Beautiful beaches at Porto & Matosinhos

We are now in Portugal for the first time. We docked here at the industrial port near Matosinhos this morning and caught the shuttle bus into Porto proper, about a thirty minute drive along the beautiful coastline and beaches. This was my favourite part of the day.

The surfers were out on this lovely sunny day but the breeze by the water was cool still.

Once we passed the mouth of the Douro River, there were many fishermen and small boats with outboard motors. It reminded me of the years of my childhood that I spent at Donnybrook on Pumicestone Passage just north of Brisbane. There my parents had a multifaceted small business: a corner store, boats for hire, an unofficial post office and, as well, we sold petrol (with an old hand operated petrol pump). At the same time, Dad was a professional fishermen and crabber. Of course, our boats were inboards as there were no outboard motors at that stage.

I found the town of Porto itself to be quaint and so steep. Not good for the knees. We had a frustrating time here as we had booked tickets on the yellow vintage hop on hop off bus. We waited 50 minutes for it to come and then the driver’s reader wouldn’t read my e ticket which had assured me that I didn’t need a printed ticket. So he wouldn’t let us on. Very frustrating. Then we climbed some very steep steps to the market which wasn’t open and didn’t open until midday. More frustration! We did find a coffee and two excellent Portuguese custard tarts. We enjoyed them. Two coffees and two tarts for a total of €4. Amazing!

I do love to use a nice pen that feels good in my hand and there is a great pen shop here that we lingered in. They also stocked beautiful sets of coloured pencils for serious artwork. I have a lovely set of pencils that I haven’t touched in a few years. I think I’m getting the urge to get them out again. All very tempting but I resisted. The other shop which severely tempted me was quite a large hat shop. I very nearly bought a stylish black and white hat but David convinced me that I wouldn’t get it home in immaculate condition and I should buy one at home. So I will.

The streets are very interesting, so steep and narrow and the buildings are several stories high. Shops occupy the ground floor of many.

We wandered around until our knees were done (mine anyway) and then went to catch the shuttle back to the ship. Another 45 minute wait!

Now I’m waiting for a turn in the laundry. At least David brought me a lovely coffee!

Imagine a two thousand year old lighthouse!

Today we visited La Coruña after a really rough night cruising across the Bay of Biscay from Bilbao. We were all weary as not many had a good night’s sleep. Even the crew were complaining!

La Coruña is on the north western tip of Spain and is quite a busy port and has been so for a long, long time. We caught the shuttle bus into town and then took a taxi to the old lighthouse, the Roman Tower of Hercules which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is still in operation today but it has been quite extensively restored as you can see below.

The scenery around the lighthouse is spectacular but it was quite chilly.

The taxi dropped us back to the old town but before we explored we needed to warm up. What’s the best way to do that? Churros con Chocolate

David salivated over this next shop with all the delicious jamon.

And then visited the barber of La Coruña.

There are many churches in the city but we thought the Town Hall was pretty imposing.

So a pleasant morning in town and then this afternoon we relaxed with some therapy at the Marina’s spa.

The Basque Coast of Spain is so pretty

We are still in Bilbao’s port, Getxo and this morning I went for a beautiful walk along the waterfront. David wasn’t feeling energetic so he spent the morning reading.

It is quite cool and there’s a very strong wind blowing but thankfully it is sunny. My new bubble coat has come in very handy these last couple of days.

The tourist information lady said there’s a lovely old fishing village to walk around and I thought I’d do that. When you see the steps up to it, you’ll see why I just walked along the promenade below. Life wouldn’t have been easy for the fishermen here, as it wasn’t for my ancestors in Port Isaac.

Hills surround Getxo on three sides and they are covered with lush green vegetation. The beach is wide and sandy but I didn’t venture onto it as the wind was blowing up a lot of sand.

The Marina is a lovely ship. It takes around 1200 passengers and was launched in 2011. Later this year it is going in for a refurbishment so it will be all spruced up. We love travelling on it and all of the crew are superb.

Those are the steps to the fishing village. Too much for my old knees, I reckon!

See that red and white house on the top of the cliff. I reckon that would be a great retirement home for me. Great see views! And it’s red! But look at those steps to get up to it! Oh well, never mind.

So I love the Basque Coast of Spain. San Sebastián and Getxo are both so pretty. I’m sad we missed seeing the French Basque Coast but still we are so lucky to be here.

Bilbao, Spain – home of the Guggenheim Museum

We weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow but the weather interfered. We can’t complain. We’ve had beautiful weather every day until now even though it was cold in Paris. We missed Biarritz but have an extra day here in Bilbao.

The port provides shuttle buses into the centre of town. It is about a thirty minute drive but it was an interesting drive and there were plenty of buses. So it was an efficient operation.

Bilbao is in the Spanish Basque Country as is San Sebastián where we spent a little over a week in 2014 at the end of our 45 day train trip around Spain. We loved wandering the old town of San Sebastián (Donostia), eating pintxos and washing them down with txakoli, the fresh new wine of the area which is poured from high above the glass.

So today we were back in Basque Country and we set out to wander the old town, eat pintxos and drink txakoli. We had a great time. There are some lovely old buildings in the old town here. David gets so excited when he sees the rows and rows of jamon hanging in the stores. Our lunch of pintxos with a glass of txakoli each cost us about A$30 and was delicious. Our only disappointment was the waiter just poured our wine in the normal way rather than from 40cms or so above the glass.

