ESCAPE FROM VALENCIA – AUGUST 6 – AUGUST 20
Valencia is traditionally hot in August, but this year it has been hot since the beginning of July. Fortunately, a while back, we had planned a two week escape from Valencia that would take us to, hopefully, cooler temperatures and less humidity. Our plans include a week in Northern Portugal with time in both Porto and Caminha and a week in Galicia with time spent in Ourense and Combarro.
Our flight to Porto left on Sunday, August 6, at 4:20 PM. We arrived at the airport two hours ahead of time and, although the line for check in for Ryan Air flights was long, the desk personnel were very efficient and some fifteen minutes later we were on our way to Security. The crowds were medium size and the two people directing traffic were doing an excellent job. I grabbed my little blue tray and emptied my pockets and put all my electronics and my belt in there two. I walked through the metal detector when I was told to and the buzzer went off.
I was puzzled because I had made it a point to put both my watch and my keys in the tray. What had set off the alarm? A security guard signaled me to wait and then took me to an area where he swipes the back of my hands and my palms with a small piece of cloth, which he then had the machine read. It tested positive. A different security guard repeated the same procedure and it tested positive once again. My question was positive for what, since the only things that had touched my hands earlier were soap, shampoo and shaving gel.
I was told to wait until a Guardia Civil came and had me accompany him to a small room that had two-way mirrors. He once again swabbed the palms and the backs of my hands. He then took all my data including my passport number, phone number and address. He asked me if I had packed my bag and if I had checked it in. I replied in the affirmative. He told me to go and board my flight and had a nice vacation. Before I got up and left he asked me if I had used hand cream because sometimes hand cream gives a false positive for some sort of explosive. I had not used hand cream, so I suspect that it was the last thing I used…the shaving gel.
The flight was smooth and uneventful and we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule. There was a fifteen-minute delay until the final luggage cart emptied its contents on the carousel and, of course, my bag was one of the last ones to make the circuit. The delay gave me time to wonder if, for some reason or other, they had taken my bag off the plane. Such was not the case.
It took us about twenty-five minutes to get to our hotel by taxi. Last year when we visited Porto we stayed at the Sheraton, which was some twenty minutes from the center of town. This year we wanted a hotel that was closer to the action and an acquaintance of our suggested the NH Collection Hotel in the Prada de Battalha. It was the old post office, among other things and it was renovated and turned into a modern hotel. Our room is lovely with a queen-sized bed, ample storage space and a modern bathroom. Our room overlooks the plaza and the windows are sound proofed so you do not hear the sounds of the city when the windows are closed.
After we unpacked, we went in search of something to eat. We had a couple of appetizers at the Cafe Java that is directly across the street. The clams and the shrimp were okay, but we knew that we would have better in the upcoming days. Afterwards we went for a little stroll to become familiar with the area around the hotel and we somehow managed to find a gelateria called La Copa. Outstanding! As an added treat the have an outdoor patio with all kinds of flowers.
We made our way back to the hotel and it was a little after 10:00 and we were done in by the vents of the day. We read for a while and then went to sleep around 11:30 that was 12:30 Valencia time.
MONDAY, AUGUST 7
We slept in and, by the time were were showered and dressed, it was 11:00. We headed for the Café Tropical, which is a few steps from the hotel. We were in search of a good coffee, some juice and a bread substance. The Café Tropical filled the bill perfectly. It was now time to explore.
We headed to the bookstore that J K Rowling used as inspiration for the Hogwart’s Library. As we approached, we were amazed and dismayed by the size of the line. There probably was a good hour’s wait to get in. Since I am not the world’s biggest Harry Potter fan and since you cannot take pictures once inside, we decided to pass and just went exploring.
We walked into a couple of shops and, in the course of things, Susan shot a number of pictures. We eventually made our way to the river where we sat and watch the tourist boats that ply the river and at 1:30 we headed for a restaurant that our friend, Brian Oberle, had recommended.
It is called Vinha D’Alhos and it overlooks the water. It is a popular spot and we made sure to make a reservation. We enjoyed some olives and some sheep’s cheese with a variety of breads while we waited for our mains. I had sea bream and Susan had sea bass, both of which were perfectly prepared. We shared a lovely bottle of Vinho Verde. We indulged in a molten chocolate cake dessert, as well as coffee and a glass of port.
