Porto & The High Douro Valley

Porto – a land of Cork, Port and delicious treats.

After our brief sojourn in Madrid, we step off the plane an hour away in Porto. Portugal has always held a strong allure for me – one of those forgotten front waters of Europe, steeped in medieval history and the romanticism of the age of discovery. The sailors from these cities in yesteryear pretty much discovered half of the world; India, China, Japan, Americas. So yeah theres a little bit of awe and charm to this place.

Porto is the old word mixed with the new. Winding steep cobblestone streets and crumbling building facades that inside are populated with the latest shops and trendy brands. Its raining when we step out of the Sao Bento train station and wander down the main avenue to find our Air BnB. But first up, a price sign catches my eye – Coffee and Nata for 1.20.

Nata (definition:)
a) Most delicious food treat in existence
b) Portugese custard tart in puff pastry.

This will be the first of many. Wow these things are ohhhh sooooo goooood!

Tucked up off a steep side street, 10 meters from the main tram drag, we have a cosy little apartment fit for two. The rain stops in the afternoon and we wander down to the Cais da Ribeira along the river front and marvel at the colossal work of bridges, wine boats and charm of the old city along with our first taste of port.

All of the port in the world comes from here…oPorto. Well kinda makes sense doesn’t it? But where as I used to think this was a gnarly old drink, strong and toxic fit for grandparents and old folk, here its fruity, and spiced with all types of deliciousness. We sit and watch the gulls squark and fly by as the sun sets over the nearby hills and coastline several km’s in the distance. Very happy, Very content with Life.

Porto’s Douro River

The next day or two is spent savaging all the food – the bakeries here are excellent with pork and fish sandwiches for only a few euro and we dine on platters of sausage, cheese, fig paste, and crackers with port – a picnic that would set us back 30-40 dollars back home is only breaking 10 euros here and exceeds the quality by far. Theres view points, churches from the old world, and an endless maze of passageways to explore and champions league football to watch at night as we drink.

After a few days stuffing our faces with everything delicious in sight, its time for some more adventure. Lets go see where this wine comes from – time to head up the Douro Valley. We hire a scooter – a powerful beast for its type and bomb 140km up the valley towards Pinhao. Its a lush long ride after the short road out of Porto and a wrong turn that takes us on to the freeway the wrong way (scooters on freeways are not the most fun!) but soon we are on the right path following up the Rio Douro. We stop just before Entre Os Rios – a confluence of 2 rivers for some lunch – fish, potatoes and tomatoes with an espresso for only 5 euro. Its a simple dish, but like everything here they flavours are delectable. After lunch we soon descend in the the high Douro. The road winds and meanders its way through small farming villages hundreds of meters up from the river below on steep terraced hills. Vineyards and postcard perfect towns fly by in a blur we charge on. Its a long way on a scooter and we want to get there with time to spare in the afternoon.

It really is an incredible drive, and after hitting the high points near Mesao Frio we drop down towards the lower valley for the final stretch to Peso de Regua and then bomb onto Pinhao. Pinhao we are told is the best view point. High up on the top hill above the church you can see for miles back up the valley with nothing but vineyards in the way. Amazing, though we don’t make it. We get to the town, check it out and decide to head back to Regua where there is more going on and have an utterly amazing seafood extravaganza for around 8 Euro each. Hands down one of the best meals we’ve managed to date.

The ride back down the following day is just as surreal. I don’t have much else to say about this but check the pics and do it if your ever in Porto. Also big thanks to the people at Vieguini Bike and Scooter Rental – I forget his name, but the owner / main guy is awesome.

PS. The next day back in Porto found us doing much of the same; wandering, eating and drinking though I want to mention a certain little workshop we stumbled upon on the riverfront. Where most of the water front realestate is taken up with eateries there tucked away was a model boat builder. Through very limited communication and a lot of smiling we toured his workshop, where he himself had been since the 1950’s and had built model boats of incredible detail of all types. Im fascinated by these ships, and perhaps because of the lack of ones with sails and rigging and 3 masts in the real world, its enchanting to see them even in miniature form. This man was the very personification of a local and someone stuck in a different era. While the world moved on around him and the hustle and bustle of the tourist city strip happened right outside his door, nothing had changed inside in a very long time…

Iceland Day 3 – Chasing Rainbows & Glaciers

The day ends with us us making the stunning drive down to the south coast past some of the most fertile land in the country. Farms and horse studs dot the landscape with their white walls and red roofs. Our destination is Seljalandfoss waterfall beyond these fertile low lands where the highlands come down to a long winding range of coastal cliffs formed eons ago when the sea level was 100m odd higher than today. This creates a serenely unique vista of 100m cliffs with cascading waterfalls for the next 200kms. We spent the night at Seljalandfoss where there was 3 spectacular waterfalls down these cliffs, sun light streaking through the multitude of storm clouds and cells out to the west and the sea. There beneath us on the far edge of the campground sat a playground backlit by the stunning vista…lonely yet beautiful and happy. Beckoning to be played upon by the joyful.

We climb a waterfall and walk the cliffs for several hundred yards to explore. The main waterfall you can walk behind and is supposed glow golden in the sunset which is unfortunately hidden beyond the storm cells to the west.

Its another wild night with constant rain and winds, and a sleet rain of hail to disturb the peace. We wake up and manage a hot breakfast of eggs on toast. Standard.

A short drive along find us on our way to a secluded valley with hot springs. No doubt this place has a name, but we don’t know it and it isn’t covered on any map. From the end of a gravel road we hike 20 min into the valley where no less than 26 waterfalls among snowcapped mountains in a 180 degree panorama stand before us with some hot springs at out feet. the only  problem is its a large pool with a small inflow and as a result it is a touch cold. However we enjoy the scenery and the waters before making a swift exit to the sunshine down in the the valley whence we came in…just as a few others arrive.

Skogafoss waterfall is around the next bend – a 60m giant with a heavy flow set just beyond the picturesque town of Skogar – a larger farming village of around 25 people. Its remarkable how almost all the the farms we pass for the next hundred or so km are backed on to their own private waterfalls. We climb a staircase beyond Skogafoss to look down upon is might spray and up into the highlands beyond where the first of the icecaps are visible in the distance.

We snack a lunch and venture on the ring road – wedged

between cliffs on the left with constant cascading waterfalls and the black sands of the ragged coast on the right with the next town Vik, far in the distance.

Around 30km short of Vik, with the town sight  on the horizon we happen across a grand glacier and open a lighthouse at icelands most southern point. Perched high up on a headland that stands out from the flat surrounds and capped with a red toped lighthouse this is a panorama for the ages. 360 degree views assault our senses. On the coast side storm cells of wicked clouds and rain blot the sunshine into splotches, where back and forward the coastline ends in ragged cliffs and mountain panoramas. This is all overseen by snowcapped mountains peaking with the Myrdalsjokull icecap 50km in the distance like a grand overload. We sit, enjoy blissfully at peace in the grand world around us.

Vik is not much …another quaint seaside town with an idyllic church set aside the cliffs and the rolling green hills. We pass quickly as the sun is shining the theres along way to go.

We bomb along the south coast at a 120. the max speed limit on this island is a meager 90 even on the best stretches of road, but its clear open, traffic free and good going. as if i could slow down.

Iceland’s south coast is a wonderful geological formation of the highlands coming down to a long range of cliffs that all positively cascade with waterfalls at around 60- 100m, before they flatten to some final low lands and then a  rugged atlantic coastline.  these cliffs for formed long ago when the sea levels were much higher and as they lowered left us with this pristine wonderful wilderness.

We round the corner of vik at the very southern end of the island and just beyond the 4th largest icecap of Myrdalsjokull and enter a wasteland of lava flows. These lava deserts are created by glacial floods caused by eruptions under the icecap and it is an erie scene at parts that looks hazardous and lifeless. The weather is utterly magnificent – bathed in sunshine for the majority, there are windswept storm cells cascading to the right hand side out to sea and a gigantic glacier flowing down to the left. Beyond the first 40min we enter the lava badlands – a weird formation of lava runout covered in moss where we term the poo lands as we make a bathroom stop on the side of the road to find every crevice filled with a sneaky batch of tp. Iceland needs to better its amenities.


Beyond the horizon the weather turns as the ever changing scenery continues – the storm cell we find ourselves in the midsts of merely adds to the mystery of this land. We crest a ridge now on the corner of Vatanjokul – Europe’s largest icecap and a positively enormous terra structure that has dozens of the biggest glaciers you will ever lay eyes upon flowing out down to the south east coast. We make good time and call night fall at Jokulsarlon

Iceland Day 5 – Myvatn Geothermal Area

A new day and a long way to go – we make for the north coast and Myvatn geothermalogical area. But first the drive takes us up through the lava badlands that are an error reminiscent of some nuclear winter – black plains of mini volcanoes and the odd mountain pan the view as we drive onwards, snapping pictures as we go.

We swing right and further north to make for Husavik – a whaling town on the far north coast – not too far from the arctic circle but first stop is Detifoss – Europe’s largest waterfall which spans a chasm of a canyon 45m down and 60m across and the canyon runs for 50 odd kilometres until it where it peters out near the north seas. We sit by its crest for a few minutes, revelling and relaxing in this forbidding landscape and the power and energy of the entity roaring before us.

A windswept road and the dramatic scenery continues until we make it to Husavik beckoned by the promise of fish soup to warm ourselves – unlucky as everything is closed – its a short season from June to Sept here and beyond that most places feel like a ghost town. We roll on back inland to Myvatn where we make it an hour before dusk and explore the unique boiling mudpots that spew steam forth from the massive rent in the earth and try to find some more hot springs – unfortunatly they are either too hot, at 50 degrees, or too cold at 25 – however the hot ones were underground at a one of the most unique rock formations ever to lay eyes upon – a long rent in the earth split open that pops forth steam from the super heated ground. Im blown away at this surreal feature – its like from a video game or post apocalyptic move.

We spend the last light of the day watching the sunset from the crest of a nearby volcano over the Myvatyn lake in a glorious sweep of clouds and colour.

Iceland Day 4 – Icebergs, Rugged Eastern Fjords

Jokulsarlon is a glacier fed lagoon that has the unique feature of the glacier carving creating a lagoon filled with icebergs that run through a 100m passage to the nearby sea interspersed by a handful of playful seals who call this place home. We watch in awe as a few of these truck size icebergs crash into each other on the out flow – creating a traffic pileup as the must bed on the shallow outlet too heavy to be carried by the fierce current.

The northern lights dance again this night and we wake to a crystal clear sky with full views of the icecap, glacier and magnificent sunrise. We explore the nearby beach coffee in hand where the icebergs wash up small and eroded away but crystal clear in beauty inspiring forms. This is hands down one of the most magnificent things either of us have witnessed.

The road takes us north and we call in at horn to charge up and take a break and a bite. We get a tip off about a secluded hotsping and an hour later sees us flying up the coast road in glorious sunshine to a bathtub overlooking the sea with steaming waters just south of Djupivogur – another quaint little hamlet perched at the southern end of the reugged eastern fjords. The hotspring is  the definition of perfect – just the two of us in this wild untamed scene with a wondrous place to relax (sorry the superlatives don’t do it justice). We strip naked and bask in the warm water and sunshine. Blissful.

We’re at the southern edge of the eastern fjords – a hand full of small fishing villages and farms that thread their way around some finger inlets of fjords and a backdroped by thousand metre snowcapped cliffs and mountains – and as you guessed by now that are all teeming with waterfalls. Is this not valhalla? I wonder what the viking lords who settled here from Norway in the mid 11th century thought….

Town by town we pass as the hills roll by find our selves fatigued and in need of a coffee. We pull over on the side of the road and nap instead. One of the best naps Ive ever had as its a soothing place to rest with the sounds of gulls and waves crashing down below against the cliffs. We wake and hit some coffee before soon-finding our selves heading back inland to make nightfall just past the crossroad town of Egilsstadir to camp the night by ourselves again in a beautiful spot by Lagafljot lake. We arrive jus as the sun calls it time on the day to few wispy orange glows on the far horizon.