Igreja de São Francisco, Porto Portugal, March 2018

The Franciscan Order has had a presence in Porto since the early 13th century.  Initially, the order was persecuted by the existing religious community and the order left for Vila Nova de Gaia.  During the reign of King Ferdinand, it was ordered that their property in Porto be restored to them and around 1425 the Igreja de São Francisco was completed.  Despite many changes to its interior and a 19th century that destroyed the cloister, the church remains Porto’s finest example of Gothic architecture.

Sao Francisco Rear

The Franciscans were a mendicant order and the plain exterior of the church is in keeping with the simple austerity of the order.  The only adornments are the crosses and a beautiful rosette window.

Sao Francisco Front

During the 1833 siege of Porto, a fire broke out, caused by gun fire, that destroyed the cloisters and damaged the church.  The facade was rebuilt with the rosette window being the only remnant of the original Gothic facade.

The heavy stone exterior hides one of the most amazing interiors of any church in Portugal.  Over the centuries, many prominent families became supporters of the church.  The families poured their wealth into the church and during the 17th and 18th centuries much of the original austerity gave way to in incredible display of wealth.

The interior was entirely lined with elaborate gold-covered carvings.  There’s really nothing that can prepare you for stepping into the space.  Photography in the main interior is not allowed, but this photo from Wikimedia shows the amazing interior.

2048px-San_Francisco_Porto
By Asmodaeus [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Next to the church is an annex that houses a museum, a chapel and the catacombs.  It’s very interesting, especially the catacombs.  Before the first public cemeteries, most people of wealth were interred in the church catacombs.  The the walls and floor of the catacombs has individual tombs. You were good for 10 to 15 years, but eventually the bodies were removed from the tombs and placed in an ossuary.  There’s a glass window in the floor where you can look down and see the many bones that were placed there over the centuries.  It could have been worse, though.  If you were poor and died, your body was usually just thrown in the river.

Among the museum items was a really nice collection of alms boxes.

Alms Boxes

Finally, there’s a beautiful chapel attached to the church.  While not as extravagant as the main church, it is quite beautiful.

Sao Francisco Chapel Interior

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Porto, please add the Igreja de São Francisco to your list of must-see places.  Until then, though, there’s a really interesting website that provides a virtual tour of the church.  It’s well worth checking out.

 

Municipal Cemetery, Aveiro Portugal, March 2018

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.

Braga, Portugal, March 2018

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.

Avenida da Liberdade
Avenida da Liberdade

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.

Praca da Republica
The Arcada.  You can see the top of the Torre behind it.

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.

Monument to Pope John Paul II
Monumento ao Papa João Paulo II

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.

Street Scene
Igreja de Nossa Senhora-a-Branca and Igreja de São Victor

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.

Jardim a Senhora da Branca
Jardim da Senhora A Branca

Now, back to the churches.  There were churches and chapels of all sizes and religious monuments throughout the city.   The , 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.

Braga Cathedral
Braga Cathedral

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.

Capela de Sao Bentinho
Capela de São Bentinho

Scattered throughout Braga are Cruzeiros, or crosses.  This one is located near the Arco de Santiago.

Cruzeiro
One of Braga’s many cruzeiros

On the other side of the Arco de Santiago is this beautiful monument.

Statue in Braga
Dom Frei Bartolomeu dos Martires

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.

Frigideiras do Cantinho
Frigideiras do Cantinho

Despite frequent downpours, resulting in soggy shoes, we enjoyed our visit to Braga.  It’s a beautiful city with a lot to recommend it.

Covered Bridges, North Carolina

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.

Bunker Hill Covered 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.

Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal, March 2018

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.

Lello Exterior

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 BrancoThe 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.

Lello Interior 3

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.

Lello Interior 4

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.

 

Joey Ramone

Today would have been Joey Ramone’s 67th birthday.  Born Jeffrey Hyman in 1951, he was co-founder of one of the greatest punk bands of all time, the Ramones.  He died from lymphoma in 2001.

I had the opportunity to see the the Ramones perform at Marietta Georgia’s Strand Theater. Here’s a photo from the show.  I shot it with a Pentax K-1000 on high speed film, hence the grain.  The negative is 35 years old.  Overall, I guess it’s not too bad.

Ramones at the Strand Ektachrome 64pro

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.