Portugal diary, day 13

30 November, 2019

Thursday, 23 May, 2019. About 21:30, on board the plane

This morning we slept in late. The breakfast basket was placed at 08:30 we were told, so there was no real reason to get up any earlier. It had two large bread rolls, one dark brown and one with grains, a small jar of raspberry jam, packs of butter, a plate of cream cheese and mild sliced cheese, a banana, a kiwifruit, an apple, a pear, a small bottle of milk, and two pastéis de nata, the mystery sweet treat. A fairly predictable mystery I suppose, but I hadn’t given it any thought so it was a pleasant surprise.

Reflecting on Lisbon
Exploring Bairro Alto on our last day

After breakfast we headed off for a short walk through the Bairro Alto, to explore more streets that we hadn’t walked down before. Before too long we had to return to our room to shower and repack our bags for the trip home. This took us until about 13:00, when we checked out. The reception office had a small white dog that was lounging on a small sofa each time we’d gone in. M. pointed out that it had a play area in the window, with artificial grass, a bed, and some toys.

Read more: our final day in Lisbon, catching a tram, getting caught in a political rally, walking up and down a lot of hills, and travelling home to Sydney

Portugal diary, day 12

17 November, 2019

Wednesday, 22 May, 2019. 14:11

We are on the train back from Porto to Lisbon. We got up slowly this morning and went down for the hotel breakfast buffet. It had a decent selection of items, with cereals, fruit, yoghurt, breads with various spreads, pancakes, sliced meats, cheeses, boiled eggs, and custard tarts in two sizes, slightly larger than normal and bite sized. They also had a do-it-yourself juicer with bowls of various fruits and a knife and chopping board. The sliced bread was actually being baked in an oven right there by the staff, who pulled hot loaves out and sliced them to place in the basket. This bread was very good. We had some muesli and yoghurt and fruit and then various bits of bread. I tried one of each sized tart to see if they were any different, but they were essentially the same. Good, but I’ve had better in the past few days!

Porto hotel breakfast
Breakfast, with two sizes of Portuguese tart!

We now had a couple of hours to kill before checking out and heading to the station for our train. We headed out to walk back down to the historic town area and do some more wandering to see places we hadn’t seen yet. Heading down a different street we ended up at the top of the double deck Dom Luís I Bridge we’d crossed at river level yesterday. Here we were up on the top of the arch, maybe 50 or 60 metres above the water, and the view was different and spectacular. We walked out about halfway across the bridge to get some photos and then came back. The bridge at this level is not open to cars, but only to pedestrians and two tram lines which cross it down the middle. With the trams only running every four or five minutes, there’s plenty of opportunity to cross from one side of the bridge to the other to catch the views on each side.

Read more: Last look at the hills of Porto, then on the train to Lisbon, where we explore Chiado and the Bairro Alto, before a fantastic dinner

Portugal Diary, day 11

6 October, 2019

Tuesday, 21 May, 2019. 16:41

Porto is built on hilly terrain. Steep hilly terrain. It’s like a thousand years ago when some people decided to build a town they thought about it a bit and concluded that flat land was for wimps. But the good thing about Porto is they use flat granite cobbles or actual concrete(!) for footpaths, instead of slippery rounded limestone cobbles.

We’ve been walking down and up the hill all day and are taking a rest break in an ice cream shop called Boutique do Gelado. M. has had a scoop of Ferrero Rocher, while I had one each of pistachio and strawberry cheesecake. The day is warm again, with various signs around the city on the pharmacies showing temperatures of 25°, despite the forecast for the day being a mere 18°. There’s definitely something odd about the weather forecasts here. For the last several days the forecast wherever we’ve been has been hovering around 18°, but there’s no way that any of the days we’ve been out has been that cold.

We slept in this morning, or rather M. did. I got up around 07:00 to do some stretches while she snoozed. We weren’t ready to go out for breakfast until almost 09:00. I searched online for some breakfast places nearby and found a couple that sounded okay, next to each other just a block or so away. When we arrived there, the first one wasn’t even open yet! It advertised breakfast on the door, but didn’t even open until 09:30. So we went next door to Bread & Breakfast, a bakery that opened at 06:00.