After lunch we took the fifty-minute cruise that passes under the six bridges of Porto and its surroundings. It had been overcast for most of the day, but at 3:00 the sun was brightly shining. The cruise was as enjoyable as it was last year. It is a great way to see some of the historic buildings of Porto. Since we had done a goodly bit of walking in the morning, we opted to take a taxi back to the hotel and rest up for a little while.
We took to the streets again at eight o’clock in search of a drink and a nibble. We discovered a number of restaurants and cafe about ten minutes from the hotel. We decided to give Café Ribeiro a try and we were not disappointed. We tried their pizza bites stuffed with suckling pig and their shrimp in a butter and garlic sauce. A beer, a glass of wine, an orange and a slice of pineapple for dessert and the bill came to 29€. While we were there the place filled up and at 9:00 0’clock they were turning people away. There were a dozen or so hearty souls who were dining al fresco and it was really fresco,
Back to the hotel at 10:00 and an hours worth of mindless entertainment and then off to bed.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 8
I took my time this. Morning getting showered and dressed and while I dawdled Susan explored the neighborhood around the hotel a bit more. We went across the street to Cafe Battalha and had a very light breakfast – coffee, juice and a toasted roll. We hailed a cab at 10:30 and had him take us to Matosinhos.
Matosinhos is the actual port of Porto. It’s where the big cruise liners dock and commercial ships load and unload. It is also has the reputation for having the best and freshest fish in town. It is a well-deserved reputation.
We strolled through a park on our way to the beach. The sky was blue and the temperature was in the high 60’s. It was also quite windy. The beach was well populated and it seemed that almost everyone had some sort of a windbreak to protect them from the strong breezes. We got in a good walk and stopped off at a seaside bar for a drink. When we finished we decided that we would explore a different part of town.
We wended our way through the streets and passed a number of interesting shops and buildings. There are newer apartments that overlook the shore, but once you get away from the beach the buildings are more traditional. Since we were close to the “mercado” we decided that we would investigate.
The market in Matosinhos consists of two floors. The ground floor is where one finds the stalls selling fish, as well as a restaurant or two. On the first floor there are a few butchers, but most of the stalls feature fruit and vegetables. We did not see any stalls that sold ham and other deli products. Nor did we see a stall that sold cheese.
There are a number of supermarkets and specialty stores and you can probably find just about anything you need in the downtown area of the town. Street signs are few and far between, but the natives were very helpful and they understood my Spanish and I their Portuguese. Gestures were helpful, also. After our market exploration we headed for S Valentim where we had a 2:00 PM reservation.
The Avenida de Heroes de Francia is where there is the greatest concentration of fish restaurants. Most restaurants have their grills set up on the sidewalk out side the restaurant. The display of the catch of the day is always close by. Our restaurant was about halfway down the longish street and when we arrived there were a goodly number of people without reservations who were waiting for a table. We walked in, gave our name to the hostess and were immediately seated.
The decor of the restaurant is not fancy, but we did not come to eat the decor. It is a tablecloth restaurant, but, for the most past, the walls are bare. The indoor space is quite large and every table was full. We had discovered the restaurant last year when our cab driver recommended the place, telling us that he and his wife ate their every Sunday. We had a great experience last year and we were hoping to have another great one today. We were not disappointed.
It is the custom in Porto restaurants to offer you olives, bread and cheese as appetizers. Some restaurants ask if you would like the trio of goodies, others just put them on the table. The appetizers are not free and you pay for what you eat. You can ask your waiter to remove them from the table if you do not want them. We always do want them. Our waiter placed the appetizers on the table and told us that he would return shortly to take our order.
We knew that we wanted to start with some sausage and a pepper salad that consisted of red and green peppers and onion. The peppers had been charred and they were as delicious as the sausage. Two links were on the plate and our waiter sliced both of them for us. Our main dish was to be fish and the waiter brought a tray with three possibilities. We decided on the sea bass and asked our waiter to suggest a good bottle of Albariño to accompany the fish.
The fish was simply prepared. It had been butterflied and salted and was cooked to perfection on the sidewalk grill. Our waiter brought the fish to the table and deboned it and served it. He was dismayed that we were unable to finish all of it. To be fair, it was a big fish and it came with potatoes and Portuguese cabbage. We had melon for dessert and finished our meal with a coffee. We discovered once again that a quality product, simply prepared to show off its best features is definitely the way to go. We have had enough of liquid nitrogen and painted plates. We prefer good food, good wine and good company.
