A castle, with a palace next door

The castle in Guimaraes was the real thing: thick walls of stone, built on a high bed of rock, its only purpose was defensive.

A falconer was inside the castle and allowed visitors to hold his bird of prey.

A falconer was inside the castle and allowed visitors to hold his bird of prey.

Built on a massive high rock with central tower, the building looked formidable.

Built on a massive high rock with central tower, the building looked formidable.

The entry wasn’t exactly what you’d call welcoming.

The entry wasn’t exactly what you’d call welcoming.

The interior space was smaller than expected. We saw very few openings in the tower to the outside. These were narrow slit windows for shooting arrows out of the castle and narrow enough to protect the archer inside. The floor in places was the rock bed at the foundation of the castle. We imagine it was the perfect defensive fortress for its time.   It was built by the year 968 to protect the monastery next door.

The Guimaraes castle is an important building in Portugal’s history as the first royal residence in 1139 when Portugal became independent.

Since the 15th C Palace of the Dukes of Braganza sat just next door and because we had plenty of time, we decided to take a look.

At one point we walked along the back of the palace and thought it was interesting to see what the back door of a palace looks like.

At one point we walked along the back of the palace and thought it was interesting to see what the back door of a palace looks like.

The inner courtyard was undergoing restoration work so we took some images above the workers to show the detail within the upper courtyard.

The inner courtyard was undergoing restoration work so we took some images above the workers to show the detail within the upper courtyard.

Wall-sized tapestries hung in the receiving rooms. Most everything in the palace appeared to have been restored.

Wall-sized tapestries hung in the receiving rooms. Most everything in the palace appeared to have been restored.

Wall-sized tapestries hung in the receiving rooms.  Most everything in the palace appeared to have been restored.

The palace was rather dark and everything was viewed from afar, making it difficult to really study the works of art.

We’d spent our morning visiting an Iron Age fortified city, Citânia de Briteiros, dating back 2,000 years, followed by a visit to a 1,000 year old castle, and then a palace a mere 600 years old. Through one day we had leaped through time, from pre-historic Castro culture, to Portugal of the Middle Ages, and all the way up to merely old Portugal. Then we hopped on a train that would take us back to contemporary Portugal before the end of the day.

 

September 2014

 

 

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ever heard of Citânia de Briteiros? And how would we get there?

Sure, Guimarães has a castle, a palace, and is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Isn’t that enough? No, not when Citânia de Briteiros is close by; THAT’s where we wanted to go.

Citânia de Briteiros

Citânia de Briteiros

Citânia de Briteiros is the archaeological site of a heavily fortified hillside town in northern Portugal whose golden phase started in 200 BCE and lasted for several hundred years during the Iron Age in Europe.

Houses reconstructed in the 19th Century are now important for their historical value in the archaeology of the site, rather their accuracy. The doors and walls should have been shorter, the thatch more extensive.

Houses reconstructed in the 19th Century are now important for their historical value in the archaeology of the site, rather their accuracy. The doors and walls should have been shorter, the thatch more extensive.

Our problem with a visit to Citânia de Briteiros is its location 15 km out of town and no easy way for a traveler without a car to get there. We weighed our options: walking (unrealistic), bus (one a day too risky), renting a car or hiring a cab (too expensive).   We had an idea and hoped it would work.

We took the 8:20am train from Porto to Guimarães. When we arrived at the station, we found other tourists huddled around a blown up map of town on a post. We stepped up and asked if anyone planned to go to Citânia de Briteiros. (Fingers crossed.) One tourist stepped forward and said, yes, he planned to go. Opportunity strikes! We asked if he’d like to share a cab with us, and his answer was just what we wanted, an immediate yes!

We negotiated a price with a cabdriver who drove us there and waited while we spent almost 2 hours walking through Citânia de Briteiros. The cost for a roundtrip? 15 euros ($20 US) each.

We arrived and walked up one of the old historic roads into the dense city layout.

We spent a lot of time puzzling what was the purpose of various structures. We had read that, in one area, parents lived in a small round house that included an atrium. Other buildings in the complex were for the rest of the family.

