Day 4 – Porto, Portugal

Thursday, June 29, 2017

None of us slept very well and the 2 am alarm was not a welcome sound. We left the El Minzah hotel shortly before 3 am, driving through the deserted streets to the airport. After clearing security and customs, we boarded our plane and left for Lisbon at 4:40 am. We arrived in Lisbon at 7 am and cleared customs and security again and after a short, one hour flight we arrived in Porto at 10 am.

We unanimously decided to take the metro rail from the airport to the Hotel da Bolsa, which was 10 miles away, in the heart of Porto. Taking the metro rail was a bit of a learning experience, however it was quite intuitive and with a little help from an attendant and the internet, we were quickly on our way.

We arrived at the the train stop in the center of Porto shortly after 11 am. When we exited the rail station we had a wonderful view of the city of Porto with all of its cafes and restaurants.

It was a short 5 minute walk to our hotel and when we got there, our rooms weren’t ready, so we left our bags at the hotel and walked back up the street to find a lunch cafe. The cafes are all very nice and we picked one that had a nice view and sat down for lunch.

After lunch we went to the Porto Cathedral to get our Camino passports.

At this point we had no other plans, so we wandered through the narrow streets and alleyways down to the river.

During our wandering through the city, we found a marker for one of the inland Camino Trails.

In Europe, as in Morocco, most restaurants don’t open up until 8 pm for the evening meal. It was well after 9 pm when we started looking for a place to eat and we found a unique little restaurant called ‘Churrasqueira Do Infante ‘. We were the last ones to come in and the owners were ready to close up for the night but they served us without comment or hesitation. It looked like a family operated business and after they served us, the five people that were working there, had there evening meal at one of the tables near the kitchen. The food was very good and inexpensive. Kathy had a grilled chicken dinner and Pete and I both had sea bass ( two per plate ). There was plenty of food and including a bottle of wine, the meal only cost 46 Euros which was less expensive than most of our lunches.

I had told Pete and Kathy before we left for this trip, that they should always be ready to make a change in our plans and as of today, they have changed slightly and we will be staying in Porto a little longer than originally anticipated. We’ve enjoyed Porto and how long we stay will depend on several factors.

Day 3 – Tangier, Morocco

Wednesday June 28, 2017

We enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast at the hotel before going on a tour of the city with Achmed’s father, Daher. We were told that Daher is an old Arabic name that means ‘clean ‘ or ‘ pure ‘ and it is not used anymore by people for naming their children.

Tangier is a multicultural city with many different nationalities represented in certain sections. Americans, English, French, Italian, German and Portuguese are some of the nationalities that are represented. French is one of the more common languages in the area and I was thankful and surprised at how much of my high school French I still remembered. Daher explained the cultural aspects of the town and the marketplace to us.

The marketplace of the medina* is an interesting place.

* According to ‘ The Lonely Planet’,
” The medina, the top attraction of Tangier, is a labyrinth of alleyways both commercial and residential. It’s contained by the walls of a 15th-century Portuguese fortress, although most buildings are actually relatively young for a Moroccan medina. Clean and well lit as medinas go, the place is full of travellers’ treasures, from glimpses of traditional living, to the more material rewards of the souqs.”

During our tour we were shown a fabric shop with a fellow making fabric on a very old-fashioned loom. We were also shown an extremely large store selling different types of rugs and antiques. At the rooftop of this store, there was a beautiful view of the city and the bay.

After our tour we returned to the hotel before going to the popular ‘Grand Cafe de Paris’, which was around the corner from our hotel. Their coffee, snacks and avocado juice were all excellent, the service was very good and their prices were relatively inexpensive.

We had an early flight back to Portugal which was scheduled to leave at 4:40 am, the next morning and we had to leave the hotel at 3 am, so It ended up being a short day for us.

Day 2 – Tangier, Morocco

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

We had experienced another time change following our flight from Lisbon to Tangier and we gained back one of the 5 hours we had lost during our flight to Portugal so that we are now 4 hours earlier than Niagara. I slept soundly due to the lack of sleep from the previous two days, however, I was still a little tired when I got up to join Pete & Kathy for breakfast at 8 am.

We had a wonderful view of the bay and the Straits of Gibraltar from the dining area.

After breakfast we contacted our driver, Achmed, to take us for a tour of Tangier and the surrounding area. We stopped at a location near the waterfront with a wonderful view of the Strait of Gibraltar and I took a picture of Achmed, our guide, with Pete and Kathy. We could barely see the outline of Portugal and Spain as well as Gibraltar through the haze ( on the right side of the picture ), however the camera didn’t pick up the detail.

