South Wales in August

 

 

 

Not everything in life can be explained. Why I have always had a desire to see Wales is not something I can easily put into words. Not unlike my father’s birthplace in Italy, I have dangled Wales in the corners of my mind for decades; like a treat I was savoring for another day.

Moving to Portugal made Wales an easily attainable adventure and I was ready.

I decided that August would be a good month for my getaway; it’s hot in Faro and I thought it might be cooler in Wales. I was hoping for some rain since I was certain it would be quite awhile before we had any rain to speak of in southern Portugal. I looked at airlines and Flybe had an inexpensive flight to Cardiff, the capital, in both directions. I hate to be negative and bitter, but I’m fairly certain I will not be flying Flybe again — they nickel and dime you, charging you for your seat and everything else that is not part of the aircraft. They informed me at check-in that my bag was larger than the regulation size and I had to pay 98 Euros (total both ways) to check it. I bought this particular “small” bag because I thought I had learned my lesson after flying RyanAir. What pisses me off more than anything, is that airlines continue to report record profits and they never lower their prices. I guess that’s what’s called capitalism and we have no choice but to just watch the airline CEOs make millions off the backs of the average Joe and Josephine.

Back to Wales. I decided on an Airbnb for this trip, thinking I could have breakfast and lunch in my apartment. I was able to rent a one bedroom .5 miles from the city. It was a modern flat with a queen size bed and an owner who was very hospitable. Mike provided great tips for dining and excursions. The place cost me less than $100 a night and a hotel room would have been twice that.

My friends in Cardiff told me that the weather would have been better in June, however, I did have two beautiful days and I felt fortunate.

The apartment in case you’re interested (click for details).

My flight was delayed nearly two hours forcing me to take a taxi to the apartment (it was after midnight and the city bus wasn’t running and I couldn’t find an Uber nearby). Fortunately, the apartment had a lockbox so I didn’t have to wake the owner. Thank goodness for cell phone flashlights or I’m not sure how I would have gotten in. It was 1:30 a.m. before I got to go to bed on my first of four nights. Once again, I will never fly Flybe again if I can help it.

After a solid seven hours sleep, I ventured out for coffee and a bite to eat. Mike told me about a Portuguese bakery just around the corner from the Airbnb. I was in a neighborhood called Adamsdown (see below) and the bakery was Nata & Co on Clifton Street. The coffee and pastries were excellent and I felt as if I had never left home.

History of Adamsdown (history everywhere you turn in Wales)

In mediaeval times, Adamsdown lay just outside the east walls of Cardiff and was owned by the lords of Glamorgan. The area may be named after an Adam Kygnot, a porter at Cardiff Castle around 1330 AD. The Welsh name Waunadda derives from (g)waun (a heath or down) and the personal name Adda (Adam). This name appears to be a recent creation, and there is no evidence that Adam Kygnot was ever called ‘Adda’. Y Sblot Uchafis the Welsh name of Upper Splott, a farm that stood on the site of the later Great Eastern Hotel (demolished 2009) on the corner of Sun Street and Metal Street (the very spot where my Airbnb was located.)

According to an 1824 map, Adamsdown was largely a 270-acre (1.1 km2) farm. A replacement for a prison which was located on St Mary Street opened in the area in 1832, and a cemetery in 1848. In the following year, an outbreak of cholera affected the area. As the cemetery became full, it was converted into a park. In 1883 the “South Wales and Mounmouthsire Infirmary” was opened at a cost of £23,000. Many were refused from the hospital, such as those with infectious diseases and women in the advanced stages of pregnancy. In 1923, the hospital became the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Source:  Wikipedia.

 

 

 

My new friend Rachel was picking me up at 2:00 p.m. so I decided to stay close to my apartment. Clifton street had some great thrift shops and a good deal of local color. I was able to buy two great novels for under three quid (slang for one pound sterling). I also found a fully stocked grocery store and was able to shop for the apartment; beer I never drank and snacks.

 

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Rachel and I in our matching Birkenstocks; same color even and totally by accident. She’s a pip.

Rachel pulled up to retrieve me at exactly 2:00 p.m. and off we went on our adventure. I only met Rachel a few weeks ago sitting by a pool in Albufeira. Cardiff had already been booked and she was happy to show me around and cook me dinner. This is why they say there is no such thing as a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

I spent my second day just walking around Cardiff, seeing the sights, and enjoying the weather (75 degrees fahrenheit).

