Mercado do Bolhão, Porto, Portugal, March 2018

One of the more unusual places we visited on our tour of Portugal was Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s famous market in the city’s historic center.  The market dates to the first half of the 19th century, when the city decided it needed a central market for vendors to sell their goods.  In 1914 the current building was opened as the market’s home.  It’s a two-story neoclassical structure with an open courtyard where many of the vendors are located.  In 2006 the market was classified as a place of public interest.

While much of the merchandise is now geared towards tourists the Mercado do Bolhão has been able to maintain the feel of a traditional market.  There are stalls offering fresh vegetables, fish, meat and flowers as well as wine and tourist offerings such as cork products and souvenirs.  The baked goods looked nice and the fishmonger had huge octopi for sale.  One vendor offers live rabbits and chickens.  A few cats laze in sunny spots.

We didn’t experience it, but the female vendors are rumored to use crude language that would rival my own mastery of curse words.  Since the use of foul language is supposed to be a sign of higher intelligence in people, we’ll give them a pass.

I’ve read that shortly after our visit to Portugal the Mercado do Bolhão was moved to a temporary location while the existing building is renovated.  I’m glad that the city values the market so that they will renovate it rather than tear it down to make space for a new venture.  Hopefully the market will retain its unique character when it returns after the renovation.

The Last Day, by Nicholas Shrady

At mid-morning on November 1st, 1755, while many of Lisbon’s citizens were in church celebrating All Saints Day, a massive earthquake struck the city.  As many of the survivors made their way to the city’s quays to escape the fires that were raging after the earthquake, three tsunamis hit the city and swept many of the survivors into the sea.  It’s estimated that between 15,000 and 60,000 people perished in the earthquake, fires and tsunamis that destroyed Lisbon on that day.

1755_Lisbon_earthquake
Unknown, 1755 Lisbon earthquake, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

While many of the survivors were just trying to stay alive, one man, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, a secretary of state to King José I, took charge.  The king asked Carvalho what was to be done.  Carvalho replied, “Bury the dead and feed the living.”

O_marques_de_pombal,_conde_de_Oeiras
Unidentified painter 18th-century portrait painting of men, with Unspecified, Unidentified or Unknown, artist, location and year. Anonymous portuguese school, O marques de pombal, conde de Oeiras, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

The Last Day, by Nicholas Shrady, is an interesting look at the earthquake and how Carvalho, later appointed Marques de Pombal, took charge, not just of the recovery efforts after the earthquake, but of the country, ruling with an iron hand in the name of a weak king and saved Lisbon and, very possibly, Portugal.  Ignoring those who wanted to abandon the city and move the capital to nearby Belem while, at the same time, battling both the powerful Church and his political enemies, Carvalho oversaw the rebuilding of Lisbon, abolished slavery in Portugal, fostered commerce and rebuilt the military until his political downfall 22 years later.

The book looks at the Catholic Church’s centuries-long control of Portugal that left its citizens in the dark ages, the lopsided trade agreements with England that kept Portugal at a commercial disadvantage and how gold and slaves from Brazil and other Portuguese colonies kept the country afloat while weakening any homegrown commerce Portugal had.  Carvalho, in a frequently brutal way, fought these negative influences on his home country and helped to build it into the nation he believed it could be.  Some of his influence didn’t last; Queen Maria I, successor to Carvalho’s protector King José I, returned much of the power lost under Carvalho to the Catholic Church and the old nobility.  But much of his legacy, not the least of which can be seen in the city of Lisbon, remains.

The Last Day is a fascinating look at the earthquake and the man who saved Lisbon.

Carmo Ruins
The Carmo Convent Ruins, seen from Rossio Square, are a monument to the 1755 earthquake.

Ze Manel dos Ossos, Coimbra, March 2018

My wife and I look upon dining out as an adventure.  We do a lot of research to find interesting and unique restaurants wherever we go.  I had done a lot of research into restaurants in the cities on our itinerary.  One restaurant that came up over and over was Ze Manel dos Ossos, in Coimbra.  The fact that it was just a short walk from our hotel was a bonus.  This would be our dinner destination.

