permanently engraved on your skin.  I certainly couldn’t come up with something that I would want permanently etched into me anyway.

That is, until I arrived in the Azores with Pedro and we were talking about the new tattoo he was going to get.  I actually really liked the one he got in Nicaragua last year of Pepe – the macaw he rescued whilst he was there – and loved that it had so much significance for him.   This new tattoo was also incredibly meaningful for him – an image of Leo, the ocelot he also cared for whilst at La Mariposa Spanish School in Nicaragua. 

Now, anyone who has ever met me and talked to me for a while knows how much La Silla Observatory (where I used to work in Chile) means to me.   Certainly Pedro has heard me talk about it ad nauseum, and when I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a “Wanderer Bracelet” with the coordinates of La Silla, he came out with the following poetry:

“You already have La Silla tattooed in your heart and mind, why not have it tattooed on your skin?”

And in that moment, the seed of the idea was planted.

We talked about it often over the next few days, I looked up different options for the design and placement on the body, and, I have to admit, the idea really grew on me.  To the point where I submitted what I wanted to Manel – the tattoo artist – to prepare.

Fast-forward to the next week in Porto, and I went with Pedro to get his tattoo done and discuss the possibility of mine.  Having never had any interest in tattoos, it was really interesting to watch the the whole process.

First of all, the final design (which has been decided between the artist and client) is transferred to a stencil.

tracing the design for transfer to the skin

Next, the area is shaved and the image transferred to the skin.

transferring the tattoo design

Then the needles are prepared.  They come sealed in individual packages, and different sizes are used depending on what is required for the image.  Manel was extremely conscious about hygiene throughout the whole process – I lost count the number of times he changed rubber gloves!

preparing the needles for the tattoo

Then there is the actual tattooing.  

tattooing

Manel used one of the newer guns that didn’t make anywhere near as much noise as the traditional ones (he demonstrated a traditional one for me and I think that would have put me off right there) – and Leo came into being, with only the occasional grimace/face-pulling by Pedro.

tattooing and the final image

So, did I get a tattoo?

my tattoo - the coordinates of La Silla Observatory

After this photo was taken, Manel slathered on some cream and wrapped my forearm in glad-wrap, which had to stay on for a couple of hours.  Here’s Raúl and I out on the town afterwards with me still wrapped up (love this photo!  Thanks Pedro 🙂 ). 

Out and about in Porto with Raúl - arm still wrapped up from tattoo

And did it hurt?  

Nowhere near as much as I expected! In fact there were only a couple of moments where it “bit” a little (that’s what it felt like), though admittedly it was only a very small tattoo.

And do I regret it?

Not at all!  🙂  Sorry mum and dad!

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Eat the Azores!

For the second time this year I found myself visiting my friends in Portugal and eating waaaaaaaay too much food!  This trip I added a few more Porto dishes some others from the Algarve, but this post focuses on the food of the Azores, where I spent 5 days exploring the largest island – São Miguel.

For those unfamiliar with Portuguese autonomous territories, the Azores are a series of 9 volcanic islands located between Europe and North America.  Given that they are separated from Portugal by over 1,000km, they have their own unique dishes, and my friends Pedro and Conceição were determined to have me try as much typical Azorian food as possible during my short stay! 

It all started with a drink that can only be found on the islands – Kima.  A masterpiece of slightly fizzy, sweet passionfruit juice (those who know me well know that I love anything with passionfruit) that the wasps loved as much as I did!   Much better than Passiona!

Kima - Azores - Portugal

Then some Bolos Lêvedo when we got home from the hot springs at 11pm on the first night (and every breakfast thereafter)! 

Bolo Lêvedo in Conceição's kitchen

Photo: Pedro Torres

These are like English Muffins, but sweet, and absolutely awesome with butter.  Very, very addictive!

The next morning started with a Queijada de Vila Franca Do Campo, yet another concoction of egg yolks, sugar and milk dreamed up by the nuns in the 16th century, for morning tea.   This queijada is traditional to the island of São Miguel and there is a similar one – Queijada da Graciosa – which, no surprises, comes from a different island in the archipelago: Graciosa.   It was yummy (of course), but not as tasty as some of the other treats I’ve tried in Portugal (the Jesuita is still my favourite).

