Housekeeping: Final blog about our Portugal Trip

Our trip to Portugal would not be complete without me giving advice.  I can’t help myself.

Visa and Mastercard

We discovered that these are not widely accepted. It cost a Portuguese merchant 10% of each sale so many chose not to accept it. So bring cash or be able to use your debit card. Small restaurants and markets give more of the flavour of the country and they just do cash and debit. ATM machines are different from North American ones. They don’t always have letters on the key pad. So if your pin is a word know the # version. We only had access to our chequing account. Continue reading


GPS’s and Castles

I am sure that the women who came up with the idea of the GPS must have realized the harmony that this device would bring to the front of a car.

We are now on our 3rd GPS for this trip and her name is Bernadette II, she gets it right most of the time, but the programmer who made the map for Portugal must have taken a few too many siestas.

So after getting very lost we were extremely happy to see the owner of our final destination waiting for us. The town of Azenhas do Mar is the kind of place holiday dreams are made of. Our little traditional cottage that is built in to the rock face is perfect. Continue reading

Festa dos Tabuleiros


When traveling to a country like Portugal which is full of history and tradition you have to take in a festival. There is lots to choose from but it is a matter of timing and a bit of research. Festa dos Tabuleiros would be ours. Young girls in traditional white costumes carry towering platters of bread and flowers on their heads.DSC04592 They walk for up to 7kms balancing the platters. We were told that the tower is the made the same height as the girl carrying it and weights up to 50lbs. But that happens on Sunday and it is Thursday Continue reading

Books Bats and Magic

The road has taken us to Beiras, our home is in the countryside near the town of Montemor-O-Velho. Our goal here is to see some amazing literary spots. As a person with Icelandic roots I am naturally drawn to books, it is in our genes and we pass the love affair on to the next generation. So when we arrived at Coimbra University,DSC04426 Philippa’s reaction to the Joanine Library was heartfelt.  Upon entering the library she almost burst into tears; at that point declaring that she must attend Coimbra University so that she could always be near this library. It really is a sight to behold, the 300,000 books lining the shelves, the exotic woods are rich in gilt.  The visits are timed to enter the library in order to control the temperature inside. There are some helpful friends in the form of bats that live in the ceiling and lunch on the bugs that may harm the books. (My thoughts were about the droppings from the bats).  From the library it is back to the courtyard, it was very hot and the reflection from the white walls is almost blinding. Our tickets also get us in to the Chapel of São Miguel and the sites were the students defend their thesis. Sean did climb the clock tower which it a one way system and not for anyone with large shoulders or claustrophobia. The students of this university wear a uniform that Philippa and Mariah have seen many times as it was JK Rowling’s inspiration for the one the students wear at Hogwarts.DSC04414

A lot of the buildings outside of the courtyard were replaced in the 40s and don’t really reflect the same sort of architecture as the ones in the courtyard. The Museu Nacional Machado de Castro is close by so after a snack we ventured in. On the first Sunday of the month such sites are free so we explored the Roman area below ground and walked through the museum’s amazing collection of paintings and sculptures.

The trip back to our car was a bit of a worry as we parked next to the public market but really had no clue were that was anymore. Like all the towns and cities in Portugal it is up hill both ways. We had reach the university by a flight of verrry steep stairs (about a 177 of them). DSC04413Google maps said go left then right and we ended up at a funicular. Pushed the button and like magic the car came up. I paid the man and he saved us 2 hours of being lost in the winding streets. Once at the bottom like magic –the public market. Yippee.

