Sorry for the delay. I realize I am now chronicling the events of a month ago. I have been back for almost three weeks, but they have been eventful, to say the least. First I rested up a bit and delivered all the travel deliverables to the travelers who are now traveling again. Then I got busy on my annual summer party at Ginger’s on Ile Bizard. Ginger supplies the fabulous venue, the guests supply most of the extravagant vittles, and I supply steaks and organization. In the process of making a dozen phone calls on a Sunday afternoon (July 24) I slipped on a scatter rug in my office and made a three point landing, shoulder, knee and toes. The shoulder came back quickly, the knee (the one that broke a Volvo steering wheel in 1968 and has had plates and screws in and out twice) landed me on crutches for a day, and the toes, which are doubtless broken, still hurt and swell. July 25, the day I spent on crutches, was also the day I had Mohs surgery scheduled for my nose. So, I showed up in the hospital and had it. Then I spent the rest of the day, until 10pm in emergency getting the knee X-Rayed. The doc released me at 10pm, unable to tell whether there was a fracture there or not, the image was such a dog’s breakfast. By then, I was able to put a little weight on the knee, so there was hope. I managed to pick up Chinese food with my taxi home and finally got something to eat before I crashed.
The next day I could walk again and I started getting on with my life, interrupted with dressing changes on my nose, and a 2nd shingles shot, which flattened me for a day. Yesterday was the party and it was as wonderful as ever. The participants are ageing and we don’t last until 2am anymore, but we do appreciate still being able to get together and have fun. Now, back in time to Europe and my story.
Saturday, July 2 2022
Jerome picked me up early in the morning in Batignolles and drove me to Orly, where I caught my little Vuelan to Porto. I took an easy train to the center of town and a taxi to the Hilton Porto Gaia which had graciously offered me two free nights with breakfast for having met them at a “Visit Portugal” event in Montreal in May. It’s a beautiful, newly renovated hotel, very modern, comfortable and spacious. I can highly recommend it as a place to stay in Porto. I can see most of this view from my balcony, but I took this picture from the waterfront itself, when I walked out to dinner.
Alex, the concierge, who was sweet and helpful, had sent me to Sancho Panza, on the waterfront. I found it too touristy, though I did see many locals there. My recommendation for where to eat on Gaia’s beautiful waterfront comes in tomorrow’s section. I walked up and down it a bit and home to the Hilton for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, July 3
It was a quiet day for me. I began with my exercise program on the computer. The staff wanted to clean my room, so I took it out into the hall, which was about 25 feet wide and contained a sofa and coffee table, right outside my room. I put the laptop on the coffee table and exercised with Miranda while my room got spiffed up. I spent most of the day in it, catching up. I did write some of this stuff while I was on the trip, and this is one of the places I did it. I was also busy being my own travel agent and figuring how I was going to get to Regua, in the middle of the Douro, where I had to be on the 4th. Around 3:30 pm, I walked down to the waterfront and found a pastry shop that served Natas tarts and hot chocolate, which made a wonderful 4:00pm breakfast.
Back at the hotel, I investigated my commercially available options and checked with Kay Bouchard, owner of Quinta do Tedo, where I would be staying. She put me in touch with Clare Mellor, a Brit living in Porto who has a little business called MyFriendsRoom and books limos at decent prices. Around six, I went down to the front desk, to discuss my dinner options. Diogo was very sweet. I told him I wanted an authentic Portuguese experience, unlike Sancho Panza, and he sent me to a fishing village a 3 km walk away. The restaurant was called Amazem do Peixe and sounded perfect. But…It was San Pedro’s day and I ran into a procession, where the locals were carrying their favorite santos through the streets. It was a fun to be a part of. I didn’t get dinner there because the restaurants were all closed, but I was glad of the experience. I was also still hungry. I thought of trying to beg my way into one of the family dinners that were being set up in the street all over the place, but my Portuguese is almost non-existent, which would doubtless have spoiled the fun. I found a girl with enough English to call me a taxi, but it wouldn’t come into the village during the festival. I would have to walk out a km or so. So, I did that and ended up back on the Gaia waterfront near Sancho Panza. Just a little toward the cable car from there was a restaurant called Provas v Nova that looked nice enough. They said they were full and couldn’t take me. I told them my sad story and how tired, footsore and hungry I was, and they relented. It was a staff problem, there was plenty of space. The whole world has staff problems now, though. They had a special they only do on weekends called “cod in cream”. The Portuguese have hundreds of ways to cook cod. This one was like coquilles St. Jacques, if you substitute cod for the scallops and boiled potato pieces for the mashed. I absolutely loved it, scarfed the lot and went home happy.
