GERÊS = The paradise!

Can you imagine the feeling of flying butterflies in your stomach? Yes, exactly that one which 16 years old teenage girl has when she meets the boy of her dreams. That one you feel when you totally fall in love. Forasmuch as I am not the romantic soul I had to find something/someone else to feel those flapping wings. I really wanted by the reason I was very jealous when my friends talked about it and I could not say anything (´cause I haven’t experienced it). It finally appeared when I first time overcame the peak of our Slovak mountains. An incredible view, untouched nature, simplicity, on the other hand richness. I cannot find right words to explain the bomb of feelings which exploded inside of me. I have just noticed I fell in love with hiking and everything which is connected with mountains. It became my hobby number one and I started to adore it. Wherever I am I always want to experience new one. No doubt first information I searched before my internship in Portugal for was places to hike or to climb. My eyes shone at the sight of pictures of Gerês National Park which Google spewed out. I have decided immediately. I am going to see that natural heritage even it would be leaping on one leg :).

The place is situated in the northwest part of Portugal on the border with Spain. Covering an area of around 700 km2, the magnificent Peneda-Gerês National Park is a wild and dramatic place consisting of two main mountain ranges with rural villages scattered around. The valleys, rocky summits, streams, waterfalls and cascades make this an ideal hiking destination, with wild horses, ponies, deer and cattle. The plant life shows unusual variety, with many plants that have disappeared from the rest of Europe.

So everybody can imagine my happiness when one local friend of us asked us if we want to visit National Park. „Yes, yes, yes“ was our answer without hesitation. We started our adventure from Barcelos at 6 o’clock in the morning even we slept just 2 hours (it doesn’t seem, but life of internship’s people is very difficult sometimes:) ). Big smiles decorating our faces and the resolution were walking hand in hand. Definitely we were looking forward what are going to happen that day.

As we accepted it was more than amazing. I think no right words were invented to describe what we saw over there. Paradise! The National Park still presents a very varied fauna and flora, wonderful valley, waterfalls, incredible brooks (crystal clear, slightly bluish green colour- we wished to jump inside and swim naked, to be totally free) etc. Plus sunshine, no rains, simply said, weather which was born for these kinds of purposes. What else should we wish? Our satisfaction was even higher when we met wonderful people having a break on the top of mountains. Obviously full of positive energy and happiness they offered us a fresh coffee. “Seriously?” I asked myself. It couldn’t be truth. “Aren’t we lucky enough?” Enjoying cup of coffee (prepared by special burning equipment they had), chilling, talking and having fun we spent nice time with them. I really evaluate hospitality, kindness and willingness (always to help) of Portuguese people. They are the exact illustration how should local residents treat with the tourists (excepting 1-2 cases which are nothing in comparison with big amount of my experience in Portugal).

At the beginning I was kidding with leaping on one leg, but unfortunately it happened to us. Forasmuch as rocks were very slick and wet, one Italian friend got the skids under her and fell down. Luckily there was a stone which caught her and “saved her life”. After an accident we had to divide into two groups. We continued and the other one was waiting us in the nearest village.

What I must admire were wild shepherd’s houses which nowadays offer the refuge for hiking tourists. Some of them contained really good equipment (of course within the bounds of possibility, people who use to hike know what I am talking about). They were helpful enough to survive there during the night or during the unexpected bad weather.

Of course, nothing is perfectly ideal. One thing which needs to be criticised is path’s marking. In comparison with my mainly Slovak hiking experience it was so poor and not good enough at all. The track we did was marked with piles of stones known as mariolas (cairns). I could say we were lucky because we followed our local friends. Otherwise we would be lost passing first road-fork 🙂 (I am pretty sure even though mountains are my second house).

What should I add to the end? Just that I’ll never forget Peneda-Gerês National Park’s adventure, calmness, wildness, peace and love I felt on a way and afterwards. Even thought we hiked over 10 hours and tiredness got inside of every simple bone of my body, that moment I was the happiest person in the world. With an obvious satisfaction (visible in my eyes and by my huge smile from ear to ear) we came back to Barcelos late in the evening. I was so tired, but on the other hand happy and full of energy inside which I could hand out to the other people. That moment I could even die :).

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Viana do Castelo

So, one day we decided to go to see an ocean. We tried Google maps to show us places we can go and we decided for Viana do Castelo. It is situated 30km from Barcelos and you can get reach the place easily with one train from here. In approximately one hour we find ourselves in a small train station of Viana do Castelo. In a moment you go out of the building you can see a main street leading down to waterside with an interesting monument of broken chain. If you look at opposite side there is a beautiful church on the top of the hill. For some of us it was too high to climb there so we decided to see the river/ocean first and then if we had energy we would go up.

The Lima River flows into the ocean here in Viana do Castelo. And many local seagulls are probably used that people feed them so they will definitely come to you if you stops on the bank. It is better to have some bread with you. Same as seagulls we had a small snack on the stair to the river and lets’ go explore!

Right next to us there was a very “interesting” modern building with huge aluminum pipes on the top. It serves as cultural centre in Viana do Castelo and it was completed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. Next to it, there is other interesting “Hospital Ship Museum” anchored to the river. Unfortunately, it was closed so we decided to watch the historical center.

It is really close to the embankment and the city signs lead you very clearly. Immediately we noticed was a big building on Praça da República that finally turned out that it is a Museum of Costumes. There were also some nice pictures/photos of traditional costumed people outside. And as we found out later The Minho Province has the most beautiful traditional costumes of all Portugal. It would definitely worth it to see some parade of women wearing these traditional costumes. (There should be some every year in August and we guess it is very popular as it is shown on almost every postcard…)

The center itself is not very big but it has its marvelous atmosphere of city with history.  And you also can notice some interesting small monuments there. Finally we found out that it is possible to get to the top of Santa Luzia hill (we discovered it is a name of hill with that beautiful church on it) with a special Lift or Funicular. To get there you need to cross the bridge above rails of the station so we had to walk back a bit. The cost is 2 Euros one way ticket and 3 Euros return one.

