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.
A chicken on a leash, a herd of bison and a Burmese farmer sowing rice; these are just a few of the things we saw when we visited some of the farms on the 23rd annual Piedmont Farm Tour. The farms ranged from tiny but productive urban farms to rural farms of more than 100 acres. Over two days we visited 9 of the 45 participating farms and, I think, learned something from each of them.
Our tour began on Saturday. The first stop was Ninja Cow Farm, a family-owned farm in suburban Raleigh. We knew when we got out of the car that we were at a “different” kind of farm. Several girls were greeting visitors, and each either had a chicken in their arms or on a leash. In nearly sixty years this was the first time I’ve seen chickens on leashes. Ann Marie got to hold one of the chickens and you could tell they were used to being cuddled.
The farm sells pasture raised beef and pork and farm fresh milk, as well as products from farms they’ve partnered with. They had quite a variety of products in their store.
After browsing the store, we went on a tour of Ninja Cow Farm, led by a young man called Spork. Again, this is a different kind of farm. The farm feeds the cattle and hogs produce from the local farmers markets. As Spork explained, the produce has a flaw, it might be a bruise or a spot, that makes it unsalable. Ninja Cow makes the rounds each day and collects whatever produce would normally end up in the dumpster and feeds it to their livestock. The cows and hogs looked happy and well-cared for so I guess it works.
Our next stop was the Well Fed Community Garden, an urban farm in Raleigh. From the road it looks like any other house in the neighborhood, with a few more plants and a small greenhouse. The garden partners with Irregardless Café, who buys 80% of the organic produce and donates the remaining 20% to volunteers and neighbors. Garden manager Morgan Malone took us on a tour of the farm.
The garden makes great use of the tiny 1 ½ acre lot. It was still early in the season but there were rows of lettuce and the greenhouses had seedlings ready to be transplanted. They also have some hydroponically grown lettuce in one of the greenhouses. There’s quite a variety of veggies as well as herbs, figs and even kiwi. They also have a few mushroom logs. Later in the year they’ll grown tomatoes, melons and squash. The front of the property has a pollinator garden.
Our third stop of the day was another small urban farm, this one located in downtown Raleigh adjacent to Peace College. The non-profit Raleigh City Farm was established in 2011 on a one-acre vacant lot. Farmer James Edwards gave us a quick tour of the farm. I asked him what made him want to garden in the middle of the city. He said, “I just like growing things.”
The tour was quite interesting. The perimeter of the farm is lined with pollinator attracting plants. Inside that border, there are rows of lettuce, mustard greens, and a variety of early season produce. There’s a small fruit orchard, but it was too early in the season for the trees to be producing much. A crop rotation maximizes production of the tiny farm.
The plants are watered by an irrigation system that starts with the collection of rainwater from the roof of the business next to the lot. From the collection tank, water is distributed over the crops as needed. Harvested crops are sold weekly at the on-site farm stand, providing convenient access to healthy, fresh produce for urban dwellers.
Next up on our tour was Funny Girl Farm in Durham. This 180-acre farm was the first large farm we visited. This is where I learned the difference between a high tunnel and a greenhouse (high tunnels have no climate control; greenhouses do). We also learned a lot about mushrooms. Funny Girl Farm has around 3,000 mushroom logs and they take mushroom farming very seriously.
Funny Girl Farm utilizes a lot of environmentally friendly techniques in their farming. They use reduced tillage because it doesn’t harm the fungi that helps the plants grow. By rotating a variety of crops and using cover cropping between production crops, they manage to keep the soil healthy. The sell their produce through their CSA or at their on site farm-stand.
Their hens are pasture raised. Their natural diet of bugs and seeds is supplemented with vegetable scraps and spent grain from a couple local businesses. Their mushroom logs are cut from trees on the property and can be productive for up to five years. It’s quite an operation.
