We flew in to Porto over the northern part of Portugal and what I noticed was the terraced mountains and hills, but had no idea what they were growing, I was to find out later. Our taxi driver didn't speak a word of english and didn't understand my written address for the hotel, he did however consult with a couple of his co workers and get directions. This was one of the few taxi rides we have done so far, normally we would do public transport, but my research had revealed that to catch a train would take an hour and 15, whereas a taxi ride was only 13 mins, so we opted for the luxury ride.
Because we arrived so early (1pm) we got directions of how to get into town and jumped straight on the metro to go into the main part of the city. We had a walk around and found the Big Yellow Bus, so jumped straight on it to get a tour of the city. In all the other cities they have strict rules, like no standing on the top deck, but obviously things were different in Portugal. We had a wonderful tour and were really excited about the next couple of days, because as usual there was so much to see.
We made our way back to the hotel via the supermarket, then settled in and planned the next couple of days. We went on the search for a restaurant but were obviously in an area that didn't really cater for our type of food, as we ended up in a pizzeria that poor Marty couldn't eat, i must admit my pasta was edible but Martys pizza was inedible.
We got an early start, having breakfast at the hotel then onto the metro again and back into the city. We had a tour arranged for 2.30pm so had the rest of the day to discover the secrets of Porto. Once we got off the metro we just wandered around, down little narrow cobble stoned streets, amazed at the age and beauty of this wonderful city. We eventually ended up at the river that separates Porto from Gaia, and right in front of us was a tour of the river, so not being ones to miss out we paid our fare and jumped on the cruise of the river Duoro and learnt the history of the 6 bridges that span between Porto and Gaia.
When we had finished the boat tour we had a light lunch on the boardwalk, then still having an hour and half till our tour, we found a seat on the boardwalk and sat and watched the world go by, it was incredibly relaxing.
We were close to the square so had no problems finding the guy with the Segway's. Our guide was Bruno and we were accompanied by Carlos from Portugal and Abdul from Saudi Arabia, both very friendly fellows. Bruno spent about 30 minutes teaching us individually how to ride the Segway, and although I was a bit hesitant to start with they are incredibly easy to ride. After the 30 minutes of instruction, we were off. The other guys insisted I go first behind Bruno, but I wasn't feeling very confident (yet), so offered my place to Bruno as he was young and keen to travel at top speed.
We stopped at so many places including a magnificent cathedral, the customs house, the 3rd most beautiful bookstore in the world of which a lot of the Harry potter stuff was based on, the most famous cafe in Madrid, the markets, famous squares, it was just so much fun, by the time we were half way through the tour, we were both extremely confident and zigging and zagging and doing circles, they do a top speed of 20 kph, and we got up there several times. The highlight was we got to ride over the Pont de Luis bridge. Also it was a day of tradition in Porto, the freshman at the universities are inducted into their University House (sort of like a sorority in the USA). All existing students dress in traditional black with a black cape and the freshman must do anything and everything the existing students tell them. There is lots of singing and shouting between the houses, so it was great to watch this happening all over Porto. This is much more an original traditional thing than the americans do, is called hazing and Hogwarts uniform was based on this traditional black uniform.
We took the Segway back to the office, paid for the tour and then caught the funicular up to the top level to catch the train home. Reason being is that Marty hadn't brought a coat or jumper with him and was freezing so we decided to train it home, get him something warm to wear then go back into town and have dinner. But as usual all good plans and that. We got off at the top of the funicular and to cut a long story short, got lost. By the time we had worked out where the train station was it was 7 o'clock and didn't really warrant a trip back a then in again, so we headed straight to the restaurant.
We had had a wine in this restaurant earlier and the waitress had really sold the place at the time so we thought we would give it a go. Marty ordered Carbonara and I ordered the cod, on her recommendation. Marty ended up with a mushroom crepe (and he hates mushrooms) and 'oh my cod' the cod was horrible. We even tried swapping meals but neither of us could stomach the food.