Queijada de Vila Franca Do Campo - Azores - Portugal

Had to hang out until 2pm for lunch, when we had a booking at Tony’s Restaurant in Furnas for me to try one of the absolutely essential foods of São Miguel – the Cozido das Furnas.  This is basically a dry stew that has been cooked for several hours in a volcanic fumerole near the town.  You must pre-order it, as the restaurants need to know how many of the large metal pots of layered chicken, beef, pork, blood sausage, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and yams they need to prepare, and then get them out to the Caldeiras da Lagoa da Furnas early in the day for cooking.

Cooking the Cozido de Furnas - Azores - Portugal

Each hole can fit two of the pots and is labeled with either the name of the restaurant, or a number (locals can also bring their Cozidos here to cook) so there is no confusion as to who owns which dish!  We were fortunate enough to see one local couple bring their food to cook, and the process of burying it.

Cooking the Cozido de Furnas - Azores - Portugal

Back at Tony’s, we started (after 48 minutes of waiting!) with the usual fresh cheese, bread and Molho de Pimenta da Terra  – Azorian spicy sauce.

Fresh cheese, bread and spicy sauce from the Azores - Portugal

And then a few minutes later, out came the Cozido.  It was absolutely enormous (this was a plate for 1 person) and piled high with meat, veggies and rice.

Cozido de Furnas - Azores - Portugal

This was a plate for 1 person!

I didn’t touch the rice, ate about 1/3 of the veggies and couldn’t quite make it through all the melt-in-your-mouth, falling-apart meat.  And even with that, I’d eaten about 4 times as much as I should have.   Oh my stretched stomach!!  

There is a very distinct flavour to the Cozido that you would be hard-pressed to identify if you didn’t know how it was cooked.  Definitely a tinge of sulfur present there…  I wonder why they don’t do this in Rotorua, New Zealand?

And although I was over-full from the Cozido, there always has to be room for dessert.  We ordered the passionfruit and the red bean dessert, but they bought us a bonus pineapple dessert for taking so long to get our cheese and bread to us at the beginning of the meal.  All incredibly delicious, but oh my over-stretched stomach!!

So much desert - Azores - Portugal

Fortunately, that was all the eating involved on Day 2, though I never really recovered for the rest of my time in Portugal 🙂  It didn’t stop me from trying things though – after all – how often does one make it to the Azores?

The next of the typical Azorian dishes I had to try was the Chicharro – fried Atlantic Horse Mackerel with Molho de Vilão (another special sauce).  I have to admit, of all the things I tried in the Azores, this was my absolute favourite!  You really can’t go wrong with fried fish and this was super-super tasty, especially when dipped in the sauce.  Didn’t go much on the pickled onions though…

Chicharro - fried mackerel - Azores - Portugal

Favourite dish – Chicharros at the Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente

Then, when we got home on Day 3, Conceição had bought some Chorizo paste for us to have as part of a light dinner.   This is a brilliant concept and one I hadn’t come across before.  Basically, you take a chorizo, remove the meat from the casing, and puree it with butter.  Voilà!  Chorizo paste.  We had it with a few different types of bread (the darker one is Massa Sovada – a sweet bread from the Azores), fresh cheese and the spicy Azorian sauce.

Fresh cheese, chorizo paste and bread - Azores - Portugal

Day 4 saw us in Ponta Delgada (the administrative capital of the Azores) for lunch, where I could try 2 of the remaining “key” Azorian dishes.   I started with a 1/2 serving of Lapas – limpets cooked in a garlic, butter and red pepper sauce.  These were a little like mussels, but much milder in flavour.

Lapas - Limpets - Azores - Portugal

I followed this up with the Morcela con Ananas – blood sausage with pineapple.  I’ve eaten blood sausage many times before and really like it – and the pineapple (lots of pineapple grown in the Azores) helps to cut through the richness nicely.

Morcela con Ananas - Blood sausage with pineapple - Azores - Portugal

The Azores are also known for their dairy products (they have very happy cows) so, of course, I had to try a local icecream or frozen yoghurt.   I went with the frozen yoghurt when we stopped at a cafe for a coffee.  Turns out chocolate goes much better with icecream than yoghurt!