Our next literary spot is a bookstore in Porto, the lady of our guest house joins us for the drive. She has the knowledge of where to park. This is very important when trying to put your car somewhere while you explore but don’t want to walk 7km to find it again.  Upon exiting the car park you are in old world PortoDSC04495. At every turn you want to capture an image; the tiles walls, the wrought iron balconies, the artful plaster scroll work around the windows and doors. Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about film!  We did find the bookstore (Livraria Lello & Irmão)almost immediately. There is a gathering of people outside of the shop so we know we have the right one. Once inside it is beautiful, the winding staircase takes you to the second level were you find a café. Sean scores us a table, once again like magic. We enjoy a glass of white port with cake and coffee whilst the girls look at books. The idea of buying books was on our mind but practicality would dictate different. The best thing to do is drink in all in, touch, feel and photograph. I loved the tracks that the wooden book bins run on.  The Harry Potter feeling is alive and well at this spot. Once again poor Philippa is at a loss. How can she take some of this home? You can’t. You really just have to enjoy the magic. We only have the afternoon here and it will not be enough time to do everything. We were given advice to take the hop on hop off bus which we did. It was not the best advice, the bus has an open top ( it was 40c) stuck in traffic most of the time, the English guide in the earphones is useless and it is long( 2 hours) . We got off on the other side of the Douro River. This is the site of all things Port.DSC04504DSC04510 You can sample, learn and buy Port. Then back on the bus to find Alena. We meet up with her at Sao Bento Rail Station. It is a beautifully tiled station, depicting various modes of transport, rural festivities and history. Porto was a amazing city to visit but a day here only touches the surface. I feel a need to return here in  October when the sun is kinder and we can take a few days and just wander the streets. You need to take your time here there is so much going on your senses get overloaded.

(Note from Hannah who is the link master. )

Here are the UNESCO heritage site links to all the UNESCO heritage sites mentioned in this entry

Surfs Up

This entire trip to Portugal started with a small write up in Men’s Journal. It talked about the surfing in a little known place called Peniche Portugal. Sean said we should go there! So we did.

Peniche is on  a peninsula on the Atlantic coast. It is not the sort of place you check into a Marriott hotel and have a big pool. It is more a place that a VW van should be (and is) guys and gals in wet suits and families sitting on the beach. People chat about SuperTubos, pipelines and the world surf championships. It’s not pretentious; the ice cream is the same price here as in the other towns and a bottle of water will still set you back 35c.

We are staying in a small hamlet called Consolacao beach, in a wonderful home that is clean, two bedrooms and has  super supplied kitchen. I love love love the pots and want some. They are made here in Portugal and are the best pots I have ever cooked on. Even the knives in drawer are sharp. The home is a 800 meter walk to the beach. A big part of staying in a neighbourhood it the little extras. Like every other morning the fish truck comes by parks on the corner and honks its horn. The locals listen and come out to make their evening dinner choice. DSC04283The lady that runs the little store a few steps away is also a benifit. Her bread is fresh every morning as is her fruit and vegg. All which play a huge role in our daily picnics. She speaks very little English and I speak very little Portuguese but together we  both speak amazing French!

Sean and I checked out a few Surf shops in Peniche, so that we could sign the girls up for lessons. After a few inquiries we decided on !G3. The shop owner Nico is a passionate surfer that loves kidsDSC04313

I did have  to play the mum card, as only one of the girls was  keen to take lessons . Mariah didn’t want to go out on the waves, she was scared and really would have rather watched Philippa.  I said she had to go at least once, then after that if she didn’t want to go again, Pippa would go on her own.   Well after the 1st lesson Mariah wanted to go again and again. If we had the time she would have stayed for the 10 lesson package. I really think that is testimony to Nico and his team, they made it fun and the girls kept wanting to come back. They may not be ready for the surf championships, but they have incredible memories of a cool surf town and its people in Portugal.DSC04320


There was a bit of a damper to our stay in Peniche, our rental car got the window smashed in, nothing was stolen and it was a  hassle to get another car. But it was doable and the insurance will cover most of the costs. It does mean we no longer have SatNav or a brand new never been driven diesel any more. To make ourselves feel better Sean and I  headed off to Restaurante Nau Dos Corvos, wpid-dsc_0015_3.jpgthat had been recommended to us by Philippa’s surf coach (I call him “cute surfer guy). The restaurant is located in which looks like a bunker at the lighthouse station, but once in it has a triple view of the ocean and looks to the Berlenga Islands. The fresh seafood is based on today’s catch. We both enjoyed the prawns, salmon, linguine, the chef recommended almond tart and lemon Panna cotta .  Our meal was prepared with great attention to taste and presentation.

The Berlenga Island was on our list of things to do. This inhabited archipelago of islands is 12km from Peniche. DSC04274The Forte de Sao Joao Da Barra is really the goal. A good hike up to the light house, then a climb down of 306 stairs to the Fort across a causeway and you find draft beer for a euro.DSC04269 (2) Makes the whole climb worth it.  Plus it is pretty darn cool. The day was a  great success and was finished off with a large gelato.