Ze Manel dos Ossos is tucked down a little alley just a block from Largo da Portagem, a central square across from the Santa Clara bridge and a popular for shoppers and tourists.

A light rain was falling when we arrived at the restaurant.  Ze Manel dos Ossos is a very small restaurant with nowhere to wait inside for a table to become available, so we waited in the rain with a young man from Greece and his dinner partner, a young woman from Croatia, and, eventually, a man from Lisbon.  The young man had done his research as well and was not going to give up a chance to dine at Ze Manel dos Ossos.

We studied the menu so we’d know what we wanted when we were seated.  The best way to describe the offerings would be country cooking, or, as Ann Marie called it, peasant food.  We decided on a half order of braised goat and a half order of bean stew with wild boar.

Half an hour later we were all in and seated.

The restaurant is truly a hole in the wall.  The inside is tiny.  The front half of the restaurant is an open kitchen.  The back half is filled with simple wooden tables and chairs and the walls are covered with small pieces of paper- drawings, doodles and poems.  The waiter called our order to the cook, brought us our bread, a great bean and cabbage soup and a stoneware pitcher of red wine, and we were under way.

The soup, as I said, was great.  The goat arrived in a stoneware pot along with potatoes and vegetables.  We poured the wine and the gentleman from Lisbon, seated at the table beside us, leaned over and told Ann Marie that the wine is homemade on the cook’s farm and is very strong, so please don’t drive afterwards.  He was a really nice guy who said he stops at the restaurant whenever he’s in Coimbra.  And yes, the wine was strong, but very nice.

Remember that we had ordered only a half serving of the goat and a half order of the bean stew.  By the time we had finished the goat, potatoes and veggies, we couldn’t eat any more.  We asked the waiter if we could cancel the bean stew and he laughed and said, of course.  But, he reminded us, that was just a half order!

We really enjoyed the dinner at Ze Manel dos Ossos.  The food and wine were really good, the staff was friendly and seemed to enjoy what they were doing, and the atmosphere was one of a kind.  And, best of all, the bill was half of what we paid at many other restaurants on our journey.  Our new friend was on to something.  Ze Manel dos Ossos would definitely be worth another visit the next time we’re in Coimbra.

Three Bridges, NYC, September 2004

I took this photo on a beautiful Autumn day in 2004.  There are three bridges in the photo- the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge

Guimarães Castle, Portugal, March 2018

We made a day trip to Guimarães from Braga.  This beautiful city is a historically significant place, known as “the birthplace of Portugal” because Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, was born here.  The castle, though, has a history older than even the founding of the country.

Guimaraes Castle

Guimarães was founded as Vimaranes in the 9th century.  It may have been named for the first ruler of the County of Portugal, Vimara Peres, who ruled the county from this area.  There’s a beautiful statue of Peres at the Cathedral in Porto.

Statue at Se
Vimara Peres, the first ruler of the County of Portugal

In the 10th century,  Countess Mumadona Dias, the most powerful woman in the Northwest Iberian Peninsula, ruled the County of Portugal from Guimarães.  A devout woman, she had he Monastery of Guimarães built.  To protect the monastery from raids by the Vikings and the Moors, she had a castle built on the hill overlooking the monastery in the place where the Castle of Guimarães now stands.

Mumadona- Guimaraes
Mumadona Dias, builder of Guimarães Castle

In 1096 Alfonso VI, King of León and Castile, gave the County of Portugal to Henry of Burgundy as dowry for his marriage to Alfonso’s daughter, Teresa.  Henry expanded and remodeled the castle.  It was here that his son, Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born.

The castle was remodeled once more at the end of the 13th century, this time by King Dinis.  This is the castle that exists today.  Over the next several centuries, though, the castle fell into ruin until, in 1836, a plan was made to demolish the castle and use its stone to repave roadways.  Fortunately, the plan was never carried out.  In 1910 the Castle of Guimarães was declared a National Monument and in 1937 the first of several restoration projects was started.

