Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Europe 2016 Part II 11 August – 4 September

We (Vivienne, Virginia [Viv’s sister} and Pierre {husband}) arrived at Porto around 5pm and went to our hotel the Pestana Ribeira which is a great hotel and highly recommended.  Located on the Douro river in the buzziest square in Porto the location could not be bettered.  Tourism now represents over 25% of Porto’s GDP and the hotel is thriving and expanding so much so it took over Lonely Planet’s top restaurant recommendation that was next door and replaced it with a rib & beef restaurant.  We wanted seafood and went to Terreiro in the next square on the recommendation of the concierge.  Good restaurant; I had the baked cod which was excellent.

The next day we were booked to go on a Douro  cruise.  The night before Virginia had asked at reception how far it was to the quay and was told two minutes.  The next morning at 7:50 we asked where was the quay to be told it was on the other side of the river.  Total panic as it was a 30 minute walk.  We grabbed a taxi and told the concierge to ring and hold the boat.  We get to the quay at 8:05 only to be told that no the boat was back where we started.  Now in the mode of total panic communicated to the driver who went the wrong way down one way streets but got us there just in time.  Travel is not about the destination but the journey.  The river Douro cruise is a must do however it is a long day.  You pass under the bridges of Porto which are spectacular.  The most impressive was designed by Eiffel but is no longer being used.  You pass through landscape that generally gets hillier two big locks and then reach the terraced vineyards of the upper Duoro some 3 hours into the trip.  We finally disembarked at Rigua only to be told that our train trip back on an old train had been cancelled and we would be taking a bus back at 4:30.  Miffed we then caught a tourist mini train, toured the town which had nothing except a port tasting cellar, finally caught the bus and got back around 6:45. 

The lunch on the boat was mediocre and we struck gold for dinner that night at Jimao restaurant.  We were lucky as there was a cancellation just as we walked in.  The Tapas were so good we booked to come back.  Both times the food was phenomenal and the bill for 4  people was 100 euros including a bottle of their best rose.

The next day was wine tasting at Porto Cruz across the river followed by lunch on terrace garden. We then took a taxi to Placa Libertad. I left the three of them and  went  for massage. Longer walk than expected but discovered Rua de Cedofeita which was a pedestrian street that led to the university and full of quirky shops and people.  We ate that night at Casada Pasto Das Palmieras which was an interesting restaurant recommended by followed by chocolate at Café majestic.

Next day we went to the museum of Serraves which had several exhibitions of performance and modern art.  Woeful would be a generous complement.  My test is simple.  Could I with my very limited visual ability replicate the work.  If yes I deem it crap.  By contrast in The Hague we went to the Martinhauss museum where we saw 6 Rembrandts and Vermeers Girl with a Pearl Earring.  No chance of a copy by yours truly.  For  lunch we ended up at Dom Peixe in Matosinhos.  Again highly recommended and we were subsequently told it is one of the best fish restaurants in Portugal.  The street is filled with outside barbeques grilling the fish but Dom Peixe with its white table cloths is the best.

We then caught the metro back to the Sao Bento station and that night ate at Jimao.  We had different Tapas which were again superb.  If you go to Porto this is the restaurant but you have to book.

The next day was a bit of a shambles. We were catching the train to Lisbon and were thinking we would catch the 10:00 am unfortunately we learned you have to go to the station to book the seat allocation.  We should have done this earlier but the result was we had to take the 1pm.  We got to our hotel at around 5 and ended up having dinner at the Clube de Fado.  Service was good, food average and we heard three different fado singers, all women.  Not cheap but there is a passion when they sing. Chico a former boyfriend of Virginia’s, had booked the four of us to go. 

The next day he had booked Vivienne and me to go to Sintra.  We managed again to just catch our train at 10 and got there at 10:45 where we finally caught up with our tuk tuk driver.  We then spent 2 hours driving around the hills of Sintra looking at the amazing castles, forts and mansions. By now we had seen 9 cities and their sights and were tripped out.  Also Sintra was packed both cars and tourists, we were quite happy with the external views and the guide knew the best viewing locations.  We caught the train/subway back and had a rest.  That night we went to Cascais to have dinner with Chico, his younger daughter and his 5th wife at the Mar de Inferno.  The company was charming and the evening was entertaining.  There is an incredible interchange of people between Portugal and Brazil. Of course with the Olympics on Portugal was one of the few countries that could listen to the Brazilian commentators.

The next morning Chico organised another tuk tuk tour of Lisbon by Vico.  This time we lasted 3 hours and saw some amazing views of Lisbon.  The best sight was the burnt church of Sao Domingoes.  The church was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake rebuilt and then damaged again by a fire in 1950.  The church is still in operation and the atmosphere quite amazing.   The tour finished at the Jeronimus Monestary.  The queue was over 500 people but the guide to us to skip the queue and just go to the church where the entrance is free and which contains the graves of Vasco de Gama and Luis de Carnoes who is the #1 national poet of Portugal and who wrote about Vasco.  So we ticked of that box and then walked down to the Belem Tower.  Again a big queue so we passed on going inside and caught a taxi back.  That night we had a terrific meal at the MOMAgrill which is highly recommended.  Pierre had discovered this restaurant on a previous visit.

