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Malta

Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea consisting of 3 islands (Gozo, Comino and Malta). It lies 80 km south of Sicily, 284 km east of Tunisia, and 333 km north of Libya.

Malta has been inhabited since around 5900 BC and its prime location in the centre of the Mediterranean and deep harbour has made it a vital area of strategic importance, particularly as a naval base. As such, every man and his dog has had a crack at owning and ruling the islands. The list includes the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. In 1964 it finally got independence from the UK and became a republic in 1974.

Ok lets get this in perspective right up front, the place is tiny. It has an area of around 320 square kilometers and a population of a bit over half a million. The main island is 27 km long and 14.5 km wide. For perspective the entire nation is a quarter the size of Hobart with double the population.

Getting Around

Getting around Malta is pretty easy, cheap and efficient. The taxis are metered and there are fixed-price options available if you are coming from the airport. Uber and Bolt are competing fiercely to get control over the ride share options and the bus system is extensive, regular, cheap and and efficient.

Our option was the HOHO. The Hop On Hop Off bus. We have used these in some locations and they have been magnificent and have inquired in other places and they have been highway robbery. Here in Malta they are magnificent.

The Malta HOHO has a northern and a southern route and there is so much to see that a full day on each is more than warranted. There is also a package that you can do that on day 3 you can include a harbour cruise. We didn’t take the package but did end up doing a harbour cruise because the forts are really best seen from the water.

Yes, you could do it cheaper by local bus, but 20 euros for a full lap of the island, stopping at all the main sights, with an audio guide in about 12 languages is pretty tough to beat. By comparison, the one in Paris is more than double this price and travels a shorter distance and the one in Sydney starts at $50 for a single day.

Day One

After getting in, settling in and finding a (magnificent) feed (our flight had been delayed several hours) after we had missed breakfast and lunch, our first day was pretty much over.

But we did manage to have a lovely walk along the waterfront of Sliema (the Jutty Outy bit above Valetta).

Which has some pretty amazing views over the old city.

So we ate, did our research and crashed for the day ahead.

Almost right outside our hotel we came across the Sea Water Distilling Plant. As Malta is an island, access to potable water has always been a problem. This plant was constructed in Sliema in 1881 to provide drinking water for Tigné Barracks.

Today, the building houses a printing press.

Day two saw us getting up early and hopping on the HOHO for the northern route. It took us past the harbour and marina, delivering views of Manaoel Island (one of the many fortifications) on the way until we got to the gates of Valetta. This was the identical route that we would take the next day but tomorrow we got off in Valletta.

Instead we stayed on and made our way through some very funky suburbs and on to the San Anton Palace and Gardens. From 1802 until 1964, San Anton Palace was the official residence of the British Governor and is now the residence of the Maltese President. From here it was on to see the Mosta Dome which is the third largest unsupported dome in the world. It has an outside diameter of 56.2 metres, an inside diameter of 39.6 metres and an internal height of 54.7metres. It became famous during WWII when a bomb pierced the dome, landed and slid across the church floor without exploding! The church was crowded when the bomb hit and all were spared.

The next was the aviation museum and then a few stops were arts and crafts stops (glass factory, craft village etc.) But then the main attraction of the Northern Route, the town of Mdina. The city was founded as Maleth around the 8th century BC by Phoenician settlers. The history of Mdina traces back more than 4000 years. According to tradition it was here that in 60 A.D. that the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands.

The city was the capital of Malta throughout the Middle Ages, until the arrival of the 1530.

Directly outside the gates of Mdina is the town of Rabat, although it was once thought to be within the confines of the city. It is home to some impressive catacombs and archaeological remains not to mention some pretty incredible religious bling.

From here there are a few beach and ruin stops and we hopped off for lunch in Bugibba which is a lively seaside town with bars, restaurants, and hotels. Nothing particularly historic here but a lovely little spot. The next stop was the National Aquarium then another beachside town and it follows up with a scenic drive through a series of very pretty seaside bays on the way back.

Day three saw us hopping on the HOHO for the southern route. The first stop was of course, the nation’s capital (Valetta), which is less than a square kilometre in size. It occupies the peninsula between Marsamxett Harbour (west) and the Grand Harbour (east) in a suburb known as Floriana. .

