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

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

The Fat Pelican, Carolina Beach

One of the things I like about Carolina Beach is that it’s not nice and shiny like a new penny. What I mean is that in a lot of beach areas there has been a tendency to raze all of the older structures to make way for giant resort hotels and chain restaurants. Not here.

The Fat Pelican is a wonderfully funky place that is proud to call itself a dive bar. So proud, in fact, that they want everyone to know that they were voted the best dive bar in North Carolina and among the top 25 dive bars in the United States.

I love the giant octopus on the roof and what may be the only moose at any beach in America. There’s also a sign that says hippies must use the side door.

The Fat Pelican has been a popular watering hole in Carolina Beach for more than 30 years. I hope it lasts many more.

Carolina Beach, NC

We had the opportunity to spend a couple days at Carolina Beach.  It’s been a few years since we’d been to the beach and, despite living in North Carolina for more than twenty years, we had never been to Carolina Beach.  The main attraction, for us, was the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, just a few miles away.

Carolina Beach is a lovely little town with a beautiful beach and boardwalk.  Unlike many popular beach towns, where older buildings are razed to make way for high-rise hotels and chain restaurants, Carolina Beach still has many older buildings and a lot of character.  We took advantage of our off season visit to enjoy fresh seafood and a couple strolls down the boardwalk.  A great time was had by all.

 

Ship Signature Wall, Skagway, AK

Just yards from where cruise ships dock in Skagway, Alaska, there’s a unique “guest book”.  Beginning in 1928, ship crews began “signing” the granite wall across from the ship dock with the ship’s name, the date of the visit and the name of the ship’s captain. The idea caught on and the wall is now covered with the names and logos of visiting ships.

One of the most famous paintings on the cliff face is “Soapy Smith’s Skull”, which was painted on the wall in 1926.  Alexander “Soapy” Smith was a con-man and a crime boss who had earned his nickname through a con involving soap bars that supposedly gave buyers the chance to buy a bar with a $100 bill inside the wrapper.  Unfortunately for purchasers, the only people who ever “discovered” the money were Smith’s cohorts.

Smith had moved to Skagway in 1897 when the Klondike Gold Rush began.  He quickly set himself up as head of the gambling syndicate in Skagway as a means of taking the hard earned gold from miners.  Several efforts were made to expel Smith from Skagway, culminating, eventually, in a shootout between Smith and vigilante Frank Reid which left both men dead.  Reid was buried in the city cemetery, but citizens refused to allow Smith to be interred in the cemetery.  His grave is a few yards outside the cemetery and is a popular tourist stop.

The skull became a landmark in Skagway and the space around the painting prime real estate for the ship signatures.  Today the painting, quite faded but still visible, is still slightly creepy and is a popular draw for visitors to Skagway.

Soapy Smith's Skull
The Ship Signature Wall.  Soapy Smith’s Skull can be seen in the upper right.

Plastic Maverick, NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

There are two things that the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher does well.  The first is educate people about the various kinds of animals- land, sea and air- that inhabit North Carolina’s coastal region.  The second thing they do well is educate people about the effects of pollution, especially trash and chemicals, on the wildlife.

Meet Plastic Maverick.  This sculpture, by teen volunteer Adilene Trujillo Garcia, is made entirely out of trash found on the local beach during  beach sweeps and cleanups.  The feathers are made of discarded plastic water bottles and cigarette butts.  Plastic Maverick is also entangled in plastic twine and is surrounded by trash.

There’s been a lot of news lately about plastic found in the stomachs of whales and about animals who have become entangled in discarded trash.  The stories and videos are quite heartbreaking but usually end well, with a passing human saving the animal.  Here’s the deal, though.  For each of these videos or stories that end well, there are many more where the animal isn’t so lucky.

We can help by NOT discarding of our trash on the beach, the river or the woods, but holding onto it until we have access to trash can.  Also, you can opt for paper bags rather than plastic or, even better, you can use a reusable cloth bag.

When I was a child, the Bald Eagle was virtually extinct.  Conservation efforts have brought this magnificent bird back from the brink and we now have the opportunity to see the bird outside of zoos.  I’ve seen several in North Carolina and Virginia over the last few years and it’s always a thrill.  I would urge you to help in the conservation and protection of all wildlife by not polluting their environment.

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Now, for those interested, here’s the real Maverick.  He was found injured alongside a Wisconsin road in 2013.  Despite medical attention and rehabilitation, Maverick’s wing was too badly damaged and he would never fly again.  He found a permanent home at the aquarium and is a great ambassador for wildlife conservation.  He’s about six years old.

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Quite handsome, isn’t he?

São Bento Railway Station, Porto

The São Bento Railway Station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. While the azulejos in the São Bento Railway Station are the stars of the show, I love the floor to ceiling windows on the front face of the building.  The yellow tinted glass ties in nicely with the multicolored azulejos that top the walls and adds a warmth to the interior while the windows provide plenty of light to help display the wonderful blue tiles on the walls.

Sao Bento Windows