Frozen Yoghurt with everything chocolate from the Azores - Portugal

Finally, I did manage to find a treat to rival my beloved Jesuitas!   The orange queijada at Chá Gorreana is a small parcel of moist, orangey deliciousness that is one of the best “cakes” I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Forget the tea!  This is the reason enough to visit the tea plantation 🙂

Queijadas and tea - Azores - Portugal

The one key dish I missed from São Miguel was the steak – purported to the the best in the world (though I’m sure many other countries would argue this point).  I just didn’t have enough time or stomach space to fit it in … so maybe there is another trip to the Azores in the future!

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São Miguel Island – Part 2 – Azores – Portugal

Continuing on from my first 3 days of exploring São Miguel Island…

On Day 4 it was time to explore one of the two tea plantations on the island.  We were going to visit the Porto Formoso tea factory for a change of scenery for Pedro (he’d visited the other one previously), but it was closed on Sundays.   So we went to the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana (the oldest tea plantation in Europe) instead.

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

They started growing tea in the Azores after the orange orchards were decimated by a disease in the late 1800’s.  The tea industry was of great commercial importance in the Azores up until WWI, when many of the tea factories closed.  Then, with the emergence of African teas, all the remaining factories – with the exception of the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana – folded.

We started out by walking through the display of machinery they have (unfortunately not a lot of explanation)

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

and discovered the difference between the 3 types of black tea they produce here.  Turns out that Orange Pekoe has the strongest flavour and is made with only the first leaf of the plant, Pekoe is made with the second leaf, and Broken Leaf (mildest flavour) is made with the third leaf.

Buying tea at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

I bought the green tea and the Orange Pekoe. Photo: Pedro Torres

There is free tea tasting at the factory (you can also try the green tea they produce) and they made the best queijada I ate during my whole visit.  If you are there – do try the orange queijada – it is incredible!

After our little snack (and trying to avoid buying more of the orange queijadas “to go”), we went for a stroll through the tea plantation itself.  You really could be in Asia right?  Would have been great to have a tour actually – to learn more about the how the leaves are processed into tea.

Tea plantation at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

From there we continued our drive around the Eastern side of the island, which had some beautiful towns with very typical architecture – black volcanic rock used as decoration on whitewashed buildings,

Typical architecture - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

amazing views

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego viewpoint - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

More hydrangeas! They are everywhere on São Miguel

and delicious food!

Chicharros - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

My favourite dish of the whole trip – Chicharros at Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente. Photo: Pedro Torres

We ended the day again at another swimming spot – this time the Ponta da Ferraria.  The fascinating thing about this spot is that the water is actually geothermally heated!  On hearing this, I have to admit I was expecting temperatures akin to those found in the hot springs, so you can imagine my shock when it turned out to be only slightly warmer than the temperature of the ocean normally.  OK, admittedly it was high tide so the warm water was being overwhelmed by the cold ocean water (they tell me that at low tide it is so hot that sometimes you can’t enter at all).  And I did manage to find some “mostly warm spots” to hang out in.  Interesting experience!

Ponta da Ferraria - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 5 we headed out again into the classic vistas of São Miguel – happy cows, hydrangeas delineating fields and lining the side of the road, and verdant green hills. 

Typical vistas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We got a more moody vista this time of Lagoa do Fogo on our way to the Caldeira Velha hot springs.

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Lagoa do Fogo in the fog

We didn’t actually go in for a dip at the hot springs here, but just checked out the nature surrounding them.   Essentially – Australian Tree Ferns, Australian Blackwood and Australian Cheesewood trees!  I felt right at home 🙂

Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And I have to put this photo in because I love it so much.  Me trying to take a decent selfie of myself (I still don’t have the knack!)

Selfie time at Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Our plan was to do the 7.5km Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hike, but we ended up not finding the start point and just ending up at Salto do Cabrito itself.   Oh well.

We walked down an enormously steep hill to arrive at the river below the falls and followed the sign to a mineral water spring.  It was a beautiful spot.

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We refilled our bottles from what I assumed was a still-water spring, so imagine my surprise when I took the first sip and realised that it was sparkling water!   Yes – fizzy water straight out of the ground!  How does that even happen naturally?   And it was different to the normal carbonated water that you buy, somehow it was “softer” – kind of like the sensation you get with sherbet on your tongue.  It was strange but awesome!

Mineral Water Spring at Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We checked out the “Little Goat Waterfall”, which was in itself quite pretty, but unfortunately located right beside a rather noisy hydroelectric plant … “Ah the serenity”!

