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

São Francisco Catacombs, Porto

Porto’s São Francisco Church is best known for its ornate interior, which is virtually covered with gold.  Below the church, though, is a interesting part of Porto’s history.

Cemeteries are a relatively new way of handling the dead.  The original method, according to one of the docents at the church, was to simply throw the body in the river.  This went on for many years.  Obviously, it’s a great way to spread disease among the surviving community.

Eventually the churches discovered that the wealthier members of the community would pay to be interred under the watchful eye of the church. This is where the catacombs comes in.

There are three distinct sections of the catacombs.  The first, where the wealthiest are interred, are the private tombs.  Each tomb displays the the name of the individual lying inside.  This section, to me, was made especially creepy by the stylized skulls at the top of each row of tombs.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 2

A step down from the personal tombs was to be interred in the floor, where each wood section was a tomb.  It took a few minutes for us to realize that we could potentially be walking on the dead, but a docent came to the rescue and said there were no longer bodies in the floor, so we no longer had to worry about where we stepped.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 4

According to the docent, the floor tombs were basically rented by the family, and after a period of time the body was removed to make room for the next paying occupant. So what happened to the occupant whose lease was up?  Around the corner, towards the back of the catacombs, lies the answer.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 5

Located in the floor is a glass and grate covered opening, a window if you will.  If you look through the window you’ll see the prior occupants of the floor tombs as well as those who could not afford private interment.  I’ve seen ossuaries before, most notably the one at the Verdun battlefield in France, but it’s still a bit of a shock to see.

While the gold covered main chapel at São Francisco is the undisputed highlight of a visit to the church, the catacombs and museum are well worth a look.  Just watch where you step.

Saint Saviour’s Church, Carcross, Yukon

This cute little church is one of the highlights of Carcross, a small unincorporated community is home to about 300 of those people.

The influence of Christianity was introduced to the Tagish people of the Yukon but early Russian explorers.  Christian missionaries had been visiting the small communities of the Yukon since around 1899 and, in 1901, Bishop Bumpas moved to Carcross.  The first person baptised in Carcross was Daisy Mason, daughter of Skookum Jim, a member of the Tagish First Nation and a legend of the Klondike Gold Rush.  This church, founded by Bishop Bumpas, was consecrated in 1904.

Although the church was relocated to Nares River and remains active, this building remains an early symbol of the influence of Christianity in the First Nations of Canada.

St Saviors