Not many tourists were there and the lift goes really often so that we didn’t wait more than 10min and started to move up. In couple of minutes we reached the top (only 300 meters above the sea level) with charming Basilica of Santa Luzia.

Once we were on the hill we wanted to see the view and only that time we were really fascinated. We saw the ocean, mole and the beach that finally was pretty far from the center. We decided the view was enough for today but next time we can try to go directly there and maybe to join a surfing school. (20 Euro per lesson)

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… Dreamy city – Porto …

Porto, second- largest town of Portugal, welcomed us at the beginning of October’s days. We started our adventure in Barcelos by buying the tickets at the train station. We were not really surprised the train was supposed to come with delay so we went to wait to a local pub to have a coffee. As we soon notices we haven’t chosen just the best day with the nice weather (heavy rain started right after sitting to the bar and same weather forecast was written for Porto), we decided to change our tickets to next day. Surprisingly, it was possible without any fees. In comparison with Slovakia (where we live) we did not have to make a lot of efforts. We were even more positive surprised at willingness and kindness of Portuguese railway’s employee, always smiling, always ready to help.

Finally, we arrived to Porto next day with a good mood, prepared to discover its beauties. The railway station of Porto – Campanhã is situated just 10 minutes from the centre. If you are happy with walking don’t trust the taxi drivers telling you it is too far to walk and you should definitely take a taxi :).  There is also another option to take a train directly to the centre of Porto. The station is called Porto – Sao Bento and it is really charming.

We have visited centre of the city, Museum of history of photography (surprisingly without any entrance fee, what never happens in Slovakia) and of course, one of the most wonderful place, a district of Ribeira. It is a crumbling, but fascinating colourful place, which everyone must love. Also UNESCO does and declared it as World Heritage Site. The unique atmosphere was added by street artists who make the smile on the faces of every tourist or locals. Many coffee houses, bars and restaurants are spread along the riverside. Just imagine it, plus charming view on a river, famous metal arch bridge called Ponte D. Luís and traditional boats floating at the quayside- The Paradise! From Ribeira we could see Port Wine houses across the river, where Portuguese people give a birth to world-renowned mark of Portuguese wine. By the reason we spent only one day in Porto and did not have enough time to enjoy the whole city, we set a target to come back and experience a wine tasting as well.

It was such a beautiful moment when we overheard our euphonious language right in front of Cathedral. We immediately stopped and started a conversation with these tourists, two couples in the best ages. They betrayed that they are fans of European big cities and they have made a trip around west- European countries. Obviously, they were from Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia, where people travel more from than from the rest parts of our country (by reason of higher living standard over there). With words “Šťastnú cestu” (which metaphorically means “Enjoy your trip”) we farewelled them and continued in our adventure.

Forasmuch as we really wanted to try some vegetarian specialities, we searched for the vegetarian restaurants. Even though Porto is second- largest city of Portugal, we were not so successful to carry out our aim. Finally we have found one hidden behind the corner of old crumbling building. Unfortunately they didn’t have main dishes and served only snacks for a lunch. On the other hand, we encountered nice waiter who invited us for a dinner which has been started in earlier evening. We were really thankful, but in that we were hungry like the hell, we couldn’t wait anymore :). He advised us another place where serve vegetarian food as well, so we directly continued over there. There was a positive woman, with a smile on her face, who greeted us and paid attention to us immediately. With filled stomachs we were just chilling and enjoying the atmosphere of Porto’s streets.

Forasmuch as part of our travelling team is a fan of football, our last stop had to be Estádio do Dragão, which is home place of F.C. Porto. Using the services of Portuguese underground we got there very easy (well-marked tracks, distinguish by the colours, possibility to set up English language in a ticket machine etc.).

On demand our Italian friend we ended that beautiful day in Italian restaurant eating their national food. Why Italian food in Portugal? Let’s answer: Why not? 🙂 Another experience in Porto is coming soon (this time with more typical food than pizza is). We are looking forward to it!

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Days in Barcelos

I remember when we were in Porto one day. “Lets’ go home!” I said to Adela… and we bought ticket back to Barcelos. Yes, after not even 2 months we call Barcelos our home.

We live in a nice white house near the city center and the river of Barcelos called Rio Cávado surrounded by other beautiful little “villas”. The moment I came here I knew I was going to love this place.

Barcelos is not very known city of Portugal by foreigners if we don’t count pilgrims crossing it on their way to Santiago de Compostela or Fátima. It is situated in Braga district very close to ocean and for us it is an amazing place. The atmosphere of a small city suits both of us perfectly.

First thing (and very important!) you will definitely be told about Barcelos is the cockerel story. The colorful rooster that is symbol of whole Portugal has its roots here and people are proud on it. (And literally everybody knows it of course!) Just try to ask them and you will see :).

Not being very big it enables us to walk on foot almost everywhere (because nothing is really far away). Many churches, Torre Medieval (a small tower with beautiful view), city garden, open Archaeological Museum, medieval bridge leading to Barcelinhos, plenty of pottery on every corner we can see any day we wish. Only for noisy city “Feira” (market) we have to wait till Thursday.

But enough of general information that you can easily read on internet without our help! (If you want some though there are some nice suggestions about what to see on http://juliedawnfox.com/2013/02/18/things-to-do-in-barcelos-portugal/.)

