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This is the old City center of Coimbra, home of one of the oldest Universities in Western Europe, founded in 1290 and still active today. Coimbra still has the energy and intellectual enthusiasm of a University town.
The original main quadrangle of the University; on the left is the Biblioteca Joanina, an extraordinary library which proves that at one time, someone actually valued education.
A shot within the Library. The floors are intricate mosaic tile, the furniture carved wood, guilt carved wood in the shelves and walls, the ceilings are carved and painted. This is one of the highlights of the whole campus complex.
This is the Capela de Sao Miguel, the campus chapel just next to the library. We arrived shortly after a wedding. What a great place to have a wedding; the beauty and stateliness of the place gives it a good feeling. The bright tile work of the floors, walls and ceiling prove that the Portuguese will tile anything that doesnt move. Obviously, if youve seen our house, we love tile, but they do go over the top in Portugal.
Here are Bron and I at the lower gate to the campus, next to the Library. The quadrangle is just past the top of these stairs. At least now all we have to do is go down the hill carefully. Getting up to the main site of these Portuguese cities is the hard work; they are all built on the very tops of hills.
An arty shot with the sun behind a smoke cloud alongside of one of the campus buildings.
This is one of the streets just below the campus; the heart of the old city and where the students and teachers still live and enjoy the University life. Walking through these tiny, winding, steep, streets is a very enjoyable thing to do. You get up close to the people and find their lives are good. Materially they have much less, but they appear to be enthusiastic, energized and happy. Also, there is no sense of fear here, even at night. We both felt completely safe at all times during this trip.
This is a view from within the main courtyard (chapel) of the Se Velha, or main cathedral of Coimbra. Looking more like a fort than cathedral because it was built in the 12 th century when the Moors were still a threat. It is a simple and traditional cathedral. There is a Se Cathedral (The Church) in every city. It is the BIG OLD one. Sort of like in the east, The City is New York; in the west it is San Francisco.
The Igregia De Santa Cruz, located right downtown amongst the trendy shops and other businesses along the main square and small alleys. It is still completely operational; we wandered into it on our first day to look around and found it very simple and elegant.
This is a typical alley/road/walkway of downtown Coimbra. The buildings are residences, shops, other businesses, etc. They are all paved with cobblestones composed of black, grey and white stone roughly chiseled into flat but irregular shapes and laid in various patterns. Mostly they are used by pedestrians, but cars will be zipping down them at all hours. Many are one- way, but others can lead to the need to pass verryyy carefully.
Just 17 kilometers outside of Coimbra is the town of Conimbriga near which is a cultural site of old Roman Ruins that are undergoing restoration. There is a museum of artifacts, notably tools, from the excavations. The ruins are open to the public to wander through at their own pace with few restrictions. The ruins cover many acres and much remains yet to be excavated for display.
This arch supports the aqueduct which provided the water to the Roman city. Here it crosses the city wall and around it are the foundations of small businesses, baths and residences.
Here we are sitting amongst the foundations and some of the columns of the ruins. As you can see, the crowds of tourists that are everywhere at this time of year. Ill never go to Europe before the middle of September, unless it is in late April or early May when the crowds are like this.
Porto. Our travel time to Porto was brief, direct and easy along the main toll- road/freeway A1. We settled into the hotel and walked down to the old city center. This is a view of parts of the old residential area. Tile everywhere, and this part of the neighborhood has to be hundreds of years old.
We have walked across the main old bridge, Ponte Dom Louis I to Nova Villa de Gaia, and are at the Mosteiro Da Serra Do Pilar looking back at the old Porto wharf and city center on the River Duro. The old city center is a walking experience, though one must be prepared for the fact that Portugals old cities are all built on hills.
Again, a view from the Ponte Dom Luis I back at the old City Wall and some of the residential area. On this mornings walk, we stopped into a Café and had one of many very good, friendly experiences with the Portuguese. The Café owner had been to America in 2003 and wanted to talk to and help us. Portuguese are an extremely friendly people, at least towards Americans.
