Tag Archives: Portugal

Entrance Tickets – The Castle of Guimarães in Portugal

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As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’. In 1095 Count Henry of Burgundy, who had married princess Teresa of León, established in Guimarães the second County of Portugal and on July 25th 1109 Afonso Henriques, son of Count Henry of Burgundy, was born here and it was where Duke Afonso Henriques proclaimed Portuguese independence from the Kingdom of León, after the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, declaring himself to be Afonso I, King of Portugal.

Read the full story…

 

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Favourite Places in Spain, Ciudad Rodrigo in Castilla y Leon

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Last time in my favourite places in Spain I was in the tourist town of Ronda in Andalusia in the South, today I am three hundred and fifty miles north through sun-baked Extremadura and into iron-hard Castilla y Leon.

After several hours of motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled castle and its fortifications standing proud and defiant on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.

Gone now are the whitewashed Pueblos Blancos, the click of the castanets, the flash of flamenco and the swirl of the matador’s cape because there is a demarcation line in Spain roughly along the line of latitude of Madrid which divides the country in two,  to the north the environment becomes harsher, the landscape is more severe and the towns and cities are made of stone.

Click on an image to scroll to scroll through the gallery…

And some views of the Rio Agueda from our hotel room…

Ciudad Rodrigo river and bridge at nightCiudad Rodrigo in the FogCiudad Rodrigo from the Hotel Molino

 

Travels in Spain, Mérida in Extremadura

Extremadura

“Sometimes the Spaniard will resent your attempts to use it (Spanish).  Sometimes he believes it to physically impossible for an alien to understand it.  Sometimes he cannot actually convince himself that you are speaking it…”   Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

Mérida is the capital city of the Autonomous region of Extremadura and is set in the heart of the Province of Badajoz. One of the most important Roman capital cities at the height of Roman occupation of Spain, the city today has one of the best preserved collections of Roman monuments anywhere in Europe and UNESCO World Heritage status.

This is why we were here of course but right now all we wanted was a table in the early evening sunshine, a drink and a plate of olives so after we had approved the room we left immediately to the Plaza Mayor right outside the front door.

The Plaza was vibrant and busy with families enjoying the weather (it had rained the day before, the receptionist told us), young boys playing football and girls running and skipping.  In the centre was an extravagant fountain and it was surrounded by arcades, shopping streets leaking away into shadows and tall colourful buildings decorated with palms and exotic plants.  At each corner was a covered café so we choose one in the sun, next to some boys playing football who were using palm trees for goalposts and sat and simply enjoyed the atmosphere.

What was noticeable was how well behaved the children were, how well dressed everyone was and how this seemed like one giant drawing room where an extended family was meeting up at the end of the day and having a sociable hour or two together before dinner.

As the afternoon slipped effortlessly into early evening we remembered that we needed some supplies for the room because being a five star hotel there was no way we were going anywhere near the mini-bar and its inflated prices.  There were no shops around the square so we finished our drinks and joined the crowds of people walking through the main shopping street of the city.  There were all kinds of shops but no mini-markets and we walked until we came to a busy main road where we were certain there would be a shop because we had seen people with carrier bags, but being unsure which we to turn, left or right, it was time to ask directions.

There was a man on the pavement just watching the world go by and minding his own business so I asked him a straightforward one word question, “¿Supermercardo?”  He took a step backwards as though he thought I might have an infectious disease and his face went curiously blank.  He looked around for help but there was none so he shrugged his shoulders and rattled off some words in Spanish at machine gun speed which I took to mean that he wasn’t sure, he was uncomfortable being accosted by foreigners and that we should leave him alone.

We decided to walk on and within twenty metres we were outside a huge ‘Discount Supermercardo’ and I don’t think I could have been so unintelligible that he couldn’t have understood that this was exactly what we were looking for.

It was getting late by the time we had finished off a bottle of Rioja and were ready to go out so being unfamiliar with the city we didn’t walk too far and found a restaurant close by that seemed just about right.  Actually it turned out not to be very thrilling and there was an elderly English couple in there complaining about the food and the service and although I wouldn’t have gone back it really wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed a Extremadura lamb stew and Kim a beef steak.  We declared it delicious, there were no complaints from us!

One of the reasons that I like Spain so much is its diversity, no region, city or town is much like another, each has a special unique quality and Extremadura and Mérida was proving to be no exception.

