Porto

September 2019

Porto is colourful, lively, expansive and full of history. It is a very popular tourist destination, both for those taking river cruises on the Douro and those who are land based.

The wonderful Igreja do Carmo, Porto

Porto in the evening light

On one side of the river you will find the main attractions, restaurants and bars and the airport; on the other, the old Port wine warehouses where you can take tours and sit in the Jardim de Moro park and watch the water traffic down below.

View of the River Duoro from the Jardim de Moro

The port wine warehouses on the opposite side of the Douro River, Porto

The rooves of said warehouses after an impressive climb

There is a lot of information available online, so I will not attempt to replicate it, but instead to show you some of the beautiful places I visited and some useful information.

Torre dos Clérigos (tower)

The Clérigos Tower, Porto

You can see the Clérigos Tower from a long way away and it is free to enter the little museum and church where there are some heavily decorated, religious artworks.

The Virgin Mary and her big heart
The putti try not to look up her skirt
Baby Jesus taking after his mother
Church below the Ledigos Tower, Porto

Wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere

The streets are teeming and oh so steep – down to the river, up to the rest.

Down to the river where you can sit on the steps and know you are on holiday!

Red and yellow buildings reflect the earth and sunshine of this east coast Portuguese city.

The old market place – now cafés

Intricate decoration

It was the peacock which attracted my attention, Porto

And the globes on these university gates, Porto

Tram line 1

We took a tram trip along the side of the river, but sat on the right hand side and so our view was walls, in the main, and some graffiti. This mode of transport is very crowded and not necessarily on time, but they are quaint with wooden seats and a decidedly old-fashioned feel.

Line 1 goes from Infante to Foz (and back again) where there is a nice park – Jardim do Calem – and a lighthouse, good cafés and restaurants and a walk by the river. You can also take the 500 bus (same route and quicker).

Jardim do Calem, Foz

The river walk and bridges

Angel by the river Douro, Foz
I spotted some great sea birds on my river walk

There are a series of smart bridges across the river, one by Eiffel (of Paris Tower fame) and one which looks just like it was designed by him, but wasn’t.

Ponte da Arrabida across the River Douro on the walk back from Foz at sunset
As well as ruined buildings with morning glory clambering all over them, there are tiny, ramshackle dwellings fitted in beside each other where washing hangs and women work
See the people high up on the bridge looking down!
Worth the climb!

Getting around

The metro crosses Ponte Luís 1 if you want to go to the outdoor swimming pool to cool off. My daughters and I went twice to the Piscina da Quinta sa Conceiçao in Leça da Palmeira as it was affordable (you can either pay for a half day or full – not much shade) and in the middle of a park with fully grown trees. There were local people lunching there in their business clothes and clean changing places. It was very well run.

This outdoor pool was right beside the sea (often too rough to swim and too windy to sun bathe) and we went just once – it was very crowded

It does take some time to get your head around metro tickets as there are zones and each andante card (80 cents) can only have one zone so if you are going across 2 zones you need 2 cards. (Remember to write on them so you know which is which.) You can get them topped up by the very helpful man in the wee shop almost opposite the Igreja do Carmo right by the main bus /tram intersection. Look for the sign…

The metro – just make sure you know the name of the station at the end of the line, so that you go in the right direction!

You could also take the river taxi – cheaper (3 euros), fresh air, and more fun!

The river taxi. Facing back towards the main city from the warehouse side of the River Douro

There are beaches near the city – I swam at Matosinhos (along thwhere coast northwards) where the locals go to eat the delicious seafood
Looking up as you walk, you will often spy gorgeous flowers tumbling over walls

The Sé Cathedral

The Sé, cathedral, where the Portuguese Camino from Porto starts
Another (evening) view of the Sé Cathedral, Porto
Stone detail of the Cathedral, Porto

Estaçao de trem, train station, Porto

Porto Station – rural tile scene
General view of Porto from the train station
Fountain with pigeon drinking

To stay, eat and drink

Breakfast is of course the most important meal of the day! We enjoyed them in these cafés, bars and bakeries: Our local favourite was on the corner of Rua dos Mártires da Liberdade (where we stayed in an air bnb) and Tv. de Sao. It is cheap, small, friendly, crowded at times and there is a delicious array of pastries, cakes, and other morning fare. We also enjoyed Nicolau Porto (eggs and avocado on toast eg) on the corner of Liberdade and Rua da Conceicao; one of the cafes overlooking Praça de Carlos Antonio; and Antonio Névés & Ça. also on Liberdade.

Antonio Névés & Ça

The best evening meal was at Idiota with Portuguese shellfish and great service on Rua das Oliveiras.

We loved Mon Père Vintage (Rua Liberdade as above) where I brought a much admired, silver coloured Camino shell to hang round my neck for 1 euro (10 euros in Santiago de Compostela!) and there was another such shop in a little arcade much further down the same street. Also Livraria Poetria (poetry bookshop) and the Oporto Invictus Hostel (great garden with lively bar, yoga classes and free outdoor cinema showing shorts), both on Oliveiras.

The best bar (for port wine of course- red, white, rose) was the Taberna Aduela where you can sit outside (opposite the Teatro Carlos Alberto) on Oliveiras.

Practicalities: at the top of Liberdade, on the left round the corner onto Praça da Republíca, is a self service laundry and Pingo Doce supermarket, while to the right is a big store, such as you find in all big Portuguese and Spanish cities run by Chinese families, which sell ‘everything’ very cheaply, particularly phone chargers and leads, sun hats and underwear!

Don’t forget to visit the Serralves art museum – my favourite and so it has a blog all of its own! It has a small farm and garden not mentioned in the blog.

Places I wanted to see but there was no time or too busy

Libraría Lello – famous bookshop (book tickets online and get your money back when you buy a book – long queues)

Jardins de Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens)

The Botanic Gardens.

I hope you enjoy Porto. Make sure you drop me a comment to say what your favourite place was!

Coimbra, Portugal

September 2019

I took a bus with Rede Expresso from Fátima costing 11.90 euros and taking just under an hour. These buses are all on time in my experience and have air conditioning and free wifi as well as somewhere to charge your phone. At the bus station itself, it can be confusing, so allow time.

