Porto Part II: High Church to Ancient Alleys

The next morning we savored pastries from our three favorite pastelarias: Padeirinha Doce, Café Sagres, Neta 3 – Padaria e Confeitaria, all of which were conveniently too close and way too detrimental to our waistlines. As a mild penance, we walked into central Porto. IMG_1269Set back on Batalha Square, at the top of a wide set of stairs, the beautiful Church of Saint Ildefonso with its Azulejo tile covered exterior and twin bell towers commands attention.  Built in the early 1700’s on the site of an older church, the building has gone through many alterations after suffering severe storm damage one year, then cannon fire from Napoleon’s troops during the siege of Porto in 1833.  Eleven thousand Azulejo tiles depicting stories from the Gospels and the life of Saint Ildefonso were a late addition to the façade in 1932.

Rua Praça da Batalha turns into Rua de Santa Catarina, where two figureheads on the corners of opposite buildings mark the beginning of Porto’s pedestrian-only shopping street.  Several blocks down the Majestic Café, with its 1920’s art nouveau interior of polished wood and etched mirrors, is a window into an earlier era.IMG_1212The blue-tiled Chapel of Souls can be found a little further along.  Added in 1929, the two-story high Azulejo tile mural covering the front and side dramatically depicts scenes from the life of Saint Catherine and Saint Francis of Assisi.IMG_1295Back tracking, we turned down Rua de 31 de Janereio which would take us to Porto São Bento, the inter-city train station, then Clérigos Church & Clérigos Tower.  This beautiful French Beaux-Arts styled station was constructed in 1900.  Between 1905 and 1916, artist Jorge Colaço designed and installed 20,000 Azujelo tiles in this lobby, which illustrate significant moments in Portugal’s history. It is a dramatic, cavernous space especially when sunlight pours through its tall windows across the tiles.  Jorge Colaço also designed the tiles on the exterior of the Church of Saint Ildefonso.IMG_1702Just past the train station is Praça da Liberdade with its grand sculptures.  There are also many fine architectural details on the surrounding buildings, so look up! 

Clérigos Church & Clérigos Tower is a must stop if only to climb the tower which offers spectacular panoramic views of Porto.  If it’s a really nice day, you might be tempted to stay all day just to soak in the views of the city and life on the streets below.

The Brotherhood of the Clerics was established in the 13th century to assist sick or destitute clergy in their time of need.  The present-day church, infirmary (now a museum) and tower were constructed in the early 1700’s.  The 246 ft tower and its 225 steps to the top quickly established itself as the landmark of central Porto.  The infirmary functioned until the late 1800’s.  A 2014 renovation transformed the former hospital space into a modern museum featuring an extremely interesting collection of religious artifacts spanning from the 13th to 20th century.

From Clérigos Tower we walked along Rua das Carmelitas, stopping to snack at a sidewalk café next to Livraria Lello.  Since 1906 this charming bookstore with its beautiful façade and unique interior has been a magnet for literary types.  The Studio 54 of its day for aspiring novelists and bookworms, it is now an iconic photo op with its magnificently curved, polished wood and crimson carpeted stairway.  And remember to look up and check out the ornate ceiling.  What looks like carved wood detailing is actually painted plaster, a technique popular at the time. And they are capitalizing on this by charging admission. Fortunately, the purchase price of the ticket, €5.00, does get credited to a book purchase.  They limit the number of people entering at one time, but even in March when we visited it was packed with tourists and there was a queue outside.IMG_1749At the top of the street in a small plaza with palm trees we found Fonte dos Leões, with its four lion statues.IMG_1378Behind it the cathedrals Igreja dos Carmelitas and Igreja do Carmo stand next to each other.IMG_1478.jpgThey are only separated by the width of a discreet door to an extremely narrow house which was the home of church workers until the 1980s. Recently it was opened as a museum.  Igreja do Carmo was built for the people and has an ornate exterior with sculpted statues of Santa Ana and the prophets Elijah and Elisha alongside sculptures of the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on its front façade and a large tile mural portraying the churches founding on the side wall.

Igreja dos Carmelitas was built as part of a convent and solely for the use of the cloistered nuns to keep them apart from the monks of Igreja do Carmo.  Both are magnificent showcases of Portugal’s wealth from when it was an empire, featuring exquisite, gilded wedding cake altars and lavish Baroque interiors.

Tram lines 22 and 18 converge conveniently in the plaza across the street from the cathedral.  Tram 22 gives you the option to journey down to the waterfront while Tram 18 loops back into the shopping district. IMG_1920.jpgIt was a brilliant, warm day and Jardins do Palácio de Cristal wasn’t too far away, so we continued our walk.  This spacious park offered a wonderful respite from city life with formal flower gardens, fountains and woodland trails that led to several scenic overlooks of the Douro River and Ponte da Arrábida. 

We savored the views of the river as we worked our way down the shaded trails which led us past Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha and Casa Tait, an estate home with formal gardens which is now a museum, to one of the oldest remnants of early Porto.

Rua de Entre-Quintas and Rua das Macieirinhas are rustic, ancient high walled, stone alleys where it’s easy to image how life was centuries ago, when this was a farming district on the outskirts of the city. At every corner we expected to encounter oxcarts, throngs of medieval merchants or a small herd of goats, but we had this journey to the past to ourselves.  We followed our Rua de Entre-Quintas to its end on Rua da Restauracao where we crossed over and then zig-zagged our way down to the Ribeira riverfront in search of a restaurant along the water. IMG_2033Along the quay the umbrella-ed tables of Monchique Bar Restaurant called us to rest.  Predictably we ordered grilled fish, as one does when so close to the ocean, but we started with an appetizer of the most amazing chicken gizzards!  Donna loves them, but I’ve always had an unfounded aversion to them until the wonderful aroma of them from the table next to us wafted our way.  They were surprisingly delicious, sautéed in wine with spices and herbs, and I’ve been a convert ever since.  The grilled fish was excellent as was the vino verde and café afterwards.  Savoring “la dolce vita” we whiled away the afternoon watching the tourist Rabelos, traditional cargo boats once used to transport wine, pass on the river.IMG_2107Tram 1 runs along the waterfront here, so we followed the tracks past Igreja do Corpo Santo de Massarelos, Church of the Brotherhood of the Holy Souls and Bodies, looking for the next station.  The original church was founded in 1394 by a brotherhood of seamen to honor those lost at sea.  Hometown hero Prince Henry the Navigator was a member of this fraternity in the 1400’s and the large azulejo tile mural on a wall of the church facing the river features him.IMG_2139Just around the corner from the church Trams 1 and 22 shared a stop and we hopped aboard the #22, to save our legs from a long uphill walk, to start our journey home for the day.

Till next time, Craig & Donna

 

Coimbra – There was Sense of Arrival

It was late in the afternoon when we drove across the Ponte de Santa Clara into Coimbra with the reflection of the old city brightly shining on the water of the Mondego River below.  A wonderful sense of anticipation built as we crossed the bridge, seeing layers of history climb from the riverbank to the crest of this ancient city.  Unlike Lisbon or Porto where you are suddenly there, here we glimpsed how history progressed. Crossing the river and entering the city after a long journey, there was a sense of arrival.  We were traveling back in time.  Fortunately, today there new conveniences and we ditched our car in the underground parking at our hotel, Tivoli Coimbra.  It’s a nice, reasonably priced, business class hotel only a short walk from the historic district. IMG_0400Coimbra is a city for walkers.  Ancient lanes crisscross the historic district, weaving their way steeply up the hillside until you eventually reach the University of Coimbra, which crowns this charming city.  But the journey there is so rewarding, with arched alleys, cathedrals and numerous shops and restaurants all vying for exploration.img_9666.jpgEvery day is a good day in Portugal when it starts with café and a Portuguese pastry.  We started ours next to Igreja de Santa Cruz at, of course, Café Santa Cruz This pleasant cafe is in an old parish church that dates to 1530. After its desecration, the space was used as a funeral home, fire station, hardware and plumbing store before becoming a café in 1923 and the beloved Coimbra institution it is today.  Outside, as we left, street musicians were just beginning to tune up as we entered the cathedral and its monastery next door.

