This year our olive harvest was finished after 3 weeks with the help of 4 workers and ourselves. After the workers moved on to another finca, we cleaned up after them. Because even we always leave a few olives hanging as they tend to hide behind leaves. In three days we managed to get another 50 kgs, 25-30 euro from this exercise.
We also had a German guest staying who wanted to check out the area, as her friend is in the process of buying a finca for her horses. After she left, we took a well deserved short city break and drove to the north-west of Portugal.
Nigel always wanted to see Porto and I wanted to see Coimbra, which was once the capitol of Portugal. It is the fourth largest town after Lisbon, Porto and Braga.
It was a great choice for a quick escape, as Portugal is so much more relaxed about the virus threat or should I say corona codswallop. Businesses have to make sure you wear a mask but on the street it’s up to everyone to make their own decision, a lot more freedom and common sense.
On the way up we stopped at Peniche, a peninsula and one of Portugal’s most important fishing ports, which exports fish all over the world and is also prime surfing destination.
As we had a long days driving behind us, 660 kms, we didn’t look too far for a bite to eat and ended up in The Murphy’s Irish Pub just across from our room at the Praça da República. Nigel tried a glass of Guiness which was bad, watery. I had vegan sausages, all in all not a revelation but it is a cosy pub, lots of space on two levels, very helpful and nice staff and great decor.
Afterwards we wandered around and Nigel ended up ordering a Kebab and we were accosted by a Spanish student. She was very chatty, very curious and very drunk. Her two companions surely had their hands full looking after her.
Coimbra houses 21,000 students and 1,500 teachers/researchers and is the most cosmopolitan university in Portugal. This is reflected in the night life and vibrant arts scene in the town. We arrived on a Sunday and the following Monday being a holiday the students weren’t back in the town. Also of course the covid-19 measures put a little damper on things, like the street parties being dispersed by midnight. At least that meant we were able to get a car parking space across from our accommodation and the bars and restaurants were not overcrowded.
Our room was part of the NS Hostal & Suites group on Rua Lourenço Almeida de Azevedo, just across from the Sereia Garden, Jardim da Sereia which is a very sumptuous green park with tall, old trees, several fountains, stairs and cobbled paths.
From there we went through the Botanical Garden past the Aqueduto de São Sebastião to the promenade along the Mondego River. What I love about having a city break, and expect, is to have everything in walking distance for a change. You can have a nice view across the river to the old town up the hill, all spread out in layers of houses climbing up to the top, where the palace was and now the university lies.
The University of Coimbra was founded in 1290 by Dom Dinis and is the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world and a world heritage site. In fact King Joao III gave his palace to the university in 1544, and it is still used to this day by students.
We visited the palace; unfortunately not much was left from the original ceremonial rooms because most of it is converted into lecture halls and seminaries. The Capela de São Miguel (St. Michael´s Chapel) [see https://www.centerofportugal.com/poi/st-michaels-chapel-of-the-university-of-coimbra/ ] is worth mentioning, because the organ (1737) has 2,000 pipes and I’d love to hear a blast from it.
The Biblioteca Joanina however was a revelation. It is a baroque building, so lots of gilding, decorations and wonderfully carved wood.
I was not allowed to take photos, which is understandable, considering the age of the books. The building has three floors and shelters about 200,000 books dealing with medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy and theology. Today, the University has seven faculties – Arts, Law, Medicine, Science and Technology, Pharmacy, Economics and Psychology and Educational Sciences.
We also visited the laboratory and building of sciences, where many very old simple instruments and machines for measuring and weighting anything you can think of, gasses, metals, distance of planets in the solar system and others, too many to absorb in one visit.
After our walking tour of Coimbra and a nice Sushi lunch we went on our way to Porto, only 120 kms from Coimbra, on the coast. The weather was grey, drizzly and only 20° Celcius, as opposed to our 30 degrees in Almonte, but it was a nice change from the dusty heat.
The Pleasures of Porto
We arrived in Porto slightly after the check-in time and had gotten detailed instructions how to get into our ‘Vintage’ apartment right at the river at Avenida Gustavo Eiffel. From the apartment we had a wonderful view of the other side of the River Douro to Vila Nova da Gaia and the Luis I Bridge, a double-deck iron construction,the top for the tram and buses, below for cars and pedestrians. An amazing sight.
I really begin to fall in love with north Portugal. It does not have the stony harshness and touristy feel of the Algarve, but maybe I haven’t seen enough of that part yet. I am attracted to the fresher feel, the greener vegetation and old trees, which are missing in the deep south of Spain and Portugal.
Also the flair of a crumbling, decaying former colonial civilisation is part of Portugal’s attraction, being the poorer neighbour of a much bigger Spain. I have to admit, I also prefer the music in Portugal, which is more influenced by English tunes on the radio, they seem to be stuck in the 80’, and the more french sounding traditional songs. Also because of the financial constraints American tv shows in english are not dubbed and so the Portugese speak and understand english well, which makes it much easier for us there,as we are still struggling to get a handle on the southern Andalusian dialect back home in Almonte.
Did we make the right choice? It could have maybe been easier settling in Portugal, but would we have had the great experiences growing olives and welcoming guests as we have now?
It’s not too late, our next move could be to Portugal…
But let me tell you about the cute wine bar that was only two houses from our apartment, A Bolina. We spend both nights there, eating (nearly) everything on the menu, which was not that much, as it has more wines than dishes, being a wine bar. I discovered a Portugese cake without flour and with pumpkin jam which I will try to bake soon, which is right down my path of gluten-free cooking.
The next day Nigel took a day off driving and we boarded the Yellow Bus for two tours around Porto AND its twin across the Douro, Vila Nova da Gaia.
Its a great way to learn about the history and interesting places without getting sore feet, getting lost or wasting time waiting for buses, additionally it was raining, so we huddled under the covered part on top of the bus.
We had a nice seafood lunch in Matosinhos [https://porto-north-portugal.com/matosinhos-porto-portugal.html] a major fishing and surfing town with lots of beaches and any amount of restaurants to chose from.
We also tried out the funicular, that brings you from the river level up to the old town for €2.50 which is pulled up along the old city wall of Porto.
Across the River Doura is the much bigger town of Vila Nova da Gaia as I mentioned before. And actually Porto is a bit of a imposter, as the wine of the Douro region is actually stored in the cellars of Gaia! All the well-known port wine manufacturers, like Sandeman, Taylor’s and Cálem have their warehouses there to export around the world [https://www.travel-in-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-gaia].
We happen to bring back a bottle of said ‘Portwine’ and boy, is it strong with its 19% vol alcohol. As we learned on our bus tour, to enhance the flavour and preserving the wine, they add a dash of grape spirit called aguardente after 4 days fermentation, this process is called fortification.
[look here for in-depth knowledge of the several different types of port wines https://wetravelportugal.com/port-wine/ ].
The next day we drove east across Portugal to visit a lawn growing enterprise near Placencia in Spain. The drive through the mountainous terrain inland was so different from our level plains around Almonte.
Tobacco in Placencia
The outstanding feature around Caceres and Placencia are the tobacco fields and drying sheds. We had not a clue what these huge brick buildings were used for that were scattered in the fields until our curiosity could not be contained any longer and we drove up close to some buildings. As soon as I looked inside I realised they were tobacco drying sheds as the leaves were hanging up on rafters on several levels. Women were working , tying the bundles, stripping the dried leaves off the stalks and stashing the leaves into boxes bound for Switzerland to be used as chewing tobacco. I had no idea that people still use that stuff.
Apparently the tobacco drying warehouses contain different varieties of tobacco for the mixing of flavour. I have seen dried tobacco before, in Ireland. Even there once tobacco was grown for the domestic market.
Placencia and Caceres, being in the province of Extremadura, are a prime example for an industry that hasn’t changed much through the centuries, watching the women doing their work by hand with the so called ‘dark tobacco’, all year round as they tell us.
A Short History of Tobacco in Spain
It was back in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, in his first trip to America came across people smoking a cone called “Tabaco”. Seville then developed as the port that received all the legal trade with America and from there tobacco first entered into Europe.
The French ambassador in Spain brought the tobacco plant to France, from where the plant and habit of smoking spread across Europe. The first tobacco factory was established in Seville in 1728.
In 1636 the first tobacco monopoly in the world was established. It was called “Real Estanco del Tabaco”. However, the Canary Islands have a special tax regime and were never part of the Monopoly so other companies make cigarettes and cigars in the islands, with many small cigar manufacturers existing, mainly in the Island of La Palma.
The number of tobacco factories in the Spanish Peninsula has been reduced since the 1990s from 13 to 2, one for cigarettes in Logroño and one for cigars in Cantabria.
Tobacco is grown in several regions of Spain with Extremadura producing 95% of the total production, especially in the valleys of the Tiétar, Alagón rivers and Jerte, in the North of Cáceres, providing an income to around 20,000 families in the region.
The traditional Dark Air Cured Tobacco (Tabaco Negro) has been replaced by flue-cured and Burley for its use in American blends. The traditional Spanish Dark Air Cured cigarettes nowadays represent 10% of the market, with American Blend cigarettes being the most popular ones. Virginia, Burley (E and F), Havana and Kentucky are the varieties that are the main crops being Virginias of greater extension with a total of 8.167 hectares.
Spain is the third biggest producer of tobacco in Europe. Through the overproduction in countries in America and Asia the international market is saturated and thus the industries here in Spain claim that they can barely pay the farmer 2.40 euro per kg. A century ago contributed around 16 percent of the country’s GDP Spain’s tobacco industry. Today, that figure has fallen to one percent, the overwhelming majority coming from heavy sales taxes.
Another blow to the tobacco industry is the EU-wide ban on menthol cigarettes commenced in May 2020. And this is the reason our German guests was unable to find her favoured smoke, when she visited in late September. In response the tobacco industry circumvents these new laws by selling menthol oil to drop onto your filter or self-roll tobacco or menthol flavoured filters.
In 2018, tobacco companies sold 31.4 billion flavoured cigarettes in European Union countries, the highest consumers being in Finland, Poland, Hungary and the UK. Now no cigarette with a characterizing flavour can be sold in these 28 countries to prevent young smokers to get adiccted to a perceived ‘healthier’ cigarette.