Portugal Road Trip – Along the Coast: Porto to Aveiro and Nazarene

We were just about to head out for afternoon to celebrate our last day in Porto at one of the seafood restaurants along the Foz oceanfront when there was a knock on the door. “Ola. Housekeeping.” “@#%&!”  With that abrupt surprise, we realized that we had misread our calendar.  Apologizing, we told the housekeeper we’d be packed in thirty minutes. IMG_3939And that’s how we started our drive to Aveiro, a revitalized old fishing port set back from the ocean on a lagoon with canals – a half day behind schedule.  Fortunately, Aveiro was only an hour’s drive away and we’d still have time to visit the Capela do Senhor da Pedra, a chapel built on an outcropping of rocks, at the surf’s edge in Miramar, just south of Porto.  Pagan rituals were once performed on these rocks, now a popular destination for romantic weddings.  Our timing was perfect for a walk along the beach at sunset.IMG_3920Night fully enveloped the streets by the time we arrived in Aveiro.  We always try to get to our hotels before dark, it’s just much easier finding hotels and street signs down dimly lit lanes.  We scored on our third loop around the block and found the obscure sign to our wonderful boutique hotel, high above us on the street corner.  Histórias Por Metro Quadrado, is an uniquely designed compact hotel, with refreshing contemporary rooms that are perfect for a short stay in the center of the city and very budget friendly.  We’ve found that “Parking Available” on hotel websites often means there is parking somewhere in the city – you must find it on your own.  After quizzing the receptionist, she assured us that the city of Aveiro was very tolerant of creative, overnight parking and our car would be ticket free until 9:00am, when we’d have to find a legal parking space. Reasonable enough.

By the time we re-parked the monthly Aveiro Antiques/Flea Market was in full swing.  Held every fourth Sunday, vendors set up along the canal by Praça do Peixe. It’s a pretty location, with a waterfront and colorful buildings reminiscent of Burano, Italy. IMG_3959Skippers readied their brightly painted Moliceiros boats for the day’s first tourists on Aveiro’s Central Canal as we sampled a variety of ovos moles, a traditional sweet pastry shaped as shells, fish or small boats at Padaria Ria Pão, across the street.  This recipe, developed centuries ago in the local convents, was the first Portuguese pastry to receive the coveted Protected Geographical Indication, awarded to recognize uniquely regional items, by the European Union.  IMG_4206

Tonight, we would lay our heads down inside the old walled city of Obidos. But first we’d have stops in Costa Nova and Nazaré, both on the coast.

Costa Nova is only minutes away from Aveiro, but what a world of difference.  City to beach, it’s surprising that the two co-exist in such close proximity.  Old traditional fishermen’s cottages brightly painted in varying striped patterns, to distinguish them easily in a fog, now share the dunes with large, contemporary beach homes that echo their designs. IMG_4343While the Algarve coast in southern Portugal gets the most hype with its azure waters and rock formations,  Portugal’s Silver Coast, the Costa de Prata, starting near Lisbon, runs north for nearly 150 uninterrupted miles to the Douro River in Porto.  Lightly developed, it’s a majestic stretch of wild, wide and flat sandy beaches and dunes that feels undiscovered and is worthy of further exploration.IMG_4458It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Miradouro do Suberco towering 350 feet above Nazare’s beautiful, crescent shaped Praia da Nazaré beach.  Surprisingly, for such a beautiful spot we were able to find free parking nearby above the Nazare lighthouse.  The only caveat, an ominous sign warning that if our car some how managed to go over the cliff edge we would still be liable for the €25,000 wreckage removal.  You definitely need to know where reverse is on the stick shift here!  Some of the world’s tallest waves crash onto the rocks in front of the Nazare lighthouse between October and March.  Every year in November the Nazare Challenge attracts suicidal, thrill seeking surfers looking to ride the biggest waves. Thousands of onlookers line the hill above the action to watch their death-defying feats.  A record 80-foot wave was ridden in 2017 by Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa and outside the competition, in December 2018, a 100-foot tall monster was surfed by Tom Butler of the United Kingdom.  We can’t imagine the raw fury of those size waves. Unfortunately, the day we arrived the ocean was calm.

