I was feeling nostalgic and reading my posts from my last trip and realized it’s all backwards, so here:
I was feeling nostalgic and reading my posts from my last trip and realized it’s all backwards, so here:
iToday was a very busy day. We started off by visiting the Buçaco National Forest and it’s attendant palace. It seems the forest is the site of an important battle in 1810. There are trees in the forest from all over the world.
We didn’t get much time here, because we had other places to visit – one of them being Coimbra, a university town, known for it’s university and excellent library: the Biblioteca Joanina.
When we arrived in Coimbra, however Pedro made his usual speech about following him as quickly as we could – and once again we were presented with a regional treat, this one a custardy confection covered in pastry and powdered sugar. I love everything about the picture here, how he’s got one sweet in each hand and everyone’s smiling faces as he explains the treat’s origin and about the bakery he ordered them from. We were given time to have lunch – mom and I opted for bakery goods and some espresso before exploring the newer part of Coimbra.
It was an exceptionally hot day, and when we went up to the older part of the city where the University was situated I felt a little faint seeing some of the students in the traditional black robes – much like the ones the children in Harry Potter wear. It was the beginning of the year so there was a bit of hazing going on, as we experienced as some of the older students were prompting new recruits to do silly things in the square.
I was thrilled that we got to go inside the library this time. We were not permitted to take photos inside, but let me say that it’s exceedingly awesome. There are little circular staircases hidden in the corners for access to the upper floors, and each of he cabinets are locked. You are only permitted to take volumes from the library with special permission and can only use the special reading rooms in an effort to preserve the books, some of which are terribly old. Founded by King João V in the 18th C its full of intricate woodwork and gilt. As Pedro was lecturing about it, he paused and said “You may see things in here, just out of the corner of your eye, that might make you think that there was something wrong with your lunch. But this is not the case, there really is a family of bats living in here.” They live inside to help control the moths and other insects. They are permitted to come and go as they please and the little bit of bat guano seems to be a small price to pay or such natural pest control.
Our next stop was Conimbriga, which shares its name with Coimbra, the latter being the spot the Romans fled to when they left Conimbriga. Why they left seems to still be a bit of a mystery, but the ruins in Conimbriga are fascinating. They are some of the coolest I’ve sen by far, since the water system seems to be in perfect working order. They have done a little restoration work and for a coin you can turn the fountains on. These clever Romans used water to cool their villas, and the fountain system was at the centre of the house.
Many of the mosaics are still mostly intact and there are walk ways above so you can get a good look at them. This is only one part of the city that they’re slowly unearthing here and there is a little museum at the top of the hill. Very worth a day trip if you ever come out this way.
After this was a visit to Tomar, which features heavily in the history of the Templars. This is one of the neater fortresses I’ve been to, partly because my teenage self had a bit of a love affair with Templar history, but also because it was very obviously built over a series of years, added to, partly demolished and then altered by different occupants. One of these little additions was sort of hidden by a later one, a very intricate Manueline style window. It was also one of the places I could imagine people living. I find it harder in some of the places we’ve been because there are pieces of it missing, but not so here.
And buried in the centre of it all; this tiny, opulent little chapel, covered in gilt and intricate woodwork. I especially loved the inner square, it was tiled with just the tiniest slant, so any rainwater would drain into the central cistern. There was evidence of swallows nesting in the walk ways and window ledges.
Our next stop was the ever-strange-to-me Fatima. Now Fatima only exists because of a vision that three little shepherd children had of the virgin. The last time we were here, we visited the house that these little children had lived in, which has now been enshrined, for obvious reasons. Nowadays, Fatima is a religious centre to which people make pilgrimage. There are two churches, the older one, which is currently closed to the public for restoration, the central chapel, which was first erected in the time of the three children, which is now under glass – I kid you not. And then there is the modern one, which is actually quite spectacular – and not just because it is a church. It’s entirely self-sufficient as it makes use of solar energy to both light and produce electricity. What it does not use, is used for the town. It’s an engineering feat of some merit, I wouldn’t imagine and big is a very small word for it’s insides. There are walls that can come up to make the inside more intimate for smaller congregations, but they were all down when we went inside. It felt sort of like a lecture theatre except for the gaunt looking Jesus and the massive golden mural at the front.
Somehow I felt it was a tiny bit rude to take photos inside, or of the pilgrims walking on their knees to the central chapel. I suppose this place is odd to me because I was not raised to be religious and I can’t feel the same wonder that others obviously did.
Tonight is dinner in the hotel, and then off towards Lisbon again with some interesting stops in between.
Today is what we started to refer to as a driving day. We left Evora early, and Pedro entertained us with little bits of history, some little info booklets he made up about Portuguese dogs, harvesting cork, megaliths, wine and bullfighting. João made a stop along the highway so that we could get a close up look at some cork trees and a not so close look at some cattle.
Apparently the pigs are not the only creatures who like the acorns. You can see in this picture how the trunks are dark. That is where the bark – the actual cork has been peeled off. They will paint a number on it in white to indicate the year that was done because they can only harvest every 10-12 years.
We also drove past a marble quarry – where we stopped the last time we were if, If I recall correctly. It seems that part of Castelo de Vide (Castle of the big Vine) had made use of said quarry for paving proposes. We are travelling through the Alentejo: beyond the river Tejus which is mountainous and fertile, as is evidenced by the acres and acres of farmland.
In Castelo de Vide, which is a settlement established before the decision was made to build a fortress. If we had more time we would have sought out both the 14th century walls and the 17th century ones.
