I find cemeteries beautiful and peaceful places. The Cemitério Municipal de Aveiro is no exception. We visited the cemetery, located behind the Cathedral, on a sunny March day.
Older than Portugal by more than a century, Braga is the country’s oldest city and the spiritual capital of Portugal. It’s also the rainiest city in the country. We spent two soggy days in Braga.
Braga’s history spans several millennia, getting its name from early Celtiberian settlers called the Bracari. When Rome conquered the area around 136 B.C. the city was renamed Bracara Augusta in honor of Roman Emperor Augustus. Over the next centuries the city passed through the hands of the Suebi, the Visigoths, the Moors and the Gallicians before Portugal ultimately won its independence.
Our hotel was just two blocks from Avenida da Liberdade, the pedestrian-only thoroughfare that leads to the heart of Braga, Praça da República. Avenida da Liberdade is a wonderful mixture of old and new, with high-end stores and historical sites like the Baroque Raio Palace and the 1st century Fonte do Ídolo, a Roman fountain built during the time of Roman Emperor Augustus. Despite the grand old age of the city, Braga has a cosmopolitan feel. Brightly colored buildings and storefronts line the avenue, including the fantastic Theatro Circo.
At the top of of the avenue is Praça da República. Located at one end of the Jardim da Avenida Central, the Praça da República is a great place for people watching. The Arcada, at the end of the Praça, features two old cafés, Café Vianna and Café Astoria, and a central fountain. We had breakfast at Café Vianna and enjoyed the view; from the Arcada you can see all the way to the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, 5km away from the city’s center.
From the Arcada we wandered through the Jardim da Avenida Central. Braga is a religious center and it seems that everywhere you look there’s a church or monument celebrating the city’s faith. The park is no exception. You’ll find the huge Convento dos Congregados, the tiny Igreja da Penha and the modernist monument celebrating Pope John Paul II’s visit to Braga in 1982.
At the far end of the park there’s a view that epitomizes the dedication the city has to its faith. The azulejo-covered Igreja de Nossa Senhora-a-Branca catches your eye first, but a few blocks behind the stone Igreja de São Victor is just as beautiful. It seems that everywhere you look there’s a church.
While we’re at this end of Central Avenue, there’s a little park that I loved. Jardim da Senhora A Branca features one of Braga’s Cruzeiros, a monument topped with a cross, and beautiful orange trees. I love the fact that you see fruit trees in the middle of the city.
Now, back to the churches. There were churches and chapels of all sizes and religious monuments throughout the city. The Sé, or Cathedral, is probably one of the best known and a highlight on any tour of Braga. First built in the 12th century, the Cathedral underwent several renovations resulting in the gothic and manueline structure that exists today. A national monument since 1910, the Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga.
We stumbled across the tiny Capela de São Bentinho while out looking for a lunch spot. Tucked down a narrow little lane, it’s a beautiful little chapel.
Scattered throughout Braga are Cruzeiros, or crosses. This one is located near the Arco de Santiago.
On the other side of the Arco de Santiago is this beautiful monument.
Finally, we always try to find a restaurant or food that’s unique to the city. Most of our dining in Braga was at pubs or cafés. Braga is known for its frigideiras, or meat pies. One of the best places for them is Frigideiras do Cantinho, a small restaurant near Braga Cathedral. While the food was good, the interesting thing about Frigideiras do Cantinho is that the floor is glass and the restaurant is built over Roman ruins. It’s quite unique.
Despite frequent downpours, resulting in soggy shoes, we enjoyed our visit to Braga. It’s a beautiful city with a lot to recommend it.
There aren’t a lot of covered bridges left. One problem is that the building material, wood, doesn’t hold up well to weather. The other problem is that they were originally built for wagons and horses, not today’s cars and trucks that weigh thousands of pounds. For these reasons there are only a couple covered bridges in North Carolina. This beauty was moved from its original location and now sits a few miles from the Alston House, also known as the House on the Horseshoe.
A second bridge, the Bunker Hill bridge, sits a few miles off I-40 in western North Carolina. It’s a bit hard to find, being tucked in a small wooded park off a secondary road. It’s a really peaceful place to enjoy a walk in the woods
and the craftsmanship of the wonderful old bridge.
By the way, there’s a reason these bridges are covered. Uncovered wooden bridges have a life span of only 10 to 15 years. The roofs protect the bridge from the elements and extend the life of the structure. Luckily for us, there are still some of these bridges to see.
I love books and I can spend hours in a good bookstore. Porto’s Livraria Lello & Irmão was on my short list of places to visit in Portugal.
