Castle of Leiria

Probably the cultural and historical highlight of the Portuguese city of Leiria, the hilltop castle can be seen from virtually everywhere in the city.  The castle has a long history, when the very first king of Portugual, Afonso Henriques, had the castle built as defense against the Moors, who still controlled the south, including Santarem and Lisbon.

Over the centuries the castle has seen many changes and has been the site of many historical events.  It was the home to Dom Dinis and his wife, Saint Elizabeth of Portugal.  Dom Dinis was the king who declared the “language of the people” as the language of the state, making Portuguese the official language of the country.

Dom Dinis earned his “Farmer King” nickname when he founded agricultural schools to improve farming techniques in the country.  He also ordered the creation of the Pinhal de Leiria, a huge pine forest, as a barrier against encroaching ocean sands.  The forest also became an important source of raw materials for the building of the Portuguese naval fleet which, in the coming centuries, would help turn Portugal into the most powerful country in the world.

Leiria Castle 2

The Portuguese Travel Cookbook

The Portuguese Travel Cookbook, by Nelson Carvalheiro, is more of a travelogue than a cookbook.  Carvalheiro, a popular Portuguese blogger and winner of the 2015 World FITUR Travel Blogger award, toured his home country, focusing on the traditional foods of Portugal as well as the restaurants making their mark on the food traditions of the country.

The book is full of beautiful photos and recipes, but the best part of the book, to me, is Carvalheiro’s descriptions of the foods and traditions of Portugal.  The recipes are pretty basic, but Carvalheiro shows great respect and love for his country and the food.

We had the pleasure of dining at one of the restaurants Carvalheiro writes about, Ze Manel dos Ossos, in Coimbra.  It’s a wonderful little restaurant and the food, what I would describe as Portuguese country cooking, was great.  I will use the Portuguese Travel Cookbook as a guide to exploring more of the food and cooking of Portugal on our next visit.

Monument to Henry the Navigator

This beautiful monument sits in a small park in front of Mercado Ferreira Borges and just a stone’s throw from Church of São Francisco and the Bolsa Palace.

Henry was the son of King John I of Portugal and his wife, Phillipa of Lancaster.  Although he left Portugal only once, during the Portuguese conquest of the Moroccan  city of Ceuta, Henry became famous as the initiator of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  From his palace at Sagres, Henry sponsored many voyages to explore the seas and to claim the newly discovered territories in the name of Portugal.

Among the discoveries made by Portuguese ships were Madeira, the Azores, and Cape Verde.  Henry lived long enough for one of the ships to be the first to round the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern-most point of Africa.  Henry’s influence continued long after his death.  Nearly 40 year after his passing, Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea.  Just two years later, a Portuguese caravel piloted by navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral reached Brazil.

The monument is a suitable tribute to one of Portugal’s greatest heroes.

Henry the Navigator

Guimarães Castle, Portugal

One of the things I love about digital photography is you have so many options regarding the finished photograph.  When I was shooting film, I had to use specific films for specific results.  With digital, you can shoot as a color photograph and, if you don’t like the result, use a photo editing application to modify the photo to your liking.

For instance, when we visited Portugal, I took hundreds of photographs. Many of them were “okay,” but after playing with them a bit I got something that I could live with.  Here’s a photo of Guimarães Castle, the “Birthplace of Portugal,” so named because this is where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born.

Guimaraes Castle

The original color photograph was fairly monochromatic, with the main colors being the greyish-brown of the granite and the grey-blue of the clouds.  It wasn’t much to look at, but I thought it might make a nice black-and-white photo.  I used Paint Shop Pro 2019 and Silver Efex Pro 2, one of the Nik Collection suite of plugins, to modify the photo.

If you’re not familiar with the Nik Collection, it’s a great set of seven plugins that allow you to use the included presets or, if you are a bit more adventurous, to play with individual settings to modify your photos in a variety of ways.  In 2016 Google, the owner of the Nik Collection, began giving the suite away for free.   In 2017 DxO purchased the Nik Collection from Google.  It’s no longer free, but the $69 price tag is still a bargain.

So, back to the photograph.  After playing with some of the presets, I finally settled on something I liked much better than the original color version.  The darkened sky adds drama to the previously bland photo and the grain of the stones stands out much better in black and white.  In the days of shooting film, this would have never seen the light of day.  With digital it’s a photo I can live with.

The Legend of Ponte de Lima

Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest towns in Portugal.  The town’s beautiful bridge, which spans the River Lima, goes back to Roman times.  Ponte de Lima’s ties to the Romans is reflected in the legend of the River Lima.

Around 139 B.C., the Romans had turned their attention to conquering the Celtic tribe of Gallaeci, who controlled Hispania.  It was a hard fought campaign, covering what is now Spain and Portugal.

According to legend, when the war-weary Romans first reached the Ria Lima they mistook it for the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and one of the five rivers of Hades.  The soldiers, afraid that the water would cause them to lose all memory, refused to cross the river.  The Roman commander, General Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus, frustrated that the river was impeding his military campaign, Roman Soldiersrode across the river.