Coimbra at night

I arrived in the late afternoon and took a walk with my rucksack (but no donkey!) to the hostel by the river.

Igreja de Santa Justa, Coimbra, Portugal (Rua do Paço do Conde 1 239 825 605)
Local tram system
I popped my head into a residential stair and found these amazing tiles – they are a real feature of Portugal
Not far along was the Palacio da Justica de Coimbra with stunning tile panels around a central courtyard

Coimbra is a steep city with an ancient university at its apex. I left that until the next day, tired after my hot walks to the Fatima shrines.

Igreja de Santa Cruz, Coimbra, Portugal
Street sign – from this milestone the distances to all the lands of Coimbra (rough translation from Facebook)

I stayed in the Coimbra Portagem hostel which I booked in advance through hostelworld (be very careful to check your dates before pressing pay as there are often mistakes with the system). There was no solid wall between dormitories so I could hear every word of the woman on the phone next door, and the woman she was speaking to, and she was on the other side of the room! The accomodation is right by the river and in the middle of the tourist area, so wonderfully situated.

R Ferreira Borges, Coimbra, Portugal
Barbican Gate (leads up to the university), Coimbra, Portugal
Largo da Portagem, quaint streets with minute shops all on different levels
Colourfully painted buildings and awnings

I ate fish, served in the traditional Portuguese way with boiled potatoes and braised cabbage (sometimes it comes with the odd carrot). As usual, I was treated with respect by the helpful waiters.

Electric cars being charged

The next morning I took a deep breath and hiked up to see the famous library with my rucksack – it’s one hell of a climb! It was already hot, but I loved the maze of tiny streets, looking as if they were mostly full of tourists. However, it turned out that the people I joined to enter the Bibliotec Joanina, the university library, all had tickets. There was a large group who had prebooked so they only let in three individuals. My wait was for nothing. It took a while to find the booking office (which is up more steps, into the big square, right across and through the great gate on the right).

The queue was too long for me. I was already hot tempered from the climb, heavy backpack and midday heat

It was the same as the bookshop in Porto (also reputed to be a stunning interior): relatively expensive and an off-putting booking procedure. It’s all tours and Trip Advisor. Even Lonely Planet pushes tours. So, I deduced it was not for the simple individual traveller, unless you perhaps come between November and March.

It does not seem to be possible to book the sights online, and because everyone seemed to be clumped together, it was also tricky to navigate the streets and pavements. I headed onwards, attracted by city walls.

By now I was high up and the views were good. Lots of university students were hanging around in their black robes to tell people about their traditions, but I spotted the Botanic Gardens. Anyone who reads this blog or kens me, knows that I can never resist a Botanic Gardens – so that’s where I went next.

The glass houses, almost as impressive as our own in Edinburgh.

The Botanic Gardens (more arboretum than flower garden) are perfect for informal visits. They do not require appointment or payment. There you can sit in a little nook, watch the dragonflies busy about their work, or goldfish lazily float, listen to the birds or the leaves falling, lounge by running water out of the heat, breathe out and dream.

It is elegant with its stone architectural features

There is the garden which centres around the fountain : concentric arcs of Box with grand old trees:

Cherry and maple to name but two. This grand example was too big to fit into one frame with its eerie air roots.

There were roses and upstanding blue allium to match the sky.

The Asian inspired bamboo forest offered a cool, green and refreshing environment.

The little chapel seemed to have fallen onto hard times, indeed nature is taking over in places (maybe as it should?)

St Benedict’s Chapel

What a wonderful place to wander through woods which are succumbing to Autumn, past smooth-trunked ash, and be startled by a wood pigeon! The trails are apparently so rarely walked that the tree-lings are well established in the middle of the paths. I do not know what the dead ones were but they are beautiful in their seeding stage.

I spied plenty of lovers secluded and entwined in corners.

It is the prime time for the citus grove with its shiny, green leaves and rough-skinned fruit

And, as I wound down the hill, a bus passed on its way up, so you do not even have to climb on your own two feet! I thought there were no toilets and too many folk around to use the (copious) bushes but I found them close by the hot house entrance.

I lay under a beech tree on a cool stone mini altar.

I noted the growths spreading along the branches, how the leaves, in groups of two, three and five at the end of their stalks, were turning brown

Tiny birds (or were they just far away?) were feeding up high, camouflaged through necessity I imagine, over time. But no, as I was quiet they came closer and were in fact about the size and shape of a leaf, with pale, green-yellow belly, short pointed yellow beak exactly the same shape as the tip of the leaves, a darker stubby tail with a very slight V, and perhaps had more pronounced markings on top, I couldn’t see. A spider’s thread moved in the wind, the sun catching it so I could see. The big ‘wasps’ from the Zâzere river were here too. A nearby bell tolled 14.30. A leaf fell on me

As the sun moved, different aspects were highlighted: some of the leaves had white outlines, the central veins were a strong brown as the diagonals left it, evenly paired, tapering to almost orange at the edges. When I woke from my reverie (I bit the inside of my mouth – ow) there was a green bellied bird which had a black línea negra down the middle and matching cap. With black tips, the wings were folded as it hopped around, just showing at the sides from the underneath in exactly the same way that the black lichen edged the branches. So clever. I was busy paying attention to all this when a heron surprised us all. It flew at a lower branch level with its u-bend neck and massive flapping wings. It took quite a while for the littl’uns to return to their foraging.

Morning Glory

I didn’t realise until I roused myself that I was covered in a fine dust. How much did time turn while I lay there?

Fátima, Portugal

September 2019

The Fatima shrine

In the east of Portugal some two thirds of the way from Lisbon to Porto, is Fátima, revolving around its famous Roman Catholic, Marian shrine. It was established in response to the pastorinhos, three little shepherds named Lucía, Jacinta and Francisco who had angelic apparitions in 1917 and walked from their home in Aljustrel to Fatima (2 kms) where this holy place was established as a result.

Here are the little shepherds in the middle of roundabout

‘A journey to the altar of the world’ as the Portuguese tourist website calls it, can be made on foot, a pilgrimage to the shrine in Fátima along the four Fátima Ways: the Tagus, the Northern, the Nazaré and the Carmelite Ways, from Lisbon, Spain (Valença), Sítio in Nazaré (‘where the earth ends and the sea begins’) and Coimbra respectively. Based on the life and work of Sister Lúcia, who lived in the Carmelo de Santa Teresa [Carmelite Convent of St Teresa].

