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Showing posts from May, 2009

Boa Noite

We are back in Lisbon.
Valença was delightful. Our hotel was located within the walls of the 12thC (or thereabout) fortress on a hilltop overlooking the Minho River and surrounding valley, which was...well, breathtaking comes to mind. Green, rolling hills, mountains, vineyards and the fortress itself, complete with cannons (pointed towards Spain).

Within the fortress walls were many shops which, curiously, all seemed to sell linens. There were also a couple of cafes and Portuguese restaurants. (If i never see another olive again, it may be too soon.) And of course there were a few small churches. On our first day there we explored this area. On the second day we went to Spain.

Spain lies just across the river and is accessible by means of a bridge built in 1886 and designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. It took us just less than 15 minutes to make the journey. The town on the other side is Tui. Don´t ask me how to pronounce it. At first glance it is a depressing roadside town, best glimpsed…

Buenos Dias

We are in Spain for the day. We walked here over a bridge from Valença. 
We are using a computer in a library and i am not sure if we are supposed to so we will just say hello and will write again soon.
d & b

Rio Douro

Let us assure you that we are not suffering when it comes to breakfast. All of our hotels have had excellent breakfast offerings (complete with dessert), and the hotel in Porto has been no exception. Oh yeah, and the food is free, which is quite remarkable, when you consider how inexpensive these lodgings are (relative to North America). So, after eating, we went walking in the sunshine, which was lovely - particularly considering we awoke to rain. We visited the imposing Se Cathedral and numerous other churches, which are always wonderful. We never tire of them, and apparently nor do the Portuguese, as there always seems to be a mass underway. We are not yet converts.
We strolled across the impressive bridge spanning the Douro - i forget the name of the bridge, there are 5 of them, but only one is impressive. The bridge was designed by an unnamed assistant to Gustave Eiffel. Having worked up an appetite, we had the most glorious long lunch on the river front, sitting in the sunshine, sn…

(O)Porto

Greetings from Oporto (or Porto, if you prefer).
We arrived at our hotel, the Grande Hotel de Paris, yesterday afternoon. It is a lovely old hotel, charming in its faded elegance, decorated with antiques and delicate staircases. We just had the breakfast this morning, which was fantastic. Yesterday we visited the beautiful sao Fransisco church, museum and catacombs. We stopped for lunch and Betty Lou decided to sample the grilled sardines. There were four large fish on a plate, complete with their tails and tragic faces, which i covered with leaves of lettuce out of respect (and disgust). She reports that they were tasty, but difficult to eat. 
We then walked along the banks of the Rio Douro, and looked across to the south bank where all of the port is made. This inspired us, so we paid a visit to Vinologia, a cozy & rustic drinking establishment that describes itself as a ´Port School`, as it provides education with each glass. Betty Lou and & i did a beginner´s tasting of three…

Boa Morte

Sunday in Coimbra is a quiet day, unless you are a church goer. All of the shops and most of the cafes & restaurants are closed. Thankfully, we completed the majority of our site seeing yesterday, so today we really didn´t have anything planned except continued exploration of the city. It was again a bit chilly and drizzly today, so after an excellent breakfast at our B&B we walked around for several hours before returning ´home´ for a nap.
We were awakened by the sound of a marching band parading through the streets. They were very near to us but from our window we couldn´t see them, even though we saw people from a street over looking down on the random parade. At about 4pm we went out and one of the small pedestrian, residential streets that we have passed frequently was suddenly enlivened by a path of carefully arranged flowers and leaves leading down the winding road. We saw a couple of elderly women laying out the flowers. We discovered that this was in honor of an old rit…

Bats in the Bibliotheque

Greetings from Coimbra!
We arrived here Saturday morning after a short & lovely trains ride (first class) through pastoral environs. Coimbra is a town dating back about nearly 1000 years. It was originally the capital of Portugal and presently is best know for being home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. There is a a winding, walled historic centre on a hilltop surrounding the university (the area where we are staying).
We are staying at a small bed & breakfast, Casa Pombal. It has ten tiny rooms surrounding a precarious flight of stairs up four stories. (Dawn & Ron: the climb is like the Biscuit Palace in New Orleans.) Everything is bright and cheerful, including the small courtyard patio, filled with flowers. Our room is in the attic with excellent views of the city & river. We first visited the university, which is from the 1500s. It was quite impressive. There were ceremonial halls and classrooms that looked like they belongs at Hogwarts, and a lovely churc…

Children of the Corn Meets the Shining

Well, we made it to Fatima. The bus ride was very pleasant; about an hour and a half through rolling pastures and vineyards. That ends the pleasant part of the day. We checked into our hotel, which was basic, as we expected (there are not any charming accommodations in Fatima). Our hotel is very 1970s, but very clean and walking distance to everything we wanted to see. The only thing is, what we wanted to see was a bit of a disappointment.
The story about Fatima is that 1917 three little kids saw the virgin Mary in a tree and over time the spot has become one of the most important holy sights for Catholics. There is a large and lovely, albeit rather sterile church, overlooking an immense square where crowds gather for festivals and Pope sightings. Some people, apparently so overcome with religious devotion (i.e. insanity) approach the church on their knees from hundreds of feet away. It is interesting, but not really moving, as i have found other religious sites to be. We saw three wome…

Under the Sintra Sun

Sintra is amazing! As we expected, it has the quaint cobblestone streets & charming alley ways leading to artisan shops and eateries, what we did not expect was just how magical it would be. We arrived by train and walked to `"Cinco", the B&B where we are staying. Through an unassuming green door we entered a beautiful garden where our host lives in her house, behind which is our cottage. We have full amenities, including a living room that opens up onto our own private garden courtyard with a table & chairs overlooking a picturesque valley. We were both delighted, but Betty Lou in particular is in heaven.
Upon getting settled, we decided to walk to the Palacio da Pena, Sintra´s star attraction. It is a beautiful palace, exuberant and romantic in its color & design, perched on a lushly forested mountain top. We decided to walk, but after an hour in the heat we flagged down a bus (we discovered later that we had accidentally opted for the long road). I must ment…

Of All the Gin Joints...

We started our morning with yet another fabulous breakfast at our hotel followed by a morning stroll and...liquor! That's right it was not yet 11am when Betty Lou and i had our first drink! We walked back down to the Rossio Square to see what it was like on a non-Sunday (lively and bustling) and we happened by this little hole in the wall bar. I use the word 'bar' loosely however, as all it is is an opening the size of a small walk-in closet with a bar, a bartender and several bottles of red liquid. The place is called Ginjinha and it has been there for about 150 years serving only one drink to locals buy single shots of this boozy concoction and drink it standing outside. We had to indulge. I heard it called gin, but it is sort of a cherry brandy; not offensive, but far too sweet for my liking. Betty Lou thought it pleasant and clinked glasses with the local men. I know it was early for drinking, but it had to be 5:00 somewhere, right?
After that, much of the rest of the d…

Vasco de Gama

Today we ventured out of our neighborhood, down several steep flights of stairs to the Baixa & Avenida districts. These areas are much more conventionally European looking, compared to the pseudo medieval Alfama. We meandered around grand squares featuring fountains and tall statues of men on horseback serving as impressive perches for flocks of pigeons. The squares were lined by cafes and shops, however, as it is Sunday, all of the shops were closed (except curiously for the stores selling underpants). We took a bright yellow funicular up to the Barrio Alto district where we went to the Sao Roque church as a service was getting underway. We went back down by taking the 100 year old Elevator de Santa Justica, a frilly, metal sort-of free standing elevator. We had coffee on Rua Augusta, which is a wide, pedestrian street with outdoor cafes running down the centre. (Sort of like South Beach´s Lincoln Road.) After that we perused some artwork being sort on the street and Betty Lou picke…

Alfama

Ola! Our first full day in Lisbon has been a full one indeed. First of all, let us say that the weather is perfect. Ever so slightly cool in the morning & evening and perfectly warm in the afternoon with a wonderful breeze. Today we explored our neighborhood thoroughly. After a terrific breakfast at our hotel we meandered over the Feira da Ladra (the thieves market), which sold everything from antiques to junk. We didn´t buy anything, but it was fun to look around. We then went to two lovely churches, the Sao Vicente de Fora & the Santa Engracia. We then wanked south to the Cathedral called Se and popped in a few other churches that shall remain nameless (because i can't remember what they are called). We had a small lunch on a patio by a church overlooking the water (with a cigar & a mojito) before retiring for a short nap, after which we walked the ramparts at the Castelo de Sao Jorge.

We have just returned to the hotel after watching the sun set over city from a terrif…

Portugal: Arrival

Bom Dia from Lisboa! We arrived yesterday in the late afternoon. We are staying at a lovely (fancy) hotel in the Alfama district, which is a tangle of hilly, cobblestones streets winding up steep hills to a Castle and to our hotel which is just outside the castle walls. We have spectacular views. Last night we went for a walk and had dinner at a little outdoor eatery where we listened to Fado. We shared wine - Vinho Verde - with a table of drunken Japanese girls from Spain. It was a perfect evening. Now a new day and adventures to come.