We took a cab back to the hotel. The twenty-minute cab ride cost us 15€. Our meal cost less that 70€, including tip. The next time we visit Porto S Valentim will be on our list of must visits.
When we got back tot he hotel we took life easy. We read a little and we rested a lot. In the early evening we headed to La Copa for some of their wonderful gelato. When we returned to the hotel, we set aside our clothing needs for Caminha where we would spend Wednesday and Thursday night and return to Porto on Friday. We went to sleep around 11:30.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9
We will head to Caminha later today. We decided that we would travel with our backpacks and leave our suitcases at the hotel until we returned on Friday. We had breakfast again at Café Battalha and then finished our packing and checked out. The hotel will keep our suitcases until we return on Friday.
We took a cab to the Campanha train station. Local traffic is intense in Porto and our trip to the station cost almost as much as our trip to Matosinhos. The good news is we arrived in plenty of time to catch the 12:46 to Nine where we would catch the 1:40 connection to Caminha. We reached our destination a little after 2:30 and we certainly enjoyed the scenery along the way.
Our hotel, Design & Wine is a five-minute walk from the train station. Each room in the hotel has a unique theme and we are in the Paint Room with its Picassoesque design theme. The rooms are quite modern. Our room looks out onto a small garden-like area and the natural light just floods into the room. We unpacked and then went in search of a late lunch.
Our destination was Solar do Pescado and we chose it because of its excellent rating on Trip Advisor. We arrived at 4:00 and most of the diners had finished their meal. We were shown to a table for two and we studied the menu. We opted to start with an ensalada mixta with lettuce, tomato, onion, hard-boiled eggs and white asparagus. What a difference fresh ingredients make for such a simple combination of elements. For our main course we chose an arroz de mariscos best described as a soupy rice with assorted shellfish.
The version one gets in Valencia has an abundance of squid and any other shellfish that you find are few and far between. Today’s version could have easily fed four. The dish was replete with shrimp, mussels, clams, cockles and little bits of lobster. With the exception of the lobster there were at least eighteen pieces of each variety. Surprise, surprise! We could not finish the dish although we each had four or five servings. We enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine with our main course and passed on dessert. We did have coffee and the house invited us to a chupito. The bill for such a sumptuous meal was less than 70€.
After lunch we took a little walk and while Susan continued her exploration of the town, I opted for my usual afternoon siesta. We took it easy for the rest of the day. After all, this is a vacation and rest and relaxation are part of the plan. We were in bed by 11:00 and in dreamland soon after.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 10
Breakfast is included with our room, so we made our way to the dining room around 10:00. The offerings include toast, rolls, pastries, cereal, fresh fruit, cheese and cold cereals plus juices and assorted breakfast beverages. The plan for today was to visit beaches and so we set off with Foz do Minho as our first goal.
Foz is about a mile and a half away from the hotel. You essentially follow the shoreline on a paved road and at a certain point there is a wooden walkway that takes you to the beach. It was low tide and there were not many swimmers and sunbathers on the beach. We stopped at the bar and had a Coke and then began the second part of our journey to the Playa de Moledo.
We followed a path through the woods that was some three miles long. While it was windy by the shore, there was little wind as we walked through the pine forest. We encountered very few people along the way and eventually we reached the beach. We stopped again to have a drink and then we continued on to the town.
Moledo is Caminha’s beach and it was well populated, but far from crowded. We explored various dining options and then decided that we would be better off returning to Caminha where there are many more dining options. We found a cab and in fifteen minutes we were back at out hotel.
We had lunch at Baptista, which is right next to our hotel. It has about a dozen tables and most were taken up by families. We had no problem getting a table for two and we sat down and studied the menu. I opted for grilled octopus and Susan chose the grilled cod. Boiled potatoes and Portuguese cabbage accompanied the entrees. We also had a bottle of the house white. Dessert was melon and that was followed by coffee. We then headed back to the hotel for some R and R. I had walked 5 miles and Susan, who had taken a walk on her own in the morning, was up to 6.5 miles.
Not surprisingly, we stool the rest of the afternoon off and spent time reading and catching up on correspondence. We made our way to the Plaza around 8:30 and had a rather forgettable pizza along with a beer for me and a gin and tonic for Susan. We then went back to the hotel and dozed off.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11
I woke up this morning a little under the weather. I think it was a combination of too much sun coupled with too much exercise for one day. I didn’t feel that I was up to a long train ride with two changes of train so we decided that a taxi back to Porto was a costly, but intelligent alternate mode of transportation. Our driver spoke Spanish and we had an animated conversation during the 75 minute trip. It cost us 90 €, but I made the trip in one piece and that was the good news.