Coimbra was the capital of Portugal when construction of Igreja de Santa Cruz was started in 1136.  The importance of the cathedral and monastery in Portugal’s early years was such that the first kings of the country, Afonso Henriques (the conquerer, 1109-1185) and his heir to the throne Sancho I (the populator, 1154-1211) were entombed on opposite sides of the altar.  Usually the altar is off-limits in churches, but here we were able to closely examine the tombs and inspect their intricately carved features. IMG_9733 Deceptively, many of the marble columns and surrounds of the altar are actually wood, painted to imitate marble.  The cathedral aged poorly in its early centuries as the result of repeated Spring flooding from the Mondego River.  In the 1700s Azulejos tiles were added to the walls to cover severely water-damaged early fresco paintings.  A spectacular and huge four thousand pipe organ hangs precariously from the wall of the sanctuary.  Apparently, it’s so difficult to play only three people know how.  The monastery is huge with many interesting rooms and intriguing details to explore.

Outside the wide pedestrian-only avenue Praca 8 de Maio runs flatly through the historic district.  It will change its name to Rua Visc. Da Luz and eventually Rua Ferreirra Borges before ending near the river.  Eateries with outside dining, shops and street performers line this mall, which is Coimbra’s equivalent to New York’s Fifth Avenue, with a little bit of Canal Street thrown in.  It’s the place to walk, to see and be seen.  In the evenings fado, rock and jazz bars enliven the strip. Many small alleys veer off this main street to zigzag their way uphill through ancient, arched city gates to old neighborhoods.

We passed folks calling down to their neighbors from above and others using a rope and bucket to lift groceries up to their fourth or fifth floor apartments.  Groups of jovial students in their traditional capa e batina, black capes, rushed by on the way to or from their Republics (small frat houses) before we reached the prestigious University of Coimbra that crowns the city, occupying what was once an old medieval palace.

Dom João III brought the university here in 1537, after the institution spent its first two-hundred fifty years in Lisbon.  The school is one of the oldest universities in Europe.  While Dom João III’s statue centers the courtyard around which the university is built, the grand façade of the Via Latina with twin staircase and bell tower anchors the square.img_0038.jpgNext to it, inside Sala dos Exames, the walls and ceilings of the lecture halls and dissertation exam rooms are ornately decorated to the point of distraction! The hallways were lined with beautiful Azulejo tiles.  The extravagance continued in Chapel of São Miguel with gold leaf and a majestic organ that nearly takes up the entire space.

The highlight of our visit to the university was our ten minutes in the Biblioteca Joanina.  That’s all the time they allowed, and my wife swears they encouraged us to hold our breaths for the duration of it so as not to introduce excessive humidity to the climate-controlled environment. 200,000 ancient texts are kept in three, two-storied rooms, richly decorated with exotic woods, muraled ceilings and gilded carvings.  In the evenings, after closing, the reading credenzas are covered with sheets of leather to shield them from bat droppings.   A colony of bats is used to protect the books from insect destruction.  The bat guano is swept away in the mornings.  Under the library is the Prisão Académica, academic prison.  It was allegedly used for bad fado singers, plagiarists, late book offenders and dueling academics.IMG_0186From the university we followed the twenty-one arches of Aqueduct of San Sebastian – Garden Arches, constructed in the late 1500s on the ruins of an old roman aqueduct that dated to the first century, along Barrio Sousa Pinto to Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra.

Constructed in 1772, this wonderful thirty-two acre park covers the slope under the university.  The upper third of the botanical garden features terraced, formal gardens with fountains, a large conservatory with a waterfall and stream running through it, and a medicinal plant garden.  The remainder is now wild, old growth woodland that was originally populated with exotic specimen trees collected from different regions of the world.  The park is very popular spot to have wedding photos taken.

Coimbra does outdoor spaces very well. We ended our day strolling along the riverbanks in Park Verde do Mondego, which was full of families seeking open spaces, before crossing the colorful Pedro e Inês footbridge.  The sides of the bridge are colored glass panels that shine like a rainbow, creating a very dramatic effect.  Below us rowers in scull boats cut through the mirror surface of the water, distorting the reflection of the city in their ripples.IMG_0835The next morning as we looked for a café at which to have breakfast, we walked along Rua Olimpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes past Jardim da Manga, which was once part of the Santa Cruz Monastery next to it. A unique renaissance structure with Moorish water garden influence, it has a large, open-sided cupola at its center, surrounded by four small chapels, set above large garden ponds.  King John III of Portugal is said to have designed the structure on the sleeve (manga) of his jerkin when he visited the monastery in 1528, and thus it was built. IMG_0605Further along Jardim da Avenida Sá da Bandeira divides the boulevard into a lovely, treelined public space that runs for several long blocks through a neighborhood, before it ends just shy of Jardim da Sereia (mermaid.)  The older buildings edging the park are full of character with interesting architectural details. The area was reminiscent of Paris. 

Three statues representing faith, hope, and charity top a ceremonial arch flanked by twin gatehouses and greeted us at the main entrance on Praca Republica; they perfectly framed the ornate manmade waterfall fountain at the end of a long promenade.IMG_0659Azulejo tile murals edged with religious statues framed the sculpted fountain.  At the top of the fountain water gurgled from under a statue of the Virgin Mary, symbolically giving life to the waterfall.  Symmetrical stairways on either side led deeper into the heavily shaded park.

Reluctantly we ended our wanderings in Coimbra and headed to Porto.

We, like other visitors, didn’t budget enough time to fully explore Coimbra as it is viewed as only a short stop between Lisbon and Porto.  This ancient city needs at least two full days to enjoy its charms and a third if you want to explore the surrounding countryside and nearby Schist villages.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna

 

Back Roads – Castelo Branco – Jewel of the Portuguese Frontier

The long, curved road to the top of Colina da Cardosa in Castelo Branco was lined with olive trees.  In this small city of 56,000 it seemed that every available piece of land that didn’t have a building on it was planted with olive trees – even in the median strip!  Being olive aficionados, we were impressed with this urban landscaping that was both functional and edible.  We parked adjacent to Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo and the ruins of the old castle that dominate the hilltop.  A pathway led us to benches that overlooked the prosperous expanse of the modern city.  The golden hour lit the trees around us with warmth.  As the sky deepened, city lights slowly filled the void. Behind us, on the slope below the castle, the old historic district was already cloaked in night.   Tomorrow we’d spend the day wandering its ancient alleys. 

Located just a short walk from the crest of the hill TRYP Colina Do Castelo Hotel, with its free parking, turned out to be the perfect place to base our wandering of the historic district from.  Better for us to walk downhill than uphill.  From our balcony the next morning, we watched a brilliant sunrise.IMG_8704Fortifying the high ground was the rule centuries ago and the last remnant of Castelo e Muralhas Castelo Branco, the white castle, still commands the skyline above the old historic district of the town.  Much isn’t known of the history of Castelo Branco before 1182, when it is first mentioned in a royal document decreeing land to who else, but those prolific castle builders the Knights Templar.  Only 18km (11 miles) from the Spanish border, the fortified village quickly grew into an important center of commerce and line of defense to protect the Portuguese frontier.  Today only two towers and a wide section of the ramparts are all that remained to remind us of this once mighty fortress and walled city.  Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo is thought to be the first church built in the village, when it was constructed within the castle walls on the foundations of a ruined Roman temple.  The church had a turbulent history: destroyed in 1640 during the Portuguese Castile war, burnt down in 1704 and then used by the French as a stable when they invaded. It was left in ruins until it was rebuilt in the 19th century. It now sits peacefully in the park, atop the hill, with a view of the surrounding countryside.

From the castle towers we plotted our walk down through the ancient quarter to Jardim do Paço, the Bishop’s Palace Garden, then ending our day at Sé Catedral de Castelo Branco.  From the hilltop we descended a long flight of shaded stairs to the Miradouro de São Gens.  This is a lovely, quiet spot with a water garden and benches.  During its construction in 1940s evidence of earlier civilizations living on the hill were unearthed and placards describing the finds are featured along the pathway.

