December 2018 - April 2019
  • Apr1

    The End to a Wonderful Trip

    April 1 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    We came home from our three month trip, a week ago. The last few days in Lisbon were spent wandering around in the sunshine and thinking about all the wonderful things that we did during our time in this interesting country.

    Starting in the warmer Algarve area was a good idea and meeting up with Donna was a lot of fun. She is an experienced traveller so she was always easy to be with. Lagos and Tavira were very good cities to use as home bases for that southern part of the country.

    We really enjoyed the drive up the east part of Portugal with all of its castles and forts. We heard many stories of epic battles and romances of Romans, Moors, Goths and even the Knights Templar. We found that the people who lived close to the Spanish border were wonderful, warm and friendly.

    Evora, in the centre of Portugal was another very good home base. We met up once again with Donna in this university city and with our rental car were able to see many of the sights around this old city. Cork oaks grow in this area, marble is mined and Alentejo wine is renowned. We witnessed a car accident and were happy to find out that the man in the car was well enough to be released from the hospital.

    On we went to the incredible town of Monsanto, a village built into and around giant boulders where it was very cold and windy. It was one of the most amazing places that we have ever seen on our travels.

    North of Monsanto is a beautiful city called Castelo de Vide with its beautiful parks, castle and landscape. This is another place that we could stay in for an extended period of time. It is a peaceful and old fashioned town with a good infrastructure.

    Further north is the old city of Lamego, close to the Douro River and in a major grape growing area. We felt pretty good about ourselves when we climbed the almost 700 stairs up to the church, part of a route that pilgrims take once a year.

    In Porto, we gave up our rental car and met up with Vaughan, an long-time friend of ours. Porto is perfect to use as a home base for the northwestern part of Portugal. There is just so much to see and do and it has a nice vibe for a big city. The bookstore that inspired the Harry Potter books was a treat to visit. One day, the three of us took the train and went to the ancient city of Guimaraes with its 10th Century castle.

    We parted company with Vaughan and went by train to several cities on the west side of Portugal. We stayed a few days in Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal, then on to Coimbra, a vibrant university city, and finally Sintra, where we stayed in a great BnB owned by a British couple. A traveller could spend a month and not see everything there is to see in this part of Portugal!

    We stayed in the centre of Lisbon for a couple of nights before flying to the island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco. What hikes we were able to take. Driving a car here was somewhat challenging due to the mountainous nature of the island but all in all it was quite the adventure for us. Lovely!

    Flying to the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores only took a couple of hours and we were in a new world. We had been looking forward to this part of our trip as our daughters and their families were joining us for the March Break - 9 adults and 3 children. What fun we had! ‘Carrot soup’ hot springs, mountains, green valleys and a great holiday house right on the ocean. The time with them went quickly but it was awesome.

    We originally had planned to visit three more of the nine islands in the Azores but finally decided that we wanted to stay on Sao Miguel longer. It is a beautiful place. Once again we found a perfect BnB in the centre of the island, called Quinta Dos Bravos. Since we had a rental car, we could go to a different part of the island ever day. We loved it!

    The three months were quickly coming to an end. We flew back to Lisbon where we stayed for 5 nights and did a lot of up and down walking. There are many places to see including the old city of Belem with its fantastic Royal Coach Museum and Pasteis de Natas bakery. It was definitely Spring in Lisbon and we enjoyed our walks in the sun, under the blue skies.

    We were a little worried about leaving the country as we were 4 or 5 days over the 90 days we were allowed to stay in Europe. I had contacted the Portuguese embassy in Canada and was told that we would have to pay a fee in Portugal for staying over the time limit. Well, we didn’t follow through with that, but all worked out well. We weren’t questioned at the airport and we didn’t say anything either. We are not sure what the consequences would have been if they were upset with us. We made it happily home without incident and were looking forward to seeing our family again. We had a really good time in Portugal but coming home was great too.
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  • Mar30

    Saturday- from Graça to a Flea Market

    March 30 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    We are staying in a very old neighbourhood called Arroios, near Mouraria and the hilltop area of Graça.