Looking back from the Ponte, the large building in the upper right is the Bishops Palace, with the Porto Se Cathedral behind. The heart of the old City Center to the left. One of the buildings to see in Porto is the Palacio da Bolsa, the old Stock Exchange. It was built, per the tour guide, simply to display the wealth and arrogance of the businessmen of Porto in the late 19 th century.
This is the Nova Villa de Gaia side from the Ponte. The old buildings off the wharf are the Port Wine Warehouses/Cellars. You can just imagine the old Vintners wanting to warehouse their Wine in Porto, but the City wanting to tax it. So the businessmen built a new city across the river to avoid the taxes. If you zoom in on this photo, you can see the bigger buildings all have the names of the large Port houses.
Looking at Porto across the roofs of a few of the Port warehouses and the Duro river. We took the Port tour at Sandemans (supposedly the best); you can just see the SA of Sandeman in white letters to the left, backed by the river. Port has been warehoused here for 250 years and then shipped around the world. The tour was great, and the price deductible from any wine you bought; and I even managed to get one bottle home.
From Porto, we free-formed our trip onwards, and choose to stay at small beach towns and hope for good hotels. We drove down to Nazare, which is a fishing village that has nodded its head to tourism. This is the main plaza from our hotel to the beach, and the point in the background.
Nazare is still a fishing port, and it has an excellent, modern harbor. It has a daily open-air market with, obviously, fish; but also meats, veggies, and whatever else. This is but one of many, many fish tables at the market. It is easy to see why we ate fish at every dinner but two while in Portugal.
Nazare was originally located up on the Promontorio de Sitio. The beach of Nazare didnt exist back then, being underwater. Then, sometime in the 18 th century, the sea level dropped (or the tides deposited sand) and at that time the current site of Nazare beach appeared. The people moved down to the beach and Nazare was born. Sitio still exists, there is a funicular to get up there, and it is worth the.75e to ride up and walk down. This is the old wall of Sitio looking out towards the point.
This is Nazare from out on the point. You can see the edge of Sitio on the cliffs up and left. The new tourist-based development is going up the hills away from the old city center; and down the right towards the harbor which is just out of view.
Here are Bron and I out at the tip of the point at the very old lighthouse. This is looking North. Notice the crowds and the beach development. I think Portugal must have been smart enough to limit development right on the coast; there was only one house in sight.
I know, how much of us can you stand. Here we are on the walkway back down to Nazare from Sitio. Even the local kids ride up, and walk down. I think only the old widows dressed in black ride down the funicular; going down to harass the tourists to rent the rooms in their houses after their husbands die and kids move out.
After a day lolling around Nazare and Sitio, we had to do serious touristing. We took a day trip to Tomar to visit the Convento de Cristo. The monastery was founded in 1160 by the Knights Templar and was one of their main seats of power for hundreds of years until disbanded in 1314 only to reappear as the Order of Christ which went on to use its great wealth to fund such adventures as those of Henry the Navigator. The kings didnt like the power of the Knights, but certainly wanted their wealth. Its good to be king.
The Convento developed over the years into a massive cluster of interconnected buildings housing hundreds to thousands of people. The main church is sixteen-sided, shown above, is awesome on the inside with eight massive stone pillars rising 40m or so surrounding the altar. The Knights were a military order, which accounts for the large spaces and fortress-like look. Even with a map, everyone gets lost inside the complex.
Here we are in front of the main entrance to the cloisters. The intricate carvings of the door are Manueline architecture; notable in Portugal as it is focused on Sea-themes of fish, fishing equipment, dolphins, kelp, etc. This type of architecture embellishments are found throughout Portugal. This entry-way should give you some sense of the enormity of the scale of this complex.
It wasnt often that photography was allowed within the major cathedrals and other key cultural sites. In parts of the Convento, however, you could take pictures and this stained-glass window, probably 25 to 30 meters high, was quite spectacular. What would a trip to Europe be without the mandatory picture of one of the stained-glass windows?
Another bit of the old architecture that I admired were all of the spiraled- staircases carved in stone. Here is one example of many. About now on the trip, after wandering lost through the Convento for a couple of hours, Im getting completely full of large, old, stone buildings. After a bit they do all start to look alike and just how many churches, tombs, paintings, cellars, massive old kitchens, tiled flat surfaces, enclosed gardens, catacombs, etc. can one take. Well see…..