It is essentially just an old town CBD, perched on an isthmus. But there is so much in there. UNESCO has described Valetta as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world

When you hop off the bus you find yourself at the Independence monument opposite the Saint Publius Parish Church.  The first stone was laid down in 1733 and construction was complete in 1768, when the relic of Saint Publius was brought to the church.

from here a very scenic walk begins towards and through the area that is Valetta. The first thing to signal your arrival is the Triton Fountain.

Triton Fountain consists of three bronze Tritons holding up a large basin. It was built out of concrete and was clad in travertine slabs.

The City Gate was originally built by the Knights of Malta but was destroyed in WWII. It was replaced in the ’60s with a lavish version but people didn’t like it. So there is now a minimalistic bridge.

On either side of the gate is a pole symbolising swords, saluting everyone entering the city.

Through the gate on the right you will see the Parliament House of Malta. It was built between 2011 and 2015 on the site of the old railway station .

A bit further down and you run into the Opera House. The theatre received a direct hit from aerial bombing in 1942 during WWII.

Down one more block and you are at the National Museum of Archaeology.

One more block and you hit the Saint-John’s Cathedral Museum.

And now you find yourself in St Georges Square which is the central square that is surrounded by a whole heap of stuff. All of this up until this point and all you have had to do was walk in a straight line for 700 meters.

Not least of those to be found in the square is the Grandmaster’s Palace which was Parliament House until the opening of the new one.

St Pauls Cathedral (Anglican) is the huge spire next to the dome that dominate the skyline of Valetta. Built in the 18th century it occupies prime location in Independence Square.

The dome is the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Roman Catholic). It was originally built in the 16th century but was destroyed in WWII.

Keep walking in a straight line and you hit the end of the isthmus and find yourself at St Elmo Fort. This area also includes a war memorial. A bit further along (coming back to the right) you find another war memorial with the Siege Bell. Then you end up hitting the Upper and Lower Barakka Gardens, these are in essence both more war memorials with plaques and statues celebrating those who paid great service to Malta over the centuries.

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are located on the top of the Valletta bastions, they offer stunning views of the Three Cities. They were built in the 16th century by the Knights of St John as a private gardens for the Grand Master and the Knights of St John.

Across the Grand Harbour from Valetta sits the Three Cities. Each of the cities have two names that are used interchangeably, the original Maltese name and the newer name given to them by the Knights of Malta.

Birgu – Vittoriosa

 Isla – Senglea

Bormla – Conspicua

The first two occupy peninsulas jutting into the Grand Harbour while the third sits behind them (but also has a port area). There is another peninsula that doesn’t seem to make the grade in the cities debate (Kalkara) but it has two major defensive forts in place (Fort Ricasoli and Fort Rinella). In total there have been nine separate forts established just to defend the Grand Harbour.

Birgu (Vittoriosa) is the oldest and was built up by the Knights of Malta as their headquarters when they arrived on Malta in 1530. Senglea (Isla) gives more of a local experience with few formal sights, while Bormla (Conspicua) is set back behind these peninsulas. Also jutting into the harbour is the peninsula of Kalkara, which can be seen from across the marina.

Back on the bus and there was a stop at the Marsaxlokk fishing village which would have been an awesome stop for lunch but we had spent too long exploring Valetta and were pushed for time now.

Next (major) stop was to the Blue Grotto which are a series of sea caverns on the south east coast of Malta. Set against a cliffy terrain near a local fishing harbour the blue grotto and neighboring caves offers spectacular views of rugged coastlines, sea caves opposite a small uninhabited islet (Filfla) which is a bird sanctuary.

Malta has often been called the ‘Fortress Island’ due to the great mass of military architecture that can be seen everywhere. This is a legacy of the islands’ history which saw them being fought over, time and again, due to their strategic location and deep, safe harbours.

So the best way to see these forts built to defend from attacks from the sea, is by boat. Which is exactly what we did. The fortifications that can be seen today come from two distinct periods: those of the Knights and those of the British era. Hopping on at Sliema (our home for the week) we took a 2 hour ride around the harbour takin in most of the 9 forts that were built to defend the harbours.

First on the list was Fort Manoel which sits on its own island between Valetta and Sliema and commands Marsamxett Harbour. The fort is built in the shape of a square, with a pentagonal bastion on each corner, giving it the shape of a star fort. It was built in the 18th century by the Order of Saint John and was named after their Grandmaster of that time. It sits between

The next in line is Valetta itself with Fort St Elmo guarding the approaches to both Grand and Marsamxett Harbours. We had seen it from the ground the previous day and now we got to see just how imposing it would have been to try and attack this place from the water. It was the scene of a heroic defence during the Great Siege of 1565.

Fort Ricasoli is over 300 years old, being built by the Knights Hospitaller between 1670 and 1698. It is the largest fort in Europe . It was built to protect the Grand Harbour.

But today most of the fort is leased to the Malta Film Commission. As such it has been used extensively as a location for various films and serials.

In recent years, it has been used for the films Gladiator (2000) and Troy (2004) standing in for Rome and Troy respectively. The fort was also used in the filming of Assassin’s Creed (2016). In addition the TV miniseries Julius Caesar (2002) and Helen of Troy (2003) were partially filmed at the fort and in the first season Game of Thrones it was used as the Red Keep.

Fort St. Angelo is located at the centre of the Grand Harbour. It was originally built in the medieval period as a castle called the Castrum Maris.

It was rebuilt by the Order of Saint John as a fort and named Fort Saint Angelo between the 1530s and the 1560s.

Many believe it to be the jewel in the crown of The Maltese Islands’ military heritage.

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground complex of halls and burial chambers dating to around 4000 B.C. It was in use between 4000 BC and 1500 BC and covers an area of around 500 square metres. This one we didn’t get to as time just evaporated on us here in Malta with so much to see and do. Next time I guess.

Maltese food

I am sure that there is a bunch of traditional Maltese dishes that are floating around out there just waiting to be absorbed, but suffice to say that you are on an island close to Italy, Greece, Turkey and northern Africa. There is so much good food to be had here that you literally can not go wrong. We had plates and platters and pizza’s, soups and rolls. We had rabbit, pork, seafood and we had sweets and savouries.

And it was all fantastic, and reasonably priced.

When we were coming here we had little knowledge of what to expect and therefore our expectations were low. But this place has absolutely blown us away. An abundance of things to see and do, coupled with our ignorance of what we would find meant that we have seriously undercooked how much time we needed. We were here for 5 days, thinking that we could just kick back and relax (given that it was so small) but found ourselves at a full sprint almost the whole time and still missed out on seeing things.

I guess that is the beauty of travel, we will just have to come again and spend more time next time around.

Tunisia

Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa with a population of a little over 12 million. It is bordered by Algeria (west), Libya (southeast) and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It also shares maritime borders with Italy and Malta.

Like most of the nations around the Mediterranean it has a long and potted history about who controlled the area that is now Tunisia. And this recorded history starts with the Berbers before the 12th century BC. In 146 BC the Romans defeated the city of Carthage and had control of the place for the next 800 odd years. In the 7th century AD, Arab Muslims had their turn and conquered Tunisia, moving in in huge numbers over the next few hundred years. In 1546, the Ottoman Empire took control for the next 300 years, until 1881, when the French conquered Tunisia. In 1956, Tunisia finally gained independence as the Tunisian Republic.

Tunisia has odd currency laws and will confiscate cash if you get them wrong.

Most countries allow you in and out of the country with the equivalent of USD $10,000 and more so long as you declare it.

But not here.

  • Here you are allowed to bring in 10,000 dinar (about $3300 USD) and
  • must declare amounts over 5000 dinar.
  • It is a criminal offence to export Tunisian dinar
  • so make sure you change everything back before you leave
  • any unchanged dinar will be confiscated
  • Anything over the 5000 dinar (equivalent) will be confiscated
  • about USD $1500 or 1300 euros

We found this out the hard way when I got my bag deconstructed by the agent (on the way out of the country) looking for cash. In essence, if I had any Dinar left over or more than about USD 1500 or 1300 euros in cash on me, they were within their rights to confiscate it from me. There are grounds to get it back if you get a receipt and return to the country within 3 months. However, nobody who had tried this (based on online commentary) could locate where the money could be collected from due to Bureaucratic runaround.

Tunis

Tunis is the largest and capital city of Tunisia with about 2.7 million residents in the greater Tunis area.

And is a great place to kick back and chill.

The biggest surprise for me was the cab drivers. As any regular traveller knows, cab drivers in almost every nation are as sketchy as hell and are always trying to rip you off. Yes, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, we have stopped using taxis (even in Australia) in favour of ride-share apps.

But that was not the case here. The cabs all used meters, without being asked, were reasonably priced and did not try and tout and prey upon unsuspecting tourists. A refreshing and pleasant change.

The Tunis Medina is (apparently) the best preserved in all of North Africa. It is the historical and cultural heart of the city, with buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is home to the souks, the markets, workshops and ateliers. Allegedly there is a pecking order to such things and therefore they are arranged hierarchically around the Great Mosque.

The souk is nowhere near the bedlam that was Marrakesh, but there is still plenty going on. And the available artisan work is of the highest quality. It is cleaner, quieter, has less touts and is generally much more manageable for the shy tourists.

The Jamaa ez-Zitouna mosque, or ‘olive mosque’, is the oldest in the city. It was founded at the end of the 7th century or in the early 8th century, but its current architectural form dates from a reconstruction in the 9th century. The mosque is said to be one of the most important in all of Islam and covers 5,000 square metres, with nine entrances. The building includes many antique columns reused after the destruction of Carthage. Due to the nearness of the souk in the Medina, you only really get to see some columns and arches.

Being non-Muslims, we typically just admire the outside of mosques and rarely enter. In many cases, we are not allowed in anyway, but even when we are we tend not to. Some of the rooftops around the Medina offer amazing panorama views over the Medina, and some even stay open for after dark shots.

The Sea Gate (also known as the Bab el Bhar and the Porte de France) is the entrance to the Medina from the new part of town.

New Tunis

East of the Medina, is the modern part of the city called “Ville Nouvelle”. This area is often referred to by media and travel guides as “the Tunisian Champs-Élysées. It is a grand avenue lined with colonial-era buildings.

While Tunisia has had its share of security issues over the decades, at no point did we feel unsafe or uneasy. There was an off-putting security presence in the new town area that seemed extremely over the top for what was going on. Armoured vehicles, heavily armed military and blockades were everywhere and there was nothing going on.

A more timid day I had never seen, clear blue skies and almost nobody on the streets, but the grand avenue had a visibly present and unnecessarily confrontational security presence.

Doors

For some strange reason I found myself taking photos of the doors (especially in the Media) of Tunis. They were truly stunning. Some huge and ornate, while others simple but there was something about the doors in this place that just grabbed me.

Carthage was a city I had heard mentioned in documentaries and the like, but never really knew where it was or much about is. As it turns out it is here on hte outskirts of Tunis and was one of the most important trading hubs of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the richest cities of the classical world.

It has a history dating back to the 12th century BC. and between 650 BC to 146 BC, it was the most powerful trading and commercial city in the Mediterranean.

It had a sophisticated 200-dock circular harbor and the funds earned prompted investment in a sprawling metropolis of temples, markets, and estates.

And all of this is just a 20-minute drive outside modern day Tunis. It was quite the sight until 146 BC when the Romans came an lay siege to the place for 3 years.

Today there are 7 main sites that are left to see in Carthage and one ticket ($6 each) will get you into all the sites. The place is about 15-20 km out of town (a $7-8 cab ride) and our (flash) hotel was charging exorbitant rates for their tour (over $150 a head). So we hopped a cab and headed to the ruins.

But be warned the 7 places are a fair distance between each other. We made the mistake of thinking it was like the Roman Forum and was within an easy strolling distance. We got dropped off at the archaeological site and found ourselves stranded.