Pedro surprised us yet again with another bakery treat: this one called Boleima, a sugary, apple-y confection between pieces of sugared and unleavened bread. Then he set us loose to explore.
This place feels like a sleepy little town. When I looked up the info on it later I find that the population is quite small for so many buildings which is why this is probably so.
I love the tiles on this little building. Judging by the numbers on the doorways I imagine that there’s ann upper and a lower dwelling inside.
Then we drove some more and stopped to see a roman building at Belmonte. This is a curious sort of ruin, as no one was entirely certain what it was for the longest time. I did find a new article about the tower here. Sadly I was far too busy gawking to actully get a good photo of it, but I will share the one I did get:
I especially like the little red fence and the sign outside. I imagine that in former times the stones from the villa were carted off to build other things, which is all the more amazing that this one tower is still reasonably intact.
Our highlight tonight is the optional dinner at La Casa Insua. The manor house has been converted into a hotel, but the surrounding vineyards and farmland are still in use. The garden is maintained and it’s possibly one of the more beautiful historical little pockets we had the pleasure of seeing. During the age of discoveries, it was the thing to do to have gardens with as many species of foreign plants they could have. One of the trees in Insua’s garden is an enormous Douglas fir.
The mean was a food an wine pairing, which consisted of seven courses, with seven different wines. So tasty. I was so into the meal and the conversation that I did not take pictures of each course as I had intended, but I did grab one of dessert:
Lisbon, ot Lisboa (leesh-bow-ah), as it is called by the Portuguese, is a very old an very beautiful city. Our plan for our first full day in Portugal was to explore the Alfama, which is the highest – and the oldest – part of the city.
In 1755, there was a very large earthquake and what the shaking did not destroy, was further demolished by a tidal wave. Lisbon, shaped as it is like a little pocket between two high points, managed to escape lot of devastation, except the lower part, the Baixa (Bai-sha). This lower part was completely redesigned and rebuilt under the direction of one Marquis de Pombal. This is the part with the beautiful wide avenues, the large marble and sandstone tiled squares and the more modern shopping districts. Alfama rises on one side and the barrio alto on the other. Alfama features the São Jorge Castle at the top and the Tejo river below.
The last time we were here, we took Tram 23, just to say that we had done so, but – remembering our jerky and crowded experience last time, we opted to walk to the Castelo instead.
We stopped at an overlook and took some of my more favourite photos of Lisbon. Along this little stretch were also a bunch of street artists painting scenes and images from around Lisbon for the tourists. I fell in love with one – but id not buy it. Somehow I thought that it was too early to start buying souvenirs. (Don’t worry, I went back for it!)
The Castelo, which sits on what seems to be the highest point in the city, has been the site of a fort, or castle since the 3rd century, BC and I can see why. From its battlements you can see miles inland and miles out to sea. We spent most of the day inside ,poking around the ruins, walking along the walls and just admiring the view from next to the cannons that point out over the entrance to the harbour.
After this, we took a suggestion from Rick Steves and found ourselves a little snack bar. It’s a neat idea, you can go in, buy a drink and a little hand made munchie for one or two Euros My favourite was the little shrimp cake. We also shared a cod cake (a perennial favourite around here, I’m told) and a little chicken pie, each nearly 2 or 3 bites big. The Portuguese seem to love to talk and eat, so this arrangement seems to work quite well – and if you look there are many of these little hole-in-the-wall type places serving these little mini-tastes of local cuisine. I rather liked it, because it was wonderful to observe a community in action. It was apparent to me that there were several regulars in the bar while we ate and two of the women was intent on discussing the merits of the soap opera that was playing on the TV.
Our plan for the afternoon was to visit the Fado Museum, but on our way down the hill, we realized that it was closed – but that it would be open tomorrow, which we also had to ourselves. So we wandered the streets only half-aimlessly. We went back to the street vendor where I purchased my little drawing. I impulse-bought a fan because it was 32° and because it matched my dress. It was just a cheap thing, but it served it’s purpose. Then we hunted for the Pingo Doce grocery store we had seen the day before in our post-flight haze.
We bought some wine (€2!), some cheese, coconut yoghurt (yum) and some perfect granny smith apples for dinner.
It is an unusual pleasure to read a book that makes me, by turns, happy and furious. This speaks volumes about the ability of a writer to create characters a reader can love and hate – and even more still that one can feel both for a single character. Recently that book has been The Orenda by Joseph Boyden.
The cover, when I first looked at it, didn’t make sense to me. But upon closer inspection I realized it was birch trees. It’s beautiful and understated, just like much of the book.
It takes place in the beginnings of modern Canada – then called “New France” by some. We focus on three characters; Christophe, a Jesuit priest who has come to convert the “savages”. Bird, a warrior of the Wendat people and Snow Falls, a girl of the Haudenosaunee who Bird has taken as his new daughter after he has brutally killed her family. The book is a little difficult to get into, at first, but then we learn more about the culture of Bird’s people and the rhythms of their lives. We learn the reasons behind Bird’s abduction of Snow Falls and how she eventually becomes part of the Wendat. As for Christophe, his genuine desire to fulfill his mission: to save the souls of a people he views as backward and sinful, is at once terrifying and saddening. Saddening because we know how it turns out in the end. This is the part that makes me angry – that the Crows, as Bird calls them, end up having so much influence and control over the fates of so many indigenous people, but at the same time, it’s not entirely Christophe’s fault – because he’s doing things he believes he should, just as Bird and Snow Falls do.
I won’t get into any spoilers, but rest assured that this one is going on my favourite’s list. Boyden’s writing is excellent – I love when you can get absorbed into the story and not notice the mechanics at work.
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