The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza

Located just down the hill from Guimarães Castle, the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza is a beautifully restored palace that was, at various times, the home to the Dukes of Braganza, a pile of ruins, Antonio Salazar’s Royal Palace, and, since 1910, a National Monument.

It’s hard to imagine that from the 16th century until the 19th century, the original palace was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.  In the 19th century, there was a movement to restore the palace, and plans were drawn up to rebuild the palace.  Reconstruction was finally begun in 1937 and, after more than two decades, the palace was finally opened in 1959.

Like the Biltmore House in my home state of North Carolina, it gives you a glimpse of the grandeur of the lives of the richest and most powerful people of their times. There are innumerable beautifully furnished spaces throughout the palace.  You can spend hours exploring the rooms.  There’s even a small museum of modern art in the palace.

This room is an example of the beauty of the palace.  The heavy stone and wood construction is juxtaposed against richness of the wonderful tapestries.  The beautiful vases are probably three feet tall.  It’s a stunning collection of riches.

Braganza Palace Interior

 

 

Alaska Statehood Monument

2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Alaska Statehood.  This monument, located a few minutes walk from downtown Anchorage, commemorates Alaska’s admission to the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower is depicted holding the Statehood declaration, backed by an eagle and flags.

Anchorage was our last stop on our Alaska tour and made a great impression.  It’s a beautiful city, with monuments, murals and totems scattered throughout the downtown area.  One of the most striking things about the city is its location.  It seems to be completely surrounded by mountains.  It makes for stunning vistas, regardless of what direction you look.  It was well worth the visit.

Alaska Statehood Monument HDR Outdoor 2

Guimarães Castle

Guimarães was one of my favorite stops on our visit to Portugal.  We spent most of the day visiting Guimarães Castle and its neighbor, Braganza Palace.  The castle is one of the most important places in the country, known as the “Birthplace of Portugal” because it was here that Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, was born in 1106.

The castle was not the first fortification on this spot.  In the tenth century, Momadona Dias, one of the most powerful women in Portugal’s long history, had a castle built on the hill to protect the nearby monastery that she had founded.

Henry of Burgundy, the first Count of the County of Portugal, had the original castle demolished and a new castle built on its spot.  It’s near here where the young Afonso, during the Battle of São Mamede, defeated the forces led by his mother in 1128 and declared himself Prince of Portugal.  In 1139 Afonso was declared King of Portugal and, in 1143, the neighboring nations recognized his sovereignty.

It doesn’t take long to explore the castle, but it’s worth the time.  In addition to the walls and towers, the central keep houses an interesting little museum outlining the history of Guimarães and Afonso. You also get plenty of great views of the surrounding area, including Braganza Palace.

Guimaraes Castle

Early Summer crops, North Carolina

This photo was taken early last summer during the local farm tour.  I love the lines and the colors of the crops, which range from green to blue to lavender to red.  The various densities of the rows are interesting as well.  The onions in the foreground are sparse and hair-like while the lettuce in the next few rows are tightly packed.  The blue of the sky is quite spectacular as well and ties in with the black plastic moisture barriers.

Maple Springs 1

Spiny Lobster, NC Aquarium

This interesting fellow is a spiny lobster.  He’s probably the largest lobster I’ve ever seen.

There are a couple things that set a spiny lobster apart from true lobsters.  First, they spiny lobsters have very long antennae- this lobster’s antennae were probably two feet across.  The antennae are sometimes used as a defense.  The lobster rubs the antennae against a hard surface to create a rasping sound which apparently sounds like Air Supply because the predators can’t stand the sound.

Another difference between spiny lobsters and true lobsters is that spiny lobsters don’t have the large claws associated with true lobsters.  In fact, they don’t usually have claws at all.  Despite not having the large, and tasty, claws associated with true lobsters, spiny lobsters are still a popular food source.  The spiny lobster industry in Vietnam is a major source of revenue and spiny lobster are the largest food export of the Bahamas.

Lobster

Moray Eel, NC Aquarium

We recently paid a visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.  It’s a nice aquarium with a focus on animals that inhabit the North Carolina coastal region but they do have a few non-native species.

This photo is of a moray eel doing what moray eels do- lying in wait to ambush a passing fish.  Morays have very small eyes and cannot see well, so they depend on their sense of smell to tell them when a potential meal is approaching.

One interesting thing about moray eels is they sometimes team with roving coral groupers to help them hunt.  The eels can flush small prey from niches and crevices where the larger groupers can’t go.

Moray Eel

Spring Sunset

After a long winter we had a lot of cleanup to do in the woods.  The trees had shed a lot of branches and one of the first jobs of Spring is to gather up the fallen wood and burn them.  This was our first bonfire of the year.

This photo was taken at sunset on a beautiful Spring evening.  We got the fire started just before the sun went down and we were able to sit and enjoy a cold drink and a wonderful sunset.  I like the way the flames of the fire tie in with the sunset through the trees and the colors of the clouds.

As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot to make us happy.

Sunset Bonfire

Dogwood blooms

Dogwoods are among the first things to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  Farmers believed that it wasn’t safe to plant their crops until the dogwoods bloomed, so they welcomed the sight of the beautiful white flowers each year.

There’s an old Christian tale that the cross that Jesus was crucified on was made of dogwood.  At the time the dogwood was one of the largest and strongest trees around Jerusalem.  After Jesus’s crucifixion,  God changed the dogwood to a smaller tree with twisted branches to ensure that the wood could never be used to make crosses again.  The four petals of the blooms signify the cross and the rust colored indentation on each petal represent the indentation of the nails that held Jesus to the cross.

I’m not particularly religious but I think that we can all agree that the dogwood blooms are a welcome indication that the cold days of Winter have come to an end.

Dogwood

Foggy Morning

Springtime weather changes sometimes bring foggy mornings.  The dog and I love our early morning walks and a fog adds to the peace and beauty of the land.  Since we live in the country we don’t have the noise associated with the hustle and bustle of urban areas.  So we take our time and enjoy the quiet beauty of the nature around us.

Foggy Barn

Spring Cherry Tree

When we moved to North Carolina twenty three years ago, there were three young Yoshino cherry trees in the yard.  We lost one early on in a Summer thunderstorm.  The two surviving trees have grown to around 25 feet tall and every Spring they give us a few days of beautiful blooms.

This year we weren’t sure they had survived the Winter.  We were quite surprised and pleased when they bloomed.   A few days after the trees bloom, they begin to leaf out.  This is when I love them most.  The combination of the pink blooms and the new green leaves are lovely.

An interesting aspect of the blooming trees is they seem to buzz.  If you sit or stand under the tree at this time of year, you’ll hear a quiet buzzing coming from the hundreds of bees who visit the blooms.  And, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a few dozen monarch butterflies as well.

This photo was taken while sitting on the porch and enjoying a late afternoon beverage.  I love the way the sunlight filters through the top of the tree.  Life is good.

Cherry Tree