Street Art, Aveiro Portugal, March 2018

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.

Aveiro 3

National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA Summer 2013

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.

Infantry Museum Entrance HDR Structurized 1
The Infantryman sculpture

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.

Infantry Museum Paratrooper
The Last 100 Yards Ramp

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.

Infantry Museum WWII Trench HDR Deep 1
The Cold War Exhibit

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.

Infantry Museum Medal of Honor Hall
The Hall of Valor

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.

Infantry Museum Ranger Room
Ranger Exhibit

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, Portugal, March 2018

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.

Azulejos
Aveiro building with both geometric and pictorial tiles

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.

Aveiro Station Detail
Detail of tiles on Aveiro train station

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.

Sao Bento 8
São Bento train station

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.

 

Stained Glass, Tarpon Springs, FL, June 2008

This beautiful stained glass image is part of the tiny St. Michael’s Shrine in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Stained Glass 2

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.

Tricana de Coimbra, March 2018

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.

Tricana de Coimbra

Coimbra University, Portugal, March 2018

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.

Porta Ferrea
Porta Férrea

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.

University
The Old University

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.

Student Jail
The Academic Prison

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.

1024px-Biblioteca_Joanina
By Trishhhh (Flickr: DSC_5156) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0
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.

St Michaels Interior
Capela de São Miguel

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.

Via Latina
Via Latina

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.

Arms Room
The Arms Room

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.

Yellow Room
The Yellow Room

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.

Great Hall
Sala dos Capelos

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.

Private Exam Room
Private Examination Room

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.

Paco dos Escolas
Paço das Escolas

 

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.

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.