The intimate Ermida da Memória or Chapel of Our Lady of Nazaré stands next to the Miradouro do Suberco and as local legend goes was built by a thankful knight in 1182 after he was saved by Our Lady from following a fleeing buck over the cliff edge on a foggy day, while he was chasing it horseback.  Adding to the story the chapel is built above a cave, where in 711 a sacred statue of Mary carved by her husband Joseph was hidden away from the Moors for several centuries.  The interior of the church is lined with azulejo tiles illustrating the legend. IMG_4364Not far away, just above the Nazare lighthouse, Portuguese artist Adalia Alberto has created a whimsical, deer-headed surfer sculpture called Veado that pays tribute to Nazare’s old legend and today’s legendary wave riders.  This contemporary piece has to be one of the most unusual sculptures in Portugal and is worth finding when visiting Nazare.

Again, it would be dark by the time we arrived in Obidos.

Till next time, Craig & Donna

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

 

Porto Part 1:  A Cathedral a Day Keeps Lightning and Thunder Away

We arrived in Porto late in the afternoon, only to find the full length of street where we were staying, Rua do Sol, under a tumultuous state of construction.  Heavy equipment had deeply excavated the street and workers were laying new water lines.  Temporarily parking at the end of street, in front of a small chapel – Capela dos Alfaiates – we dragged our suitcases down a sidewalk so narrow that we had to step into the doorframes of buildings to let oncoming folks pass.  Having read too many mystery novels, I found myself thinking it would be the perfect spot to set a crime scene as we walked along the deep trench to our apartment.  Maybe the fictional Inspector Ze Coelho would be called in after two American tourists see fingertips protruding from the dirt early one morning as they set out to explore Porto. That imaginary detour aside, we had a great time during our stay in Porto.IMG_2391There’s just so much to do and see here, where do you start?  Our location was ideal, just around the corner from three pastelarias, bakeries, that were only doors apart and across the way from Batalha, the funicular station that could take us down the steep slope to the Douro River waterfront by the Ponte Luís I bridge.  Tram 22 also starts from this plaza and follows a route past the Azulejo tile fronted Church of Saint Ildefonso, São Bento Station, to Igreja do Carmo where you can transfer to the Tram 18 line.  A third route with Tram 1 Unfortunately, the trams are not as inexpensive Lisbon’s.  We thought the two-day pass available, for ten euros, was too restrictive as it could only be used on back-to-back days and only on the historic trams.  A single tram ride costs three euros.  Many times, the trams are seriously delayed by congestion or improperly parked automobiles.follows the riverside to Foz at the mouth of the Douro River.IMG_1162Unfortunately, the trams are not as inexpensive Lisbon’s.  We thought the two-day pass available, for ten euros, was too restrictive as it could only be used on back-to-back days and only on the historic trams.  A single tram ride costs three euros.  Many times, the trams are seriously delayed by congestion or improperly parked automobiles. IMG_1120But the city really needs to be explored on foot to truly savor its charm and intrigue.  Porto escaped the massive 1755 earthquake and tsunami that devasted Lisbon.  Consequently, the city’s historic architectural gems, many dating as far back as the thirteenth century, still stand unscathed, and its ancient cobbled lanes still meander every which way, untouched by urban planning.  With this in mind we decided to weave our way over to the Ponte Luís I bridge and eventually make our way down to the picturesque south bank of the Douro River as our destination for the day, stopping to explore what interested us along the way.IMG_2743Set at the far end of the plaza Largo Primeiro de Dezembro, next to a police station housed in an old monastery building, Igreja de Santa Clara is easy to miss. From a distance all you see is a nondescript archway framing an ancient door on the other side of a small courtyard.  With one step over the high threshold we were transported back in time to another era.  Sun light cascaded through high windows illuminating a cavernous sanctuary.IMG_2690Almost every surface was covered with highly carved wood sculptures, gilded with gold-leaf or polychromed.  The cathedral sparkled! The church dates to the 1400s, while the gilded Baroque interior was an 18th century renovation.  Volunteers offered tours in return for donations to support restoration efforts. The wow factor was amazing.IMG_2691We soon learned that the wealth of Porto rivaled that of Lisbon and the cathedrals spread across the city were the showcases of it.  This might be the locale where you can experience a cathedral overdose, but you would be amiss to bypass such beauty.  Maybe one cathedral a day, more like two, to keep lightning and thunder away?IMG_1060The armour-clad equestrian statue of Vímara Peres guards the approach to the Ponte Luis I bridge across the River Douro and some contemporary street art, that we’re not sure he would appreciate.