After a latish night last night we didn't rush to get out, so after a leisurely breakfast we headed into town to find the porto wineries. We had the pleasure of riding the train over the pont de Luis, our 4th trip over the bridge, then started walking in what we thought was the general direction. We stopped half way down the hill to look at our map, and Marty noticed an old nana hanging out the window shooing us in the direction she wanted us to go, we obliged because we got the feeling if we didn't she would start throwing things at us. Eventually we found the first Porto winery, Sandeman and booked a tour with them. Very awesome and great ports too.
We had a short time to kill, before we could do the next tour as all the wineries close for 1 1/2 hrs for lunch ( siesta), so we perched ourselves in a restaurant and had a bite to eat.
Our next Porto winery was Ferreira, followed by Offleys and Crofts, (interestingly Croft is Marty's mother's maiden name). We met some really lovely people during these tours, a doctor and his partner from London who was originally from Illinois, a couple from South Africa, another young couple from Italy, and a single girl from South Carolina, all great people to chat to. It turned out that the young girl from Carolina was traveling on the same flight as us the next day.
After the tours we waited on the riverside, once again watching the world go by so we could see Porto, at night. We had been told by numerous people that it was a sight not to be missed. And it wasn't, we took some photos, the headed back over the lower part of the bridge to catch the funicular up to the top level, only to find it was closed. s*** s*** s***, we had to walk up a million flights of stairs to get to the top, but this time we new where to go and got straight onto the train home.
Nothing special this day, we packed and got the plane to Madrid, by the time we arrived it was too late to do anything exciting as just stayed in our room and watched a movie.
We would have liked to have partaken of another Segway tour but unfortunately they were all booked out, which was probably a good thing as they were much more expensive here. So we opted for the Big Red Bus instead. Short walk to the bus stop and we were on our way. We actually found the tour quite boring as they talked a lot about the architects and sculptors, which isn't something we are much interested in. We got off at Plaza Mayor and spent quite a long time watching all the performers in the square, then headed back out to the street and found the department store that I had researched to buy clothes for the warmer climate. 3 hours later, and a couple of bags I had some of what I needed.
We then found a little cafe/bar and had a drink and got to try Tapas for the first time, the first one being free (paella), followed by potatoes and capsicum, then pork crackling, word of advice, don't live on Tapas. Most of them were complimentary, you buy a drink and get a free tapas. Excellent arrangement.
We were quite amazed at the multitude of people in the city centre, it seemed so crowded and we thought maybe there was something special on but when we asked a police officer he said that this was just a normal Saturday morning. I would hate to see it in a busy time, because we were also surprised that there were so many people on the tour buses, we sometimes had trouble getting a seat on the top level.
We got back on the bus for the remainder of the tour for route 1 then transferred over to route 2, this part of the tour was even more boring as it was the "New" Madrid, and we found it less appealing. But, we sat it out and got out near our hotel quite late. As we had all the tapas earlier, we just collected a couple of small things for dinner to have in our room.
Bludge day, spent watching movies in our room, except when we ventured out for a meal.
We used the Subway today to find our way the the Royal Palace and did the tour of it, it would have to be the most over decorated gaudy looking palace we have ever seen and quiet expensive to get into at €14 each, and the tour only lasts about 40 mins. We then returned to the city and tried to do some more shopping but didn't have a lot of luck this time, seems the Spanish women have small feet like the Asians, nothing over size 40 and I needed a 44. I am hoping that I will be able to get something in Germany where they have larger Frau's. We then returned to our favourite tapas bar and had another late lunch, this time even cheaper.
We had actually started to feel we were getting sick of traveling and even looked at the possibility of cancelling the cruise and going home early, but suspected it was just because we didn't like Madrid. So we very much looking forward to getting to Barcelona which we had heard was much better.
And we weren't disappointed, it looked much more exciting and inviting than Madrid. Interestingly enough Barcelona is a region of Catalunya, and even though they are part of Spain, the Catalunyans don't consider themselves Spanish, and would like to become an independent nation, they also speak a different language than Spanish. Learn something new every day. I had discovered that there was an airport bus that took us almost to our hotel, so jumped on it expecting that he would stop at the designated stops, but no, they only stop if you ring the bell, so we ended up quite a long way from our hotel, Marty wanted to catch a cab, but I see that as a failure and wouldn't agree to do it. So off we trudged, asking directions along the way until, after about 30 mins and lots of frustrated sighs from Marty we found our hotel. It was a nice looking motel, but after having the problem in the last one that they don't turn on the cool Air-conditioning until April, I asked if the room was air conditioned as advertised. The answer was warm AC is on but cool doesn't come on until April. We explained that besides the fact that they advertise it as AC, Marty in particular suffers from the heat. They offered to move us to the 6th floor facing the road, because the back rooms get the sun on them all day. We gratefully accepted the offer and was able to have the doors to the balcony open and I wore ear plugs, cause trust me even on the 6 floor the traffic noise was horrendous.
We went out for a walk to get our bearings, found the train station and worked out how to get to the square where we're meeting the Segway guy. We also found a barber and while Marty got his number 4 blade done by the barber, I got a number 4 blade done by the hairdresser on the other side of the curtain. It's been one of my bucket list things to have my head either shaved or cut really really short, and have finally done it. Marty said that when I walked out of the hairdressers I looked like a bloke (2 weeks between a bad haircut, but I think this one might take a little longer) and reckons I'll never grow it long again as it is so easy to look after. We found a place for dinner and had some lovely tapas again, this time none were free though.
We found the square where we were to meet the Segway guide and had breakfast; Edgar arrived on time and walked us back to where he stores the Segway's. These were first generation Segway's and slightly different to the ones we learnt on in Porto, they turned by using a dial on the handlebar rather than leaning the whole handle bar whichever way you wanted to go. We spent a few minutes practicing, then headed of, got about 5 meters and Marty crashed his, poor lovey, I had to laugh.
We did a wonderful 3 hour tour of Barcelona, just us and Edgar, so it really was special. Unfortunately Edgar explained to us that there was a General Strike the next day which meant that nothing was going to be open and if people did open their stores/shops/restaurants they risked having "them" coming in and breaking things. We therefore had to try to fit in as much as possible with what was left for the rest of the day and also buy food. We walked to the only cathedral in Barcelona and had a quick look at that, walked through the markets and was going to have tapas there, but they were horrendously expensive, so we jumped on the metro and went back to the one we had lunch at yesterday, then back on the metro to the Sangria Familia, the most famous church in Barcelona, which they started building in the 1800s and still have finished yet, ugly bloody thing from outside, but Marty said it was the most architecturally complex and beautiful structure inside he had ever seen. Marty reckons from the outside it looked like a demented sandcastle.
We bought some rolls for dinner and headed home to the cool noisy room lol.
We slept really really late as we knew there wasn't anything we could do today, we ventured out and did actually find somewhere to eat, had lunch, but retreated back to our room straight away, there were riots and demonstrations happening and we thought it best we stay holed up in our room. And lots of sirens and fireworks going all night, we watched a lot from our balcony and would have loved to have gone down and taken photos but realised it would have been potentially dangerous. It was such a shame because we really liked what little we had seen of Barcelona and would loved to have seen more. But we will be returning at the end of April to join the cruise so may have to leave Istanbul a little earlier, so we can see what we missed this time. I discovered that I can rent movies on my iPad for very little cost, so whenever we have spare time, I just download a movie, today was one day we were grateful for the technology.
This morning watching the news, we realised we made the right decision to stay in our room as they showed riot police battoning protesters and firing tear gas into the crowds. On our way to the bus stop there was lots of evidence of the rioting from the previous night, broken bins, graffiti everywhere, including on shops and over ATM machines, so once again glad we stayed in our room.
We bused it to the airport, then a short flight to an airport somewhere near Venice, on another bus to the edge of Venice and then the confusion started. I had emailed the owner about how to get to his B&B but with his limited English the explanation was far from helpful. I bought a map and got even more confused so asked the boat taxi ticket person where to go, she basically pointed us in the direction over the bridge, Marty worked out where to go from there. So we trudged with suitcases towards this enormous bridge with steps. I was struggling to get my case up it, until some nice young gentleman offered to do it for me. No I am not that naive, I knew I would have to pay him but at least it got over the bridge and he was €5 richer.
We found our street and were in awe of what Venice had to offer, however it had been a long day and we had 3 days to explore so weren't really interested in going out sightseeing this afternoon. Carmine (our Italian owner was just lovely but like a lot of Italians B&B owners a bit over the top). He showed us our room, helped us up with our luggage, showed where everything was including the massive flat screen TV that he boasted had 400 channels (none in English we soon found out), came back with a bottle of wine, then came back with a plate of twisties, then came back to tell us when breakfast would be delivered then came back to tell us he would do our washing for us, each time he knocked gently and said scuzzy, but by the end of it we were in fits of laughter. The B&B was listed as new so I can only assume he was new to the game and was desperately trying to make a good image.We went out for supplies and had dinner then settled in for the night.
Carmine delivered our breakfast to our room at 9am as promised, and then when we went downstairs he gave us advice on what to do for the day. We found the water bus ticket place and purchased our tickets for the ferry ride (we got the opportunity to help a couple of pommie women who obviously were confused about what to do with the ferry). The ferry ran along the full length of the Grand Canal right through the middle of Venice, out to the island of Lido, a pretty little township where we found an Italian doll called Casanova, that I couldn't resist. Once we had a walk around the island, we got back on the ferry and got off at the S Marco stop to explore Piazza San Marco, one of the most beautiful piazza's in the world. It has the Basilica San Marco in it, nice, but doesn't come close to St Peters Basilica in Rome. It also has the clock tower Torre dell'Orologio which has magnificent views of Venice. While up the top we were able to see a huge cruise ship in the port, it looked so big we thought it may have been "The World".
The challenge then was to get back to our B&B, so we found the famous Ponte Di Rialto (the Rialto bridge) and actually even helped some people back to the train station. We went there ourselves and bought our tickets to Munich for Tuesday, seemed painless enough. I was really really tired by this time (unusual for me as I haven't really been getting tired, so we went back to the room for a lie down, before heading out for dinner which is eaten no earlier than 8pm.
We had no set plans for today, so just started walking, we headed to the port to see if we could see the big cruise ship but it had obviously left overnight. We just kept walking and walking, listening to the church bells ringing continuously, it was incredibly relaxing. I went in to watch a church service briefly, then Marty pointed out that it was Palm Sunday, so was an extra special day for the many Catholics, everyone was walking around with palm fronds. There was also a large group of young orienteers having a race, believe me it would be a hell of a challenge to try and race your way around the little tiny back streets and canals and bridges.
After a few hours we decided the challenge now was to get back without using a map. Marty led the way as he thought he knew where a bridge was so we could get back to the right side of the island to find our home. We came out onto the Grand Canal, and there was no bridge in sight either way, so out came the map and I took charge. We stopped at a small cafe that had some fantastic looking pizza, with lots of people in it, fitted all of about 8 couples, and had pizza and a glass of vino blanco, should always check first, it cost €23.!
Anyway we eventually got back to our room, after lots of laughs, enjoying being lost and finding our way back. Dinner that night we had a bit of a splurge because a lot of the food isn't as good as you would expect, had a beautiful original italian meal and wine.
We still needed to get some more clothes/shoes, so I found the nearest outlet store and how to get there. To cut a long story short, we paid too much for the train ticket, got stuck at the next station Mestre for 2 hours, eventually got to the place where the outlets stores were, shared a taxi with a family of Asians who were most grateful we invited them as it halfed there fare, only to find that the stores were designer outlets, and way way too expensive for us. One outfit in the shop window was €1700, and that was the outlet price, pair of trousers, couple of tops on top of each other and a pair of shoes, ridiculous. But we did manage to buy ourselves some new runners each.
We shared a taxi back to the train station with a couple from Brazil, then back the way we came, but this time we didn't pay the incorrect price.
Needless to say we loved Venice, but 3 full days was definitely enough time there, and it is quite expensive, we were hemorrhaging money at this stage, so thinking we may have to cut our holiday short if it continued.
14 weeks away, hopefully 10 to go :) we caught a train to Verona, then changed to a German train to Munich, total travel time about 7 hours but very comfortable, watched a couple of episodes of Homeland. Sitting on the train we worked that in those 14 weeks we had been to 8 countries and stayed in 34 towns, lost count of the number of towns we also just visited and sights we have seen.