Extremadura Map

Even in Spain Extremadura has a very distinct character, in the summer it is sun-baked and unforgiving, in the winter it is cold and unrelenting.  Much of the land has no agricultural value, there are no industrial centres.  Bordering to its west is Portugal and it is and has long been the poorest region in Spain, in the past, its poverty led to many of its population fleeing elsewhere in search of better fortune.

Geographically it is the fifth largest of the Autonomous Communities of Spain but it has the lowest population density of all.  There is no international airport and no AVE high speed train link, it is the least visited region in Spain by tourists.  Mérida is the smallest of all seventeen capitals of the Autonomous Communities.

As we left the restaurant we strolled through the Plaza Mayor which was still vibrant and busy. As so often in Spain, there was a sense simultaneously of gravitas, fragile grandeur and impending festivity. Spanish people really know how to colonise urban space, and at all hours. We liked Mérida.

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International Women’s Day

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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

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

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

Fishwife waitingBridlington Ganzee001

A tough job for sure!

Portugal, Rustic Doors

Coimbra Door 1Coimbra Door 2

Portugal, A Walking Tour of Ovar

Ovar Portugal Azulejo

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets.  By mid morning it was getting even worse and our clothes were getting damp so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.

Then I remembered that the nice lady in the Tourist Information Office next door had yesterday tried to persuade me to take a walking tour of the nearby city of Ovar on a trail of the ceramic tiles.  This didn’t seem too exciting to me at the time but it was now getting rapidly more appealing.  It was only €2 each which seemed rather a bargain so we quickly made a return visit to enquire if there were still places available and there were so we signed up.

We considered ourselves fortunate about that because there is only one official tour like this every month and this was the last of the season.

Portugal Tiles Postcard

Now we had to make our way to Ovar so being too mean to take a taxi we walked to the bus stop and when it arrived we were glad to be going inland away from the sea mist and we were encouraged to see some welcome brightness in the sky.

To be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Ovar, at midday the street market was beginning to close down and we didn’t want to explore the streets in case this was the route of the tour and we might spoil it so instead we found a pavement café, ordered a drink and counted down the minutes to the start of the walk.

This seemed to take a long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of beer and wine so we had a second drink and then made our way to the assembly point at the Tourist Information Office where we were separated into two groups, those that spoke Portuguese and those who didn’t.

Our guide was proud to begin the tour with an explanation that Ovar is considered to be the City Museum of the Azulejo since it has a rich collection of tiles on the facades of the buildings, more so than anywhere else in Portugal apparently and for this reason the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon has declared Ovar to be a city of historic national importance.

Azulejo Ovar

Azulejos first came to Portugal in the fifteenth century, when parts of the Iberian Peninsula remained under Moorish rule.  Although many assume the word is a derivation of azul (Portuguese for blue) the word is Arabic in origin and comes from az-zulayj, which roughly translates as ‘polished stone’.

Nowhere in Europe has tiles like Portugal, not even next door Spain, they are everywhere and have become one of the iconic symbols of the country and are used to clad buildings both internally for decoration and externally as an essential component of construction for insulation in winter and for reflecting away the heat of the sun in summer.

It seemed to me that Ovar is a city desperately seeking a tourist identity, every town needs tourists after all and Ovar is exploiting the heritage of the Azulejo.  The walk began with a pleasant stroll through the streets of the city centre with frequent stops for information from our tour guide and took forty minutes or so.

I liked Ovar and I hope it succeeds.

Ovar Portugal Tile Painting

Overflowing with unexpected new knowledge we walked now to a ceramic factory on the edge of the city where we were invited to have a stab at painting our own ceramic tile.  We applied the paint, tried to remove the smudges (unsuccessfully as it happened) and then left them behind for the oven baking process and a promise that they would be delivered to us later in the day.  It was all rather like being back at school.

Now there was a bus trip to the nearby village of Válega and the church there which is a true masterpiece of tile painting art and surely one of the remarkable churches in all of Portugal.  A golden temple that sparkles with amazing tiles of many colours especially now that the sky had cleared and the sun was illuminating the towering facade.

Actually I found it to be overly showy and gaudy in its appearance but the tour guides seemed to like it and we spent a few minutes inside and out.

Válega Church Ovar Portugal

We were beginning to wonder what was happening next on the itinerary when we were driven to an artisan workshop and museum and I began to sense the commercial part of the tour was fast approaching. I was wrong to be sceptical however because this was where the €2 was going and some enthusiastic ladies in traditional costume baked for us and then served up the local specialty of orange loaf bread which was quite nice but to be honest I found a bit stodgy, a touch under baked and rather too much of it.