My last full day in Cardiff was meant to be an organized tour of the Gower Peninsula. The tour was cancelled because there were not enough people signed up for it. It would have been an eight hour tour because four hours would be traveling to and from. I think it would have been cancelled due to the weather anyway. It was a rainy, low visibility day.

[Gower or the Gower Peninsula is in South Wales. It projects westwards into the Bristol Channel and is the most westerly part of the historic county of Glamorgan. In 1956, Gower became the first area in the United Kingdom to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Wikipedia]gower peninsula fullday south wales tour from cardiff

I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time. I had just met my new friend Rachel’s husband Mark at their place for dinner the day after I arrived. Mark felt that by staying in Cardiff, I wasn’t getting a true sense of what Wales is like. Cardiff is a fairly modern city and in many ways, it resembles many other cities. He offered to take me to Brecon and the hillside about 45 minutes from Cardiff. Let’s face it, a private tour is always better than a group tour. Sometimes I believe I was just born lucky. Despite the poor weather, we drove through beautiful hills and quaint towns and we got to walk around a bit. And the best part was stopping for a truly authentic pub lunch. I ordered fried fish and I couldn’t have been happier. Mark shared a good deal of Welsh history throughout the day and I got to talk American politics — a perfect day.

 

Places that I got to visit in Cardiff and enjoyed immensely:

Cardiff Bay

The Port of Cardiff

Cardiff Market

The National Assembly for Wales

Caerphilly and Caerphilly Castle (Rachel gifted me some Caerphilly cheese which I brought home. It’s even better than cheddar).

Penarth and the Penarth Marina

Bute’s Castle

National Museum Cardiff (museums are always free in Wales)

Many Arcades in Cardiff Centre

The Rainbow Casino (should have stayed away)

City Hall

Cardiff Castle (I believe I visited four castles — all amazing)

 

There was more to see, but I only had three full days on this trip. It’s a very walkable city and the people are a pleasure to talk to. It was also a fairly diverse city; certainly rich in history. I will return to Cardiff someday.

 

My two favorite restaurants in Cardiff Centre:

Thai & Asian Delish Café

This Thai food booth at The Central Market blew me away. I had the Thai coconut milk and chicken soup; creamy, smooth, spicy and delicious.

 

 

 

Elgano Italian Restaurant 

I’ve had a lot of pasta’s in my life and I have to say this one ranks in the top 10 (see below). I also had mussels in a garlic and tomato sauce and they were very disappointing; flavorless in fact. The owners were a husband and wife team. He was rushing around, acting very pretentious and she was sincere. I watched the husband spill wine on a customer because he was going too fast and not paying attention — you can tell I didn’t like him. They were, however, from Italy and the food was authentic. Maybe the husband was in the kitchen and the waiter was just some random Italian guy; I don’t know for sure. Click on the name of the restaurant above if you plan on going or you’re just curious.

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Tagliatelle with shrimp, radicchio & a creamy spicy tomato sauce

Porto and the Duoro Valley

 

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A view of Porto and the Duoro River from the Museu Romântico.

 

I have to begin by admitting that it took much too long to get to Porto. When I first visited Portugal, I knew that I wanted to live in the south because I had done research on the favorable climate and the robust, affordable economy.  I concentrated on exploring areas in the south and since Porto is north of Lisbon (about 3 hours by train — see map below), it was not in my travel plans.

Side note:  traveling throughout Portugal is a pleasure. Public transportation is usually easy to navigate, the airports are not overcrowded, and most people speak English fairly well. It’s good to know some Portuguese because as with all natives, they truly appreciate any attempt to speak their language.

 

Porto

I had some friends (Neal & Winnie Borden) coming into Porto on a cruise ship on Tuesday of this week and that gave me an excellent excuse to fly to Porto. I have been trying to keep these short distance excursions to three or four days. I believe three days is plenty of time to get a feel for a place and if there are parts I do not get to see, it gives me a good reason to return.

I rented a studio Airbnb in the city centre — I usually stay in the center so that I can walk out of my apartment and visit many places on foot or use public transportation — this particular apartment was in the back of building and it was quiet and had a magnificent, large terrace.