We exited the park onto Rua do Mercado, the old merchant street that runs flatly across the midsection of the hill.  Unlike Alfama in Lisbon, there are no boutique shops or galleries along the lane; the area is strictly residential now.  The names of the narrow, cobbled lanes reflect the shops that once lined them: Rua dos Oleiros (potters,) Rua dos Peleteiros (pelters,) and Rua dos Lagares (wineries,) and they run steeply down the slope from Rua do Mercado to flatter ground around the Bishop’s Palace Garden and the newer 17th century part of town.  Wonderful examples of 15th century homes with carved stone door and window frames can be found in this area. But like Alfama, Albicastrenses still gather to talk to their neighbors in the streets and hang laundry from their windows.

Fine examples of Portuguese Calcada, mosaic stone sidewalks, can be seen in front of the Bishop’s Palace, now the Museu Francisco Tavares Proença Jr., which is famous for its collection of highly embroidered, ornate colcha, bedspreads, from the Castelo Branco area.  This traditional art has been unique to the region for over three-hundred years.  It is thought that the inspiration for these was brought back from the orient by Portuguese traders and that the local women self-taught themselves the technique. Needing to rest, we headed into a municipal park across from the Bishop’s Garden, where there was a small café that served good coffee and tasty sandwiches.

The Bishop’s Palace Garden is the crown jewel of Castelo Branco and even in mid-March when we visited was green and spectacular. Commissioned in the early 1700s by the Bishop of Guarda, D. João de Mendonça, it is one of Portugal’s best examples of baroque formal gardens.  The garden is divided into four distinct sections containing fragrant orange trees, azulejos tile murals, boxwood hedges, staircases, statuary, pools, and fountains all inter-connected via pathways. Of particular interest were the staircase of the Kings of Portugal that depicted in miniature the hated Monarchs of Spain, who for short periods ruled Portugal, and the delicate sprinkler fountains found in the pools that were unique to Portuguese formal gardens at the time.

Continuing our walk to the Sé Catedral de Castelo Branco we passed a tall, richly carved, stone road marker.  The Cross of Sao Joao, its fine Manueline details now heavily eroded by time, was sculpted in the 1500s to mark that there was a chapel devoted to Sao Joao nearby. Further along we passed an old defense tower that was renovated centuries earlier to become the town’s clock tower, Torre do Relógio, with its signature finely, pointed conical roof.

Just off the old square, Praça do Camões, we passed through an archway that was once one of the gates to the walled lower part of the town.  Above it was the first residence of the Guarda Bishops before their luxurious palace was built. Those versatile Templars, fortress and cathedral builders extrordinaire, are also credited with the construction the of Sé Catedral de Castelo Branco in the early 13th century.  The cathedral’s original footprint has been lost under centuries of expansion.  Today its simple exterior belies a richly decorated interior that features a gold-leaf altar and a beautiful baptismal font.

Exhausted after a long day of discovery, we took a taxi back uphill to our hotel for the evening. 

When we visited in early Spring, we had the town mostly to ourselves. There were only a handful of other tourists wandering the alleys and gardens with us.  As inexpensive as Lisbon was, meals are even more budget friendly in the countryside.  We highly recommend touring through the small villages and towns along the Portuguese frontier with Spain as a reprieve from the big cities of Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna

365 Days on The Road – Our First Year as Nomads

“It’s hell, I tell you!” My heart sank. I only regained my composure and burst into laughter when I turned to see a wry smile across Donna’s face and heard, “I only have three pairs of shoes with me.” Dusty after a full day of game drives, we were sitting on the porch of a small cottage sipping wine in the middle of Schotia, a 1600 hectare (4000 acre) private game reserve, just outside of Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, reminiscing about our first nomadic year.  Darkness covered the countryside early in June, the beginning of South Africa’s winter season.  Our guide had just lit the oil lamps a few minutes earlier, handed us a walkie-talkie and said, “Use this to call the owner if there’s an emergency, you’re the only folks here tonight.’’ There were no other lights around except for the moon.  The bush has a life of its own and sounded totally different in the darkness. The owner lived somewhere on the other side of this vast reserve.

We’ve had a great year, but there have been some challenges along the way:  An extremely close encounter with an aggressive bull sea lion and seas rough enough to shake a martini in the Galapagos Islands; playing chicken with chicken-buses in the Ecuadorian Andes on serpentine roads, without guard rails, more suitable for Humvees than tiny sedans. Running into the courtyard of our Airbnb in Cuenca half naked when we felt our first earthquake.  Watching a major eruption of Volcan Fuego, only 9 miles away, from our rooftop in Antigua, Guatemala, and surviving the city’s pyrotechnic Christmas season, which at times can resemble a war zone.  Endured an open coconut-taxi ride during a torrential rain in Cuba while searching for Cuban cigars; pickpockets in Lisbon; tourist information officials in Bulgaria who were better suited to working in a gulag – “FOLLOW THE LINE!!” – than greeting visitors to their beautiful country.  Plus, a husband who snores.

And through all that my gal only wants an extra pair of shoes!  I’ve married the right woman.

We didn’t plan on being the only folks at the game reserve during the middle of the week, but that’s one of the benefits of off-season travel.  Following spring-like conditions around the globe, we’ve been able to avoid hot, humid weather and the crowds.  Plus, the prices are lower for hotels and Airbnb’s. Our traveling budget is intact, so we haven’t had to resort to smuggling, selling blood or that extra kidney.IMG_7406When we retired early, a year ago, we had to choose health insurance or travel.  We made the decision to go without U.S. health insurance, because it’s too damn unaffordable and wouldn’t cover us outside the U.S. anyway.  We chose travel insurance instead, with medical evacuation, and we pay out of pocket for wellness care and dentistry.  Our two years on the road will bridge us until age 65 when we qualify for Medicare.  And it’s surprising how affordable excellent healthcare is in other countries.  We’ve paid $25.00 for an emergency room visit to a private hospital and $5.00 for the prescriptions in Ecuador to treat high altitude sickness.  Our travel insurance paid fully for a visit to an ENT specialist in Lisbon to treat a persistent sinus infection.  I’ve visited dentists in Cuenca, Ecuador for a tooth extraction and bridge; Sofia, Bulgaria for a broken filling; and Cape Town, South Africa for a root canal.  The care has been excellent and extremely inexpensive compared to pricing in the United States.  Though when we are in the United States travel insurance only covers us if we are one hundred miles away from our previous home in Pennsylvania.IMG_0594We plan on purchasing a home when we return to the United States. Right now, though, our budget is plus/minus $1000.00 per month for an apartment.  One thousand per month for housing goes much further overseas than in the states and allows us to live in unique and interesting locales.

The regional cuisine everywhere has been wonderful.  Food is a large part of any travel budget and to keep our expenses down we cook in quite a bit.  We enjoy the experience of shopping like a local and buying different fruits, vegetables and “oh, the breads.”  We’ve purchased meat and chicken from street vendors and learned to arrive early in the morning while the day is still cool to avoid the flies.  Our dieting regime of walk a little then café, walk a little more then café, seems to be working.  We monitor our physical activity with our phone’s health app. Though after a day bouncing through the bush in a Land Rover it credited us with climbing 170 flights of stairs.  No fools we – we ordered two desserts that night.IMG_3737[35074]Restaurants have been refreshingly inexpensive with most meals costing half or less for what you would pay in the states for something similar.   In 99% of the places we’ve dined we haven’t experienced tourist pricing and it’s wonderful.  We did get extremely gouged at a historic café in Porto, Portugal, which wouldn’t have been so bad, but the coffees and pastries were tasteless.  Lamb, fish, oysters and ostrich, pricey things at home, are now on our shopping list.  The wines in Portugal and South Africa are very good.IMG_7034We’ve rented cars in Ecuador, Guatemala, Portugal, Bulgaria and South Africa. Near the Schist villages in the mountains of central Portugal we gave a lift to two hikers, who were exhausted from a long trek without water.  We ended up having a delightful afternoon and lunch with them.  Aside from the deeply rutted dirt roads of the Andes Mountain range in Ecuador, South Africa with its driving on the left has proven to be the most difficult.  We find that a pilot plus navigator system works well, with the latter reminding the pilot to stay left and make very wide right-hand turns.  Interesting traffic signs dot the roads here: Caution Tortoise and Baboons Share this Road Too, Watch for Stray Cattle.  I chuckled to myself when I passed a sign that I thought said Zebras Humping, only to realize a moment later it was a speed bump when I hit it at a pretty good clip.  Caution High Winds – Parents Hold Your Children Firmly by the Hand as there is Mortal Danger of Them Blowing Off, greeted us in the parking lot of a scenic and windy overlook.  South Africa has a well deployed and concealed electronic camera system and we’ve received our first notice of a traffic violation from the rental car company. 

