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micheledunlop’s Travel Diary

Monday, 28 May 2007

Location: Spain

MapFrom Braga I decided to go to Salamanca. Could not find accommodation but had taken the numbers of the hostels recommended in the Lonely Planet and gave the first one a call from P here we had to wait for the train to Salamanca.
I shared my carriage with a really drunk man who told me lots of things every time he woke up. I am sure that they were very interesting but I will never know as they did not include right or left, café or where am I now.

Getting off the train at Salamanca in the middle of the night, a passing stranger named Vicki, said 'is that a NZ accent' and we shared a taxi downtown. There was no room at my inn so off she wandered into the night with her case trailing behind her.

I chucked my pack into my room and then went to look at the streets as there were so many people around. I came to the main square and it was magic.

Next morning I was trailing my pack around, looking for a home and ran into Vicki again. Trailing luggage while consulting a map and looking really puzzled is a common sight in Salamanca so booking is a good idea. Finally got a great hotel – The Hotel Emperatiz - they have two and I stayed at the one around the corner. The staff were lovely but you had to get good at saying your room number in Basque accented ? Spanish. Vicki suggested lisping it and that seemed to work. We visited the sites in the town; my favorites were CACA LIS (art nouveau) and climbing to the top of DE LA CATEDRAL DE SALAMANCA where we had gone to look at the exposicion Documental Ieronimus and read the booklet put out by a local someone – the language and style is worth a long lunch and we did most of the things recommended including standing by St. Ursula at dawn or dusk and ‘watching the interplay of light – it actually had a couple of fabulous sentences that I have now forgotten but get the book and read it.

I decided that I probably needed to try a Lonely Planet for Spain and managed to get one in English there. I struggle a little with the opulence of churches, especially when I see things with kilos of gold and silver and know that in the times it was made many starved or had no roof over their head. I have the same guilty feeling when I pass beggars and know that I have had both education and opportunity and can go to work, and now am spending a king’s ransom just to look at stuff. I still am using Peta’s friend Jane’s advice – one lucky beggar a day to assuage my conscience.
We spent quite a bit of time in the square, accompanied by Sangria, beer, coffee, paella and I think ice cream. It’s a great place and one evening we were there just as the lights went on - Magic. I woud like to lie in a place with a square like that.

It was raining when we got to Toledo and with a TV. in our room we could see that much of Spain was here experiencing flooding. Once again we moved through tiny cobbled streets, some were covered with a sort of high awning. I cannot explain it all but Toledo has a really individual feeling about it. We managed to get into the hostel Nuevo Labrador. It’s a good hotel in a really good spot. It is around the corner from the one that was recommended in the last Lonely Planet. There was no Internet and I discovered an Internet Soul mate in Vicki – which is awfully handy when you are traveling. I did buy some marzipan but discovered that it is not the stuff you buy at home in a packet to put on cakes. I got it from the nuns at the St. Ursula’s church. Please visit them. It has so little publicity compared to all the other religious buildings in Toledo, but it is pretty and honest.

Finally to Madrid. The Rail Station at Toledo is worth getting there early for. We had an hour before the train and it is an amazing building. Same when you get into Atocha station in Madrid – you are greeted with a tropical paradise, complete with lots of turtles.

Once again walking through town, knocking on doors to find a stable for the night. First we stayed at the Pension Casado and then after Vicki left I stayed at the MAD. Pension Casado is a lovely hotel, definatly reccommended but I do miss the common room and kitchen facilities of the hostel. These smaller hostels have a market opportunity I think with this. MAD is all hostel with great T shirts, definately on the up and up in hostel land, but the rooms are the tiniest (small not metallic) rooms I have ever shared with 4 people. Only room for one person at a time to walk between the bunks.
I carted my backside around the Puerto de Sol, Museo del Prado and Centro de Art Reino Sofia, listening to the commentary and studying the art. I have never been good at this, and have the same peculiar effect of nausea, same if I go into a Persian carpet shop. Any way I really enjoyed the days, we stopped for breaks and Vicki explained which were the most famous and why. It’s good going to something like that with someone who has a passion for it. I have a friend in Perth who is passionate about Ballet and I love going to see it with her for the same reason.

Today it was the Park - it‘s a Sunday thing in Madrid – families, friends, - strolling, reading the paper or a book, sleeping on the grass or whatever. I have uploaded some pictures. To break the day I took a walk into the Salamanca area and then across to the Salvador Dali square, it was full of little white tents and people selling paintings. I was forced to have coffee and cake before walking back to the park to hear the music as promised by the LP. I saw a puppet show, and then went around to where all the drummers were bongo- ing away. Something to see and you can feel the drums.