Let us describe what we do here! With one word it would be discovering. So how do our normal days look like

CITY

We have already noticed the atmosphere of small city. But it definitely doesn’t mean it can’t surprise you. With 60 parishes, it is the municipality with the highest number of parishes in the country!!! Tradition mixed with modern world becomes sometimes a bit commercial or even funny for us(*). But nothing is better than walk through the streets with red doors and windows or lose yourself among these crumbling walls next to the river in the middle of a raining night…SUCH AN ATMOSPHERE!

And there is still something happening (social life full of zumba or outdoor fitness included). Many times we cross the center is something new done or running: new statues, old people dancing, students presenting their new CD, … Barcelos is alive.

AVAILABIITY OF THE BEACH!!!!!

By having sweet breakfast (already influenced by our Italian house company, we changed our typical continental breakfast into some muesli with yogurt or biscuits with Nutella) our day starts. To enjoy the sunny weather that is not typical for ending of October we wanted to go swimming to the ocean. Our last “ocean mission” was not successful so this time we have decided to follow our friend going to surfing lesson.

*note n. 1: always trying to ask people around or workers of the train/bus station and even if we can’t speak Portuguese (just English and bit Spanish)

So we found out there is just one bus going to Ofir beach (Fão) on Sunday morning on its way to Apúlia and one back heading to Braga. WHY NOT?! We waited for the bus which came 15 minutes late and in 45 minutes arrived to Fão.

*note n. 2: every train or bus we were planning to take was at least 10 minutes late or in one case a bus to Braga didn’t come at all but there are still some options to get where we need

Then other 20 minutes of walking from the bus stop and…!Voilà! Here is the beach full of people and amazing waves full of surfers. Our friend left for his weekend lesson and we bought a Frisbee to enjoy ourselves even better.

Lunch time came really soon so we checked the menu of beach places but finally we directed ourselves into the city to see what it can offer. A smell of grilled chicken took us to kind of obscure place with small patio with few tables. We decided to stay and the staff also seemed happy to have some foreign visitors. The problem appeared when we made a really simple order as we were not that hungry enough to enjoy all this big family portions we saw on other tables. The kindness petered away immediately and we didn’t feel comfortable anymore.

*note n. 3: the exception proves the rule and finally we found some personal that wasn’t so amazing as we have already got used to in Portugal 🙂

Never mind we invented our tactics how to behave in this kind of situation. Pretending being an obvious mystery shopper worked quite well and we left the restaurant in a good mood. Next time we go there we will definitely try one of their deliciously looking plates of grilled meat.

SHOPPING

Pingo Doce! We are lucky to live really close to this Portugal Supermarket and I can’t say there is something missing. The only annoyance for me is a fact it is impossible to pay with card a bill under 20€.

*note n. 4: we really appreciate the patience of people queuing as many times the saleswomen have too much things to do (for example to count the coins over right in front of you when other 10 people waiting behind). Couldn´t happen in Slovakia because people are still in a hurry!

Keeping Slovak traditions once a week we use to go to Continente that is basically the only hypermarket I know we know in Barcelos to do a bigger shopping. And, yes, we can pay with Slovak card!!! OK, there is also Lidl that is 40 minutes walking far away, but, honestly, would you go there on foot…?

“Feira” every Thursday… maybe you would expect us to be there every time to buying fresh fruits and vegetables, shopping cheap clothes and souvenirs. But the very opposite is true. As we don’t really like shopping and big shopping centers, we did our trip to Feira once to satiate our curiosity. It is really an interesting place full of life, but just too crowded for girls like us to go there every time just to “watch what new I can find today”.

POLICE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We would really love to mention our experience with police of Barcelos and maybe some other places we were so lucky to meet some :).

First of all they can speak English and not bad at all!

Once we needed help so we came to the police office. We were again surprised how open and helpful they are, treating us really politely. Also it happened that we were not in the right so that police came. However instead of paying a fine we deserved according to low they listened us and help to solve the issue letting us contact to call any time needed… How wonderful! We have never experienced this in our lives. Hope there will be not an exception that would prove the rule this time.

*note n. 5: Police is friendly, so don’t hesitate to ask for help!

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

We are young and we like to go out… 🙂 The very first evening my housemate took me to the center to see “the best places with the best people”.  It was a success and we spent a long night outside that time….

It is obvious that anywhere you are the atmosphere is the most important thing to form your opinion about the pace. In Portugal the perfect atmosphere of the places is based on perfect people working there. In Barcelos I haven’t been in a place where the staff wouldn’t welcome me with a smile or even with this two kisses on cheeks (so typical for South countries). The owners, waiters, chefs… etc. they all treat you like a friend or (or even part of family) everywhere here and it is definitely a reason to come back and not only once.

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Who we are?

Punctual German, lazy Greek, conservative British, always belated Spanish, expressive Italian, patristic American and many others… These stereotypes are well- known all over the world. They walk hand in hand with danger because they destroy opened mind, free perception and generalize nationalities or countries. But are they always true? Is it right to put everybody to one bag without getting to know the person? Let’s travel a little bit, experience them and afterwards make our own opinion!

On the other hand it is necessary to find out as many information as possible before your movement abroad (even it is just a trip). Believe or not, it is very useful and you can avoid embarrassed situations. One of the perfect examples is body language and different meaning of gestures. Very important part of body language is hand gestures. Many times we tend to use our hands to explain our needs and thoughts. The same hand gestures may mean something nasty to a person from a different cultural background. For example the thumb up signs in American and European countries meaning that everything is going according to your plans or in positive way. However, in some Islamic and Asian countries that gesture has rude, offensive meaning (as well as meaning of middle finger in Slovakia). So be aware of cultural differences!

Forasmuch as we do our internship in Portugal and live with Italian people under the one roof, we have decided to compare Slovak, Italian and Portuguese cultural habits. What can you imagine by the term culture? It is the characteristics or features of a particular group of people. We can define this word by language, religion, cuisine, customs and habits, music, arts, architecture, behaviour and so on. Simply said culture is presented by everything which we are surrounded by.

The thing we fell in love with was eating habits of our Italian house- mates. The eating isn’t only the way how to survive but by all means it is conviviality and joy for them. Enjoying a meal with family or friends is the main ingredient of any Italian dish. Let’s say Italian cuisine and culture walk hand in hand. Food defines them and it is a fundamental part of their lives. In a case of special occasions they always organize a dinner. Many various dishes are served there and it takes long time (because it is never only about the eating but about the meeting and enjoying each other, talking, sharing life experience etc.). We really like it- perfect table setting, good mood and, staying all together. We consider it as a perfect way of keeping in touch with the people we love.

In Slovakia this habit is disappearing (what is the pity). People are always in a hurry, they have stressful conditions at work or in the schools/universities so they are thankful to roll out on a sofa, calm down and relax afterwards.

Slovak people also don’t eat out very often. In average family the salaries are usually enough to pay all bills, buy the food and take care about the children and their needs. The rest (if there is some) is saved for “the worse time”. Unfortunately they think in that way all the time by the reason of bad life conditions. But we have noticed there are more people in young generation who prefer enjoying the life, going out from time to time. Simply said they decided to be happy and satisfied even with a less money in their pockets. And that’s wonderful, that’s what we also propagate. During our travelling experience along the Portugal we always saw restaurants and bars full of people. So we can state Portuguese habits are similar to Italians. There are differences in breakfasts in comparison with Slovakia. Whereas breakfast is regarded as an important start to the day, for Italians the coffee is highly important part of the mornings. „Buon giorno!“ and „ There is a coffee ready for u.“ are the first sentences when we wake up. So every morning there are two Slovak girls eating salty breakfast and some Italians drinking coffee and enjoying biscuits or croissant with nutella. Another eating habits they have (and we don’t) is something sweet and piece of fruits after the lunch and dinner. Plus coffee cannot miss, of course!

We remember how full they were when we cooked national Slovak dinner. The food was so heavy for Italian stomachs. But is it lighter to eat one ton of pasta and two more plates with fruits and cakes afterwards? 🙂

What about the Portugal? As we learnt, each region of Portugal has its own traditional dishes, including various kinds of meat, seafood, fish and so on. In the area we lived dried and salted cod (known as bacalhau) and Francesinha (It is a Portuguese sandwich, made with bread, ham, sausage and roast meat and covered with melted cheese. Francesinha is offered with a hot thick tomato and beer sauce and served with french fries) are famous. Bacalhau smells is spread in every grocery, supermarkets and local markets.

Portuguese people (same as Italians) are proud of their wines. They are the countries of wine lovers and winemakers. Same as water cannot miss on a Slovak table (lunch or dinner) high quality wine is indispensable part of table setting. We were delighted to try Port wine during our trip in Porto, a city where Portuguese people give a birth to that famous brand of wine. First of all, hostess told us a story and explained us interesting information about the wine. We learnt that Port wine is a fortified wine made by adding a proportion of grape spirit or brandy (Portuguese aguardente) to the wine at some point during the production process. Then we could try three kinds of it (10 years old one included). Even more we haven’t tried stronger and sweeter kind of wine before we enjoyed this experience a lot and left the Porto with some bottles inside of our bags (to promote it in Slovakia, of course :)).

Before our arrival to the country of seafarers we have read some articles because we wanted to learn something and to get to know new information. There was written that Portuguese inhabitants are said to be emotional, nostalgic and sad in many of them. These characteristics are probably ascribed to them because of their love to Fado music (it is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia). But till now we haven’t met any nostalgic and unhappy people! All of them are so nice, always smiling and always with a good mood. As we mentioned at the beginning: “Never believe in stereotypes and don’t have prejudices!”, it was confirmed again.

Concerning the Portuguese, they are commonly thought of as lazy. But it is generally known as a characteristic of South- Mediterranean countries. This feature is probably ascribed to them because of the climate. Sun and high temperature make them tired and they tend to take an afternoon nap (like well-known Spanish siesta). Yes, truly, you cannot make a shopping at midday because mainly shops are closed. But on the other hand I really don’t agree with a statement they are lazy. Their daily timetable is just “a little bit” different than ours. While Slovaks wake up very early and start working at 6 or 7 o’clock, South- Mediterranean people just roll themselves on the other side in their bedsJ. On the other hand, Portuguese people work till much late hours than we usually do. The surprise was that shops are not opened on Mondays (in Portugal and also Italy). We aren’t got used to in Slovakia. We asked “Perche?” “Porquê?” but we haven’t reached the answer yet.

It is also common to think that Portuguese and Italian people always arrive late to an event of any kind and they are usually not seen as hard workers or as very diligent. But guess who was always late and who the others were waiting for? Yeah, you are right; they were waiting for two Slovak girls. Oh My God, it will be pretty hard to get into the Slovak habits and behaviour again :).

Another thing we fell down with was Italian expressive gestures, body language and good mood all the time. It was so awesome and unforgettable experience to live with them under the same roof. We just “had to” share it with them. So we wanted to leave the message for Slovak people: “Enjoy your lives! Have smiles on your faces! And give the energy to the people! Because everything u give, it will return to you one day”.

So at the end of our experience we are really happy and thankful we could get to know new cultures. Not only Portuguese, also Italians and the others, because people can gift you and give you a lot! You become rich even thought you have empty wallet. And you can notice that the life doesn’t have just one direction and there are many possibilities how to deal with it, not the only one :).

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Being vegetarian in north Portugal

Yes, I belong to these strange people who don’t like meat or fish a lot.  I can’t really call myself a Vegetarian as I can also enjoy a good juicy “Full English Breakfast” from time to time. Anyway, if I decide to go eat outside I prefer non meat/fish plate. But I live in Barcelos….

After searching on internet for a while the only restaurant I found serving food without meat was O Arado – a Macrobiotic Restaurant. It looked really good the description but also o bit too luxury to eat there often. Once we went there to have a look at around 5 PM it was closed. But we found out the menu of the day is not that expensive so maybe one day we will go back to try. (Meantime motivated more people to eat vegetarian food with me outside.)

So our searching continued until the TripAdvisor found a vegetarian Francesinha for us in the center of Barcelos. Perfecto!

As Francesinha (a sandwich originally from Porto) is normally full of meat such as ham, sausage, steak or roast meat… I was looking forward to try this typical food of Porto in vegetarian version. Again we were not successful. First, Google Maps didn’t recognize the address and led us somewhere to opposite side of Barcelos. Second when we finally found the address, there was no more the Cantinho das Francesinhas but some other restaurant where they obviously don’t serve any vegetarian menu.

Never mind we went to other place and my company (maybe also a bit happy after this information) ordered the Portuguese sandwich in original version. Me, I ate all their french-fries with delicious francesinha sauce (made from beer) at least :).

After this experience I gave up searching vegetarian options and just enjoy vegetables/vegetable salads and delicious Portuguese cakes while eating outside.

Lets’ move to Braga! There are more vegetarian options over the city according to internet. But it is always a personal advertisement that works the best. So our friends who are living in Braga took us to Pausa Útil for a lunch (Rua Nova de Santa Cruz-187, 4710-409 Braga).

Perfect food! Perfect staff! Perfect feeling!

The place itself is not really easy to find if you are not from Braga and impossible if you have no internet in mobile phone. It is situated in a row of other buildings and from outside doesn’t look any special despite glass wall facing towards the street.

White walls and tables remind you more canteen than a restaurant but a corner of handmade hats and other little things say about you are on original place. Always smiling waiter (greeting you immediately he sees you in front of the entrance) is a big plus of Pausa Útil. And he speaks English, too!

When you choose your seats he will bring you a teapot full of hot/cold herbal tea that you can get filled when you want. You can choose from 4 different plates (lasagna, local specialties …) during the lunch time and they are all rich enough even for carnivores 🙂 (as my friends said). Every meal is also served with big portion of vegetables. For dessert I was recommended an apple pie and it was really a good choice. But I also liked the chocolate cake that didn’t really tasted like chocolate but for me was good anyway.

Without coffee I paid less than 5Euro and we all left filled not just by good food but also a lot of positive energy. Till now my Number One from vegetarian restaurants I have ever visited.

But my obsession with vegetarian food didn’t stop. Immediately we decided to visit Porto I started to look for some nice places to eat there. And I found many.

We decided for Casa da Horta (Rua de São Francisco 12, 4050-548 Porto) because it is in the centre and had many good references on internet. It is really not that hard to find as the restaurant is located next to São Francisco Church that is marked on every map of the city.

It is lovely place. My cap of tea from outside and also from inside. Friendly waiter speaking English explained us they unfortunately only serve some snacks during lunch time. However, he was so kind to explain us a way to other place where they have menu (for 5 Euro) these time.

So we found O Oriente no Porto (Rua de Sao Miguel, 19, Porto 4050-560). If you like oriental Indian food this is a choice for you. They only had one choice for menu but it was delicious (at least for me because I love this kind of Indian food). If you are not used to it (as my friends) you may be disappointed but if you like healthy food you I can recommend this place.

As I got used in Portugal the stuff was really kind and smiling all the time, trying to help with any your questions or doubts. Obviously in English that was not the best one but perfectly enough to understand what we needed.

As we were told vegetarian francesinha is one of the specialties of the house. But not the day we came… (of course). It looks like I will have to wait more time until I finally try…

Back to the restaurant! Only thing I was a bit disappointed about was a little patio outside because we really wanted to enjoy the view and tables weren’t clean or prepared to eat there. But inside everything looked nice and kind of cozy.

Also the way of paying was surprising because we were given the bill together with our food but we were supposed to pay upstairs when leaving.  Maybe because there is also a small showcase with some ayurvedic products there so that you can buy.

With this experience I’ve stopped my searching of vegetarian restaurants. Or… I have rather changed my tactics which means that when I go to restaurant I directly ask what “non-fish&non-meat” plate they can offer me. Usually, I just enjoy a view of confused face of the waiter but finally there is always some option for me usually made of vegetables, legumes, fried potatoes and “sopa”.

As Slovakia is kind of soup country I was surprised in Portugal “sopa” normally means one kind of delicious thick vegetable dish. From the first day I tried I knew this was going to be my rescue meal in Portugal. Usually it is not expensive. But be careful! Simple bread with butter can be more expensive than the soup itself, so that, better check the price before you eat it :).

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Blue arrows leading us to Fátima…

… marks which ought to bring us to that well-know place. „But where did they disappear?” was our question after few kilometres far away from Barcelos (place where two Slovak girls and one Italian daredevil started their caminho).

