Spanish Road Trip – Day 3: Porto and Santiago

Posted by jswt | Posted in Portugal - Porto, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 07-12-2011


On the third day of our road trip, we woke up in Porto, Portugal being made breakfast in the fabulous home of our friends M&M. We caffeinated our day, freshened up and then went out and wandered around getting a fantastic locals tour from M (he grew up in Porto and knew a lot about it).

We’d spent 2 weeks in Lisbon a couple years back, and we couldn’t help noticing that Porto doesn’t have the same sense of desperation and disrepair, but learned that’s a recent development. Porto has a lot of intense rent controls, and there’s a lot of old city apartments that are still being rented for 30 euros a month and the landlords aren’t making enough to pay to maintain the building, so the city was falling apart and as many are UNESCO heritage buildings, they were important to preserve. Rather than having all the buildings crumble, the city passed a law that requires the building to be maintained to a certain standard, or else it would be bought by the city, redeveloped and renovated, and then rented back out (at normal costs). This has caused a *huge* boom in construction in the city, and gives the sense that if they keep going in that direction, Porto is going to be a seriously hot place in about 5 years.

We bounced around the city, saw some amazing old architecture (including the nicest McDonalds in the world), tromped around pedestrian streets, did a little shopping, and stopped at an amazing old cafe for Francesinhas – essentially they’re a Portugese specialty sandwich that’s french toast filled with massive amounts of meat, smothered in melted cheese, and soaked in booze infused gravy! Not the healthiest thing ever invented, but insanely delicious and filling.

Some after lunch snacks and patio coffees left us with the sense that we needed to get moving, so we said fond farewells to M&M (who were *amazing* hosts) and loaded back in the car, cranked up the happy hardcore on the stereo, hit the highway and zipped along at 200kmh northward towards Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

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We arrived in Santiago late afternoon, checked into our hotel, freshened up and went off to meet our friend C who was in town with the show she manages. Chris and her have been great friends for ages, I adore her sassyfunk, and we hadn’t seen her in ages so it was fantastic to see her again. We had dinner with her in the backstage catering and saw some other familiar faces, and then went out to catch the show (which was stunning! Fire spinners, hell yeah!). Afterwards, we had a backstage tour, C finished up her work, and then we bounced back to the hotel and popped a couple bottles of champagne to wash down a surprise birthday cake. Many giggles later, we realized it’s spain and that going out for more drinks at 2am was the obvious next step in the evening, so we wandered into the old town, drank red wine, met the town drunk, and rubbed shoulders with locals drinking in the street out front of the bars. Late night stumblings back to the hotel, and more drinks in C’s room, but I was falling asleep so I went back to the room to let C and Chris catch up while I fell asleep in an instant.

A note of reflection: We’d been through Santiago de Compostela back in 2010 (see post here), and I realized that with all the forward momentum, this was the first city that I’ve returned to in our travels. It was interesting coming back to a place with a couple years of euro-travelling under my belt, and integrating the initial novelty of the place with a more diverse view of cultures. Also interesting to be standing back somewhere you’ve stood once before and putting the time in perspective: what’s changed, personal growth, experiences, parties, losses, and all the evolutions in constant flux. It’s cool that our minds can time travel.

Spanish Road Trip – Day 2: Rock of Gibraltar and a long ass drive

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Portugal - Porto, UK - Gibraltar | Posted on 06-12-2011


On the second day of our Spanish road trip, we woke up in La Linea de la Conception. We pleasantly kicked off our day looking out across the ocean at Africa in the distance, and being pretty much being smacked in the face with the Rock of Gibraltar right in front of us. (As mentioned in last post – spend the extra 5 euros for the view room!). After some breakfast and overdue showers we rolled out for the brief hop from La Linea de la Conception to Gibraltar:

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Gibraltar is on the southern tip of Spain, right at the entrance to the Mediteranean sea, and is actually a British territory (similar to how the US has Point Roberts outside of Vancouver). This means you have to cross a border from Spain into the UK, so we queued up in line and waited about 20 minutes or so to pull up to the customs check. We’re driving up, and both have our Canadian passports out, and the British customs agent looks in the car, sees us holding our passports and says simply “Helloooo Canada! One and two, and on your way!” and waved us in. Simplest customs check ever — thank you Commonwealth!