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and since it would be a while before our room was ready. We went across the street and had a light breakfast. We then took a brief stroll, but it was really hot, so we decided to return to the hotel and wait in the air-conditioned lobby until our room was ready. We are now on the fourth floor and our room is equally attractive as the one that we had on the second floor at the beginning of our stay.
I decided to take a nap since I did not sleep well the night before and Susan read her book while I slept. Susan has gone out for a bite to eat, but, in truth, I am not very hungry, so I have decided to lay low for a little bit longer.
We left our room at 7:00 in search of a snack and found a nice place a few blocks away. I had a sandwich and Susan had a gin and tonic and we watched the world go by. We strolled for a bit afterwards and then headed back to the hotel. We watched a little TV and read a bit and, once again, we turned in early.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11
I finally got a good night’s sleep. I showered and dressed and at 10:30 had a light breakfast across the street. Our destination today was the Vila Nova di Gaia where the major port wineries have their warehouses. Perhaps a tour would be in order or perhaps not.
We headed out form the hotel and in less than fifteen minutes we were descending the staircases that would lead us to the bridge that would take us to Gaia. I can’t remember the last time that I saw so many stairs. I would wager there were close to 200 by the time we got to the level of the bridge. It took around ten minutes to cross the bridge and there we were in Gaia.
The streets were filled with tourists and that was not surprising. We decided to explore beyond the tourist area and strolled along the banks of the Douro. There were very few people and a nice breeze. There were also a goodly number of benches along the way. It turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to chill out. On our way back we stopped at a small restaurant for a bit of refreshment. The place was called Antigua Casa Ze da Guida, There were a few indoor tables and a few outdoor tables. The outdoor grill was fired up as they awaited diners in search of lunch.
We originally stopped with the intent of having a glass of wine, but after our first glass we opted for a second and then ordered a plate of clams and some cried croquets to go along with the wine. When we made our way back into town, we stopped at an ice cream parlor and we each enjoyed a scoop of ice cream. After our ambitious morning walk, we decided that a taxi back to the hotel would be the wisest decision to make.
We rested and relaxed during the afternoon hours. We left the hotel in search of a bite to eat. W ended up at Café Ribeiro again and we both had a sandwich, along with a plate of fries. When we finished we headed back to the hotel to pack our bags, since tomorrow is a travel day. We are heading to Ourense in Galicia.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 13
The trip from Porto to Ourense is not a rapid one. You have to go by way of Vigo. The Intercity leaves Porto at 8:15 so we were up early and checked out of the hotel at 7:30. The streets were deserted and that is to be expected at 7:30 on a Sunday. We made it to the station in plenty of time to catch the 8:15 Intercity to Vigo.
The train is an older version and our car was quite noisy. The good news is that seats were relatively comfortable. We were schedule to arrive in Vigo at 11:40 allowing for the change of an hour when moving from Portugal to Spain. The fastest train from Vigo to Ourense leaves at 11:15 and the next fastest at 2:35. No problem we thought. We will just leave our luggage in the Consigna and take a stroll through Vigo. Who knew that the station did not have the usual lockers where one can leave their baggage?
I watched the bags while Susan went on a scouting mission. She found a small restaurant about a block away from the station and we made our way there. We enjoyed a hefty portion of tortilla española, a revuelto of mushrooms and cheese and a plate of pimientos de Padrón. Since we were in Galicia we downed our food with a glass of Albariño. We sat in the comfort of the restaurant a while longer before we made our way back to the train station. As soon as we arrived, they announced our train.
The 2:34 train out of Vigo that is bound for Ourense makes many stops along the way and the train really does not reach speed until the final leg between Ribadavia and Ourense. We arrived at 4:40 and only had to wait a few minutes for a cab. We are staying at yet another NH Hotel that has proven to be a very reliable hotel chain. They room they gave us was rather small and to make matters interesting the bathroom had no door. I went back down to the desk and asked if they could switch us to a room where the bathroom had a door.
The receptionist was very apologetic and moved us to a suite that has a sitting area, an. Enormous bed, ample closet space and a bathroom door. We will most certainly enjoy our four days here in Ourense.