Originally, we were going to spent April and May pet sitting in England, then June, July and August doing two different Workaway assignments, in exchange for free housing in France, in order to budget some extra funds for our push into Africa.  On short notice our first pet sit in England fell through. Next, Donna was sick for several weeks and I fell three times on the same arm, severely bruising it.  With deep introspection we realized we’re not as young as we wish anymore and cancelled our working assignments.  Gardning at a 14th century chateau sounded wonderful, but not in the record 114F heat that France recently experienced.So, we quickly reworked our plans and ended up in of all places Bulgaria, (more on that in future blogs,) for a month, before flying down to Cape Town.  At the end of August, we head to Victoria Falls, bordering Zimbabwe and Botswana, for a few days before flying to Ethiopia to visit the indigenous tribes of the Southern Omo Valley, and the Rock Churches of Lalibela.  Montenegro and Italy will host us until Christmas when we’ll return to the states to celebrate it with our family.  Our route for 2020 hasn’t been determined yet.

When shopping for souvenirs we try to buy directly from local craftspeople and have learned that if an item is very inexpensive it was probably made in China.  Cheap Chinese imports are undercutting the livelihoods of many local craftspeople around the world.  I don’t want my tourist dollars inadvertently supporting rich Chinese businessmen who purchase poached rhino horn for use in folk remedies.  China’s traditional medicine practitioners are the only market for poached rhino horn.  Three rhinos are killed every day to support this illicit trade and China needs to stop turning a blind eye to it.  In Cuba we witnessed widespread poverty, the effects of a failed communist state.  Tourists dollars greatly help aspiring entrepreneurs and local economies grow.  Why the U.S. is restricting travel again to Cuba is beyond me.  We conduct business with China, forgetting its reprehensible human rights record, but not Cuba only ninety miles from Miami. Go figure.

Many of our most memorable moments have been conversations around communal dining tables sharing stories, adventures and tips with inn keepers, guides and fellow travelers.  In many of the places we’ve been “we don’t get many Americans here” is a common refrain. Travel – it’s good for the soul and opens a window of empathy that you can’t find sitting in an armchair watching the nightly news.

Till next time,

Craig – Suitcase #2

Now for a different perspective on our nomadic year check out Suitcase #1, Donna’s blog at: https://bornwithgypsyshoes.com/2019/07/02/a-look-back-one-year-of-being-homeless-jobless-and-uninsured/

P.S. The 2suitcasesfor2years blogs run about 8 weeks behind our actual travel dates.  You can also follow 2suitcasesfor2years on Instagram for more great photography.

Back Roads – Marvão to Monsanto – Discovering the Portuguese Frontier

Watching a dreamy sunrise cast the day’s first light on the castle walls, we descended into a misty valley just awakening.  Sheep filled the road as a shepherd led his flock through a gate onto the steep slope below Castelo Marvão.  For how many centuries has this daily ritual been happening?  Layers of history abound along the remote Portuguese frontier with Spain, and visual remnants of it are around every twist in the lane.  At the foot of Marvão, the village of Portagem takes its name from an old toll bridge over the River Sever that was the entry point into Portugal for Jews expelled from Spain at the start of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. If they couldn’t pay the toll they stayed in a refugee camp along the border.IMG_8356Monsanto, a village where the homes are built under, between or above gigantic boulders was our day’s main destination, 134 km (83 miles) away, leaving us plenty of time for whims.  And if we still had energy and gas, we’d do a quick border crossing into Spain, just because we were so close and have never been, before backtracking to spend the night in Castelo Branco.  Because it looked so beautiful and intriguing, we made a brief detour into the small town of Castelo de Vide, just a few miles from Marvão.IMG_8264This quaint village sits on a gently sloping hill with ancient lanes worthy of exploration that will have to wait until our return to the Alentejo region. It too has a castle, built in 1310 by the order of King Dom Dinis, but the city itself was not walled.  Just outside Castelo de Vide we spotted a small chapel sitting high on a ridge. “Oh, let’s go.” Seeing a small sign, we braked and did a quick U-turn which led us up a sharp set of switch backs through a forested landscape.  Parking under a canopy of old growth cork trees, we climbed a steep staircase to Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Penha and were rewarded with a spectacular view of Castelo de Vide and the surrounding countryside below as hawks soared above us. Far away to the southeast the silhouette of Castelo Marvão rode the horizon..We learned that the chapel was built in the early 16th century in commemoration of a miracle: Our Lady protected a shepherd from robbery by turning day into night on the mountain, thus foiling the plot. This miracle was witnessed by the villagers of Castelo de Vide far below, who then constructed this chapel upon the mountain.

A little farther down the road an ancient, intricately paved pathway called the Calçada Medieval crosses the way.  This footpath dates to the 12th century and is believed to follow an older Roman road that was the shortest walking distance between Castelo de Vide and Portalegre, 17.2km or 10.5 miles away.IMG_8299Huge rocks piled on top of each other resembled man-made megalithic monuments at the entrance to a quarry along our route.  The owner perhaps got his inspiration from the numerous megalithic sites in the Alentejo area.IMG_8434Monsanto rises abruptly from the surrounding plains like a newly emerging volcano breaking through the crust of the earth and spewing huge boulders the size of small cottages atop one another in its tumultuous birth.  This unique and dramatic landscape has provided shelter since the Early Stone Age, and inhabitants incorporated these huge rocks into their dwellings and animal shelters.  In 1165 King Afonso gave the pile of rocks to the Knights Templar with the decree to keep the reconquered city in Christian hands.  As the Templars did wherever they went, they quickly set about building a castle at the summit.  Today, like so many other small villages in Portugal the place is nearly deserted, its youth moving to Lisbon or across the European Union for better opportunities.  Restaurants, small inns, day trippers and retirees from the cold of northern Europe now fill the void.  We paced ourselves for the steep climb to the castle, stopping often to take photos or investigate a narrower lane that veered off to one side or the other.  Oddly, some brave locals would drive their cars up the exceedingly narrow, cobbled lane to get as close to their homes as possible, drop off their parcels and then back-up all the way downhill as there wasn’t any room to turn around. Amazingly, it appears they never scratched their cars.

Just before reaching the castle the ruins of Capela de São Miguel can be seen jutting above a low ridge.  This small chapel is surrounded by graves, all facing east, chiseled into the granite rock.  The lids to the tombs and the bodies inside are long gone, but the clearly human shape of these stone coffins is still visible.  There are many hiking options available at this point, so be sure to bring plenty of water.  Watching our footsteps, we slowly descended the hill back into town.  Returning to the village it was easier to spot a number of abandoned, dilapidated dwellings with collapsed roofs.  These are the remnants of Portugal’s antiquated inheritance laws, where nothing can be done with a property until all the beneficiaries agree. This results in homes slowly deteriorating until the roofs and walls collapse.  It’s sad to see a once charming stone home in ruins.

With the sun still high in the sky we decided to make our run to the border and set our feet in Spain, if only for a few minutes.  Set back from the main road, the spire of Idanha-a-Velha’s cathedral caught our attention.  The cathedral has been converted into a museum containing a large collection of Roman epigraphs, inscriptions in stone, found in the area, but unfortunately it was closed mid-week in March.  One of the oldest villages in Portugal with a recorded history that is dated to 16 AD, it has been occupied by Celts, Romans, Visigoths, and Arabs. In contrast with most other early towns in the region Idanha-a-Velha does not occupy any high ground for defense; its walls rise suddenly from flat terrain. Remnants of its wide defensive wall and a roman era bridge across the Rio Ponsul can still be walked on. The mortar-less stonework of the buildings here is admirable for its precision and beauty. Today it’s a charming backwater with the feel of a large fortified villa instead of a small town that once had a population in the thousands. The day we stopped, a woman hanging laundry to dry, an elderly gentleman sleeping on some stairs in the sun, taking his siesta, and storks building their nests were the only signs of life.