Livraria Lello, or the Lello Bookstore in English, is one of the most beautiful and, thanks to J.K. Rowlings, one of the most famous bookstores in the world. When J.K. Rowling lived in Porto, she began work on the Harry Potter series. She was a frequent visitor to the bookstore and the amazing central staircase was the inspiration behind the moving staircases of Harry’s Alma Mater, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Livraria Lello began life in 1869 as Internacional Livraria de Ernesto Chardron. When Senhor Chardron passed away, the bookstore was purchased by Lugan & Genelioux Sucessores who eventually sold the bookstore to the Lello brothers in 1894. The brothers Lello decided to build a new bookstore and hired engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves to build the new bookstore on Rua das Carmelitas, in the shadow of the Clérigos Tower The new Livraria Lello & Irmão opened its doors in 1906.
The bookstore is truly beautiful. The exterior is a Neo-Gothic with vivid Arte Nouveau paintings, including the two figures of Art and Science, painted by Professor José Bielman. Just above the door, in gilt lettering, the name “Livraria Chardron” celebrates the early history of the bookstore.
The bookstore saw an increase in visitors who, driven by the popularity of the Harry Potter books, just wanted to see the interior that gave birth to the fantastic architecture of Hogwarts. Because most of the visitors were not actually there to make a purchase, Livraria Lello began charging an admission fee in 2015, with the price of the admission ticket being deducted from the price of any book purchase.
The interior is truly special. There are busts of some of the greatest Portuguese writers, including Eça de Queirós and Camilo Castelo Branco, The interior has a lot of art deco touches, including the stained glass skylight and the famous forked staircase. The interior seems to be of wood, but it’s actually plaster painted to look like wood.
As you can see from the photos, browsing through the books is a bit of a chore. You have to fight your way through the hundreds of visitors. We did manage to look through the cookbooks but, alas, the selection of English language Portuguese cookbooks was extremely limited. Once I’ve learned enough of the Portuguese language to read in the language I’d love to go back to peruse the selection of Portuguese classics. What I’ve read so far- Jose Saramago, Eça de Queirós and Fernando Pessoa- have whetted my appetite for more Portuguese literature.
My dream is to be able to visit Livraria Lello when there are no crowds so I can browse the shelves for literary treasures that may be hidden there. And while I’m searching for treasure maybe I’ll try to catch a few photos of this amazing store.
This beautiful painting is on a wall near the Aveiro Cemetery. Aveiro has opened its arms to street art and there are a lot of incredible works scattered throughout the city. This is just one of them.
I was an Army brat. We moved a lot but we always seemed to go back to Columbus, Georgia, home to Fort Benning. Oakland Park, Baker Village, Benning Hills- those were the neighborhoods we lived in while my dad was stationed at Fort Benning, while he was in Vietnam and after he retired. I consider Columbus my home town.
That being said, my trips back to Columbus have been few and far between. Life gets in the way. My wife and I did take a trip to Columbus in 2013 to attend an impromptu reunion of the Baker High School Class of 1978. I really enjoyed seeing my classmates and I was amazed at how Columbus had changed over the years since I was last there.
There are a lot of really nice things to do in Columbus and one of them is the National Infantry Museum. Opened in 2009, the museum has one several awards, including USA Today’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Award for Best Free Museum. We visited the museum as part of a memorial luncheon for classmates who are no longer with us.
The first thing that struck me was the Infantryman, or Follow Me, statue at the entrance to the museum. The statue was originally located at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning before being moved to the Infantry Museum. What was interesting to me is that the sculpture was created by two U.S. soldiers, Private First Class Manfred Bass and Private First Class Karl H. Van Krog. It’s a beautiful monument to the Infantrymen of our country.
The museum campus has a 2,100 seat stadium where Army trainee graduations are held twice a week. We visited on a graduation day and there were a couple hundred very proud graduates and their family members at the museum that day.
The exhibits inside the museum honor the men who fought in the many wars and conflicts the United States have participated in over the years and can only be described as incredible. The entrance to the exhibits is called the Last 100 Yards Ramp. As you walk up the ramp you pass Infantrymen fighting battles from the Revolutionary War through the Afghanistan War.
My favorite exhibit halls were the World At War 1929-1947 and the Cold War 1947-1989. Life size displays are combined with projected images to create amazing interactive dioramas. Here, a Korean War soldier sits and writes a letter to home.
A special exhibit, the Hall of Valor, pays tribute to the nearly 1,500 American Infantrymen who were awarded the nation’s highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor. It’s a beautiful exhibit.
Some of the weaponry on display is quite scary. There’s one weapon, kind of a rocket launcher, designed to launch a shell armed with a nuclear warhead up to five miles. Fortunately, it was never used.
There are exhibits focusing on the Rangers, Cavalry, and Armor, all important parts of the Infantry. There’s even an exhibit hall celebrating the connections between Fort Benning and Columbus.
There’s a lot more to Columbus. There’s the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, the Coca Cola Space Science Center and Planetarium and a whitewater kayaking course on the Chattahoochee River. The Infantry Museum, though, brought back a lot of memories from a childhood lived around Columbus and the Army. Our day at the museum was a day well spent.