We spent a lot of time puzzling what was the purpose of various structures. We had read that, in one area, parents lived in a small round house that included an atrium. Other buildings in the complex were for the rest of the family.

We continued on the main road that ended at the first defensive wall, the rampart.

The stone wall is 1 meter thick with few breaks in the rampart.

The stone wall is 1 meter thick with few breaks in the rampart.

The area of the city we had been exploring is contained within the walls of the first rampart. Beyond that rampart are second, third, and fourth ramparts for defense of the city. Well fortified, indeed! Although, some experts say the extra ramparts were for prestige, rather than defense.

We walked back on the road and saw several places where a stone gutter ran along the side, allowing water to run downhill to the bathhouse.

The furnace of the bathhouse was at the far end (left) and the steam room to its right (under the granite gable roof). The small opening would allow a person to enter and leave the steamed area while keeping the steam area warm.   People then washed with cold water in the area to the far right.

The furnace of the bathhouse was at the far end (left) and the steam room to its right (under the granite gable roof). The small opening would allow a person to enter and leave the steamed area while keeping the steam area warm. People then washed with cold water in the area to the far right

Wildflowers, cork trees, birds, and a light fog enhanced the tranquility of the site.

Wildflowers, cork trees, birds, and a light fog enhanced the tranquility of the site.

We didn’t allow enough time and would have been happier with a visit of three hours to more fully explore the area. We also read more about Citânia de Briteiros on our return to answer some of the many questions we had after viewing the site. A little more preparation before the visit would have made the trip even more rewarding.

Was it worth the time expense, and trouble to get there? YES, INDEED!

…to be continued with “A Palace and A Castle”

By the way, our little traveling companion, Solbit, also joined us on the trip to Citânia de Briteiros, and you might want to read her version of the trip from a Plastic Jurassic’s point of view.

 

September 2014

 

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A leap of faith

What would you do? You’re in a foreign country, don’t speak the language, and you (really) need a haircut. Would you a) wait till you get back home, or b) find a haircutter in the foreign country and go for it? (Beth asks these questions as we travel; Joe doesn’t; he brings his haircutter of 40+ years with him.)

Beth came to the realization (as she sat in the salon chair in Porto and watched her shorn hair descend to the ground) that she has reaped success when traveling by taking little “leaps of faith” on unfamiliar terrain. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t always work out, but, when it does work, she is rewarded with pleasure for having risen to the challenge and trusting that “it will work out.”

DSC08779

Haircutter in Porto

As we travel we try new foods. Sometimes that’s easy, but other times we take a leap of faith and trust it’ll work. For example, we asked the waitperson at Bugo Art Burgers,  in Porto, for advice on the topping for our lentil burger. She gave a few options and said her personal favorite was Porto + Serra, a very strong tasting sauce described as “onion confit in port wine, topped with traditional Portuguese ‘Serra da Estrela’ cheese”. Okaaay? We hesitated – and then went for it. Result: absolutely wonderful! Eating strange and ugly seafood like espada (black scabbardfish) required a few days for the idea to settle in before we were brave enough to try it. The taste? Excellent!

We picked up this Portuguese cheese in our local food market and crossed our fingers it would work on our homemade burritos.  It was good!

We picked up this Portuguese cheese in our local food market and crossed our fingers it would work on our homemade burritos. It was good!

We take a leap of faith each time we get on public transportation in a new city, in a new country, with other passengers maybe or maybe not speaking our language and we certainly not speaking theirs. We’ve learned to enjoy taking public transportation, as an easy and inexpensive way to traverse a long distance or just to get across town.

DSC08925 - Version 2

Trolley in Porto

Many friends stay in chain hotels in foreign countries “so we know what we’re getting,” surrounded by people who speak their language, and food they are comfortable with in the restaurants. However, by taking that little leap of faith to stay in a small local inn or an AirBnB, taking a risk, we’ve found that the rewards far outweigh the occasional disappointments.

We’re staying in this wonderful AirBnB in Porto.