    The streets are narrow and the sidewalks even narrower with barely enough space for one person to walk.
    When a car goes by, you have to stop and flatten yourself against the wall in some places. Laundry hangs high up from narrow balconies and graffiti decorates almost every free wall. Parking a car is tricky as the streets are extremely inclined.

    Today, we went for a walk up to the top of the hill across the street from our apartment. We headed for the highest point in Lisbon - the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. It is a pretty viewpoint with a wonderful view of the Tejo River, as well as most of the city. There are places to sit, big shade trees, and a musician playing the guitar. Nice.

    We wandered through Graça checking out the giant murals and enjoying the ambiance of this part of the city. Of course, we had to stop to get an expresso and a nata. We sat in an outdoor cafe and people watched. It is a busy little area with people moving with a purpose - Saturday food shopping, kids going to birthday parties, dogs being taken for their walks and people meeting friends.

    We continued walking down the winding streets and staircases and ended up at the National Pantheon and the Igreja (Church) de São Vicente. This is also where we accidentally came upon the bustling Feira da Ladra, an immense, outdoor flea market that takes place every Saturday. It was full of antique or traditional items, as well as clothes, jewellery, toys, books and food. A market of this type is thought to have been in place in Lisbon since the 12th Century, and the name "Feira da Ladra" was first mentioned in the 17th Century.

    All this walking up and down steep hills made us thirsty so we stopped for lunch and a refreshing and delicious sangria before heading home to hang our laundry.

    Boy, will I miss Sangria, unless I learn to make them! Uh, red wine, sprite, a cinnamon stick, apple pieces, orange slices, brandy?, rum?, and ... I’ll have to do a google search.
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  • Mar29

    A Sunny Day for Walking

    March 29 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Three days left to go. We had no purpose today except to get out of our apartment and walk around the downtown and the riverside. It was a beautiful day. I put a few towels out to dry on my balcony clothesline which is way, way up (Heaven forbid if I didn’t secure them well!) and off we went.

  • Mar28

    Belém's Incredible Monastery & Natas

    March 28 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Belém isn’t just known for the National Coach Museum. The 16th-century Tower of Belém and the sail-shaped Discoveries Monument are featured on almost every postcard. Also there is the immense Gothic Jerónimos Monastery, and the very popular Pastéis de Belém patisserie, famed for its custard tarts. We only have so much energy and there is just so much to see and do!

    We wandered over to the Jerónimos Monastery after seeing the coach museum and were really impressed by its grand size (100m long) and the carvings on the limestone walls. King Manuel (1495) erected it as a thank you for the discoveries made by early Portuguese explorers. He built the church near the site where a small chapel stood where sailors spent their night before their frightening voyages, praying.

    Portugal was a wealthy country in those days and and no expense was barred from creating this spectacular monastery. You have to see it to believe it.

    The monastery is the final resting ground of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer who was the first European to sail to India. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was declared a National Monument in 1907.

    Now the time came to have a coffee and a great and we were in the right place!

    Everyone who visits Portugal learns about and eats the famous pasteis de nata, but to sink your teeth into the real deal, made using the original 187-year-old recipe, you need to stop in at a cafe called Pasteis de Belém. And guess what? It is practically next door to the monastery.

    The first owners of this well-known pastry shop (which was a sugar refinery at that time) purchased the recipe in the 1830s from the monks of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery), who first sold the pastries as a way to raise money. Flaky on the outside and creamy on the inside, they are delicious pastries, and it didn’t take long for the Pasteis de Belém to become one of the most popular pastry shops in Lisbon. The lineups tell it all.

    We were able to see where they make the 20,000 or so tarts a day and what a sight. Donna, Karen and Rob, and members of our family would be drooling. We just sat down at a table, sprinkled the hot tarts with cinnamon and powdered sugar and ate them with a cafe com leite (coffee with milk). Yum.

