After our not so good sightseeing tour on Tram 28 we decided today to visit the Castile St Jorge which sits atop of one of Lisbon’s seven hills, luckily Tram 12 passed our apartments which like Tram 28 goes to the Castile, and luckily for us just as we left the apartment one had just arrived,the Castile dates back to the 2nd century BC. It sits atop of one of Lisbon’s hills with magnificent views over the city and the sea, and can be seen standing proud from most parts of the city below. You can walk around its ramparts and explore the many courtyards inside also inside the Castile there are some resident peacocks. Now I’m not sure if it was mating season or the girls good looks but the male birds were showing off their magnificent plumage, a great spectacle indeed. Another must see is the Camera Obscura which is housed in the towers. “Camera obscura, an optical system of lenses and mirrors, which provides a detailed 360º view of the city in real-time, including its monuments, most emblematic areas, the river and the bustle of Lisbon itself.” Once you leave the Castile the small narrow streets which surround the castle are also worth spending some time exploring, with their quaint little shops and small restaurants and bars. After a couple of hours visiting the Castile we made our way down the hill to take a look at Lisbon’s cathedral which was built In 1147 and has had many transitions since, it also has survived many of Lisbon’s earthquakes, worth a look but not as impressive as some of the cathedrals I have seen. I suppose I am spoilt living in Lincoln with our magnificent cathedral. As it was soon time to be thinking about dinner we decided to head back to the area our apartment was in “Baxia Chiado” and look for a restaurant, walking about the day before we liked the look of a small little family restaurant close by us called “Adega de S Roque” in. Rue da Misericòrdia, we were attracted by its intimacy and of course it’s menu,a restaurant I would certainly recommend, also don’t be put off by the many football scarves attached to the ceiling apparently it is a legacy of the previous owner, there are no big tv’s showing football, and in my opinion the huge splash of colour adds to the quaint decor. After leaving the restaurant we decide to take a walk back to our apartment along Rue de Norte which is one of the many narrow streets in the Barri Alto district which is famous for its many small clubs, pubs and restaurants and have a nightcap. We liked the look of a small bar called Alface Hall, where some musicians were setting up their instruments also another thing that attracted us was the fact that happy hour was on so we wandered in. Luckily for us it was quite empty so we found some seats close to the stage and ordered our drinks. The bar soon started to fill up, the music started playing, which incidentally was brilliant, so from what was supposed to be a nightcap turned into a very late night, of excellent music, plenty of belly laughs and drink a great night was had by all “we did pay the price the next day but it was worth it”.
Well it’s trip time again, and we are off to the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. Now the last time I visited Lisbon was back in the eighties when I was a lot younger, it was a fleeting day trip from Albufeira the city seemed very overpowering back then for a little traveled young man as I was in those days, but years on I love nothing more than a city break. So as with most recent years we decided to visit for my birthday. As we had an early flight and the drive to the airport takes around two hours we decided to stay in one of the trusty Travelodge chains hotel just a short drive from the airport, getting up up at 4am was a bit of a shock but it’s a lot better than leaving at 2am with a two hour drive to deal with. Flight was painless enough and we arrived in Lisbon around 10am. The weather initially did not seem a lot different than back in the uk which was a surprise, but that was ok, at least it was dry. Getting through passport control was painless enough, located our pickup from the airport and we were soon on our way to to our apartment for the duration of our stay. Chiado Apartments. When we arrived at our apartment we discovered that it could not have been in a more perfect location, overlooking largo de camões square right in the heart of Lisbon in the Baixa & Rossio area. So it was a quick unpack and off out to explore the area. First port of call was a to get some lunch consult our guide book and get our bearings. So just a short walk from our apartment was a little wine bar called Grapes & Bites Wine House, where we formulated our plans over a nice glass of red wine and some excellent local cheeses.
Next we moved on to the Rossio area of town, on the way I could not help noticing that the architecture of Lisbon is in my opinion a bit lacklustre compared to the many other European cities we have visited, even the squares and monuments had that something lacking. The time flew by and our thoughts were turning to where to go for dinner, their were plenty of restaurants to choose from, some with some very nice outside seating spots, but the evening was a little on the chilly side for that so we took the indoor option. Whilst walking around we did stumble across a small little place where a very friendly old chap was trying to beckon us in but we replied ” maybe later” but the place looked really nice. So when we were ready to have dinner we decided to return to the friendly old chaps restaurant which was called. Restaurante Portas in Rue dos Corrreeiros,in the Baxia district. The restaurant itself was very plain and simple, but very clean and the food was excellent especially the sardines. A good way to end our first day in Lisbon;
Once again we are off on our travels, this time its a special occasion for my dear wife’s 60th birthday. Our first stop is Barcelona, for three nights then onto Seville by train for three nights. Have never visited either city so I was really looking forward to this trip.
