Santiago

We didn’t do much with our bonus day, but we enjoyed it immensely.

First, we visited the Museo das Peregrinacións (Museum of the Pilgrims) which addressed the history of pilgrimages to Santiago. We had thought the Camino de Santiago was one route, but there are several and have been many.

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The museum told the story of St. James and his bones with more than a hint of skepticism. This 16th century depiction of an apostle was refreshingly human.

There were also models depicting the history of the church through its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque phases. This was its 12th century Romanesque beginning.

And this was the previous church that burned.

A few more photos around the historic quarter.

And

I know this is a crown, but it surely looks like an octopus:

We had lunch at a Tapas bar. Fried squid tapa:

Then we wandered around to the park and found a man on the park bench.

A man lounging on a rock.

And a gazebo. Gazebos are special to us because sat in one in the rain on our honeymoon.

We wanted to get back to our room early, so we stopped by a supermarket to buy food to cook for dinner. I bought what I thought was ready-to-heat seafood paella. Instead, it was just packets of ingredients without the rice–and of course all instructions were in Spanish. I showed it to our hostess and said she could have it. I would share Roger’s lasagne.

A few minutes later, she returned from the local market with a box of rice. Then with Google Translate, she showed me how to prepare it. It was reasonably good.

Tomorrow, the taxi will appear at the ungodly hour of 5am to take us to the airport. We do not relish the notion of the 30-hour day facing us.

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Santiago

Plan B. Major Plan B.

A couple of weeks ago while we were hiking, I think, I got an email that our return flight was changed. I looked it over–the times looked the same. The only difference I saw was the reference number. No big deal.

Today, I tried to check in for tomorrow’s 6:45 AM flight. Up popped an afternoon flight for tomorrow and a flight for Wednesday morning at 6:45 am. This confusion warranted a trip to the airport.

We were headed almost to the airport anyway because we had reserved a room for tonight in Lavacolla, the village nearest the airport, so we could minimize travel time to the airport for our early flight.

It took 4 agents a while to figure that our flight had been moved from Tuesday to Wednesday. This is not a particularly big deal–there is nothing we have to hurry home to. We decided to make good use of our extra day.

First, we arranged a second night in Lavacolla. As we waited for our host to show, we watched the pilgrims starting out from Lavacolla on their last day of the Camino de Santiago. We decided that instead of taking the bus back to Santiago, we would walk that last leg ourselves. 10 km. There was a dedicated path almost all the way and the way was well-marked.

We passed through small villages.

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Grain storage on stilts.

First glimpse of Santiago came at Monte de Gozo where pilgrims were having lunch.

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And

Then there was the first glimpse of the cathedral.

We then had time to take a tour of the roof of the cathedral. The view emphasized how small Santiago is.

Good perspectives.

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And

And

We had been intrigued by this tower on the cathedral which seemed out of place. Our guide said the architect was influenced by the Aztecs and Mayans.

This facade is untouched since the 12th century.

This place on the roof is where early pilgrims burned their clothes to prevent spread of disease. They were given cloaks to wear home.

Tomorrow, we will return to Santiago to visit a museum we had presumed we would miss because it was closed today.

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Santiago de Compostela

We awoke to brighter but troubled skies.

For the rest of the day, we could have clear sky one minute and torrential rain blown horizontally the next. The rain is even more exciting when gargoyles spit on you. This little fellow does a bit more than spit.

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And

The ethnographic museum in a former convent was excellent. First, there was the amazing three separate intertwined staircases. Looking up:

Looking down.

The most intriguing display was of houses that strongly reminded us of the round houses we saw at Citánia de Briteiros. Photo of actual house:

Model:

This musical instrument was unfamiliar to us.

Cart wheel.

Seed planter.

Vertical sun dial which we don’t understand. These photos were taken at 13:00 DST.

And

The convent chapel was beautiful in its simplicity.

Except for the altars, which were anything but simple.

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It had lots of dead people.

The sky got very dark again.

So we went to the cathedral, which we found rather disquieting. Garish displays of gold ostentation do not sit well with us, and this cathedral is loaded.

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The underlying structure, though, was elegant.

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The immense incense burner hangs from a rope on a pulley.

And (note the eye on the ceiling)

Guidebooks say this was to fumigate the pilgrims, and speaking of pilgrims, we saw a number of them finishing the Camino de Santiago.