The church at the Fátima shrine
Cloisters, open on one side to the yawning public arena, provides a little shade

There is a large church, mainly white, with small bright and modern stained glass windows, and behind it is a vast space where the Pope gives his addresses. There are all the conveniences you would expect in such a place which draws the penitentious and worshipful thousands from around the globe.

A moving depiction of grief
‘Our Lady’ and I

An altogether more peaceful place to visit in Fátima is Valinhos, accessed by the Via Sacra.

The little shepherd’s Camino, the via Sacra

The birthplace of the little shepherds is the location of this second shrine – arrived at by a walk, with the Stations of the Cross along the way, and set amidst evocative olive groves.

There were many nuns around
One of the Stations of the Cross
The XIV Station

The quiet and preserved natural environment means that I saw many more birds (and flies) than I have seen so far – a pair of jays, a robin, greenfinch, sparrows, an giant grasshopper, stalkfuls of snails and the white, bobbed tail of a rabbit as it loped away.

Believe me, it was the an inch long!
The great, green grasshopper
There were two jays under the olive trees
Queues of snails

I seemed to attract more attention than usual – perhaps the rucksack and baton were the reason. A man gestured for me to stop and he took my photo. He shook my hand and said he was from Brazil. Another gent asked if I was a pilgrim (!) and, in an Australian accent, said he would walk 25 kms a day from Porto a day ahead of me.

There is always a choice of which way to turn

A third, a Portuguese, asked if I needed an albergue to stay in, but I had already spent the night in the city in a small, single room with a private bathroom in a great stack of serviced apartments.

The ‘What Else’ guesthouse where I sayed in Fatima, Portugal
The window display at the guest house refelcted the reason for this town being the way it is
The sun was high by the ime I left the guest house an had a good walk to the shrine, enjoying the brightly coloured houses
And passing this little chapel at a road junction
I sat in this olive grove and meditated
Flowers all around

Hungarian Calvary or Santo Estêvão Chapel

River Zâzere, Portugal

I have spent 2 days in the region of Dornes, at the border between Castelo Branco and Santarém, Portugal. September 2019.

Stop sign, Rua Domingos Viera Serrao
Turn off the N238 onto a forest track at this junction

The Grande Rota do Zâzere (#33, 370 kms) starts at the Serra da Estrella and follows the River Zâzere to its confluence with the River Tagus at Constância.

Eerie light caused by the Portuguese forest fires

The first day was windy. The smell of burning was alarming, not for myself on the opposite side of the river, but for the trees and people over the hillside.

Smoke rising in Castelo Branco

An ominous plume of smoke, orange grey and thick, was rising from behind it and slowly it filled the sky, obliterating the sun. The talk was of despair at how nature was responding to our greedy behaviour.

A mixed wood of ferns, eucalyptus and pine

The water was murky, the wind was rallying in the eucalyptus woods, and black ash fell on me as I swam.

Ash at the edge of the river

After the endless toing and froing of the emergency services the day before – noisy, yellow bi-planes circling, landing on the lake and, air bound again, leaving to release their wet loads onto the undergrowth (or so I imagined) – there had been rain, most gratefully received.

Emergency services collect water
Checking for damage

And the next morning the sky was clear.

The day after – a magnificent azure sky

High above, I spotted a pair of birds, glimpsing their white under-carriages, and was impressed by their jet, square-ended wings. Not long after, they were joined by others. They made a few flaps to raise themselves, but then lazed on the thermals, way above, around and around so that I could feel their pleasure. When they landed on the water, they splashed like happy dogs!

Great birds enjoying the wind
Playing and soaring

The mixed plantation behind the rocky beach also drew my attention at intervals: the crackle of brittle leaves, which every now and then fell onto the surface without my noticing how they had got so far from their origin unnoticed; the dry seed pods which fell, singly; and the wiggling of the triangular and smooth, green aspen leaves on their stalks. The silver-green soft fronds of a pine new to me has seeded in the yellow clay of the foreshore and it tickles my elbows.

Self-seeded mini trees
Long, sharp sections of eucalyptus trunks sloughing off
Ochre clay and turquoise waters
The unidentified pine
And its seed pods
Sparkling Aspen

As I stepped into the water a grass coloured fish darted away silently. I lay as quietly as I could, just sculling under the surface to keep myself afloat, when something leapt twice: up, arcing in a blur, down and then again, up and over, making a plash each time.

The wind creating endless patterns on the surface

The distant voices of fishermen on the opposite bank roused me from my meditation and, eyes open, I admired the ripples stippling the reflections of the slopes across the channel.

The broken rocks had sharp edges – not the most comfortable of resting places I admit

A few others bathed along the shore, two camped overnight. There was a water skier, five boisterous water scooters, an altogether calmer paddle boarder, and quite a lot of small yachts, but the predominant sound was of nature.

I sat and gazed – you can see why

At night when I swum under the hidden full moon, the water was like a thick liquid slate and the plaintive sound of an owl came from the trees, so different from in the morning when a single sweet call serenaded me. At lunch time, a tapping and knocking could be heard (but not seen) the forest, and in a garden a Jay zipped from branch to branch and screeched its existence. The enormous and garish ‘wasps’ buzzed so ferociously I was momentarily woken from my reverie.

A massive wasp or bee sort of insect which made the loudest buzz I have ever heard!

Don’t all rush down there at once and spoil the peace!

North Berwick to Dunbar

A walk from North Berwick to Dunbar, part of the John Muir Way, East Lothian. July 13th 2019. 30 kms / 18.6 miles

John Muir Way signpost to hill
The mound of Berwick Law. You can just see the chapel and the famous herringbone on the summit

I remembered: the binoculars – definitely worth taking because East Lothian is a birdwatcher’s paradise. I saw 5 spoonbills through a kind man’s telescope (he had to lower it considerably so I could see, which was sweet of him). They looked like huge fluffy white poodoodles (or whatever they are called), with Edward Lear beaks (you know how he made drawings of amalgamated animals and kitchen utensils!) Also my walking baton pole which came in handy for the mud caused by the torrential rain.
I forgot: tissues / toilet paper and my mobile phone charger – when will I learn?
I lost: my sun hat. Twice. Once a motorist stopped and rolled his window down so I went back quite a long way to get it – all run over it was with muddy tyre marks. I wore it when the sun came out and then lost it again. Never to be found – not by me anyway.