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And then hiked to the top of the waterfall up a lot of stairs and along a metal walkway which would definitely not meet OH&S requirements in Australia.  Note in the picture below that there is no handrail on the right hand side of the walkway.  While this is fine in this part where it is pretty much flush against a rock wall, there were other (quite elevated) parts where it was just a sheer drop into the abyss!

Walkway above the falls Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We finished the day at my favourite of all the beaches we visited – Praia do Moinhos (it is also Pedro’s favourite).  This beach had waves, wasn’t too crowded and, I don’t know, just was very relaxing and nice.

Praia do Moinhos - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

Day 6 was our to return to Porto.  We had just enough time for a short walk in front of Conceição’s amazing home

Conceição's house - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição’s amazing home where we stayed. Middle image is the view from my bedroom window!

before boarding our Ryanair flight at lunchtime.

Flying over São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Million thanks to Conceição and Laguita (her gorgeous puppy)!  I had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to get to know you both 🙂

Conceição, me, Pedro - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição, me, Pedro and Laguita. Photo: Pedro Torres

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São Miguel Island – Part 1 – Azores – Portugal

Given that I’d spent several days in Porto on my last trip to Portugal earlier in the year, Pedro decided that we should head further afield and spend some time with a friend of his on São Miguel Island in the Azores. Located between Europe and North America, São Miguel is the largest of the 9 volcanic islands making up the Azores, one of the Portuguese autonomous territories.

When you think of an Island holiday – you expect amazing beaches and incredible weather.   Well, the beaches were amazing, but we were greeted on our first evening with fog and rain.

Great weather - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Of course this didn’t stop us from heading out to visit the first of many hot springs on the island.  The Poça da Dona Beija has 4 hot pools (~38 degrees – heaven!) and one colder (but still not cold) plunge pool set within in a beautifully landscaped area.   Wonderful way to spend the evening!

Poça da Dona Beija - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 2, our first stop was the Reserva Natural do Ilhéu – a mostly submerged volcanic crater just off the coast from Vila Franco do Campo.  

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu as seen from Vila Franco do Campo

We had originally planned to kayak out, but the wind had picked up and it was going to be very tough going, so we caught the boat instead.  Beautiful place to swim and relax with amazing views!

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We then headed to Furnas so that I could try one of São Miguel’s most typical dishes – the Cozido – and then onto the gardens and thermal pool (yay for hot water!) of Parque Terra Nostra.  Unfortunately, given how late we arrived, we had very little time to explore the gardens, and yes, the water really is the colour of rust due to the high iron content!

Parque Terra Nostra - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photos: Pedro Torres

Like Melbourne, São Miguel suffers from 4 seasons in 1 day, though it is generally said that if there is cloudy/crap weather on one side of the island, just drive to the other side (~12km away) and it will be fine.   Quite often though in the late afternoon, all the peaks are covered in cloud.  On this day, it was beautifully clear, so we drove home via the high road for some awesome views over the crater lake: Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

A few minutes after this, the fog started rolling in over the hills

Day 3 on São Miguel saw us doing the wonderful ~12km Mata do Canário – Sete Cidades hike.  But first of all we stopped off at the very famous Vista do Rei viewpoint for the classic view of the island that you see on every postcard.

Vista do Rei - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

The hike we were about to embark on started off to the right of the above image and basically followed the rim of the crater all the way around to Sete Cidades, the town that you can see on the left.

I was extra-excited because one of the first things we saw along the route was an old aqueduct.  Yes another of the things in this world that enchant me for no obvious reason are aqueducts.  I find them fascinating and beautiful, and this one was no exception!

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Oh how I love aqueducts! This one is called the “Nine windows wall” for obvious reasons

The views all the way around the hike were absolutely gorgeous, and really showcase just how green and blue the colour palate of the island is when the sun is out (quite the contrast to Greenland, where I’d spent the previous 5 weeks!).

Mata do Canário - Sete Cidades hike - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We arrived in Sete Cidades after a very enjoyable few hours of walking, and sat down for a coffee before trying to figure out how we were going to get back to the car.  Yes, the only problem with this hike is that it is a linear one – which means you end up a looooooong way from where you started, and to get back to your car, it is all up a very, very steep hill.