Monday, 28 May 2007
Location: Portugal

Lots of good reports about Porto from Mum, Dad and Moss from their visit there in the 1090,s
Stayed at the Andarilho. Recommended by a guy at the Lisbon Easy. Owned and run by a bunch of entrepreneurial blokes, who get it so right. This hostel is a tiny hill walk from a main part of town. It is kept very clean but the clients there at the time were letting down in the kitchen area. There is free internet and wifi and the website has good info re visiting Porto. . They will put your washing though for E4.00, they are great with local information and directions. Most there were younger than me (I’m 53) but one night there were 5 of us over about 35 which was fun but I had to drop out at Portuguese monopoly. A young Monopoly shark from the UK stepped in and showed all what the game was about.
Things to do - obviously taste the Port. Of us all, one guy thought that the Taylors tasting came way out in front for the information and tasting experience. We did the Ferrier, and I forget which others, I just cannot drink that much port in the middle of the day, even with eating in between and so I was pretty drowsy after not too long. One of those things that you have to do because you are there, and good to do in a group maybe in the pm and can go onto dinner.
I splashed out on the trip down the Durou, expensive at E80 on the backpackers budget. Starting at 0930 hrs (the bar was open – and the Portuguese from the Algarve were into it.) and finishing about 9pm and going about 100kms up the river. Breakfast was not a promising start, but the different aspects of countryside views kept me pretty engaged. We had to wait in the lochs, one about 14 meters and then the other of around 34 meters while other boats joined us and put me in mind of how big a 10 meter tsunami wave might be. The choices of aperitif for lunch were white or red port, a port with Schweppes, ice and lemon or orange juice. Next was soup and a roll, (I had seconds) main was succulent and very tender pork with potatoes, (I had seconds) there was salad and rice on the side, then desert was crème brulee (I had seconds) Red and White wine were generously served as required and there was quite some requiring going on. We got to our destination around 5 pm and visited a port museum and learned a thing or two, about Port but more about how to look at photography of earlier days i.e. what was real and what was posed. We took the train home and then walked back to the hostel. all in all, a good day out and E80 euros well spent, more for the company, the views, and the lunch than learning about Port.

Apart from that there was the usual Photographic exhibition, (Mug Shots) tower to climb, churches to slip inside and sit and rest and wonder at (I like that they all have people inside actually using them) I enjoyed the sculpture and all the rest of garden at the contemporary art museum, not much of a one for art museums, but I did love the round balls and eggs of ?plastic and colours. We apparently were not quite right to be able to get into the dining room and so had lunch down in the bar and café which was great.

I seem to be the only one who catches a glimpse of what’s in shop windows but I love just looking around to see what people are buying and what is available. Once again blown away by the jewelry, but wonder if I looked in the shop windows at home I might be just as entranced.

I stayed an extra day as I saw that there was some Fado at a local club. The guy at the hostel explained that is was a modern version but off I walked at 2300hours. Felt safe though did pass through some of the students still celebrating their graduation earlier in the day (they do it in a big way with a parade through the town and days of celebration) I could not find it for ages and finally went into another hostel to ask directions . She gave the house name Contagiarte, and said it was next to the football house and so it was. The house all in darkness but I knocked on the door and said Fado. Right house, he said go upstairs, it will start around 12pm. It was incredibly smoky club (terribly avant guarde I think) and the few people sitting around all seemed to know each other. I ordered a gin and tonic and went outside onto the stairs to wait. Lovely garden and courtyard and the Fado guys were practicing. At about 12.30 the Fado started, singers smoking as they sang, two people read poetry, one read the newspaper as a poet. Good night and probably most local thing that I attended.

In the a.m packed and then walked to the Crystal Palace park. The crystal palace is not really there so don’t go – you cannot get in and it’s a sports field I think. It was a long way and sun was hot. Used brolly to keep sun away and got heaps of stares. I did see another lady doing the same so it cannot be completely unusual. Took the metro to the train, which all worked well as they have escalators and lifts.
Arrived in Braga and felt quite crappy, could not face getting my gear on the bus and so got a cab for E5.00. Amazing how many things cost E5.00. Residencial Centro Commercial Avenidais literally in the middle of a giant shopping centre, including a movie complex. Its’ all quiet in your hotel room and you come out in the middle of it all you are in the middle of it. Definitely not a hostel, the man was very shocked when I said that I would prefer a dorm room sharing with other people. He said but you are one, when people share a room they bring others. Had a quick wizz around Braga, and it truly is the place of churches. The bells ring frequently, and my tourist map is covered with groups of them right in the city centre.