After unpacking we decided to go out and explore a bit. Given that it was Sunday no stores were open and, although a goodly number of bars and cafes were closed, there were a goodly number that were open. We headed for old town and that had a familiar feel to it. To a certain extent, it was like walking through the streets of Toledo or San Sebastián. There is a comfortable mix of businesses, houses and restaurants. We stopped for a drink and a bit later we stopped for ice cream. Although it was late in the day, it was still hot.
We were back at the hotel around 9:00. We took life easy for a couple of hours and then we shut off the lights and went to bed.
MONDAY, AUGUST 14
We were out and about around 10:00. The first thing we needed to do was to find a laundromat so that we would have enough clean clothes to last for the rest of the trip. We discovered an Autoservicio close to the hotel. It is called OSO BLANCO and it turned out to be the perfect choice.
All the machines are modern and depending on the size washer you choose the cost is 4€, 5€ or 6€. The machine automatically adds detergent and softener so you do not have to bring any of that along. The dryers run 3€. In less than an hour we returned to the hotel with clean clothes.
We did a bit of housekeeping when we got back to the hotel and we caught up on correspondence and other internet tasks. We decided that we would try LA ROMÁNTICA for lunch, but when I called to make a reservation I was told they don’t take reservations. Who needs reservations when there are long lines of people waiting to get in?
We arrived at 1:30 and the place was packed. However, we did manage to get seated immediately. LA ROMÁNTICA is an Italian restaurant, that also offers a lot of meat options and after a week of fish we were ready for a good steak. Susan and I both ordered half servings of steak. The steak came with salad and a never-ending plate of fries. We did not need to order an appetizer. When the steaks came, the literally filled the plate. In addition to the steak we had ordered water, a beer and a bottle of good wine. The bill came to 29€. What’s not to love about Spain?
We took a long walk after lunch and got as far as the Roman Bridge. We even spent some time in a mall because we were both curious and hot. When we were all mailed up, we set out again and returned to the hotel. I took my afternoon nap and Susan returned to the casco viejo to shoot some pictures.
Around 9:00 PM we took the elevator up to the bar that is located on the roof of the hotel. The panoramic view that it affords is very, very nice. He had a few drinks and a couple of tostas – one with anchovies the other with salmon – and lingered until 10:30 or so. We then went back to the room and read a bit before calling it a day.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 15
After a late breakfast we hung out in the room until 11:30 at which point we called a cab to take us to the railroad station. Our destination was Ribadavia, a small town some 20 minutes away by train. Ribadavia had a vibrant Jewish community until the Order of Expulsion and the ensuing Inquisition. In addition to its Jewish Quarter, there are the remains of a castle and a Sephardic Museum.
The trip was uneventful. The station at Ribadavia is unattended, and the trains to and from Vigo make only a few stops everyday. There are only to trains back to Ourense, one at 4:15 and the last one at 11:40 PM. Obviously, that meant we had a limited amount of time to spend there.
We walked into town from the station. It turned out that Tuesday was a día festivo, The Day of Assumption, so all businesses were closed. Most of the bars and restaurants, however, were open, as was a farmacia. I happened to notice that there was a restaurant next to the farmacia that was called Barmacia. It gave us a giggle as we continued on our way. It took us about twenty-five minutes to reach the castle and the museum.
We paid our admission and started at the museum, which had on exhibit a number of books and documents, as well as explanations of the history of the Jews, all written in gallego, the second language of Galicia. If one reads or understands Spanish then the gallego is not a challenge. After our museum visit we inspected the remains of the castle.
From the castle we made our way to the Plaza Mayor where the entrance to the judería was located. We made our way through the narrow streets and returned to the plaza. Since it was close to lunchtime we looked for a place to eat and decided on a space called Taberna Papuxa. In a former life it was a Jewish bodega where wine and spirits were made and sold. The irony is that in its current iteration it serves a limited number of dishes among them octopus, ham and other pork products. You order at the bar, find a seat – there is an outdoor terrace as well as the original indoor space – and someone delivers the food to your table. The food was good and enjoying it in an historic tavern made it all the more enjoyable.
One of the attractions of Ribadavia is a bakery called Tahona de Herminia that sells pastries made according to the original Jewish recipes. We were unsuccessful in sampling some of these pastries because when we first walked by they were closing to have their lunch and when we cam by again at 3:30 they did not answer a knock on their door. We needed to begin our way back to the train station if we were going to make the 4:15 train back to Ourense, so we began the trek back.
The train was on time and twenty minutes later we were back in Ourense. We went back to the hotel and rested for a while. At 8:30 we headed to the casco viejo in search of refreshment. We ended up at a restaurant called Barallete. We ordered some mejillones a la vinagreta and some albóndigas de pescado y langostino, both of which were excellent. What was unique about this place is that they went from table to table with tapas and pinchos that had just come out of the kitchen. We tried a couple and they were excellent. For dessert, we went across the street and had an ice cream.
It had been a full day and we wearily made our way back to the hotel. There was nothing on TV, so we gave up the ghost and went to bed.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16
We were in the Plaza Mayor at 10:30 because we wanted to take the tren turístico that makes its way around Ourense in a 45-minute circuit. We stopped off at one of the cafés in the Plaza to have breakfast and to say that our waiter was slow almost begs one to define that adjective. We did manage to down our breakfast and get our tickets for the 11:00 AM departure.
The train is the yore that one sees making its way through amusement parks in the USA and truly is not up to the challenge of the varying surfaces it traverses. Physically the train makes it up all the hills, but the ride is bone rattling and uncomfortable. It turns out that most people use the train to get to one of the two thermal baths for which Ourense is renowned. The one-way trip costs 85 céntimos.
The train stops at Termas Chervasquiera that are about two miles outside of town. They are located on the banks on the Miño River and there are seven or eight different pools. As you pass you can see that there are a number of people enjoying the pools and there are a goodly number sunning themselves on the surrounding decks.
The end of the line is where the Termas de Outariz are located. They are five miles from the center of town and are located in a very nice natural setting. In addition to the spa – the baths – massages are also available and there is a sushi bar for those who get hungry. When we reached Outariz we got out of the train to stretch our legs and at noon we began the return trip to the Plaza Mayor where we had a cold drink and watched the world go by.
Rested and refreshed we then made our way to Nova where we would have our lunch. Nova is famous for being a one star Michelin restaurant that has a reasonably priced tasting menu. There are three different tasting menus and the price varies according to the number of dishes that there are in each menu. We opted for the Menú Nova with its nine dishes and we also opted for the wine pairings. The menu was priced at 35€ and the wine pairing was an additional 25€,
This was one of the better meals that we have ever had. The setting, the service, the food and the wine were all outstanding. The first plate consisted of octopus in a seafood foam and topped with trout eggs. Understand that we are talking about a tasting menu here so the portions are appropriate to a nine-course meal. We then sampled some salmon sashimi on a bed of pumpkin with green peas. Third was a slow cooked egg in a broth of truffle and potato. Fourth on the list was a bouillabaisse with scallops. Next came a ravioli filled with crab served with a crab broth. The fish dish was a perfectly steamed piece of cod and the meat dish was stuffed veal cheek with shiitake mushrooms and braised endive. Our first dessert was a mint foam covering a small scoop of nectarine ice cream. Our second dessert was a take on vanilla ice cream. After the meal the chef came and visited our table and brought with him a few more sweet goodies. We finished our coffee, paid our bill and left knowing, that if the occasion presents itself, we will definitely pay a return visit.
It was back to the hotel and a brief pause in our day. Later this afternoon, Susan is heading out to the Termas de Outariz for a soak and a massage. My plan is to use her absence to update my blog.
Susan returned to the hotel at 10:30 and we went to the bar/cafe on the corner and had a drink and a nibble. We then headed back to the hotel. We decided that we would pack in the morning when we were to leave for Combarro.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 17
We took a rather circuitous route to get to Combarro. Our first leg was a train from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela. It’s a 25-minute trip. The next leg was from Santiago to Pontevedra. We had to wait 30 minutes for the connecting train, but once it arrived we made the journey in less than half an hour. From Pontevedra we took a cab to Combarro and we reached the hotel at 2:30.
The Stella Maris is a hotel that has been around a long time and it shows its age. The bathrooms have been updated and that certainly was a plus. The room was a little tired. Our bed was a double bed in which the two of us just fit. The wifi signal did not reach our room. I think it had to do with distance away from the router since the signal was very strong in the lobby. The best part was the view from our room was outstanding. Combarro is on a ría, a river that is fed with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean.