Despite the English name, the guy behind the cash register didn’t speak much and had no idea what I meant by “tap water”, so we ate without any water. M. got a croissant de ovo, with a sweet egg yolk filling, and a cappuccino, while I ordered a cheese omelette, which came with a bit of lettuce and tomato drizzled with olive oil. The cheese in it was like mozzarella. It was fine but nothing special.

After returning to our room briefly for toilets and putting on some sunscreen, we ventured forth for the day. We planned to just walk around and discover things and see whatever we happened to see. But we started off in the general direction of the Douro River, heading downhill.

Down to the Douro
Heading downhill towards the river

We thought we could perhaps cross the river on the bridge and check out the other bank. But as we headed down the hill we found that the roadway and pedestrian path across the tall arched Dom Luís I Bridge were above us! But fortunately we saw that there was a second crossing on the bridge directly below the first, much closer to the water level, although it wasn’t clear if pedestrians could cross it until after a while we saw some people doing so.

Read more: crossing the Douro River, markets, a port tasting for morning tea(!), wandering the steep hillside alleys, churches, pizza

Portugal Diary, day 10

7 September, 2019

Monday, 20 May, 2019. 12:06

We are on board the intercity express train from Lisbon to Porto. The journey takes about three hours, and we arrive just before 15:00.

We woke with the sunrise and got up and ready for breakfast. At the cafe again, we had the same yoghurt parfaits. This time mine came with a big strawberry, while M.’s had three raspberries. For the second course, M. had the same bolo do caco toast as yesterday because she liked it so much. I tried the second of the traditional Sintran sweets on the menu, a slice of tarte queijada de Sintra. This is a sweet made mostly of cheese, like a cheesecake, and traditionally served in the form of bite-sized individual tarts, but they had made a large version to serve by the slice. This was similar to the almond tart I’d had last night at Incomum wine bar, very dense and sticky, but without the almonds and strongly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. It felt a bit less eggy, but with so much sugar and spice it was hard to really tell the difference between an egg base and a cheese base.

After breakfast we returned to our room to pack our luggage for the trip to Porto. The staff at the reception were two women we hadn’t seen before, but they wished us well on our trip. I wrote a message in the guestbook, echoing similar messages from earlier guests who had lavished praise upon the guesthouse. It really was a wonderful place to stay.

We walked up the steps between the streets to the station and found the correct platform for the train to Lisbon Oriente station. Some trains were going to Rossio, but we need to end up at Oriente to catch our intercity train to Porto. The train pulled in ten minutes before departure time and emptied, this being the end of the line. We got on and waited. A few other people boarded before the train left a minute after the due departure time.

The train took a bit over 40 minutes to reach Oriente. A few stations in it became crowded and we had to move our bags to let people sit on the facing seats. When we reached Entrecampos most passengers got off and it remained mostly empty the rest of the way. The train arrived at the large and busy Oriente station and we looked around to see where our train to Porto might leave from. I suspected that where we’d gotten off might be the suburban tracks, and perhaps we needed to go to another level to find the intercity platforms. The station had multiple levels connected by a maze of stairs and escalators and it looked possible that there were more platforms further down. But there were no signs indicating that, and the departure boards for trains here all listed what looked like only local trains. M. asked a ticket seller where we needed to go for the train to Porto, and he said back upstairs, on platform 5. At platform 5 our train was not listed, as it was still too early and another train was leaving before ours.

We had about 45 minutes to wait, so decided to exit the station and cross the road to what looked like a large modern shopping centre. Indeed it was, full of the usual fancy shops. There was a food court upstairs so we headed there to get a coffee for M. and find something to take with us to eat for lunch on the train. We sat in a cafe and M. got a coffee with pastel de nata for a combo price, and also bought a couple of the large bread rolls they were selling, plus a chocolate salami slice to take away. While she had her coffee, I walked upstairs again, where I’d seen a sign indicating a sushi place, intending to get a take away box of sushi for my lunch. But when I arrived it turned out to be a sit down sushi bar, with no take away food. So I returned down the stairs to a sandwich and salad place that we’d walked past and ordered a turkey and mustard sandwich on a grain roll, which came with lettuce and tomato as well. The woman wrapped it in foil and put it into a paper bag for me.

