Monday, November 16, 2015

Portugal


The flight to Portugal went very well. One highlight was the cabin steward making the announcements on the Air France plane from Boston to Paris. With every announcement he would praise Americans and tell us the French love us and we would enjoy our time in France. We had a short layover in Paris, when we made it to our gate for the Lisbon flight it was already boarding. Our bags made it okay, but the clothes inside were mysteriously damp. Renting the car was easy and we headed through Lisbon, over the April 25 Bridge, past the replica of the South American statue of Christ overlooking Lisbon with a first stop at Caparica Beach. It was very long, very wide, and being a Saturday, thousands were there. We walked 3 of its 12 miles. Next stop was Palmela Castle, which was a 12th century Moorish castle, captured from them, and enlarged by successive kings.





 It was then on to Setubal where we found our hotel, cleaned up, then walked around the town. We stopped in the Church of Christ built in the 15th century with the best example of early Manueline architecture. We then decided because of the heat it was better to drive, so we drove through the Arrabide Mountains and reached Sesimbro. It had a nice beach and its own castle which we visited; it was built in the 17th century. Unfortunately gnats attacked us here as they had in Setubal. Back to Setubal, where we ate at a nice restaurant. We each had grilled sea bass, potatoes, salad and bread- I had beer- Teresa water. Now time for sleep... early to bed, late to rise. We both needed the 13 hours. After breakfast we had our longest road trip, 2 hours to Praia do Rocha (Beach of Rock), several miles of picturesque beach, somewhat crowded. We parked in the middle and walked along the beach to one end and back. We read until 3:30 and headed back to the car, on the way we stopped at a restaurant and shared a mixed salad and pizza.



Afterwards I got a chocolate gelato, Teresa refrained, seemingly intent on keeping her trim 125 pound figure. She was aided in that quest when she apparently suffered from food poisoning and gave up her lunch upon our arrival in Selema.
 We checked in, Teresa started feeling better and by 7:30 we were ready to head out. We walked a while before dinner. I had grilled tuna with onion sauce, Teresa had the local special, cataplano, a fish stew. Both meals were very good. We walked a bit more before heading back to the room, where we sat on our balcony overlooking the ocean and read for a while. The temperature was very pleasant; thankfully Setubal had been an aberration.
The next morning we went to Cape Sagres and Cape St. Vincent. Both claim to be the sites of Prince Henry's School and being the westernmost points of Europe. Cape Sagres has a fort, Cape St. Vincent, a lighthouse. Both have beautiful panoramas of cliffs by the sea. Henry started his maritime school after he orchestrated a successful attack on a Moroccan city. He was intrigued by the nautical information found there so he decided to start a school, and using money from the monastery to which he belonged, to organize expeditions. The school taught not only navigation, but shipbuilding, sail making, languages, seamanship and marketing.
He sent out several expeditions south on the west side of Africa but it came to real fruition came after his death. Magellan, Vasco de Gama, and a foreigner, Christopher Columbus were taught there, among many other notables.







We drove back to our beach after a nature walk nearby. Dinner at Baca, overlooking the ocean and prawn boats. I had chicken piri-piri, Teresa had tuna salad. From here on out, assume I had beer with dinner and Teresa had red wine.
 The next day was overcast. We took our planned trip to Lagos. We went to the old market to watch the fish mongers, then to the archaeological museum and Church of San Antonio. We then saw Europe's oldest slave market. Lagos was the harbor from which Henry sent out most of his voyages. It is now a rather large resort, catering to the English and Germans. Lunch was a Mediterranean platter of pate, meats, cheeses etc. in a small restaurant run by a woman from Australia and one from England. A little overpriced but it looked like we might be their only customers for awhile. I later had a gelato.



 West of Lagos are famous beaches, Praia Ana, Camino et al. We visited them all and went also to Point Piedale where we took a small boat on a grotto tour, 10 euros each but well worth it. Our skipper maneuvered through tiny openings in the rocks to wonderful sights.









 We then drove back to Selema for our last night there. For dinner we both had cataplano at the place Rick Steves recommended. The service was friendlier, but Teresa liked the food at Atlantico's better. The next day was a traveling day and again overcast which affected our plans. We drove first to Selvis, an old town with  a red stone Moorish castle and old cathedral.



 We then went to Faro, the last Moorish holdout in Portugal- it had been sacked by the Earl of Essex so not much old stuff around other than the walls and churches. Teresa made friends with a stork atop one of the churches she climbed.
 


 The Romans named the city because of its importance as a wheat producing center.