We unpacked and went in search of lunch. A few steps away from the hotel is the Segunda Parada that, in addition to its upstairs dining room, has a terrace that overlooks the water. We ordered a fish stew that came with two different types of fish and an abundance of potatoes. Servings in Galicia are generous and it was impossible to finish the stew. We had dessert and coffee and then we took a walk to get a general idea of the town.
Combarro is a summer town where, I am certain, many families spend their summer. The hotels there are few and far between, but there are a number of places for rent and I imagine many families own their own summer residence. At one time Combarro was a lazy fishing village, but know its primary business is tourism.
In the evening we stopped at the hotel bar and had a drink. Afterwards we returned to the room and called it an early night.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 18
We had breakfast at the hotel and then we headed out to explore Combarro in depth. We took the route along the ría and the process came across several beaches and a number of shops and restaurants. We moved at a slow, leisurely pace and after about two hours we stopped for a cold drink. We then made our way to Bar Chousa where we had a lunch reservation. The meal was disappointing. I had ordered a filet and Susan had ordered lamb chops and both were quite overdone. We passed on dessert and headed back to the hotel to rest and relax.
In the evening we made our way to Tinta Negra, which was jammed to the rafters. It was Friday night and the weekend visitors were our in force, along with the regulars. We had a drink and then went back to the hotel. We read for a while and then turned in.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 19
Today was another travel day. We needed to get from Combarro to Vigo because our Sunday flight back to Valencia leaves from Vigo. Looking at the various options we decided that a cab was the best way to get from point A to point B. By the time we paid for a cab to get to Pontevedra, took the train and then got a cab to the hotel for a few Euros more we could just take a cab directly to the hotel and that is what we did.
The only room available at the NH Collection in Vigo was a junior suite. There is a soccer game tomorrow between the Vigo team, Celta and a team from the Basque Provinces, Real Sociedad. A number of fans had made the journey to Vigo and had reserved most of the rooms at the hotel. Since it was noon and the room was not yet ready en dropped off our bags and went exploring.
The last time I had spent significant time in Vigo was in the summer of 1990. The city has grown and expanded significantly. It is now Galicia´s largest city. A lot of what we saw during the day simply was not here 37 years ago.
We made our way to the casco viejo and looked around to see what there was to see…mainly lots of tourists. We stopped for a drink and then went on to visit the Museum of Modern Art that was too modern for my taste. We then headed back to the hotel where our room was ready, so we took our bags up to the room and investigated lunch options.
O Portón is highly rated on Trip Advisor so we headed there. As it turned out, it is very close to the casco viejo and so we returned to the scene of the crime. The place was jammed and we got the last indoor table where we were fenced in by two different families with children and parents who were inattentive to the needs of other diners. There were small kids all over the floor playing with a variety of toys and blocks and making it impossible for the waiters to deliver what the families had ordered. The noise level was as close to unbearable as it can get.
We decided to order a number of appetizers. On our list were empanada gallega, shrimp, squid, clams and mussels. We ordered a bottle of Albariño, Martín Códax, finished our meal and escaped. We found a small, QUIET cafe on our way back to the hotel and had dessert and coffee there in blissful silence. When we got back to the hotel it was close to 6:30.
We rested up and relaxed a bit and then around 9:30 went to a small bar called Porto Santo where we had a drink. Afterwards we returned to the hotel, read for a while and then called it a day.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 20
The phone rang around 8:30 and I was still asleep so I missed the call. When I got up I saw that Matthew had called. When I called back I got his answering machine. I tries to call Rachel and got her answering machined We then decided to give Melissa, Rachel’s former sister-in-law a call and we found out that Rachel was in the hospital having had a reaction to one of the medications she is taking. We were able to get in touch with the hospital and she was resting comfortably with a slight fever and a headache. They were waiting for the results of various tests, but the consensus was that she would be in the hospital for a couple of more days until they figures out what the source of the problem was.
We got showered and dressed and went back to Porto Santo to have some breakfast. We then made our way back to the hotel where I updated this blog and Susan read for a while. We have to be out of the room by 1:00 and we do not leave for the airport until 8:00 so we will need to be creative to fill up those seven hours.
We managed to creatively kill the necessary hours before heading to the airport for our 10:40 flight. The plane was delayed for fifteen minutes on the runway because of heavy air traffic in the Spanish skies. We arrived in Valencia a little after midnight, caught a cab and walked back into our home. We left unpacking for tomorrow and went to bed.