Azulejos, the beautiful decorative tiles that adorn buildings throughout the country, are now synonymous with Portugal, but they have a history that spans several countries and cultures. Of Moorish origin, the tiles were not only beautiful, they had a functional purpose as well, serving as insulators against the intense heat of the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Azulejos first came to Portugal from Seville, when Dom Manuel I, during his visit to the Spanish city, was struck by the beauty of the tiles. Originally the tiles were of geometric or floral patterns. Their use rapidly spread throughout Portugal, becoming a popular building material for the outside of buildings as well as being used to decorate the interiors structures.
As the popularity of azulejos grew, so did demand. During the second half of the 17th century, Delft potter makers, whose blue and white pottery was already popular throughout Europe, began producing tiles. The popularity of the Dutch tiles was such that they effectively created a monopoly and shut out many Portuguese manufacturers. Dom Pedro II, alarmed at the rate that the Dutch tiles were taking over the market, banned all imports of azulejos between 1687 and 1698, allowing Portuguese artists to fill the void left by the ban.
Over the next few centuries azulejos remained popular in Portugal. The influence of the Dutch tiles continued to be felt, as the blue and white tiles were the most commonly used, but more and more the tiles were used to depict scenes and tell stories. Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs became popular in the early 20th century as artists such as António Costa and Jorge Colaço began to create works of art from azulejos.
From the stunning São Bento Station in Porto, featuring over 20,000 blue and white tiles, to decorative scenes featuring just a couple dozen tiles, azulejos can be found throughout Portugal. This art form with an international history is now forever a part of Portugal.
This beautiful stained glass image is part of the tiny St. Michael’s Shrine in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
The shrine was built about 80 years ago after a young boy, Steve Tsalickis, lay near death. The young was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His vision and hearing was already affected and the doctors told the family there was no hope. Bedridden for months, one day the young boy asked his mother to bring him an icon of St. Michael the family kept in the living room. When she brought the icon to him, Steve said he had seen St. Michael.
Steve made a complete recovery and, in honor of the miracle, his parents built the small shrine. Today people come from around the globe to visit the shrine.
In Roman Catholic teachings St. Michael is known as the leader of the Army of God, and he is frequently depicted with a sword and armor. In the Book of Revelation, St. Michael defeated Satan during the war in heaven. Interestingly, Michael is an Archangel in Judaism, Christianity and Islam; in all three faiths, Michael is the protector of the faithful.
This beautiful bronze sculpture, by artist Andre Alves, sits along Coimbra’s famed Rua Quebra Costa, a narrow lane leading to the top of the Old City and the University. The statue honors the tricana, a woman of Coimbra. She’s dressed in the traditional clothing, with a shawl and apron, and carries a pitcher, with which she would fetch water from the Mondego River. I love the way the statue sits along the rua, with her sandals kicked off, as if she’s resting before the long climb up the hill.
One of the highlights of any visit to Coimbra is the Universidade Velha, or Old University. Coimbra University is one of the oldest academic institutions in Europe and probably the most important university in Portugal. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a beautiful and historic University and well worth the visit.
When we set out for Universidade Velha, we knew only that it was on top of the hill that makes up Coimbra’s Old Town. Unfortunately, we chose the hardest, albeit most picturesque way, to approach the University. We entered through the Torre da Almedina and climbed the steep series of stairs known as “the backbreaker”, Rua Quebra Costa.
Rua Quebra Costa is picturesque. We entered through the Barbican Gate and wound our way up the path toward the Torre. Just after the gate we came upon a beautiful sculpture celebrating Portugal’s national music, Fado. After passing through the Torre we found another beautiful piece of artwork, a bronze statue called “Tricana de Coimbra”.
We struggled up the steps, passing the Old Cathedral and the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, stopped to catch our breath at the New Cathedral, and eventually made our way to the Old University. It was a trip worth making, but only once. Next time we’ll take the bus to the University.
The Universidade Velha is centered around the Paço das Escolas, or Patio of the Colleges. This was once the Royal Palace of Alcáçova and, beginning in 1131, the home of Dom Afonso Henríques, Portugal’s first king. Almost every king of Portugal’s first dynasty was born here. Interestingly, the first Portuguese king not born in the Palace was Dom Dinis, who founded the University in Lisbon in 1290.
We entered the Paço das Escolas through the Porta Férrea, or Iron Gate. Designed by 17th century architect Antonio Tavares, the gate was the first major architectural work following the University’s acquisition of the Royal Palace in 1537. It’s an elegant structure, with figures representing the University’s major schools at that time, Law, Medicine, Theology and Canons, as well as figures honoring the two kings who figure so prominently in the University’s history, Dom Dinis and Dom João III.