For dinner we ate at Adega Alenejano, recommended by Fodor's and Rick Steves. We started off with bread and cheese. Then I had sardines with onions. Teresa had a salad. We then shared 2 meals, the first a tomato soup with vegetables, egg, sausages and pork ribs. The second was grilled game pork with rice and freshly cooked potato chips. Afterwards we walked around the town, checked out a puppet show, the Girardo Paria (former Roman Forum) and headed back to our room.




Another travel day. We ate lunch of bread, cheese, salami, olive oil and tomatoes on the way to Travia. We had thought of going to the beach there but the weather interfered. We finally found our resort which was 4 miles from Travia. The room was nice and it had nice facilities, but it was a drive back to the city. The highlight was the garden in the old castle and the walk over the Roman bridge.


 We decided to return before dinner. We spent some time in the Jacuzzi and ate in the village of Cabanas at a pizza joint. I had gelato afterwards. Teresa again abstained. She has become quite the fanatic. Next morning we provisioned and headed north on a nice empty road just inside the border with Spain. Our first stop was Mertola, a tourist friendly place. We toured the well-designed castle, the Islamic Heritage museum and the Roman house. The area had been inhabited by various cultures; the Romans were here a long time.
 We then headed to Evora and ate on the way. We checked into our hotel, found our way to a parking space and explored the city. We saw the temple to Diana and her garden, the aqueduct, a 12th century cathedral, St. Francis Church with its accompanying chapel of bones- the entire inside was lines with human bones- various squares and fountains, along with a walk on part of the city wall.



  The next day we first headed west on a car tour of prehistoric monuments. First was a standing monolith, next was a ring of 92 stones, then a chamber like Newgrange, and lastly, a cave with prehistoric etchings and drawings. Agriculture had been important here for millennia, and like other tribes, they had found the need to erect stone calendars so they knew when to plant.


 After this excursion we headed east to Monseranz, another hilltop walled city. It featured a castle that had been partially converted to a bullring. We split a salad and a meal of roasted lamb. Very good



On the way back we stopped at San Pedro Corval and bought hand painted pottery. Teresa will be lugging that. We then returned to Evora and after freshening up went to Diana's garden to read for a while. We then went to Pane & Vino for dinner. Teresa had the best lasagna she'd ever had. I had a very good anchovy pizza and ice cream for dessert. The next morning we went to Vila Vicosa, the Portuguese version of Versailles and toured that ducal palace.




 We then went to Estremos, another walled city, where we climbed to the castle, went to the church before a wedding and bought provisions for lunch.

 We picnicked on the way to Marvao at a rest stop. Marvao was marvelous; very tourist friendly. We walked the walls around the city, and toured the well kept castle. The whole town is well preserved and offers great views of he surrounding countryside. There were beautiful gardens. The only fee was for the Military Museum, which was one euro per person. At Teresa's insistence we ate at the Pousada's Restaurant. We both had duck stuffed with prunes and a lettuce goat cheese stew (really a salad) and potato chips. We decide the Pousadas were pretentious and overpriced.



 Next morning we first went to Portagem to see the Roman Bridge.
 On to Tomar, where the Knights Templar established a fortress in Portugal as a base to throw out the Moors. The Templars were disbanded but somewhat resurrected as the Knights of Christ. They were quite influential. Their insignia was on the sails of the caravels on their voyages of discovery (Crimson cross on white sail) They were also apparently quite wealthy. The fortification at Tomar was very extensive- part convent- part monastery. If the Olympics had a hide and seek competition and limited it to one building, this is where they should hold it. We arrived on a Sunday morning so it was free, and we were free to wander everywhere. The oratorio of the Church was very impressive. The fortifications were considered state of the art, but the most compelling features were the extent of the decorations over the massive building








 We then went to Fatima, saw the spot where the apparitions appeared, saw the inexplicable burning of candles of all shapes and sizes into a huge barbecue-like fire.  This produced a large thick cloud of smoke which detracted from the setting. Because it was Sunday, we went to mass at the basilica there.





 From there we went to Coimbra where we found our pension after some searching. The city being hilly makes map reading tricky. We cleaned up and then went walking around the old town. We chose an Irish Pub for dinner with tables on the river. I had a bacon cheeseburger with my pint of Guiness. Teresa had a chicken salad. We had a beautiful view of the sun setting. We grabbed pastries on the way back.




 Next morning we headed first to Coimbra's University, the most acclaimed in Portugal. We toured the elaborate and famous library, the Chapel, and the rooms of the former palace.
 Next we went to St. Velhos Se, a 12th century Cathedral and also toured the cloister there. We then headed to the Church of Santa Cruz where we caught the 11:00 a.m. mass. It was over at 11:25. One chapel of the church had been converted to a bar. We then went to the municipal market where we bought supplies for a picnic lunch. We took the funicular up to our room and got our beach stuff to drive to Figueroa do Roz where we spent the afternoon at the beach. We returned to clean up for dinner and went to Ze Mandel, suggested by Rick Steves. It was great, a tiny hole in the wall that served pork and rice dishes that were fantastic. Tables were tight and the people friendly. We left stuffed and headed back to the room. A wonderful day.




The next morning we headed to Conimbriga, an ancient Roman town being excavated. Not quite Pompeii, but it did have the city laid out well, some large abodes, and mosaic floors everywhere.



From there we drove to the Forest of Bucaso. This was virgin forest in the 17th century when the Carmelites decide to establish a monastery halfway up its highest hill. They obtained a Papal Bull that would excommunicate anyone for cutting down a single tree, and themselves planted exotic varieties. Some monks built hermitages in the forest, and life size Stations of the Cross with terra cotta scenes in buildings on a trail that went up the hill to Santa Cruz.



In 1810 Napoleon was repelled there by Wellington and the Portuguese. The government thereafter confiscated the monastery and the royals built an opulent sumptuous lodge which is now a hotel.


 After visiting the Lodge we climbed the trail and saw the stations of the cross, many were damaged. On the way down we saw the fountain of the 144 steps.

 



 We then went to Grumairaces, where we checked in, cleaned up, walked to the old city and found some real gelato. We walked around for some time before eating dinner at a small bar/cafe. We had some codfish appetizers, salad, each a 1/2 roast chicken piri-piri and French fries. We had more gelato on the way back to the hotel. Next morning we drove to park by the castle and ducal palace and toured both. The castle was well-preserved but small; the ducal palace featured nice furniture and art. We then hit the archaeological museum and the sacred art museum- not much new here other than the swastikas of the Visigoths.




Next we drove to Bom Jesus which is a shrine with the Stations of the Cross on steps up to a cathedral. Again, there were life size figures in scenes in separate buildings. The cathedral had a 3-D version of Calvary with the cast of characters




 From there we back tracked to the City of the Breitons, a city that had lasted thousands of years, from the early Celtic/Britons, the Romans, and finally Christian Visigoths. Much of what appeared in the museum came from here.



 We backtracked again to Braga. We walked around the city after finally finding a place to park, got inside the Cathedral (Se), along with a few other churches, and found some gelato. Back to the hotel to clean up. Dinner was shish kebobs, salad and the ubiquitous French fries. No room for dessert. The next morning we first drove to Valna do Castelo. The castle was to protect the city from pirates. While we walked through the old town, a trade union march and rally took place.






Next was Valenca. Small town, huge fortifications, lots of shops. The Spanish cross the nearby border to shop there. You need a narrow car here to get through the gates; we had 3 inches of clearance on each side. We picnicked on the ramparts then did some serious shopping, serious in the sense we spent a lot of money. We really enjoyed the town. From there a side trip for some mountain views.



Then off to Santiago de Compestello Spain, a bigger city with traffic and parking problems. We finally found our hotel, cleaned up and headed out.
Scores of restaurants, almost all with lobster filled aquariums. We settled on one in sight of the Cathedral, where we both had steak, salad, papas fritas (French fries). Dessert came with the meal. I had ice cream cake, Teresa had an almond tart.
 After dinner we walked through the Cathedral Square and encountered a dozen troubadours, 6 on guitar, one bass, one accordion, one tambourine, one mandolin, a ukulele, a bagpipe and one selling CD's. They were dressed in costume and quite good-we bought a CD.
Santiago got its name (St. James) because the St. James beheaded by Herod in Jerusalem in 44 A.D. ended up here in Spain- one legend says escorted by scallops. Quite a miracle. The city became a huge pilgrimage site and hence the huge cathedral. A fun city with plenty of young people.
Next morning we went to the Cathedral to touch the statue and butt heads with the Maestro. We viewed the casket of James in the crypt. Because of the line we decide to wait to hug the gold James above the altar later.
We went to the Pilgrim museum which was informative. It appears St. James fought the Moors, Native Americans, and then the Spanish with the Native Americans. After that we visited the Ethnic Museum and Art Museum; then lunch at a pizza place. We then walked through parks and gardens to our hotel.
We went out later and back to the Cathedral where there were no lines and we could hug the gold James. We stopped and ate tapas and had drinks at a cafe in the old city and did some people watching. We walked around a bit more and then headed to the first doner kebab place I had seen on the trip.












The next morning's exit from Santiago was easy. We crossed the border and visited two border towns Moncao and Melgaco the former more fortified, the latter nicer. We then drove to Portugal's only National Park which included mountains, rivers, waterfalls, shrines, and terraced agriculture. Teresa's favorite day.












 Then to Porto. A big city meant spending some time finding our hotel. We cleaned up and walked to the Ribeira district for dinner. We ate a restaurant on the river. I had roast lamb, Teresa had soup and salad. We later walked around the town on the way back to the hotel.



In the morning we first fed the pigeons in the Square of the Republic, then went to the cathedral, big but not impressive.
 We then walked across the Luis I Bridge to Vila Nova da Gaia where the 28 port cellars are located. We walked along the river and then toured the Ferreira Cellars and learned about the creation of port along the Douro River. We crossed back across the bridge and went to the museum, catacombs and church of St. Francisco.
 Next we toured the Basra Palace Stock Exchange. The last part was the most impressive, especially The Arabian Room.
 We went to the Church of the Clericos where we climbed the tower, the tallest in Portugal. It was then back to the room to clean up. For dinner, after scouting around we finally decide to cross the river and eat in Vila Nova da Gaia. We found a nice, reasonable restaurant with no smoking and lots of food. We walked back while Portugal finished off Angola 1-0 in World Cup play, surprisingly few celebrations.
 



  Getting out of Porto next morning was somewhat difficult during rush hour but we still made it to Aveira by 10:00 a.m. Aveira is the "Venice of Portugal" — somewhat overstated. It does blend an old fishing village with a bustling modern town rather well. We bought lunch supplies and headed to the beach. We decided the wind was too strong and drove down past Costa Nova where the houses are striped, and to the beach where the fishermen haul in nets with oxen. The wind was too strong for them also.



  We picnicked on the lagoon side of the island with the dunes protecting us from the wind and read our books. We then drove back to town and walked through the old and the new. Back to the room and then to dinner- feta salad and pizza at Pizza Hut no less. I had gelato, Teresa passed again.



Next morning we headed to Leiria. Which had a fun castle and an evolution museum. Apparently there were some prehistoric excavations in the area. From there we drove to Batalha. This is the spot where 7,000 Portuguese and 400 English soldiers routed 32,000 Spaniards intent on conquering Portugal. Because of the victory, a huge monastic complex was created. The monastery was Romanesque with the usual Gothic touches. Lots of pictures.


















 On to Alcobaca with Portugal's biggest church. It contains tombs topped with statues of King Pedro I and the love of his life Ines de Castro. The king had them placed so they face each other so that his first sight on Judgment Day would be his beloved. The gruesome story is that Ines, who Pedro was living with after his wife died, was ordered murdered by Pedro's father because he believed her family was a dangerous influence (Spanish I believe). When Pedro became king he had the hearts of her killers torn out and her body exhumed and crowned declaring they had been secretly married. She was set on a throne and the court made to kneel and kiss her decomposed hand.
There were other rooms showing the monastic life.



  Next morning we took a walk along the marble tiled boardwalk down to the jetty. We then took the funicular up to Siteo above Nazaire, mostly for the views, but it had an impressive church.
We then went to Nazaire and the Mare Hotel though we made a wrong turn and ended up 1300 kilometers from our hotel. (Fodors had the wrong email address and we had in fact made our reservation  at the Mare Hotel in Italy!)
 Nazaire is a beach resort town reminiscent of Ft. Lauderdale's Beach and recommended by Rick Steves. It was raining when we arrived but cleared up soon. I bought some gelato, cherry, chocolate, and banana. Teresa passed once more; the girl is too disciplined, but she did have a lick of chocolate. For dinner we went to Barca. I had grilled swordfish- she had grilled sole, we both had salads. Teresa tried the Vinto Verde- new white wine- it was okay.





We then headed down to the beach. When the wind picked up we did also and headed for the kebab stand we had seen earlier. It was excellent. Back to the room until the weather improved when we went back to the beach and read for a while, then back to the room where I drank some of the port we purchased, while Teresa went for a run. She had to run faster than anticipated when a hailstorm ensued. A brief but strong storm brought floods to the roads. Clean up crews were out immediately with trucks into which they shoveled the rubble. The weather cleared, and after a stop at the internet café it was dinner time. I had grilled squid, Teresa had pork scallopini. Afterwards we shared some pastry Teresa had been eyeing since we had arrived.






First stop next morning was Obidos, a walled city with a castle. Very quaint, very intact.
Next was Mafra which featured another Versailles like palace. The Portuguese were making so much money exploiting Africa, Brazil, and its Indian trade, they would build a palace on the flimsiest excuse. The palace had some nice art work, especially sculptures of the saints in the basilica located right in the middle of the palace.

 


Next we went to Casaias, a neat coastal town. We stopped at the Boca do Inferno- where the sea unleashes its fury against the rocks- spewing saltwater high in the air. The sea was not angry today and its rage was not witnessed.


We then went to the westernmost point on the European Continent for the third time in the third place, Cabo da Rocha, which claimed the title with Cabo Sagres and Cabo St, Vincent. Rocha did have a monument with its longitude listed, giving its claim more credence. There were some fantastic view down the cliff sides to the ocean.












Next to our place in Sintra, Pensao Residencial Sintra, a stately house at some point in its past- a building like one we might have toured, a very nice room with a great view and grounds.

We walked into the old town looking for a restaurant and didn't find anything we liked, walked further and found a terrific place. We split a regional salad and roast lamb for two. Everything was excellent. Walked back, meeting a young couple from Bradenton. We sent them to the same restaurant hoping they made it before it closed. 
First thing next morning we went to the TI where we received bus schedules and opinions from Margarida who suggested that the reason the Portuguese were so friendly was -- -- because as a sea-faring, trading nation, they had to act friendly and not belligerently to initiate trade relations.



 

We got our bus to Pena Palace, quite an amalgamation of styles built on a former convent; unfortunately no pictures inside. Some of the rooms were quite beautiful.
 








Once out we decided to take the trail through the garden/forest. It started raining when we were feeding some swans our leftover bread so we sought shelter in what we determined were punishment cells because they locked from the outside 














We decided to take the bus into town where we first ate tuna sandwiches and pastry, then to the National Palace. This was older, started in the 12th century, but not decorated nearly as well as Pena. There were some interesting stories to go with some of the rooms.
After some attempts at shopping we took the bus back to the Moorish castle. The rain had let up but it still was misty for most of our visit. Christians conquered the castle from the Moors and used it defensively themselves; the outside walls were fun to climb on.


 





 We decided to hike back to town, and happily the route brought us close to our hotel. A short walk to dinner. I had roast pork, seasoned rice, potatoes and spinach; Teresa had chicken with asparagus and rice. We both had very good cheesecake for dessert.

Next morning we drove first to Lisbon airport to turn in the car- and checked in our stuffed bag of purchases. We caught a taxi in to the town- the cabbie tried to cheat us. We left our bags at the hotel and headed for Castillo St. George, walking in circles trying to find the way to the entrance. Lisbon was first established as a port by the Phoenicians. It grew when Rome connected it with land roads. The Visigoths made it bigger; the Moors conquered and fortified it. The Christians reconquered it driving out the Moors. Castillo St. George was a Moorish castle. It provided great views of the city and the river.



When we left the castle we went down through the Alfama. This is an area that survived the 1755 earthquake. It is a labyrinthine section of small homes and apartments that still have no indoor plumbing so they share washing facilities, From there to Praca Commercio- where, in the spirit of commerce, I bought a pair of Armani sunglasses (street vendor).



 We then explored the Baixa area, a visit to Santo Domingos church and then to The Hard Rock Café to eat a hot fudge brownie sundae and watch Portugal score in its win over Iran. We went to our hotel to clean up, and then went to the Chiado and Alto barrio districts. For dinner I had salad, fried banana, French fries, sausage, ham, lamb, and roast beef. Teresa had salad, lamb and chicken. (It was a buffet) We had gelato after, chocolate, striciatella, and strawberry cream.



The next morning we caught a tram to Belem to see the monastery, cloisters and the Monument to the Age of Discovery.











We bused back to the Art Museum- Antigua, quite extensive.
We then metroed to the Gulbenkian Museum, eating pastry on the way The Gulbenkian was a great art museum. It started with art from Egypt and ended with European art including pieces by Rubens, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and Rodin. The museum has a garden outside where we sunned ourselves afterward.








On the way back we stopped at the Edward VII Park which had a nice tile depiction of the Southern Cross with a ship beneath. Back to the room. For dinner Teresa wanted a big salad, and the only place we knew to get one was the Hard Rock Café. I had a pulled pork sandwich. From there we walked to the downtown mall and our favorite gelato stand in Lisbon. Teresa had chocolate and vanilla                which she shared with me. Our last day was spent visiting 5 churches and the Alfama, Baixa, and Chiado areas in the morning.



We had kebabs for lunch then took the metro to the Colombo Mall- 400 stores and 60 restaurants. We shopped for a while, saw the X-Men movie (relaxing on the last day has become tradition on our trips) ate dinner and back to the hotel. A good trip.

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