These huge stone edifices were most often built for two purposes. To honor the King for some exploit or other; and to overawe the poor folks and keep them in their places. Its amazing what you can build with unlimited power and wealth and a goodly supply of slaves. I may be a more skeptical view, but it is one that seems to come across after visiting so many of them and thinking about how and when they were built. Darned if they arent quite pretty to gaze on, though. And Im sure the King always felt great about his chances of getting into heaven after building them. At least they did take time for wonderful work in making these. The forts are the other big projects and are less finished.
From Nazare, we decided to move to Peniche, another fishing village to the South. On our way were Alcobaca and Obidos, two of the highly rated cultural sites. Alcobaca is the location of the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaca, a 12 th century Cistercian Monastary. Being burned out on such edifices, I took pictures, but what I remember most is that there were no public bathrooms and we wound up running to a nearby Café to order coffee and use the WC. Above is the main interior courtyard.
This is the original Cathedral, the original part of the construction of most of these large sites. Usually the King built the Cathedral to celebrate some victory or other event. Then the church, over the next several hundred years, kept adding to and remodeling until you had these massive sites housing hundreds to thousands of folks. The roles for the sites expanded to protection, farming, training, arts, crafts, selling burial plots to the rich, etc. You can see, from the scale, that the ceiling of the main nave has to be at least 30m high, towering as it does over the 2 nd floor of the other buildings. To build these massive places out of hand-chiseled stone is impressive. Usually, there are one or more of these enclosed gardens or cloisters. They are usually quite serene with hedges and walkways.
Here is the interior of the main cathedral at Alcobaca; as I said, at least 30m high. The perfection of the alignment and shaping of the support pillars is astonishing given the time of construction. This type of picture also shows off two of its main purposes: To glorify God (and the King) and to overwhelm the population to help keep them in line. Imagine being a peasant living in one room of waddle and dauber construction with the pigs and chickens, bathing once a year, eating potatoes and rarely bits of meat. Then, on special days, walking into such a place where the rich and educated breathed fire and brimstone at you from the altar; of course you did what you were told.
This is the tomb of the King; and there were many lesser tombs throughout the church for the rich and famous. Further, in all of these churches, you would see key holes in the floor tiles, where the rich paid to be entombed. This had to be a money-maker. This tomb, and a couple of others, were extraordinary in their detail and beauty.
Detailed stone-work everywhere. This is the walkway around the courtyard. Embellishments and precision are evident even on the arches and walls. You can see the lichen growing on the stone walls here. These are the first of the Renaissance buildings that Bron has seen, not having visited Europe previously. She didnt lose her appetite for them quite like I did; continuing to enjoy these visits until we left. I always enjoy the initial impact of the magnitude and the workmanship of these huge edifices, but somehow after a bit, they all seem like so many well-done piles of rock.
Well, heres another large stone building, this time a fort. This is one of Portugals top attractions, Obidos. The fort and walled town were given to Dona Isabela by her husband and King, Dom Dinis, as a wedding gift in 1228. It remained the Queens Gift through successive reigns until the 19 th century. The castle has now been converted into a luxury hotel run by the State, a Pousada, one of many of what are now the finest places to stay in Portugal. This one is a favorite, having only a few luxurious rooms. I tried to book us here during our visit, but it is always full so walk-ins havent a chance.
This is the backside of Obidos looking out over the countryside. We, this time, only visited for a few minutes, planning on a return in a couple of days. We were in the process of finding our way back to Nazare from Tomar after a too-long day trip. We also knew we would have to leave Nazare the next morning and head south to Peniche and find another hotel; leaving a short day trip for a revisit to Obidos from Peniche.
Just a random shot of the countryside in between small towns. To me, it looks much like Northern California, down to the crops and vineyards. There are homes scattered throughout the countryside in small groupings just like the West of the US some years back. The drive on tiny back-country roads was pleasant enough and I never did suffer the promise of fanatical high-speed dangerous drivers.