Despite seeing their commander on the opposite bank of the river, the soldiers were not convinced. The General then began to call each of the men by name.  The troops, astonished that their commander had retained his memories, crossed the river to join their fearless leader, their fears dispelled and their memories intact.

Today the legend is celebrated by a display of statues along the river banks- the troops on the near bank and the general on the opposite side of the river.


Nazaré, Portugal

We spent two weeks in March traveling through Portugal. The beach town of Nazaré was our first stop after leaving Lisbon.  Once a fishing village, the town of 15,000 is now a popular tourist destination.  Our hotel was in the main part of town, Praia, and directly across from the beach.  March is still off-season, so the summer crowds were missing, and our stay was a relaxing beginning to our trip.

Nazare with Sitio
A funicular connects Praia, below, to Sitio, above.

The town’s fishing tradition still exists, but  the boats have moved from the beach to the new harbor just south of Praia.  Signs of the tradition can still be found- a few colorful fishing boats are on the beach and many of the older women still wear the seven skirts of Nazaré- but, with the restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops lining the beach, Nazaré feels like a typical beach town rather than a quaint fishing village.

Red Boat
Traditional fishing boat on Nazaré beach

Sitting high above Praia is the neighborhood of Sitio.  Much quieter and more traditional than Praia, Sitio provides spectacular views of Praia.

Rue do Horizonte- Sitio
Rue do Horizonte, Sitio

There are also several historical points of interest.  The first is the Santuário de Nossa Senhora Nazaré, a baroque 14th century church that houses Nazaré’s famous Black Madonna, a small statue which, according to legend, was brought from Nazareth by a monk in the 5th century.

Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Nazare
Santuario de Nossa Senhora  da Nazaré

Nearby is a small chapel, the Ermida da Memória.  The chapel is closely tied to the Legend of Nazaré.  According to the legend, the chapel was ordered built by a knight, Dom Fuas Roupinho, who was saved by the Madonna, located just a few feet away on a shrine in a cave, from riding off the fog-shrouded cliff while chasing a deer.  Built over the cave in 1182, the small chapel’s roof and interior are covered with azulejos.

Ermida da Memoria- Sitio
Ermida da Memória

To the right is a small monument marking Vasco da Gama’s visit to the shrine before sailing for India.

At the farthest point of the cliff is the Fort of Saint Michael the Archangel.  It was originally built to protect Nazaré from Vikings.  Today the fort houses the lighthouse and a surfing museum and is one of the prime spots for watching the big wave surfing at Praia do Norte.

Fortaleza and Waves
The fort seen from Nazaré beach

To the north of the fort is the famous Praia do Norte, where, in 2014, Garrett McNamara surfed the biggest wave ever surfed, nearly 100 feet tall.  The giant waves are possible because there’s a 16,000 foot deep canyon just off the coast that allows waves to build as they travel across the Atlantic.  Usually the ocean bottom creates a drag that limits the size of the waves.  Not so here.  The monster waves at Nazaré have made the beach a mecca for surfers everywhere.

There were no monster waves on the day we were there but the beach was still very impressive, with a wild, desolate look compared to Praia de Nazaré’s bustling tourist feel.

Praia Norte
Praia do Norte

While we enjoyed our time in Nazaré and enjoyed Nazaré’s beach, the fresh seafood and the fantastic views from Sitio, we were glad we were there during the off season.  We’re too old to enjoy the crowds and we were happy to not have to wait to be seated at the restaurants.  We’ll settle for quiet and peaceful.

Praia de Nazare from Fortaleza
Praia Nazaré seen from Sitio

Aveiro, Portugal

We were able to spend a couple days in Aveiro, Portugal in March.  It was our first trip to Portugal and we were exploring cities that we felt we can retire to.  Aveiro is on the short list.

First, the details.  Aveiro is a city of approximately 80,000 people in the Centro region of Portugal.  Once an important city for salt and seaweed harvesting, Aveiro is now better known as a popular tourist destination.  Known as “the Portuguese Venice,” the coastal city is built around a couple canals where former salt and seaweed harvesting boats called moliceiros now carry tourists along the river.

Aveiro Canal Sunset

Now, a tourist attraction isn’t what we’re looking for as a place to make a new life.  That being said, Aveiro had a lot that appealed to us.  First, it’s a beautiful city.  Aveiro is famous for its art deco and art nouveau architecture, so the buildings are quite interesting.  There’s plenty of calçada, the wonderful patterned pavements of Portugal, and azulejos, the blue and white tiles common throughout the country.


Aveiro also has plenty of green space.  One of our favorites was the Parque Dom Pedro Infante, also known as the City Park.  It’s a beautiful place just a few blocks from the canals and a wonderful place to spend time.

Parque Dom Pedro

Culturally, there’s a lot to do.  Aveiro is home to the University of Aveiro and, as you’d expect, there’s plenty of things to do to keep the 15,000 students entertained.  The Museu de Aveiro was once a monastery and home to Aveiro’s most famous resident, Princess St. Joana.  It has a great collection of sacred art.