So we hiked about 1.5km to the Cathedral remains (Saint Cyprien) that were both shut and quite unimpressive. And then another 1.7km walk up to the roman houses and villas. The lady at the gate at the villas entry was busy talking on her phone. So Jill stood in front of her and waited, and waited and put her money on the counter and waited. After quite literally 12 minutes of this, she picked up her money, turned around and walked away. With some choice words.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as she took her money and turned away the girl got off the phone and was ready to serve Jill. Some more choice words and we continued to walk away from her, with some more choice words. About 500m further on we found ourselves at the Roman Amphitheatre where we paid our entry and entered with no issues whatsoever. And across the road was some more ruins.

Another 1.5km walk and we found ourselves atop Byrsa hill at the Saint Louis Cathedral and the acropolis of Byrsa. This is the site of the Carthage Museum and an impressive number of pieces of Roman Columns and the odd statue.

About 2km down the hill was the last of the sights (given that we boycotted the Roman Villas due to the attitude of the girl on the counter) the aqueducts. Built in the 2nd century BC by the emperor Hadrian, they brought water more than 100kms from Zaghouan to Carthage.

Ramadan

For some reason, Jill has taken to booking us into Muslim countries during Ramadan. Last year it was the Maldives and this year it was Morocco and Tunisia and later in Istanbul. This is a forced alcohol detox as the nations typically do not serve alcohol anyway and during the holy month there is no chance.

The other thing it means is that almost every restaurant is closed and by the time the sun goes down, you tend to be a bit peckish. Thankfully we found a little joint that served brilliant local dishes for a song. Our (flash) hotel was offering a set (abridged) menu for 100 dinar ($50) a head, so we hit the streets hunting for better. And did we find it.

A little hole-in-the-wall joint, with a huge upstairs terrace, great food and entertainment for 45 dinars ($22.50) a head. Dinner was salad (more dips really) and bread, traditional soup, and the main (that came cooked and served in a weird shaped pot) was a hearty stew type thing. We went looking the next night for something different but ended up at the same joint and had a seafood main and some form of crispy egg crepe in place of the soup.

We had planned a trip to Dougga, which is lauded as “the best-preserved Roman small town in North Africa”.  But I guess this will sit high on the list of things to do next time we come.

The Amphitheatre of El Jem is an amphitheatre in original town of Thysdrus although now known as El Djem. It was built for the usual roman spectator sports (gladiators etc) around 238 AD and is one of the best preserved stone in the world. It was one of the biggest amphitheatres in the world with an estimated capacity of around 35,000.

And sadly, this is one of the many things that we did not get to. So this (along with a bunch of other reasons) rates as a pretty good reason to come back.

Tunisia was great and there was so much more for us to see and do. It was a great pity that the currency issue as you leave puts a bad taste in your mouth. Other than this we really enjoyed our time here and will be back.

Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe and includes the island groups of the Azores and Madeira (both autonomous regions in the north Atlantic Ocean.

It has existed as a country since the 12th century (originally as a monarchy) but has evidence of civilisation dating back beyond 10,000BC. The nation was integral in the discovery and exploration of Africa and South America.

The Portuguese empire differed from the Spanish empire because the Spanish conquered large areas of land while the Portuguese preferred to control only major trading ports. Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailed the coast of Africa, establishing trading posts for commodities, ranging from gold to slavery.

The Portuguese empire created colonies in Africa including Angola, Mozambique, Guinea. Added to this was the islands of the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of Mauritania-Senegal), and Sao Tome and Principe (islands in the Gulf of Guinea). Then there were the major ports of Cochin, Goa (in India), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Macao (China) and Nagasaki (Japan) in East Asia and of course Brazil.

Lisbon

OK, so we have been to Europe about 6+ times now and this was our first foray into Portugal. How stupid are we? This place is fantastic. We got off the plane and grabbed (a really cheap) Uber to our hotel. The driver was the nicest and most helpful person we had ever met, to the point where we both commented on it. Until the next day when we got our next Uber to the Monastery when the same thing happened, and then again on the way back.

These people are just super friendly and want to ensure that everyone who visits enjoys their time. Add to this that the pricing is more than reasonable for everything and the sights have a nice mix of natural beauty and old world charm how can you go wrong here.

We were not really blessed with the weather here, it rained for two and a half of our three days here. We got the odd glimpses of sunshine (particularly on day one) and in between there were some some pretty soggy days. Our day two was on and off sunny with the skies changing every 10 minutes or so until it finally settled in.

Our hotel was perched high on the hilltop in oldtown, which sadly had been built on the side of a damn mountain. As beautiful as the views were, it meant that everywhere we went was either up, or down, a ridiculously steep hill.

Finding your way around the old town could not be simpler, just follow the tram tracks. Be sure not to be run over by cars, trams, tuk tuks, bicycles, vans etc, that are all competing for the narrow road, but just follow along and you will pass pretty much everything that there is to see.

The tram goes past almost all of the tourist spots in the old town and centres around the main square, Praca do Comercio. This will include the churches, palace, castle, bars, cafes and restaurants. As long as you can see the tracks, you will see the bits.

Jammed in the middle of the tracks you will find Sé de Lisbon. This cathedral started being built in 1147 and ended in the first decades of the 13th century.

The tram tracks quite literally split and run either side of the triangular street entrance.

Castelo de S. Jorge Stands on Lisbon’s highest hill and offers panoramic views of the city. The fort dates back to Moorish times (11th century), and has served as military barracks and royal chambers. Currently, it functions as a national monument, museum and archaeological site, with fantastic views and great gardens. And if this is off season, I hate to see the lines in peak times.

Lisbon’s central park is named Edward VII Park taking up 26 hectares in the middle of town. It was named as a tribute to the British Monarch.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jerónimos or Hieronymites Monastery) was originally donated to the Order of the Friars of St. Jerome. Construction began in near the launch point of Vasco da Gama’s first journey. Its construction lasted for a hundred years and was funded by a tax on the profits of the yearly Portuguese India Armadas. The day of our visit the weather kept coming and going, alternating between blue skies and torrential downpours.

To say this place is impressive is a massive understatement. Everywhere you look is a different aspect of the place and the intricately carved windows and openings act to frame the next amazing sight.

Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis de nata)

Lets not be silly we have all eaten these. Whether it is the cheap boxed up ones in Costco, or the ones after a Chinese Yum Cha (bearing in mind that Shanghai was one of the Portuguese territories), or just from some dodgy bakery that does them. And they are always good, even the shitty ones are great, with their signature flaky crust and sweet custard filling they are world-famous, and incredibly delicious.

But now we are at their point of origin, and sadly, all others pale by comparison to the original version. It was created by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery and has certified origin. The original recipe is called Pastel de Belém and we found our way to Pasteis de Belem which is right next to the monastery and is recognised as their true home. And in case you were wondering, they were good.

Literally across the road from the Monastery is a park and the Discoveries Monument which serves as a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery on both land and sea.

The monument was reconstructed in 1960 to mark 500 years since the death of the Infante Dom Henrique (Henry the Navigator).

A few hundred meters down the bank of the Tagus River you find yourself at Torre de Belém. This is a 16th-century tower that is a mix between a medieval keep tower and a modern bastion. It was built to guard the river entrance into Lisbon’s harbour.

That evening we found our way down to Praca do Comercio which is one of the biggest squares in Europe, this stylish area in downtown Lisbon often displays beautiful works of art and sculpture and is a great place for a leisurely stroll.

The Aqueduto das Águas was built in the 18th century to supply water to the town. Its construction was funded by special levies on meat, olive oil and wine. It stretches 14 kilometres and can now be visited as a tourist attraction.

The blurb for the Museu Nacional do Azulejo said that it was a must-see for people interested in the history and design of ceramic tiles. Now lets be serious here, that is not a title that I have particularly aspired to. But being in Lisbon, you do get a fair old appreciation of the ceramic tile as almost every building is finished (on the outside) with them. Looking at the photos of the museum, if it is your thing, then this specialty museum does house an impressive collection of decorative tiles dating from the 15th century to now.

The Coaches Museum is one of Lisbon’s most visited attractions, and is a collection of fairytale type carriages that have been used by the royalty and nobility of Europe over the centuries. While most European royal carriages were destroyed over time (especially in Paris after the French Revolution), in Portugal they were preserved. Most of them date to the 17th to 19th centuries, but the oldest example dates back to the late 1500s.

Brazilian BBQ – Portuguese Style

On our third Uber ride, our driver asked us if we liked seafood, which of course we do. He then went on to tell us that in Portugal, they do a similar thing to the Brazilian BBQ but instead of using meat, they do it with seafood. He told us the best place in town and the price came out to about 450 Aussie per head. Well if that is not a done deal then I don’t know what is.

So we headed down to the main square, took our happy snaps of the square and then headed to a little wine bar (as we were early for our reservation. A funky little place called shoes and booze. We had a drink and watched the waitress just dancing around having a great time enjoying her work. When we ordered the second round she asked Jill if she just wanted the bottle as it was 4.50 for a glass or 12 Euros for the whole bottle. The chat continued and we got invited to a private party back at the bar (with live music) the next evening.

Anyway back to the seafood, we made it to the restaurant and ordered the all-you-can-eat thing and it arrived with some interesting fare. The prawns, mussels, crabs and clams were all good and even the crab head mousse was good, but it was the whelks and barnacles that threw us a little. We had to seek guidance on just what part and how to eat the barnacles.

The construction of the Christ the King monument was approved on 20 April 1940, as a plea to God to release Portugal from entering WWII.

The monument consists of a 82 meter pedestal with a 28 meter image of Christ.

Perched on the opposite side of the river the figure of Christ has its arms extended out facing the city of Lisbon, as if to embrace the city.

Long story short, apart from the weather, Lisbon was fantastic and we will need to come back as there is so much more to explore and do. It became very clear that the time that we had allotted was insufficient for the amount to see and do. This was further hampered by the rain that kept us hiding more than exploring.

The prices are more than reasonable and the friendliness of the people was just amazing. And I think that both Jill and I can fit another egg tart or two in, and for the record, even the shitty ones remain good. And there is so much more that missed out on seeing.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is the capital and main city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast. “Buenos Aires” is Spanish for “fair winds” or “good airs”.

According to the blurb it was the Spanish coloniser Pedro de Mendoza (in 1580) that established the first settlement there, which he named Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire (“Our Lady St. Mary of the Good Air”). Buenos Aires locals are referred to as porteños (“people of the port”) because so many of the city’s inhabitants historically arrived by boat from Europe.

Our arrival into Buenos Aires was similar to those, and we came in through the port. We were just one of several ships in that day, and to say that the port was bedlam, would be an understatement. We had teamed up with our dinner buddies (Kurtis and Mark) who had a thing for gardening, so we got out of the port and Ubered our way to the botanical gardens (for about $4).

I am much more a statue guy than a garden guy, and the photos clearly reflect that. That said, the gardens were nice, with the exception of the mosquitos that absolutely loved by high quality Aussie blood. There were trees aplenty and even a butterfly garden buried among all of the foliage.

To say that Buenos Aires is a dog friendly city would be an understatement. The sheer number of dogs in public parks and on leashes wandering the city was astounding. And these pooches are seriously pampered.

Sadly the wealth and influence of the city far overshadows the rest of the country. But as with all cities Buenos Aires also reflects Argentina’s economic and social problems. Homelessness and drug use were evident, although at no point did we feel unsafe or uneasy.

After the gardens we found a few little holes in the wall that fed and watered us for a ridiculously cheap price. Jill and I had 3 empanadas each washed down by a pint of the local brew (and a sampling of some others – including an on tap gin and tonic) for the princely sum of $8.40. After that we found a local deli and then a bakery, damn I think I might be falling in love with Argentina.

One of the major attractions of the city is the Recoleta Cemetery. In 1822, the former garden was turned into the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires. Known as the “city of the dead” or “city of angels”, Recoleta cemetery has a layout similar to a city with one main street, diagonals, narrow corridors and internal passageways.

 It is set in an area of 5.5 ha (14 acres) and you will find around 4800 vaults and mausoleums. The cemetery is more of an open air museum than anything else. As soon as you walk through the doorway you are met with amazing architecture, works of art and sculptures.