From Nazare, via Alcobaca & Obidos, we arrived at Peniche without a room for the night. We looked at the town, thinking that it wasnt exactly what we were after, and went to the Tourismo office for help. Bron had researched Lonely Planet for lodging, and we focused on Casa des Mares in Baleal, a small hamlet 5km north, which Tourismo validated as good. Gold Mine! Above is our lodging, we are in the 2 nd floor room at the near corner. Ocean on three sides. Wonderful people. Home for awhile!
This is the view out our bedroom window. We looked down on a tiny cove for the local fishermen, where they drew up their boats on the sand at night. There is a winch at the head of this cove used to move the boats; including a set of pulleys set into the rocks to enable launching them from sand to water with the same winch. Across the bay is the mainland part of Baleal, mostly new development for both locals and tourists. A fisherman lives in the house at the right.
Im not much of a photographer, but the light and clouds for this shot seemed just perfect to me. This is, just like the last shot, taken from the bedroom window just a short while after we arrived; sort of a welcome to this part of the world.
This little chapel, probably originally of Moorish influence, is the only structure between our Residential and the end of the point. The stonework is the old boat-launching ramp for when this was a part of Peniche and the Coast Guard operated off of the little peninsula of Baleal; their old station is directly behind our Residential.
This is taken from the point, back along the other side of the peninsula of Baleal. To the left you see a significant number of the other buildings there. The whole thing is probably no more than 50m wide and a few hundred meters long. People fish off the rocks frequently; in fact there are some on the rock point fishing in this picture.
A close-up of the fishermen. It looks so cold and hard, but in reality the temperature is about 78f and quite pleasant out. We never witnessed the fishermen catch anything, but Im going to assume it is pretty good fishing as there were always some folks out somewhere on the peninsula wetting their lines.
To keep a low profile, we decided to take a day off of serious touristing by visiting Peniche for a lazy day of the local sites. This is the fort and city wall. Portugal, in the 16 th century, erected a string of coastal forts to protect it from sea attack. They were active until sea-warfare modernized in the late 19 th century.
This is the forts sea entrance. At one time, Peniche was an island until the causeway finally filled in sufficiently to be a permanent connection to the mainland. This fort was in use up until 1974. In the early 20 th century, the dictator Salazar used it as a prison for trouble-makers to his regime. After that, it was used as a refugee camp to shelter part of the influx of émigrés from the previous Portuguese colonies after they were freed. Today, the fort is a tourist site and houses the Museu Municipal. The museum has a fine collection of nautical artifacts, some from Roman times; a collection of prison artifacts; and displays of the local crafts most notably that of bobbin lace-making.
This is a shot out through the channel leading to the sea- entrance. It shows the walls of the fort, which also extend around the entire village. Peniche is more of a residential town than, say, Nazare which also has a lot of tourism. Peniche is known more for its surfing; and as an industrious fishing port. They have a marvelous commercial harbor; home to a large modern fishing fleet. We would drive, nightly, into Peniche for dinner as it had the best restaurants and return to our little paradise on Baleal for a gelato and drink on the porch. A nice combination of places to visit and eat, and places to stay.
Oh no! More of us. Here we are on the walls of the fort, sitting in one of the defense access points for firing. (I know that this is a crenellated wall, but what is the word for one notch, a crenel?) You can see from the clothing and sky what the weather was like.
A view along the forts walls, you can see them turning off to the left, and into the commercial harbor. This is a great harbor by any standards, with complete weather protection, automated loading, ready road and rail access and nearby processing.
Back to being a serious tourist. This is our day trip back to Obidos; the Castelo is in the background. We are standing on the wall (lower right) at the far end of the town looking across the entire village and its streets. You can make out parts of the wall to the left and right. This place has an amazing amount of charm. It is quiet, clean, serene and peaceful. Id imagine during high-season, it is chock-a-block full of tourists and insane, but you can see there isnt anybody here at this time. Great restaurants also.
There is color everywhere in Obidos. Stark white stucco, super-bright blue and mustard highlights, and then the bougainvillea, clematis, roses, etc. that grow in abundance. As everywhere in the old city-centers, all streets are paved with cobblestones and so narrow that its hard to imagine that they support car traffic.
Perfect colors for Bron; I simply couldnt resist.
