Friday, March 29, 2013
Since we slept with our windows open last night we awoke this morning to the sound of rain (again!). We have been dodging the rain this entire week and today it looks like the rain will finally win – it is downpouring. For the most part, the weather has not hindered us from anything we have wanted to do. We are especially grateful that yesterday was clear for our beautiful drive through Northern Portugal. The drive from Amarante to Porto (airport) will not be so nice.
Breakfast awaits us in the Largo do Paco dining room. We really aren’t hungry after last night’s feast, but wander down to check it out anyway. The room is just as beautiful in the daytime and the breakfast spread is lavish. We partake of bits and pieces.
We love the red dishes and the yellow walls
This next picture is so that you can get a good look at the “chair hoods” that we had so much fun with last night:
Notice the chair hoods in the background
There is plenty of time for us to get to the airport and since we can’t mess around in town (since it is POURING RAIN) we hang out in our room. We email, nap, blog, etc. Much of our time is spent fretting about the pawltry checked baggage allowance on Ryainair (our flight carrier back to Madrid). When we flew to Lisbon we were on EasyJet (another European low-cost carrier). Janet and I both checked a bag and they each weighed in just under Easy Jet’s 23kg allowance. We have since discovered that RyanAir’s allowance is only 20kg. Since we have made a few purchases along the way, including 3 heavy bottles of precious olive oil, we are in a tailspin.
Janel and I have both flown RyanAir previously. (see this blogpost on “WhyanAir”) we know to set our expectations very, very low. You MUST check in online and print your boarding pass. If you don’t they will charge you an exorbitant fee to print your pass. You MUST add and pay for checked baggage at least 4 hours prior to check in. If you don’t – exorbitant fee. You MUST only have ONE carryon. Purse, camera bag, tiny lunch bag – doesn’t matter. You can only have ONE. (It must weigh less than 10kg and they will make sure it fits into their carryon “fitter” before boarding). IF your checked bag is overweight… yep – EXORBITANT fee of 20euro per kg overweight. All of this is stressing us out.
Janet and I systematically start plowing through our luggage to see what we can ditch. I manage to toss some toiletry items and also lose the nice bottle of cherry liqueur that we purchased in Lisbon. We are stuffing everything possible into our carryons. I even pop a pair of shoes into my coat. We all plan to wear as many clothes/jackets as possible in order to keep our bag weight down. We know we each must get rid of at least 3 kg and also try to add the 3 bottles of olive oil (which we are NOT going to ditch).
When our bags are finally ready we check out of Casa da Calcada. We wish we could have spent more time here and explored the town of Amarante.
I have one added stress – I realize I must maneuver our car back down the narrow cobblestones and through that tiny, tiny opening into the blind street. Oh yeah, and in the rain.
Look at the tiny opening lower right
Janel offers to get out in the rain and direct me.
Here I come
The drive to the airport was kind of hairy in the rain, but with Janel’s navigational skills we made it with no problem. Car return was easily spotted and we arrived at the RyanAir check-in with lots of time to spare. Since we were early, check-in was not open yet which actually was good for us. We have time to throw our bags on their scales and to re-organize if necessary. Turns out we wasted the fretting. Janet’s bag was 19.8kg and mine weighed in at a cool 19.9kg (even with the 3 bottles of olive oil). Whew!
Janet is thrilled with waiting in line at RyanAir
After check-in we flew through security and settled in some comfy chairs to have a coffee and a small snack.
Janel finally managed to order coffee the way she wanted in Portugal. She has tried every time to order the Spanish equivalent of a Cortado which is an espresso with just a splash of milk. She has always ended up with a drop of espresso and a large amount of milk (the way I like it – cafe con leche). Here she orders a “pingo” and it is just right. Well done.
Pingo on left, meia de leite (cafe con leche) on right
We relax before being herded onto the RyanAir flight. Janet gets the full experience of having to fight for seating and then trying to nap during the constant announcements of things to purchase (including scratch tickets!). Thank heaven the flight is only an hour. We arrive back in Madrid and back to our first apartment near Janel’s place. It is good to be “home.”
Since it is not raining in Madrid and we have a couple of hours of daylight left, we shun the much needed siesta and opt for a slight walk around. We end up at a neighborhood cafe – El Gato Verde. It is a very chill place and we go upstairs with our canas (small beers) and perch in front of the window to people watch and draw up our “Best Of” list for Portugal.
Our perch at El Gato Verde
Tonight is Janet’s final evening in Spain and we have chosen to dine at Poncelet. Janel and I discovered Poncelet Cheese Bar on my previous visit to Madrid (read about our Poncelet experience HERE) and she has been back several times since them. Rich and Janel went there in August when he visited. It is a unique concept (a Cheese restaurant?) and now they recognize Janel when she visits. We are excited to share a cheese tasting experience with Janet.
When we arrive for our 9:00 reservation Janel is greeted warmly by the host and as we make our way through the restaurant most of the waiters acknowledge her. (We decided Poncelet wins the award for “cutest waiters”) We are shown to one of the “good” tables in the middle of the room where we can watch all the action. There are only a few patrons here now, but it is “early” for Spain. We notice that every single table has a “reservado” sign on it.
Glasses of cava are poured and the Selection of Cheese of the Day are ordered along with a lovely platter of Jamon Iberico. We enjoy watching all the cheese action as the “head monger” goes in and out of the cheese cave that is directly behind us. Different knives and contraptions are used to slice the various cheeses. The action starts to get fast and furious as the dining room fills up.
Watching the action – notice the cheese “cave” in back of the server
We have placed our order for the selection of the day just as in previous visits. This is a selection of the cheeses that they say are at their best on this day. You can hardly go wrong. We order it as a tabla for one person since we already know it will be plenty. After our cheese arrives we ask for a suggestion of a bottle of red wine to go with it. I have requested a Bierzo. I am very pleased when the exact same wine I loved last time shows up on our table!
Wish we could get this in the US
Yes, Rich – that is the Stilton in the foreground!
The selection of cheeses is explained to us by one of the mongers. They are presented from mildest to strongest and we begin the tasting.
At some point during our experience I spy a beautiful block of Pouligny St Pierre. Pouligny is a cheese that is shaped like a small Eiffel Tower. Rich and Janel had it last time they were at Poncelet and Rich has been raving about it ever since. I actually ordered him some from Frommage.com, but he said it just wasn’t as good as the one at Poncelet. We must try it.
The Pouligny St Pierre
Now I see what the fuss was all about. It is indeed much better than what we received from the online source. I think it has to do with the level of maturity. The Pouligny is declared a success.
The wine is also a success
I wish I could remember what Janel was tasting here!
The Stilton is left for the end. It is a very strong, blue cheese that will pair beautifully with Port or other sweet dessert wine. Janet and I decline, but Janel dives in and asks for a recommendation from the cutie waiter
We are completely “cheesed out” but the night is young (11:30). It is decided that we should stop by our favorite little hang-out bar in La Latina – El Siete de la Cava. (Look HERE and HERE fora couple of our experiences at El Siete). We always go there at least once and this is Janet’s final opportunity. One short Metro ride away and we come upon a bustling Cava Baja area. We brush through all the people of the street and go directly to our beloved El Siete.
Our friend, Jesus, recognizes Janel and his face lights up. Then he recognizes me and he again lights up. He greets us like old friends. We introduce him to Janet (he was not there on her previous visit) and order three glasses of wine. It is a great, relaxing way to end our evening and to end the SHL portion of this trip.
Our friend, Jesus behind the bar