We’re staying in this wonderful AirBnB in Porto.

As for that haircut for Beth, only a few blocks from our apartment, we had seen a sign on the street “Tuesday special – short haircuts – 5 euros.” Beth strolled in the next Tuesday with a photo of herself taken after a previous good haircut. The haircutter looked at it, nodded, and confidently took scissors to hair. Beth took a gulp. Sure enough, only 5 euros was the charge, but the result? Ah, just like the good hair cut photo! The moral of the story: with a little leap of faith often comes a pleasant reward. Be prepared in life – and in traveling – to take a leap of faith.

 

September 2014

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The camera comes with us on our daily walk

We’ve always taken a daily walk. Before we left on this trip, the walk was a prescribed route that wound through our neighborhood. We enjoyed the same walk every day, day-in and day-out, for many years. Changes in the landscape were uncommon and usually subtle. Now we are traveling, and a whole new world has opened up to us on our walks. Interesting, often dramatic, sights await us, so we always bring our cameras. Well, Joe brings his iPhone, and Beth is the one with the little Sony camera.

Our old walks did not include public art, parks, and brightly colored walls. Only a few architectural features stood out. Now, in Porto, every walk is filled with art, design, and wonderful details – perfect subjects for photography.

Yes, the pigeon is actually part of the artwork.

Yes, the pigeon is actually part of the artwork.

In the Ribeiro neighborhood

In the Ribeiro neighborhood

A splash of color

A splash of color

We were ready to take a photo of the sculpture when a woman passing with friends posed for all of us. We think she added a bit of pizzazz to the photo.

We were ready to take a photo of the sculpture when a woman passing with friends posed for all of us. We think she added a bit of pizzazz to the photo.

DSC08657

Blue and white tile is a constant design element in Portugal

Our first night in Porto we walked up to the Cathedral as the sun was going down.

Our first night in Porto we walked up to the Cathedral as the sun was going down.

The sights on our walks in Porto are rich and inspiring. We happily document the place and time with our cameras. Can we ever go back to the old neighborhood walk again?

 

September 2014

 

 

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Europe | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The heart of the city

On our first evening in Porto we looked out the window to see the illuminated Cathedral atop a nearby hill, with the darkening outline of the city spread out around it and below.

Porto Cathedral

The next day we walked up the hill to visit the Cathedral, Se do Porto, one of the oldest and most important buildings in the city. Construction started in 1110 but the building has been much altered over the years. Once Romanesque in style, Gothic additions were later added, and a Baroque porch to finish it off. The Cathedral is well known as the site for the 1387 marriage of the Portuguese King John I to the English princess, Philippa of Lancaster, and the site of the baptism of their third son, Henry, the Navigator.  The cathedral was dark and a challenge to our attempts at photography, with the exception of the ceiling (below).

DSC08669

Entrance to the Cathedral was free. Next to the cathedral sat the cloisters with an entry fee of several euro and we decided to continue the tour. We found ourselves most interested in the architectural details and the interplay of light.

DSC08674 IMG_2689

Porto Cathedral

When we learned a little about the history of the Cathedral, we could appreciate the significance it has in Porto’s history. The light illuminating the Cathedral every night expresses the feeling that this is not only Porto’s treasure but is also Porto’s heart.

 

September 2014

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Europe | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tasting fortified wines

Interesting trip-planning, huh? We actually planned to visit Madeira, followed by Porto, two cities renown for their historic fortified wines, and, guess what, Beth doesn’t even drink.

When we arrived at our AirBnB in Madeira, a bottle of Madeira wine and a box of Madeira cake sat on the dining table as welcome gifts. Joe poured a short glass many nights, and we ate little slices of cake. Not bad. We passed Blandy’s, one of the original wine companies of Madeira, on our daily walks and finally decided to take a tour.

Wine production in Madeira was well established when it was discovered that wine, fortified with alcohol and left on a ship for a period of time and in heated conditions, produced a better wine.

DSC08561

700,000 liters of wine were stored in the Blandy’s warehouse that we toured.