People here these smaller towns are definitely not into helping strangers or speaking or acting out help. Need to at least know counting, money, left right and straight on and where am I on this map. I think though that if I lived in Portugal it would be in Braga. This tourist office here would also get the prize as the most helpful and pleasant tourist office of those that I encountered.

Was a must see in the guidebook so off I went to the Barcellos market which is on a Thursday and much like any market. It is on the bus route and very obvious where to get off. Lots of fresh produce but got to watch. I bought some cherries but when opened the bag most were split and mushy. Lucky my salivating self wanted to eat one before got to far so took them back for a change to a very surprised stall holder. It would not e a tragedy to miss this market. I sat up on the top right at the front which is a bit like IMAX or being in a helicopter. The driver had to hoot to warn people to step back or shut their car doors so it was a bit hairy but I saw the lady next to me put on a seat belt and I felt much safer doing the same.

I was going to hire a car while here to get to all these towns but the buses are frequent, cost E2.00 and you do not have to think of parking. Did not hire a car but definitely would if came here again. Visited the National Park and stayed in Geres Vilar Furnas. It is part of the Pousada de Juventude chain and therefore we paid E9 per night (including breakfast which in this organization is always, two rolls, one piece each of ham and cheese, coffee and fruit juice, cornflakes and yoghurt. They did not have facilities to cook with there and it was just in the process of opening, so did not have the advertised internet set up yet, which is a bit of a disaster for those who are tardy with their booking (like me) The receptionist was very definite that I was most certainly not going to use theirs either, so got them to phone and book me back into Braga for one night.

This is a stunning part of Portugal and I would visit here again. Best with a car (or vespa) and probably come in from Santiago de Compasa if I could. I had met Urshka from Slovena on the bus on the way up. We did not know where to get off and assumed that the driver did and was going to tell us. We passed many signs with the same name as that on our booking slip and eventually went up to ask and it appeared that we had missed the stop. He decided to go around again – we finally got off and could find no sign of the hostel. One man told us it was about 14 kms. back, finally a lady pointed it out across the valley. She looked at my gi-normous overloading and showed us through her back gate, across the field, past the cemetery and the pigs, back on the streets (we met a lady being lead by her cow through the village) It was very hot. I sat for a while by the side of the road with the packs and Urshka went along the road to find the place. She came back feeling more positive and so off we went again. Next time I went off and she sat. I heard lawn mowing and followed the sound. I was leaning over a garden wall shouting and waving but to no avail. I had to wait until she stopped and then she pointed us on our way again. Next we met a man who appeared to be watering a tennis court. He ceased his task, led us up heaps of steps and in his best Portuguese pointed up a long steep hill. This one required a rest stop two and finally we were able to book in. Then the receptionist took us all the way down again to hostel land. This hostel looks so elegant from the outside, tasteful wooden buildingbut it is lacking.
We had dinner the first night there but agreed never again. We bought wine for me and beer for Urshka but no glasses so I had my first and hopefully only experience of drinking red wine from a bottle. We hogged the TV and watched the Hollywood movie channel, Pretty Women and French Kiss.

Just made breakfast next day and then off for a walk in the National Park They have the absolute best museum there so put it on the must sees, very clever. It is really an explanation of local geological development, fauna and flora. We all know how much I am not a museum or art gallery person but this is special. Then set off again into the “nature”. A few seconds later passed the equine centre and decided that it must be coffee time, and then it became lunch time, and then we decided that we did not really have to do anything because just by being there we were “doing something”. So for another while we ‘enjoyed the nature’ and then finally stirred and found the road to Spain 3km along. After looking at the lake it seemed a really good idea to walk to Spain and off we went. We tried hitchhiking but no one stopped and hardly anyone smiled. Urshka’s phone welcomed us to Portugal so we figured we were about 5km from Spain and probably needed to walk back as it was getting late. By the time we got back to the hostel we were really glad about that decision. Out for dinner that night to a local café, it was really great, pork escallops, chips and salad, I think for E7. Totally recommend - really really give the hostel a miss until they have things under control.

Both Urshka and myself agreed that it would have been very unfunny if there had been only one of us. With a sigh of relief back to Braga next morning. We were assured by various people of various times that the bus went so we just sat on the road in the morning prepared for any time. The 9am school bus picked us up.