Museu de Aveiro

There are plenty of good restaurants.  Being a coastal city, seafood is plentiful in Aveiro.  One specialty in Aveiro is eels from the lagoon.  We didn’t try them, but we did go for the city’s famous sweet, ovos moles.  It’s a tasty mixture of egg yolks and sugar.  Ovos moles are served either in small shell-shaped casings or in small wooden barrels.  We opted for a barrel and shared.

Ovos Moles

We also found a great little cafe for breakfast and a popular hamburger joint, both just minutes from the canal.

There were a few things we weren’t able to experience in our limited time in Aveiro.  There are two popular beaches  just outside town.  The Estádio Municipal de Aveiro is a 32,000 seat stadium that occasionally hosts the national football team and Portuguese Super Cup games.  The Teatro Aveirence is an entertainment hall showing movies as well as putting on concerts and plays.

Aveiro made quite an impression on us and is one of the cities at the top of our list for potential retirement destinations.  We enjoyed the city and I can’t wait until we can make it back to explore it in more depth.

Aveiro Sunset


Café Guarany, Porto Portugal

My wife and I could be called foodies.  We enjoy a good meal and love to visit highly rated restaurants and eateries of all kinds.  We made a point, during our Portugal trip, to explore the many great foods and restaurants available.  Café Guarany was one of our stops.

Guarany Exterior

Located on Avenida dos Aliados, in the heart of Porto, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.Named for a Brazilian indigenous people,   Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.

Cafe Guarany

We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany.  Ann Marie had the ubiquitous tosta mista, which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  The tosta mista is very tasty and we had several of these during our Portugal trip.  We had a version of it in Coimbra with grilled chicken which was very good as well.

I ordered a crepe Alaska.  I completely missed that it had a scoop of ice cream on top.  Ice cream for breakfast?  Yep, and it worked.  The crepe was great, pineapple, berries, whipped cream and an orange slice, and a scoop of tangerine ice cream to top it off.  It was really good and the tangerine ice cream was a nice touch.

Tosta Mista and Ice Cream

Later we decided to stop in again for dessert, port and coffee. On the way there, the bus stopped and the driver said that something was happening ahead and that we would all have to to exit the bus and walk to another stop.  We were just a short walk from the restaurant so we set out on foot.

We were at the restaurant before the dinner crowd so we had a nice leisurely dessert, accompanied by a glass of port and a coffee.  While we were enjoying our meal, we noticed a policeman just outside the door, putting a police border across the road.  Soon, a crowd began to gather and a news crew showed up.  We watched with interest as we ate.  I took this photo once we were done and had left Guarany.  It was taken no more than 20 feet from the front door of the restaurant.

Bomb Scare

We made our way back to our hotel and followed the drama on the local television news.  I’ve been learning the Portuguese language for a few months and we were able to understand that an unidentified black automobile was found abandoned on Avenida dos Aliados.  Fearing that there could be a bomb in the vehicle, the police had cordoned the area off and had brought in the bomb squad.  The news showed, in an endless loop, two policemen releasing a bomb sniffing dog to investigate the car as they watched, crouching behind the monument to Dom Pedro IV for protection against the potential blast.

About three hours later, the drama came to an end.  Someone had finally thought to run the tags and contact the car’s owner.  Apparently the car had stopped running and the owner simply left it there and took the bus home.  The car was towed and the story was over.  The event added an interesting and unique memory of our trip to Portugal.


Great Hall of Acts, Coimbra University

The Great Hall of Acts is arguably the most important space at the University of Coimbra.  Once the Throne Room when the University was the Royal Palace, this room was where all the Portuguese kings of the First Dynasty lived and was where John I was proclaimed King of Portugal in 1385.

Today, the room is where Doctoral candidates face their PhD. thesis defense, a formal oral examination required to obtain the degree of Doctor.  Other ceremonies taking place in the Great Hall of Acts are the Official Opening of the School Year, the Investiture of the Rector, and the awarding of honorary degrees.

The large paintings hung around the room are portraits of the kings of Portugal, beginning with Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Interestingly, there’s a 60 year gap in the chronology.  The kings who ruled during the Iberian Union, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV, are not included in the room.  During this period, Portugal was under Spanish control and, 400 years later, this is still a sore spot with the Portuguese people.  Hence, the omission of the three kings.

There are many beautiful spaces in the old University.  A tour of Coimbra University is a required stop on any visit to Coimbra.  It’s well worth the time.Great Hall


Monument to Pope John Paul II, Braga

Braga is the oldest city in Portugal, with a history going back to pre-Roman times.  It’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a modern art sculpture in the middle of the city.  Yet, there it is.  The Monumento ao Santo Papa João Paulo II was created by Portuguese sculptor Zulmiro de Carvalho and architect Domingos Tavares to commemorate the Pope’s 1982 visit to Braga.

The shape of the monument is reminiscent of the mitre, the tall pointed ceremonial hat worn by the Pope.  According to one website, the three points of the sculpture represent the three great mountain top sanctuaries of Braga- Bom Jesus do Monte, Santuário do Sameiro and Igreja de Santa Maria Madalena.

The sculpture is a beautiful monument to the Pope’s historic visit, and one of the many monuments celebrating Braga’s reputation as the religious heart of Portugal.

John Paul II Monument