With about 15 minutes to go to our train, we used the toilets and then walked back to the station and up to platform 5. The sign indicated an intercity train leaving at our expected departure time of 11:39, but the destination was unfamiliar so I asked a woman in security uniform if the train went to Porto and she indicated it did. On the platform we waited with a large number of people, many with luggage. We were assigned seats in car 22, but unlike in Germany where there are posters showing exactly where each car will stop, here there was nothing. So when the train pulled up, everyone spotted the car numbers and raced up and down the platform to find the right one. Fortunately ours wasn’t too far away and there was a queue of people waiting to get in the door so there was no danger of the train leaving without us.

We found our seats and settled in for the three hour ride to Porto. The train stopped at Vila Franca de Xira, Santarém, Entroncamento, Pombal, Alfarelos, Coimbra, Pampilhosa, Aveiro, Espinho, Vila Nova de Gaia, and Porto.


Upon arrival in Porto, we walked to our hotel, about a 24 minute walk according to Google Maps. It was entirely uphill, steeper at first, becoming shallow and almost level at the end. We passed through some not so nice looking neighbourhoods, until the area right near our hotel started to look more appealing and tourist friendly. We are at the Ibis Porto Centro, a hotel with the entrance tucked away under a sort of tunnel leading to a car park and an arcade. The entrance is just a couple of lifts, with a sign saying that reception is upstairs on level 3. A woman there checked us in and we went up one more floor to our room on level 4.

View from Ibis Porto Centro
View from our room at Ibis Porto Centro

After dropping our bags and gathering our thoughts, we left to have a random wander around the streets. With no real goal in mind, we headed further away from the railway station, towards the historic centre of town, taking whatever street led roughly that way and looked interesting. From our hotel it was all downhill towards the centre, leading us to conclude that our hotel had been built on the highest point in Porto.

Read more: Exploring Porto Cathedral, steep and narrow laneways through the old town, and an amazing dinner

Portugal Diary, day 9

27 July, 2019

Sunday, 19 May, 2019. 19:19, Incomum Wine Bar

We are having a relaxing dinner of snacks and glasses of wine at the wine bar attached to Incomum restaurant where we had dinner last night. It’s been a busy day of walking and sightseeing all over the hills above Sintra.

We slept in a bit, not getting up until 07:30. For breakfast we headed over to the Cafe Saudade, which was operated by the same people as the Chalet, and was up the street and around the corner. This was the venue for breakfast if the option of a breakfast with the room was taken, adding 9€ to the price. But we decided to simply go there and order off the menu and see if we could have breakfast cheaper. While there we saw some other people get the 9€ breakfast, which included bread rolls, croissants, cheese, cold meats, yoghurt with fruit, a boiled egg, juice, and coffee or tea.

Yoghurt parfait
Yoghurt parfait, Cafe Saudade

Instead of that we ordered a “yoghurt parfait” each, which was yoghurt, fruit, and muesli topped with honey. It was good. And then we ordered some extras. I got a travesseiros, which is a type of pastry from the Sintra region. It was a crisp flaky pastry roll topped with sugar, and stuffed with almond cream. It was nice, but very sugary. M. wanted the apple and berry scone which was listed in the menu, but the waitress said it was either apple or berry, not both. M. asked for berry. But then the waitress returned and said they were out of berry scones, so M. asked for apple. And the waitress went away and returned again, saying there were no apples scones either! So then she asked what the toasted “bolo do caco” was, and the waitress said it was a type of bread typical of he region. So M. ordered that, and it actually came this time. It turned out to be a large round bread a bit like an English muffin squashed flat, both in shape and texture. It came toasted and buttered and the small bite M. let me try was really good. Our total was only about 12€ rather than the 18€ for the fixed breakfast, so we’ll probably try the same thing tomorrow.

Read more: Exploring the Pena Palace high on the hill above Sintra, walking past the Moorish Castle and through Vila Sassetti, an afternoon at Quinta da Regaleira, and finishing off with wine and cheese in a wine bar

Portugal Diary, day 8

22 July, 2019

Saturday, 18 May, 2019. 21:47, Chalet Saudade, Sintra

We slept in this morning, not getting up until a bit after 07:00. We went for breakfast close to 08:00, and the breakfast room was busier than we’d seen it earlier. I tried eggs again, getting my selection of onions, ham, and cheeses made into an omelette today, while M. had a couple of fried eggs. After breakfast we packed our luggage, being careful to check the room and make sure we’d left nothing behind. Then we checked out and walked south a block to Entrecampos railway station, for heavy surface rail as opposed to the underground metro system.

Here we recharged our Viva Viagem cards with more money, then tapped onto the system and ascended to platform 2 to wait for a train to Sintra. One must have just left, because they run every 20 minutes, and according to the indicator board we had a 19 minute wait. We wondered how full the train would be and if we would get a seat. It arrived a minute or two late and turned out not to be full at all. We got seats easily enough and relaxed for the journey up into the hills surrounding Lisbon.

Most of the trip was through sprawling suburbs of the city. It was only really in the last three or four stops that any countryside became visible, as we slowly climbed up into the hills and the buildings finally petered out. We pulled into Sintra station a bit after 10:00. From there it was a short walk, down a steep flight of steps to the parallel street down the hillside below, and then across a bit to our accommodation for the next two nights, Chalet Saudade.

Chalet Saudade
Chalet Saudade

Chalet Saudade is a lovely blue painted house sitting in a beautiful garden. It’s so nice that people walking along the street stop to take photos of it; we saw several do so. We buzzed the intercom at the gate and a recorded voice said something in Portuguese. We tried again and said “hello”, but then I realised we should try just pushing the gate, and it opened and let us into the garden. Then a man opened the door of the house and ushered us in to a reception area where a woman sat behind a desk. We were too early to check into our room, but they did the paperwork and said they’d mind our bags while we went out to explore. The woman gave us a map and scribbled all over it indicating the attractions, the amount of time we should expect to spend at each, and the walking times between them all. She said the Pena Palace was at the top of the hill and we could either catch a bus or use a Portuguese Uber-like app, which would be cheaper. I asked about walking there and she said it would be about 45 minutes, uphill, and said don’t walk along the road, there is a walking path through the forest which passes a place called Vila Sassetti.

We also checked out the ground floor of the house, which had a common lounge area and a sunroom out the back, overlooking a garden with fishpond below down the hill. The room was decorated with a fox motif, and there were lots of knick knacks everywhere. There were a few miniature furniture sets at ground level next to miniature doors attached to the walls. The house looked as beautiful inside as outside.

Read more: exploring the town, visiting the National Palace of Sintra, chocolate tart, a possible train strike(!), and a delicious dinner with free wine top-up!

Portugal Diary, day 7

24 June, 2019

Friday, 17 May, 2019. 22:37

It’s late and we’ve had a very busy day, going to Belém and exploring the various attractions there, before having a wonderful dinner in Chiado. But now it’s late and I need to sleep, so I’ll write about it tomorrow.

Written next day

Let me tell you about the footpaths in Lisbon. They’re not concrete or asphalt or paving stones or anything sensible like that. They’re cobblestones. All of them. Even the footpaths way out in the suburbs. Every single one. And not good solid basalt or granite cobbles with sharp edges and a rough surface, but limestone. Soft limestone that wears away on the surfaces and edges leaving them all rounded and smooth. And slippery. And Lisbon is a city of hills. Try walking down a steep hill paved with rounded, slippery cobblestones. I can’t even imagine how nightmarish this city would be in the rain.

Another thing about Lisbon is that black seems to be the most popular car colour, by far, followed by dark grey. The streets are a sea of vehicles absorbing the hot Atlantic sun, punctuated only by the odd car in red or white. It seems an odd choice for a place that obviously gets a lot of hot weather

On Friday morning we tried to sleep in a little, but still got up close to 07:00. For breakfast today I tried the hot breakfast service, gathering a plate of onions, ham, tomatoes, cheese, and rocket and then handing it to a waiter and asking it to be incorporated into a plate of scrambled eggs. The eggs arrived just I finished my muesli, and were cooked very nicely. I ate them with a couple of the small bread rolls that have been delicious every morning.

M.’s toes have started to blister a bit from all the walking she’s been doing, so while she returned to the room, I dashed across the road to the supermarket to buy some band aids. It was cold this morning, but I figured I’d only be outside walking for a minute. However when I got there, the supermarket hadn’t opened yet, the sign at the door saying it opened at 08:00. It was five minutes to, so I waited for it to open, in the chilly morning air. Eventually it opened and I bought the band aids. After wrapping some around a couple of M.’s toes we prepared to leave for the day.

We walked over to Roma station to get a green line train without having to change twice, and rode it to the end of the line at Cais do Sodré. The train was packed, and at one station a couple of old ladies got on and I overheard one remarking to the other in Portuguese, with the word “sardinhos” clearly being said. Most of the passengers stayed on all the way to our stop, where everybody spilled out.

Heading upstairs to the heavy rail lines, we used our Viva Viagem cards to pass through the access gates, then tried to figure out what platform to go to. The final destinations of trains were displayed next to a rapidly scrolling list of stations. We both scanned the board, and M. spotted Belém listed on one, so we headed up to platform 2, where a train was sitting waiting. We didn’t know if this was the right train to get on, so M. asked a woman getting on if it went to Belém. The woman was confused for a while as M. repeated the destination, until she finally clicked and said, “Ah! Blem! Sim!” Pronouncing words in Portuguese is very tricky!

The train was nearly empty so we got good seats. It left after a few minutes and glided along the river westwards. Belém is pretty close and it was only three stops until we arrived there, taking a bit under ten minutes. We got out and climbed a rickety old narrow metal bridge to cross the tracks and the adjacent main road to get to the side we wanted to be on.

Pasteis de Belém
Pastéis de Belém, the original Portuguese tart shop

Walking through a small park and then down a busy street took us to the Pastéis de Belém shop, founded in 1837 and home of the invention of the Portuguese custard tart: pastel de nata. Today it does a thriving business still selling the original recipe tarts, and tourists flock to it. We arrived about 09:15 and there was a queue of about 20 people to buy take away tarts. There was also another entrance with a sign promising table service, with 400 seats. M. fancied sitting down for a coffee, so we went in there, but inside it was confusing with people in front of us waiting around, and then people coming in behind us and apparently just ignoring the queue and heading deeper into the shop. There was no sign of people being seated at tables. So we decided to go out and join the take away queue, which at least was moving in an orderly fashion.

Read more: we try the original Portuguese tarts, visit the Monastery of the Jerónimos, have lunch at an interesting market, see the Tower of Belém, and travel back to Lisbon for cocktails and an amazingly good dinner

Portugal Diary, day 6

19 June, 2019

Thursday, 16 May, 2019. 15:54

I am back at the hotel after the ISO meeting has adjourned a bit early. M. is still out exploring Lisbon.

After getting up and having breakfast as usual this morning, I went to the meeting, while M. prepared a bag of laundry to be cleaned. The hotel laundry service is ridiculously expensive, charging 3.40€ for each pair of socks and 3.90€ for each pair of underwear. With conversion we’d have ended up paying something like $60 or $70. So instead we threw all our dirty clothes in a bag and I looked up drop-in laundries nearby. There were a few within walking distance, including one right at Roma metro station, which was convenient for where M. wanted to go this morning. I wrote a note in Portuguese (using Google Translate) in case nobody at the laundry spoke English, requesting a wash and dry and asking if we could pick it up after 17:00 today. So M. planned to drop that in at 09:00 when the laundry opened and then head into town to check out the Mercado da Reibera and some more of the neighbourhoods around the city.

Meanwhile I was back at the university for the final technical session, which was a preliminary report on standards for high dynamic range (HDR) image coding. There are several standards for HDR video, but none yet for still pictures, and we think we should get started on making one. There was a lot of technical discussion on colour management and rendering. Colour seems like such a simple concept, but every time I see the technical details it reminds me just how complicated it is.

After this we had the closing administrative session for the WG 18 meeting. Next was the scheduled plenary administrative working group meeting session 2, to be held over lunch from 12:15. Since we wrapped up the WG 18 stuff by 11:00, I had an hour to kill. I took a walk north through a neighbourhood I hadn’t explored yet. It was largely residential, with apartment blocks linked by quiet streets. But on the ground floors of many of them were small shops to service the residents, including several pasteleria/cafes.