Our plan was to hitchhike (something I’d never done before), and it was beginning to look a little grim, as the first 1/2-dozen people drove right past us as we walked along the road.   We’d just gotten to the last of the flat bit when, fortunately, a local lady and her daughter pulled over and gave us a lift all the way back to our car.  A million thank yous to these lovely ladies!!

We drove a little further along the road so I could gawk at another part of the aqueduct

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Did I mention how much I love aqueducts?

and to visit a place Conceição (Pedro’s friend who we were staying with) recommended to us –  Lagoas das Empadadas

Lagoas das Empadadas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

This area has two lovely, peaceful lakes surrounded by a forest of Criptoméria  (Japanese Cedar) trees, and the the Miradouro do Pico do Paul for some of the best views of the island. 

Miradouro do Pico do Paul - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Amazing view of the island

We finished off the day at the Praia do Pópulo beach.  Yes – I did go in the water (it happens occasionally), but not for long … while it may not be as cold as the water in Porto, I wouldn’t say it was warm!   We also figured out that the last time I was at a beach was last March! Poneloya in Nicaragua … with Pedro!

Praia do Pópulo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Yes, I do occasionally go to the beach! Mostly with Pedro it would seem… Photo: Pedro Torres

Continued in Part 2.

 

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Viana do Castelo – Portugal

My second-last day in Portugal, Pedro and I headed out for a day-trip to Viana do Castelo, a town with a gorgeous historic centre and strong ties to the sea.

Our first stop was the Basílica de Santa Luzia, a massive, domed, Neo-Byzantine construction that was clearly inspired by the architecture of the Sacré Coeur in Paris.

Basílica de Santa Luzia

Something that always fascinates me about these large religious buildings is that they usually seem a heck of a lot smaller inside than what they appear on the outside – and the Basílica de Santa Luzia is no exception.  The other surprise here is that this is a relatively recent construction – only finished in the 1950s.

From the Basílica, we drove into town and strolled through the narrow and very white streets in the beautiful, historic downtown area.  We took time out for a Bola de Berlim and coffee, and then headed off to explore the Gil Eannes Hospital Ship, which is now permanently docked in the Viana do Castelo port.

Gil Eannes hospital ship

Gil Eannes Hospital Ship in Viana do Castelo

This was a very cool museum!

The Gil Eannes Hospital Ship was built in 1955 in the Viana do Castelo shipyards.  Its main purpose was to support the Portuguese cod fishing fleet in the seas around Newfoundland and Greenland, and aside from offering medical services to the fishermen, it also served as a maritime authority, mail ship, tug, ice breaker and general support ship for the Portuguese fishing vessels.

Gil Eannes hospital ship

They’ve done an amazing job at restoring the ship, though it is clear that they are still working on it.

Gil Eannes hospital ship - quarters

Captain’s quarters (left) and an as-yet-to-be-restored crewman’s quarters

I was amazed to find how well-equipped the kitchen and galley was, though given the isolation of where the ship operated, I guess this shouldn’t have been surprising.  I was most impressed that they had a whole separate bakery, as well as significant wine and grain stores. 

Gil Eannes hospital ship - kitchen and stores

I was super-impressed with the size of the pan (middle-left), but I guess there were a lot of people to cook for!

But of course the main fascination for visiting this museum ship is to check out the medical aspects of it.  One of the first things you discover as you make your way down through the ship is the x-ray lab.  

Gil Eannes hospital ship - x-ray lab

Another interesting location was the pathology lab – this guy scared the crap out of me as I poked my head around the door initially.  I was not expecting to see anyone!

Gil Eannes hospital ship - pathology lab

And the operating theatre, with an elevator to bring passengers down to this low level in the ship, and a window through to a viewing room. 

Gil Eannes hospital ship - operating room

Elevator to bring patients down to the operating level on the ship (left) and the operating theatre (right). 

I thought this was so incredibly well done – very impressive!

There were many, many other interesting nooks and crannies, everything from a sterilization room, dispensary and hospital ward, through to the engine room and wireless rooms, through to a barber’s shop.  And, of course, we had to get a picture in the bridge 🙂

Gil Eannes hospital ship - wheelhouse

Pedro showing how it’s done! And yes, I love maps

So, an incredible restoration, where each of the rooms is well labelled.  But what is currently missing is all the other interesting information.   I had so many questions!   On average, how many passengers did they have at any one time?  What were the most common things they treated?  How and how often did they re-supply the ship?  