We then visited a former hospital for pilgrims, now a hotel.

Then we just wandered.

And

And

And

Listened to this guy who played a more mellow bagpipe than we’ve heard before

We ended the day with seafood soup

And churros. Churros are sweet sugared crisp-fried pastries dipped in insanely rich and thick chocolate which is finished off with a spoon

Tomorrow, more Santiago, then we move to Lavacolla, which is where Santiago’s airport is.

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Santiago de Compostela

Braga is the religious center of Portugal, yet we left without even stepping foot into a church. This is the closest we came.

Then we boarded a bus to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Perhaps because it was an international trip, an attendant gave out neck pillows, but the trip was only 3 hours.

It didn’t start raining in Braga until we got to the bus station. It rained during most of the trip, then quit just long enough for us to find our room. And what a room it is!! Top floor with the enclosed balcony.

Looking out toward the monastery.

And

I found fresh milk down the street, I have a Coke Zero and there’s a coffee maker in the room. We have pastries and nuts. We are looking forward to breakfast in the morning.

We didn’t have much time for wandering this evening, but I have fallen in love already with this place. We will not have enough time to absorb it this trip, especially with rain expected tomorrow and Monday, so we must come back.

A few twilight photos:

And

And

Tomorrow, breakfast on the balcony, then Santiago in the rain.

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Citánia de Briteiros

This was a day for surprises. First, the agent at the bus station told us to take this bus, get off at this stop, and walk 2km to the archeological site. We got off the right bus at the right stop, but had to walk 5 miles to the site.

Along the way, we stopped at a small restaurant intending to get something light and use the rest room. We ended up with one of the best meals of the trip.

Then there was the site itself–much more than we expected. This was an iron-age city which thrived around 200 BC. The road system, in particular, has survived quite well.

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And

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Even portions of the drainage channels.

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Some of the street corners were rounded.

Many buildings were round.

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The archeologist who discovered the site had this reconstruction built, then decided it is probably too tall.

He guessed this was the council house with seating all around.

Much of the stonework is quite precise.

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A doorway with fittings for the door–fixed pin on the left.

Latch pin on the right.

Church dating from a temporary occupation of the site in the Middle Ages.

The public bath was the biggest puzzle of all. This is the entrance from the atrium to the steam room.

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And

Were they really that small? Did they crawl in?

The site itself was also a treat. Cork trees.

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And the most magnificent pine tree we have ever seen.

The attendant at the site directed us to the bus stop to which we would only have to walk 2 km, so we were back in Braga in good time.

Tomorrow, we begin the end game–an afternoon bus to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, from which we will return home Tuesday.

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Gerés

Such a simple-looking word. Two syllables, accent on the second. Roll the R. The S sounds as SH. Neither of us, even Roger who can roll Rs, can pronounce this word well enough for a local to understand what we are saying. When locals say it, it sounds like nothing I’ve heard before.

Gerés is a village in the national park of the same name. Guidebooks say there are hiking trails there, but poorly marked, poorly mapped, and difficult to access without a car. We decided some reconnaissance was in order.

First, yesterday we visited the Tourist Info in Braga to get directions to the Park Headquarters. They gave us directions, but said the Park Headquarters was just offices with no services to the public. We went anyway and found a service desk, a park map and a couple of trail guides in Portugese.

Today, we went to Gerés. Because this was just reconnaissance, we took neither food nor water and no sticks. The bus left us in the center of the village with nice mountains all around.

And

Roger started walking up the steep road out of town with me complaining that we weren’t prepared to hike. Sure enough, he found the marker for the beginning of a 10 km hike, which we would have time to complete before the return bus, sticks or no sticks.

We immediately lost the trail. As we were looking for it, we hooked up with two German girls who had found a map of the trail, which I took a picture of.

We found the trail again and went steeply up from Gerés. The woods were beautiful.

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As were the boulders and vistas.

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And

And

The trail was even relatively flat for a while.

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And

There was recent snow near the trail, but not on it.

A corral.

It was a “Pinch myself, can life really be this good?” feeling. Everything had come together just right, including the weather, to make a perfect day.

Then we began to suspect something was wrong. We couldn’t find trail markers. Roger looked at his GPS and the crude trail map and thought we were on trail. I looked at the GPS app on my phone and figured we weren’t. Thank you, Steve Jobs and MotionXGPS for saving us a lot of hurt. We only added about 3 miles to our journey–in effect, three sides of a rectangle instead of the one we missed.

