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Entries about museums

Country No. 3 - Portugal

Porto and Sintra only. Would have loved to stay longer...

sunny 23 °C

I'm not sure if it's just me, or if many have had the same luck, but all of my Airbnb hosts, even those I didn't get the chance to meet, have been nothing short of fantastic.

My drive to Porto from Santiago was fairly straight forward, though I did worry when entering Portugal and the motorway. Through France and Spain, my little tags would beep to state payment would be taken. It doesn't beep in Portugal, so I wasn't sure if it worked or not. (I'd only find out leaving Porto for Sintra that it was all okay.)

Motorways in Portugal, outside of the main cities, are practically empty. But the drivers? Well, they are... pretty bad. Didn't come close to an accident, but watching some of the antics on display was amusing. Entering Porto wasn't particularly difficult, though I had to ignore the sat-nav more than once due to never ending roadworks on the approach to my Airbnb. Managed to snag a parking spot close by and unload my stuff.

Most of my communication prior to arriving was with Lurdes, but it was Aderito who sat me down and went through everything with me. Utterly fantastic, as basically gave me a two-day itinerary with the map he had. The little cottage I had was perfectly suitable for my needs, so I headed straight out into town, as I had arrived rather early. All I wanted was a beer or two, avoiding most of the tourist sites as I would spend the next two days wandering. I found a sports bar, conveniently located close to my Airbnb, and admittedly I spent a couple of hours there each night as they were playing the Champions League semi-finals, and I can't remember the last time I watched any Champions League!

I spent two days walking around Porto, the first day covering 28 kms, the second day a paltry 17.7 kms. The first day I took the tram out to the very west of the city by the coastline. It was rather misty to start with and I was worried I'd be in for disappointment. But after sitting down for a coffee, I waited until it cleared, turning into a gorgeous, sunny and warm day. I followed the coastline for a good few kilometres before turning inland, wandering here, there and everywhere, mostly following the guidance of Aderito, who didn't disappoint. Visited another contemporary art museum, but could also wander the parks and gardens. I spent hours walking that first day, so was absolutely knackered upon returning to my Airbnb, though after a shower, headed out for at least a couple of drinks.

Day two was more of the same, though sticking to the inner city and I guess more 'touristy' parts. I had lunch at Cafe Santiago, where I feasted on a Francesinha Santiago. Basically a sandwich full of meat, covered in cheese, with a fried egg on top. Calorific, but utterly delicious and I managed to polish off the whole thing. Other than that, it was just another day of wandering. I could list every monument I saw and photographed... But I can only say that you should definitely visit Porto. It's beautiful when the sun is out, particularly if you're by the river. If you cross the river and head to towards another museum, you get some breathtaking views of the old town.

I would have loved to have spent another couple of days in Porto, wandering the narrow streets and simply kicking back and relaxing. I left early on my last day there, and had a mini heart attack when I found the garage I had parked my car in closed. Thankfully the man responsible, who didn't speak any English, turned up, mimicking that he was just eating breakfast.

During the drive to Sintra, I figured I'd stop off by the coast, eventually stopping at a town called Nazaré. For those who don't know, it's where some of the biggest waves in the world have been surfed. There were no enormous waves on the day of my visit, but I spent a couple of hours walking the promenade before taking the funicular up to the nearby hill, the town basically split in two. Again, some stunning views on display, and if I ever return to Portugal, I'll spent a couple of weeks slowly working my way north to south, or vice versa, and would definitely spend a couple of days lazing on the beach.

I'd heard Sintra could be very expensive, and although I spent €30 paying for entry into parks and palaces, everything else was as reasonable as Porto. My host, Filipe, was again fantastic, full of advice, particularly about where to have dinner, which I chose to visit on my second night. I only had one full day in Sintra, so had to make the most of it. Standing in line for the bus, I started talking to a Dutch family, and as we were well to the back of the line, they asked if I'd like to join them on a tuk-tuk. I'm on holiday, so why not? The driver was a bloody mad-man, spending half his time turning around to talk to us, but it was bloody good fun too, though I prayed to all the gods that we arrived in one piece.

The Palacio de Pena was beautiful, and I'm glad we got there as early as we did, as the line I noticed upon leaving was horrific. The park surrounding the palace was stunning, glad I'd taken my hayfever tablet, and I climbed to the highest point in the park, where the High Cross is located. The Moorish Castle was also good fun to walk around, climbing to the very top, where more views could be taken in. And finally, I walked all the way back to the historical centre to visit Sintra Palace. I didn't walk as far as Bilbao or Porto, but I certainly did a lot more climbing!

My last night in Sintra was spent at a local restaurant, partaking in a dish of Portuguese food, before heading out to enjoy a couple of beers before heading back to my Airbnb. The last place I was in had a guy with a guitar, and he was a rather good singer, so I ended up staying for a couple, just to listen. The football on TV in the background was also a good reason to stay.

And that was it. I know I could have done so much more in Portugal, but as I've said time and again, I'm just limited by what I can see and do. However, there is always the chance of another trip in the future, so perhaps I can visit a few places I've had to miss this time around.

Posted by benjamin2981 08:59 Archived in Portugal Tagged museums road_trip walking history driving palaces portugal old_town porto sintra airbnb historical_centre Comments (0)

Day Five, Mont-Saint Michel - April 5th 2019

Bayeux to Mont-Saint Michel / Fougeres - 109.4 miles 11078 steps too

overcast

After another hearty breakfast of deux croissants and pineapple (ananas) juice, it was time to hit the road. This time I was bidding ‘au revoir’ to Bayeux, heading south-west for Mont-Saint-Michel, and then into Bretagne (Brittany) and the town of Fougeres… which I’ve since learned I’d been pronouncing wrong since first deciding to stop there.

What I learned during my drive to Mont-Saint-Michel is that I’ll have to ignore my sat-nav from time to time. I knew I could take the motorway at least most of the way, yet the bloody thing was trying to send me down D-roads going god only knows where. Once I hit the A-road, it started to co-operate with me!

Once I hit the road towards Mont-Saint-Michel itself, I was ever eager to glimpse it over the horizon. And, as this part of the world is fairly flat, it didn’t take long for the mount to appear in the distance. I may have got a little excited and nearly ran off the road…

I had my first joy with driving a right hand drive car and trying to obtain a ticket from the machine. I’m not tall enough to reach across, so had to get out and run back to the driver’s seat. Keep that in mind for future reference as well!

You could immediately tell it was low season, as most of the parking lots were closed. There were free shuttle buses to the very edge of the mount. Getting off, it was rather cold, the wind whipping off the water, and a thick jacket and hat was definitely required. After getting a map from the office, I made my way up the narrow paths, glad I was visiting in low season. I’d hate to think how busy it would be in the middle of summer!

I had no real plan upon arriving except visiting the abbey, and eventually ended up paying €12 to visit four separate museums – Musee Martime (fun if you like ship models!), Archeoscope du Mont Saint-Michel (Sound and Light Show, all in French), Musee Historique Son et Lumiere, Cachots (Historical Museum, Sound and Light, and Dungeons!) and the historical home of Bertrand du Guesclin, a 14th Century Knight and Connetable of France.

After all that excitement, it was time to climb the stairs to the abbey itself. Entry was €10 and I also grabbed the audio-guide for €3, as I’ll admit that was worth it, the voices explaining each room as you entered. Considering the abbey is nearly a thousand years old in places, there’s very few signs of wear and tear, though that’s due to restorations, particularly since the start of the 20th century. Unfortunately, most of the art and colour that had once adorned the walls and ceilings of most rooms has long since vanished, so the rooms are quite plain, but the audio-guide helped fill in the blanks.

It was certainly an impressive building, and its history, if you’re into that sort of thing, was very interesting. The views from the terraces were spectacular, and again, during high season, would no doubt be eye-catching in their beauty. But part of me is glad to have done it now, as though I don’t mind crowds, I’ve read enough to know they can be horrific at times on the mount.

With the abbey looked at, I had a quick wander around, but much of the island is blocked off, as despite being a tourist hotspot, the abbey still functions and the village is full of ordinary people, most just looking to make a living off the tourists! I did stop for a quick bite to eat, enjoying a croque monsieur (Google it if you don’t know what it is!) and a drink. Would have liked a beer at one point, but I’m not touching a drop when I’m driving. All in all, I probably spent around four hours there.

Back in my car, it was time to head to Fougeres, which I now know how to pronounce correctly. Once again, the sat-nav wanted to send me down the back-roads of Normandy then Brittany, so I forced it to take me towards the motorway. Once back on the A-whatever it was, I followed the sat-nav all the way to town, and of course, it took me right through the old centre, with its narrow one-way streets. But at least I managed to find a parking spot, and my car can now rest until Sunday,

So I’m now sitting back in my very large, comfortable room, having met the delightful owner of the house, Christine, whose English is far superior to my French, taking in the wonderful view from one of the windows. Aware that I’m away from the tourist hot-spots of Normandy, the chances of meeting English speakers might be few and far between, unless I meet fellow tourists. Guess it's an excuse to use whatever French I do know!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:16 Archived in France Tagged museums history abbey mont_saint_michel fougeres Comments (0)

Day Four, Normandy - April 4, 2019

Bayeux to Courseulles-sur-Mer / Ranville / Caen - 66.3 miles 9433 steps (didn't make the 10k!)

After another hearty breakfast of deux croissants and pineapple (ananas) juice, it was time to hit the road, this time heading north-east / east of Bayeux.

The first stop was the seaside town of Courseulles-sur-Mer, the reason for visiting being the Centre Juno Beach. It is the only Canadian museum of the D-Day beaches that line Normandy, and as it was opened only fifteen or so years ago, it certainly feels fresher than some of the others I’ve visited. It was also the first time I had a guided tour, a young woman by the name of Eva, who admitted at the end it was her first tour in English. As there were only three of us, I’m sure she probably found it easier than a large group! All the guides are French-Canadian and bilingual, though most speak French first.

It was an impressive site, with the centre having discovered and dug out an entire German bunker. The museum itself was all about Canada before and during the war, while the final room spoke of the immigrants who made up a large percentage of Canadian citizenry. There are subtle differences between how each of the major nations, who made up the majority of D-Day forces, remember the war.

I had a rather amusing drive between the above and below, as my sat-nav took me on a rather long adventure, driving the back roads of Normandy. I ended up passing through some lovely French villages, and the scenery was stunning, though I did wonder where I was going. I asked one of the girls behind the counter of the next museum, and she admitted with no direct route, it probably wasn’t that bad. And as the bridge towards the museum was being repaired, I ended up on a long detour anyway.

One of the museums I’d pinpointed definitely not missing was Musee Memorial Pegasus, for two reasons. One, it is devoted to the 6th British Airborne Division, otherwise known as the ‘Red Devils’, due to the red beret each member wears. Two, I’d recently finished reading the autobiography of Colonel Hans von Luck, a Wehrmacht officer, who described his version of events regarding the taking of Pegasus Bridge.

The best bit, apart from watching a younger looking Prince Charles introduce a video of the events around the bridge, was to see the actual bridge itself, which now resides just outside the museum. The bridge crossing the river is but a replica, the museum being given the original. In addition to that was a replica of a Horsa glider, little wonder none survived the war, as they were made out of wood and all were eventually destroyed.

Having spent a day and a half touring D-Day museums, I thought I’d look at something new, so after consulting my guide, I thought I’d visit the Abbaye aux Dames in Cannes. Unfortunately, this was the first minor disappointment of the trip, and perhaps a sign of something I would have to keep in mind for future reference.

Could I find parking in Caen? Could I f*&%! Parking spot? Not a chance, and I know enough that anything in blue means paid or something similar. And then there is every other bit of pavement possible being used as a parking spot. And, I’ll be honest, driving a car with a big ‘GB’ sticker on the back is just asking for trouble from parking officers. I must have driven around for a good ten minutes, got lost more than once, before I gave up. Maybe some other time…

So I headed back to Bayeux, the heavens deciding to open as I drove, which thankfully cleaned my windscreen, left in a bit of a state after Monday’s drive from Calais.

Tomorrow is Mont-Saint-Michel.

POSTSCRIPT

Headed back into Bayeux for my last night in town. After spending three nights in Bayeux, I’ll be honest and admit it’s not the nightlife you come to the city for. But I still found a lively pub, the same as last night, and I had a good chat with the girl behind the bar about all matters France. Her English was perfect compared to the few words and phrases of French I know!

Couldn’t stay out too late as it’s an early rise on Friday. Ninety minute drive to Mont-Saint-Michel, who knows how long I’ll spend there, then it’s a short drive (hopefully) to Fougeres, where I originally planned only spending the night, but after a little research, I figured a second night wouldn’t do me any harm.

Posted by benjamin2981 08:53 Archived in France Tagged beaches museums normandy d-day pegasus_bridge Comments (0)

Day Three, Normandy - April 3rd 2019

Bayeux to Arromanches / Longues-sur-Mer / Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer / Cricqueville-en-Bessin/ La Cambe - 57.25 miles 17640 steps too!

It was a cold, windswept day in Normandy… Sounds like the start to a novel! But when I walked out of my little house, the grey clouds suggested I would be in for a miserable day. Thankfully, though there was the occasional spitting of rain, the sun did shine later, though I still needed my hat due to the cold winds off the English Channel.

My first stop was the small coastal town of Arromanches. For those who don’t know their D-Day history, this was the site of Gold Beach, where the British Army landed on the 6th June, 1944. It’s already obvious I’m slightly out of season, as most shops appear closed up for the time being, but the Musee du Debarquement was open and quite busy, full of school kids from the looks of it. There was a plethora of information available and numerous artefacts to look at or take photos of, which of course I did. At the end was a short film about the Mulberry Harbour, which the British had to build to get supplies ashore. Real feat of engineering that.

And, it must be said, Winston Churchill is a VERY popular man in these parts. All manner of streets named after him in both Bayeux and Arromanches.

My second stop in Arromanches, after a walk up quite a hill, and which provided some picturesque views, was the 360 cinema circulaire. Nine screens, with no narration, only the occasional voice of Churchill, FDR, Eisenhower or de Gaulle, while the screens showed what happened on D-Day then during the Battle of Normandy. Quite the experience and well worth the entrance fee.

Though Arromanches did look lovely, the weather wasn’t great and, with everything mostly closed, I moved on to my next stop. A short drive to Longues-sur-Mer, which houses the remnants of the coastal defence battery installed by the Germans as their ‘Atlantic Wall’. The great concrete structures are still standing, mostly, though the guns within have long since rusted and would have been made safe long ago. Right on the coast wall was a machine gun emplacement, easy to imagine machine guns opening up on approaching landing craft. Sobering…

My aim was to eventually do all five beaches, but I was already thinking if I’d been in one museum, I was probably going to see the same stories, just in different ways. However, one museum I couldn’t miss was the Musee Memorial D’Omaha Beach. For those who don’t know, this was the bloodiest landing on D-Day. There was a fantastic collection of artefacts, both American and German, with a film at the end that provided a lot of detail about what the men went through, including the Rangers, who managed to take their objective despite numerous calamities further up the coast.

A quick drive down to Omaha Beach itself, and anything from D-Day would have long since been taken away. There is now a memorial to the fallen there, with the flags of the countries of those who participated in the landings on Omaha and elsewhere. Again, it’s out of season as I’m sure, during the summer, the place would have been much busier.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Colleville-sur-Mer, or the American cemetery, I’ll explain that below.

Though I’d heard of the Rangers, the story of Pointe du Hoc grabbed my attention, so after consulting my Normandy guide, I drove the few miles down the coast to Cricqueville-en-Bessin. If you’re interest in walking desolate coastline and being frozen on an April afternoon, I can heartily recommend it! The story of the 2nd Ranger Battalion is something everything should learn. Utterly brave bastards, one and all, and there are many remnants of the battle itself. The enormous shell-holes that dot the landscape are a testament to the ferocity of battle.

Again, there were plenty of schoolkids around, and I found myself listening in to one of the teachers as he gave a lecture on what happened. He met my eyes as he spoke and just nodded at me! You’re never too young to learn things.

Back in my car, I had a decision to make. Head back east towards Colleville, or head somewhere I figured many wouldn’t go. I chose the latter, keying in a town call La Cambe into my sat-nav.

It is home to the Cimetiere Militaire Allemand, or the Germany Military Cemetery.

Depressing is the word I would use to describe it. I’m sure on a spring or summer day, when the trees are in full bloom, it would probably look rather nice, but on a grey April afternoon, it’s just sad. And unlike the Bayeux War Cemetery, which does appear to be loved and cared for constantly, the German cemetery, though cared for, is starkly different. There were volunteers cutting grass while I was there, but unlike the Commonwealth or American War Graves Commissions, the German graves do not have government support, it’s all voluntary. Understandable, I guess, but most of the names of the young men interred there have probably been forgotten.

Even the graves themselves lack the character of the Commonwealth and American. It’s not a real surprise, the Germans were the invaders, after all, and lost the war. But, once again, it was hard to avoid the ages. Most were 18, 19, maybe 23 at most. There were a few older, but they were the officers etc. The guide I have states nearly 21,300 German soldiers lie in that one cemetery, and there are six cemeteries like that in Normandy alone.

It was a rather depressing way to end the day, so I drove back to Bayeux, picked up some croissants and juice from the local Carrefour for breakfast, and I’m about to head into Bayeux itself for a drink and a meal. One more day around Bayeux, probably heading east on the 4th towards Ranville and perhaps Caen, as I want to see the Pegasus bridge, before I head to Mont-Saint-Michel on Friday.

POSTSCRIPT

Enjoyed dinner and a trio of drinks in Bayeux, little pub named Le Conquerant. It had decent reviews on Tripadvisor, so gave it a shot. All up, less than €20, so a bargain, and I think it’s probably one of the few places open late on a Wednesday. I don’t think you come to Bayeux for the nightlife, not that I aim on being out late while I’m here. Being sensible as I’m up early the next two mornings…

Posted by benjamin2981 08:45 Archived in France Tagged beaches museums normandy d-day Comments (0)

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