    Now we had to face our 40 minute tram ride home with a trolley full of students and tourists - it was like being in a can of Portuguese sardines! Wow!
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  • Mar28

    Belem's New Carriage Museum

    March 28 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    The new building houses around 40 royal vehicles from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There were coaches, berlins, sedan chairs, children’s coaches and carriages – all of which are decorated in a rich and over the top style. Pretty jaw dropping. The time and work that went into making these vehicles!

    There was also a display of miniatures of the carriages. Hi I that it would have been a cool project to make one of these.

    Upstairs, we saw the fun tongue in cheek art exhibit showing modern interpretations of all the Kings and Queens of Portugal. The artist also included their nicknames and how they were related. Very clever. We wish that we could remember his name as we loved his artworks. (Gomes? Torres?)

    Anyways, as mentioned, we were blown away by the splendour and workmanship of the coaches and were happy that we made the effort to visit this amazing museum.
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  • Mar28

    Belém's Old Carriage Museum

    March 28 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    We have visited many museums in Portugal but we were blown away by this one!

    Situated beside the Tagus River, at the point where it meets the Atlantic, Belém is the place from which the caravels sailed on their ‘voyage of discovery’. Nowadays, it is an area just outside of Lisbon where people can spend time relaxing in the parks or visiting historical monuments and modern museums. The area is full of cafes as well as seafood restaurants. We were intrigued by the description of the place so we decided to go there.

    We took Rick Steves’ advice once again and took the 15E tram from the Mundial Hotel to Belém.

    Our first stop was at the National Coach Museum which is housed in two buildings. Originally, it was only in the ornate royal riding arena, but the collection is so big that a new modern concrete complex was built across the street. We visited both places.

    The royal riding arena only houses eight carriages, a selection of portraits and a wing displaying 19th-century firefight equipment. But what a building it is! The main riding area is ornately painted and it is a fascinating building.

    The most important and oldest exhibit is the coach used by King Felipe II of Portugal as he travelled from Spain to Portugal in 1619. Another amazing exhibit is the ceremonial Coach of the Oceans, a carriage belonging to Pope Clement XI, which was given King John V in 1715, and is lavishly decorated in gold.

    The coach collection was originally created by Queen Amélia in 1905 and housed in the royal riding arena. The arena was 50m long and 17m wide, and was used for training horses as well as for horse riding exhibitions and games. It used to have balconies so that the Portuguese royal family could watch the events from luxurious surroundings.

    The queen included all of the carriages belonging to the Portuguese royal family in the museum’s collection. After the demise of the royal family the Portuguese government maintained the coach museum.

    Just a few fun facts ... the Portuguese royalty played a fun riding game with a rotating figure of a Moor with a shield and a whip. The game was called “ Charging the Estafermo” in which the rider tried to strike the shield with a lance, causing the figure to rotate and then the rider had to quickly escape without being hit by the whip. See our last photograph. The museum had one of the figures on display.

    Toilets on coaches? One of the seats had a seat that lifted and there was a potty underneath!
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  • Mar27

    The Castle on the Hill & the Fado Museum

    March 27 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Rick Steves has a really good guidebook for key places in Portugal. His section about Lisbon makes life a lot easier for planning as it includes lots of good tips about where to go and what to do and see. I just tear out 4 or 5 pages from his guide, about an area that we would like to explore and take those with me. Chris uses the Mapme app or google maps app and we are set.

    Yesterday, we went on his “Alfama Stroll and the Castle”, starting at Lisbon’s highest point, Sao Jorge Castle and ending at the Fado Museum near the river in the sailor’s quarter. We went at around 9 a.m. in order to avoid the tour groups. Sometimes, we casually join a group to hear stories or facts about a certain spot.

    The castle gate is a short walk away from our apartment. We walked to the gate and looked around the small town that stands within the walls before buying seniors’ tickets to enter the viewing terrace and the castle proper. There are several places to get great views of Lisbon but it was lovely of the Tejo River from up there. We could see the big April 25th Bridge (somewhat like the Golden Gate Bridge) in the distance.
    We strolled along the ramparts and climbed the towers, while trying to find our apartment building in the streets below. We had left an orange towel on the balcony clothesline.

    The first settlements on this hill date back to the 7th century B.C., but the castle was built in the 11th century when Moors built it to house their army and house their important people during a siege. But then it was taken in 1147 and Portugal’s royalty lived there.

    The little museum on the site had archaeological finds from the 7th centre B.C. to the 18th century.

    The Castle Town just outside the castle is full of cute shops and restaurants. Most of these buildings were built during the Middle Ages for well to do people.

    On the way down to the river, we passed the Largo Santa Luzia. The iconic trolleys stop here as there is a free panoramic view from its terrace with nice music. We popped into a little cafe to have a coffee and delicious natas - maybe the best ones yet!

    We continued walking down, down, down stairs and steep roads to the Alfama area. Lots to see - laundry flapping from wrought iron balconies, birds in cages, flowers, tuktuks, a lady selling 1 euros cups of Jinga to passerbys, artists’ workshops in old building, grafitti, and men in groups smoking and chatting. There are signs everywhere warning people of possible pickpockets. Good reminders. It was a warm and sunny day so we felt good.

    At the bottom of the hill is the Fado Museum. Our friend Donna highly recommended it. Fado - Rick Steves describes it as “wailing fisherwomen’s blues”. I really like it. There are three wall murals on three levels with the faces of three generations of local fado stars. With the audio guide they give you, you can key in the number beside the face you like and listen to the person singing. We could have been there for hours!!!

    Hunger stuck so we asked a shopkeeper if she would recommend a nearby locals’ restaurant. Once again, we had a delicious fish and pork/clam meal with sangria for a good price.

    The walk back up to our apartment wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was because our legs have become used to the exercise we had, climbing the many hills in Sao Miguel. Maybe it was because of the energy provided by the homemade ice cream cone we ate...
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  • Mar26

    Off to Lisbon

    March 26 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Our week in Pico da Pedra with Rui and Guadino was wonderful. What kind hosts with big hearts and lots of good information about the island. They have put a lot of effort into creating a welcoming and peaceful BnB/home and you couldn’t ask for a better location to explore the island. The time we spent on the island was fabulous. There are 9 islands in the Azores so if we return, we will want to explore the other ones, starting with three that are close together - Pico, Faial and Sao Jorge.

    We met an interesting young couple from Germany, Silvia and Tadeh who shared many of the same interests as we did. Every morning at breakfast, Rui and the four of us had great discussions about what we had done the day before, previous trips we had taken and what was happening in the world today (i.e. Brexit and Trump). It made breakfasts a pleasure.

    On the day that we left, we packed up our bags and drove 20 minutes to the airport. Loved that! A man from Autocunha Car Rental was there to meet us at 6 a.m. and the return went very smoothly.

    We proceeded to the SATA checkin area and were told that the plane was going to be 7 hours late!!! The big storm that the island had had 2 days ago had affected all the flights so there was a backlog. Seven hours. Ugh. But, the Portuguese attendant came to our rescue. She removed us from the Sata flight and put us on a TAP flight leaving in 20 minutes. Excellent!!!!

    After a 2 hour flight, we arrived in Lisbon at 10 and did a little planning with a coffee in the airport lounge.
    Our apartment wouldn’t be ready until 3 pm but the owner said that we were welcome to leave our bags with her. The taxi ride to the Graça area was €11 and it was glorious warm, spring day.

    Our hostess pointed the way to a traditional Portuguese lunch restaurant where there was a set lunch and lots of noisy neighbours eating lunch with their friends and families. The waiter was pretty funny and we had a good time.

    Just down the street was a barber shop, so Chris got a nice haircut. From there, we wandered - looking at all the graffiti, checking out the shops and restaurants, watching the trolley car as it made its way up the hill, taking in the wonderful views from a city park,and finally we ended up at the gates to the castle. The castle will be on tomorrow’s agenda.

    We have had a full day but still needed to see our apartment and do a quick food shopping.

    Where we are staying is in a perfect neighbourhood for exploring and as a bonus, it is full of character!
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  • Mar24

    Exploring the NW corner of Sao Miguel

    March 24 in Portugal ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    After yesterday’s stormy day, today promised to be a warm and sunny day. It was perfect for a drive back to Mosteiros along the northwest shoreline. Many of the roads along the shoreline of the island are the old original roads that are hundreds of years old and they are very interesting.