The city of Gibraltar is so small, that when you cross the border into Gibraltar you drive across the airport runway on your way into the city. When planes are landing, they simply drop gates down and close the road off like at a train crossing. It’s one of the only active runways in the world that you can drive on, and as plane nerds, it was a bit of a trip to see!

Once into the city, we aimed for the main tourist draw in town: The Rock of Gibraltar – a giant rock formation that’s been a key strategic fortress for thousands of years. There’s a cable car that goes up the side of the rock, but when the parking lot was full we mistakenly turned the wrong way, and started climbing the rock which ended up playing much to our advantage. Instead of trying to go back, we saw a sign for the Jew’s Gate and figured we needed to aim for that – ends up, it’s a backdoor entrance to the park at the top where you take the cable car up to, but you can take your car in and drive around on top to see all the sights (something we could never have done if we’d tried to walk around from the cablecar stop!).

TIP: If you have a car, don’t take the cablecar up the Rock of Gibraltar. Drive up to the Jew’s Gate and take your car into the park so you can see way more stuff!

Another crazy thing about the park at the top is that it’s completely full of MONKEYS! The guys at the gate warned us about them, and how they’ll bite you and steal your stuff, but we kind of laughed that off until we were just inside the park and they climbed right up onto the car and tried to fish through the sunroof and open windows! Cheeky monkeys!

We drove around the park a bit and found an old fortification where we had a tight turnaround so we took the opportunity to climb up over the edge and enjoy the view of Africa in the distance, and the tip of the rock just up above us.

Next we rolled on and thought we’d check out a dot on the map called St. Michael’s Cave, and ended up being so glad we did. It’s an insanely beautiful cavern at the top of the rock, and when we wandered in there were beautiful green, red and blue lights shimmering up the ancient and ornate rock formations, and there was haunting opera music being played from hidden speakers than echoed and reverberated around the whole cave. We somehow managed to arrive between tour busses and had 20 minutes or so to explore the caves all alone with no one else there, which was truly magical. We heard voices a little later, and came upon a hidden treasure: a concert venue amphitheatre *inside the cave*. Chris was immediately wonderstruck at this find, and visions of artists bookings and theatre management danced across his eyes as he drank in the surprise find.

We climbed back up into the light, and drove around the park a little further, and stopped a little ways up at a cave entrance that was a military museum. Seems the entire rock is bored out with tunnels that throughout history have been filled with entire armies in wartime. The tour wasn’t included in our entrance ticket, but the attendants let us look around and wander into the tunnels a bit on our own. Instead of overstaying our welcome, we wandered down a little further to the Moorish Castle that was built in 711 AD and is still standing today (albeit with more bulletholes and cannon blast wounds than at first). We had the entire castle to ourselves and wandered through dungeons, across rooftops, through ancient royal baths and up forgotten stairwells before returning to our car and leaving the park…

Honestly, we’d originally come to Gibraltar to see the runway (yes, we’re plane nerds) but the Rock of Gibraltar turned out to be a really cool and unexpected treat that I’d encourage anyone in the area to take some time to explore.

We got back on the road just before noon, and started what we’d known would be a huge ass drive from Gibraltar to Porto, Portugal:

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Luckily, we were well prepared with a ton of fresh music, ample road trip snacks, and a seriously comfy luxury car that didn’t even feel like it was moving as we cruise-controlled along at 190kmh westward across the entire southern coast of Spain, and then up north into Portual.

Around 11 we rolled into Porto to see our friends M&M who’d moved to Portugal from Seattle a couple years back. They’ve got an amazing pimp pad right on the river in an old renovated port distillery, and M actually grew up in Porto so he took us out for the local’s tour and we ended up at a great little restaurant, tucked away in an alley that was once the moat of a fortress, where we at the best octopus we’ve ever had. With bellies full of goodness, and many hundreds of kilometres under our belt for the day, we retreated to “the comfiest pull out bed ever” and fell quickly into deep sleep where monkeys played mischievously in our dreams.