A rest in Porto -family time in Portugal
Ten days together in the city of bridges, hills, FC Porto, tile clad churches and Port wine.
Arriving in Porto after not seeing Grant for over a month was wonderful. Ruby and Julian were beyond thrilled to see their Dad, as was I. A much thinner, bearded husband greeted me at the airport and it felt almost surreal.We were both exhausted- one physically, as the challenge had taken it's toll and the other one, emotionally; for having stressed over small details, blogging, editing, accommodation, safety and children's schedules.I think the sore bum, sore legs and solitude trumps it all though, and it was good to be together in one place for a while.
We wasted no time in visiting our familiar and favourite haunts, restaurants, beaches and walks. It felt great to get on a train and go into town and eat pastries at our village bakery and a special coffee at the famous Majestic Cafe.
Porto has changed over the years...I would compare it with the metamorphosis of a butterfly in many ways. It is now the place of tourists and cultural finesse and it has become the belle of the European Ball. It has history and culture, rugged outlines and sophisticated inlays...renovated boutique establishments and a rejuvenated city center inhabited by foreigners and the well heeled.
It is polished and clean and strangely foreign to me.When walking in its epicenter every language is heard and Portuguese is rare.Lots of strangers in the throngs that flock to see the tiled depiction of battles and royalty on the walls of Sao Bento Station and stand taking styled selfies in front of the Capela das Almas on Rua Santa Catarina- the main shopping street now transformed with big name brands; no longer graced with locally manufactured shoes, handbags and knitwear.Queues outside the Majestic Cafe ( gasp) and tickets and queues to see the most beautiful bookstore in the world- Livraria Lello.
It's all eerily odd to me but I have to say the butterfly has opened and spread it's wings...its beautiful image is there for everyone to see.
I don't enjoy it less, and we certainly appreciate that Portugal needs the foreign visitors to finance it's wonderful turn around from dire conditions after the meltdown that occurred in the world and the recession and austerity ridden times that followed...but it has lost that rough diamond edge that made it appealing and mysterious and it is now shiny and modern and trendy.
Everything works ( always such a revelation for us South Africans !)- the trains run on time, the Metro is efficient and centrally based and easy to use.The place is clean, the people are hospitable and friendly and go out of their way to help you and speak your language.
The food is heavenly, the pastries divine and the wine is varied and oh so drinkable. There is craft beer for the arty and cocktail and Gin bars for the rest...slow food, tapas, traditional fare, bars and chacuteries and Michelin starred restaurants. One eats well everywhere and we are spoiled for choice- even at the dreaded mall food courts!
The Pastel de Nata Movement is really amazing- traditional Nata making bakeries and specialized eateries dedicated just to this fabulous Portuguese legendary custard tart.
We had a wonderful time reconnecting, seeing family and friends and just finding our own groove again.
Grant had some major bike maintenance to do as the back wheel spokes had given in and were in a sad state.There was some dismantling to be done and a consultation with a bike professional mechanic was required.The bike was cleaned and oiled and lubricated and sat in the lounge while the weather raged and roared and the heavens opened...just for a change.
The sun was absent for most of the time and it was resplendent for just one day while Grant was with us. As soon as the washing was dry, the bike was sorted and it looked like it might clear Grant started talking about getting on his bike and the children started looking at him with those puppy dog tear filled eyes.
We ventured to Braga and Guimaraes - places that I love and Grant had never been to, and our friend Natachia joined us for a week of sight seeing and Portuguese food and culture.
We went to Saint's day festivities in the neighbouring town, visited the Port wine cellars, walked up the hills and back down again in the city centre and visited the Ribeira river side area as well as beautiful Foz and the fishing town of Matosinhos - for the best fish in the world.
We ambled along the paths in the Victorian gardens of the Palacio Cristal with it's breathtaking views of the Douro River and soaked up the sun on the 'esplanada' in Foz, while the children let off steam in designated play areas on the beach.
Long walks on the many beach boardwalks along the coast are a favourite and we managed one or two in gusty conditions, visiting our splendid chapel on the rock in Miramar at Nosso Snr Da Pedra beach - voted one of the best beaches in the world.
We met friends for lunches and tea along the way, had a family reunion dinner (only some could join as my Mom's side of the family is quite big) and soaked up the family vibes and the love.
The Easter Bunny visited and Easter was spent visiting flower laden churches and celebrating with chocolate and more food!
We packed in as much as we could; at our usual pace, hoping that time would just slow down a little....
To break up the good bye we promised the children that we would meet Grant on the first night in Figueira da Foz, which is an hours drive away. We visited Coimbra on the way there and met him for dinner and then said goodbye as he was due to set off for Leiria the next day.
The adventure continues...and Grant goes to Figueira da Foz on his way to Spain- a torrid time awaits with steep climbs and hostile terrain.
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