Water with trees reflected in it
Pool at the foot of Berwick Law, near North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
Blue sky with plants and wall
A rather picturesque Wall I thought
Landscape between the stones
Looking through the gap in a stone wall to the wheat beyond

I had not done a long-distance walk for a long time and I managed to get quite stressed to start with, meaning that more little things went wrong, until… I got into the first green part and the butterflies (some chocolate brown and others white – twice one kissed me on the cheek) were playing, and the raindrops sat bulbous on the bramble flowers catching the glint of the sun, and I got bitten by black and white flying beasties. I was back!

Green fields with tracks through them
Arable fields, East Lothian, Scotland

The man in a green National Trust for Scotland t shirt said ‘Lady on a mission’ as I swung through the gate and skirted around Berwick Law. I have been up to the top in the past and it’s well worth it, but today I was headed south through meadows and woods, around fields and coastline – it was delightful.

tree trunks and grassy path
I smiled out loud as I made my way through an ash wood, all smooth, straight, pale trunks

Two runners in electric blue went jogging slowly past, having a laugh. Several jaunty ladies wished me good day, and I rather rashly added to my brief conversation with a hiker going in the opposite direction, that at least it had not rained.

Dark brooding clouds in East Lothian
The very definition of a lowering sky!

I squelched along a narrow way with piles of horse manure and single tyre marks which suggested other users I thankfully did not meet. When it rained I was on a long farm track which quickly became two channels of fast flowing water. There was a section which reminded me of a Kent walk, because it had serious new, silver metal fences on each side, and one smelly uphill section through the Drylaw Composting site where I discovered a make-shift children’s play area.

There was the unmistakable sound of a wild bee swarm several times along the way, and the hideous screech of racing cars around East Linton. One blissful result of the downpour was that they stopped, although they restarted when the sun reappeared.

Paintings for sale in the gallery
Half way I stopped for refreshments at Smeaton Nursery where there is a gallery and shop. Helen Gray is the Smeaton Estate Artist

There are lots of plants, a Victorian tea room (soup, salads, cream teas, delicious looking cakes), and a gallery shop selling all manner of paintings, cards and gifts. The staff were particularly friendly and helpful while I dried off a little in the sun – boots off and not so waterproofs laid out on the table.

Big old trees
The mature trees of Smeaton Nursery grounds where there are woods, a lake and pony arena
Red brick building seen across a wildflower meadow
Preston Mill reminding me of a disused oast house in Yalding
River reflections with bridge
Stunning weeping willows along the River Tyne outside East Linton

You could be forgiven for thinking there was no bee or butterfly problems if you saw the number of them I did on this walk. There is a beautiful long stretch along the river where comfrey grows in abundance and the sliver green fronds of the willows dip into the water.

Wooden bridge with red metal railings
Bridge over the River Tyne

There were so many wild flowers I lost count: chamomile with green orbs which had lost their white petals – not just short stalked, but long and waving in the breeze;
elder flowers practically turning into berries as I passed; ripe cow parsley covered with Comon Red Soldier Beetles; ox eye daisies amongst the fields of bearded barley; brilliant scarlet poppies in the hedgerows; and miles of roses, sweet secented and in a variety of firey colours.

Pink flowers and green leaves
Wild flowers
wild flowers beside a field
Pink rose bay willowherb contrasting with yellow ray flowers
whisps of barley growing
Barley tickling the ground
Three flowers heads
Cowparsley
North Berwick to Dunbar
Dog roses in the hedgrows

As well as the spoonbills (above), there was a buttercup headed yellow hammer bathing in a puddle, gaggles of very excited sparrows with their wings all a flutter near the horse paddock, and a piebald square tailed kite sailing overhead.

Stripey caterpillars
Caterpillars having a feast – there were about 20 on this one plant
Shiny, black slug crawling
Squelchy slug – one of the biggest ever – seen in the dappled woods opposite the East Links Family Park where there were emus grazing alongside llamas and donkeys
Clusters of wild flowers
Red beetles on cow parsley

The more you walk the better it is because there are so many memories of other treks gone by, people met, places visited. The first black raven crawed and reminded me of Orkney. The second clearly warned me of the coming shower, which I promptly ignored and so got very quickly wet through. I was still damp 4 hours later when I marched into Dunbar.

River flowing under bridge
Old stone bridge over the River Tyne, East Lothian, Scotland

There are three bays at the end of the day: the flat wetlands of Tyninghame, the red sandstone stacks of Belhaven (not to mention the real ale, the yellow house, and the John Muir Country Park with its caravans and little swan lake), and finally around the golf links I went barefoot to the gull studded cliffs of Dunbar itself.

Scots Pine
The distinctive Scots Pines of Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
Creek at Tyninghame Bay
North Berwick to Dunbar
Bass Rock and Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
Belhaven Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
Coming through the arch into Dunbar Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
The man himself – John Muir, featured in Dunbar Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

It’s a hedgrow and fields walk
Its a meadows walk
Its a skirting round the hills and not going up walk
It’s a coast to coast walk with arable land in between
It’s a walk full of wild roses,
A very well signposted walk
While the birds call all you have to do….. is walk!

Practicalities

I arrived at North Berwick around 11.30am, and in Dunbar 7 and a half hours later, with an hour’s stop and an extra 2 kms in the middle to and from the Smeaton Nursery tea rooms off the main route. I was reliably informed that the tea room at Tyninghame is also lovely.

I took the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick with Scotrail (who very kindly refinded my fare to Dunbar which I made by mistake – thank you). It took 45 minutes and cost £7 single. I might have rather annoyed the gentleman in a cravat opposite, but had lovely chat with a Northern Irish dog walker from Glasgow on his way to follow Mcllroy round the golf course.

Walk from the station in NB to Lady Jane Road, turn right up it and after a few minutes on the right you will find the John Muir Walkway signs. Alternatively start at the Seabird Centre and walk through Lodge Grounds by St Andrews Well. There is a lot to see in NB.

My return was by bus from Dunar on the Edinburgh Express which leaves at 29 minutes past each hour on a Saturday afternoon / evening and costs £5.70. It takes an hour, leaves from the high Street, and doesn’t put you down at the bus station but at Waverley Railway Station, Edinburgh.

The John Muir Way

More info about the walk on these two sites

Visit East Lothian

The Independent Walk of the Month

Thanks to Lesley for her local knowledge.

Thessaloniki

June 2019

Icon in a little hut
Greek Orthodox religious street shrine, Achiropitos Church, Thessaloniki, Greece

I liked Thessaloníki. It’s a mixture of dusty urban streets with shops selling beach umbrellas, interesting portals, attractive heritage sights, a glittering seafront, and varied cultural delights.

People standing under tall metal umbrellas
Captivating umbrella sculpture being used for community gathering

One minute I was standing surprised in front of a shop that seemed to be only selling beach umbrellas, the next I spotted a woman behind one on a far away balcony.

I stopped off here partly to break my journey to the north, but mainly to meet Shiatsu practitioners and teachers.

Daphne, head of the Shiatsu Academy Thessaloníki

The Shiatsu Academy

Evening drinks with Marie-Helene and a yummy lunch with Daphne were both really satisfying exchanges. The joy of meeting others in my own, rather niche profession and being able to talk shop, knowing they speak the same language (Shiatsu I mean! I spoke French with one and English with the other) was delightful.

Sparrow perched on chair back
I had a chirpy visitor as I sipped my fizzy mineral water, and gazed at the shining sea over the top of my laptop

Doorways

Beautiful doorways abound.

Ornate orange door in a green wall with lamp outside
Copper bells outside a bar

I thought it was a church, but it turned out to be a night club! Thessaloniki, Greece

Door, steps and flowers
Someone’s front door – care and attention to detail make for everyday beauty here
Pink walls and green lattice doorway
A domestic front garden of contrasting colours
2 White columns with lattice work
Doric columns adorn this frontage. Thessaloniki, Greece

Hostel accommodation

There was WiFi at the Studio Arabas hostel where I stayed for 2 nights, on Satchouri. I booked through Hostelworld. It is steeply uphill and I didn’t have time to explore the Old Town that it is in because I was meeting people in the part nearer the sea where most of the monuments are – that’s a good trek down and climb back up so be warned.

Early morning street sceneI left early to walk the hour to the bus station and caught the morning sunlight, Thessaloniki

The hostel was clean, but not in a squeaky clean sort of way. I got some advice from the lovely Charlotte while I was there. Although you can’t do this at her place…

Tip

… It is always worth booking a hostel by phone or in person because you often get money off or a free breakfast. They save money on the fees they have to pay to the third party, the booking website.

White tents with book stalls

The book fair was on that day, Thessaloniki, Greece

Cafés

I was on my way to a meeting but needed a cup of tea. It was going to be an hour’s walk. Until, that is, I spied Vermilion.

Just my sort of place. Creative and friendly, good WiFi and recycled jewellery.

I was early and they were cleaning and preparing for the day, Vermilion, Thessaloníki, Greece

Old car on front of paper menu
The menu was handwritten in the front of an exercise book

Nearby are other nice places – a bakery, cheese shop and more.

Rings and necklaces

Recycled jewellery made by the owner
Outdoor restaurant with foliage
B café
People sitting at tables with drinks
Café full of young people including women playing backgammon

Local people resting in the shade

I was fascinated to glimpse women sewing and men and women sharing a drink in the shade.

10 men sit around a table

A group of men in the distance, taken with the zoom. They went back and forth through a door in the wall behind – I was so curious!

Women in black clothes chatting by trees
You can just about make out the women who had been keeping the church yard spic and span, taking a welcome break

Sewing shop women
She turned round and gave me a huge smile so I asked permission to snap

Churches

In Greece many people draw a cross on themselves when they see a church. A woman on the train did it as we whizzed past one. Later I saw a man walking a dog, doing the same thing .

Church steps and plants

The priest was just emerging as I crept around the lovely church near my hostel

Greek Orthodox Church, Thessaloniki, Greece

Columns

There are Classical Greek columns everywhere in Thessaloniki.

White fluted uprights above flight of steps

Ionic columns add finesse to the Cathedral, Thessaloniki, Greece

Ruins

Decorated brick arches
City walls
Soft coloured stone arch with blue sky and buildings visible through
Arch of Galerius, Thessaloniki, Greece

This ancient monument was built in 305 AD following the final victory of Emperor Galerius against the Persians.

Greek women dance around the pediment

Carvings from the arch

Apartment blocks and ancient walls

I liked the apartment blocks cheek by jowl with the ancient stone

Gardens

The sunken garden of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Demetrios

Everywhere there was marble – walls, floors, and columns of course!

Table and orchids
The marble basement of the B cafe at the Museum of Byzantine Culture

Other sights

Railings by the sea
Padlocks for peace
Men sitting on edge sea
Enjoying the sunset together
Musicians against setting sun
Trumpeter in silhouette
Red sculpture in front of building
Museum of Byzantine Culture
Reclining Greek figure
Greek Archeological Museum
Whitened stone memorial
Sarcophagus, part of the Field, House, Garden, Grave exhibition at the Archeological Museum

Trees and religious building
Church at night
Humorous street art
Graffiti
Man on horse on plinth
Alexander the Great. The spears are arranged in the formation from his best known battle
Monument
Woman of Pindos, 1940
Statue and author
An undressed version Emanuel Pappas (1772- 1821) and me with my clothes on. He was the leader of the Greek War of Independence.

Athens and Greece – getting from place to place

Getting Around

Travelling around Greece is straightforward. On this, my second solo trip, I flew to Athens overnight with Air Baltic (on time, efficient) from Edinburgh; walked and took the metro in the capital; and then went to Thessaloniki, Komotini in the north, and the village of Proskinites by bus to see my friends’ new born baby. There I either walked or was driven in the jeep. I returned to Thessaloníki the same way, and then flew to Paris with Transavia for 39 euros.

Morning sun on religious building
Greek Orthodox Church, Proskinites, Greece

Travel around Athens

Crossing the road: Wherever you are, beware the motorised scooters – either being driven wildly with one or more people on them, or abandoned in the middle of pavements.

Scooter on pavement
Looks tame sitting on its own like that I know, but add 1+ humans and it becomes lethal!

Like everywhere else in Europe, look left before crossing the road!

Old urns in terracotta
Museum antiquities exhibited in Acropolis Metro station

The Athens Metro

Metros are clean, cool in temperature, crowded at rush hour as anywhere in Europe, efficient, regular and all stations are announced in English as well as Greek. Ticket machines are quite easy to use and you can choose to view the screen in English. Tickets cost 2.70 euros for 2 tickets and go down in price if you buy more. You can use one anywhere within 90 minutes, which I didn’t realise and so wasted a second one on a bus connection. Make sure you register your ticket on the machine both in and out of the metro, and in (but not out) on the buses.

Ancient statuary
Reclining male nude – statue in Acropolis Metro station, Athens, Greece

Trains, buses and travel out of Athens

I took the Athens to Thessaloniki train, even though there is a lot of bad press to be found on the internet about trains in Greece. The service was clean and smooth (“better than the UK, like Italy” said my neighbour!) You can book online via the OSE website.

Station platform with book store
Athens mainline train station, Greece

Bus travel

For the rest of Greece, the bus is better, but finding information and booking by website is hard work if you don’t read Greek. The main page of the main Greek bus company website (ktelmacedonia.gr) comes up in English on my phone, but the list of places does not and anyway, even looking up the Greek spelling for the places didn’t mean that they appeared on the list although they do have buses which go there! On my laptop, the website was impossible for me to operate. If you are stuck, you could try asking a friendly waitress as they usually speak great English and can often be really helpful making calls for you.

A round tower and a metal serrated monument
Interesting juxtaposition of satellite tower and saw sculpture, Thessaloniki, Greece

I have discovered this since writing the above : Bus tickets pagebus website KTEL Macedonia – new e tickets available. I am leaving both sets of information so that you have 2 options. Please leave a comment if you find the best way and that will help others. Thank you.

You can also buy ferry tickets, and transport or store luggage through KTEL Macedonia (as above).

The police boarded the Komotini – Thessaloniki bus, looked at random people’s passports, and took 3 men off this morning who had no papers.

Green fertile countryside flashes by through train window
On the way to Thessaloniki by train

Which bus station?

It is therefore best to book at the bus station (KTEL has 2 bus stations in Athens: Kifissos and Liossion. Note that when it asks you which one you want to leave from, it also includes ‘Pireus, Athens’ which is actually half an hour away by car so you don’t want that unless you happen to be staying near there). Alternatively you can ring up: I got a very nice man on the phone who spoke manageable English and he took my name and gave me the information and advice I needed. ( When I got there a few days later and went to buy the ticket, he introduced himself to me saying it was he who I had spoken to – what service!) There is a 25 per cent discount in advance which is hard if you are making spontaneous decisions.

Rural scene with terracotta roof
The Greek countryside between Athens and Thessaloniki

Other

There is no bla bla car (online car sharing in France, Spain etc) here in Greece. There are regular tolls along the motorways – between 3-13 euros depending on the distance. See below for other people’s blogs about travelling in Greece.

Bus Athens to Thessaloniki 39 euros one way, 59 euros return (note that the English translation says ‘refund’ instead of ‘return’!

A round old stone building by the sea
The White Tower, Thessaloniki, Greece

23 euros bus Komotini to Thessaloniki (6 hours)

2 euros X1 bus Thessaloniki (dome) Macedonia bus station to airport. Every half hour. Buy ticket from kiosk by bus stop.Very crowded. 40 – 60 minutes.

1.50 euros bus Proskinites to Komotini

Here is a good Athens Guide https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/greece-travel-tips/#getaround

Athens – Where I stayed & graffiti

Athens Accommodation – 1

For a few days I was lucky enough to stay at the Philippos Hotel, and I recommend it for the breakfast (a buffet – all you can eat, including olives, feta and fresh tomatoes, sumptious cakes and pastries – look out for the one with pine nuts and craberries – yum!), the huge balcony with table chairs and sun lounger, cleanliness, olive oil soaps and other toiletries, and friendly staff (and that means friendliness from reception, kitchen, cleaning ,and repairing people – all with cheery ‘kalimera‘s’ / good morning).

Urban white-washed balconies with plants
View from the Philippos Hotel balcony. From the other side you could see the edge of the Acropolis citadel, Athens, Greece

Athens air bnb – 2

I stayed in Psyri which is described as ‘full of character’. The part that is closest to the Monastiraki and Plaka parts of the city is lively in the evenings with lights hanging across the streets and bars constantly full. However, it is full of the saddest cats I have ever seen.

Coloured fairy lights and vines hang above Eschilou street
Bars on Eschilou, Athens, Greece

Psyri

The other half of Psyri quarter, to the north on the way to Omonia, is full of friendly people, but dirty and noisy with a lot of men shifting large boxes and dealing in who knows what. The diminutive man in the corner shop opposite had communicative English and told me he has been working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week without a single day off in years, because he is saving to go back to Bangladesh and start a shop there.

There is a good bakery, a Pilates Studio which offers Shiatsu (42 Zone), and a brass bed shop – all on or near Sarri where my air bnb was.

Brass ornaments, lamps, bedheads
Brass bed shop at the corner of Sarri, Athens, Greece

Although I had some considerable trouble getting into my apartment, the sign below for Athens Walkers (Their website (which is currently down) states that it is ‘a small cooperative that operates all year long. We want to establish human relationships and build authentic friendships’) was outside the door so I guessed I was in the right place!

Walking Tour Co-operative
Athens Walkers sign outside my air bnb, a signal that I had arrived at the right place because I am an inveterate walker

It turned out, after I had been there for 5 days, that there was roof garden on the 6th floor of my block, with fantastic views.

Night sky with moon and Parthenon
Nearly full moon over the Acropolis

Graffiti Street Art

What unites both sides of this neighbourhood is the street art – a veritable hoarde of fascinating images and skill. It looks like there are some vibrant clubs and bars in the back streets, but I was warned not to be out on my own in this area at night and was, anyway, busy elsewhere most evenings. There were other tourists who had strayed here, otherwise it was local people. I did walk home alone though and had no trouble – I simply did not meet anyone’s eye and kept on going straight, with an air of purpose!

Line drawing of a heart with flowers on wall
The organ of the heart – graffiti
Red, green and white painted heart organ with blood vessels
Painted heart organ graffiti, Psyri, Athens, Greece
Love inscription and pollution drawing on heart
More heart graffiti, Psyri, Athens, Greece

There was a place called Heart of Athens (maybe a nightclub?) nearby, which might have explained the subject matter of these graffiti artists. I don’t know about you, but once I have started to see a theme, I find it everywhere!

Heart broken in Athens
Written graffiti, Athens, Greece
Trying to find love in a world full of thorns
Parrot graffiti, Athens, Greece
Love has no gender, language, nationality
Pride banner, Athens, Greece

Monastiraki, Plaka, Omonia areas of Athens, Greece

Monastiraki is south of Psyri, a bustling square with a metro station, beautiful church and a million people at all times of the day and night as far as I could tell. Plaka is slightly south east, a pretty hub full of restaurants (mostly for tourists I think) and some welcome green plants. It is beside the Roman Forum (a prime spot for sunset photos) and not far from the Acropolis itself. Omonia is a very large roundabout full of traffic, high rise flats with a shopping centre where you can find the Greek version of Boots The Chemist if you need it (Hondos Centre), and a metro station.

stalls in front of Greek orthodox Church
Early morning street scene with Acropolis in the background
Cafe scene with graffiti
Plaka area of Athens, Greece

 

Athens – food, drink, shopping

Food and drink

Often when I travel I buy my food cheaply from supermarkets and prepare it for myself in the hostel – not so here. I sampled all manner of delicacies and was treated to traditional food from all parts of the country. I also learned about a long-standing Greek Orthodox funeral food custom.

Fresh deep fried ocean food

Calamari, fish and chips, restaurant food, Greece

Street Food

Street food is good! I had a vege open pie from Feyrouz on Kapori in Athens, and at Falafellas on Ailiou I had falafels in pitta with aubergine (egg plant), yogurt, tomatoes and the option of spices for 3.80 euros for a medium, normal lunch size. Small outlets sell coffee and sandwiches with a wide array of fillings, such as the corner of Eyripidou and Eolou. At this place a take-away iced, decaff cappuccino is 1.20 euros and you get a bottle of cold water thrown in.

Fresh Fruit Juice

Likewise, juice shops are everywhere in the Greek capital and most refreshing in the heat. Nova Gea, 6 Vyronos, had a novel way of serving where you placed your jam jar under the tap at the base of the counter and waited for it to pour in.

fresh fruit juice served in a jar

Nova Gea Juice Bar, Athens, Greece

Restaurants

For meals with friends, try Avocado (vegetarian) where there are books to read.

People sitting outside restaurant eating in Athens

Avocado Restaurant, Athens, Greece

There are so many places where you can eat under the stars in Athens. I loved Seychelles for an array of delicacies including flava bean puree, sardines wrapped in vine leaves, a cooked green veg salad (pvlita) and carob rusks; and Katsourmpos for Cretan food where I sampled chips cooked in goat’s butter with eggs on top, and Greek salad with bread soaked in the wonderful dressing.

Fish pate sprinlled with chives

Taramasalata with prawns and toast, Athens, Greece

Home Cooking

The best meal was one prepared by my hosts (Italian and Greek) of barbounia (red mullet fish), Greek cooked vegetables with a sauce made of mustard, spices and olive oil), and salads (Greek and Greens), all washed down by tsipouro (an un-aged brandy) which they had bought from a monastery on Paros – lethal at lunch time.

Table set with Greek vegetables for lunch

Salads on the table, before the fish arrived! Athens, Greece
Green pouring mayonnaise with herbs
Sauce for the Greek vegetables – mustard, spices and olive oil
Cooked fish with head and tail

Sea Bream (Tsipoura), Athens, Greece
Greek un-aged brandy

Tsipouro – deadly! Athens, Greece

Cafe advice

The café at the Acropolis Museum (outside which proudly flutters The Flag of Europe) was cool to cold with air conditioning and has an amazing view of Mount Lycabettus and the…. Acropolis – watch out you don’t get stuck in the Ladies loos!

Glass doors with mountain reflected in them

Reflection of Mount Lycabettus in the roof cafe window, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
The Parthenon in the distance

View of the Acropolis from the roof cafe at the Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

Supermarkets and Food Shopping

There are not many large supermarkets in the neighbourhoods mentioned above, however google for any Sklavenitis (8 minutes from Psyri) or AB Vasilopoulos (9 minutes from Psyri) which are the major chains in Greece. Cheese and fish counters are of particular note, but you won’t find biscuits or oat cakes (a Scottish delicacy)! The range of cakes, pastries and biscuits that you will find in the bakeries, however, is vast and there are sugar free options as well as artisan bread.

Red and orange strings of dried chillis

Herbs and spices hanging outside a shop in Athens, Greece

You can buy a dazzling array of fruit and veg from wayside shops and stalls in Aristofanous; there is a Central Municipal Market off Athinas (the name of the road); and there are fascinating individual shops selling cheese, olives, flowers, hardware and useful things to put on an altar on Evripidou.

Honey and jars of marmelade

A stack of olive oil and other Greek specialities
Goats and cow scheese counter with seller

Cheeses from all around Greece being sold in Athens
Wooden crates of spices and bunches herbs

Herbs (chamomile) and dried fruits (orange and apple) in huge sacks, Athens, Greece
Loops of pork and chorizo

Meats and sausage, Athens, Greece

Other Shopping

Garlands of pretend flowers, incense holders

For making an altar, Athens, Greece
Naked male figure and clothed goddesses
Greek statuary is sold in various forms

Unlike Estonia and Norway, where the alcohol is sold in separate stores (not beer), here you can get it in the supermarkets, but it was much more expensive than I thought it would be – about the same as the UK. On the other hand, in the small villages near where I have stayed a couple of times in the north, you can get a bottle of retsina for 1.25 euros.

Emptying bottles for recycling
Recycling seems to happen in the suburbs but not in the centre, as far as I could see

On my beach day I was taken for a late lunch at Theodore and Helen’s (Leof. Legrenon, Lavreotiki 195 00 Te; +30 2292 051936) – where the platter of salads including the sea greens (which were the best) and the mussels were sumptuous.

Feta cheese, beetroot and sea greens

Platter of salads, Athens, Greece

Sample menus with prices and deep fried strips of courgette (zucchini) in the restaurant outside Athens near Kape Beach

Stalls and shops line the streets around the Acropolis selling clothes, trinkets, leather goods and jewellery. Some shop keepers call or tempt you in, others sit outside smoking and looking very hot. If you pass by every day as I did, you start to see the displays changing, and without meaning to, you stop and browse. I had to rein myself in from buying anything that would take my rucksack over weight, even though I wanted to get mementoes for my daughters and family.

Shop dummies wearing fur jackets with dogs

Two different sorts of fur coats, inside and out. Athens shop front and dogs, Greece

Coliva – Greek Orthodox Funeral Food

I was in Athens to lead a workshop for Shiatsu practitioners who are working with the dying or those suffering loss. On the second day, Panayiota who was organising the event, brought in a cake made by her sister.

Funeral cake with white sugar and silver cross on top
Coliva – Greek food for mourners

This beautiful creation is called Coliva and it is for Greek Orthodox mourners to eat after the interment. The server mixes it up and then you can see that it is like a loose melee of mixed nuts including almonds, pomegranate, raisins (golden and black), white sugar  and sometimes also coriander and parsley – lively colours and a variety of textures and tastes. It tasted really good and fortifying. Portions are put into individual, brown paper bags and handed to each person, and eating it together symbolises the sharing of the pain of living without the deceased.

Initially this dish was prepared to appease the gods of Hades, the underworld, so that they would give up the body after death, allowing it to go to a better place. Nowadays, it is to fortify the grieving.

Metal life-size figure with Athens logo
A robot in a shop window carrying a ‘We heart food’ bag

Here is some advice from a local friend who was so kind as to send me suggestions:

If you are hungry you can stop at the oldest pastry shop Ariston (Voulis 10, Athina 105 62, Greece) which is parallel to Ermou Street. Ermou Street is the biggest shopping street.

For coffee or a cold drink you can visit A for Athens, it has a great top floor café open to everyone and you can see the Parthenon. And if you are hungry you can go at Savvas across the road (Ermou 91, Athina 105 55, Greece).

For drinks, here is a hidden bar at The Art Foundation Taf (Address: Normanou 5, Athina 105 55, Greece)

Another couple of places for nice traditional sweets are Krinos and Sermpetiko Nancys Sweet Home (Pl. Iroon 1, Athina 105 54, Greece)

Chocolate and sweetmeats
Greek sweets sold from a bakery come wrapped in silver foil

Finally, I found this recommendation: Vasilopoulos deli in Klafthmonos square is where you can find a bit of everything, some of the best products from around the globe. 10 minutes walk from Psyri.

The Sights of Athens, Greece

Mostly a photo essay – June 2019

Photographs of some of the wonderful sights in Athens which I saw on my trip

Night sky with moon and Parthenon
Nearly full moon over the Acropolis
Blue and grey hues of the concrete and glass Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece
The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
The white Classical architecture of the National Archaeological Museum with trees on either side and the tiled driveway curving up,, Athens, Greece
The National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with soldiers and their shadows marching in front
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens, Greece
Classical Greek architecture with colums, pillars, statues and Greek flag flying
The old National Library, Athens, Greece

There are many beautiful Greek Orthodox churches everywhere

The domed roof of a very old Greek Orthodox Church amongst pretty bouganvillia and spiky trees
Church of Ayia Aikaterini below on the left where P and L got married, Athens, Greece
A Greek Orthodox Church with towers and dome next to Olive trees
Greek Orthodox Church, Athens, Greece
Beige and white Greek Orthodox Church with columns, turrets, crosses and stepped entrance
A Greek orthodox Church, painted white and In a side street off Sarri, Psyri, Athens, Greece
Simple exterior of Greek Orthodox Church with decorated window and cross on top
Church entrance, Athens, Greece
Pink, silver and gold church interior with the Virgin Mary and Christ
Church interior second only in richness (in my experience) to St Mark’s In Rome and  Samye Ling Buddhist Temple in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. This one is in Athens, Greece
Doorway to a religious crypt with frescoes in natural setting
Crypt, Aiolu, Athens, Greece
Towering column and domed roof painted blue with silver stars of Greek Orthodox Church, Athens
Ekklesia Panagia Chrysospilaiotissa Orthodox Church of Theotokou – Virgin, Athens Greece
Blue painted roof with golden stars and red walls with religious paintings
Ekklesia Panagia Chrysospilaiotissa Orthodox Church of Theotokou – Virgin, Athens Greece
Classical Greek facade of school with columns and triangular roof, Athens
Very grand school, Athens, Greece

Other nice places and things I passed by and snapped

Pink facade with Greek urn, 2 windows and decorated roof
Modern day exterior influenced by Classical Athens, Greece
Small decorated water fountain with 2 basins and flower motif
Fountain, Athens, Greece
3 busts of Famous Greek men Socrates Plato Aristotle
The three best known men in Ancient Greece – Saorates, Plato and Aristotle (at night), Athens, Greece

Overall it is very built up with only a few green areas, although you will come across gorgeous flowers every now and then. Try and cut through the area around the Acropolis and you will get a little mountain feeling – parched but traffic free and mosaic full. Thanks to the lovely Maria for showing me the way.

Olive trees, ancient ruins and mosaic pavement
Mosaic, Athens, Greece
Iron work balcony with trailing magenta bouganvillia
Bougainvillia, Athens, Greece
Orange pink trumpets of large flowers and serrated leaves
Chinese Trumpet Vine, Greece

Places I will go next time I visit

The peak of Lycabettus mountain with city in front
Mount Lycabettus, worth climbing to get a view all over Athens, Greece
Flamenco dancer with red fan and Greek urn
Flamenco classes, Tositsa, Athens, Greece
Mountainsides with olive trees, crags and flowers
The countryside outside Athens, Greece