In the ninth century he led the armies that liberated northern Portugal, and it was the beginning of the end for the Moorish control of the country. This part of Porto was once encircled by fortress walls that extended all the way down to the river.  From the bridge, we had a clear view of two watch towers and a small section of ramparts, which are all that remain of Muralha Fernandina, a medieval castle built by King D. Afonso IV in the early 1300s.IMG_1182For nine-hundred years pontoon bridges and small boats were the major ways to cross the breath of the Douro River before the advent of iron construction. Designed by Théophile Seyrig, a former colleague of Eiffel, Ponte Luiz I opened in 1886 connecting both the upper and lower levels of the Ribeira area of Porto with Gaia. Today the graceful arch, with modern trams and pedestrians sharing its upper deck, is an iconic symbol for the integration of Porto’s history with the future. IMG_1040Across the bridge we worked our way up to Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar for the views.  This spot and Jardim do Morro, the park at its base, are popular places to watch the sunset from.IMG_1105We opted not to take the aerial tram down to the Gaia riverfront and continued our walk, looking for the right restaurant set amidst the fifty port cellars that line the waterfront.  Perched atop the port cellar Espaço Porto Cruz, the Terrace Lounge 360º fit the bill.IMG_2560 The day was beautiful, lunch was delightfully slow paced and of course we enjoyed some wine.  We’ve found the restaurants in Portugal never rush you to leave.  The table is yours for however long you wish to stay.  We soaked in the warm sun, breathed in the crisp Spring air and absorbed the good life surrounding us.

On our leisurely stroll back along the waterfront, we admired the colorful rabelo boats anchored along the quay and Porto’s profile reflecting in the river to the lower deck of the Ponte Luiz I bridge. Here we crossed to take the Funicular dos Guindais, €2.50, back up the steep embankment to the Batalha district.  The route of the funicular passes some of the oldest homes and alleys in Porto which we continued to explore for a while before heading back to our lodging for the evening.

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

 

Castelo Branco to Castelo da Lousa – Driving Through the Serra da Estrela Mountains

Yesterday, from the tower of Castelo e Muralhas Castelo Branco we saw a distant line of snowcapped mountains glistening under a brilliant Spring sun. Tonight, we’d rest our heads in Coimbra, noted for its historic university and preserved medieval old town.  Though only one and half hours from Castelo Branco by highway, it would take us all day as we decided to take the back roads through the Serra da Estrela mountains to Castelo da Lousa and Talasnal, one of the abandoned Schist villages.  Schist is a shiny, earth-toned local stone that is very durable and was used extensively in the region for building.

Below Torre, mainland Portugal’s highest peak at 1,993m (6,539 ft), the headwaters of three rivers, the Zezere, the Mondego and the Alva, emerge from the range and flow to the Atlantic coast. IMG_9293 We crisscrossed these serpentine estuaries multiple times during the day as we drove through verdant pine forests along roads that hugged the curves of the land.  Isolated, whitewashed villages dotted the mountainside.