For our last day in Lisbon we went to the Igreja do Carmo which was the largest church in Lisbon.  The roof caved in on the 1 November 1755 earthquake which was All Saints Day and meant that all the churches of Lisbon were packed.  The King ordered that the church should be kept as is as a monument to the dead.  The Sao Domigoes church was the site of the Inquisition and its square was where all the victims were burnt.  Voltaire made great play of the fact that the most Godly places in Lisbon were destroyed while Alfama the centre of prostitution in Lisbon escaped the earthquake relatively unscathed.  The church includes an archeological museum.

You can catch an elevator up 5 euros round trip.  The queue was again enormous.  There were 4 of us so we took a taxi.  10 euro for the trip and you were dropped right outside the church on the square.  The walk down is quick and easy.

We had a late lunch at MOMAgrill again, caught the 20:15 to London, and then the night mare of trying to go through Heathrow after 11pm.  If you can, never arrive at Heathrow after 11 pm.  They shut the epassport gates and there was 1 guy processing some 400 people.  It took us 45 minutes to go through the gate.

After four days in London we were kindly driven to Terminal 5 at London Heathrow where I was singed for 65 pounds because Vivienne’s bag was overweight by 2.5 kilos.  We flew to Athens and drove to our first stop Naplio.  It had been described in an article as one of top 10 villages in Europe and the car rental guy said it was the best place to visit in Greece.  It is a spectacular place filled with Greek families on holiday. 

We were staying at the Amfitriti Palazzo neat door to Lonely Planet’s star recommendation the Pension Marianne.  The view from both places at the top of the hill is truly spectacular but getting there is a challenge.  The hotel sent you a video of how to get to the car park above the hotel which is a first for me.  When we got to the car park it was jammed full but by some miracle someone was just going and we grabbed the spot.  I left the car there for the next 4 days and we took taxis.  LP says that heights come at a small cost namely several flights of stairs.  It is more than that 5 euros to be exact which is the price of a taxi ride from the town rank to the car park.  We walked up once and it nearly killed me. 

We went to the town beach twice.  Lots of pebbles so I invested in a new pair of flip flops.  A massive and impressive fortress the Palamidi started by the Venetians and finished by the Ottomans overlooks the town.  You can climb the 999 steps to get there or pay 30 euro for a taxi to take you there and wait.  No surprise as to what option we took. 

We visited the War Museum which describes the War of Independence versus Turks and then the terrible suffering in WW2.  The Greeks gave stick to the Italians but then the Nazis took over.  There is an excellent film with English subtitles.  The other museum is the archeological museum which contains the famous suit of bronze armour.  Well worth a visit.  Lots and lots of mini statues of female votaries but no males.  Why I asked the museum guide?  No one has a clue she replied.

The buzz in the town at night is great.  We had several excellent meals at the To Omorfo (2x)and Ta Famaria Tavernas.  House rose at 3 euros per half litre jug is great value.

After 4 days we set out for a final destination Porto Cheli.  On the way we stopped at Epidaurus and saw the famous theatre. I would rank this as a must see in Greece.  You can hear the coins dropping on the centre stage while you sit at the highest point in the amphitheatre.  The setting is very lush and green and the views are amazing.

We then drove another hour to Portocheli and the Villa Grace. Eight of us in total sharing a 6 bedroom villa with an infinity pool on Ververouda beach.  The party comprised Ann & Anthony Mayer, Jan & Peter Arnold, Owen & Janna and Vivienne and myself.  Thanks to Ann for organising the stay.  The next six days were spent drinking a lot of rose, and eating a lot of Greek Salad and seafood.  The night we arrived we ate on the harbour front at a restaurant Ann had booked called Ostria. The setting was spectacular, the food and service less so but it was Saturday night and the town was hosting the world jet ski championships. 

Monday was a rest and recovery day and on Tuesday we went to Spetses where I met Vivienne 44 years ago.  The island had changed.  It now had  museum dedicated to Katarinma bouboulina founded in 1991.  When we stayed in Spetses the only means of transport was horse drawn carriages.  There were no motor cars or motorcycles.  Unfortunately this has changed and there is a constant roar of scooters and motorcycles in the main square.  We retreated to the old harbour had a pleasant lunch, caught a horse drawn carriage back and returned to the mainland by water taxi.  It was a trip down memory lane but unfortunately Spetses had lost its charm.

Our next big trip was to drive to Erimoni and take a water taxi to Hydra.  Unlike Spetses Hydra had not succumbed to motorisation and had kept its donkeys and it's cool.  We ate at what is one of the most spectacular restaurants in the world for views, Sunset.  We took the ferry back to Erimoni  which is a quaint and basic port and much how Spetses had been 44 years ago.

The final trip was to Hintsia Beach on the advice of our cleaner.  The bay is another picturesque scene with a great taverna on the beach.  While I don’t see us returning to Spetses, a return to Greece is a definite possibility.

Our final dinner was again on the harbour at the Taverna Padadias which has mixed reviews on Trip Advisor but I found to be more than pleasant.  Try the Red Mullet for a main course if you are in Greece.

In summary it was great to be back in warm climates.  Thanks again to Virginia organising the Portugal trip and Ann for organising Villa Grace in Porto Cheli.

Chris Golis Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence website: www.emotionalintelligencecourse.com Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/chrisgolis Email: cgolis@emotionalintelligencecourse.com mobile: +61-418-222219

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