Before we started the trip we were so excited about since finishing road to Santiago de Compostela we had a small introduction by the worker of a Helping point for pilgrims in Barcelos. Here they take care about pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela or Fátima. We were told much useful information like web pages, etc. The old and official road to Fátima is at the same time (regrettably) mostly a National 1 road leading to Lisbon. However some other of the office workers finished a new arrow drawing few days ago to mark new road for pilgrims crossing more nature and countryside. Cool! We will try it! First difference we have noticed in comparison with Caminho de Santiago… missing arrows!!! They were so rare on our route, disappearing and appearing from time to time.

Even though we are brave enough and don’t like giving up, we decided to help ourselves. Why can’t we just raise a thumb? So we experienced our first hitchhiking in Portugal…. We were just finishing the papers saying Porto when suddenly black mini cooper was approaching. Forasmuch as we both love that kind of cars we have noticed it and wished to be the drivers of our own mini one day. Yep, one day baby, one day :). Dreaming about it we did not notice that the car stopped. The sexy voice of Portuguese gentleman saying “jump in” definitely disturbed us in our dreaming. We were so surprised. We were kidding few seconds ago it’s not possible to reduce to fit for 3 more people in such a car. We were even more startled when we heard “I am so sorry that you don’t feel comfortable, but my car is very small” he said. What? Did we hear him well? Again we must highlight very nice behaviour of locals. Even though we felt like a part of Tetris, we enjoyed it and had a great time with him. He was incredible. Even one man would consider changing his orientation because of him:). We found out he works in Barcelos, so we agreed on a beer all together one evening. He got us a ride to beautiful Porto’s beach, recommended us some nice places to visit and by words “goodbye and see you soon” he left.

By the reason we didn’t have to walk anymore and we had a lot of time (which we saved by hitchhiking), we decided to enjoy the beach, ocean’s waves and sunrays.

In the evening we went a little bit further and searched for a place where to do our tent. It could not have been us if anything happened. We were pleasantly tired sitting in front of our new “residence”, eating a dinner when suddenly police appeared. As we later found out, they were called by neighbours. Not because we didn’t keep the rules, make a mess or anything but because we made the tent on private place (what we didn’t know of course). Anyway we are lucky enough and even in that situation it has not been otherwise. Person dressed in smart police uniform solved the problem, moreover he came again few minutes later just to give us the number of local police station in the case of other problematic neighbours and wished us sweet dreams. We decided to name him Superman. With the fallen jaw and totally speechless we started to laugh. Are we dreaming? Was him a vision or what? Yes dear readers, welcome in Portuguese paradise :).

We didn’t want to be called absolute fake pilgrims, so boosted by energetic breakfast we decided to walk “without the cheating” next morning. The weather was wonderful, rare highways also made us happy. So what else should we wish? During the break we tried another francesinha in a local pub. Even though waitress (older lady) couldn’t speak English she tried to be helpful, we ordered by body language and enjoyed the stay over there (Charging phones was price included. In comparison with Slovakia I really can imagine “enthusiastic” face of waiter when anybody asks for it there).

What we must criticize is impossibility to find an albergues because there were no marks or they were not visible enough. We read about fewer occurrences of albergues than in caminho de Santiago but at any rate we could not find it. By the reason of necessary shower we tried to ask about its location in local shop. The hospitality of Portuguese inhabitants and willingness (almost) always to help showed again up. And it was not only a shop- assistant who tried to explain it to us. Young shopper drove us by her own car in front of the door of Bombeiros Voluntários (place where pilgrims can pass the night at). Only red carpet was missing while we were getting off the car!

Welcome in our third day. Our plans to wake up early collapsed completely. After profuse sleep we started our new day with a positive mood and with big smiles on our faces. Obviously we were lucky again and after few seconds of hitchhiking we caught a car directly going to Coimbra (city of our next planned stop). With not so talkative, but very kind driver and his peaceful music we did around one hundred kilometres. We were supposed to meet one friend of us living in Coimbra. We became the tourists there, seeing the city, The University of Coimbra- one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, eating fabulous food in restaurant with perfect services (so many things which other countries should learn, especially kindness and nice behaviour of waiters here- what we really love).

Let’s move further and finally meet some pilgrims (but real ones walking from 3 o’clock in the morning, not as fake as we were :)). That was a big difference in comparison with Caminho de Santiago- nobody to talk with, nobody to get to know. So we were really happy to meet them, especially our Italian friend who is going to make a blog about the pilgrims and their life’s stories. In the evening we made a tent near them at the gasoline station where we also ate. But watch out! Mini piece of butter which they always bring you here in Portugal (even though you haven’t asked for it) may not be always price included. But come on! We were so surprised looking on a bill and noticing it was even more expensive than a bottle of beer.

By the reason of our falling in love with hitchhiking we wanted to experience it again. Not because we were lazy, but because of people who stopped to us. Who haven’t tried, just cannot understand. They can give you a lot: a lot of energy, useful information, advices, and recommendations etc. People who we met our last day of the rout of Fatima were not an exception (smart professor at university who invited us for a coffee in a gasoline station, talkative driver who comes from Batalha and showed us an incredible monastery in his town, a smiling couple from Angola living over 40 days in Fatima).

When we arrived to that place of pilgrimage we were a little bit confused about the amount of people over there. Hundreds pilgrims, believers or just visitors were spread along the square where Sanctuary of Fatima is situated. Unfortunately none of us felt comfortable there. Not because we didn’t like the place, on the contrary it was pretty. But we could not feel „the soul” of Fatima. It seemed like the original authentic meaning of that place were disappearing, slowly, but definitely. And the place of pilgrimage started becoming a little bit commercial. In the evening we found the bus station and accidentally we saw a bus to Braga waiting for last travelers on the platform. So in a few seconds we decided not to continue with hitchhiking, but to take it and save the time for another adventures in another places. Portugal has many interesting corners, so let’s discover them!

