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Bikerscott & Jamikins in Portugal 2010/2011

Bikerscott & Jamikins in Portugal 2010/2011

Old Jan 7th, 2011, 02:10 PM
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Thanks for the lovely comments everyone! Its much more fun to write when you know people are reading!

The pics so far have been my lovely wife's, jamikins - mine will be added to the links shortly once I have time to review them properly. Writing has been taking the front seat so far. But I am sure they are worth waiting for...ha Will let you know when they have been added.

Lowcountrycarol - yes, please rest assured that it was indeed a joke! I couldnt work out what what he said in Portuguese, and didnt want to be THAT guy who repeats and repeats in English so just gave him more than we thought would be enough to cover the bill!

And onto today's episode:

Day Twelve – Lost in Translation (January 7, 2011)

I’m getting tired of waking up at 4am and lying there in bed, trying to work out how to get back to sleep. This morning was no exception to the trend I’ve developed here in Portugal. I did manage to fall back to sleep eventually, and managed to sleep right through until our alarm woke us at 10am.

Today we’d slept in intentionally – it was planned as a travel day and therefore we didn’t have any plans in particular. We had a leisurely morning packing up the accumulated detritus of four days in a self-catering and loaded up little Aurelia. Unlike the Avis hire car guy, we didn’t even attempt to cram our giant cases into the miniscule boot, instead folding down the rear seats like normal people. Despite the lacakadasical nature of our morning preparation, we were on the road by not long after 11, which was surprising. We loved our little room at Casa Rosden and were sad to leave it.

Our destination for the day was far on the other side of Portugal – the fortified hill town of Marvão. We’d estimated the drive as taking more than a few hours, and had we listened to little Tracy it probably would have done. We managed to get most of the way here with no incident, driving through the most bizarre landscape I think I’ve ever seen.

When we were in primary school as children, we learned about glacial till and the resulting landscape, and I think what we saw today was the result of that – massive boulders strewn about as if a giant had had a major tantrum at some point.
Apparently we’ve offended Tracy at some point in the last while, as she decided that as we approached Marvão that the challenge of driving wasn’t enough, so she thought she’d route us up tiny side roads and through even more tiny villages. We got stuck in some unnamed village at the base of the rather large hill leading up to Marvão and decided that Tracy was more or less fired for the rest of the trip.

We’d seen signs back on the main N road pointing to Marvão, so decided to find them again and follow them up to the town.
This seemed to be the right tact to take, as we could see the town perched on its cliff and we seemed to be getting closer and closer to it. Then the road got steep. Second gear steep, with sharp switchbacks and sheer cliffs just to the side of the road. Nervous driving, although I would have loved it on my motorcycle.

We reached the top and were faced with a problem – the town is surrounded by massive walls, and the road went straight through via a very narrow gate. I’ve been in these small walled towns before, not the best place for cars in my experience. We parked up just this side of the gate and walked in, doing a quick scouting mission to find the hotel. It turned out to be embarrassingly easy to find the hotel, and there was plenty of free parking. After checking in, we went back to collect Aurelia and settle in.

At this point we were a bit hungry so we started a search for a lunching location. It turns out that there aren’t a plethora of options in Marvão, especially in early January. We finally found the tourist office who drew on a very small map showing us the four options we had (one of which being our own hotel). We walked back down the steep streets and found a place which looked not too bad.

I’m not sure what it’s called, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the one near the big (by Marvão standards) town square with the cafe on the ground floor and the restaurant on the first floor. Lunch was actually pretty good and again very cheap. We’ve discovered the thrifty joys of Portuguese sangria, which is not only good value for money, but allows us to pretend that the weather is suitable for sangria, rather than the grim cloud and foggy rain we’ve had. I think they started cooking my veal sometime last week, and Jamie’s pork was swimming in a deep pool of butter along with her rice and chips. Two litres of the sangria and the sheer entertainment of the Portuguese soap opera that was on the telly more than made up for the shortfalls of the meal and we had quite an entertaining afternoon eating and drinking.

After lunch we did a tour of the walls, taking photos as we went. Holy crap, but it was windy. The wind was so strong that at one point of the wall, where a small rivulet of water was flowing over the edge, the wind picked it up and sprayed it back up over the railings, to distribute it somewhat evenly over the hedges and parked cars in the area. I’ve never seen water flowing uphill, let alone virtually exploding in an upwards direction.

The castle at the end of town is very steep and seems to have been build with defence in mind. Between the steepness of the cliffs leading up to it and all the battlements, I can’t imagine it ever being attacked let alone taken. We spent quite a while wandering around taking photos, and waiting for the wind to blow some of the clouds away. Unfortunately this was not to be, so eventually we admitted defeat and walked back down the hill to our hotel for a restorative beverage.

Some time later, we felt that dinner was in order. Neither of us were particularly up to braving the hill again, and it seemed the fog had rolled back in (although at this altitude I guess it’s called a cloud). Fortunately, our hotel comes equipped with a restaurant downstairs, so we went there. Like many things, apparently January is not their big season, as there was only one other table taken.

We sat down and perused the menu. It seemed to be a fairly traditional Portuguese place, with much salted cod and pork products. We both clocked the breaded chicken and thought that we would go for that. The waiter came over and we both ordered the same thing – breaded chicken. At the last second, I decided that a mixed salad as a starter would be nice, to get some vegetables and vitamins in after the excesses of the last few days. This is where the trouble started.

“I’ll have the mixed salad also” said I.

“Just the mixed salad?” questioned the waiter.

I thought of the several salad options on the menu, which included such things as tuna and eggs.

“Yes, just the mixed salad” I responded.

I thought nothing of this exchange. The waiter, it seemed, heard something completely differently. When our dinner finally arrived, Jamie got a plate of breaded and fried chicken, and I got a mixed salad. To be fair, it was quite a large mixed salad, but a salad nonetheless. Evidently, he had thought that I’d changed my mind at the last minute and had gone for the salad alone. At this point, we were both too embarrassed to point out the error. I quite enjoyed my salad, and Jamie was good enough to donate some of her chicken to the cause. Healthier than I’d been planning, but quite tasty.

After dinner we debated going to the hotel bar for a final drink, but decided that we had enough wine left over from Casa Rosden that we’d dragged to Marvão to float a battleship and that we should probably try to make a dent on that. So we have. It’s been a very entertaining evening indeed.

And pics:
http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a....eat=directlink
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 02:40 PM
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Oh and Barb - if you are ever in London let us know, we would love to meet up for a glass of vin, vinho, wine etc
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 02:44 PM
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Thank you both! I'm very much enjoying your TR and photos! Lots of chuckles and belly laughs!!!
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 08:09 AM
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Great report and great pictures! This is giving me lots of inspiration (and some things, such as relying on sat navs, to avoid)for our trip in April.
Thanks both of you for all the time and effort this report and pictures must take.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 09:04 PM
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I agree with the other comments, fun report and really stunning photos. Thanks to both of you for sharing!
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Old Jan 10th, 2011, 06:16 AM
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"Overall, despite the fever and the monsoon, it’s been a fantastic birthday"

May you have many more.

I am loving this report. And while the stormy weather was not fun for driving or hill climbing, it has evidently made for some fabulous photography.
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Old Jan 10th, 2011, 07:35 AM
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Thanks everyone We had a great time but I am currently at my desk at the office with post-trip depression hitting hard. Why cant I win the lottery!???

Scott has promised to finish the report tonight...and then we will add some last thoughts!
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Old Jan 11th, 2011, 12:57 PM
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Day Thirteen – Adventures in Parking (January 8, 2011)

One of the many interesting things we’ve learned about Portugal in our time here so far is that they make the hardest beds, possibly in the world. These champion hard bed makers did themselves proud in Marvão, although in retrospect, I’m not convinced it was a bed, possibly just a slab of wood with sheets on. The hotel was also incredibly noisy throughout the night, and one of the cleaners was nice enough to position a creaky ladder directly outside our thin door very early in the morning so that she could polish the wooden ceiling. I’ve never seen a ceiling being polished.

Sufficed to say that neither of us had a particularly restful night. In addition to that, as a result of a skiing accident many years ago in which I broke my back, nights on overly hard beds often result in a disc in my lower back slipping, which is as painful as it sounds. After a slightly lacklustre breakfast in the dining room downstairs, we packed up Aurelia and left Marvão, heading across Portugal for the slightly bigger town of Évora.

The drive was on another of Portugal’s excellent toll highways, and Tracy took us there by an easy and direct route – she’s evidently over her anger at us. The hotel in Évora advertised the ease with which it could be found and the convenience of its parking on the website, so therefore we were suspicious, especially as it is inside the town walls. Somewhat surprisingly, it was easy to find, being only a few short corners from the entrance to the town, and it did have a small parking lot.

While I have many talents, hill starts in manual transmission cars is not one of my better ones. I can do it, but like the aforementioned fat man on the bicycle, it’s not pretty. The parking lot at the hotel is extremely small; the drive up to the lot itself is extremely steep and includes a very sharp right-angled corner up the previously described hill. Adding to the degree of difficulty, some clever person had parked a shiny silver Mercedes right at the top of the steep corner bit of the drive, cutting off a big portion of the lane and making the corner up the hill even steeper and tighter. I tried several times to get up it, and while I only stalled it once, it was clear that it would take more than my meagre skill to negotiate the treacherous path.

We put the car in park at the bottom of the drive and went into reception, to see if we could get someone to move the Mercedes, on the theory that if I had more room, I might be able to get around the corner up the hill. Jamie also suggested that on her previous trip to Portugal, when she had trouble in parking, the guys at reception invariably leaped to her rescue and either parked her car for her, or extracted it from the lot. The older gentleman on reception this day was no exception to her rule.

We asked if the Mercedes could be moved, and he scoffed at us – there was surely plenty of room to drive the car up! He escorted us downstairs and took a look for himself. He considered, checking from several angles, before saying “perhaps I move it for you”. I readily agreed, his air of confidence convincing me that he was a professional parker, a paragon in the field of car positioning and placement. He took the keys, got in the car, put the car into gear, and drove quickly backwards through the gate and into heavy traffic. I guess reverse is different in his car?
He worked out where first gear was at about the same time as the sinking feeling in my stomach reached my toes. He started back up the drive with confidence, pulling the car around to the outside to give himself a better angle to get up the hill and around the sharp corner. The speed was considered, the approach sensible, a poor start but potentially a good finish I thought. At this point, the threw caution to the wind and put the accelerator to the floor – the wheels started spinning at high speed on the slightly damp cobblestones as he slewed around the corner, almost starting to smoke. The speed at this point increased rapidly, and if he’d actually gotten any traction he would have driven directly into the side of the Mercedes.

Fortunately for Aurelia, the Mercedes, and my insurance, he didn’t’ actually get enough traction to hit the Mercedes but did keep enough forward movement going to get up the hill. At this point, he stopped the car, got out, and handed me the keys. I’m not sure who was more grey, me or him. Evidently the parking was more difficult than he’d anticipated. “You can finish parking” he mumbled before scuttling back up the stairs to reception. I finished parking, my nerves completely shot and in desperate need of a drink.

We dropped our bags off in our room and headed back into Évora to find a bar or restaurant where I could steady myself and possibly have some lunch as well. Évora seemed, however, to be almost completely deserted, and we spent quite a lot of time walking around looking for somewhere to eat. Eventually we found some sort of bizarre cafeteria take away place near the market square, where Jamie had a pre-made bit of ham and pineapple pizza and I had combination plate number three, which included two hot dog wieners, a fried egg, some bacon, a side salad, and some chips. Very odd.

After this culinary adventure, we thought it best to have another drink, after taking some photos. It turns out it’s harder to find a drink in Évora than one would have thought. After much wandering and many photos, we ended up at a vaguely stylish bar near the old roman ruin where we had an enjoyable afternoon sampling beer and wine (at only €1 a glass) and watching both the people of Évora as well as the MTV video countdown (with no sound).

After a time, we had to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We’d made reservations through the hotel for a set-menu feast for that evening. By this point, my back was really playing up, and after changing and having some ibuprofen, we found our way eventually to the restaurant.

The deal for dinner was a three course meal with a bottle of wine for €25. That was all the information we had about the menu. The food would be traditional Portuguese, but would be whatever the chef cooked that night. By reservation only, no substitutions. An adventure.

It turned out to be really good, and a LOT of food. We started with a traditional first course of bread, cheeses, sliced sausages, and olives. Second course was most of a pig which had been roasted since before Christmas (in a good way – so tender it was falling apart) with spinach and chick pea mash and a huge portion of polenta. Finally, it was walnuts and port to finish things off. There was no way we could finish all of it off, except of course for the wine. After doing what we could to represent Canada in the eating challenge, we stumbled back up the hill to our hotel to sleep off that giant meal.

The next morning we woke to our last morning in Portugal. My back had gone completely out and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to put on my socks, let alone drive the car. After some help from Jamie to tie my shoes, and help from one of the cleaners to get my suitcase down the stairs (I’ve never felt like more of a man than asking a little cleaning lady to carry my giant suitcase down to the car), I made it into the driver’s seat and found that as long as I was sitting my back would be okay.

We were both a bit sad to be going home, not only because work awaited us there. We’d had a fantastic time in Portugal, and despite the terrible weather and the generally bland food (unless one is a fan of salt cod that is) we were going to miss it. The people were friendly, the wine was cheap and tasty and CHEAP, and there are some amazing sights. I’m not sure we’ll go back to the same countryside of Portugal as we saw all we wanted to see, but I suspect Lisbon hasn’t seen the last of us.

Final days pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/jamie.a....eat=directlink
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Old Jan 11th, 2011, 01:14 PM
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Great report. Thanks.
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Old Jan 11th, 2011, 01:37 PM
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You went to Adega Tipica Quartas-Feiras in Évora. Great choice. Sure it is a lot of fun (and food).
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Old Jan 11th, 2011, 01:40 PM
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lobo_mau - yes that is the place! It was fantastic - highly recommend it!
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Old Jan 11th, 2011, 01:55 PM
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Oh, be still my heart. I loved our meal at that restaurant. Finding the place was fun too.
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Old Oct 30th, 2011, 08:47 AM
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Great report! We also stayed at Casa do Valle this June and were very disappointed about this B&B. We ate at Tulhas three nights out of five. The food was good, it was a cosy place and the owners were very friendly.

Thanks for the tip on Adega Tipica Quartas-Feiras in Évora. We'll be there next year in June.
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Old Oct 30th, 2011, 02:13 PM
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MyriamC - why were you disappointed with the B&B?
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Old Oct 30th, 2011, 02:26 PM
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It was much more basic than the pictures on their website showed. Price/quality was not okay IMO. We didn't get to meet the famous Virpi who everyone raves about. In fact we didn't see any 'staff' during our 5 night stay other than the young woman who handed us our key on arrival and to whom we paid our bill on departure. It was very, very impersonal. Definitely our worst B&B experience.
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Old Oct 30th, 2011, 02:45 PM
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Yeah I can see that - they are very hands off. We have stayed there twice and I would almost say they are more of a room rental compared to a B&B. They dont really offer many services and you wont see anyone outside of check in and check out. You can get breakfast, but its in your room, not like a normal B&B. We were fine with it, but if you are wanting more hands on, personal service I agree this isnt the place!
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 06:22 AM
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I think the 'essence' of a B&B is the social contact between owners and guests. I completely missed that aspect at Casa do Valle. At least I had expected a breakfast room or something like that. I don't like to eat breakfast in a small room that we have slept in a whole night, and it was too cold for the balcony. We ordered breakfast once which I thought was more like a picknick with coffee/milk in thermos bottles. Yuk! The other days we went into the center for a decent breakfast at almost the same price.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2013, 02:41 PM
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Seriously enjoyed this report! Even though it was a few years ago, it's gotten me excited about our upcoming trip to Spain, Portugal & Morocco, next month 2013... Thanks for all the details and great pics! Really gave me the sense of how it'll be in Lisbon... Even renting a car? Didn't think about manual transmission & all the hills. something to consider. You & Jamie seem to enjoy traveling like me & my wife do - lots of eating & drinking! looking forward to the ports too! Great writing and photography. Appreciate you sharing your experience...

Take care & God bless...

JP from California
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Old Mar 22nd, 2013, 03:27 PM
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Glad you enjoyed it JP! Portugal was great, you will have. Fabulous time!!
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Old Oct 19th, 2013, 03:44 PM
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Just adding a new link to the photos in Flickr as our Picasa account is no longer available

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pug_gir...7636734183955/

Happy travels!
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