Another view across the village, notice the wall in the lower left, including some of the nearby fields of vegetables and some vineyards. The steeple to the right is the villages church, which was closed while we were there.
Here we are, again, up on the walls of the fort, overlooking the Castelo. When we return to Portugal, I well might spend the money to stay at the Pousada now housed in the Castelo. It is quite elegant and beyond charming.
This morning we left Baleal. Farewell to a lovely place to stay; and to our friend Catherina, granddaughter to the woman who built Casa des Mares. We hope to hear from her when she gets her email setup, and plan to return someday for another visit.
On our drive from Baleal to Sintra, our next and last stop for this trip, we planned to take the smallest roads which wind down the coast as far as you can go. Here is one of the interesting places along the way; Praia de Santa Cruz. This hamlet consists of the huge destination-resort hotel on the cliffs at left, and the few little Residentials and cafes down on the beach in the bay. We went into the resort and their brochure didnt even list a rate (if you have to ask, you cant afford it). The property is fenced with a guard. They have golf, equestrian, horse-racing, bicycling, 4-wheeling, tennis, swimming, surfing, fishing and anything else you can think of. We had coffee at a Café on the beach.
Further along the road is Praia Ribeira de Ilhas, a small town mostly of vacation properties. It has, as you can see, excellent surfing and there are several surf camps here. Amazingly, our friend Simon used to live here. This is where he learned to surf and where he learned his tile-setting skills. His tile business is named after a nearby river and beach area, Praia Foz do Lizandro >>> Lizandro Tile.
Here is Bron, sitting on our balcony in Sintra. The jungle is a private botanical garden belonging to a very wealthy old family; it is stocked with ducks, chickens, peafowl, etc. This is another story of how nice the Portuguese are and how it is better to be lucky than good. We drove into Sintra without a clue or hotel reservation. Finally, we made our way to the old city center and found the Tourismo office. There we met a very nice lady and asked about lodging. Well! She exclaimed; our two 5-Star hotels are having a special right now for 90e per night. One is a modern hotel two blocks down, the other is an older place one block up; both one block from the National Palace. We chose the latter. The Lawrence Hotel was built in 1764 and is the last of the grand hotels of that age. It only has 11 rooms and 5 suites, a restaurant and a casual bar. Its 15 minutes of fame was when Lord Byron stayed there in 1809.
Off the side of the road that led to the path up the hill to the Park we wanted to visit is this old, abandoned estate. We figured Bob could buy it and then renovate it and invite us all over for a few months each year. He can provide the maintenance of course but we can get our own plane tickets….
One of the walls flanking the road as we wandered up towards the path to Pena Palace and Park. Bougainvillea and Clematis abound here and add their splash of color to everything.
We decided to take a walk up the hill to the Pena Palace and Park, and the Moorish Fort Ruins; the three main cultural sites at the top of the Sintra mountain. Along the way, another display of Portuguese kindness occurred. When we came to the junction where the signs pointed one way up, and my map showed another much shorter way, a kind young man came over and helped us decide on the short way. This proved, as he stated, to be greatly superior. Instead of wandering 4.5km up a traffic-heavy busy road, we climbed 2km up an ancient stone stairway through a beautiful green and mossy forest. I will have to admit, however, that the vertical climb of about 300 meters in that distance on an uneven and crumbling stone pathway had me panting and sweating, but it was so worth it in comparison to the alternative.
Here we are on the path as we pass the ruins of the Moorish Fort. The lushness was beautiful, and there wasnt so much humidity to make it uncomfortable. The mountains catch the morning clouds off the ocean, but they burn off by afternoon, drying it back out.
This rather garish troll, a classic example of over-the-top Manueline and Baroque art, is over the main door to the Palacio Nacional da Pena. It was built on the grounds of a 16 th century Convent by Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg- Gotha, husband of Queen Maria II, in 1840. The thing that separates it from other piles of stone around the country is that all of the furniture and stuff of the last Queen Amelia (and her King), who were usurped by the revolution in 1910, is still in place. Most such sites are barren of the furniture and other possessions. It was really pretty cool to see how The Man lived the late 19 th and early 20 th Centuries. Once again, it proves that Its Good to be King. Id give the Queen high marks for more space, but The Man definitely had the better toys.
