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:
As we were about to leave Fatima this morning, another Trafalgar bus pulled up behind us and who should be in the front seat, but the tour guide Mom and I had on our last Trafalgar trip through Portugal – and not ten minutes later, the one we had in Spain appeared. What was fantastic is that they both remembered us and hugged us. I was really pleased and mom was just over the moon. Such nice people.
Our first stop is probably one of my most favourite places now: Batalha.
There was a battle regarding the succession to the throne when one of Portugal’s kings died without a male heir. The monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King John I of Portugal – who from the history books seemed to be the bastard son of a previous king, one Pedro I. Regardless of it’s purpose, the place is both unfinished, and astonishing. Subsequent generations of the royal family added to, re-purposed and generally messed around with it’s floor plan until we have this intricate and beautiful building. (I had a really hard time paring down my photos for this entry.) When John and his wife Phillipa died they were depicted on their sarcophagus holding hands – they actually liked each other which is a peculiarity among alliance marriages. Among their children was Henry the Navigator who is also buried here.
After our visit to Batalha, we went on to Nazaré.
Nazaré is also on my list of favourite places.
It’s a fishing turned surfing town, so usually busy only in season, but so pretty and a destination I would have been sure to frequent had I been a Portuguese teenager. Mom and I had a pizza with a couple from Toronto, did a little souvenir shopping and then trekked down the sand to stick our feet in the surf.
Next stop on this beautiful day is Óbidos.
Óbidos is a medieval town – and by that I mean that the old town is still pretty much as it was back in medieval times. I do believe they have Ren fairs and such there – there are enough shops selling medieval and renaissance garb to make this true. Pedro had another little hidden treat for us here, which was a taste of the local liqueur: Ginjinha It’s served in little chocolate cups which you are obligated to eat afterwards. (oh, darn.) SO GOOD.
Óbidos was one of the few cities that belonged to what was called the Queen’s House, and therefore they paid their taxes to the Queen, rather than to the King – ostensibly to give the queen some spending money, but it seems like she spent it, and then some, on improving the cities themselves. Pedro told us where we could purchase a replica Queen’s happiness ring which sent a number of our ladies hurrying off to the little silver smith, but mom and I went exploring.
On our way from Óbidos to Lisbon, Pedro recapped our trip for us, which I thought was really nice. He handed out little gifts and there was much applause and praise and a little bit of singing, even though we hadn’t had as much wine as we had had at Casa Insua.
The evening marked our last with the group and our farewell dinner was at Flo, in Lisbon, which is where we went last time as well, There is a very artistic rendition of the zodiac on one wall inside is how I remember. We are handed champagne as we file inside and we are all a little bit sad that our tour is over. The food is fabulous and we exchange contact info and memories as we eat.
Thank you, Trafalgar for another fabulous tour.
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.
We began our day with a tour led by a local guide: a lovely and funny woman by the name of Fatima. Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such is slated for restoration. Like Lisbon, there was a rental freeze so that many places still have ridiculously low rents – but of course that meant that landlords did not have the funds to repair or maintain the buildings, which meant that many of them look sad and dilapidated. Fatima said that the restoration was estimated to take 40 years and than in 40 years she would be our guide again and that would be her first miracle.
On our way to the City centre, she pointed out the school where JK Rowling taught and pointed out that she had married, and then divorced a very stupid Portuguese man. She then went on to say that that was why they exported them.
Our first stop was the Commerce centre. I had forgotten how amazing the inside was, and kind of forgot to take many pictures because there was so much to look at – and even when I did I really messed up the light. There was even an odd collection of mythological creatures being constructed in the centre room for some kind of exhibit.
The Arabic room was the most astonishing, even after the room that was made entirely of inlaid wood of varying kinds. There was no blank spaces which Fatima said pointed to the Baroque fear of emptiness.
After our tour here, we were taken across the river (the Douro again) to visit the cellars of the Sandeman Port Winery. There were marks on the outside of the doorway that marked the level of past floods.
We got to tour the cellars and watched little video of how Port is made and where and then we got to sample two kinds: Ruby and White Port. Pedro, bless his little heart, had bought chocolates for us all to have with our samples.
Our guide was dressed in the iconic cloak and hat that’s on the company’s branding and spoke as though she were rehearsing lines, but she answered all our questions with excellent knowledge. Mom and I have a special connection to the Port trade, as her granddad imported Port for a company (across the river, incidentally) called Dow’s.
I bought a little sampler set for myself and a bottle of the White Port. I wanted to buy more, but my suitcase is to small. I should have shipped some home, but we did not have much time before João came to take us to the old quarter for our free time.
We were instructed to meet our driver at 4 outside of the Imperial MacDonalds – which is complete with Imperial double eagles and art deco stained glass and chandeliers inside. Lat time we went to the Lello Bookstore where I got a book about the insides – so beautiful – but this time we wanted to explore some of the areas we did not see last time.
We wandered up and down the high street and bought a couple of baubles – and then had coffee at the Majestic Cafe. If you’re a Rowling fan, you’ll know about this place.
In the evening, we went on a cruise on the Douro, complete with another sample of Port and a beautiful sunset, and then we had dinner in a restaurant on the edge of the river that is famous for it’s rabbit stew. It’s called Chez Lapin – and has a little hutch outside where the proprietor’s favourite pet spends the day. I had the pork. As good as it smells, I can’t bring myself to eat rabbit.
Today we left Viseu and drove up and up and then down again from lovely blobby granite hillsides into the amazing green of the Douro Valley.The Douro river meanders all the way from Spain and then carves itself a niche through this cradle of green which is perfect for growing grapes of all varieties. It seems that there are the perfect conditions for creating the micro-climates necessary for growing the grapes they use in making port wine.It was in the 17th C that it was established that the valley was the only place that was allowed to produce wine for port – and any vineyards outside the granite markers that were set up to mark the designated areas were not included, which really annoyed quite a few people. I think Pedro called it the Revolution of the Drunken Man.
It was an amazing drive. We stopped at a lock and watched the river for a while, a brilliant photo op. Pedro had some port for the region, which he poured a little taste of for all of us. We even had the fortune to watch a cruise ship go through the lock.
And I caught a lucky picture of one of the little trucks filled with grapes!
Our next stop was Mateus. Mateus was the spot where Mateus wine was originally produced, which really blew the mind of one of our our members. He had fond memories of it’s distinctive round bottle.
The last time we were here, it was spring, so it had been filled with lupins and other spring flowers. Now, the roses were just finishing and everything was sill in full green. The big reflecting pond was full of frogs and frogs who still had their tails.
Our next stop was Guimarães which has an old quarter filled with beautiful tiled houses. The centre square was full of flowers. Mom didn’t want a lunch so we compromised (again) with ice cream and wandered around looking at all the pretty buildings, the old squares and the monuments to the stations of the cross that were embedded in walls and buildings throughout the city. I’m kicking myself or not taking proper pictures of them while they were open. I really like this city. We bought chocolates in a little shop that Pedro recommended to us. I hope J likes them.
Then we drove the last little way to Porto, which I think is one of my more favourite spots. We only had a short time between the drop off at the hotel and the pick up time for our included dinner on the Atlantic side of Porto because there was a game in the stadium next to our hotel that night.
This same game made it an adventure for our driver, João to get us back that evening. People had parked EVERYWHERE; on sidewalks, double parked, under stop signs, you name it, so that he had to loop through some interesting back roads to get us home because the space on the street was so shockingly constricted. He got some applause after that!
Our dinner was several courses, as usual, with two wines and an odd lemony dessert. Our view was of the sun setting over the ocean and mom and I went to put our feet in the Atlantic, as is tradition, before our trek home.
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:
The original plan was for us to head to Evora first, but because everyone in our group had decided to join the optional excursion, our guide decided that we would do that first. So we left Vilamoura and headed towards Monsaraz. This little town sits on a high point – perhaps the highest point for miles around – which is most likely why it has been occupied for as long as it has. Pedro had arranged a little wine and cheese moment for us in one of the little restaurants inside Monsaraz. The old medieval town is surrounded by walls, and the buildings are all white washed to keep them cool in the heat. It’s September still, but still quite warm for me.
I was going to sit on that slate bench to have my picture taken, but it was so hot I couldn’t sit on it. Monsaraz also has a bull ring still, which they still use on occasion. The view from the walls has changed a little in the years since the town was first built as there have been dams built, which form lakes in the distance. I could post so many pictures from here. Then we headed out towards Evora.
We stopped twice to visit megalithic monuments. Now I don’t know if I’ve said, but I love prehistoric things. Ever since I learned about Stonehenge, it’s been a minor obsession of mine so these stops were a total treat. Neither were on our itinerary, but Trafalgar tours are also notorious for sneaking in little hidden treasures.
This one is an estimated 6000 years old and local legend says that if women circle it clockwise with their hand on the centre stone, that they will be pregnant in the next year. The next one is about the same age, and is linked with marriage legends – if you turn out back on the monument and toss a rock over your head and it lands on the top, you will be married in the next year. Needless to say our group participated in both.
Then we drove to Evora where we met a sweet lady who was our local guide. She showed us the roman temple that had been hidden inside the walls of a newer building for decades, the cathedral and winding streets. Evora is really quite pretty
We even met a local cat who had the best possible way to beat the heat by capitalizing on the breeze:
all that is glorious about Portugal
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