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.
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. Entering 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was eleven years old I went on a 50-mile hike in the Black Hills of South Dakota with my boy scout troop. In addition to a week of hiking and camping we took a drive through Customer State Park, where we saw bison and antelope, we took a swim in the pool at Hot Springs, we visited Badlands National Park, and we stopped at Wall Drug, famous for offering free ice water to visitors (we saw a Wall Drug sign in Amsterdam, Holland), and we made a trip to Mount Rushmore. Forty-six years later I still think of the trip as a great experience.
It’s also when I received my first camera. My parents bought a Kodak Instamatic camera for me similar to this one. I had a couple 126 film cartridges. Not really knowing what we were buying, one of the rolls was slide film. Most of the photos were not very good. This photo was scanned from the original slide. After forty-six years it took a lot of work to clean up the scratches and dust, but it’s not a bad photo. Let’s just say it’s my first successful attempt to document my travels.
In May of 2016 my wife and I took an Inside Passage cruise of Alaska. An Alaska cruise has long been on our “to do” list and we were fortunate enough to be able to do it. The first port we visited on our cruise was Ketchikan. The city of just over eight thousand residents is the fifth largest city in Alaska.
Ketchikan calls itself “Alaska’s First City”, not because it was the first permanent settlement in the state but because it’s the first port on the cruise route. The city is also known as “the Salmon Capital of the World”.
It was raining when we debarked because, well, it rains in Ketchikan. A lot. Ketchikan is in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, a moderate rain forest that keeps the weather fairly mild by Alaska standards. It also makes Ketchikan one of the rainiest places on earth. The average annual rainfall is 153 inches (over 12 feet) per year with the record year of 1949 seeing 202 inches of rain. Ketchikan celebrates its rain with a “liquid sunshine gauge” located at the welcome center.
We had booked an excursion to the Misty Fjords National Monument but the trip was cancelled due to the weather. We decided to make our time in Ketchikan nice and leisurely with a self-guided walk through the town.
Next to the rain gauge on the cruise ship dock is a relatively new attraction. The Rock is a beautiful sculpture by Ketchikan artist Dave Rubin. Unveiled in 2010, the massive sculpture celebrates Ketchikan history with seven life size figures- Chief Johnson, a logger, a fisherman, a bush pilot, a Tlingit drummer, a miner, and an elegant lady.
Just up the hill from the cruise ship dock is Whale Park, a beautiful little green space. One of Ketchikan’s many totem poles is located in Whale Park, The Chief Kyan totem, a lineage pole. with three figures celebrating the history and social standing of Chief Kyan’s family.
One of the things that surprised me about Ketchikan was how many flowers were blooming in and around the city. May is the beginning of the tourist season and I expected it to be cold and gray.
Just a few yards from Whale Park is the Chief Johnson totem, a very tall story pole which depicts the legend of fog woman and the creation of Salmon. It’s 55 feet tall and carved from a single western red cedar log.
Just past the Chief Johnson totem is the entrance to one of the most photographed streets in the world, Creek Street. Creek Street was the red light district for the first 50 years of the 20th century. It’s actually not a street, but a boardwalk running along the east side of Ketchikan Creek. During the summer the creek is full of bears who come to feed on the salmon. We were there too early for the bears but it was still an interesting place.
Originally the red light district in Ketchikan, Creek Street is now the location of shops and the occasional museum. Dolly’s House is a museum that was once the bordello of Ketchikan’s most famous madam, Dolly Arthur. The museum is full of photos and memorabilia belonging to Dolly and the rooms have been left much the same as when Dolly lived there.
The last place we visited was the Raven Stealing the Sun totem, located at the Tongass Historical Museum and near the Ketchikan Creek Waterfall. On the east side of the creek is the Yeltatzie Salmon, a sculpture by local artist Terry Pyles. The mosaic sculpture was commissioned to replace the original cedar sculpture which had been removed due to extreme deterioration. The original sculpture had been created by Haida carver Jones Yeltatzie. Pyles named the replacement after the the creator of the original salmon sculpture.
While it rained the entire time we were in Ketchikan we didn’t let it stop us from enjoying our time in the town and from learning a little about Alaska.
In August 2015 we visited Seneca Falls. Seneca Falls is a beautiful little town in the Finger Lakes region of New York famous for its ties to the women’s rights movement. Seneca Falls may also have been the inspiration behind Bedford Falls, the fictional town from Frank Kapra’s classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life.
The town is built along a canal linking Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. By 1828 the canal had been linked to the Erie Canal and industry began to move to the area. The town was established in 1829 along the canal and was incorporated as the Village of Seneca Falls in 1831.
In 1848 the first Convention on Women’s Rights was held at the Wesleyan Chapel. Among the organizers of the convention was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the most famous figures of the women’s rights movement. Today the Wesleyan Chapel is part of the Women’s Rights National Historic Park Visitor Center.
Tourism has become a large part of Seneca Falls. In addition to the Wesleyan Chapel, you can visit Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house, called “the Center of the Rebellion” by Stanton. Stanton and her family lived in the house, now managed by the National Park Service, from 1847 until 1862, when the family moved to New York.
Stanton’s presence is all over Seneca Falls. A few blocks from the Stanton House is a statue commemorating the first meeting between Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The two were introduced by Amelia Bloomer after an antislavery lecture. The beautiful sculpture is by Ted Aub.
Stanton is also among the women depicted in the First Wave sculpture in the Visitor Center. The sculpture features the women who organized the first Convention on Women’s Rights as well as a few of the men who supported the movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is on the far left.
Finally, the Trinity Episcopal Church, along the canal, is one of the most photographed churches in the world.