Monthly Archives: September 2014

Europe 2014: Day 12

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Day 12

Our last day takes us from Porto to Frankfurt, then onwards home to Toronto.  Siobhan and I woke up at 3:30AM to catch the airport shuttle to Porto’s airport, where in the cool night air, some airport employees enjoyed a smoke break as we got our luggage out.  We walked over to the check in desk, where a line up began for the Lufthansa flight to Germany.  On one desk, a family of three had a long conversation which ended up in them walking away, passports returned to them and luggage removed from the belt.  On another, a family of Canadians began to check in several pieces of luggage.  It was so early, that the gate we were supposed to depart from was dim.

In Frankfurt, we decided to take the S-Bahn, or regional train, into the city to visit a museum and perhaps have lunch.  It took only twelve minutes to get from the airport into the city’s main train station, and another fifteen to walk to our destination, the Museum für Kommunikation, which was formerly the postal service museum.  On the way, we passed the Euro sign sculpture at the European Central Bank headquarters, which we thought was neat, considering there’s a gift shop immediately next to it.  The museum itself has many old phones and televisions, comprising a history of written, printed, and transmitted communication.  It was really nice to see an old working Strowger electromechanical phone switch at work.

One visit we didn’t plan was the Frankfurt Airport Tour, which is offered by the airport authority.  There, an airside bus took us out onto the tarmac, where we could see the huge Boeing 747’s and Airbus 380’s from the ground, driving us around the airport property.  It was well worth the small entrance fee, and an enthusiastic employee gave us an English commentary, despite the actual tour being in German.  He really made our time there special, giving us a real in depth explanation of how the airport worked.  Sadly, I would have loved to stay at the airport longer to watch the airplanes, but we had to get onto our flight home to Toronto.

So, in summary:  Portugal was a beautiful and scenic country, where the people were friendly.  We had a fantastic time and would love to return some day.  If you intend to visit, bring a circular polarizer.

Some notes from field:

  • The word lavagem describes washing laundry.  I want to know which words in Portuguese end in –em.
  • In Lisbon, a small ceramic dish called an assador de barro is used to heat up sausages.  A small amount of alcohol is poured onto the dish, then lit and the sausages placed on top of the grille.
  • In Porto, a small ticket booth offered tours of vineyards and other tourist tickets such as opera and theater.  However, the daily special was a tour called The Harry Potter Experience which sounded like one of those pseudo museum/science center exhibits.  Turns out J.K. Rowling wrote part of the Harry Potter novels in Porto, where she worked for a while and tours are offered in the city.
  • On the S8/S9 train to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, on certain stops, buskers appeared on the train, with a portable speaker on a dolly.  Our first trip in, one busker tried to encourage the passengers, while another played a whistle.  No one gave him any money as he tried to solicit down the car.  On our way back, two women dragged their speaker around without playing any instruments, which seemed a little bit disingenuous.  Buskers in New Orleans would eat these guys for breakfast.
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Europe 2014: Day 11

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Day 11

While the olive trees and grape vines love the sun of the Douro Valley, I had difficulty with the almost forty degree heat.  The sun casts down on the sloped valleys of this region, neat rows of grapevines tied up on stepped terraces propped up often with shale rock placed hundreds of years ago.

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Today we took a tour of the valley which included a short sail on the Douro River, as it winds between all these carefully planted estates.  The water was still and quiet as our boat made its way along.  Gazing up at each property, you could see small roads leading up and down the hillsides, often stopping an estate house or utility building.  In a few weeks, the grape pickers were take to these steep inclines to collect the sweet grapes and bring them for pressing, which is done traditionally by hand, or in reality, by foot, stomping them to get their juices out without seeds which would foul the wine with bitter taste.

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The primary export of this region is port wine, made with alcohol from the grape leaves added during in the process winemaking.  An export to Britain, many of the port wine makers feature British names.  Our drive through the winding hills brought us to an olive oil maker, whose family in generations past took olives both from their own property and those of other farmers and pressed them to make the oil so prevalent in European cooking.

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Walking up a small area of vines, you could feel the hot sun coming down.  This sunlight is ideal for production, as these conditions support grapes with lots of sugar, which in terms increases the fermented strength and sweetness of the resulting wine.

Europe 2014: Day 10

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Day 10

Porto, as the second largest city in Portugal, has the density and sophistication of Lisbon.  Built on the valley of the Douro River, the city’s streets are narrow and steep, with buildings nestled both in the crevices of these angles as well as numerous paths through them.  For example, the train station is at the base of a hill, but the tracks it serves come through a tunnel.  While the main attraction is the handpainted tiles in the entrance, I actually really enjoyed watching travelers run to their trains, and the sunlight peering from the open sides into the shed.  A German tourist also liked it and asked me to take a photo of him between the two main tracks.  He actually asked me to reshoot the framing four times.  Well at least someone else is serious about their travel photos.