We also found a spring to drink from.
Back on track, we faced a steep descent down to Gerés. The bald spot on the skyline is where we started down.

This is looking from that spot down into town.

The Portugese don’t mess much with niceties such as switchbacks. It was as if we were tumbling down the mountainside like rocks. I didn’t get any photos while I was hanging onto Roger’s shoulders to keep from falling, but did get a couple before the steep part.

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We got back to Gerés with plenty of time for some ice cream. We asked where the bus back to Braga would be and were directed to where a bus was sitting, but no driver yet. As we waited by the bus, a local lady walked past the bus, down the hill a bit to a bus stop. We went there, too. Sure enough, the bus we had been waiting by was the wrong bus and we would have missed the right bus had this lady not come along.

So all’s well that ends well. We had an unexpectedly great day.

On the return bus, Roger snapped this lifelike crucifix.

Entering town, we found this community laundry still in use. Water is diverted from the steam.

The rectangular depressions are soap holders.

The “stairway to Heaven” photo somehow didn’t upload to yesterday’s post, so I’ll try again.

Tomorrow 200BC iron-age site.

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Guimaraes and Braga

We came, we saw, we left Guimaraes–we stopped there on the way to Braga. The main site of interest we found there was the spot where, according to legend, an olive-wood spear sprouted into an olive tree.

The square was worthy of a photo or two or three.

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And

Braga is much larger than we expected. We also didn’t expect the expansive pedestrian-only areas.

Brag’s claim to fame is its religious heritage. Churches everywhere.

Semanta Santa (Holy Week) banners.

There is even the stairway to heaven.
Tiles in building lobby.

And

Colorful buildings.

And rain.

Tomorrow, we take a bus to Gerés.

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The Duoru River Valley

We took it easy today with a 4-hour train ride up the Duoru River valley, then return. This valley is lined with vineyards/wineries. The vines haven’t leafed out yet, so I’m guessing the trip would be prettier a bit later in the season. As it was, it was still interesting to see the terracing–more industrial than we are used to seeing. Roger took a ton of photos, but the window glare was a killer. A few survived.

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Train stations.

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We got back to Porto in time to climb the tower.

And see the town.

And

The tower was attached to a church.

You don’t want to be late.

Another church was tiled on the outside.

Tomorrow, we go north to Guimaraes and possibly on to Braga.

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Porto

The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but here in northern Portugal, it’s falling everywhere. Instead of the hikes we were planning, we have fled to Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city.

We were going to skip Porto. Its claim to fame is Port wine and I’ve never tasted a drop of wine in my life. Plus, it boasts its Baroque architecture, which we are not particularly fond of. In spite of these misgivings, and in spite of the rain that flows down the steep streets in sheets, I have to admit I like the place.

It’s the color. Everywhere else we’ve been in Portugal, most buildings are some shade of white to yellow with red tile roofs. Porto–at least the old town–is not so timid.

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Lots of neat alleys.

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Vistas.

Cathedral.

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And (When I see this kind of ostentation, particularly in gold, I mutter, “WWJD.”)

Train station with magnificent tiles.

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Other tiled buildings.

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A bridge designed by Eiffel’s protege.

And lots of broken umbrellas.

Tomorrow, we will take an 8-hour train ride up the Duoro valley.

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Coimbra

This morning was the first morning since February 29 that we weren’t going somewhere, so we were lazy. We thought we would see some evidence of Easter celebration, but neither saw nor heard anything that didn’t seem ordinary.

We did something, though, that was extraordinary for us. For the first time in all our travels, we just lounged in a sidewalk cafe and watched people walk by. The experience was enhanced by the only decent gelato we’ve had in Portugal.

When we got restless, we wandered aimlessly for a while and took a few photos.

Poor little pigs …

…will soon look like this.

Better photos (with sunlight) of the Fado sculpture.

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Attractive bridge.

It’s a long way down.

We found an aqueduct.

And what looks like an arch sprouting out of a building.

Interesting detail by a church door.

Tiled dome on another.

Really strange tree that looks like its socks have sagged.

And

Our first and only selfie.

We had not planned to visit Porto on this trip, but rain is forecast for the entire region the next couple of days. When it’s raining, we prefer to be where we can spend time profitably indoors. So tomorrow, we head to Porto.

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