Castle Exterior 2
Castle exterior

The castle sits high above the city and provides some great views of the surrounding area.  It was built as a military fortification, and withstood several sieges during its early history.  The green space around the castle would not have existed during its use as a fortress; all of the trees and shrubbery would have been removed to eliminate hiding places for enemy invaders.

Castle Tower and Cityscape
One of the castle’s eight towers

There are eight towers surrounding a central keep.  The keep would have been where the castle’s owner would live.  The walls and towers would provide a shield for them from any attacks.

Castle Walls
The castle wall

The castle is adjacent to two other national monuments- The Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza.  The palace can be seen from the castle walls.

Braganza Palace from Castle
Braganza Palace seen from the castle wall

The Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo is a tiny church in the shadows of the castle.  Legend has it that this is where Afonso Henriques was baptized.  That may be stretching history a bit as the first reference to the church wasn’t until the 13th century.  A restoration project at the end of the 19th century took place and then, in the 20th century, several more projects were carried out to restore the church to its original medieval character.

Baptismal Chapel
Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo

The area of the castle, the palace and the church are part of the historical center of Guimarães and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There’s a lot of history here in the Birthplace of Portugal.

 

 

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, 1971

When I was eleven years old I went on a 50-mile hike in the Black Hills of South Dakota with my boy scout troop.  In addition to a week of hiking and camping we took a drive through Customer State Park, where we saw  bison and antelope, we took a swim in the pool at Hot Springs, we visited Badlands National Park, and we stopped at Wall Drug, famous for offering free ice water to visitors (we saw a Wall Drug sign in Amsterdam, Holland), and we made a trip to Mount Rushmore.  Forty-six years later I still think of the trip as a great experience.

It’s also when I received my first camera.  My parents bought a Kodak Instamatic camera for me similar to this one.  I had a couple 126 film cartridges.  Not really knowing what we were buying, one of the rolls was slide film.  Most of the photos were not very good.  This photo was scanned from the original slide.  After forty-six years it took a lot of work to clean up the scratches and dust, but it’s not a bad photo.  Let’s just say it’s my first successful attempt to document my travels.

Mount Rushmore Ektachrome 100

Porto, Portugal, March 2018

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and has long been an important part of the country’s history.  There have been people here since the time of the Celtiberians, and the Roman name Portus Cale gave Portugal its name.  Porto is an interesting, bustling city with a lot to do.  We spent two days in the city on our visit to Portugal.

We stayed outside the historic center of the city because driving in Porto is not for the faint of heart.  Our hotel, Hotel Porto Nobre, was a beautiful old house north of the city and with convenient access to the historic city center.

Hotel Porto Nobre

The purpose of our visit was to decide where we want to live when we relocate to Portugal.  It was pretty evident that Porto was not what we’re looking for.  Porto is a large and busy city and we’re looking for a smaller place with a much slower pace.  That being said, we enjoyed our time in the city.

The historic center of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and most of what we wanted to see and do are in the city center.  We took the bus from the hotel to the Avenida dos Aliados, generally regarded as the heart of the city.  It’s a beautiful place to start our tour of Porto, with magnificent mansions and buildings lining the avenue.  The north end of the square is topped by the beautiful City Hall.

Camara Municipal de Porto

Praça da Liberdade sits at the southern end of the avenue.  This is a great place for photos of the avenue.  A statue of Dom Pedro IV is quite beautiful as well. The architecture and the statue give an old European feel to the square.

Praca da Liberdade

We decided to have lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the avenue.  This was our chance to try Porto’s most famous delicacy, the francesinha. Frequently mentioned as one of the best sandwiches in the world, the “little frenchie” has ham, sausage, beef and cheese, all smothered in a secret sauce.  This is not a sandwich you can eat with your fingers.  It is quite good.