The McDonald’s near the Porto train station has a very stylish interior.  Chandeliers illuminate a stained glass mural behind the counters, while the usual signage offers McBifanas, the McDonalds variant of the Portuguese pork sandwich, and McPrego, a breakfast sandwich.

We had a different approach today which was to enjoy touring around the city, then have a late lunch. Then, instead of trying to find lunch during the siesta of mid to late afternoon and dying in the heat, we’d go back to the hotel to have a nap, then come back out as the sun began to set to enjoy walking around in the cool air.

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After the train station, we found the Torre de Clerigos from last night, a church tower from the 1700’s.  As we climbed the two hundred odd steps, the cool wind blew and the sun peeked in from openings in the tower stairwell.  Looking over the south side, you can see the Douro and the city upon the slopes of the valley.  Like as in Lisbon, the roofs were mostly the orange terracotta.  In the distance, one can make out of the old warehouses along the river, where port wine used to be stored and traded, as well as the various church steeples.

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The whole day, it was clear the tight narrow streets of Porto and Portugal in general, made for difficult driving and parking.  Today we witnessed a standoff between a tricycle tuk-tuk carrying tourists going down and a small hatchback going up a narrow alleyway.  At the tower, a flatbed truck was offloading building materials until a historic tram started descending down it’s track with the truck in it’s way.

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One of the unique things I noticed here in Portugal is the mountainous valleys means you often see the top of a building as the terraced slopes open up below.  We found lunch at a small tapas restaurant in the Praca da Ribeira.  It seems all of Portugal has determined Tripadvisor as their favourite marque of quality, as just about all the good restaurants proudly show their rating and the site logo.  We had small plates of sardines on toast, fried chorizo sausage with honey and balsamic vinegar, clams with pickled peppers, and even a salad.  The owner mentioned he had wifi, which to me was of little importance compared to good food–Apparently this is a big deal with customers these days.

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Walking along the river, you see the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge, whose steel girders span across the water to the other side, where a monastery crowns the top part of a mountainside.  We got to the bridge and noticed two young teenagers hanging off the side of the steel deck, ready to jump into the water.  A crowd of onlookers had gathered, digital cameras and phones at the ready, to capture their dive.  One lady became very concerned, and called a police officer, who explained, this is normal.

It was perhaps a good thing to find the Funicular dos Guindais right at the foot of the bridge, which allowed us to take a quick path back to the hotel.  After taking a nap while the sun was high in the sky, we continued to walk our impromptu tour.

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The strange thing about walking around with a GPS map instead of a tour map or guide, is that you end up taking the strangest paths.  In our time in Porto and the rest of the country, we’ve found ourselves walking through the back alleyways and small streets off the major thoroughfares, which means we’ve gained a curiously workaday view of Portugal.  This early evening, we found the people of Porto playing ball in the streets, a man sitting on a bench watching the square, guys getting their hair cut, seniors looking out from their second floor apartment windows, and a woman painting her toenails.  Perhaps these folks wonder why we’re walking through their back yard.  They’ve been incredibly gracious and friendly about it.

The Igreja Sao Francisco church was built over forty years, but the baroque interior, carved of wood and extensively gilded, was only finished in the 18th century.  I learned this reading the Wikipedia entry while sitting in the pews.  It turns out the wealthy citizens of Porto chose to give to this church, which made for such a rich interior sponsored by these benefactors.  Unfortunately photography was not allowed, so I spent most of my time thinking about how to build and finance a church in modern times.

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The river valley features the old port facilities of a time gone by.  Boats and ships sailed up and down, then out to the ocean, docking at the sides of the river and unloading their cargoes into the warehouses of yesteryear.

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Photography thought: If you have a lens and camera available to you easily, you’re going to use it more.  For years, I only carried one body and one wide to medium telephoto lens, but more recently began to carry two, which gave me a telephoto.  Now I actually bring an ultrawide angle and an extender, which gives me 17-280mm.  Today as an experiment, I only used the ultrawide and kept the telephoto on a sling.   So instead of being in the bag, you’ll notice today has more flattened, longer shots, as well as more wide angle shots.

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Towards the end of the day, we explored down the river and out on the bridge again. This fellow I saw earlier in the day, a seemingly free spirit traveling around the city, entertaining people with his bubbles and devil sticks, picking up money along the way.

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As night descended, the riverfront was lit with activity of tourists.