We then drove into town and the Tangier Kasbah. A Kasbah is a fortress with high walls usually without windows. The alleyways between the buildings are quite narrow, as can be seen in the following picture:

We also saw a riad, which is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.

The buildings were interesting and Achmed imparted a lot of historical information regarding the area.

When we left the Kasbah, we drove along the coast past the palaces of the Moroccan king and the Saudi king before arriving at the Caves of Hercules. It is believed that the Phonecians created the sea opening of the Caves of Hercules in the shape of the map of Africa when looked at from the sea.

The cave itself is part natural and part man-made. The man made part was used by Berber people to cut stone wheels from the walls, to make millstones, thus expanding the cave considerably.

When we left the cave area at 2:30 pm, Achmed took us to a very nice place called the ‘ Ocean Restaurant ‘, where we had a very nice fish dinner.

After our meal, we headed back to the hotel and at 8:30 pm we went for a walk around the area. In the evenings the streets are full of people and the street markets are very busy.

Day 1 – Travel to Tangier, Morocco

Sunday/Monday – June 25/26, 2017

It was dry and warm when we left Niagara for the Toronto airport at 6 pm on Sunday evening. Surprisingly, the traffic was relatively good and we reached the ‘ Skypark ‘ lot earlier than expected and we were at the airport with lots of time to check in, go through the security check and have supper before our 11:55 pm flight to Lisbon.

With the assistance of a 180 km tailwind we arrived in Lisbon almost an hour early and we circled twice before landing at 11:22 am ( 6:22 am EST ) Monday morning.

There was a very long line at the Portuguese customs and it took us 30 minutes before we got to the customs agent but it only took a few minutes after that to clear customs. We tried to get our boarding passes for the next leg of our flight but there was a problem with my ticket, so we had to exit the customs area and go to the TAP airline service desk. There were only about 15 people ahead of us but it took more than an hour to talk to one of the four agents. However, it only took a few minutes to get everything corrected and print out our boarding passes.

Even with the delays, we still had plenty of time for our 10:20 pm flight to Tangier, so we decided to get a SIM card for my phone, clear security, have supper at one of the many restaurants in the gate area and then relax a bit before our flight. We found a vodaphone kiosk and I had them install a local SIM card in my phone for 10 Euros, which gives access to 7 GB of data and 500 minutes of local talk time in Portugal and Spain. Clearing security was very easy and we opted for a simple supper of burgers and fries.

I took a picture of Pete and Kathy in the airport. You can figure out who’s who.

It was still a long wait until our flight departed and there was a half hour delay before we finally left. We arrived in Tangier shortly before 11 pm and our driver was waiting for us as we exited the airport. It was a 15 minute ride to the El Minzah hotel and by the time we checked in, it was almost midnight in Tangier ( 8 pm EST ), 26 hours from the time we had left Niagara. Even though we were tired, it took us a while to fall asleep.

The El Minzah was built in the 1930’s and it is a 5-star hotel in Northern Africa that is a favorite of many influential people. This is a view from Pete & Kathy’s room at midnight.

Preparation for Tangiers, Portugal & Spain

Several years ago, my friend Kathy Roethler and her husband Peter, introduced me to ” The Camino Trail ” ( also known by many other names including ” The Way of St. James – see the link at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago for more details ). Many people hike the trails every year and there was even a movie made about one of the trails in 2010 by Emilio Estevez, called ” The Way “.

Kathy has wanted to hike one of the trails for several years and we have finally put together a plan to accomplish this.

There are many trails that lead to Santiago to Compostela and myself, Kathy and her husband Pete, have chosen to hike the same section of the trail that our friends Erv, Esther & Sigrid hiked from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. The 143 mile ( 230 km ) trail we have chosen, will meander northward along the Atlantic coast before heading inland when we reach the Spanish border. However, we will be making a side trip to Tangiers, Morocco for a few days before we start our 2 week hike.

Our flights leave on June 25th at 23:55 from Toronto Airport to Lisbon.

After a short stopover, we will continue to Tangiers, Morocco where we will arrive shortly before midnight on Monday evening.

We will be staying in Tangiers for 3 nights and we plan to take a few excursions around Morocco, before flying to Porto, Portugal after a brief stopover in Lisbon.

We will be spending the night in Porto before starting our 2 week hike to Santiago.

We hope to reach Santiago in 14 day and spend 1 or 2 nights there before taking the train back to Lisbon.

Our return flight to Canada will be leaving Lisbon on July 17th and we should arrive back home shortly before midnight.