Pastel de nata from Pasteleria Lirio do Campo
Pastel de nata from Pasteleria Lirio do Campo

I stopped in at four of them and ordered a pastel de nata, the famous Portuguese custard tart, at each one. I figured I’d make this an exploration of the different bakeries and compare the tarts. The prices were all different, in order 0.95€, 1.10€, 0.90€, and 1.00€. They were all good, but the third one was distinctly not as good, with the pastry being not as fresh and flaky. I walked past three other pastelerias as well, but after four tarts I didn’t feel like I should eat any more before lunch!

Read more: walking around Rossio Square and a fancy conference dinner at a swish restaurant

Portugal diary, day 5

6 June, 2019

Wednesday, 15 May, 2019. 21:41

Well that was an interesting day at the ISO meeting.

We woke up just before 06:00 this morning, so managed to get a decent sleep, which was good. I’d say that’s effectively the end of the jetlag. We went down to breakfast a few minutes earlier than yesterday, determined to be the first at breakfast today, and indeed we were, arriving as the staff were still putting out platters of cheese and meats. We had muesli and yoghurt again, and then croissants and bread with cheese. I took one of the small heated pots of cherry tomatoes so I could add them to my cheese and bread. That was really good, so I got more bread and cheese and another pot of tomatoes, rather than a second serve of muesli.

M. spent the day going to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, which houses a historical collection of azulejo, the distinctive decorated tiles that you see everywhere all over Lisbon, and then walking through the nearby Alfama neighbourhood. She really enjoyed the museum, but said that the walk to get there from the Santa Apólonia metro station was a bit unpleasant, through a dodgy neighbourhood.

Azulejo Museum
Museu Nacional do Azulejo

I, meanwhile, went to day two of the meetings. We got stuck into the technical sessions, and were thankfully in a different room which was slightly cooler and less stuffy, but still too warm and stuffy for comfort. But it had proper desks and seats rather than the lecture room style rows we had yesterday, so that was a lot more comfortable.

Read more: a dramatic development at the meeting, a huge lunch, and exploring the Chiado neighbourhood for dinner

Portugal diary, day 4

5 June, 2019

Tuesday, 14 May, 2019. 17:17

We’re resting for a while at our hotel before heading to the meeting reception this evening, which will be at Casa do Lago, on the small lake in the middle of the park between our hotel and the meeting venue.

This morning we woke up early, being the second night after arriving, as is so often the case. Probably 05:00 or a bit earlier. Unable to go back to sleep we waited until the sun started coming up at 06:00 and then got up. We headed down to breakfast a few minutes early to find several people there already. We double checked the breakfast times, which were posted in the lift on the way back up to our room, and it definitely said from 07:00. Anyway, we ate muesli and yoghurt and some bread and mini croissants. I took a glass of what looked like a mushy fruit salad to add to my muesli, and it was just chopped fruit, so that was good.

After breakfast we prepared to head out. We left together and walked to the Entrecampos Metro entrance, where I left M. to head into the city while I turned north to walk up the park (Jardim Mário Soares) to the meeting venue. It was Building U of the Universidade Lusófona. On the way I passed the University of Lisbon as well, and the park was full of students in academic dress, as well as other students in regular clothes performing various stunts at the direction of the others.

D João I
Statue of King João I of Portugal, in Jardim Mário Soares

M. meanwhile headed south on the yellow Metro line to the end of the line at Rato, then walked south towards the Bairro Alto, or high city. She spent the day wandering around the area, checking out the sights, eventually working her way down the hill into the Baixa and Rossio Square area. Then she walked to the riverside and finally caught a train back to the hotel from Terreiro do Paço.

While she was doing all this, I was in the meetings in the university building. As I entered, I had my name marked off at a registration desk and the guy there told me which room we were using and how to get there. The room was a lecture room, with rows of fixed seating with tiny swing away desks attached, which was a change from our usual horseshoe desk arrangement. It was quite uncomfortable being in one of those seats all day and not having a proper desk to lean on. And it was very warm and stuffy. But fortunately we are in a different room the next two days. The IS&T Archiving conference is on here this week too, and today was the short courses in the same building as us, but from tomorrow they move to another building, so we’ll have better rooms to choose from.

Read more: my meetings, then the evening meeting/conference reception