Monthly Archives: March 2016

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.

And

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.

And

And

And

And

Train stations.

And

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.

And

And

Lots of neat alleys.

And

Vistas.

Cathedral.

And

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

Train station with magnificent tiles.

And

And

Other tiled buildings.

And

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.

And

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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Conímbriga

I am overwhelmed with photos and memories today. We found the right bus stop and visited one of the best archaeological sites we’ve ever seen, including Italy and Greece. It was raining when we left Coimbra and raining when we returned, but Conímbriga had only a few sprinkles.

The excavation is about a meter deep into the surrounding field. Only a small part of the city has been excavated–there is a huge area yet to be explored.

We were impressed with the honesty of the presentation. It was clearly stated and obvious whether what we were seeing was original or restored.

There was already a settlement at least 500 years old when the Romans arrived in the 1st century AD. Remnants of that older settlement are still visible.

Conímbriga flourished on the Roman road between Lisbon and Braga in the north of present Portugal. Portions of the road still exist, complete with ruts.

Conímbriga must have been prosperous. One house had 35,000 square feet. At the end of the 3d century AD, the city was threatened by the Swabians–Christians from present-day Germany, so many inhabitants fled to Rome and those who stayed hastily built a wall.

This wall had a gate on the Roman road.

The iron gate went up and down in this groove.

The wall cut through the rich houses and they were demolished.

The wall didn’t work. The Swabians conquered the city and built a basilica. The Romans fled. The city was inhabited until the Middle Ages.

An aqueduct brought water from 3km away.

Two bath houses have been excavated with the usual underground systems.

For us, there were two highlights. First, the mosaics. Oh, My!! Many in perfect condition with brilliant colors and patterns we’ve never before seen.

And

And

And

And

And

And

Second, the most complete peristyles we have ever seen. Most were as excavated.

And

But one was restored, complete with working fountains. It was covered for protection, but the cover also added to the ambiance and made the setting feel more real.

And

There was a basement under the peristyle.

Rooms had plaster pilasters and friezes.

Then there was the museum.

Tableware.

Woodworking tools.

Sewing and weaving.

Fish hooks.

Kitchen utensils.

Architectural elements.

And

And

Tomorrow we will see how Coimbra celebrates Easter. We are facing a lot of rain for our last week.

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Coimbra

We were not ambitious today. It was a pleasant feeling to arrive in Coimbra mid-day knowing exactly where our accommodation was and even what the room would look like.

After a light lunch, we headed to the supermarket. Portugese restaurant food is generally good, but there is a sameness to it–or at least to the meals Roger has been willing to order–usually grilled meet, French fries, rice, and a bit of lettuce, tomato and carrot. I don’t usually order a separate meal because the portions are more than enough for two. Therefore, for the next two days, we will mostly preparing our own food.

So my first photo for today is from the supermarket. A boiled egg in its shell baked into the top of a cake. I’m guessing it’s an Easter thing.

My only other photos are of a narrow street that leads directly to a popular plaza. Guidebooks say these narrow streets date from the Moorish era. We came from the bus station through this in the rain our first day without issue. Today in bright sunshine, there was a creepy guy. We won’t go back.

And

Tomorrow we will try to find the right bus stop for the bus to the Roman ruin.

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Guarda

Not a cloud in the sky this morning in Manteigas. You might think we wished for this weather yesterday, but we are glad we did not climb that hill in this heat. Yesterday’s temperatures were in the 40s, which is great for uphill exertion. Roger calculated that we hiked 15 miles and climbed 3,300 feet, most of that gain very steeply at the beginning. A photo of the ridge from town:

We are definitely seeing the effect of the upcoming Easter holiday. Besides the Easter candies in the stores, we are seeing more families with children traveling and more campers on the road.

This morning at breakfast, we met a couple from Lisbon bringing their children to the mountains to see snow. They have both traveled in the US.

We remarked that we had not been able to find fresh milk in Manteigas. The husband hurried to their room, brought us his baby’s milk, and opened it. We tried to decline by saying we only drink milk at night, but he insisted. “I have opened it for you.”

The wife is much more into hiking than the husband. He remarked with a grin that she will never let him forget that they have met us.

We were relieved when the bus to Guarda showed up. We learned that instead of a bus at 12:30 and a bus at 13:00, as the schedule suggests, the bus arrives sometime between 12:30 and 13:00 and leaves at 13:00. We thought this cute little man was waiting for the bus, but he was just resting.