Monday, July 4
I don’t eat until 4pm but figured I needed to have one of the Hilton’s free breakfasts, so I could tell about it. I was very glad I did. I had a mimosa, some smoked salmon, bacon, prosciutto, a cheese, onion and bacon omelet made to order, an apple turnover, a chocolatine and a natas tart. The tea was done right. It arrived with the bag already in the teapot. I had another natas tart and a piece of French toast with apricot jam (oink). The room was spacious and well-appointed and my fellow patrons were interesting. The one at the next table was on his fourth glass of champagne when I left to go meet my driver. I was sorry for his young oriental companion.
Carla, my driver was delightful, and I had an entire Mercedes Sprinter to myself, so I sat up front with her. The view was outstanding. We’ll be doing this route on the river, but I was happy to do it overland, too, because it’s entirely different. There has been terraced farming in these hills for at least a thousand years and they are enchanting to drive through. Carla has never been out of Europe because she is afraid to travel on boats and planes. She was afraid to drive through the necessary 5 km tunnel, too, but she braved it. It’s even harder for her when she makes the return trip alone, but a gal’s gotta make a living.
Quinta do Tedo is positively enchanting. I was there because it is owned by Kay and Vincent Bouchard (of Bouchard, Père et Fils) and I met Kay at a food truck near the DMV in Napa in 2019. I was having my car fixed at Gabriel’s. Her son was with her and he went to McGill. They have a cork business in Napa and live there part of the year, etc. You know when you just click. So, I was here for an evening with my friend Kay. Their bistro was only opening the following week, due to staffing problems. (Everybody has them.) But, the chef had brought her a lot of food to try and she created a feast for us out of the left overs of that tasting. We had cold Spanish garlic soup, Turkey fricassé with sweet potato gnocchi and panna cotta with apricot sauce. We ate it in her dining room and had dessert on her terrace, overlooking the Douro. Thank you, Kay. That was fabulous. The rest of you, go to http://www.quintadotedo.com/ and think about this B&B for a holiday in Portugal. It’s smack mid-Douro and four days here with a rental car would give you a super experience. Just look at that view.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
The Bistro was open for breakfast and it was delicious. The pastries were flaky and he view was to die for. I had made another exception. Carla picked me up again and I had another lovely ride to the Porto airport and $56 plane ride to Lisbon. In the Lisbon airport, after Tauck’s limo failed to appear and couldn’t get to me sooner than a taxi, I was helped into the taxi rank by a very nice young woman, who is now a new friend. I found our where she was going, offered her a ride in my taxi and there we were. She has been living n Madrid for three years and was on a quick trip to Lisbon to meet up with some US friends. She’s a Californian and will be going back there soon to continue her studies in Criminal Justice. Another click.
I checked into the Intercontinental Lisbon, Tauck’s hotel. I should have been meeting Chris Silver and Karen Irvin, but they had had to cancel, so I was eating alone tonight. Danièle had made me a reservation at their favorite Lisbon restaurant, Essencial.
OMG – was that some dinner reservation. It was exquisite, and unpretentious. Food like The French Laundry’s (and, yes, I do know. I have been there 5 times and I know Thomas Keller, too.) And it was about 1/10 the price. Essencial – rue da Rosa 176. I had the tasting menu for 80 euros with the wine pairing, 45 euros – TK wants about a grand for that. You can also get a bistro menu for 45 euros that looked just fine. Not that I don’t love the French Laundry, just that I can come here more often, like every time I am in Lisbon.
It was also just the right place to dine alone. There was enough kitchen theatre and nice attention from the staff, with the many courses and pairings and all, that the time passed very easily and pleasantly for this solo diner.
This was the second course…
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
This was another quiet day to get a bit of work done in the hotel. I checked in with Tauck and met the first three people with lost luggage, arriving from the states. There were at least three more, that I later found out about. I checked in with Caroline an we found an hour to get together near the end of the afternoon. So I ended up introducing her to Natas Tarts and Hot Chocolat at Il Corte Ingles, the big Spanish department store. It turned out to be the closest place to our hotel that did that. The view was spectacular:
The Tauck welcome dinner will start the next and likely last installment.