Sunday, March 6, 2011

Leaving Lisbon, Bound for Northern Portugal

The highlight of Lisbon for Matt might have been the castle situated on top of one of the seven great hills of Lisbon. It took us a while to find which road took us to the entrance side of the castle walls but once we were in we enjoyed the palace gardens, the old Moorish fortifications and the small archaeological exhibit. As for me, the grilled sardines were grand and I liked seeing the young people busy hanging out in squares and drinking. We both are glad we put time aside to go see the museum housed in a semi-restored cathedral that took terrible damage in a great earthquake. Quite a few royal tombs were still maintained inside and had great carvings of boar hunts and etc.

We liked Lisbon, but knew it was time for a slower pace outside of the big city. We wanted to give Braga a try and heard of the exquisite Bom Jesus cathedral just out of town. Braga was a fine university town, full of energy if you knew the right spot. Also a bit of a residential wasteland if you walked the wrong way. We stayed at a very affordable private room that is let out by the Methodist Church that operates on the ground floor. I enjoyed the change of pace from the regular hostels but it was a little far from the bustling center and finding dinner was a little bit of a pain from time to time. That being said, the people were very friendly, the University student joints were cheap and delicious, filled with the basic grilled fish or meat or breaded fish or meat fare and Matt and I both had a great time watching the soccer games alongside everyone else. We went and saw Bom Jesus later on in our stay and if Braga was a little more of a pain than we were anticipating, Bom Jesus was spectacular. Take-out was big here and you could get a mix of barbecued meats that would feed two and more for very little. Becoming at last tired of gastronomically somewhat simple fare, a restaurant that seemed perpetually closed finally opened for the weekend and we leapt at the opportunity. We dined sumptuously on gratined Cod and aoli, thinly sliced steak that was incredibly flavorful and still medium rare and an entire bottle of the local Vinho Verde. Smoother and a little sweet, this green wine was easy going down and I'd like to have it again. Braga sits right next to all sorts of great wine territory. Didn't have a bad glass, but the green wine was by far the best.

From Braga we wanted something a bit more picturesque and booked a train ticket that went from Porto to Villa Real. The track followed the spectacular Douro Valley and it's river. Matt and I loved watching the scenery go by as the vineyard owners were out pruning their vines for the coming spring. Just around the corner in Portugal. We will save Villa Real for the next post.

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