Tag Archives: Portugal

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.


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.


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, 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.    


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.


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…..


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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