The hills flanking the road to Segura were covered with olive groves, their silver green leaves twirling in a light breeze, creating multiple shades of green undulating across the countryside like waves rushing onto a beach.  The modern Ponte Romana de Segura now crosses the Rio Erges, a tributary of the Tagus River, where a Roman bridge once stood.  We made it to Spain! And nobody gave a hoot, but us. As part of the European Union there was no border control post between the two countries. Hey, we’re old school and like those passport stamps.  We parked in Spain and walked back to the center of the span for photos by the plaque demarcating the border between the two countries with Segura sitting atop its hill in the background.

A bell tower and a small park with a panoramic view of the border now dominates the high ground in Segura, its castle battlements dismantled long ago and used to build other structures.  Only a pensioner with his dogs shared the view with us.  Twelve hundred people once called Segura home in its heyday in the 1950’s. Today, because it is so far away from everything, the village has a population that hovers around 100 souls.IMG_8675We arrived in Castelo Branco just in time to watch the sunset from the miradouro above the city.  Located just below the overlook, TRYP Colina Do Castelo Hotel was our home for two nights.  https://www.trypcolinacastelo.com/  Business style hotels aren’t our first choice for accommodations, but with its free parking and excellent location we were sold on it.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna

Back Roads – Lisbon to Marvão

“Set it to avoid toll roads?” “Yep.” And with that our mapping app committed us to back roads for our journey to the Portuguese frontier. The medieval hilltop citadel of Marvão,  located along the border with Spain, was our day’s destination.  We had just wrapped up a splendid month in Lisbon, but were looking forward to a fifteen-day road trip exploring the smaller villages of the Portuguese countryside, between Marvão to the east of Lisbon and Porto to the north.IMG_7889Leaving Lisbon behind, we crossed the graceful Vasco da Gama suspension bridge spanning the Tagus River.  Within minutes we entered a gently rolling landscape of cork, olive and chestnut orchards dotted with sheep grazing in the shade beneath the trees.  Along the roads, storks were building their nests atop powerline towers or the chimneys of abandoned houses.  These stunning birds, having just completed their seasonal migration north from Africa, are always a joy to watch and we interpreted their sighting as a sign of good fortune ahead.  Heads turned as we passed through small farming towns more used to seeing the twice daily bus or farm tractors rumbling along than unfamiliar tourists cruising through.  Each village, regardless of how small, had a café, which was the center of activity.  Short on atmosphere, they offered espresso or cappuccino, just as good as in Lisbon, along with a limited selection of sandwiches and pastries. 

Crossing the Ribeira de Seda on a high modern overpass, we spotted a large old stone bridge below.  The next exit led us down to Ponte de Vila Formosa, an impressive 2,000-year-old Roman bridge with six arches dating to the 1st century CE.  This 330-foot span was once a vital crossing on the Roman road linking Lisbon to Mérida, Spain.  Today it’s one of the best-preserved examples of Roman engineering remaining in Portugal.  Closer to Marvão is a one arch bridge built in 1494, and not nearly as elegant or substantial as the Ponte de Vila Formosa. We wondered how a royal carriage ever crossed it safely.IMG_6849Typically, we double the amount of time it’s suggested to get to our destination to account for coffee, lunch breaks and photo ops.  We drive, we stop, jump out for snaps, make U-turns and so on.  As the sun lowers in the afternoon sky, “We’ll never get there if you stop every 100 yards to take pictures!” is often voiced from the navigator’s seat.

A serpentine road twisted up the side of the 3,000-foot-tall butte, occasionally offering a glimpse of our formidable destination high above.  Driving through the slender entrance gate, the portal narrowed to the point where we had to pull the mirrors in.  It seemed the further we drove uphill the farther time receded. By the time we reached the summit of the walled village and checked in at Dom Dinis, a small boutique hotel, the golden hour was in full glory and bathed the countryside in a warm glow.IMG_8053The cold wind chilled us to our bones, but we found warmth by the fireplace in the tavern across from our inn.  After dinner, as we stood on the ramparts behind our hotel, the darkness offered us a view of the stunning star-filled sky above and the twinkle of village lights far below.  With a stiff breeze in our faces, we felt like we were flying. The glorious sunrise the next morning cast a beautiful light on the panoramic view of the flat plains that run all the way into Spain, while the rugged mountains and valleys to the west stayed covered in an early morning mist. 

Marvão was important as a strategic stronghold since the ninth century, when the Moors first possessed it, and subsequently improved and expanded upon it over the centuries when the Kings of Portugal controlled it.  The fortress was sacked and retaken many times over the years. Today after extensive restoration it’s possible to walk all the way around the lower town atop the ramparts that encircle it. The castle walls jut from the steep sides of this granite monolith, like the bow of a ship breaking a huge wave.  Within its battlements, storage rooms and an impressively large rainwater cistern helped sustain the town folks when under siege.  As the last line of defense, the entrance to the castle’s tall keep was high above the courtyard and accessible only by crossing a gang plank which was drawn inside for security. 

Outside the castle, the hilltop village is wonderful to wander around. It reveals formal garden, narrow lanes and arched passageways that lead to whitewashed houses with decorative, Manueline windows, wrought iron balconies, ancient doors and red tiled roofs. 

One of the town’s old churches, Igreja de Santa Maria, has been converted into a civic museum with interesting displays explaining the history of the area. 

Fortunately, in 2017 Marvão requested to be removed from the UNESCO tentative site list, so it isn’t on the bucket list of busloads of day tourists from Lisbon.  At one time Marvão was home to 3,000 residents, but today there are fewer than one hundred full time residents living within its walls. We had the village practically to ourselves in mid-March.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna

 

Tram 15: More Than Just Belem

Standing in the center of the Praça do Comércio today, it’s difficult to imagine the catastrophe of the 1755 earthquake and following tsunamis that destroyed eighty-five percent of Lisbon’s buildings. Cathedrals, palaces, and bordellos (it was a seaport) collapsed and burned.  An estimated forty thousand people died. Renaissance masterpieces by Correggio, Rubens, Titian, and others were reduced to ash.  Detailed accounts of Portugal’s early history and the explorations of its famous navigators were lost when the royal archives were swept away.  Nearly 100,000 early manuscripts vanished when the libraries housing them were incinerated in the fire that lasted for five days.  From the landing, where today street entertainers perform and folks gather to dance and watch the sunset, barges were loaded with the bodies of the dead, towed out to sea and, against the wishes of the church, torched to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases. This event was so calamitous it derailed Portugal’s plans for further colonial expansion. IMG_9221The grand plazas and city center we enjoy today are the results of the visionary prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal, and his head architect, Manuel da Maia.  They presented to King Joseph I the bold idea to start afresh – to reclaim land along the Tagus River, raze what was left of central Lisbon and replace it with a grid pattern.   Wishing order to be returned to his capital, the king endorsed “the construction of big squares, rectilinear, large avenues and widened streets” and with that the new age of city planning began.

Trams 15 and 12 share the same starting point on Praça da Figueira. Tram 12 will take you on a slightly different route up into Alfama than the famous #28 does. Tram 15 will make its second stop at Praça do Comércio, head to Cais do Sodré then mostly run parallel to the Tagus River all the way out to Belem, before turning around at Algés (Jardim).  Sleek modern as well as classic trams run on this route; both are usually packed, depending on the time of day you travel.IMG_9164There is so much to do along this route that it’s easier to walk between points of interest that are close together at the beginning.  Save a trip on the tram until later, when you want to head to the LXFactory or Belem Tower, which are much further away.

Restaurants line the impressive Praça do Comércio, offering great vantage points to watch the activity on the plaza unfold throughout the day. A coffee or beer will secure your chair for as long as you wish.

Down at the waterfront folks gather to listen to street musicians, watch performance artists, and just sit to soak up the sun along a beautiful shoreline as boats cruise by.  Stone steps lead down to two tall marble pillars at the edge of the Tagus River marking the Cais das Colunas, the “door to Lisbon.” Over the centuries, royal barges with eighty oarsmen would deliver kings and other dignitaries to this portal where they were greeted with ceremonial pomp, before they paraded into Lisbon through the Arco da Rua Augusta.IMG_5212Walking along the river towards Cais do Sodré by the Ministério da Defesa Nacional – Marinha building you can see remnants of a stone wharf in the reflecting pool; landlocked now, it’s all that remains of an extensive old navy quay.  There are many places to dine in this area, but we preferred to continue onto Av. 24 de Julho to check out the street art in the area and then stop at The Time Out Market. 