Our final stop on Saturday was Carolina Farmhouse Dairy in Bahama. Carolina Farmhouse Dairy is a Jersey cow farm that produces yogurt, smoothies and kefir which they sell at several area markets. They’re in the process of upgrading their milk barn, so we saw how they currently milk their cows while seeing how the coming changes will increase their production. Along the way we got to snuggle a couple calves. Turns out they like head scratches and neck rubs.
On Sunday, we headed west. First up was Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm in Roxboro. This was probably the best farm tour and you could tell they do it a lot. We rode around the farm in a covered wagon while the farmer explained buffalo and buffalo farming to us. It was very interesting.
Buffalo are quite energetic. A buffalo, according to the farmer, can jump a six-foot fence if so inclined. He said that if you can drive your pickup truck into a fence and the fence stops the truck, you’ve probably built a fence that will hold a buffalo. The pen they use for vaccinating the buffalo was made of the heavy duty galvanized steel you normally see along the sides of the road.
Buffalo may look quite docile as they graze in the field, but they’ve never really been domesticated. You must be very careful when working with them; if one decides to, it can easily overturn a tractor. When the farm rounds up the herd for health checks and vaccinations, they look for the one who seems most cooperative at that time, get that animal started and hope the rest follow.
After the tour we stopped at the farm-stand and purchased a variety of buffalo meat. We’ll be exploring buffalo cuisine in the next few weeks.
After Sunset Ridge we headed to Maple Spring Garden in Cedar Grove. Growing vegetables and herbs using organic practices, this 80-acre farm had some beautiful vegetable gardens. Sunshine Dawson and Fern Hickey gave us a tour of the high tunnels, greenhouse, mushroom logs and herb gardens. They’ve been growing organically since the early 70s and sell at both the Carrboro and Durham Farmers Markets. The herb gardens are new to the farm; Sunshine is using her education in herbal medicine to expand the business in a new direction.
We met Larry and Lee Newlin on our next stop, their Peaceful River Farm in Chapel Hill. The Haw River is adjacent to the farm, hence the name. Larry came from a landscaping background, and it shows. The farm is beautifully laid out to make the best use of the land yet maintain an aesthetically pleasing view. As Larry explained, they used a farm coach, Tony Kleese, to help them design the layout of the farm. The twin market gardens were inspired by the Edwardian Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, England. Larry knows his stuff. The farm is beautiful.
Lee is the culinary educator and holds cooking classes and farm dinners at Peaceful River Farm. A cancer survivor, Lee’s research into healthy food is one of the driving forces in the farm’s use of organic practices to grow pesticide-free produce.
Peaceful River’s produce can be found at the Fearrington Village Farmers Market and the Saxapahaw General Store as well as in dishes served at several are restaurants.
Our final stop on this year’s farm tour was the one I was most interested in. Transplanting Traditions Community Farm is a 7-acre non-profit farm in Chapel Hill. Through a partnership with the Triangle Land Conservancy, 35 Burmese refugee families grow native Burmese crops as well as well as crops native to North Carolina and sell their produce at local farmers markets.
Most of the refugees belong to the Karen and Chin ethnic groups, and fled ethnic persecution in Burma. Most were farmers in their home country and now farm their part of Transplanting Traditions after working full time jobs, many as housekeepers at nearby University of North Carolina. The farm provides much needed income for the families as well as giving them a community where they can feel at home. There are a lot of bamboo structures, including some beautiful hoop decorations.
One farmer was in the process of sowing drought resistant rice and there were a lot of leaf crops already growing throughout the farm. Later in the season they’ll grow Bok Choy, Edamame, eggplants, squash and numerous other vegetables for sale, either through their CSA or at the Chapel Hill and Carrboro farmers markets.
It’s quite an interesting operation and concept. As Project Director Kelly Owensby said during the tour, the farm is now nationally known. Wherever she goes, when she says she’s with Transplanting Traditions, people say, “hey, I’ve heard of the farm.” There’s a waiting list of families who want to be a part of Transplanting Traditions and other similar farms have been started around the country. Transplanting Traditions is an inspiring and interesting place and a great place to end this year’s farm tour. We’re looking forward to seeing what next year’s tour holds in store for us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.