Cabo da Roca - Europe's most westerly point

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cabo da Roca is Europe's most westerly point. Well, Cabo da Roca is continental Europe's most westerly point. Europe's most westerly point is in Ireland, Iceland, the Azores or French Guiana - depending on perspective.

Cabo da Roca

The land to the north of Lisbon, around a town called Sintra, is forested and mountainous. These uplands stretch on to the coast, ending at Cabo da Roca, which is about 140 metres above the ocean.

Getting there is remarkably easy - it's something of a tourist attraction, of course - take a train to either Cascais or Sintra and then bus 403 from there along winding roads through green countryside.

Land, Cabo da Roca, Portugal

There isn't much at Cabo da Roca - a pointless tourist office (I wandered in, they ignored me), a restaurant (empty) and a tourist souvenir shop (nothing but usual stuff). A lighthouse, built in 1772, is closed.

Cabo da Roca

Two monuments can be seen - one (oddly) to the Rotary Club sits a little distance back from the headland, and the other juts proudly into the sky, with a cross and an inscription: Onde a terra termina e o mar começa... / Where the land ends and the sea begins...

Monument, Cabo da Roca

But Cabo da Roca's beauty isn't in buildings. All around you is the world's grand scale and beauty. Looking down the cliff at the crashing waves and spuming foam of the Atlantic, the full brunt of the ocean hits you. It's unrelenting, it never stops - the tide keeps on coming.

Atlantic ocean spray, Cabo da Roca

The horizon remains constant, always there, always distant. You could be anywhere, but this is somewhere. My trip benefitted from a sudden change of weather - from drizzly, grey and dull to blue, shining and resplendent.
Cabo da Roca is peaceful despite the fierce ocean, green with sea-gorse and nature's geography at its best.

Ocean, Cabo da Roca

Atlantic Ocean, Cabo da Roca

Atlantic Ocean, Cabo da Roca

Observations on Portugal

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pasteis de Belem

  • Itinerant Londoner was right - the food in Portugal is disappointing. Try as I might, I did not find mijas on the menu, and instead was left with oily, greasy and largely flavourless food. Once or twice, I did think "yes, it's stodge, but glorious stodge" a la Nigella, but that was rare.
  • It struck me that while the high-end restaurants may have brilliant food, more commonplace, everyday cafés and such churned out basic, unadorned food. A bit like the food at an Irish wedding - plain and simple, nothing that'd scare that aunties and uncles.
  • Cakes, buns and tarts, however were divine, especially the pasteis de nata and pasteis de Belem (above).
  • There are a lot of pharmacies in Portugal. Lisbon seemed to have one at every turn.
  • My favourite of Lisbon's gay bars were Setimo Ceu in Barrio Alto - ace music, friendly staff and a cool magazine-collage wall - and Max in Principe Real, unadorned, unpretentious and friendly.
  • My favourite Metro stop (in Porto) was Estadio do Dragao - simply for the phlegmatic tongue-twisting way it is pronounced. In Lisbon, I quite liked Marques do Pombal as it sounded like Marques do bumhole. (Mature, I know)
  • My very favourite things were: azulejos and seeing Cabo da Roca - more of this later.

I'm going to Portugal

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tomorrow, all being well (snow & Ryanair), I'll be in Portugal.

I'm flying to Porto, staying there one night, then on to Lisbon, staying 5 nights, daytripping to Fatima, Sintra, Cascais, and then back to Porto for one last night.

I know little about Portugal, and I think I chose to go there simply as I'd not been before. So what to do?

Well, two tasks have sprung to mind. Itinerant Londoner has complained about Portugal's food, so I want to see if I can find some worthwhile and delicious food.

I've already read about açorda, a garlicky bread stew which sounds yummy but looks less so, and migas, fried breadcrumbs mixed with pork, which, apparently, is "life-affirming".

Secondly, until now, the only Portuguese I knew is Bem Bom, from their 1982 Eurovision Song. So I checked out other song titles, and given they are the only Portuguese I now know, I'm going to use them as best I can.

Bem Bom - very good, Baunilha e chocolate - Vanilla & Chocolate, Sol de Inverno - Winter Sun seem easy enough to manage, but I'm not sure how I'll fit these into conversation:

Uma flor de verde pino - A green, pine flower
Menina do alto da serra - High ridge girl
O meu coração não tem cor - My heart has no colour

Let's see!