 

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Neal and Winnie are true foodies. Their son Adam and I met at the James Beard House in Manhattan over 20 years ago and we bonded over our love of fine food; he gets it genetically from his parents. I arrived to Porto on Monday evening so that I could meet them at the cruise port early Tuesday morning. We only had about five hours and there was lots to see and do. We had decided that lunch would be the only pre-arranged item on our itinerary. I made us a lunch reservation at Antiqvvm (a one Michelin starred restaurant) and decided we’d discuss the rest of our time together over coffee.

If you’re ever going to meet friends at a cruise ship, leave yourself lots of time. I discovered that being drop off at a pier doesn’t necessarily mean you will be close to the ship. I had to walk over a mile to get to where the ship was docked.

Fortunately, I arrived in time to greet them as they disembarked. We took a taxi from the pier to the historic part of Porto. I had heard about the Majestic Café and thought it would be a good spot for planning.

 

 

 

The Majestic Café, opened in 1921, this absolutely gorgeous and charming café should not be missed. [note:  for those of you who are new to my blogs, you can click on the names of restaurants and places for more information. Also note that I do not share every place I eat or visit; only those that are exceptional or awful are mentioned.]

The historic center was perfect for walking, but be aware that many of the streets are hilly and should be carefully navigated. We decided to head out and see as much as we could see on our way down to the river where the “colorful houses” were located.

 

The incredible colorful houses in Ribeiria (a UNESCO world heritage center) on the riverRelated image

Sites in Porto you will not want to miss:

 

 

Stay away from Puro 4050 — awful “Italian” food. Viva Creative Kitchen was interesting, fresh food, in a cozy contemporary setting.

Antiqvvm

Antiqvvm is a one Michelin star restaurant minutes from the center of Porto. Spend a few minutes at the garden overlooking Porto right outside of this beautiful glass and stone building — it’s a magical experience and you will not want to miss a moment. A memorable meal is all about the mood of the day, the people you are dining with, the quality of the food, and the service and ambiance of the restaurant. This was one of those meals where everything was as you hoped it would be. I am savoring this memory and I know it will remain with me for a lifetime.

A big thank you to Neal Borden for these gorgeous photographs of the food we were served. The soft shelled crab, lobster and veal were just some of the highlights.

 

 

 

The Duoro Valley

If it’s true what they say about doing things when you are supposed to do them, then I was not destined to explore wine country in Portugal until now. I’ve been enjoying Portuguese wine for awhile. The best thing about Portuguese wine, besides the great taste, is the value. I have taken several wine classes, but I am far from an expert. There is so much to know; however, I only know enough to appreciate it — I have a lot to learn.

Airbnb offered a full day excursion I could not resist. José, our guide, was knowledgable, friendly, funny and a very good driver. The last part is important when traveling through the Duoro Valley:  with its mountains, curvy roads and narrow streets. Sometimes group tours can be a bust — too large, obnoxious guests; you know the score. This was a group of nine people from five different countries. All of us were delighted to experience the Duoro Valley on this perfect weather day. I honestly enjoyed getting to know all eight of my fellow travelers.

The Duoro Valley is most famous for Port wine. We were fortunate to do a tour and tasting of Quinta do Tedo vineyards. This beautiful vineyard is a boutique winery selling 80% of its product to consumers who visit the vineyard. We were given a very thorough tour, followed by a generous tasting. We tasted tawny port, ruby port and late bottled port. I have always been a big fan of port wine. Good ports are easy to find in the States and I have been enjoying them for many years. I’ve also been fortunate to taste several fabulous vintage ports.

The Spruce Eats — an informative piece on Port wine.

The best part of the day was the drive to the top of one of the mountains. It was a clear, gorgeous day and the vista was breathtaking. We were also treated to a boat tour on the Duoro River. We drank a sparkling Duoro white and marveled at the beauty of the land and water.

My take away from a marvelous day in the Duoro Valley is that this place is a well kept secret. I learned of several train trips I can take for a weekend getaway or pleasant day trip. I have a feeling I’ll be blogging about this wine region in the near future.

 

 

 

 

It’s going to take me a very long time to truly appreciate the breath and beauty of Portugal, but heck, all I have is time. The next stop? Well, who knows.

 

MAP of the Iberian Peninsula

Portugal And Spain Map From Kolovrat 1
So you can see how far Porto is from Faro (about 7 hours drive). It’s actually not far from the Spanish Galician border.