This is a tremendous food hall with a great variety of restaurants and communal seating. It’s always busy, loud and fun!  Close by, in the evenings, you’ll find the club scene on Pink Street.  If you’ve had enough of this area, funicular Bica is only a few blocks away and will whisk you back to the heights of the Baixa neighborhood where you can jump on tram 28.  Watch for the gentleman walking his pet Vietnamese pot belly pig along the funicular tracks.IMG_3322

Farther along Av. 24 de Julho, a steep set of twin stairs leads to Jardim 9 de Abril, a small, quiet park, and the Miradouro da Rocha Conde de Óbidos, which overlooks an active freight harbor.  It’s a different view of Lisbon that reminded us of the city’s long merchant marine history.  Next to the park the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga exhibits an interesting collection of European furniture, paintings and sculpture in a revamped 17th century palace. A short walk from here you’ll find the most colorfully tiled highway exit and entrance ramp in the city, on Av. Infante Santo. IMG_5329IMG_0347One of the nicest Sundays we enjoyed was spent at the LXFactory.  This was formerly a huge industrial complex, located under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, that has now been revamped into a hip destination with co-working areas, boutique shops, art galleries and fabulous restaurants.  The streets where forklifts once rumbled now host a wildy popular outdoor market on Sundays with all sorts of food, jewelry and clothing stalls to wander through.

There is plenty to entertain yourself with here during the week too. With stops at the whimsical Livraria Ler Devagar bookstore, Landeau Chocolate where they only serve their legendary chocolate cake, and drinks or dinner at Rio Maravilha on the rooftop deck, under the iconic sculpture of the diving lady.  The spot is so mesmerizing we returned several times during our time in Lisbon.  The stack of colorful shipping containers and double-decker buses you’ll see from here is Village Underground Lisboa, which is also a neat place to check out.

There is just so much to explore in Belem, between the outdoor sites and the congregation of museums, that it’s impossible to cover it all in one day.  All too conveniently, tram 15 stops in front of Pastéis de Belém, the origin of those heavenly sweet custards.  The waiting line for these divine mouthfuls of temptation can lead down the street at times.  If that’s the case, enter through the exit door on the left, and walk straight back into their 400 seat coffee shop and place your order with a waiter.  The only saving grace from this near sinful indulgence is that the rest of your day in Belem requires walking, lots of walking, between sites.  Burn those calories! 

Museu Nacional dos Coches houses a marvelous display of 16th – 19th century wheeled opulence, that should have inspired the revolutionaries of the day to storm the palace and send the royals into exile. The ceremonial coaches sent to the Vatican are simply over the top. It is amazing to think that in 1905 when this collection was first opened that there were still so many royal coaches around.  Were they covered in tarps, pushed to the back of the stable and forgotten, only to be rediscovered later?

The walk along the Tagus River from the Monument to the Discoverers, built in 1960 to commemorate Portugal’s role in the Age of Discovery, to Belem Tower, which was once in the center of the river, is beautiful and long enough to temporarily tire any revolutionaries’ desire for change.  The first flight across the South Atlantic in 1922 from Lisbon to Rio de Janerio, which took 62 hours in an amphibious biplane, is also honored with a metallic sculpture that shines brilliantly in the sun.  Visit these sites early in the morning or at the end of the day to avoid the crowds.

We waited out a brief passing shower in one of the cafés adjacent to Belem Tower before working our way back into town. Stop at Museu Coleção Berardo (free on Saturdays) which displays an impressive collection of world renowned contemporary and modern artists in permanent and changing exhibitions. The visit to this museum was a refreshing break from the old-world charm of Lisbon. They also have a wonderful café that has a terrace with views overlooking the monuments along the Tagus River. It’s a very nice place to relax that is off the usual tourist path.

Visits to Museu de Marinha, naval history museum, and Jerónimos Monastery capped our day in Belem.  It’s all too easy to forget that Portugal was once a sea-going power with fleets of ships and an empire that rivaled England’s and Spain’s. This fascinating nautical museum will drive home the importance of the sea to Portugal’s livelihood, and the contributions Portugal made to the Age of Discovery.  A collection of historic royal barges will make you wonder about the court’s indulgence for extravagance. Some are so large they required forty oars to propel them through the water.

Jerónimos Monastery, started in 1501, is a treasure of gothic architecture with every surface painted or carved in ornamentation for the glory of the Holy Trinity. It’s huge and an interesting place to wander about; however, we felt it was not worth the price of its rather steep entry fee of 12.50€ per adult. Next door, just as gothic, interesting and free is the cathedral of the monastery – Santa Maria de Belém.

Within this cathedral the ornate tombs of Vasco da Gama and Manuel I of Portugal can be seen along with those of many other notable Portuguese citizens.  Near da Gama’s sarcophagus one of the stone carvers from the 1500s left his whimsical signature carved into a highly decorated column. It’s a small, upside-down face that is hidden amidst all the other decoration. Why? It’s a curiosity that tempts one to create a vibrant backstory for him. Can you find it?

With so much to do and see in Belem you might want to plan multiple visits to this captivating part of Lisbon.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna

 

 

 

Tram 28 – Part II: Chiado/Bairro Alto to Campo de Ourique

Starting the second part of this magical ride through Lisbon, tram 28 leaves the Praça do Comércio area from two nearby stops on Rua da Conceição, and climbs steeply around a huge curve into the Chiado and Bairro Alto districts before traveling to its terminus at Jardim dos Prazeres in Campo de Ourique.  Rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755, both these districts have a totally different atmosphere than Alfama’s time capsule, reflecting a vibrant, more cosmopolitan Lisbon with fine upscale shopping, nightlife and historical monuments that often reminded us of Paris.  Praça Luís de Camões is the center of all this activity and tram 28 will drop you off amidst all the fun. There are so many things to do from this location that you might want to consider coming back here more than once. IMG_1626As if guarding the plaza, Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Loreto / Igreja dos Italianos, known as “the Italian Church” and Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação face each other with refined, simple exteriors.   The Italian Church was built in 1518 by King John V to celebrate Lisbon’s Italian community of Genoese and Venetian merchants.  The interior is lined with marble imported from Italy.

Exiting the Italian Church, you can walk right across the street into Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação to view spectacular ceiling paintings by Simon Caetano Nunes.  After the 1755 disaster, reconstruction of this cathedral lasted until 1873.  The cathedral also features several contemporary religious relief sculptures and a ceiling mural in a side chamber.

Once you’re back on the sidewalk, follow the sound of music to a small plaza. Here street musicians, performance artists and dance teams entertain crowds of tourists.   Outdoor cafes edge the plaza, which is centered by a statue commemorating António Ribeiro, a Catholic cardinal who supported the democratic movement that lead to the toppling of the military regime in 1974.  Pop into Café A Brasileira,  Lisbon’s first coffee house in 1908, with its Art Deco style interior of sculpted wood, polished brass and mirrored walls.  Many famous Portuguese writers and artists nutured their caffeine addiction here.  Poet Fernando Pessoa visited so often, he is immortalized here with a bronze statue depicting him seated at “his” table.  Immortalized in bronze, poet Fernando Pessoa sits permanently outside at “his” table.

Casa do Ferreira das Tabuletas with its ornate tile facade illustrating the sciences can be seen as you work your way to the Carmo Archaeological Museum. Set in the ruins of Lisbon’s largest cathedral before the 1755 earthquake, this small museum has a diverse collection of tombs, ceramics and mosaics along with other ancient artifacts. A few steps from its door, the viewing platform of Elevador de Santa Justa offers beautiful views of Lisbon.  Walking back to Praça Luís de Camões, pass the Guarda Nacional Republicana to watch Lisbon’s less elaborate version of the changing of the guard.

From Praça Luís de Camões you can also walk or take tram 24 up Rua da Misericordia deeper into Bairro Alto.  There is so much to do on this one street, you will want to return several times.  If you are looking to be selective about the churches you visit in Lisbon, Igreja de São Roque and its Museu de São Roque should be at the top of the list. The highly carved gilded interior was the first Jesuit Church in Portugal.  The museum exhibits an intriguing, world-class collection of Italian religious art in a contemporary setting. 

Riding a funicular tram in Lisbon is a must and the street-art covered walls of the Ascensor da Glória route are just a block from Igreja de São Roque.  It’s a pop culture experience to board the graffiti-painted tram and descend to Praça dos Restauradores.  The walls along the route have been given to the artists of Lisbon and are covered with spectacular street murals.  Older murals are painted over on a regular basis and replaced with new inspirations.IMG_5455Shady Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara overlooks this colorful chaos and has splendid views of Lisbon below.  From the miradouro it’s a gentle uphill walk into Bairro Alto. Fortunately, there’s no lack of places to rejuvenate yourself along the way.  For lunch we found A Padaria Portuguesa an artisanal bakery and restaurant that we would return to several times during our stay in Alfama just to buy their delicous bread.  This was especially rewarding if we combined it with buying cheese at Queijaria Cheese Shop just a few blocks away.  Listening to the proprietor describe the nuances of each Portuguese variety and offering samples to tweak our palette, we usually left with the makings for a nice picnic under the towering specimen trees of Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Lisboa, just across the boulevard.  Jardim do Príncipe Real, with its iconic trimmed cypress tree shaped to look like giant shitake mushrooms, was always a good alternative destination. 

For dessert and coffee, we’d indulge ourselves with a sumptuous visit to Bettina & Niccolo Corallo, a wonderful artisanal chocolate and coffee shop with seating for only 6-8 people.  Just down the street, in what was once an ornate, private residence, the Ribeiro da Cunha Palace has been subdivided into unique boutique stores.  The lavish, original architectural detailing can still be seen in all the shops as you wander through. If you are staying late in the area, Tapas Bar 52 is a popular place for sharing delicous, small plate creations. 

One stop away from Praça Luís de Camões, you can climb aboard funicular Bica and descend the steep hill into its gated ticket terminal on Rua de S. Paulo.  On your way down you might catch a glimpse of a middle-aged man walking along the tracks, his pot-bellied pig on a leash.  Outside the terminal you’re back on flat terrain again and only a short walk away from the Time Out Market.IMG_5363Set in a historic 1890s building in Cais do Sodré, this is a huge, lively food court with numerous restaurant choices that is very popular with Lisboans. Whatever you are craving at the time, you’ll find something satisfying here.  Next door, during the week, Mercado da Ribeira operates a central market with fish, meat and produce vendors offering Portugal’s finest products.  Brightly painted Pink Street, popular for its club scene, is nearby.IMG_3326Take funicular Bica back uphill, and around the corner you find tranquil Miradouro de Santa Catarina,  with views of the Tagus River and Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge in the distance.  The Museu da Farmácia is also located here. Also, nearby along Calcada do Combro, or just off it, are several landmarks worth quick visits.

Unimpressive from the outside, Igreja de Santa Catarina, built in 1647, has a rich, baroque style, gilded interior and impressive pipe organ.  The buildings along Rua Vale frame Igreja Paroquial das Mercês sitting prominently atop a small hill at the end of the street. First constructed in 1615, a masterpiece of tile work created in 1715 and installed on a vaulted ceiling in a small room survived the 1755 earthquake. This is one of Lisbon’s hidden treasures.  Credited to tile master Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes, the mural illustrates the Litanies of the Virgin Mary.  Ask the church attendants to open the room for you. The rest of the church is an eighteen-century reconstruction.  Down Rua Vale from the cathedral, Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar, a small contemporary art museum, has rotating exhibits and a permanent collection of works by Júlio Pomar (1926-2018.) Some consider him to be the most influential Portuguese painter of his generation. 

A mass of sun worshippers greeted us a we stepped off the elevator at Park Bar.  Every chair in this oasis of lush greenery, hidden above Lisbon, was turned towards the sun to take advantage of the view on this early spring day.  With a quick look at the name, you think the bar is in a park, but instead it’s on the sixth-floor rooftop of a parking garage next to Igreja de Santa Catarina.  Finding the entrance was a bit challenging, since there was no signage, but once you locate the elevator or stairs inside the garage you’re set.  The place gets packed at sunset and the party grows into the night with DJ’s providing the soundtrack.IMG_6126 Heading west, tram 28 weaves through a very narrow section similar to parts of its route in Alfama, before reaching the open area around Assembleia da República. The parliament of Portugal is headquartered in a neoclassical building that was first used as a convent in the sixteenth century.  Formal gardens behind the parliament building, hidden by an imposing wall, can be seen from tram 28 or if you stand on your tip-toes and peer over.  Never immune from criticism, the politicians must endure a large satirical wall mural, painted on a nearby building, as they head to work each day.

Past the Assembleia da República the character of the city changes.  The streets widen and some multi-storied apartment buildings dot the cityscape between historical buildings.  If you are ready to picnic, Jardim da Estrela is a wonderfully landscaped park with ponds and sculptures of historic figures scattered along the walking paths. Across the boulevard, one of Lisbon’s lesser visited cathedrals, eighteen-century Basílica da Estrelaor, safeguards the tomb of Queen Mary I.  She was the first monarch to rule over a united Portugal that included Brazil.  She ordered the construction of the cathedral in 1761, as a religious obligation, after the birth of a male heir to the throne.  Unfortunately, Queen Mary outlived her son (José – Prince of Brazil) who died of small pox at the age of 27.  The cathedral also has a 500-piece nativity scene, made of cork, on permanent display.

Tram 28 ends its charming journey in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood at Jardim dos Prazeres, a small park with two cafes, in front of Cemitério dos Prazeres.  Here the tram waits for several minutes before following its route all the way back to its starting point in the center of Lisbon at Martim Moniz.   This tranquil cemetery is the final resting place for many of Portugal’s most notable citizens.  Tombs of famous fado singers, artists, architects, doctors, writers and poets share the cypress lined lanes with politicians, nobility and a variety of songbirds.  Many of the mausoleums are ornately decorated with artistic sculptures that represent the deceased’s career.  Stop in the office to get a map outlining several different self-guided tours. There are numbers on the curbs in front of some of the tombs to help cross-reference the person’s contribution to Portuguese society.  The far side of the cemetery offers views of the Tagus river and Ponte 25 de Abril bridge.

A few blocks away Mercado de Campo de Ourique has been revamped into a trendy food hall where organic and artisanal food purveyors share the space with small bars and restaurants.  It’s a great place to rejuvenate before heading home.

Lisbon is an intriguing city with an amazing variety of activities in which to immerse yourself.  There is no one “correct” way to see the city, but tram 28 offers a splendid six-mile route through this charming capitol that passes many of the top attractions.  Multiple sites are close together so it’s easy to walk from one to the other and then just hop back on the tram to cover greater distances.  Don’t expect to see everything along this famous route in one day; there’s just so much to explore and many wonderful diversions!

We loved Lisbon and can’t wait to return one day.

Till next time, Craig & Donna

Tram 28 – Exploring Alfama – Part I

We relied heavily on the Lisbon tram system, especially tram 28 which ran very close to our Airbnb, to navigate our way around this beautiful and very hilly city.  Unlike San Francisco, the trams in Lisbon are affordable if you purchase a Viva Viagem transit card from an agent at a Metro station.  With a Viva Viagem card your fare on the trams and funiculars is 1.40€, but without it the price rockets up to 3.00€ per ride.  As you exit the arrivals terminal at Lisbon airport look to the right and you will see the sign for the Metro. Just down the escalator there is a ticket office where you can purchase your transit card and be set for your time in Lisbon.IMG_0845All the tram lines in Lisbon travel through wonderful areas, but tram 28 has become famous because it is the longest line in the city and runs near many of the tourist highlights in romantic Alfama, namely Castelo de Sao Jorge and the miradouros (overlooks) Portas do Sol and Santa Luzia.  Before heading back into the city center, it climbs into the Chiado district and ends in Campo de Ourique by the historic Dos Prazeres Cemetery.  Nearly every stop along this splendid route offers a worthy point of interest.  Being this popular, it is often difficult to get a seat on tram 28, especially if you choose to board it where it begins at plaza Martim Moniz in the center of Lisbon.  After 10AM the line of folks waiting here can be daunting and you might have to wait for several trams to fill and go before you have a chance to board.  But if you must stand, head for the back of the car – the rear of the tram offers the best views. If you can, we suggest boarding at one of the miradouros where usually many people exit the tram.  Tram 12 has a stop behind tram 28’s starting point on Martm Moniz. It will also take you to the miradouros by a slightly different route.  There is not a “correct way” to explore the diverse things along the tram 28 route.  Each stop offers multiple destinations to explore. Just pick out what you are interested in and have fun.  Walk a little then café, then repeat as many times as necessary! That’s how we do it. 

Leaving Martim Moniz, tram 28 travels up the steep, narrow and serpentine streets behind Castelo de Sao Jorge to the Graça neighborhood, often delayed by delivery trucks and double-parked cars. Normally the tram will wait patiently as this is an everyday occurrence, but occasionally the tram driver will sound his horn until the offender moves their vehicle, if he feels they are taking to long.  Reaching the top of the hill, keep an eye out for a large wall mural, Revolutionary Woman, created by the American artist Shepard Fairey, who is most renowned for his famous Barack Obama poster.

A little further along, Plaza Graça, with its everyday shops, bakeries and small outdoor cafes, offers a chance to explore a non-touristy spot for a very local experience.  From here it is a short, level walk to Jardim da Graça, Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Igreja e Convento da Graça. The convent has an interesting collection of azulejos tiles depicting 16th, 17th and 18th century missionary journeys across Portugal’s colonies that ended tragically with the martyrdom of the priests involved.  This area is a wonderful spot that is slightly off the beaten track.  The miradouro offers a great view across Lisbon that includes Castelo de Sao Jorge and the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. The panorama is reminiscent of San Francisco.  The small café here fills toward sunset.

The next stop downhill brings you to Igreja de São Vicente de Fora and its convent. Started in 1147, just after the liberation of Lisbon from the Moors, the cathedral was finished in 1629.  It is one of the most important church complexes in Portugal. The attached museum displays a collection of religious artifacts, paintings, sculptures and Baroque azulejo tiles. If you plan a visit for a Saturday or Tuesday, just uphill through the Grand Arch connected to the convent you will find Lisbon’s best flea market, Feira da Ladra or as it was long known “the Thieves Market” spread out around Campo de Santa Clara. Our neighbor in Alfama described it as a place where you used to be able to “buy back the things that were stolen out of your car during the week.”  Today the market is very gentrified with vendors of antiques, books, CDs, toys, ceramics, clothing and handmade artisanal crafts sharing the street.  On Saturdays during the summer there is also a farmer’s market in Park Jardim Botto Machado that features organically grown food.  And of course, there are cafes around the fringes of the market. Nearby the Pantheon is visible through the shade trees and further along as you work your way towards the Tagus River, the Museu Militar de Lisboa displays a surprisingly interesting collection of military memorabilia in a wonderful mansion.

Back aboard the tram, it now continues downhill into Alfama along the narrowest part of the route, for a short distance.  The street is so narrow here you can reach out and touch the walls of the buildings as you pass through.  And if you are on the sidewalk at the time, suck it in and pin yourself against the side of the buildings.  As soon as the street widens out again you will be by Café Do Eléctrico run by a nice woman named Sandra.  This is very much a local’s place, where folks get their morning espresso before hopping on the tram and heading to work.  The coffee, food and prices here are all good, and compensate for its lack of décor.  Situated a couple of steps below street level, it’s a great place to experience the sensation that you are about to be run over by an approaching tram as it fills the doorway before suddenly turning sharply.

From this stop you can wander downhill through the maze of crazy alleys that make up Alfama. Spared the devastation from the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the rest of Lisbon, Alfama hasn’t changed much since the times of the Moors. Head to Santo Estêvão Belvedere church, and its lesser known miradouro that you will have all to yourself; it’s a nice spot for a picnic. From here you’ll have a choice of stairways or alleys to follow deeper into the charm of Alfama. Folks still hang laundry from their windows and shout down to their neighbors below. And elderly women sell shots of Ginja, a cherry liqueur, from their doorsteps as a way to supplement their pensions. There are numerous small restaurants spread about that fill the air with the wonderful aroma of Portuguese cooking. 

Around the corner from Café Do Eléctrico, stairs will lead you up to Igreja do Menino Deus, the Church of the Child God, which was built in 1711 by king Dom João V to commemorate the birth of a male heir. In striking contrast to Lisbon’s large cathedrals, this is a very small intimate church. It’s only open on Tuesdays.  From the church you can also walk up to Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen or through a mural-covered alley to Castelo de Sao Jorge.

After Café Do Eléctrico, tram 28 turns sharply and climbs before leveling off and making two stops at miradouros Portas Do Sol and Santa Luzia.  You can also walk to Castelo de Sao Jorge from both stops. Many people get off the tram at these popular miradouros, so it’s a good place to board tram 28 to continue your journey across Lisbon.

While both miradouros have awesome views of Alfama and the Tagus River, only Portas Do Sol offers outside cafes.  Just sitting here sipping wine and listening to the street musicians is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, soaking up the experience of Lisbon. What’s really nice is that the cafes never pressure you to vacate your table; it’s yours for however long you want to sit.  Amazingly there is no price gouging either, as there easily could be at such a popular location. This seems to be true all over Lisbon. Miradouro Santa Luzia features azulejo tile murals depicting the liberation of Lisbon and a lovely vine covered arbor with azulejo tiled benches.  When you are done soaking up the sun, follow the alley next to the huge stone wall built during the time of the Visigoths, in the sixth century, down to the plaza around Igreja de São Miguel for a different bit of Alfama.

Across the tram tracks from the miradorouros is Museu da Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo e Silva, a decorative arts museum. The museum showcases what was once the private collection of Ricardo Espirito Santo, unique pieces created in Portugal and its colonies, in an elegant eighteenth-century nobleman’s home.

Or psyche yourself up for the hike to Castelo de Sao Jorge, a medieval Moorish castle that crowns the highest point in Lisbon and offers sweeping 360-degree panoramic views from various points along its fortress walls.  Besides scrambling along the ramparts and posing with the flock of peacocks that roams freely, there is a small museum that displays archeological items found during various excavations at the site.  The miradouro at the castle is stunning and unfortunately is only accessible with a 10€ entrance ticket to the whole site.  Viewing the setting sun from here is enchanting so time your visit accordingly.  There is a nice restaurant and a wine kiosk to help set the mood as you while away the afternoon.  Walking back to the tram line, you’ll pass ruins of a Roman amphitheater at Museu de Lisboa – Teatro Romano that you can visit.

A gentle, downhill walk from the miradouros will bring you to Sé de Lisboa, the Catherdral of Lisbon. The oldest church in the city, construction was started on the foundations of a mosque in 1147.  Surviving earthquake damage over the centuries, it features a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.  Next to the choir loft the Treasury museum displays a wealth of religious items that includes vestments richly embroidered with gold, ornate silver objects set with jewels and relics of various saints. Two ornately carved Gothic tombs from the 1300s can be seen in the ambulatory of the church.  The tomb of knight Lopo Fernandes Pacheco features an intricately carved beard, decorated sword and his dog by his feet.  The other tomb, that of his wife Maria de Vilalobos, features her in a finely detailed headdress reading the Book of Hours as one would before going to sleep each evening.  Excavations in the courtyard of the cloister show Roman, Visigoth and Moorish ruins.  The street Cruzes da Se next to the cathedral offers a nice level route back into the heart of Alfama.

Continuing downhill you’ll come to Igreja da Madalena which was started in 1164 and rebuilt several times over the centuries due to fires and natural disasters.  Diagonally across from the church is Queijaria Nacional, a gourmet cheese shop that features only Portuguese products.  If you are a cheese connoisseur this store is a must, and you’ll find it’s difficult to pull yourself away from the counter to continue your journey.

The next two stops bring us back to the city center near Praça do Comércio and the waterfront.  As you walk there be sure to check out the intriguing, decorative detailing on some of the buildings.

Here you can catch tram 15, usually a modern tram, to Belem to view the monuments along the river, or you can walk over to Elevador de Santa Justa, built in 1902, for a view of central Lisbon featuring Praça Dom Pedro IV with its wavy tile pattern and Castelo de Sao Jorge guarding the city.

Leaving the elevator from the viewing platform, you can walk across the ramp into the Chiado district.

We’ll continue on tram 28 through Chiado to the end of the line in Part Two.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna