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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Historic Porto Train Tour

Aloha Everyone,

Centro Histórico Porto is not very large and it is easy to cover within an hour. Our train was not Hop on Hop Off style bus. Once you began your tour, you stay for the duration. Nevertheless, it gave us ample opportunities to see the city from more or less, a pedestrians view point.

Frankly, after seeing so many cathedrals, churches, palaces, gardens, market places and museums of all varieties, J.J. and I prefer to reserve our sightseeing to enjoy the general ambiance of the locations. Fortifications are another matter as we both enjoy history and how the site either protected its owners and community or perished due to their locations.

Instead of taking the funicular, J.J. and I decided to descend very steep stone stairs. Halfway down, we came to a tiny restaurant with a few outdoor seats. Famished as it was past 2:00 pm and we weren’t about to look for an alternative, J.J. and I sat down in plastic lawn chairs located where the wind blew right pass us.

It was one of our most memorable meals. My sardines were grilled on the steps right in front of our eyes. They were bony but delicious! J.J. as always knows how to eat fish. My plate looked as if a little bird ran around on it. J.J. ate one of the sardines so clean that you can make a perfect skeleton imprint. His own dish consisted of two lamb skewers perfectly marinated and grilled.

Aloha -- Cathi

Friday, August 30, 2019

Porto Wine Tastings

Aloha everyone,

For health reasons, J.J. and I do not normally consume alcoholic drinks. However, the Porto tour package includes wine tasting.

Real Companhia Velia is located on the Gaia side of the city. While the winery’s tour was not very personal, it was informative and professionally conducted. Our group had to remain together from the time we descended the train. The group was escorted to an auditorium where a film about the company, history of Port Wine, variety and beautiful vistas of vineyards of Porto was shown. Mostly company propaganda, but still it held my interest. I made a mental note to email Yasu, our friend In Hokkaido, Japan, who established his vineyard literally from scratch. We also have friends, Jim and Kay in California, who are members of Temecula wine clubs and they appreciate fine wines.

The group, led by Ana, an outgoing, self-confident, multilingual guide who comfortably conversed in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Ana told me that she is now learning Mandarin. You can see where their current clientele are coming from.

The tour lasted we surmised, about 2 1/2 hours including waiting for our return train ride. J.J. and I were listening to a mother speaking to her pre-school age sons in very rapid Spanish. Not catching about 40% of the words they were using, we asked where they are from. Their home is in Galicia, Spain. Bordered by Portugal to the south and Castile and León and Asturias to the east, Galicia is one of the autonomous communities of Spain. She said that her boys are bilingual as Galician is a separate language but usually known as Castilian Spanish.

Aloha -- Cathi

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Historic District of Porto

Aloha Everyone,

Historic District of Porto greeted us with her postcard perfect charm. Prominent riverfront buildings with their blue tile facade shone in the midday sun.

J.J. and I walked across Ponte de Dom Luis I, the double-decked archer bridge between Porto & Vila Nove de Gaia. We had to be mindful as we shared the bridge with other pedestrians and vehicular traffic. There were about a half dozen boys standing on a railing of the bridge posing to plunge into the river. They were calling out to visitors for €1 as compensation for the jump. One of their companions was running among the spectators urging them to donate money. Enterprising business idea which J.J. and I also witnessed in Acapulco, Mexico. We wondered how many times each boy must dive per day to make a sufficient amount.

Getting around on your feet in Porto requires a good pair of shoes and steady walking pace. Streets are confusing as they meander, oftentimes taking you back to where you began. Illustrated map with the city’s top attractions are not to scale. We decided to follow J.J.’s amazing sense of direction.

The Portuguese like their neighbors in Spain, start their day late, eat a late lunch and a very late (for us) dinner. Finding a restaurant that were ready to serve lunch at noon gave us less options to choose from. Our choice of cheese sampler was as they say here, “Perfeito!” Fried calamari had too much batter making it very heavy.  

J.J. and I celebrated receiving our replacement bank card via DHL by dining out in an Italian restaurant. J.J. adhered to his usual choice of Spaghetti ala carbonara and me, I chose green salad with feta cheese, olives, cherry tomatoes and slices of chicken breast on top. It was a satisfying day.

Aloha -- Cathi

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


Aloha Everyone,

O Porto (the port) is located in northern Portugal. It is the second largest city after Lisbon with a population of approximately 288,000. Rio Douro (Douro River), an estuary of the Atlantic ocean, divides Porto’s old historical section in the northern part of the city and Vila Nova de Gaia, located in the south.