A few facts we learned on the tour: Fortified wines are generally sweet. Regular wines have an alcoholic content of about 12.5-14.5%, while fortified wines in the European Union are in the range of 18-22%. Blandy’s ages their Madeira in barrels made from American oak. The largest markets for Madeira are Britain and the US, with port sales highest in Europe.

We saw the company ledgers dated back to the late 1700’s.

We saw the company ledgers dated back to the late 1700’s.

The tasting room at Blandy’s.

The tasting room at Blandy’s.

We left the island of Madeira and flew to Porto, on the Portuguese mainland. Within days of our arrival, we walked across the Ponte Luis I bridge from Porto to Villa Nova de Gaia, where port wine is produced.

The Ponte Luis I bridge spans the Douro River. The engineer who designed it, Téophile Seyrig, was a partner of Eiffel’s.

The Ponte Luis I bridge spans the Douro River. The engineer who designed it, Téophile Seyrig, was a partner of Eiffel’s.

We walked to Taylors (closed for a private event), strolled down to Offleys (too late for the tour in English), before landing at Sandeman.

Sandeman’s logo is the Don, dressed in Spanish sombrero and Portuguese cape.

Sandeman’s logo is the Don, dressed in Spanish sombrero and Portuguese cape.

Port, like Madeira, is a fortified wine produced only with grapes from the Douro region of Portugal.

Our tour guide, dressed as the Don.

Our tour guide, dressed as the Don.

Sandeman’s barrels of Port

Sandeman’s barrels of Port

Port wine is best served as an after dinner drink with cheeses or chocolates.   Here was our problem. Our tour filed into the tasting room at 4pm. Joe hadn’t had lunch. Not exactly the optimum conditions for a true taste test. Nevertheless, he tried the white port sample first. Too sweet. He tried the tawny port sample. Too sweet. He sipped again. No, both were just too sweet for him.

We knew what we did want – something to eat – so we walked back over the bridge to Porto and had a delicious meal at Jimao Tapas e Vinho. And what to drink when in Porto? Joe ordered a glass of lovely, dry, red wine from the Douro region, and was happy.

 

August 2014

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Europe, Portugal - Madeira | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hard to find and neglected – but still beautiful

DSC08379

Friday seemed like a good day for a walk in a garden. We walked up the steep hill to visit Quinta Palmeira but couldn’t find the entrance gate. A tall stonewall stood between us and the garden. We studied the map and guessed that we should turn right and circle the garden. Wrong.

At one point the road became very steep and narrowed. We were still walking along the garden wall, but, now, we were in a narrow space between that wall and another high wall on the other side of the road. All of a sudden we heard a dog barking. In seconds the dog was on top of the neighboring wall, just over our heads, barking furiously at us.

We walked quickly, trying to get past so that the dog would calm down. The barking behind us became louder and more frantic. Then we heard a huge “THUD.” The dog had fallen off the wall and was lying (dead or stunned?) on the road. Should we go back to see if the dog was OK and risk the dog attacking us, or should we get down the road as fast as we could?

No question about it but to keep moving, and, when we were almost out of sight, we glanced back and saw the dog get up and slowly hobble back up the hill to the gate entrance of his home.

We were very hot and tired when we finally discovered the gate of the garden, locked and closed, with a sign “only open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

So, the next Tuesday we walked back up the steep hill, paid the entry fee, and climbed the long drive up into the garden. We were disheartened to see the neglected flowerbeds around the old house. How many years had it been since this was a garden in its prime?

We continued walking, down past the old croquet lawns, and finally discovered what we had come to see – a truly lovely area of the garden.

Quinta Palmeira

Quinta Palmeira

Quinta Palmeira

Quinta Palmeira

Quinta Palmeira

Quinta Palmeira

We saw no other visitors to the garden that morning. We had a hard time finding this place and were disappointed to find the garden in decline. Yet, we’re sure the magic of (finally) locating the garden entrance and our delight in discovering this garden’s beauty will make it our most memorable garden in Madeira.

 

August 2014

Posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Portugal - Madeira | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments