Friday, 27 May 2016

Porto Report: Day Three

Hurrah! Hurrah! The sun came out! We were excited to get out and enjoy the day after several days of being cold and somewhat cranky (speaking for myself!) We spent the morning exploring the opposite side of the Douro River and appreciating the views from high up on the hill.

After lunch, we set out on foot to explore the  Baixa area of the city. This holds the city square, with the government buildings, a church (of course), and the Torre dos clerigos. This tower, built in the early 1700s,  is a landmark that can be seen from just about every part of the city, and, if a person was willing to climb 225 steps, apparently offers spectacular views of the city.

We were quite tired of stairs, so opted to have a coffee at a sidewalk café and enjoy looking at it from the ground below.

Our very favourite thing about travelling is always the people. Relaxing at the lovely sidewalk cafes gives us the opportunity to people watch. Whether enjoying the sunshine from a balcony or a park bench, there were plenty of people out and about.

Needless to say, the food here is outstanding, from the incredible cod, salmon, and yes, even sardines, to amazing bake shops, we have been feasting nonstop!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Porto Report Day Two


When we planned on coming to Porto, we envisioned a beautiful beachy town, where we could languish in the sunshine, taking in the lovely European atmosphere! Thus, half of the clothes we brought were shorts and tank tops, bathing suits and sandals. Need I say, we haven't even taken these out of our suitcases! Instead, I found myself wearing four layers on top and two layers on the bottom, as we prepared to set out for a hop on hop off double decker bus ride. We waited until after 12:00, as it was pouring rain in the morning. As soon as it stopped, we grabbed our umbrellas and set out. Bryce even stopped to buy a raincoat on the way!

In spite of the cool weather, we enjoyed the sites, stopping at the Ribiera for lunch. It was too cool to eat outside, so we opted for an inside table at the window so that we could enjoy the view of the Douro River.

The only passage left through the city wall that was built in the 14th century.

TheEiffel Bridge


The area lived up to its reputation as a UNESCO world heritage site; a true tourist's delight, packed with tourists, cute sidewalk cafes and a day's worth of wine cellars to visit (if you're into that sort of thing!) We spent the afternoon strolling along one side of the river, and eventually climbed back onto the hop on hop off bus for a tour of the other side. The riverbank on this side is lined with cellars from too many wine companies to count. I have known a few wine connoisseurs in my life, who would likely be excited to spend a few days (or years) here!

The beautiful bridge in the background is one of Eiffel's masterpieces, with two levels, the top one was once for the train, but now is used for the subway, the bottom level, cars. There were hundreds of crazy tourists walking on both levels!

Although we are actually getting a little tired of visiting churches and castles (can you believe it?) we noticed that one of the churches on our walk had a catacombs, so we gathered up our strength and tackled the stairs climbing up to the church and then down to the catacombs in the belly. Rather than the rooms full of bones that we were expecting, most of the catacombs were covered with the tops of their tombs forming the floor that we were walking on. There was a section giving us a peephole into the catacombsbelow, with bones just randomly scattered, so we weren't disappointed! I'm not sure why we are drawn to this, it just seems so fascinating to think that in the 1800s, this is how they took care of the deceased monks!

The church itself was breathtaking. Once again, it is interesting that a monument of humble St. Francis was an overwhelming vision of gold, just about every surface coated in gold leaf! It's hard to believe that Napoleon used this church as a stable for his horses when he took Porto in the early 1800s!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Priceless Porto

Although we loved Lisbon, we were ready for new adventures, and set off on the train to Porto. We were especially delighted with our seats, as we were the only ones to get  private face to face seats with a table between us. This made for a comfortable trip for me, as I was able to take my shoes off and put them on Bryce's lap for the entire trip! Now if that's not love, I don't know what is!

Our new apartment is much bigger and brighter than our last one, and we are just thrilled with it. It is in a beautiful historic building, around 200 years old, with beautiful hardwood floors, woodwork throughout, and 12 foot ceilings. However, it is on the second floor, which means that Bryce gets to climb even more stairs than ever! He's a great sport about it though, and the exercise is good for him!

Porto is famous for two reasons: One being that this area produces the famous Porto wine, which we won't be sampling, and two, it has been elected the best European destination by the Best European Destinations Agency (Whoever that is!).

 Just around the corner from our apartment is the lovely but kind of creepy looking Santo Ildefonoso Cathedral. A lovely couple from Poland offered to take our picture in front. Afterward we had a lovely visit, and they told us that they come here for the wine. Apparently it's wonderful! We'll stick to the gelato, thanks.

The next day, the cathedral was open, and we were completely delighted to see the beauty inside. A beautiful peace settled over us as we slid into a pew and allowed the organ music to wash over us.

A Day in Cascais

After all those castles and cathedrals, we were ready for a change of pace, so we hopped on the train for a ride up the coast to the lovely seaside town of Cascais. We thoroughly enjoyed just strolling through the town and along the seawall, watching the children splashing in the waves, and the occasional topless sunbather laying on the beach. (Don't look!)

The fishing village
sand sculpture

It was just a lazy day with a bit of shopping in the Fashion Fair that was set up in giant tents on the beach, and lovely conversations with friendly people we met along the way.
 Our favourite was meeting up with a group of women from China who were having fun posing in front of the town's statue. One of the women was so excited to tell us that it was her 66th birthday. That was about as much English as she could speak and the rest of the group knew even less. Although we didn't speak the same language, we spent quite a bit of time laughing and joking and finally taking our pictures together. They were absolutely delightful. They finished our time off together by grabbing me and giving me the traditional Portugese greeting of a cheek to cheek embrace on each side before waving good-bye. This is a memory to cherish forever!

Delightful friends from China

Another castle. No, we didn't go visit!
Psychedelic sidewalks.

Second Sightseeing Day in Sintra

Beautiful Stag Room
 We were so enchanted with Sintra that we decided to pay it a second visit. A short walk from the train station led us to the Palacio Nacional. This palace was built on the original Moorish Medina of the 8th century. In the 1200s, King Dinis hired the free Moors who lived in the neighbouring villages to undertake the building of a palace for him to stay in when he visited from Lisbon.

A sad story associated with this castle is that of King Afonso VI, who was deposed by his brother Pedro II and kept locked in a room in the castle until he died. It is said that he was mentally unstable, but who wouldn't be if they were kept locked in a room all their life! (And it wasn't even a nice room!)

Royalty still used this palace until the Revolution brought an end to the monarchy in 1910. It was taken over by the state and turned into a national monument.

My favourite room was the stag room, a beautiful round room, with the walls covered in tiles, and the roof decorated with the coat of arms of both the king and individual coats of arms for each of his sons. Of course, Bryce's favourite part was the spiral staircase. Oh, how he loves those stairs!!


Beautiful Little Cathedral built in the grounds of the Quinta 

A short pedi cab ride up the hill brought us to the Quinta da Regaleira, a castle like mansion that was built in the 19th century by the man who was once the richest in all of Portugal. Although the mansion was beautiful, we loved the mysterious feel of the gardens most of all. There are secretive religious symbols, concealed gardens and other mysterious objects hidden throughout, and we had lots of fun hunting for them.
Climbing the stairs to the upper balcony in the chapel.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!
A cave with a spring in behind the statue.
A magical place!

A Day at the Flea Market

Many antique tiles for sale.
Every Tuesday and Saturday is the Lisbon Flea Market, or Thieves' Market. The name apparently comes from a woman back in medieval times who frequented the market as a thief! This market dates back to the 12th century, and is an interesting way to spend a few hours just looking at everything from antique furniture to new and used clothing.

We had broken a wine glass, and were looking for a match. After a couple of hours, I was convinced that we were beaten, but Bryce kept saying, "I know it's here somewhere!" Sure enough, hidden in a pile of assorted glassware, there it was, an exact match!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Enchanting Evora

Getting to Evora was a little trickier than getting to Sintra. While the trains leave every 20 minutes all day long for Sintra, there are only two trains a day coming and going to Evora. Since we didn't want to get up early enough for the 7:30 train, that meant that if we missed the 9:30 train, we would be out of luck! This added a bit of stress (oh no!) to our relatively relaxed trip. We managed to take the subway, transfer to another line, stand in line waiting for our ticket while some crazy Canadian woman played 20 questions with the ticket seller (grrr), and finally got on the train with only a few minutes to spare! (phew)

The 1 1/2 hour trip sped quickly by, as we enjoyed the countryside along the way.

Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich history dating from the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., followed by the Moors from the 8th to the 12th century. This was an area rich in silver and wheat, and was a popular stop on the trade route to Rome. This was also a popular city for the kings of the 15th and 16th centuries, with some making it their home.

The ancient city wall is still standing, with gates that you have to pass through to get to the old part of the city. We loved that everything in the city was an easy walk from the main square, with the streets fanning out like spokes on a wheel from the city center.

Our first stop was the Church of St. Francis. Bryce was eager to see this, because he had heard that there was a bone room, and he still hasn't gotten over missing out on the catacombs when we were in Paris. It was absolutely fascinating, because it contains the bones of thousands of people who were dug up from the local graveyards. This was the brilliant idea of three monks who believed that they needed to provide a place for people to ponder the important things of life in the face of the certainty of death. Inscribed in the chapel is this little poem:

 The scraggy skulls
Are my company
I have them night and day
In my memory
Many were honoured
In the world by their talents,
And other vain ornaments
Which served vanity
Maybe in Eternity
The reason of their torments.
 Above the entrance to the bone chapel is a message that translates: "We bones in here wait for yours to join us." Hmmm, wonder how that might go over in one of our churches today!

The church is surprisingly ornate, considering the simplicity of life that St. Francis advocated. All the gold is a sign of the 18th century when gold was being brought back from Brazil by the boatload.

From here, we flagged down a taxi and headed out of town, down potholed roads for an hour to go see the megaliths. I was so excited to see these, as I have wanted to see Stonehenge since I read about it in my Social Studies textbook as a kid. Apparently it is no longer possible to get close to the megaliths in England, as they have been fenced off, but here in Portugal, they were surprisingly simple and accessible! These date from about 5,500 B.C. Now, that's old! This is 2,000 years older than Stonehenge! Wow! Wow! Wow! After watching "Outlanders", I thought I better touch one of them to see if I might be transported back to Medieval times to fall in love with a handsome prince, but nothing happened. I guess I'm stuck with handsome Prince Bryce!
Cork trees growing in the area

It's hard to believe that these megaliths weren't discovered until the 1960's. Although it is believed that the megaliths had a great sacred and symbolic nature, their function is still uncertain. The location of them does suggest a relationship to the sun and the moon, and it is thought that this was a sacred place where communities in the region would gather to celebrate the great cycles of nature.

Ancient writing on the petroglyphs

Once our taxi took us back to town, we enjoyed a late lunch in one of the small sidewalk cafes, then set off to explore, yes, another cathedral, The Cathedral of Evora! Oh, the fun never ends! This one had a museum attached to it full of historical religious artifacts. I almost got my hand slapped by the docent at the entrance when I tried to take a picture of the sign, though. In the most stern voice, "No pictures!" Bryce and I were kinda scared of her, so we skedadled out of there as fast as we could!

We did enjoy the views from the top of the cathedral, and Bryce didn't even complain too much about climbing another 600 stairs to the roof!

Next to the megaliths, my favourite site was the Roman Temple. More big wows! This temple has 14 Corinthian columns, and if we closed our eyes, we could almost hear the sounds of the Roman forums that took place here during the 1st century!

Although there was much more to see, we were running out of steam, and decided that we better grab that last train back to Lisbon. Our only regret was that we didn't have another day to enjoy this enchanting city!