Based on our personal observations of shoppers and shops at Arrabida Shopping Mall, Vila Nova de Gaia seems to be an affluent neighborhood. From the information released by Statistics Portugal, housing prices continue to rise responding to surging demand and improved economic conditions. Property prices in Portugal rose by 5.39% in real terms, year-to-year in 2018, to an average price of US$1,395 - per square meter (10.764 square feet.)

In Arrabida Shopping Mall, a couple of imaginative and fitting store names that I came across are worth mentioning.

Lefties - these are owned by Zara, a Spanish high-fashion retailer. Lefties offer last season’s stock at more affordable prices. Zara fashion average about US25-$35 less than in the USA in Spain and Portugal. At Lefties, the merchandise are 30% to 50% lower.

GamingReplay - curious and to confirm my hunch about the name, I walked in and inquired what they do. GamingReplay currently has stores in Lisbon and Porto. Their business concept is people can bring used video games for a credit. Customers apply the credit when buying a previously owned or a new game.

There are approximately 49,000 Brits living in retirement in Portugal. Her year round temperate climate, wonderful people, laidback lifestyle, lower cost of living and proximity to England are reasons for the popularity. Latest move by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is making the Brits extremely uneasy. No one knows what will happen after Brexit.  Brits will o longer have the same rights as other EU members.

Aloha -- Cathi

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Luke & Léna from Ottawa, Onward to Porto

Aloha Everyone,

Yesterday, J.J. and I had a conversation with Luke and Léna over breakfast. This morning, we continued exchanging travel stories. They are from Ottawa and they love to travel. The couple spent a week in Finland, then Paris prior to arriving in Portugal. Luke is a civil engineer and he told us that because their retirements are still far in a distance, he and Léna are fulfilling their passion for traveling. Léna is French with family roots in Poland. After hearing wonderful stories about Poland from our dear friend Pat, we quickly agreed with Léna’s recommendation to include Poland as a future travel destination.

Today, we took a train from Santa Apolonia station in Lisbon to Porto. The nearly 3 hours train ride was an express and very comfortable.

Our hotel in Porto also belongs to the Accor Hotel chain. It is newer and the location is next to the Arrábida Shopping Mall.

For dinner, J.J. enjoyed a pita wrap. My choice of a Falafel wrap was amazing! International high fashion brand stores, a large food court, supermarket stocked with extensive goods from EU, the proximity of our hotel to the mall is welcomed.

The Vila Nova de Gaia location is in a suburb of Porto just across the river (Rio Darvo). During our one week stay in Porto, the two of us have plans to go on a river cruise, tour the historical part of the city and visit several port wineries.

Aloha -- Cathi

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Restful Day Spent Around Saldanha

Aloha Everyone,

Stepping out from our hotel, going to the left takes you to a plaza with a fountain and sculptures in its midst. Four roads converge allowing motorists to change directions. This system I believe was the origin of roundabouts which are being incorporated in many US cities today. 

While our laundry was being washed and dried this morning, I took one road at a time enjoying a walking meditation and discovering the neighborhood. At every direction I took, there was a park, fruit shop, mini supermarket and cafés offering the ubiquitous Portuguese custard pie. The enjoyable walks required little effort to complete my daily goal of 5 miles. In the afternoon, I concentrated learning numbers in Portuguese and to read about our next destination: Porto.

Aloha -- Cathi

Sunday, August 25, 2019

City Sightseeing Tour

Aloha Everyone,

There are a several choices for city sightseeing tours. To get an overview of Lisbon, J.J. and I selected Hop On Hop Off Green Line. We paid €15 each or US$16.80 to use a mini bus with 15 stops.  

Lisbon is built on hills. Its terrain reminds us of Francisco. Cobblestones lined narrow hilly streets do not translate to a comfortable ride. Our driver was also what J.J. kindly referred to as “a wannabe race car driver.” She would speed up the slopes then suddenly stepped on the brakes. Although I did not walk an extraordinary amount of steps today, my iPhone count is giving me 20 floors :-) from all the shaking.

After three weeks of visiting other destinations, the two of us will be returning to Lisbon to the same hotel for a week. Today’s tour was to give us a visual overview and familiarity with the city. Please enjoy.

Aloha -- Cathi