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:
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:
I was up before our wake-up call to shower and pack so that the porters could take our suitcases down to the coach while we ate breakfast. I always set my alarm for before the wake up call because I hate being jarred out of sleep by the blaring phone noise or mom’s travel clock. We leave by 8, for a drive through acres and acres of fields, some cultivated with olives, cork trees or umbrella pines (for pine nuts). Some had no trees, and as s result, the bushes had taken over and had grown nearly tree-sized oregano, rosemary and Bay bushes.
Our first stop was in Setúbal which is on the other side of the Arrábida Mountains at the mouth of the Sado River which is one of only two places in the world (the other estuary being the Shannon) where grey dolphins live. We did not see any dolphins, but it was really pretty driving down into the city. It was foggy in the mountains so we could not see down into the valley; it was like driving next to a sea of cloud. (João had to honk now and then to scare foxes off the road – or to warn oncoming traffic that he was coming since the roads were so narrow and twisty.)
In Setúbal we went to the market, where local farmers and fishermen sell their wares. I took so many pictures inside, but so many feature the backs of my tour family’s heads so I can only share one here. (The only thing I didn’t take a photo of was the meat section where the rabbits still had their eyes in…) However I will note that the inside of this market is tiled in the iconic blue and white painted tile or Portuguese buildings. So pretty. It was apparent that this little city owed its existence to the port – and to the sardine, since there was fountain in the middle of the central park that featured three sardines.
Mom and I bought a pair of Fuji apples here that tasted like they had been picked from the tree the day before. Then we drove for a while more and then stopped at a rest stop where I bought something to drink and enjoyed the cool breeze.
One of the wonderful things about taking a Trafalgar tour is that they have these beautiful ‘Be my Guest’ meals. Today we had one at a place called Monte Negro, where they raise Lusitano horses which were used for war and now only for dressage and bullfighting. We were treated to a demonstration of the horses and to a home-style meal in the ranch house. It seems that the horses are essentially left to be horses until they are three years old, when their training starts. The mares are never broken and trained, just left to roam the 200 acres and produce foals. We were shown three yearlings who were still a bit skittish around people and just did laps around the ring. Then there was a three year old who had just started his training who knew he was being admired. He leaped and frolicked and rolled in the dirt for us. He was very nearly white with blue eyes, a shade they called Isabel. The last was a stud called Verse, and the woman who owned and ran the place rode him around the ring to show off his paces. His neck arched beautifully and he seemed to know he was on display.
The other horses were so fast, all my photos are a mere blur. The resident dog, a Portuguese Mastiff named Madrid, made friends with everyone who came in, even my mother who isn’t really a dog fan. He was quite lovely and probably would have been happy to lie under the table while we ate. Pedro is obviously a dog fan and he spoke about them at length on several occasions. Apparently president Obama has a Portuguese Water dog. I loved his enthusiasm.
Then we drove through some more beautiful countryside to our golf resort hotel in Vilamoura; the Pestana Vila Sol. I link it because it was a beautiful resort. The last time we were here, it was spring and we were lulled to sleep by the song of a thousand frogs. We had a little time to freshen up before we went to dinner in the Marina. We went to this little place that served the traditional Cataplana, which is a seafood stew. Mom and I recalled that it seemed to consist mainly of fish and shellfish still in the shell, so we opted for the sea bass option this time, which was in no way disappointing. It was sp perfectly done I could just lift out the spine and the bones. Afterwards was an almond dessert and an almond liqueur that was served with a tiny wedge of lemon. It was so refreshing that I wanted to finish it off, but it was also extraordinarily sweet. Afterwards, we were given an hour and a half to explore the Marina and surrounds, which was just coming alive with the night life.
After Breakfast, we headed out on a guided coach tour of greater Lisbon. I think the local guide we had this time was the same woman we had before; a fiery little dark-haired woman called Ju. We took quite a different route than the night before – and I tell you I am so glad we are taking a tour because driving here would be quite an adventure for me – possibly of heart attack proportions. João however, seems totally unruffled at the shocking way some of these little cars seem to dart in front of this massive tour bus.
Anyway, it was really interesting to see some of the parts Mom and I had walked through, essentially from above, since we are so much higher up in the tour bus. Construction in Lisbon is limited by the fact that they have to keep the facades (much like they do here of heritage buildings) in order to maintain the esthetic look that keeps the tourists coming back. To that end, from the street you can’t see much because the site is always hidden behind drop cloths of a sort. From the bus though, one could see right inside. I must say I have never seen such a tiny backhoe before – though I suppose in such narrow spaces it’s necessary to have.
Lisbon is a city of poets. I say this because the people have a romantic view of their land and I can’t blame them – there is so much history in it. Ju told us about the seven hills that make up Lisbon that surround the Baixa and how the Castelo at the top had been a fortress for as long as there have been people living in the area. The name Lisbon/Lisboa is said to come from either a Phoenician word meaning ‘quiet bay’ or from the name Ulysses:(Latin Ulyssippo) and/or Roman Olissipona, for the name of the Tagus river. Romans, Greeks, Arabs all lived in the area until it was conquered by the first king of Portugal in 1147.(Afonso Henriques I think, but don’t quote me.)
Our first stop was at Belem, which is a tower that used to be situated in the center of the river, but over time and because of the earthquakes the region has experienced, the river has silted up and changed positions. They have built a little ramp that goes inside the little tower but we didn’t go inside, choosing instead to inspect the beach and the decorative stonework on its outside.
Ju talks a lot about the Age of Discoveries, which spans the 15th to the 18th centuries and is characterized by all the travelling and exploring done by the Portuguese navy. This tower at Belem was built during this era as part of a defense system and as a ceremonial entrance to Lisbon. Belem, and the monastery nearby, the Jerónimos Monastery are decorated in the Manueline style: which is essentially nautical in theme – and very intricate. One of the key features is the appearance of little flower-like pieces which represent the artichokes the sailors used to prevent scurvy on long journeys.
Ju then showed us the Monument to the Discoveries, which is sitting at the current riverside. This monument was built in the 60’s and depicts all the people involved – both physically and symbolically – in the Age of Discoveries. Henry the Navigator is at the top, his Brother (Edward?), a priest, a poet and two men bearing a pole with the arms of Portugal, among many others.
In front of the monument was a map made of marble that showed all the places Portugal had influence during the Age of Discoveries. Our guide gave a French guide crap for letting his group stand right on the map so we could not see it while we clustered around the edge like school children and she asked us all where we were from and pointed out how Portugal had some influence on our history. I did not get a picture this time because of that, but there were sea monsters and mermaids around the outside, and some symbolic images of the winds. Very pretty.
We went into the monastery which was extraordinarily spacious. Apparently the monastery had been occupied by the military religious Order of Christ who were to assist seafarer’s in transit. Henry the Navigator was Grand Master of this order. This is the place that Vasco da Gama prayed the night before setting off on his global adventures. Vasco da Gama is also buried here, as is Camões, Portugal’s epic poet. The tombs of the Kings buried here rest on the backs of marble elephants, these two rested on the backs of lions. See how it is decorated with ropes and knots and wheels? Very cool.
When we came out, Pedro had been to a nearby bakery – apparently the only bakery that has the correct recipe for something called a Belem Tart. In order to make money later on in the monastery’s life, the monks took to baking and selling desserts – often for which they became famous. This is one of those desserts and omg… so delicious. They were still warm from the oven and consisted of a very particular custard-type filling in a crisp little pastry cup. There are shops in Lisbon that also sell “Belem tarts’ but none are like this, which are made here in the municipal region of Belem.
After this some of our number went back to the hotel, but the rest of us stayed on for the optional excursion to Sintra. We drove up the coast of Estoril, which is by turns Atlantic and rock and sometimes dune-y. We had lunch in the beautiful little fishing village of Cascais (pronounced Cash-kaish). We ate ice cream in Santini’s, which is said to have served ice cream to Royalty, both in exile and not. During WWII, Portugal was neutral so many royal families escaped to Cascais for the duration. There are photos on the wall of the famous people who have eaten there. I had a coconut milkshake and mom and one called Wild fruit. So very tasty.
After this we took a scenic drive up the mountain to Sintra, said to be named after the Greek Moon Goddess, Cyntia (An alternate name for Artemis/Selene) . The King built a summer palace in the area to take advantage of the hunting there and a town sprang up around it. We went into the palace and through all the intricately decorated rooms. I did not take as many pictures as I should have because I was just blown away by how much stuff there was to look at on the walls and the ceilings. One ceiling was covered in swans and another a pattern of magpies and Ju told a story about how the King had been seen to kiss a lady that was not the Queen and how all the ladies gossiped and so he had the ceiling commissioned. There was more to that, and I shall have to look it up. Mom and I then explored the narrow streets and again mom was drawn up the one street that lead to the top of the mountain and the fortress wall – the same wall that her grandparents had taken a photo from on their honeymoon.
Then we headed back to Lisbon for our second optional of the tour: a Fado night. Our driver dropped us off at the viewpoint in the Barrio Alto and then we had the fortune to have a look inside a little church nearby where everything inside had been made and then consecrated in Rome and then shipped to Lisbon – that’s every block of marble, gold leaf and painting. It’s apparently a museum now, but it would be a bit astonishing to have gone to church there I think. Then we walked through some of the more twisty streets to the Fado district and went into one of the Fado restaurants for dinner. The food was lovely and the singing tugged at our heartstrings yet again.
Mom visited yesterday.
I showed her the present I got for Mia. I hope Amber likes it as much as she did. Mom brought me a dried artichoke flower and some other things for my dried arrangement. I was missing plants in the house and discovered that the cats don’t seem to eat the dried ones with as much gusto. Artichoke heads look so cool. I’ll try and post a picture of it when I get back from work.
We went out for lunch at Moxie’s and talked about anything and everything, like wanting to stick our toes in the Mediterranean again before we got too old to travel, and things we learned from the bad episodes in our lives. Probably because I was writing about one of those bad episodes for a paper that’s due this week. I think I finally have enough psychic distance for that now. Wish me luck with that anyway. It’s something I have to get out of my system.
More later, I have to haul my sorry little butt to work now.
all that is glorious about Portugal
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