This was the end of the tour, the coach took us back to Ovar and we caught the bus to Furadouro where the sun was belatedly shining and we hoped for better weather tomorrow so that we could revert to our original beach plan.

Later we went to the Tourist Information Office to collect out painted tiles and were surprised to find that the baking process had seemed to surprisingly improve them.  We use them at home now as oversized coasters.

Ovar Portugal Orange Bread

Portugal, The Vampires and The Fado of Coimbra

Coimbra Portugal

“Portugal has a tradition of fado, the idea that one’s fate or destiny cannot be escaped, and it’s the name given to a form of traditional Portuguese singing that’s been given UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage status. You’ll often hear fado in bars, cafes and restaurants – melancholic songs of love, loss, hopefulness and resignation – accompanied by soulful guitars, mandolins and violins.”

The very reasonably priced IBIS hotel was not as grand as the Conde de Ferreira Palace  in Tomar but was in a perfect central location situated on the River Mondego with the historical centre of Coimbra rising up in dramatic style behind it like a sheer mountain face and perfectly placed for a short walk to an attractive and vibrant square busy with restaurants and bars basking in the sunshine.

From there we made our way to the old town and the University district and quickly discovered that Lisbon isn’t the only hilly city in Portugal.  Coimbra is built on the top of a hill, not all of it of course, because it is the third largest city in the country but the bit that we wanted to see was certainly on the top of the mountain.

It was hot again and the climb was a bit of a chore but as well as getting our bearings and seeing some of the sites we needed to find somewhere suitable to eat later and after our successes in Lisbon and Tomar there was a lot to live up to.  We found one or two likely looking places but none really stood out and then we tired of examining menus and made our way to the very top.

Portugal Coimbra University

Kim wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about visiting the inside of the University today so we concentrated instead on the exterior and agreed that we might come back tomorrow (a certainty for me but doubtful for Kim).  There were some wonderful views from the top and we strolled around the ornate courtyards and admired the Palaces and the churches and the two cathedrals and it occurred to me that Coimbra could easily be tagged the Florence of Portugal.

There was a lot of activity at the University because this was first week of new term – ‘Freshers Week’.  I remember ‘Freshers Week’ when I pitched up at Cardiff University in September 1975.  With hormones raging in overdrive I thought this was going to be opportunity to meet new girls but I quickly realised that this is the week when second and third year students turn up in force and get all the girls before a new student gets a look in and it looked very much like it was exactly the same procedure here in Coimbra.

University students in Coimbra wear a black uniform complete with a cape, they are known locally as ‘the cloaks’ and if I hadn’t known it was a University I might have mistaken it for a convention of Vampires.

Coimbra University Freshers Week Vampires

We weren’t going to visit anything today that had an entrance fee so we made our way back to the river and I became interested in a sign outside a small building that was advertising a Fado show, traditional music of Portugal.  I was keen to go along but I couldn’t persuade Kim to join me so I bought a single ticket and would return later alone.

On the way back to the IBIS I spotted a small restaurant that looked traditional and welcoming and had a reasonable menu so I suggested that we try this one.  Kim agreed and I worried then that my bad luck with recommendations might strike again and I would come to regret ever having mentioned it.  As I have said before I prefer to leave restaurant selection decisions to Kim and then no blame can be attributed to me in the case of a bad one.

Fado Coimbra Portugal

Later I returned to the centre for the five o’clock Fado show and after only five minutes or so I realised that Kim had made an absolutely brilliant decision in declining to accompany me.  I didn’t enjoy it at all, it was terrible; if had had the sense to consult Wikipedia before impetuously buying the ticket I am certain that I too would have rejected the idea…

Fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia”

… this, let me tell you is music to get seriously depressed to.  There was zero chance that I would buy one of the CDs on sale at the entrance.  If I could have sneaked out then I would have left there and then but I was in the middle of a row quite near the front and it would have been impossible to leave without drawing a lot of attention to myself.  I had no alternative but to stick it out, thankfully it only lasted for an hour and there was the consolation of a complimentary glass of port wine when it finally came to an end.

Now it came to restaurant time and I worried that my poor judgment might continue but it turned out to and it turned out to be excellent, so good in fact that we agreed that we would return there again the following night.  Once we find a place we like we don’t like taking unnecessary risks!

Statue Coimbra Portugal