Category Archives: Portugal

Travels in Spain, The Barcelona Metro

Barcelona Metro 02

Some pictures of tiles down in the Barcelona Metro.  I imagine a lot of people miss these as they rush through to make connections whilst being on the look-out for pickpockets!

Barcelona Metro 01Barcelona Metro 04 Barcelona Metro 03

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Travels in Spain, Montserrat and the Black Madonna

Montserrat 02

After a day of modernist architect Antoni Gaudi and another one in the medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter of old Barcelona the plan today was to leave the city and take a train from Barcelona and travel thirty miles west to visit the Monastery of Montserrat.

So, with rigor mortis fingers clutching our wallets and our valuables we descended deep down into the metro tunnels and began our journey.

It took about an hour to arrive at our destination and then another thirty minutes on the funicular railway to reach the top of Catalonia’s Sacred Mountain. This is a place of pilgrimage where apparently every Catalan visits at least once in their life to watch the sunrise over the Serrated Mountain (Montserrat).

I have to start with another rather unlikely religious yarn.

The history of Montserrat began in the year 880 when a small group of shepherd children (these stories generally include young children – Knock in Ireland, Fatima in Portugal and even Joan of Arc) saw a bright light descending from the sky in the mountains and heard angels singing and instead of being shit-scared the music filled their hearts with a radiant joy.

The children ran home to frantically report the experience to their parents. They were sceptical but were persuaded to go to the place where the children had experienced the visions to collaborate the story and lo and behold they experienced the visitation as well. Next to come along was a local Priest who, surprise, surprise witnessed the same.

Black Madonna

The visions occurred in and around a cave which was explored by the religious elders of the community where miraculously they found an image of the Virgin Mary. This is the Black Madonna, considered to be one of the most celebrated images in Spain, which is believed to perform numerous miracles and attracts millions of visitors every year from all over the world.  People queue a long time to visit the Black Madonna, about three hours on the day that we were there, and when they get to the front of the line they get just about five seconds to make a wish before it is all over.

An interesting issue about the Madonna is that she is black and so is the infant Jesus which is just one of those pieces of evidence that some scholars rely upon to support the theory that Jesus wasn’t a sort of blond Nordic type that we all imagine him to have been in the west but rather more like a dark skinned man from the Middle East. Rather like an Arab.  If Muslims believed in Jesus and were allowed religious portraits then I am certain he would be black.

Jesus Black or White

Seems to work well both ways I think but that surely is the point, Jesus can be whatever you want him (or her) to be…

Another interesting fact is that in 1493 Christopher Columbus named the Caribbean island of Montserrat after the Virgin of Montserrat.

Not content with the dubious story of the Black Madonna, some also claim that somewhere in a cave in these mountains is the Holy Grail, the Cup of Christ and in previous times Monks used to live in the caves whilst they searched for it in-between prayer sessions.

Many places claim to be the likely site for the Grail (it is good for tourism, after all) but my favourite story is that it is currently in Fort Knox in the USA where tourists can’t go.  The legend states that there is a special room somewhere deep inside the vault that stores not just the Holy Grail but also the Ark of the Covenant and the True Cross, complete with the dried blood of Christ.  I expect Indiana Jones found them all and handed them over to the US Government for safe keeping!

Safe because the main vault door is twenty-two tons of steel and can withstand a direct hit from a two kiloton nuclear warhead.  I don’t believe the story of the Holy Grail but for certain the Depository has housed a copy of the Magna Carta, the Hungarian crown jewels including the Crown of St. Stephen, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and various other historical documents from all over the world.

Montserrat 03

After visiting the church and the Benedictine Abbey and catching a brief glimpse of the Black Madonna from about one hundred yards away we left the monastery complex and took another funicular ride to the top of the mountain.  Well, almost the top because after the train there was a steep climb and we didn’t fancy slogging our way right to the top.  It was too hot!

The Monastery of Montserrat is about 4,000 feet high and isn’t even the highest in Catalonia because this is nearby Vall du Nuria which is about 7,500 feet high.  By comparison the highest Monastery in the World is the Buddhist Rongbuk Monastery near the base of the north side of Mount Everest at 16,350 feet above sea level.

Building Monasteries as high as possible is rather like building churches as high as possible to try and get closer to God.  Rather like the Bible story of the Tower Of Babel  (Genesis 11:1-9) …

Tower of Babel

Some people thought it was a good idea to build a tower so high they could get to heaven and prematurely meet God to see what he looked like (was he white, black or woman).  God didn’t like that idea so he invented different languages so that no one could understand one another and they couldn’t complete the construction.  Maybe this is why God allows natural disasters such as earthquakes to destroy Cathedrals like Christchurch in New Zealand, the Great Fire of London to burn down old St Paul’s or terrible wars and people like Bomber Harris whose job it was to destroy German Cathedrals in World war Two.  Just a thought.

I didn’t feel especially close to God I have to say but I did enjoy the views and when we had had quite enough we took the train back down to the Monastery, stopped for a drink and then took the return journey all the way back to Barcelona.  It had been a good excursion and I had enjoyed it.

Montserrat 01

Travels in Spain, Tiles of the Bullfight

Bullfight Tiles 2Bullfight Tiles 1Granada Matador

 

International Women’s Day

Eyemouth05

Three fishers went sailing out into the West,
Out into the West as the sun went down;
Each thought on the woman who lov’d him the best;
And the children stood watching them out of the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And there’s little to earn, and many to keep,
Though the harbour bar be moaning.

Three wives sat up in the light-house tower,
And they trimm’d the lamps as the sun went down;
They look’d at the squall, and they look’d at the shower,
And the night wrack came rolling up ragged and brown!
But men must work, and women must weep,
Though storms be sudden, and waters deep,
And the harbour bar be moaning. – Charles Kingsley

I recently posted about the fisherwomen of Portugal and how they are celebrated and remembered in street art.

In case you missed it…

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Fishing

Torreveija

For International Women’s Day I have featured one aspect of the life of a fisherwomen…

IMG_8407

The long day waiting for the fishermen to return home safely…

Fishwife waiting

A tough job for sure!

Portugal and Spain, So What’s the Difference?

Portugal Postcard Map

Just recently, John* a blogging pal of mine asked me what is the difference between Portugal and Spain.  It reminded me that I once wrote a post on the very subject.  It was quite some while ago and I don’t believe anyone read it so I repeat it here again now.

On 13th February 1668 at the Treaty of Lisbon Spain finally recognised Portugal as a separate and independent state and since that time they have lived peacefully together as reluctant neighbours.

I have visited Portugal a number of times, in 1986 and 1994 to the Algarve, twice in 2008 to Viano de Castelo in the far north and twice again in 2009 to Porto.  I returned again in 2017.  Only on the final visit after a train journey through the centre did it really occur to me that although it shares the Iberian Peninsula with its larger neighbour, Portugal really isn’t Spain and on the flight home I was ashamed of my previous ignorance about the country.

I had always assumed that because of its geography that it must be a lot like Spain with perhaps a few minor differences, sherry and port for example, but I had come to understand that Portugal, its people and its culture and heritage is very, very different indeed.

So what are the differences then I hear you ask?  Observers point out that the Portuguese national character is more sentimental, ironic and mild and these characteristics are often held up as the total opposite of Castilian culture just as melancholic Fado music is in complete contrast to the high drama of the Flamenco.  As different as the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and the novels of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (header picture).

Fado or Flamenco

I have visited both Portugal and Spain several times and there are fundamental differences between the countries and the people that you perhaps wouldn’t expect between two such close neighbours but then again Spain itself is dramatically diverse with the people of Galicia for example having little in common with those from Andalusia or the people of the Basque Country sharing no characteristics with those from Extremadura.  In Portugal the people of the Algarve have little in common with the people of Porto.  Are we English anything like the Welsh?  Why then should Portugal be like Spain?

I feel the difference but cannot adequately explain it but I have found two pieces of work which might help.  These learned scholars have dealt with this question at length find both cultural and geographical factors at work.

Pierre Birot put it this way:

‘…thus, the typical characteristics that so gracefully distinguish the Portuguese soul from its peninsular neighbours, were able to ripen in the shelter of frontiers which are the oldest in Europe. On one side, a proud and exalted people (the Spaniards), ready for all kinds of sacrifice and for all the violent acts that inspire them to be concerned with their dignity; on the other hand a more melancholy and indecisive people (the Portuguese), more sensitive to the charm of women and children, possessing a real humanity in which one can recognize one of the most precious treasures of our old Europe.’ (Le Portugal; Etude de Geographie Regionale, 1950).

These two countries once ruled much of the World but their Empire building was in a different style, Portugal had Henry the Navigator a methodical explorer seeking out new trade routes with maps and charts and Spain had Conquistadors like Francisco Pizzaro swashbuckling their way through the New World with swords and gunpowder in search of gold.

Explorers

Oliveira Martins, the Dean of Portuguese historians assessed the difference like this:

There is in the Portuguese genius something of the vague and fugitive that contrasts with the Castilian categorical affirmative; there is in the Lusitanian heroism, a nobility that differs from the fury of our neighbours; there is in our writing and our thought a profound or sentimental ironic or meek note…. Always tragic and ardent, Spanish history differs from the Portuguese which is more authentically epic and the differences of history are translated into difference in character.’ (Historia da Civilizacão Ibérica, 1897)

In Medieval times intense Spanish pressure and forced dynastic marriage compelled the Portuguese to follow the Spanish example of expelling the Jews in 1497, a step that deprived Portugal of many of its best merchants, diplomats, mathematicians, geographers, astronomers and cartographers. Feelings of resentment were aggravated by Spanish attempts to absorb Portugal, which temporarily succeeded from 1580-1640 (a period known as ‘The Spanish Captivity’). It was a political mistake that only encouraged a strong and proud reaction that cemented the identity of an independent Portuguese nation, a separate state and culture.

Portugal Tiles Postcard

One major thing that separates them is sherry and port.  Sherry is from Spain and Port is from Portugal as we discovered on a visit to a Port Lodge in 2008.

We learned that under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro region. The wine produced is fortified with the addition of a Brandy in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine and boosting the alcohol content.

So what is the difference…

Simple!  Sherry is fortified after completion of the fermentation process as opposed to port wine which is fortified halfway through the fermentation process

All of these differences and traditional rivalry go some way to explain why there were gasps in the room when Spain and Portugal were drawn together in the same first round group for the 2018 Football world Cup Finals.

Portugal River Douro

* You might like to visit John, I think you might enjoy his blog…

Paol Soren

 

Portugal, The End of the Journey

Portugal 2017

So our travels were over.  We had not had a train journey holiday since 2013 in Puglia in the south of Italy so it was good to get back on the tracks!

We flew into Lisbon and spent four days in the capital city, it was oppressively hot but we enjoyed it all the same.

If I was to do anything different I would have visited Belém rather than Sintra.  Sintra is just too commercial and touristy.

After Lisbon we headed north out of the city to our next stop at the city of Tomar. Here is a top tip, buy train tickets in advance because at peak times it is a nightmare using the automated machines and you have to allow at least thirty minutes to shuffle tediously along the line.

Apart from the ticketing system the trains in Portugal are punctual and efficient and our planned itinerary was a complete success.

If you are planning travels through Portugal be sure not to miss out Tomar and maybe find some time for the nearby pilgrimage site of Fatima but that is a bit difficult without a car.

After Tomar the train took us to Coimbra, maybe the third largest city in Portugal or maybe not (Braga also makes this claim). A good place to visit, two or three days is just about right.

And then to the city of Ovar and the nearby seaside resort of Furadouro. Ovar is not really on the main tourist trail but it certainly gets my recommendation for a visit especially if you are lucky enough to bag a place on the Ceramic Trail Tour.

Kim in Portugal

Next to Portugal’s second city Porto which is a must visit city on a holiday such as this except that we had been there twice before so it felt as though we were just going over old ground. We wished instead that we had stayed in Aveiro as an alternative stopover.

If you are tempted to do this journey then be sure to do them both!

Leaving Porto we took the train to our final destination at Vila do Conde from where we hired a car and visited the cities of Guimarães and Braga, two more must visit places.

We had a wonderful time in Portugal and would certainly do it again.  Not my first visit and almost certainly not my last.  I went to the Algarve in 1986, 1987 and 1994 which is a long time ago so I really need to go back.  In 2009 I visited Northern Portugal and fell in love with the people, the towns, the beaches and the food.  If there is anything like a certainty in life then I will return to Portugal.

On the final morning we woke early and prepared to leave Vila do Conde.  We risked indigestion and snatched a hasty  breakfast and then made our way to the metro station for the final time and took the tram to the Airport.  Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport is just outside of the city.  Interestingly, Francisco de Sá Carneiro was for a short time the Prime Minister of Portugal in 1980 and some people have questioned the appropriateness of naming an airport after someone who died in a plane crash!

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves with that, just wasted away the waiting time and reflected fondly on our very successful 2017 visit to Portugal.

Algarve

My next few posts will be a return to the island of Malta…

Portugal, Postcards

Portugal Tiles PostcardVila do Conde PostcardPORTUGAL lisbon 2014-04-30 001Coimbra PostcardFatima Portugal

If you like postcards of Portugal here are some more from the Algarve