Our final day of exploring took us to Nazare, a coastal town that has retained a lot of its charm and traditional character. The fisherman’s wives can be seen wearing several petticoats, DSC04378 they are usually tooting the rooms they have to rent. We headed up on the funicular to the site of the Baroque church of Nosa Senhora da Nazare.DSC04355 The gentleman working in the church  used to live around Edmonton and gave us some of the history of the church.DSC04340DSC04334

We ate our picnic at the beach which has really powerful waves rolling in. Philippa came up from a swim with most of the beach in her swim suit.DSC04343

From Nazare we headed to Obidos,DSC04399 a lovely walled town , the coaches were still in the parking lot but just leaving, as we timed our arrival for their departure. There is no cars in the town and the shops of full of goodies that appealed to the girls. Sean and I enjoyed a shot of Ginja served up in a chocolate cup.  Mariah treated us to dinner and then  we were off back to the house to pack.DSC04390

Tomorrow we head north to a farm near Ciombra, we are all looking forward to the area and the treasures it has to offer

Bones and Stones

We are moving slowly these days as the mercury climbs into the 40s. We headed out to Evora once again for a 2nd visit. Our first day there we explored the streets finding the Roman Temple believed to be dedicated to the goddess Diana. Erected in the 2nd or 3rd century AD it sits next to Evora’s cathedral 1186.DSC03994 We popped in for lunch under the cathedral, Sean enjoyed the Monkfish and rice, Mariah had the chicken, fruit, veg, and pasta salad, mine had prawns and Philippa had bread, lots of bread. But she did go to the counter and order our coffee all in Portuguese and we even got the right amount. Unlike me who gets extra for my imaginary friends. Continue reading

Driving over Oranges

We arrived at our new home in Falcoeiras a commune outside of Redondo. It is situated in amongst acres of vineyards as far as the eye can see. Yes, I think this is going to be good. The coolest thing for the girls is the orange, lemon and olive trees in our backyard. Our first morning was spent around the farm table with an abundance of fruit, bread and brioche. Nothing warms the heart of a mother more than seeing her children gobble fresh food and commenting on how good it taste. Sean and I then ventured off to check out the area and the girls set into making lemonade. Like a scene out of Little House on the Prairie, Portugal style.DSC04001
The closest large town is 7km away, Reguengos de Monsaraz, in the Alentejo province. This is an area known for its wine. Not pretentious (like Napa) but just centuries of making wine. This is also the area that most of the world’s cork comes from. The Quercus suber (cork oak). DSC04111Dom Perignon the wine making monk revived the use of cork as a tasteless, odourless seal for wine. As we drive along the the motorway, big trucks laden with the strips of bark rumble by. The tourist shops of full of items made from cork everything from a wallet to shoes. It feels much like leather. But you don’t see the locals walking around wearing it.DSC03999
Our first stop is a hill top medieval town of Monsaraz. You see it in the distance for several kilometres as it is the only hill around. In our travels to places like France one must time their arrival to such sites based on tour buses. But not here in Portugal, the little town is empty. The village looks freshly painted, it is beautiful with its tiles roofs and pepper pot chimneys. The girls are going to love this place.DSC04043
We head back to find our girls enjoying a plates of fruit and glasses of lemonade. After our 3:00 lunch and siesta we head out to the local pool. Now I am going to go on a bit about the cost of things for a minute. The public swimming pool has a 50 meter pool with 10 lanes, and two other pools with other stuff. Back to the pool with 10 lanes and 50 meters, swimmers love pools like this. Did I mention love? Well it cost 2.80 for Sean and I and 1.80 for the girls. Yes under a 5er for the 4 of us. Gosh, I love this place. After a few kilometres in that lovely 10 lane 50 meter pool. We take the girls to Monsaraz.DSC04034 Poor Mariah has never taken a very narrow cobbled path up the side of a walled medieval town so the feeling that the car might fall off is heard from the back seat. The cameras are a buzzing, it really is a photographers dream. {There is only one other car here.} The sun is going down and we walk among the winding streets that lead us to the castle built in the 13th century.DSC04051
After we explore the town it is time for something to eat, a lovely restaurant overlooking the vineyards and orange groves is a perfect choice. We toast to a lovely day and eat a meal of cod, quiche and crepes.DSC04054 Take a million photos of the sunset and head off to the car admiring the town now lit up with a whole new ambiance.

