Driving west again from Salamanca, the landscape was very flat and the roads stretched out before us. We had been warned by the rental car company to register the car at the border for tolls to avoid fines, and we also discovered we should fill up the petrol tank before driving into Portugal as it was 20 euro cents more per litre.
As we drove towards Porto, we were made aware of the extent of last year’s devasting forest fires as all around were burnt forests; whole hillsides as far as you could see just charred, but villages still standing white and proud. How terrifying it must have been for them! The landscape was quite different to Spain though – more green, more animals, regenerating gum trees too so, in some ways, it felt more like home (NZ).
We had chosen to stay across the river out of the bustle of Porto city, but close enough to see the old town and enjoy the Douro river vibe. Once again, we arrived on a Sunday and the riverbank was buzzing with weekend tourists. Our hotel/apartment was fun to find but, once there, easy to settle in to. Our hosts gave us vouchers for a free port tasting nearby which we made sure we took advantage of.
As usual, we had arranged a cycle tour of Porto for our first day so as to get an idea of the town layout. This tour was intimate with an Australian couple joining us on a very very slow ride. We think the tour guide had 3 hours to fill, but not enough content to fill the time with so the answer was to ride v.e.r.y s..l..o..w..l..y. Of all the tours we have done, this was the least informative or enjoyable. The guide had a very laid-back attitude and imparted not a lot of information about the sights we saw, quite a disappointing experience.
That afternoon we explored the central old town on foot and by bus, before heading back across the river to take in another port tasting and tour of the cellars. Croft Port was a good choice for this and we made some decisions about which port was our favourite, purchasing a bottle to take and consume at a later date (probably in Mexico at our AGM!).
Chris had some fun getting out on his bike rides here but managed to find a coastal road that took him away from the cobbled streets and south along the Atlantic shoreline for a number of kilometres before returning.
The day we departed Porto was misty and grey, and we shortened our exploration of the roads he had cycled due to very poor visibility. Driving south to Lisbon took us through green areas again, reminding us of the immense difference in landscape compared to Spain. I felt like we were driving the roads between Taupo and Hamilton in NZ, undulating and forested, that’s almost how it seemed landscape-wise (albeit these were motorways). We stopped for lunch near Nazare where surfers take on the giant waves – but again the weather worked against us. Although there was some surf and lots of surfers, the misty rain and crowded streets made for poor viewing. (Click on the link “Nazare” above to see an image of the waves we didn’t see!)
Our day in Lisbon started with a hop on hop off bus tour that gave us a good overview of the main sights, and then access to the local trams, elevators and funiculars. Although it was now the last few days of August and approaching the end of the summer holidays the town was crowded and we seemed to be fighting the crowds at every turn. Lisbon was a pretty town with the painted facades of the buildings as well as vistas down the hill to the river, old churches and many bakeries (almost one in every 4 shops seemed to be a bakery) with breads and sweet offerings. I sampled the local delicacy – pastel nata more than once, it is definitely a lot more than just a custard pie – the pastry is crisp and the filling delicious! We found eating out in Lisbon (and Portugal in general) was very cheap, even more so than Spain, with our dinner – including wine and a local liqueur-coming to just on 25 euro!
Heading south again the next day, Chris asked, “What do you think of Portugal?” After considering the small part of it we had seen, I answered that it felt like being at home here, reminding me somewhat of New Zealand – green, the landscape, even the cities were so different from Spain with their vibe and feel, despite the history here. We really enjoyed the food, the sights, the colourful houses in the cities, the prices of most things were cheaper again than Spain. But, we did look forward to getting back to Spain, to the familiar way of living we have been experiencing and the character of Spanish towns and villages.