We arrived safely and everything went according to plan, after all we were flying Ryanair. We had not arranged any onward transport from the airport to the city as it was decided that after reading our trusty Lonely Planet guide the bus would be a good option, so after collecting our luggage we headed off to get our tickets for the journey. There are a few option to get from the airport to the city firstly there is the obvious choice of a taxi, which will cost approx €30 plus a charge for each item of baggage. Secondly there is the Autostrada bus service which costs €5.90 single or approx €9 return, and thirdly the is the national train service Renfe of which we took as after standing in the queue for our bus tickets we overheard some other travellers chatting to the woman on the information desk, and the cost for this was only €3.90, bargain. The train takes you into the city centre where you can easily get a metro connection, metro, tickets are priced at €2 for a single journey or you can purchase a 10 trip card for €9.80. Well enough tips for now back to the city itself. After dropping off our cases in our lovely apartment for our stay, which incidentally overlooked the magnificent Sagrada Familia. Our first port of call was the well publicised La Ramblas which is a very long tree-lined boulevard which eventually ends up at the sea it has many shops, restaurants souvenir stalls and some beautiful flower stalls which it appears are under threat from the local government’s axe, to probably make way for more tacky souvenir stalls. La Ramblas itself is in my opinion does not live up to its hype, personally its like any other shop filled street in any city, but it does have some worth while attractions like the huge undercover market which with its many stalls selling all kinds of interesting food. Also worth a look is the Plaça Reial a beautiful square with a magnificent fountain as its centre piece, with many lovely restaurants around its edge. But in my opinion the best area around Las Ramblas is the Gothic Quarter which is the centre of the old city of Barcelona, lots of narrow streets quaint little shops and many small interesting restaurants, and the prices are slightly cheaper than around Las Ramblas. Well after a long day it was time to head back to the apartment for a well-earned rest as our next on our itinerary was Sargarda Familia. Now Sargarda Familia is probably Barcelona’s biggest tourist draw, its architect was Antoni Gaudi he started construction in 1882 and the cathedral is still be constructed today with a proposed finishing date of 2026, words cannot describe this magnificent structure, you could stare at the building for hours and notice something new at every new glance. Now as you can imagine Sargarda Familia attracts tens of thousands of visitors and the queues are sometimes around two hours long, so a top tip to get around the long queues is to book your ticket in advance online to save yourselves a lot of time queueing, the official website for this can be found by clicking this link. Tickets. I would also recommend paying a little extra and add a trip up one of the towers on your visit and also take the worthwhile audio guide. Another place of interest we visited was the Palau de la Música Catalana which is a very elaborate music venue with performances that range from symphonic and chamber music to jazz and Cançó (Catalan song), right up to modern-day bands. The facade at the main entrance is magnificent, and if you do visit take your time to look up at the entrance facade and take in the amazing ornate stonework, the main entrance incidentally is not entrance in which you enter but down a small side street, so have a look once you finish your tour. Once inside the opulence continues, lots of lavish decor, stonework and ornate tiling. Your entrance tickets does include an informative tour but the entrance fee was in my opinion too expensive €17. It might be an option to look into taking in a show which we discovered in some circumstances was not a great deal more than the stand alone tour. Next stop Seville.
As this was a two centre trip it was decided to fly to Barcelona, take the fast Renfe train to Seville, then fly back to the UK from Seville. The journey to Seville was some 600 miles from Barcelona and the journey took just five and a half hours, with speeds reaching 300 kph a very swift service indeed. We arrived in Seville early afternoon and made our way to our accommodation for the next few days Apartamentos Murillo which were very nice indeed. Now as this trip was to celebrate my wifes 60th Birthday I had arranged for our daughter to fly out and meet us in Seville as a surprise for my wife, so after settling in to our apartment we took a stroll to the bar where I had pre-arranged to meet our daughter. Now prior to us flying to Spain my wife had spoken to our daughter and said that it would have been nice if she came to Spain with us, but my daughter told my wife that she could not get the time off work but, so understandably my wife was disappointed but understood, so when she turned up in the bar as arranged you can imagine the suprise on my wife’s face, so after lots of tears of joy a good time was had by all.
Our first full day in Seville was spent walking around the magnificent Alcazar palace and its huge grounds. The Alacazar Palace was originally a moorish fort, and it is the oldest palace still in use in Europe. In 1987 it was listed as a Unesco world heritage site location, a good few hours was spent taking in the magnificence of the palace and its beautiful grounds. Next stop was the equally stunning Seville cathedral. It is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world, a really must see. After soaking up all this amazing architecture it was time for a nice relaxing carridge ride, you see, all around the centre of Seville you can find many horse-drawn carriages and there drivers plying their trade to take you on a tour of the city, they cost around €50 for an hour-long ride which can be a little expensive if there is only two of you, but as there was five of us to split the cost it was not to bad. The tour takes you around the city and through the Maria Luisa Park with a stop at the stunning Plaza de España a great way to spend a relaxing hour. Now like I said the trip was to celebrate my wife’s 60th birthday so I asked the very helpful chap on reception of our hotel that if he could, one recommend a good restaurant and two, a good traditional spanish flamenco show and he came up trumps on both counts. The restaurant whose name escapes me was over the other side of the river from the old part of Seville situated on the corner of Calle del Corro and San Jacinto. When we first approached I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting something a bit special for my wifes milestone birthday but once inside although it was quite plain the whole experience was excellent. We were shown to our table by the really friendly staff, the chef came out in immaculate chefs whites to point out the specials of the night, and to welcome us to the restaurant, and when the food arrived it was absolutely delicious. Next stop was the traditional flamenco show, but first let me explain how the guy on the reception at our hotel described what was an amazing night, he told us that there were plenty of shows in the old part of town which last for about an hour but these are quite expensive and are just there to cater for tourists, but if we wanted the really traditional flamenco we should take ourselves off to Calle Castilla, he said in broken english that “the venue is a bit underground” which intrigued us but said we would enjoy it, he directed us to a second-hand book / comic shop, which was a bit difficult to find down a small street in Seville “Calle Castilla” once inside we purchased our tickets at the shops counter and were directed up a staircase to the second floor where there was a small stage, low lighting and many small tables and chairs dotted all over the place. Drinks were purchased by paying a lady sitting at a table with just a small cash box, who in turn gave you a ticket which you handed in at the bar in exchange for your drink. So we found a nice little spot overlooking the stage and settled down for the evening. The venue started to fill and the atmosphere was amazing. First a guy came onto the stage and introduced the musicians, then went on to explain the story about the dance we were to see, all with great passion and plenty of hand clapping from the audience. But as it was all in Spanish we did not have a clue what the story was, but we clapped when everyone clapped and just joined in. Next the dancers entered the stage and we were treated to the most passionate and heart-felt flamenco dance that I have ever witnessed a truly brilliant night.
As we had only one day left in Seville the rest of our trip was taken up with just soaking up the atmosphere of this amazing city, a true jewel in Spain’s crown and one location I will defiantly go back to.
Well our last day in Bruges, and after a good nights sleep at the Hotel Jacob we were up bright and early, for breakfast, which was served in a really lovely dining room which had an amazing ornate ceiling. Breakfast choice was vast cereals, fruits, croissants, cold meats & cheese etc I could go on and on, so it set us up nicely for the day. First stop of the day was the chocolate museum Choco-Story now I was fully expecting to be a bit bored but in fact it was the opposite, it was very interesting indeed, with some amazing facts on the history of chocolate through the ages. there was some also some amazing sculptures made from chocolate I would throughly recommend a visit.
Next on the agenda was a boat trip along the canals of Bruges, there are various places you can pick up the boats, but as it is November many were closed for the season, but we did find one operating at the junction of Wollestraat and Rozenhoedkaai. (Click here for map) there was an interesting commentary on board the boat along with stunning views of Bruges’s amazing architecture it was well worth the trip. (Top tip: Our Hotel gave us a discount card to all the top attractions of the city, it seemed a generic card which I am sure all hotels supply, so saving a bit of money). Next stop was the Beer Wall now this is a small bar selling over 1000 different kinds of belgium beers, (see photo) although needless to say I did not get to sample them all but would have loved to over time, plenty of time I might add. The bar is located just over the bridge from where we caught the boat, and caters for all tastes even the girls enjoyed a tipple. I had a Christmas dark ale which was very nice indeed, but at 10.5% proof it would not take too many to blur the vision.
Well the day had flown by and it was soon time to head back to the Hotel, get our cases and head back to board the ship for the journey home. Bruges is a wonderful city and it would definitely be on my list of must see again cities. I will post more photo’s of the trip on my Flickr Page so have a look if you will
Oh well another trip over so its time to sign off again, so stay safe, keep well but most of all keep following.
Well after a very calm and quite crossing we arrived in Zeebrugge, about 08:45 it was worth paying the small extra charge for a outside cabin as we were well away from the drone of the engine noise. After disembarking it was just a short walk to outside the terminal to pick up our coach to take us to Bruges which was about 17km away. One thing to add for anyone who is doing the same trip with P&O ferries the coach does not drop you off in the centre of town but near the railway station which in our case was some 25-30 minute walk from one side of the city to the other, this with the combination of having a small wheeled case and walking along the cobbled streets was a bit of a pain. After dropping off our cases at the hotel it was time to explore the city which in one word is beautiful, amazing architecture, quaint shops and numerous bars and restaurants. We meandered our way around the small streets and canal sides soaking up the atmosphere, I can see why they call Bruges the Venice of the north. After a good few hours walking around the city we headed back to check into our hotel, Hotel Jacob. The hotel is very nice indeed and certainly lives up to its good reviews and I would not hesitate to recommend it. Oh we’ll time to get spruced up and sample the city at night, more tomorrow.