Always bring a friend along

DSC03956Now if I am going to recommend anything for family travelers it would be bring your child’s friend with you.  We are lucky as our daughter’s friend is easy going and is happy to go along with the torture that a family trip in a hot country can bring. Our first full day, out which was yesterday, Sean, and I broke some of our own cardinal rules: First mistake was to set out for the day at 1:30 pm (Everyone knows not to do that in a hot country); 2nd -walking up hill at the hottest time of the day with teenagers is not advisable (there is not enough gelato to comfort them). So we are forgetting yesterday and moving on.DSC03966

Today we set off at a decent hour in the morning, bought a day pass for transit and promised them gelato  whenever possible.  They managed to go steady for 10 hours, truly a record for us. Continue reading

I have failed as a fisherman’s daughter and an Icelander

We had a very hot, busy day, after all was said and done Sean, and I went out for dinner. The girls preferred to eat in and watch tv. The owner of the apt we are staying in recommended the restaurant across the street, so off we went. My good friend Susan in Drayton Valley had said she loved the sardines in Portugal. She could not eat enough when she was here. So when I asked our server what he would recommend he happen to say  the sardines and the squid. So Sean, ordered the squid and I the sardines. Before the meal arrived a assortment of hor d’oeuveres arrived. We had been told you can just send these back if you don’t want them. But hey, we were here for the full meal deal. So we tried the Lima beans, grilled sausage, bread, salad and olives, all of which were great.  We ordered a bottle of  local Cabernet sauvignon only because we like red wine. It was a silver award winner for 2014 in Brussels, well that sounds fancy! It was 4.50 euros a bottle.  I am sure a bottle of water costs more back home. My five sardines arrived with boiled potatoes and Sean’s squid had the same accompaniment.

As many of you know I was brought up in Prince Rupert eating a lot of fish. There was a time I stood on the side lines at North Pacific Cannery watching the truck loads of herring arrive. Or the many night shifts on the line at the Co-op fish cannery. My first taste of Sardines took me back to those days. When the fish smell never left your hair, but you were fine with that because you were making a $ figure most people could not imagine in 1980  My dad loved fish and potatoes and would tell us that it put hair on our chest {which I never wanted}. So here we were in a wonderful restaurant that was bursting at the seams with locals, you could not ask for a fresher meal and I was reliving my days outside the reduction plant. Sean thought the Sardines  were cooked to perfection and his squid was amazing.  Me, not so much but I ate them thinking that the taste would grow on me.  What did amaze me that the whole meal for the 2 of us cost 21.00 euros.  On a lighter note the girls love Portuguese pizza not a single complaint or left overs.


PORTUGAL 2015 Arrived in Lisboa

We arrived in Amsterdam by 10:30, flew KLM for the first time and they did not disappoint us. We were on time, well fed and the girls slept.DSCF1456
The start of our trip was a 10 hour layover in Amsterdam, we left our hand luggage in the baggage storage lockers, picked up the train tickets and settled in for the ride in to the city. At which time Sean, asked if I had the hop on hop off tickets. No, they would be in the locker in the airport. Thank goodness he had scanned all the pre-purchased stuff and we were able to print them at the bus company’s office from his phone.DSCF1458 The girls enjoyed the city, we didn’t really have a lot of time to do anything except the bus and the water cruiseDSCF1464. We walked through the streets got a flavour of the city, ate some yummy treats and headed back to the airport.
Mariah has caught on early to some of the fundamentals of travel. Eat when there is food, use the toilet when there is one and sleep when ever possible.
Back at the airport I met a lovely lady. Deolinda lives in Coimbra a spot which we are headed in a few weeks. We plan on meeting up, when we are there as she works for the university as a engineering professor. Coimbra University is known as the Oxford of Portugal. Its students uniforms inspired JK Rowlings, Hogwarts uniforms, I have read a lot about the library there as well.DSC03984
We arrived in Lisbon by 10:35 and was met by our driver. The Lisbon airport in right in the city so as we drove to our apartment we were able to get a taste of what was to be explored. The buildings are lovely, and everyone that we have met have been so wanting to chat and tell us about their country. Our home for the next few days is in a quaint little apartment right in the heart of the city. We are very excited to get out and explore tomorrow. So far everything is perfect.

view from our apartment in Lisbon

view from our apartment in Lisbon