Francesinha

After the francesinha, we needed a long walk.  Our first stop was São Bento Railway Station, one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.  The interior is covered with about 20,000 azulejos painted by Jorge Colaço between 1905 and 1916.  The azulejos depict events from Portugal’s history.

Sao Bento Interior 2

Livraria Lello, the famous bookstore, one of the world’s most beautiful booksellers,was our  next stop.  It is a magnificent work of art.  The exterior is art nouveau.  The interior is highlighted by the staircase that reportedly was the inspiration for the moving staircases in J.K. Rowlings’s Hogwarts.  Unfortunately, the interior is so crowded that it’s difficult to move, much less enjoy the beauty of the place.

Lello Interior 2

Just up the street from Lello is Igreja dos Clérigos and the famous Torre dos Clérigos. Designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, the baroque tower was added to the Igreja dos Clérigos between 1754 and 1763.  Nasoni, who designed numerous works in Porto during his 50 years in the city, had designed the original church, which was built between 1933 and 1750.

The tower is over 75 meters tall and provides spectacular vistas for visitors who climb the 225 steps to the top.  This view of the tower was taken the next day from the Cathedral.

Clerigos Tower skyline

Our second day began at Avenida dos Aliados and breakfast at Café Guarany.  It’s a beautiful art nouveau café that opened in 1933.  We had a great breakfast there while avoiding the crowds at Porto’s other famous café, Majestic.

Cafe Guarany

After breakfast we took a walk to Porto’s famous market, Mercado Bolhão.  Our timing was right.  The market has been moved to a new location so the old location can be renovated. Yes, the old location was a bit decrepit, but I liked the feel of the place.

 

After the market we stopped at the Cathedral.  Construction was begun in the 12th century and was continued until its completion in the 16th century.  That probably explains why it has several different architectural styles, including a Gothic chapel and cloister, a Romanesque rosette window and nave, and a Baroque loggia designed by Nicolau Nasoni.  There’s also a statue of Vimara Peres, a 9th century nobleman who defeated the Moors and was the first ruler of the County of Portugal.

Se de Oporto

Our next destination was Vila Nova de Gaia, famous for its port wine caves.  We were looking at Vila Nova de Gaia as a potential retirement spot because of its vicinity to Porto and all of that city’s amenities.  We took the metro across the Dom Luis I bridge, one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.  It’s a two level bridge, one for automobile and pedestrian traffic, and one level for trains, and was designed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel.

We walked through the part of town above the waterfront for a while and really didn’t like it as a potential home.  We probably didn’t give Vila Nova de Gaia a fair chance; it’s actually quite large and I’m sure that there are parts of the city that would appeal to us, but we just didn’t connect with the city like we did with some of the other places we visited.

We made our way to the Teleférico de Gaia, an aerial gondola, and had a drink at the bar before taking a ride down to the waterfront.  The views from the teleférico were awesome, but the waterfront was underwhelming.  We toured one of the port wine cellars, had lunch at one of the restaurants, and then road the teleférico to the top so we could ride the metro back to Porto.

Vila Nova de Gaia

We made our way to the Igreja de São Francisco, our final destination.  The gothic exterior of this 13th century church is misleading.  Inside, over 120 pounds of gold gilt cover virtually every surface.  Photography of the interior isn’t allowed, but I found a photo to accompany my exterior photo.

We enjoyed our time in this great city.  It’s bustling city with a long history and plenty to keep you interested.  Our visit just touched the surface and I hope that we’ll be able to spend more time in Porto in the future.

 

Viana do Castelo, Portugal, March 2018

A blanket of fog lay over Viana do Castelo when we arrived, blotting out any chance of seeing the city’s most famous landmark, the beautiful Basílica de Santa Luzia.  Even so, we lost no time in falling in love with the city.  After the hustle and bustle of Porto, the relaxed, easy-going atmosphere of Viana do Castelo was a welcome change.

We stayed at Hotel Jardim.  The building began life as a 19th century townhouse before its conversion to a hotel.  Our room was large and had wonderful floor-to-ceiling French windows that, when opened, gave us wonderful views down several of the narrow lanes of the old city.