    By the way, I am writing this footprint in the Batalhas golf course clubhouse while Chris hits a few balls on the driving range. I have views of the ocean while I drink a cup of Delta coffee and listen to good music. We both are happy with this arrangement.

    From our inland BnB, we drove 3 km to Calhetas which is on the ocean. Calhetas means pebbles and the shore is full of small rocks, a good place for catching fish. The village is pretty small and has been inhabited since the 15th Century. Around 1820, some tea seeds were brought from Brazil and a tea plantation was started in this area. There was a great viewing spot close by. This whole island is full of ‘great viewing spots’, each one just as beautiful as the one before. We make a point of stopping at as many of these miradouras as possible.

    On we drove to another small village called Capelas. During the whaling era in the Azores (early to middle 20th Century), Capelas was an important northern processing center on the island of São Miguel. Rui told us that until 1976, many people in island villages still used whale oil to light their lanterns.

    Hardly any part of the carcass of the sperm whale was waste. The meat and fat and even teeth and bones, (raw material for scrimshaw), were all utilized. Whale wax or spermaceti and ambergris provided raw material for candles, lubricants and perfumes, to name just a few of their many uses.

    Whaling was an important source of livelihood for a number of Azorean families for a great number of years. The decline of the industry began in the 1960s following a diminishing need for whale-based products. The last whales in the Azores were hunted in 1987.

    The viewpoint in Capelas gave us great views of the big bay where the whales were brought in. It was hard to imagine how the huge whale bodies were hauled up the cliffs. We did go down a steep ramp to the rocky bottom and even wondered how the ships could even bring the whales close to shore. Rui told us that they used to attach a big hook to the whale’s tail and used a machine to haul it up the ramp. But then the body had to go to the processing plant. What a job!

    Capelas also has a curious rock formation. It goes by several names including "Trombo do Elefante", or the elephant’s trunk. The cliffs are in the perfect shape of an elephant stepping into the water with its trunk falling into the sea. You don’t need to have much of an imagination to see the elephant.

    We really liked visiting this town and could see ourselves spending time here in the future.

    North of Capelas, we passed through little towns with Saints’ names. We saw greenhouses which grow the small Azores pineapples. At this point we could see the sides of the huge Sete Cidades volcano sloping to the ocean, covered with fertile farmland.

    On we went to Pilar da Bretanha. Interesting that it is called Pillars of Britain. Maybe some British sailors were castaways here? It is a village that is located on the furthest point from the capital city. Before a road was put in, the people living here were pretty isolated.

    By now, with all of our ins and outs of the car, it was around 2 p.m. and we were getting hungry. Mosteiros wasn’t that far away and that restaurant with the great seafood so ... off we went to Mosteiros and the O Américo de Barbosa restaurant where we had eaten an amazing lunch earlier in the week.

    The seaside town at the base of the big volcano has a nice feel to it. While we waited for a seat in the restaurant, we went to the nearby centro and people watched. So nice and old fashioned. Men sitting on benches, smoking and chatting, kids playing on the bandshell, women walking arm in arm through the park, church bells ringing.

    Fifteen minutes later, we went back to the restaurant and our table was ready. The menu was small but we just had to have the shrimp again. But people were getting ‘limpets’ so we had to try the limpets too. And then the house specialty was octopus with boiled potatoes. How could we resist? We know that we won’t be getting seafood this fresh anytime in the near future so why not splurge! We even considered getting Portuguese wine and an Azorean pineapple cheesecake but felt that that would be just a little too decadent.

    Our trip home took 40 minutes and we went on a route that took us up the volcano, then down into the crater and back up again and to the other side, then through green countryside with cows and back to our perfectly located BnB in Pico Da Pedra.

    So today, our last day on the island, I am watching Chris putt on the putting green while looking out the big windows of the clubhouse and writing this footprint. Nice way to end our time in Sao Miguel, for sure.
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