At the end of our story we would like to leave here the big thanks and warm hugs to all of you who turned the engine off! Maybe you don’t know but you made our trip more interesting and each of you was beneficial for us. OBRIGADO!

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Bom caminho!

Hi!

Our names are Adela and Veronika and we decided to walk Portuguese road to Santiago from Barcelos, a small city of Portugal. Camino de Santiago is name of pilgrimage routes (also known as St. James´ Path or Route of Santiago de Compostela). It belongs to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Nowadays thousands of Christian pilgrims and also other tourists do Camino across the Europe. They usually use just their feet, some of them a bicycle, rarely a horse. They follow various reasons, religious pilgrimage or just non-religious reasons (travelling, sport, hiking, keeping their bodies in a good shape, adventure, getting to know new people and so on). Pilgrims from many countries peregrinate to the city Santiago de Compostela in Spain. During the route they pass villages, cities and many interesting places. They have possibilities to socialize not only with tourists, but also experience the hospitality of wonderful local inhabitants. The most popular and promoted all over the world is The French Way (Camino Francés). Another popular route is the Portuguese part, which starts either at the cathedral in Lisbon, which has 610 km or at the cathedral in Porto in the north of Portugal with a distance 227 km. On the score of our living in Barcelos we have chosen Portugal way, started from Barcelos and made over 200 kilometres.

Every pilgrim carries a document called the credencial. You can buy it for a few euros from a tourist agency or in a church on the route. We can describe it as a pass which gives access to cheaper overnight accommodation in albergue (a special “hostel” for pilgrims). During the journey pilgrims collect the stamps of each town, albergue, coffee- bar, bar, restaurant at which they have stayed. The Credencial represents a list of places where they ate or slept or sometimes there is a city worker doing statistics offering a stamp in exchange for your data.  It is necessary for obtaining a certificate of pilgrims, which is given in Santiago de Compostela.

Any pilgrim cannot leave without a shell, which is possible to find in every souvenir’s shops. The shell is seen on signs (together with yellow arrow) along the Camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way. The shell is even more commonly seen on the pilgrims themselves. It denotes that you are a traveller on the Camino de Santiago. Scallop presents symbol of Camino de Santiago with mythical but also practical meaning. There are many legends explaining the story about death of Saint James, who was martyred by beheading. One of them says that after St. James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to be buried in Santiago. Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After few days it washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops. The shells had also practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. They served as the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. But all these information you can find on plenty of websites already created about Camino: many useful information or exact details.

But every Camino is different same as every person doing it…

As we mentioned, we have chosen Portugal route and we have started from our city- Barcelos. Let’s introduce you our wandering in a group of 2 Slovak, 4 Italian girls and our 2 Italian gentlemen 🙂

0 day

Even one day before the trip we were not 100% sure if it is possible for us to participate this experience. That basically means we were not the typical pilgrims preparing ourselves at least one week before beginning. Any weather checking, big shopping, etc. We both had some hiking shoes, waterproof jacket or raincoat and desire to go so we just made decision and that was it – our preparation.

1st day

The weather was awful! It was raining and cloudy. But it didn’t steel us our good mood and our pleasure of an approaching adventure. Our first stop we wanted to reach was Ponte de Lima. Full of energy we walked very fast even though the rain. On a way we met and talked to many kind tourists from all over the world (Brazil, Germany, Australia, Czech Republic and so on). They were always waving and greeting. We arrived in late afternoon tired and all sweaty. Already before crossing the bridge to reach albergue we were told it is completely full. So we started to ask and find some alternative option. We were negatively surprised of behaviour of local people. They recommend us only expensive accommodation, just to make a good business for them, not to help. We felt so exhausted and lost, we wanted to take the shoes of and relax (finally). Surprisingly, it was a police, who saved us. They called to albergue and found out we could still sleep there on the floor in our sleeping bags. Moreover, we did not have to pay anything and still could enjoy all the services they offer such as shower or kitchen. After we let hot water treat our tired muscles we went to restaurant for a hot meal (it was necessary after walking in a bad weather) and had a good fun all together. Because of tiredness we slept very deeply.

 

2nd day

Route of our second day was so beautiful, full of nice nature, forests and hills. We liked it so much even terrene was more difficult to pass and almost all way we had to climb as we needed to cross a mountain. But we enjoyed. After coming back down to valley we made a break in a small open bar waiting to each other drinking a deserved bottle of Super Bock (popular Portuguese beer) and talked to our new friend from Indonesia who is living in Holland. After few meters we entered an albergue in Rubiaes. In few seconds the receptionist destroyed our positive energy. We were so surprised how awful she behaved. Maybe you know that feeling when you greet somebody and he/she doesn’t even turn to show his/her face and answer. Any interests in us, poor, tired pilgrims and she snubbed us by one sentence: “No free places.” So there is an unanswered question: ”Why do such a rude people work in a field of tourism?” These employees must be kind, friendly and always ready to help, because they are one of the most important parts of tourists´ satisfaction. Finally we have found a place to sleep thanks to local people that or had compassion with us or only didn’t want to miss a chance to earn some money from tourists? Even we had to use ground of the *doña Maria’s kitchen we spent funny time over there. And “only” for 8 Euros (after discussion about discount) without breakfast, kitchen spider included. However during the Camino we met many wonderful pilgrims, who became our friends and who we spent warm nights in next albergues with.

* Doña Maria= local hospitable woman :).