Street Scene
View from our room

While we only spent a day in Viana do Castelo it quickly became one of our favorite cities.  Viana has been called the Jewel of the Costa Verde, with good reason.  There’s been a settlement here since the times of the Celtiberians, as witnessed by the ruins on the mountain, just behind the Basilica.  It’s been an important seaport since the 13th century, when it’s primary industry was fishing.  In the 16th and 17th centuries, the city became Portugal’s largest seaport, when sugar and gold from Brazil began making its way to Portugal.  Its importance as a seaport may have faded since then, but its former glory is evident in the manors and mansions that line Viana do Castelo’s main streets.

Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo

It’s a walker-friendly city, with lots of narrow little lanes to explore.  We spent a lot of time wandering the streets, making stops along the way, depending on what interested us.  Our first stop was the Sé, or Cathedral, of Viana do Castelo.  It’s a beautiful 15th century Romanesque structure.  The twin crenellated towers, the portal depicting six of the apostles, and the rosette make for a beautiful exterior.  The interior is quite pretty well.  Viana do Castelo was an important seaport, and its citizens wanted the church to reflect that importance.  One of the treasures inside the cathedral is a model of a sailing ship, which harkens back to Viana do Castelo’s days of glory. It’s not every cathedral that has a ship.

Cathedral
Cathedera of Viana do Castelo

Just a short walk from the Sé takes you to Praça da República, the heart of Viana’s historic center.  Besides the cafés and shops that line the square, there are three interesting 16th century structures.  The old Council Chamber is an imposing fortress-like structure with a crenellated roof.  The front is opened by three arches topped with three windows, all of which are topped by the city’s coats of arms.

Old Council Chamber
Old Council Chamber

The Casa da Misericórdia, or almshouse, was designed by João Lopes the Younger.  The renaissance façade has caryatids, six on each floor, supporting the floor above.  It’s quite beautiful.

Almshouse
Almshouse

The renaissance fountain in the center of the square was designed by João Lopes the Older.  It’s an elegant structure topped with a cross of the Order of Christ.  For several centuries the fountain was a primary source of water for the town’s citizens.

Old Fountain
Old Fountain

Wandering the streets can have unexpected benefits.  Just a three-minute walk from our hotel we came upon Ribeira Brewers.  Hmmm.  A brewer…  We stepped inside for a drink and found it to be a wonderful little pub, with a nice selection of craft beer.  The owner was very helpful and I had my first Portuguese craft brew, Letra F.  It was good and I was happy.  If we lived in Viana do Castelo Ribeira Brewers would be a great hangout.

Colorful Street Scene
Colorful Street

The day was winding down and it was time to find a place to eat.  I had done some research and had selected Zefa Carqueja as our dinner spot.  This restaurant was supposed to have the best barbeque chicken and ribs in the north of Portugal.  It probably does, but we’ll never know.  When we got to the restaurant, there was about fifty people lined up at the counter waiting to place an order, and the only orders taken at that time were take out.  Well crap.  Time for the backup plan.  Just a few feet down the street was another highly rated restaurant, Taberna do Valentim.  This was what we were looking for.  We had a nice quiet dinner of grilled fish and vegetables and split half a bottle of wine.  It was another one of those unplanned moments that worked out for the best, and a beautiful end to the day.

Viana do Castelo was one of our favorite places in Portugal.  We were there for only one day and we only touched the surface of the town.  There’s so much to do- museums, historical places, two Blue Star beaches just minutes away, and plenty of great food to be had- that we didn’t get to do.  But we had achieved our goal of getting a feel of what it would be like to live in Viana do Castelo.  We found Viana to be a beautiful city with a relaxed atmosphere and we look forward to our next visit.

Waterfront
Viana do Castelo Riverfront

Portuguese Pavement, March 2018

I love the calçadas Portuguesa, or Portuguese pavement that is so common throughout the country.  The tradition goes back to Roman times when the Romans used stone laid in patterns to pave roads, plazas and even floors.  The Roman mosaic style of pavement can be seen in Conimbriga and on the ancient road turned walking trail located at Alqueidão da Serra.