On the way to Guarda, Roger got a few photos of the Serra da Estrela countryside from the bus.

And

And

Guarda looked different, not necessarily better, in bright light. The keep is all that’s left of the castle.

The most amazing thing we saw was a memorial to the doctor who ran the TB sanitarium and who died in 1897. These are all fresh flowers–360° of them. The fragrance was almost overwhelming. This was an accumulation of individual memorials, not just a pretty display. There were also placards with letters of appreciation.

If we read the signs correctly, these sequoias were also planted in his honor.

Then there is the cathedral by night–even more imposing than the photo suggests.

Tomorrow the train back to Coimbra. The train station is 4.5km out of town. Because the holiday bus schedule is curtailed, the only bus to the train station is at 8am. We will take our first taxi ride of the trip.

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Manteigas Hike

I was a bit concerned whether this one hike would be worth the time and effort we put into planning it. It was.

We had read tales of other hikers coming here and leaving disappointed because the park info folk speak no English, the trails are poorly marked and the maps are poor copies. Although the park folks spoke not a word of English, they were very friendly and helpful. We were able to communicate adequately. The maps were copies, but were also adequate in conjunction with my phone app’s map. And at least the trail we chose was adequately marked. Best of all, the weather cooperated.

We left town under a low cloud cover, which Roger assured me would lift. It was indeed a stiff climb out of Manteigas, but easy going mostly on a cobbled road.

In 1.5 hours, we were high above town.

As we approached the ridge line, we started seeing Hugh rocks.

And

We still climbed as we walked along the ridgeline, but going was easy. It was a different world that we had all to ourselves.

Lunch was a delight–even ice-cold drinks, and the sun came out.

We saw this strange structure from a distance

and climbed up to it.

From this vantage point, we could see Torre, the highest point in Portugal. Considering that it was snow-covered, we were glad we hadn’t tried to climb it. (Look for two domes right of center.)

Then the trail got interesting–as in covered with big mushy patches of snow. Trail markers were obscured and we lost the trail for a bit. We post-holed a number of times–our socks are drying on the radiator.

We got through it, found the trail and followed it down into town, more rock formations and some waterfalls along the way.

And

And

And

And

And

And

Tomorrow we return to Guarda.

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Manteigas

You don’t know til you get there, and the landscape we have found here in Serra da Estrela is not what I had imagined.

First, I did not realize that Guarda itself would be perched so steeply above the surrounding countryside.

Second, I didn’t expect to see level cultivated fields.

Third, I didn’t realize that Manteigas is in a bowl. This means we get to climb out of the bowl tomorrow. (Best Roger can figure, we will see some of that valley in the distance tomorrow.)

Today, by the time we got to Manteigas, had lunch and checked in, it was too late to hike anywhere, so we poked around town.

And

When I see this wall, I admire the flowers. Roger admires the rocks.

We saw loads of cats, but only one let us pet it.

Tomorrow a hike.

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Guarda

The guidebook says that on an overcast winter day, Guarda could be described as “cold and ugly.” Though we started the day in sunshine, by the time we got to Guarda, it was overcast and cold, but not ugly.

Our first task was to nail down our plans for the next few days–carefully, because it is Holy Week. Our goal is to hike in Portugal’s highest mountains, the Serra da Estrela. Guarda, Portugal’s highest city at more than 1,000 meters, is the farthest point to which we knew we would have reliable transportation. The Tourist Info here confirmed that we will have buses this week to and from Manteigas, a village in the mountains, so we will go there tomorrow, then return to Guarda on Thursday so we can return to Coimbra on Friday. All this hullabaloo for one day’s hiking. At least the weather is projected to be good.

The one site we have visited in Guarda is the cathedral, refreshing in its simplicity. It was completed in the 14th century, but it’s 12th century bones are evident.

And (note the twisted columns)

And

I liked the narrow lanes, particularly in what was originally the Jewish Quarter.

And

And

There are also remnants of the medieval fortifications.

And

And

And

While we were wandering, Roger spotted a large nondescript building across from the wall. It happened to be a large modern shopping mall.

Besides being warm and dry, it had a supermarket in the basement (as European shopping malls often do), so we have fresh milk tonight. Life is good. It also had salted cod, which we have also seen everywhere else, but had neglected to get a photo.

Tomorrow, Manteigas.

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