3rd day

Next point which we wanted to achieve was Valenca. By reason that it was not such a long distance and we woke up very early, we got the beds in albergue. We already understood better the system of catching places to sleep 🙂 and also wanted to be prepared for the next day that was supposed to be the hardest one. Valenca is last Portuguese stop before crossing the border. Many pilgrims continue 2-3km more and sleep already in Spain in Tui. Anyway, we took a shower had some snack and left our stuff next our beds to explore the beauty of Valenca that called us since we had enter. So we climbed the hill with the ruins of the castle, right next to our sleeping place. We really enjoyed the atmosphere in albergue of s. Teotonio. The pilgrims got to know each other. Everybody was very opened and sociable. And we were celebrating the birthday of German girl, named Miriam and listened to experience of Slovenian woman doing her Camino next to coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

4th day

Early in the morning with flashlights and shining mobile phones we tried to follow yellow arrows across the historical centre. With loooong bridge over Minho River we also crossed the border of Spain. Immediately we noticed that marks (arrows and shells) were not as punctual as in Portugal part. While on Portuguese part they were literally on every corner on Spanish side they sometimes disappeared and we lost the right way. On the other hand we have to mention the hospitality and kindness of people working in the enterprises of tourism, especially in the restaurants. We made a break for coffee and they immediately offered us snacks for a breakfast for free. Thanks to them! :). Full of energy we continued walking further, because it was the most difficult part of Camino in front of us. During the route to Redondela we tried lovely draft beer. In comparison with Slovakia it was more expensive but we got a pieces of tortilla or chips or fresh piece of bread and it was all price included (I did not remark it in any other countries, only in Spain and Portugal). On that part of Camino more serious problems with the legs of our Italian friends began and we divided in groups of two. Two of us had to take a bus which was not that bad because they could find a nice hostel for all of us to sleep there. Me (Adela) and Italian friend with leg troubles we took different way that seemed simpler. Older local man made our hard day pleasant. He offered us refreshment in his house and gave us a bottle of homemade wine. Even though we were so exhausted and painful, we went out all together in Redondela. We were discovering the beauties of picturesque town and we had one of the funniest evening ever :).

5th day

At the beginning of our fifth day we have noticed the hospitality of local inhabitants. By reason that we needed to buy an arch supporter we visited the shop of shoemaker. He didn’t give us only a discount, but he also protected the shoes of whole Slovak- Italian group by waterproof spray for free. Wonderful! On a way to our next stop (Pontevedra) we met Pablo, a talented Spanish musician. He was selling water and beer on the top of a small hill, playing a guitar and singing. Of course we joined him, sang danced and made ourselves unforgettable experience of Camino de Santiago. He advised us an alternative way for part of Camino following greet arrows for a while, where we could see more beautiful nature, walk through the forest, near the river. In that anything cannot be so positive the end of the day became worse. Illness visited us and destroyed the healthy of one of our Italian gentleman. But we didn’t give up!

6th day

Our 6th was one of the worst one. As we mentioned some of us had problems with the legs, especially with the feet and knee and one of us was a bit ill. The Italian girl had to go to hospital. She took a bus and later booked an accommodation for our group in albergue in Caldas de Reis. Nobody can imagine how angry the pilgrims were with us (surprisingly one priest was the most obnoxious). We understood them, but on the other hand we did not do it purposely. Pilgrims, there is a message for all o us: “We should think sometimes, what is the Camino the Santiago really about!”

7th day

Padron, next planned albergue, wasn’t so far away from Caldas de Reis, so we were walking calmly and were not in a hurry at all. We afforded more breaks, rest and food. We knew our target was near at hand. We were enjoying and laughing a lot. When we arrived to Padron, we (Slovak part of crew) decided to continue further unless our feet will be available to fulfil one of our “caminho dreams” to sleep outdoors. Italians stayed in an albergue, which seemed like a castle and we continued and stopped around 8 kilometres far away from Santiago. Afraid of falling nuts we prepared our “beds” (raincoats with sleeping bags on it) in a small forest in the middle of nowhere and spent wonderful night under the stars.

8th day

We survived our adventurous night under the sky, woke up before the sunrise and full of positive feelings we started our last part of Camino de Santiago. As we became a “family” during doing the Camino, we (Slovak girls) made a surprise for our Italians. It was a message inside of the heart, which we drew on a road. We were sure we will make them smiles on their faces. When we finally achieved the town Santiago de Compostela we realized our hunger. So we stopped in a coffee bar, ate the breakfast, drank a coffee, secretly took a “shower” in a bathroom and charged our mobile phones. And we paid only 2, 20 € per person :). We arrived to cathedral in Santiago de Compostela clean and powerful, ready to enjoy the mass and the town as well. We saw the famous botafumeiro swinging over our heads and ate a big big dinner (normal Spanish size consisting of 2 plates and dessert) from what we all had a stomach ache. If you have ever visited some place of pilgrimage the city itself will not surprise you with all its souvenir shops. But the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is really worth to see it. After 8 days of walking is so easy to spend an afternoon doing nothing just enjoying company of friends having rest. In the evening people from Intercultural Association Mobility Friends picked us up and drove us directly to our houses.

We were thinking to continue directly to Finisterre, which Latin’s name means “Land’s End”. The Land’s End was a symbolic place where the sun was diving every day into the ocean but finally we decided to organize another trip there and experience it later.

Camino de Santiago was one of the lessons of our lives. That adventure meant so much for us and maybe changed our minds a little bit. We became a family, made beautiful relationships and found new friends among the pilgrims. And with a smile on our faces we can say: “We’ve got it. We are pilgrims!” 🙂

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