The years of Moorish occupation had an influence on the pavement as well.  Many of the calçadas Portuguesa feature geometric patterns and designs that show the Arabic influence.

Several earthquakes in the 16th century and then again with the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon, were great drivers for the use of Portuguese pavement.  Many of the streets were paved this way after the 1755 earthquake.  General Eusébio Furtado used Portuguese pavement to transform the grounds of São Jorge Castle into walking places using the mosaic pavement.  He was also responsible for “Mar Largo” at Praça do Rossio, as well as Camões Square, Principe Square and Town Hall Square, all in Lisbon.

Rossio Square
Mar Largo, or Open Sea at Praça do Rossio, Lisbon

The stone is predominantly limestone quarried from the Aire and Candeeiros mountains of Portugal.  Black, white, grey and occasionally red stones are commonly used.  While geometric patterns are most common there are examples of the stones being used to display floral patterns, symbols and even portraits.  Most of what we saw was geometric patterns.

Praca Sousa Oliveira
Praca Sousa Oliveira, Nazaré

Much like Portugal’s azelejos, the stonework has become a part of the cultural identity. Unfortunately, the future of the art form is at risk.  It takes years to learn to cut and lay the stones and there are less expensive forms of pavement available.  I hope that the cultural value of the Portuguese pavement outweighs the economic cost and the tradition continues.

Coimbra Sidewalk
Rua Ferreira Borges in Coimbra

Ponte de Lima, Portugal, March 2018

The little town of Ponte de Lima was not on our original itinerary, but after several people we met on our trip suggested we make it a stop on our tour, we did just that.  A half hour drive from Viana do Castelo, the town with a population of 2,800 was a nice stop on our way to Braga.

Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest towns in Portugal, beginning life as a Roman settlement on the road between Braga and Santiago de Campostela, Spain.  A popular spot with Portuguese tourists, the village is full of charming shops and restaurants. Historical towers and walls are integrated into the newer buildings.

Ponte de Lima Main Drag

The most famous attraction, and namesake of the town, is the ponte, an ancient stone bridge that crosses the Ria Lima. The bridge was extensively rebuilt in the 14th century but the north end is still of Roman origin.

On the bridge
Ponte Romana

The local legend is that when the Romans first reached Ria Lima they mistook it for the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and one of the five rivers of Hades.  The soldiers, afraid that the water would cause them to lose all memory, refused to cross the river.  The Roman commander, frustrated that the river was impeding his military campaign, rode across the river.  The soldiers were not convinced until the General, now on the opposite bank of the river, called each of the men by name.  Today the legend is celebrated by a display of statues along the river banks- the troops on the near bank and the general on the opposite side of the river.

Ponte Romana
The Roman troops waiting to cross the river

Another interesting little legend is the story pictured in azelejos on the Torre that now houses the Tourist Information Center.  The azelejo is titled “Cabras São Senhor!” (They’re goats, M’lord!)  The story goes that King Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, mistook a herd of goats for Moors and nearly attacked the herd.  Fortunately for the goats, the king called off the attack once he realized his mistake.

Ponte de Lima Torre
Torre with azelejo “Cabras São Senhor!”

There’s a lot of artwork, including several sculptures like this one celebrating folk life.

Folk Art Monument
Folk Life Monument

Walking through town is like walking through a park.  There’s a lot of green space, monuments, and artwork.  We spent time exploring the streets and stopped for coffee and cake in one of the cafés in town.  It seemed that everywhere we turned we found another beautiful street.

Could we live in Ponte de Lima?  Definitely, yes.  For such a small town there are a lot of things to see and do.  The one drawback would be that we’d have to drive more, as amenities are a little more limited than in larger cities. We enjoyed the short time we spent in Ponte de Lima and have this fantastic little town in our top three of places we’d like to live in Portugal.