Category Archives: Portugal

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

 

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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

Portugal, Bom Jesus do Monte at Braga

Braga from Bom Jesus do Monte

The plan now was to drive just a little way north to the City of Braga and visit the park of Bom Jesus do Monte and although this was only a short journey this wasn’t nearly as straight forward as it should have been.

Too much of a skinflint to pay motorway toll charges I decided to take the old road instead which runs close by and often parallel.  What made this so difficult was the curious system of road signs that the Portuguese have.  One minute you are happily following signs to a destination and then suddenly, usually at a critical roundabout or busy junction where you have to make a quick decision, they simply disappear and taking the right option becomes a bit of a lottery.  It was all too confusing so after only a short while I abandoned the old road and found a way back to the motorway instead.

There was no traffic on the motorway of course because Portuguese drivers resent paying tolls and prefer to sit in the traffic queues on the old roads instead.  I am often quite good at getting pictures with no people in them but a motorway with no traffic is a first…

Empty Motorway Portugal

Braga is the third largest city in Portugal (or maybe the fourth because Coimbra claims third place as well, I think it depends on whether they are measuring population or area) but we weren’t planning to visit the Episcopal capital of the country and instead we used the ring road to swing to the east out into the country and towards the religious sanctuary on top of a high hill on the outskirts of the city.

Many hilltops in Portugal have been places of religious devotion and the Bom Jesus hill is one of these. It was an ancient site where in 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ.  The present Sanctuary was begun in 1722 under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga and under his direction the first stairway row with chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis were completed.

He also sponsored the next segment of stairways, which has a zigzag shape and is dedicated to the Five Senses of Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste and each is represented by a different fountain.

Staircase Bom Jesus do Monte Braga

Around 1781, Archbishop Gaspar de Bragança decided to complete the sanctuary by adding a third segment of stairways and a new church. The third stairway also follows a zigzag pattern and is dedicated to the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity, each with its own fountain.  The old church was demolished and a new one was built following a neoclassic design. In the nineteenth century the area around the church and stairway was acquired and turned into a park and in 1882, to facilitate the access to the Sanctuary, the Bom Jesus funicular was built linking the city of Braga to the hill.

This was the first funicular to be built in the Iberian Peninsula and is still in use today.

We stood at the top of the steps and debated whether or not to go to the bottom but after we realised that true penitent visitors climb them on their knees we agreed that a gentle stroll would be quite easy by comparison so we did just that and we were pleased that we did because the view from the bottom looking up the towering black and white stair case made it worth going to all the trouble.

We spent a lot of time at the bottom of the staircase waiting for picture opportunities without people and this took some considerable time.  Just look how selfish this chap was…

Bom Jesus do Monte

In the heat of the afternoon it was a long slog of a climb back to the top where the park was beginning to fill up with visitors from the city. There was a curious blend of attractions in the park, with the church itself, gardens that had a touch of Antoni Gaudi and Park Guell in Barcelona, the inevitable tourist train and children photographers.  Everyone was having a good time including a quartet of elderly lady singers who were being enthusiastically orchestrated by a fifth member of the party who was in charge of random song selection and keeping everyone in some sort of time.

Leaving Bom Jesus do Monte I got rather lost getting to Braga and then through to the other side and I was pleased when we eventually groped our way to the motorway and with one eye on the dashboard warning light I drove gently back to Vila do Conde and made for the seafront where we found a bar overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Rather annoyingly it was calm and gentle this afternoon which was the first time we had seen it that way but it was too late now to go swimming so we ordered drinks instead and sat and made an assessment of our Portugal holiday.

Later we spent a last few minutes at the Santa Clara Monastery, admired the views over the River Ave and the Ocean beyond, walked for a while in the shadow of the Aqueduct  before returning the car and preparing for our return to UK early next morning.

Portugal Sunset

Portugal, Guimarães and Car Rental Issues

Castle at Guimarães

Early next morning I picked up the hire vehicle, a small black Smart Car and once I had become more or less 10% accustomed to the secrets of the automatic gear box we set off east out of Vila do Conde.

On the advice of the nice lady at the car hire office we planned to drive twenty miles or so inland to the city of Guimarães which in a survey published annually by the Portuguese newspaper Expresso  is ranked second in the country’s most liveable cities.  As might be expected Lisbon is rated first and Porto only third.  As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known fondly as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’.

I was enjoying driving this nifty little car but after just a few miles there was a problem.  I always get a problem with hire cars.  I am the most unlucky car renter ever.  No one gets as many issues as I do with hire cars.

A warning light started to wink at me.

I am never completely sure what all these dashboard symbols mean, my first car in about 1974 had just two warning lights – one red one for an overheating  engine and another orange one for low oil pressure but now there is a dashboard with as many flashing lights as the control panel of the Starship Enterprise.  I looked around for the road map to place over it so that I couldn’t see it!

But I have seen this one before in a hire car in Ireland.  One of the tyres was suffering from low pressure so we pulled into a service area, I had a look round and in the only engineering procedure with which I am familiar kicked each of the tyres in turn as you do in these situations and as they all seemed fine to me we just carried on and ignored the irritating little light as though it was an itch that couldn’t be reached and scratched!

Guimaraes Castle

I was glad to arrive in Guimarães without the embarrassment of having to call the emergency services and heading for the old town we eventually found a street with some vacant parking spaces.  To be honest, I am not very good at parking at the best of times, the next time I change my car I am going to get one that does it for you, intelligent parking I think it is called, but the Smart Car at only nine feet long and with no boot and no bonnet is surely the easiest car in the entire World to park.

If it is I did my best to prove that it isn’t.  I don’t like reverse parking, I especially don’t like reverse parking up hill and after I had found a space that I was confident that I could get into I proceeded to make a complete dog’s dinner of the simple procedure.

Lurching, lunging, backwards, forwards and after five minutes or so a small crowd of bemused bystanders were starting to form an audience, people were calling friends on their mobile phones to come and watch, newcomers were using doorsteps as terracing, people were peering over their balconies and I worried that soon we would need crowd control barriers.  It was only with Kim’s assistance that I eventually managed to squeeze it into a space that I have to admit would easily have accommodated three Smart Cars.

Smartcar

I nonchalantly acknowledged the assembled crowd with a casual nod of the head as though to say ‘that’s how to do it’  and the giggling subsided and  it started to disperse and then I tried to explain to Kim that the problem was that parking an automatic car without any form of clutch control was almost as difficult as landing a lunar module on the moon.  She wasn’t listening, she was unable to communicate on account of suffering a fit of uncontrollable laughter.  She said that next time I park a car she is going to make sure that she is wearing a corset so that she doesn’t split her sides.  Kim is always helpful and supportive like this in these situations!

After she had calmed down and recovered  her composure we walked through tidy streets and open green spaces without high expectation of Guimarães but we found a street map that indicated a Castle, a Palace and a UNESCO World Heritage site in the old centre and so we walked to the top of the city and into the grounds of the twelfth century fortress.

In 1881 the castle was declared the most important historical monument in this part of Portugal and in the 1900s a lot of work went into its restoration.  We went inside and were struck by the fact that they hadn’t spent a lot of the renovation budget on basic health and safety.  The Castle is a disaster waiting to happen, with uneven surfaces, irregular steps and almost completely without handrails or safety barriers to prevent visitors accidentally slipping off of the high battlements and becoming a permanent addition to the rocky foundations below.

Guimaraes Castle

After the castle we visited the Palace and without any explanation there was free admission today but where an officious attendant still insisted on issuing tickets and someone else insisted on checking them.  Inside the Palace of the Condes de Castro Guimarães there was a small museum containing family portraits and other paintings, as well as furniture, china, silver and gold objects and local prehistoric finds.  At just half an hour to walk round it was the perfect size for a museum and without crowds of other visitors to slow us down we wandered from room to room practically by ourselves.

From the castle we followed the cobbled Rua de Santa Maria, that didn’t look as though it had changed a great deal since the Middle Ages, down into the heart of the old town, where there are superbly restored historic buildings including a former sixteenth century Baroque convent of Santa Maria, now serving as the City council offices.

Guimaraes Portugal Kim

At the end of the street were two delightful squares with outdoor cafés and balconied houses, Praça de Santiago and Largo da Oliveira.  At Largo da Oliveira is the Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, with a Gothic shrine standing in front of it. There are many legends about its origins, but a popular story says it marks the spot where Wamba, elected king of the Visigoths, refused his title and drove a pole into the ground swearing that he would not reign until it blossomed and then as if my magic it sprouted immediately into spontaneous bloom whereupon he happily accepted the crown.

We walked right the way through the delightful streets of the old town and then reluctantly left Guimarães, one of the nicest places to visit in Portugal and returned to the car.  Fortunately it was a whole lot easier getting out of the parking space than it was getting in and we drove out of the city and made our way to nearby Braga.

Guimaraes BalconiesGuimaraes street

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Azuleja

Pavoa de Varzim AzulejoCasa dos pescadores Vila do Conde

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Fishing

Bacalau Portugal

“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm.  A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood.”  Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

Once again the coastal weather didn’t cooperate with our beach plans and we woke to a thick sea mist that seemed to hang around like a wet blanket.  The hotel clerk apologised several times as though he was personally responsible for this and reluctantly told us that most likely it would be like this all day.

No beach for us today for sure.

Instead we left the hotel and walked along the north bank of the River Ave until it met the sea and then we turned north towards the city of Póvoa de Varzim about three miles or so away.

On the way we visited the fish market of Vila do Conde and passed the now abandoned timber fish drying trestles where traditionally cod from Newfoundland was salted in preparation to be transformed into bacalau.

The trestles and the drying frames have all gone now and only the rotting skeletal timber supports remain but with a bit of imagination it is possible to see what it must have been like; a beach full of white fish facing south and glinting madly in the sun rather like a modern day solar energy farm.

fish and solar

On the side of a derelict fish preparation warehouse there was a mural, a painting showing just how this place once looked with women workers attending to the precious fish.

IVila do Conde Fishing Mural

Ocean fishing is a hard job.  It used to be a whole lot harder.

Generally when we think of fishing we focus on the brave men that put out to sea, sweating, straining; blistered, burning, bleeding, bruised; grunting, groaning – dropping their nets; heaving, hoisting, and then bringing in their haul and returning worn out, beat and battered back to beaches.

A tough job – I wouldn’t want to do it and I wouldn’t want to do the job of fishermen’s wives either because I imagine that was equally as demanding.  They might not have put out to sea or battled with the nets and the ropes, the rough seas and the weather but they had their own arduous tasks to perform just the same.

Before the men set off to work the women had to help them prepare, maybe a bit of patching up here and there, wounds to stitch, bandages to apply and then pack up some food and drink to take with them.

Next the really arduous job.  While they were out at sea they had to sit and worry about them returning safely and when they did they were thankful but now there was more work.

IMG_8401

While the men hauled the boats away from the surf onto the beach the women dealt with the catch, gutting the sardines, descaling the mackerel, separating the flesh from the bones of the cod and hanging into the sun prior to salting and all the premium fish expertly prepared for market.

And then they had to go to market to do the negotiating and the selling.

When they had finished all of that they had to start mending nets digging the sand for juicy bait and harvesting slimy seaweed and drying it to sell to inland farms as fertilizer.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the housework, preparing food and looking after the children.

I mention this because everywhere in Portugal there is street art which is based on the lives of fishermen and women and for a country which didn’t grant equal rights  until 1974 the art celebrates fishing men and women in equal measure and I was pleased to see that.  Women so often get overlooked in these matters.

The depiction of women and fishing has changed though.  These two contrasting examples are first from the city of Ovar (at the Railway Station) and the second from the city of Póvoa de Varzim.

Portugal Fishing TilesFishwives Povoa de Varzim

The first is a tiled wall from about fifty years ago which shows a traditional image of a glamorous, smiling woman who looks rather like Sophia Loren, someone a fisherman would be delighted to return home to after a tough night at sea and the second is a modern sculpture that depicts a group of fishwives that you wouldn’t want to bump into down an alleyway on a dark night.  I suspect that the second is probably a more accurate depiction..

Póvoa de Varzim turned out to be a much larger place than I had imagined, it is the seventh-largest urban centre in Portugal and was once home to the country’s largest fishing port.  It is still important to the fishing industry but now predominantly for processing and canning.  The story of Póvoa de Varzim is rather like that of Grimsby in England, the town where I live.

Eventually we reached an agreed turning around point, found a beach bar for a drink and then as we walked back the mist began to reluctantly clear and the sun made the odd shy appearance.

It didn’t clear completely until we arrived back in Vila do Conde so with the sky now blue and the sun in all of its glory we walked the centre of the old town, the market (gone now for the day) the Cathedral, the Convent and some more of the Aqueduct. I was glad that we had returned to Vila do Conde, I liked it here.

Later the hotel arranged some car hire for us on the following day, it was a lot less fuss than Europcar and quite a lot cheaper as well. The next day we planned to drive to Guimarães and Braga.

Fishwives Pavoa de VarzimSelling Fish Furadouro