Heads turned in Foz Giraldo, Oleiros, Alvaro, Maria Gomes, Alvares and Lousa when we parked to wander around.  Early birds, we were way ahead of the summer crowds that rush to these mountains to escape the heat of the city and urban life.

Foresters, shepherds and cheesemakers squeeze a livelihood from the land in this sparsely inhabited region. Queijo Serra da Estrela is Portugal’s most unique cheese. It’s a strong flavored, soft, raw sheep’s milk cheese still made by hand from a 2,000-year-old traditional recipe.  Firm on the outside, the wheels of cheese are lusciously creamy on the inside when young; as the cheese matures the center firms to a sliceable semi-soft texture.

We arrived at Castelo da Lousa around noon, hoping to explore the castle and nearby chapels after lunch at a restaurant adjacent to it.  Midweek and off-season, unfortunately both were closed, but we enjoyed our time walking around the base of the castle.  This small castle, dwarfed by surrounding mountains, was once a strategic stronghold along the Mondego line, a series of defensive fortresses along Portugal’s 11th century border south of Coimbra after it was captured from the Moors, deterring them from retaking that city.  The knights Templar are credited with constructing its Keep and Glacis, a ramped lower wall, along the base of the castle, designed to impede scaling ladders and ramming.  By the early fourteenth century, as the Portuguese border expanded south, the castle lost its importance and was forgotten.IMG_9452As Donna was waiting for me at the foot of the castle while I went to get the car, she was approached by two weary trekkers, without water, who had just hiked down from a mountain hamlet above the castle and were expecting to lunch and relax at the closed restaurant before hiking back up the steep trail.  As crows fly, the distance from the village to the castle wasn’t far, but the return hike looked daunting without water or food.  We quickly agreed to give them a lift back when they asked if we could help them.  Our compact rental car was packed pretty full, but we pulled the seats forward and piled some bags on Donna’s lap to make room for Catia, Alain and his large backpack. ( Always wildy speculating, I wondered if they found the lost treasure of a local legend: King Arounce, who fled ancient Coimbra with his daughter and hid his riches in the mountains above the castle.) A Portuguese/ French couple, they were on a weekend getaway from Lisbon and his backpack was full of photography gear.

As it turned out they were staying where we were headed, in Talasnal, one of the three Schist villages above the castle. The four of us spent the rest of the afternoon at Ti Lena chatting away; their English was much better than our non-existent Portuguese.  This rustic tavern served wonderful, traditional Portuguese cuisine typical of the region, and good local wine.  This delightful, serendipitous encounter was one of the highlights of our road trip.IMG_9560Along with Catarredor and Casal Novo, Talasnal was slowly abandoned over the years as younger generations moved away to find work.  With the rise of ecotourism these rustic villages, with their beautiful stonework, have been rediscovered by folks who want to reconnect with nature and a simpler pastoral life, if even for short periods of time.IMG_9535With the help of government grants, many of the near-collapsing structures are in the process of being updated and authentically restored, using traditional building materials and techniques, into restaurants, small inns, workshops, galleries and private homes to support a growing tourist infrastructure and revitalize the area.  Across the mountainous central region of Portugal there are twenty-seven Aldeias do Xisto (Schist Villages) that can be explored.

Till nex time,

Craig & Donna

 