Still, totally worth the few Euro it costs to get in!

 

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Eat Porto!

So, if you’ve been reading along for the past year, you know by now that I have an obsession with typical foods of whichever country I’m visiting.   Portugal was no exception – and I have to admit – it has some of the best treats on the planet!   I reckon I put on over a kilo during the week I visited 🙁

I was very slack at taking photos of the dishes I ate while in the Alentejo region with Jose (trust me, there were many, and all of them enormous), so tried to make up for it in Porto!

And it all started with a classic:  the Pastéis de Nata – a rich egg custard in layers of crisp, flaky pastry.

Nata

I love these things (best when dusted with cinnamon as well), and I’m not alone.  It is possibly the most popular Portuguese pastry, and you can now find them all around the world. 

Given I was hungry, I also had a Rissóis de Camarão (shrimp croquette) – a very popular Portuguese snack – from the same place.  It is basically prawns in a type of béchamel sauce, wrapped in pastry, breaded and deep fried.   Also very good!   Yes, I have a savoury AND a sweet tooth 🙂

Rissol de camarão

Next up:  a heart attack on a plate, and Porto’s typical dish – Francesinha.  The “Little Frenchie” is definitely not for vegetarians, consisting of bread and layers upon layers of different types of meat, then topped off with melted cheese and a tomato and beer-based gravy.

Francesinha

Heart-attack on a plate – Francesinha

Healthy?  It most definitely was not!   Tasty?  Well, it did have a lot of flavour, but the problem was that I didn’t particularly like the flavour.  Having learned what the ingredients are, I suspect this was due to the beer-based gravy – certainly it was that part of the dish that was giving me the most problems.   And although another of my friends graciously offered to switch dishes with me, I ate my way through it … taste-buds becoming more and more numb to the taste as I progressed.   Loads of Portuguese can’t be wrong … but I won’t be ordering it again 🙂

In the evening, we wandered over past the Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular to the Mercado Bom Sucesso.    This monument commemorates the victory of the Portuguese (the lion) over Napoleon’s French troops (the eagle) during the Peninsula War (1807–1814), but unfortunately what I saw was a lion humping an eagle on top of a very tall column!   A million apologies for the irreverence 🙁

Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular - Porto

The Mercado Bom Sucesso is an awesome place to eat, filled with lots of little cafes serving all sorts of different things.  In keeping with my theme of trying little bits of alcohol, especially if they are typical, I had a go at Poncha – the typical drink from Madeira island.   It is basically aguardiente (the alcohol), sugar and juice from a fruit in season, and wasn’t too bad (I still struggle with the taste of all alcohol).  I did manage to finish it 🙂

Poncha

Poncha, typical drink from Madeira island

And it was here that I found my favourite Portuguese treat (apart from the Nata of course). The Jesuíta!   Created by the Jesuits (no prizes for guessing there), it is a triangular confection consisting of layers of thin, flaky pastry, with a thin filling of egg cream, and topped with a crispy, sweet, cinnamon-meringue crust.    

Jesuíta

My favourite Portuguese treat – a Jesuíta from the Mercado Bom Sucesso

It was heaven!   I was so impressed, I ordered them everywhere else I went around Porto – but none was as good as this first one from the Mercado Bom Sucesso.

So, that was the first day of eating in Porto…. and there might have been one or two other treats consumed in there as well :-/ 

Other typical food that I tried during my time around Porto:

Pastel de Chaves – flaky pastry with minced meat and spices inside.  This name of this pastry is actually protected by the European Union since 1995. 

Pastel de Chaves

Clarinha de Fão – a thin pastry, dusted with icing sugar and filled with chila pumpkin beaten with egg yolks. 

Clarinha de Fão

Bola de Berlim – essentially a Portuguese doughnut with an egg-yolk-based filling.

Bola de Berlim

You might be starting to notice a trend emerging with the sweet pastries … the Portuguese use a LOT of egg-yolks!   So bad.  But oh so yummy!

And finally, a couple of typical dishes cooked specially for me by my friends 🙂

Alheira – a delicious garlicky bread and game sausage – traditionally made without pork (follow the link for the story behind this).   Typically served with boiled potatoes and Grelos – a green leafy vegetable.