We don’t enjoy modern art. We love the impressionists and we’ve see many magnificent paintings in the last two weeks so we were not interested in going into the Guggenheim museum but everyone raves about it so we went to check out the titanium building. It’s an interesting shape but, again, not our thing. I did love the floral dog made with pansies, violas and heartsease. It was impressive.

Polo Grill Delights

Last night it was our turn to dine in the Polo Grill on Marina and we dined very well indeed. We had asked to share our table with others as we love meeting new people over dinner. Unfortunately the people who were meant to share with us must have been late back on board and didn’t turn up. The night before we shared with two other couples and the conversation was excellent. One man was a retired FBI agent and the other had worked on the Voyager space program.

Nevertheless we did enjoy our dinner. Check it out: onion soup, whole lobster and hand made marshmallows in three different sauces for me; Tomato and onion salad, steak and apple crumble for David.

As you can see, dinner was delicious.

Today we were meant to be at Biarritz and having a tour of Biarritz and the Basque Coast but the weather was too rough for us to be able to be taken ashore by tender so we bypassed Biarritz and are now in Bilbao, Spain where we will have an extra day. We are off exploring now.

Difficult decisions at Red Ginger

On Oceania ships the specialty restaurants are included in the price. All you need to do is book in advance as they are very popular. My favourite is Red Ginger, the Asian themed restaurant and we have eaten at it on three different ships. Each time it has been brilliant. I love it!

We shared our table On Sunday night with two American couples, all of whom had also been to Red Ginger before. Four of us knew before we went that we would have the sea bass cooked in palm leaves because we had had it before and is so delicious. I knew too that I would have the sushi sashimi platter for my starter and I chose the steamed ginger pudding for dessert. A perfect meal.

We all had the same problem. We know the sea bass is excellent but what are we missing out on by not choosing something different? Everything looks so good. The decisions are tough.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the food and the company. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures but here’s one I took on Marina as we cruised the Baltic in 2016.

Tonight we are booked into Polo Grill. We’re looking forward to that too!

Ancient city of Saint Emilion

Yesterday from Bordeaux we took a tour to Saint Emilion, a grand cru wine village about 30 minutes from Bordeaux. The population is about 500 and it is all about wine. Very very old buildings are everywhere but the lower parts of many of the buildings have been very commercialised.

If you look very closely at this picture, you might find me. I’m not much of a photographer but David is worse. He cut off the top of the lovely spire and waited until I was hidden by others. Oh well! At least it is proof that I was there.

Our guide then took us to a grand cru vineyard where we sampled their reds. The main grapes grown are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a very pretty area but a strong wind made being outside unpleasant.

We sampled three reds and I enjoyed all of them. David liked only one but we didn’t buy any.

Cruising into Bordeaux

After our beautiful brunch on Sunday we had a very lazy day, just relaxing as we cruised right up the Garonne River to Bordeaux. It’s a very wide river and apparently only about 30 ships will make it all the way up the river this year. The bridge opened up to let us pass underneath.

We had a quick wander around Bordeaux and guess what we found:

We wondered which one the grandkids would choose if they were here but we resisted the temptation ourselves. No harm in looking though!

Bordeaux was once British and the wine trade between Bordeaux and England began in the 14th Century. Nearly one quarter of a million acres are under grape cultivation currently. The city was spared in both world wars so its beautiful old buildings still stand today.

Frank Couch, The Titanic and Southhampton’l

My maternal great grandparents migrated from Port Isaac in Cornwall (Port Wen of Doc Martin fame) to Melbourne Australia in 1862. Elizabeth Couch and Isaac Hawker had just newly married and had a baby son when they boarded The Accrington. They had worked as farm labourers at Roscarrock farm but all the males in Elizabeth’s family were fishermen, mariners or master mariners.

Elizabeth’s father was Francis Couch and her brother, Francis had a son, Frank Couch, making Frank my first cousin three times removed. Sorry, that became a little complicated. Anyhow, I claim him. He was born in 1884 but he died in 1912. That’s right. He was Able Seaman Couch which means he was an experienced sailor, as you would expect growing up in Port Isaac with his background, and he was in a lifeboat of The Titanic. The lifeboat sank, he died and is buried in Halifax, Canada.

Hence I’m interested in all things Titanic.

In Southampton, there is a both a park and a museum dedicated to The Titanic.

David didn’t want to explore and I thought the museum would be closed on Good Friday. We even had breakfast in the hotel because we thought everything would be closed. Anyway, I asked at the desk where the park was and the guy sent me off around the corner and up the main road. I don’t know if I misunderstood his accent or what but I ended up walking through a footpath of weeds which included nettles trying to grab me.

A couple of ladies who were at reception had said to head for the old church tower so I retraced my steps and headed for the tower. Thankfully it was at the museum.

To my surprise, Sea City Museum was open so in I went. I found Frank’s name on the list of crew. I had a quick walk through and took a heap of photos. (We are currently moored off St Peter’s Port and the internet is weak at the moment so I can’t seem to load photos. I’ll post them later.)

I then wandered through the old town which was lovely. All the shops were open and it was market day. With four ships in port, I guess they couldn’t afford not to open. I mislaid myself at that stage but eventually found David at the Ibis

Then we checked out and caught an Uber to the Gate 10 where we boarded the Oceania Marina, our favourite ship for our fourteen night cruise to Barcelona.

We’ve had a lovely first night – great dinner & a very enjoyable performance by one of the ship’s entertainers singing and dancing to some of the tunes from musical movies.

Shortly we will ride the tender across to explore St Peter’s Port. I’m looking forward to it.