Here we are on the battlements of the Palace, overlooking the valley in the background which goes all the way to the Atlantic. This Palace is about 300m above the old City Center where we stayed. We also hiked up another peak across from the Palace to the Queens Chair to get a view of the Palace as the Queen liked to see it. This was a good way to live back then; and its a rewarding site to stroll through after the beautiful but steep and long climb up from the city.
This is the Queens View of the Palace at Pena. Yellow and Lavender, ostentatious, yet somehow a bit of fun to see the lifestyle. The surrounding Pena Park is a fantastical botanical garden with trees and shrubs from around the globe. It has myriad walking paths with decent signage for the rarer flora and probably enough to keep most people from getting too lost. This would be a good park to spend an entire day just exploring.
Below the Palace, but well above the city is the Castelo dos Mouros. Built by the Moors, it was captured by the Christians led by Alfonso Henriques in 1147. It was refurbished and used until the 15 th century when it was abandoned. It sprawls across the hilltop above Sintra and offers some of the best views of the old city and some of the mansions in the surrounding areas.
This is Sintra, viewed from the western wall of the Moorish fort. Our hotel is the red tile roof, just up the left edge from the bottom-left corner of the picture. The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is of Moorish origins, but greatly expanded and renovated in the late 13 th Century. It is the building in the upper center with the two white conical towers that look sort of like KKK hoods. The tour inside was rather less than hoped-for.
Here we are again, up on the walls of the fort/castle, with the valley and sea in the far distant background. I guess as I get older I just have to keep taking pictures to remind myself that I was there; as my mind cant keep track of such things any longer. Oh well!
Another day and now were at Cabo Roca, the westernmost point of land on the European Continent. Its usually windy and cold here, and there is little in the way of tourist amenities, but if your close, you just gotta see it. I managed, somehow, to lose my good hat here.
Just to get an idea of the rugged coast here, these cliffs are about 150 meters tall. The surf, as can be seen, is chopped up by the almost constant wind. There is a lighthouse that though quite old is still in constant service to protect ships who might cut the corner of the Iberian Peninsula a bit too close in heading to the Mediterranean.
This is the Quinto da Regaleria, at one time the manor house of one of the big kids of Portugal. It was designed by an opera-set designer in the early 20 th century and the exterior is extravagant in a world where extravagance is de rigor. The manor is undergoing restoration, but we sneaked inside and looked around. Good digs, but nothing to write home about. The real gems of this setup are the grounds and out-buildings. The gardens are outstanding, with meandering paths throughout and surrounded by a stone wall of over two meters. There is a small chapel, a clay tennis court, fountains, alcoves, ponds, water- falls (though dry now in the national drought) and one item that has to be unique. It is an inverted tower. A giant hole in the ground with a spiral staircase going down of the same stone workmanship as the big sites. The bottom ends in a series of caves that let out into the lower parts of the grounds. Awesome.
Heres the hole. Its about 30+ meters deep and the stonework is great, though not quite up to the best of the churches of earlier times. Bron and I just had to walk down and I though: Oh no! Now I have to climb back up! But lo and behold, there were caves through the limestone that let out onto various venues of the grounds. They were lighted with light-ropes and were a hoot to walk through. This is a great little stop in Sintra; well worth the hike up from our hotel.
And last, but not least, here is the final picture. This is a strange but beautiful little convent outside of Sintra. The Convento dos Capuchos, a Franciscan convent of 8 Friars and one novice. It is about 10k outside of Sintra and it is a delight. After the giant piles of perfectly carved stone, this tiny, humble abode of 9 people dedicated to serving the medical needs of the poor was such a welcome relief. The Franciscan friars were dedicated to poverty, and lived in silence when within the living quarters of the convent (though allowed to speak in special areas and outside). They had to stoop down to enter their tiny cells; humbling themselves before God daily. There were no great stone-works here, only the dedicated labor of simple men to build something that might not be beautiful, but would suffice. They healed those in need, and fed whomever they could depending on how much food they had on any day. This was a perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Our local guide (no unguided tours here) was an archeology student in Lisbon who was super enthusiastic and made this convent the wonder that it is.
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