There’s a second entrance to the Paço das Escolas located next to the famed Biblioteca Joanina. The Minerva Stairs were built in 1725 under the supervision of Architect Gaspar Ferreira. The stairs are still one of the main entries into the Paço das Escolas.
Once through the gate you’re struck by the beauty of the Old University. Two things stand out over all others- the bell tower and the statue of Dom João III. The statue, designed by Francisco Franco and erected in 1950, shows a dignified Dom João III looking towards the Palatial home of the University since he ordered it moved to Coimbra in 1537.
The bell tower is the patio’s most prominent landmark. Known as “the Goat”, it was erected in the first half of the 18th century and is the work of Italian architect Antonio Canevari. The bell, which calls the students to class, rings 15 minutes behind the other clock towers in Coimbra. The purpose of the delay is to keep from confusing the town’s inhabitants and the University’s students regarding the various duties signified by the bells each day.
The tower is roofless; it once doubled as an astronomical observatory. Visitors can climb the tower; I’m sure it provides phenomenal views of Coimbra, but we chose not to make the climb.
The main attraction, for many people, is the Biblioteca Joanina. One of the most beautiful libraries in the world, it was a 17th century gift to the University from Dom João V, for whom it is named. Four huge columns frame the front doors of the baroque structure, but this is not where you access the library. Tours of the library start at the bottom of the Minerva stairs, where you enter the Academic Prison. It’s the last existing medieval prison still existing in Portugal and was in use until 1832. Originally the prison for the Royal Palace, it was later used to hold students who committed disciplinary offenses. By the way, the university had its own legal code, separate from the general law of the kingdom.
After a quick tour of the academic prison we’re allowed to climb the stairs to the middle floor, called Depository 4. This is now a museum. Originally, only librarians and the Royal Prison Guard had access to the floor (the guards accessed the Academic Prison from here). Access to the books stored in Depository 4 were restricted to a select group of staff.
The highlight of the library is the magnificent “Book House”. The top level is a series of three chambers with two floors. 72 gilded book shelves hold about 60,000 priceless books, including a copy of Camões’s Lusiads from 1572 and a Latin Bible from 1492. Each room has a fantastic ceiling painting and at the far end of the third room is a beautiful painting of Dom João V. It’s so beautiful that I can’t imagine anyone actually reading in the library.
There are two colonies of bats who live in the library. Their job is to eat the insects that could harm the books. We didn’t see any of the bats, but there are plenty of places for them to sleep during the day.
I’m sure that some people stop their tour after visiting the Biblioteca Joanina, but those who do are missing out. Next door to the library is the Capela de São Miguel, an ornate Baroque and Manueline chapel built in the 16th century and remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The altarpiece dates from 1605 and in 1663 the interior was covered with tiles. There’s a magnificent baroque pipe organ, built in 1733 by Friar Manuel Gomes to replace the old one, that consists of around 2,000 pipes. The organ is still used on special occasions.
The chapel is full of outstanding religious artwork, including a painting of Our Lady of Conception, the patroness of the University, and another of Our Lady of Light, the patroness saint of students. It’s a beautiful structure. I was inspired enough to try out my limited knowledge of the Portuguese language. “A capela é muito linda,” I told the student at the door. I apparently used it correctly, because he smiled and replied in English, “Yes, it is.”
After a quick break in the cafeteria for a snack and a glass of wine, we moved on to the Royal Palace. The entry to the Royal Palace is the Via Latina, a magnificent staircase built during the late 18th century. It seems to be a popular spot for selfies or group photos, depending on whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. We’re not really into photos of ourselves so we climbed the stairs and entered the Palace.
There are several really nice rooms in the Palace. First up was the Arms Room, which houses the weapons of the former Royal Academic Guard. The weapons are used today only for formal academic ceremonies such as the opening of the school year and the awarding of PhDs.
Next to the Arms Room is the Yellow Room. Each school has a different color. Coimbra’s School of Medicine’s color is yellow. The Yellow Room is where the School of Medicine’s faculty gather for events.
The Sala dos Capelos, or Great Hall of Acts, was originally the Palace’s Throne Room. Today it is the space where most official ceremonies are held and where PhD oral exams are conducted. It’s a magnificent space lined with portraits of all Portuguese kings except those who ruled during the sixty years when Spain ruled Portugal.
The Private Examination Room was once the room of the King of Portugal. This is the place where graduate students held their Doctoral exams. Traditionally, these were private exams and were done in secret and at night. The paintings lining the room’s walls are portraits of former rectors.
After a visit to the second-floor balcony overlooking the plaza we made our way back down to the Paço das Escolas and took in the view of the Mondego River and Coimbra from the far end of the plaza. The Universidade Velha is just a small part of the current University, but it’s a huge part of its history. There was so much more to see- the Botanical Gardens, for example- but we’ll have to do that on our next visit to Coimbra.