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

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

Two Hundred Fifty-Three Days on the Road

cropped-img_4837The good news is we haven’t killed each other, though there have been times that I’ve dreamt a pillow was hovering over my head. Just kidding.  We have gone from the two of us working six days a week while living in an eight-room house, to being together 24/7 with only a suitcase each.  Boy did we downsize! It was challenging: what not to bring, considering all the seasonal changes we have encountered.  Don’t laugh, but I have thermals, wool hats and gloves packed, just on the off chance we get snowed in on a mountain pass in the French Alps, this July.  Yes, there’s also a flask of medicinal whisky packed in the bags for emergencies.  And to my wife’s amusement, a cheap plastic fly swatter.  Tragically the backup swatter was left behind in Antigua.  In Lisbon I finally caved in and bought a pair of slippers because the floors of the stone buildings just don’t retain any heat in the winter.  The comfort of a pair of slippers in the evening, after a long day of walking, can’t be underestimated.IMG_8406It’s been a huge but surprisingly easy transition for us. 253 days ago (I thought I was writing this at around day 200, it’s easy to lose track of time on the road) we slammed the door shut on our storage pod, locked it, and popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate our impending journey. We haven’t looked back.  Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba and now Portugal; I can’t imagine undertaking this adventure with anyone else.

The Airbnb revolution has greatly contributed to our concept of slow travel, allowing us to immerse ourselves in a location for an extended period of time and to enjoy a community to its fullest. Experiencing a festive Christmas season and an explosive New Year’s celebration in Antigua, Guatemala, was extraordinary and something we wouldn’t have appreciated as much if we were just passing through.

We felt a little blue being away from our kids and their families during Christmas. The irony that we, and not the children, broke with the family tradition first was not lost on us.  A three week visit back to the States in mid-January to see everyone helped tremendously.img_0864 This visit also gave us an opportunity to jettison the wonderful textiles and ceramics we had purchased along the way for a home we don’t have yet.  Imagine this scene from our last stop in San Pedro – the backseat of a tuk-tuk overflowing with Donna and all our suitcases, while I’m sharing the driver’s seat with the driver, one cheek on, one cheek off and a foot dangling outside the cab as we speedily snaked through the steep narrow alleys of the village. 

Shopping in the central markets and street markets of each city has been wonderful as cooking is essential to keeping within our budget, though the size of some of our kitchens have tested our creative culinary abilities.  The exotic fruits available to us in Ecuador were amazing and we tried many that we were unfamiliar with.

In Olon we bought the catch of the day from the fish monger as be pushed his cart through town. Guatemala yielded remarkably flavorful vegetables.  We had a memorable culinary carrot experience there, go figure. This from a home gardener is quite a statement. Like our neighbors in the Alfama district, we are hanging our laundry out the windows to dry in the Lisbon fresh air. Our stays in each place have ranged from four to ten weeks.  I favor the longer stays whereas Donna prefers a shorter visit. 

There have been challenges negotiating the medical systems in Ecuador and Portugal only because we haven’t known the protocol of the local doctors.  We have been extremely impressed by the care we have received from the medical professionals in these countries for altitude sickness and a persistent upper respiratory infection.  The out of pocket costs have been remarkably inexpensive in comparison to the U.S. medical system.IMG_8692 Not everything has gone smoothly.  A rental car agency did not honor a reservation and we had to scramble to find another one late one night in the airport.  We have felt very safe during our travels, but there are unfortunately some extremely talented pickpockets out there. May the curse of arthritis shorten their careers!  Filing a stolen property report in Lisbon with the tourist police turned out to be an enjoyable experience due to the officer assigned to us.  Luckily, within 24-hours they called us with the good news that our wallet had been recovered, minus the cash of course, but that our passport and credit cards were all there.  Honestly, we weren’t following our own advice: only carry in your pockets what you are willing to lose.  Everything else of value needs to be carried under your clothing.IMG_8596After Lisbon it’s a two-week road trip through Portugal. Then we are off to, of all places, Sofia, Bulgaria for a month, (the Beatles song “Back in the USSR” keeps coming to mind) in order to reset our Schengen union days for later in the summer.  After that, two dog sits in England and two Workaway experiences in France at a 14th century chateau await us before we resume our life of leisure in Kotor, Montenegro, in September.img_0669We have shared meals and stories with so many wonderful and interesting people along the way.  These friends have made this journey what it is – fantastic! 

Kindness and a smile go a long way in this world.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna