August 23, 2009

Torquay with Geeta and Gordon

Geeta and Gordon invited us into their hilltop Torquay home with sea views. They also escorted us to as many area sights as was possible to fit into a single weekend. They picked us up on Friday at the Newton Abbott rail station and we proceeded to Dartmoor National Park. Dartmoor was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Our first stop was to early 19th century stone tracks used to transport granite from Haytor quarry to the canal at Stover and on to Teignmouth. The British Museum and London Bridge were built from this stone. We then stopped for tea in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, a village famous for its St Pancras church with tall, granite tower and annual fair. Soon, it was time to drive through the windy wooded Torquay hills for a relaxing dinner at home.

The next morning we got up early to make our reserved 3-hour parking slot at Greenway House overlooking the River Dart. Agatha Christie was born and raised in Torquay, and she bought Greenway House as a summer home. The first home built on this site was in 1523. After many owners and renovations, Dame Agatha (aka Mrs Mallowan) remodelled Greenway House "for modern living" in 1938.

As Agatha Christie fans, we loved the home visit. We then strolled the grounds visiting the boat / bath house, a Kwan Yin, and a Bridget McCrum outdoor sculpture.

We took a car ferry to the picturesque town of Dartmouth. We drove directly to an American war memorial erected in 1954 and dedicated to the people of South Hams who were evacuated (some never to return) so that D-Day preparation exercises could be performed. This memorial also commemorates the almost one thousand (exact number unknown) American soldiers who lost their lives one night when they were surprised by an attack by 9 German E-Boats. In the confusion, lives were also lost from "friendly fire". This event was kept secret for 40 years and "Project Tiger" casualties were purposely mixed in with the D-Day losses.

Upon returning to Torquay, Gordon led us on a vigorous hour walk down to the beach through wooded paths and back up some very steep hills - enough to get the heart racing without running.

August 11, 2009

Oporto Essentials


The Grande Hotel do Porto ( is located on the pedestrian shopping street Rua de Santa Catarina and is accessible to public transportation. Although renovated in 2002, this hotel still reflects the details and charm of the luxury hotel it was when it first opened in 1880.


For authentic Portuguese cuisine, exit the Grande Hotel to your left and head down the first cobblestone alley on your left until you see Abadia on your right. The appetisers (including octopus) set down before you even have a chance to order are lavish. Consider ordering half portion mains (you won’t go hungry) and house wine (excellent quality at excellent prices).

In fine weather, walk down to the medieval quayside area on the Douro River and grab a table. You can enjoy almost any cuisine as you admire the views from this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Oporto is so hilly that you can get “buns of steel” if you’re not careful. Better to hop on the “Yellow Sightseeing Bus” with three audio-guided sightseeing routes: Historical, Bridges, and Castles. Your ticket may be used for a discount on a River Duoro Cruise and is also good on any public transportation.


What makes Oporto famous – the port! On the opposite bank of the Douro, over 20 Port Houses offer tours and tastings. You can learn about the history of port, what distinguishes port from other wines, and perhaps find a personal favourite to bring home.

(and Don't Miss this Charming Riverside Villa for Sale)


The Majestic Café is a stunning example of Art Nouveau design and located within a block of the Grande Hotel. However, avoid ordering anything more complicated than a simple beverage or you may find yourself overwhelming both the staff capabilities and your budget.

August 09, 2009

Lisbon: Day 2

Our day started with a guided tour of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos followed by pastries at Pasteis de Belem desde 1837 (I also ate our guide's share of the specialty custard tarts). We skipped the guided tour to the Coach (as in horse drawn) museum and instead found our own way to the Torre de Belém and nearby (Vasco da Gama) Discoveries Monument. Then we took the train (again using our Lisboa card) to Cascais, a sea resort. We ended our day with a wander up and down Avenida da Liberdade and a light dinner at one of the outside garden bars.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos: Vasco da Gama and his crew prayed at this site before their historic voyage to India. The stone tombs of Vasco da Gama (1468-1523) of the poet Luís de Camões (1527-1570) are located near the western portal of the monastery.

Torre de Belém: A defensive tower built in the early sixteenth century in the distinctive Portuguese "Manueline" (some describe as "late-Gothic") style to commemorate Vasco da Gama's expedition.

Cascais Sea Resort: Our guide claimed this resort was more upscale than Estoril

August 08, 2009

Lisbon: Day 1

Castelo de Sao Jorge: We took the tram up, up to this medieval citadel with panoramic view of Lisbon. Anna led us down winding alleys to the Decorative Arts museum in the Alfama. Soon, the morning tours were over and it was time to explore Lisbon on our own.

We took the metro red line to Oriente and onto the grounds built for Expo '98. We viewed amazing creatures through multi-story aquariums in the Oceanarium. The most unusual was the Sunfish - rarely seen because it is so difficult to maintain in captivity (Wikipedia photo).

Back in Lisbon, it took perseverance to find the Port Institute but we were determined! We were ushered into a quiet space with deep couches and an "old club" ambience. Hundreds of ports in all price ranges were available. Between the six of us, we were able to taste quite a few.

On the funicular trip back down, an attempt to pickpocket Kris was thwarted - Kris slapped the pickpocket's hand hard, glared directly at him -- and the guy quickly departed. He should have known better than to try that on someone who grew up in Bombay.

August 07, 2009


Using our Lisboa card, we took the train to Sintra. We departed from a station originally designed for the Orient Express and thus decorated with beautiful tiles.

After arriving in Sintra, we began our steep ascent into town, passing sculptures of interest to distract us from the efforts of our climb.

After a thorough history lecture by Anna, we climbed even higher to reach Quinta da Regaleria. Carvalho Monteiro purchased this estate in 1892. He proceeded to add grottos, a chapel, tunnels, fountains, lakes and all sorts of bits to reflect his particular spiritual beliefs. Wandering around the estate and discovering something fascinating to ponder every few minutes was delightful.

It was nice to descend back into town for coffee and pastries before our tour of Palácio Nacional de Sintra. This ornately tiled and decorated room was the highlight.

Now it was time to take the bus to the top of the mountain to visit the Palace de Pena. While the guys bought tickets to the gardens and headed for the beverage kiosk and tables, Heather and I opted to visit the palace. It was another long steep climb to the palace and a very long queue to tour the interior (no photos of course). The views of the surrounding forest and to the sea were fantastic.

August 05, 2009

Day in Ghent

Ghent is a medieval city with more listed buildings than any other city in Belgium. Wandering (remember to look UP) and cruising yield surprises................................................
Ghent River Hotel
Lady Luck
War Memorial
Cobblestone Alley in Patershol Demolition from the Inside
Doorway Ship Sculpture
Early Morning Artist
Bathing Birds (but, are they getting any cleaner?)
Broken Dishes Turned into Doorway Art
Kraanlei 79 De Fluitspeler