Alheira

The sausage is the Alheira

Pão-de-ló – yet another coronary-inducing dessert with so many egg yolks that you don’t even want to know about it!   I was a little worried that it was actually going to taste like egg yolks, but nothing like it!   Absolutely delicious – I went back for seconds, but thought I’d better stop at that point…..

Pão-de-ló

I absolutely love the food of Portugal and can’t wait to visit again to work my way through some more of the pastries and other goodies on offer – and to have another Jesuíta (or 10) from the Mercado Bom Sucesso.

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Porto favourites – Portugal

Although I had visited Portugal (my favourite country in Europe) twice previously, this was the first time I had made it to Porto. The purpose was to visit Pedro, my newest Portuguese friend (I have a few – I seem to get along very well with the Portuguese) who I’d met at La Mariposa Spanish School earlier in my travels.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a rushed visit – sandwiched as it was into my European stopover on my way home to Australia.   But it (and the time I spent with Jose and his family in Lisbon and the Alentejo region) reaffirmed my love for this country, its people and its food!

We spent the first 2 days of my visit walking our legs off exploring different parts of Porto and eating all the traditional Portuguese dishes/pastries I could get my hands on (more on this in another blog post).  

Some of my highlights:

São Bento Station –   Portugal is famous for its tiles – particularly its Azulejos – and the São Bento train station in downtown Porto is a great example of why this is so.  Around 20,000 tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history (including an incredible representation of the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez) are absolutely stunning! 

São Bento train station - Porto

São Francisco Church – the most impressive church we visited for a couple of reasons:   1)  The incredibly detailed wooden carvings that make up the interior (you wouldn’t have wanted the chisel to slip!)

São Francisco Church - Porto

Incredible detail in the wooden carvings. I took these before learning that photography was prohibited. Oops!

2) the crypt, which featured a grated window in the floor so you could see the enormous number of bones in the level below.  While this was not as impressive as Évora’s chapel of bones that I visited last time I came to Portugal, it was still cool 🙂 

São Francisco Church - crypt - Porto

Walking along the river – we had a great stroll along the Duoro Estuary from Leça da Palmeira, through Matosinhos, Foz, Passeio Alegre, and then up to Cais de Lordelo to catch a boat across the river to to Afurada.  Was really great to get some exercise after everything I’d eaten the day before!   My favourite thing along the way – the “She Changes” net sculpture, reflecting Porto’s sea-faring heritage!  It was very very cool how it would move in the wind 🙂

Douro estuary

Super-cool “She Changes” net sculpture (top), Castelo do Queijo (middle), and massive waves at Foz (bottom). Some of the sights walking along the river-front

Afurada – a not-so-touristy-if-you-get-off-the-foreshore fishing village where you can still find women doing old-style laundry at the Tanque público da Afurada, and hanging the clothes just outside on a public thoroughfare to dry.

Tanque público da Afurada

And where the streets are narrow and lined with tiled buildings 

Tiled houses - Afurada

Different house tiles – Afurada

I really loved Afurada – it was my favourite part of Porto – though Pedro reckons that is just a reflection of my ongoing fascination for the developing world, as the rest of Porto is much more modern.

What’s not to love about a wall that looks like this though?!

Great mates!

Pedro and I – great mates!

Libraria Lello – opened in 1906, this is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal and one of the most famous in the world.  It is absolutely gorgeous inside but one has to use one’s imagination quite fiercely to picture what it must have been like before the hoards of tourists turned up.

Livraria Lello - Porto - Portugal

This place is truly stunning!

There are so many tourists in fact, that you may be confronted by quite a large queue outside, and they charge several Euros (5.50€ currently, if booked online) for you to visit.  However, this latter goes towards the cost of your purchase if you buy something worth over 10€. Fortunately, I was not confronted by a queue, and although I didn’t end up buying anything, it was worth the money to go have a peek if you like books and architecture.

Douro River and classic Porto views – of course 🙂  Downtown Porto is really very beautiful, and the best views come from across the Douro River.  Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis for amazing views!

Porto - city views

Then head down to the shoreline to check out the Rabelo boats that were traditionally used to transport people and cargo along the river.

Rabelo boats - Druoro River - Porto

Million thanks Pedro for showing me your city!  Can’t wait to come back and visit again 🙂  

 

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