Portugal diary, day 12

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.

Douro, south bank
North bank of the Douro, from Dom Luís I Bridge

Back on shore, we wended our way down the water level again, choosing different paths to yesterday, and walked a few loops and new areas. With an eye on the time, we didn’t have too long to dawdle, so began heading up the hill in earnest after a short while.

The yellow house on the corner
A house on a corner in the winding streets

We ended up just below the cathedral at one point, the hulking structure looming over us on the cliff top above. Heading further back to our hotel, we stopped in at a bakery for M. to get some bread rolls to eat for lunch on the train. Then we found a pet shop, where M. went in to get a present for Scully. We didn’t want something we could get easily at home, so chose a European looking brand we’d never seen before, selected a soft elongated chicken toy, which resembles the Portuguese rooster symbol we keep seeing everywhere. It’s probably the closest thing to a true Portuguese souvenir we could have found. We decided to name it Frango, the Portuguese word for chicken.

Back at the hotel just after 11:30, we had a few minutes to pack our bags and check out of the hotel. Then it was off on the walk back to the station. The other way had been uphill the whole way, so at least this walk was relatively easy with our extra luggage. We realised I didn’t have anything to eat for lunch, so when we got to the station we stopped at a bakery across the road and I bought a “lanche especial”, which was a sort of ham and cheese baked into a bread roll thing, and a sweet roll which looked interesting. M. had a cappuccino at the counter as well. Then it was across the road and into the station.

Our train left from platform 8, the farthest away from the entrance. Again at the station entrance there were two women with huge boxes of cherries giving away free samples and selling bags to anyone who wanted more. We’d seen them there when we arrived two days ago. And once on our train, some women seated across the aisle from us were eating from a huge bag of cherries that they must have bought.

Portuguese countryside
On the train, through the Portuguese countryside

Our train arrived a few minutes early and again it was a mad scramble for everyone to find the right car and then once on board to find the right seats. Our car was the last one and our seats were near the back end, so we went right to the last door of the train, which was not being used while all the other doors had long queues of people with luggage struggling to get on board. So we had the luxury of taking our seats on a nearly empty car and putting our luggage on the racks directly above us. As the carriage filled up, the luggage racks become full and a couple who got seats facing M.’s aisle seat and the one across the aisle just left their huge luggage in the aisle and in the space blocking M.’s feet. Fortunately when the conductor came through and checked tickets he told them off and they moved the luggage to the end of the carriage. The conductor also asked for our passports, which the one on the previous train hadn’t done.

Rail bridge, Portugal
Out the back of the train

During the trip we could get up and walk to the rear of the train, where there was a door with a window, from which we could see directly out the back.

Written next day

The return train trip seemed faster than the outward journey, perhaps because we felt a bit more awake. We arrived at Lisbon Santa Apolónia station a bit after the scheduled arrival time of 16:00. From there it was off the train and down into the metro station, to catch a train two stops to Baixa-Chiado, where we emerged from the Chiado entrance after riding the long series of escalators up to the top of the hill. From here we walked to our new accommodation, Flores Guest House. It was a little more strenuous than expected because of the hills, but we arrived okay, then had to look for the right address with the street number because it wasn’t visible in the map location given by a search. The correct number turned out to be a few doors down on the opposite side of the street.

Jardim Fialho de Almeida
Jardim Fialho de Almeida, right outside Flores Guest House (the yellow building at left)

This was actually just an office and reception, where a woman checked us in, then led us down the street and across a small park to a different building, where the rooms were located. It was a bright yellow building with a restaurant on the ground floor, and we entered an anonymous green door that led directly to a steep flight of wooden stairs up to the rooms above.

Flores Guest House
Flores Guest House building

We were up a second flight on the second floor, even steeper than the first. Our room was on the small side, but beautifully decorated, and with a modern interior built to expose some of the rough stone and mortar of the original building shell. The bathroom was tiny, with the ceiling above the toilet sloping to accommodate the stairs up to the third floor. There was also a common kitchen and an outdoor lounge area on the first floor. The breakfast service was a basket left hanging on a hook outside each room, containing a selection of bread, cheeses, ham, fruit, butter jam, fruit juice, and milk for use with coffee and tea made in the room. The reception woman also told us there would be a secret “sweet treat”. We customised our order by excluding the ham and juice and asking for extra fruit.

View from Flores Guest House
View from the window of our room at Flores Guest House

After dropping our bags, we freshened up for dinner and then went out for a bit of a walk to take us up to dinner time. On the way we stopped at the reception office to ask if we could check out late, so we could have showers before leaving for the airport for our late flight. The woman told us that our room was needed by 15:00, so we couldn’t stay much later than the normal 12:00, but she would ask the cleaners to prepare our room last, so we could stay until 13:30.

Lisbon jacaranda
Jacaranda flowering

We headed over towards the Bairro Alto (“high district”) to explore the old lanes and alleyways. Although high on a hilltop, the area was far from flat, with the streets undulating as they progressed and sets of steps connecting parallel streets at different levels. At one point we stopped at a lookout with a view over the rooftops of the lower levels of the city below. However much of the lookout plaza was being repaved and inaccessible.

Bairro Alto corner
Jacaranda flowering

We continued wandering around this area until twilight fell, which lent it a more scenic and magical feeling.

Bairro Alto street
Jacaranda flowering

As the time wore on to 19:00, we headed toward Cantinho do Avillez, the restaurant where we’d made a booking on our last night in Lisbon before heading to Sintra. We got there a bit after opening time, but they hadn’t opened the door yet, and there was a queue of two parties waiting to get in before us. At least one didn’t have a reservation and got shunted off to the bar area to wait, although they were seated a bit after we were given our choice of tables for two. We chose one in the corner with one seat a bench running along the back wall.

The menu was interesting and had several good sounding dishes, as well as a list of other restaurants operated by the owner, José Avillez. I chose a starter dish of farinheira sausage with corn bread and a coriander crust, described further as “a traditional pork sausage roasted in the oven with a crust of cornbread and cilantro”, and then for my main meal flaked cod with breadcrumbs, low temperature egg, and “exploding” olives, described in detail as “flaked confit cod with bread from the Mafra region, savoy cabbage, green beans, egg cooked in low heat, and olive spheres”. M. chose deep fried green beans with tartar sauce (“a very typical Portuguese entrée: green beans tempura seasoned with lemon salt and served with tartar sauce”) and then mushroom risotto with basil (“carnaroli rice with sautéed portobello mushrooms, parmesan shavings, and basil”). M. selected a red wine while I had a “porto tonico”, which was white port with tonic water, with my starter, and then chose a white wine with grape varietels I hadn’t heard of before to go with my cod dish. The drinks menu was presented on an iPad, with pictures and tasting notes and menu pairing recommendations accessed by a navigation menu.

Mushroom risotto
Risotto at Cantinho do Avillez

The food was very good and very different. The sausage dish was not slices of sausage, but rather a spiced ground meat pressed into a thin layer in a small metal pan, then covered with a layer of cornbread and roasted. It was spicy and crunchy and tasted good, although it was very drying for the mouth, so it was good I had a drink to go with it. M.’s tempura beans had a smooth batter a bit denser than Japanese tempura. My main dish of cod was amazing, with so many textures and flavours, brought together by the smooth and runny egg. M.’s risotto was great too, with lots of cheese and mushrooms.

Flaked confit cod
Flaked confit cod at Cantinho do Avillez

For dessert, the waitress dropped off the dessert menus and suggested either the Hazelnut3 which she described as “life changing”, or the chocolate cake which she said was all soft and gooey in the middle. The menu indeed described the Hazelnut3 as “a life-changing dessert: hazelnut ice cream, hazelnut foam, freshly grated hazelnut, and fleur de sel, in layers, served in a glass. Plunge your spoon in and enjoy all the layers in a single bite”. With this dessert was recommended a glass of Grahams 20 year old tawny port. So I had to order it plus the port. The waitress said, “Good choice”.

Hazelnut3 dessert

It was a very nice dessert, certainly one of the better I’ve had, but not right up there with the best ever, so it was perhaps a bit over hyped. The port however was amazing. The waitress said as she poured it into a glass for me that this was one of the best ports available. And I see why. It was rich and filled the mouth with complex flavours of dried fruits, toast, cinnamon, gingerbread, and some woody notes. And the aftertaste lingered long after swallowing, developing wonderful warm spicy sensations.

Monkey, Hazelnut^3, and port
Monkey with Hazelnut3 dessert and Grahams tawny port

Following this amazing dinner we walked back to our guest house. The air had become chilly and a soft breeze made it feel almost cold as we walked. Back at the room, we turned in for our last night in Portugal.

Jardim Fialho de Almeida at night
Jardim Fialho de Almeida, near Flores Guest House, at night

Leave a Reply