Beauty can be found anywhere. This floral arrangement was in our room at the wonderful Whistle Stop bed & breakfast in Louisa, Virginia.
Beauty can be found anywhere. This floral arrangement was in our room at the wonderful Whistle Stop bed & breakfast in Louisa, Virginia.
Portugal is full of beautiful and wonderful sights. From the beaches of the Algarve to the wilderness areas of the Minho, beauty is found everywhere. Porto is home to one of the most beautiful railroad stations in the world.
The Convent of São Bento da Avé Maria originally stood where the São Bento Station now sits, but the original convent was destroyed in a fire in the 18th century and the rebuilt convent was in a state of disrepair when the decision was made to raze the convent and to build the station.
Porto architect José Marques da Silva was chosen to design the station. The French Beaux-Arts was opened in 1900. The exterior is quite striking.
The interior of the station, though, is what puts the São Bento Station on the list of most beautiful railroad stations. Between 1905 and 1916, renowned artist Jorge Colaço covered the walls of the station with hand painted azulejos depicting historical events and scenes from around Portugal. Colaço created many works of art throughout Portugal but São Bento Station is arguably his best work.
While most of the artwork are the blue and white tiles most commonly used, the top border is a mural of polychromatic tiles depicting the history of transportation. One of the larger murals depicts Infante Dom Henrique’s victory at the battle of Ceuta.
Another mural celebrates the marriage of João I to Philippa of Lancaster. The murals are all quite beautiful.
It’s important to remember that the São Bento Station is a working railway station and is a major transportation hub in the north of Portugal. It may look like a museum but it still serves its original purpose and moves a lot of people every day.
São Bento Station is a beautiful landmark and a can’t miss destination if you’re traveling in Portugal.
This bicycle was outside a wonderful little bed & breakfast called the Whistle Stop in Louisa, Virginia. I love the way the colors of the old rusted bike now blend with the greenery growing around and over it. It’s as if the man made materials are becoming part of Nature.
From the plaque:
“It is said that “trees die standing tall”. But, the leafy horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) that lived here in front of the Palace of the Dukes, and whose trunk “slices” are exhibited here, fell ingloriously on a stormy night in 2016. The chestnut fell, but the magnificence of the trunk and the beauty of its wood deserved better fate than that of ending up heating someone’s home.
“So, we challenged the sculptor Paulo Neves to use his creativity, and his great wisdom, and sensibility to give life to the old trunk. And thus, this set of pieces was born, beautiful in their natural simplicity, open in their core, rough on their exterior, combining the lightness of the wood and the darkness of the bark and adorned with two parallel incisions in a dark shade. The old trunk turned into art to be enjoyed by all those who come by”.
Everywhere we went in Portugal, there was art. From magnificent paintings in the local church to street art painted on a wall, it’s evident that the people of this country love art. I love this piece for its simplicity and the way Paulo Neves uses Nature itself to create art. Beauty can be found everywhere, even in the ruins of an old chestnut tree.
I find carousels interesting. Many of the animals were hand carved and are real works of art. This one is from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I love the weathering of the paint and the eyes on the horse are quite striking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finally, there’s a beautiful chapel attached to the church. While not as extravagant as the main church, it is quite beautiful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, back to the churches. There were churches and chapels of all sizes and religious monuments throughout the city. The Sé, 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.
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.
Scattered throughout Braga are Cruzeiros, or crosses. This one is located near the Arco de Santiago.
On the other side of the Arco de Santiago is this beautiful monument.
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.
Despite frequent downpours, resulting in soggy shoes, we enjoyed our visit to Braga. It’s a beautiful city with a lot to recommend it.
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.
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.
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.
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 Branco, The 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.
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.
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.
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