So we are back from the northern border, a tour that took us through the mountains and the northern villages. It was both beautiful and adventureous, a perfect combination. For the most part the travel seemed much more relaxed, though that could be that I slept most of the time in the car. Seriously though, we had lots of time to stop and make small detours – there was never a rush and almost no other tourists. We had the world to ourselves.
Our first stop was to see some of the original grain silos. These ones were grouped togehter in a community bundle, which is only duplicated one other location (that we know of). You could see some slight changes in designs over time, though it was just impressive to think they moved and cut the stones for this use. Later on the walls become just wooden and the structures were individually placed at the different houses. Another interesting thing we noticed during our explorations was that these are still in use today, names are marked on the doors and inside you see grain and brooms. Incredible!
After some lunch, we continued on and found an arched bridge, which is unique in its construction due to the type of material combined with the rounded archway.
We attempted to take a dip in the water just below the bridge, but the stream was just a little cold for the boys.
There are times in life where you just feel the urge to move the world!
After a stop for some coffee Luis and I decided to take on the challenge of climbing the hill right near the shop! So leaving the boys with Patricia, Melissa, Luis, and myself headed up on our “15 minute hike” to the top.
And really, it only took us about 15-20 to get to the top of the first peak … then another 10 to get to the next … and I just HAD to climb up a final stage. And coming down proved a little slower than going up.
The final stage
The view from the top was incredible and well worth the hour and a half adventure.
Besides spotting a deer at full gallop on the hills, we also saw a couple of the cows in the area. The boys like to call them “Gazelle” cows, I called them tasty steaks that evening at dinner.
Nice cow … tasty too!
The hotel that evening was really quite interesting as it was situated right next to an active church right below some mountains. Was so peaceful it was hard to get up the next morning.
Our second days journey started out with a stop for a café at a little village, but things seemed to be closed so we just took a look around.
What we found near the old water-wheel mill was just what we were looking for on a hot day. It just seemed to call to the boys…
The main destination of the day was the northern border and Fort Valenca, a fortress from the 13th centural that played a pivotal role in ensuring that Portugal’s borders remained.
The walled city was home to many shops and restaurants, in which we pulled up a chair for lunch. One drink that Luis has been looking to introduce me to was what he calls “Fire Water”, the liquid used to stop the fermentation process. But for some it is also a drink, or in our case added to our café.
Amoung the shops we found that the area had been overrun by forgeiners, but of the friendly kind!
Since Spain was “right there”, we took a small trip across the bridge and across the border (and a time zone). We returned on a second, much older bridge.
Our last stop was at Ponte De Lima, the oldest Vila (town) in Portugal. While likely large enough to become a city it has held its current status since 1125, when it was decreed a town by the queen.
Ponte Da Lima, which means “Bridge of Lima” (Lima being the river), is obviously named. And this is that bridge.
While there was lots more to see and lots more pictures to take, the boys where tired, it was hot, and it was time to head home and get a good nights sleep. For tomorrow comes another adventure.
Our trip home from Lisbon took up through the historic village of Sintra a location in which Lord Byron wrote in 1809 “I must just observe that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful in the world.” – he isn’t wrong.
Our first stop was the Pena National Palace was last used by in the early part of the 20th century before the overthrow of the monarchy. This palace represented a lot of what you would imagine a palace to be; beautiful courtyard, large grounds to walk, and great views. The inside rooms all seemed connected and were actually typically smaller than I would have thought, but far more functional.
We spent hours exploring the palace, which sits onto a mountain that is just ripe for exploring. The palace actually sits near the old Castle of the Mouros (Moors), which was built in around the 9th century.
Quinta da Regaleira
Next up was the Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire, built in the late 19th and early 20th century with with the styles from the romantic era. The house was just one building on the entire grounds, which was the true canvas for this architectural artistry.
What was most interesting is the fact that the site if full of underground tunnels, and wells that offer sub-terranial access. There was no obvious purpose to these accesses, and the rumors are that the owner used them for ritual practices.
What they were fun for was exploring and it was a highlight for the boys who dragged us into every cave they found.
A day of adventure would not be complete without some dramatics, and we got that today. We first left Patricia’s bag at the coffee shop and had to return to get that, and then at the end of the day we left my wallet in one of the tunnels. Note: never use a wallet as a camera tripod in a damp, dark, cave. Just happy my passport was not with it and only a few dollars were left – the gardeners are looking but nothing yet and nothing expected.
So, with all our excitement over the last few days, all the tours, hikes, walking, it has been hard to keep the kids engaged. You can only tell them “don’t touch that” so many times!
So we took our day back in Porto a little easy and headed down, just the family, to a park to blow off some steam.
After that we attempted to go grocery shopping for dinner which was an adventure. We first had to find a grocery store, then order meat by the pound (really helps if you know your numbers), and then learn the different procedures in buying vegetables (which you have to get weighted BEFORE going to the cash register). We made it through and enjoyed a relaxing evening of stir fry and beer.
Now it is to the North that we travel next and the smaller mountain villages.
As we entered the weekend it was time to turn our tour south towards Lisboa (Lisbon). While the trip from Porto to Lisbon is only 3 hours, we would be taking the whole day and be making a few tourist stops along the way.
The first was at the Batalha Monastery where we visited a monestary that started construction in 1386 and was completed in 1517. It took the reign of seven kings and fifteen architects to complete the job (over 100 years) and really it was never truly finished.
Our next stop was for lunch, just outside the Catholic church at Fatima. This is a very active church that still sees regular pilgrimages. It is famous for a couple of visits from Mother Mary back in the 1920’s, which has now been recognized as official miracles by the church and is visited by the Pope on his stops to Portugal.
The one things about this place was the shear size of the area. The courtyard was huge and made you feel very small, the inside of the church was excusite and, while modern, was filled with all the splendar of cathedrals of the past.
As the day wore on the heat continued to build pushing into the high 30’s and low 40’s by mid-afternoon. So while the first few days were a perfect temperature, we started to see much warmer weather today which is expected through tomorrow as well. The benefit to the warmer weather?… ice cream stops are far more frequent and today would be no exception!
Above is a castle on our tour that we ended up skipping to ensure we made the final castle of the day, looked very interesting and we ended up passing closer than we were expecting. Instead we continued our trek into history…
… and the footprints that were left behind! This prehistoric path was discovered in 1994 by John Carvalho (STEA) and shows some of the oldest and longest sauropod tracks anyways (longest being 147 meters). Originally made in carboneted mud which later transformed into limestone which was quarried at this site until recently.
In fact, for the casual observer, the pathways are actually quite difficult to see. They have a walking path that leads around the main footprint set across the limestone. The entire time we could not see what they were describing, even after we viewed an overlay on the site infront of us we could not really make out the paths. However, once you got down on the limestone you could clearly see the define pattern of the footprints, though still not quite what our imaginations had conjured. The footprints were smaller and not quite as deep, though, as you can see, compared with Owen and Joe they are still rather large. What an experience, and now we also have a few dozen rocks (err, fossils) coming back for further examination unless customs (mom and dad) get to them.
The last stop of the day before preceeding onto Lisboa was Castle Almouro. Completed in 1209 (1171 A.D.), this was a military outpost along the river. Accessible only by boat today, we caught a ride from Captain Joe there and from Captain Owen on the way back – and while difficult to top the dinosaurs I think this did in the short term. Then again, who doesn’t like driving a motor boat! The castle was very raw, as you would expect from a military post but the boys managed climbing the steep ladders to the top which offered a great view of the area.
Later that evening after my grilled octupus (yum), tuna salad, and some great fish the kids went to bed and Luis, Patricia, and myself went out in search of Fado. Fado is a traditional Portuguese musical style and something Lisboa is famous for (see wikipedia). So, nestled in a side ally (a cultural experience in an of itself) was a small bar/cafe, and as we entered the sorrowful sounds could be heard in the dim-light. The lady on stage was a master and dragged you into the emotion of the song even though you could no understand the lyrics (well, I couldn’t). It was apparent there was an intimacy between the artist and the crowd, and after a second song she had completed her set and the lights came up. The bar was small and full, the singer had taken a seat at one of the tables and we ordered some wine, sitting back to discuss the control she had of her voice and the traditional Portuguese guitar used in Fado music. Then, from the seat beside us arose the next singer who introduced some pieces he wrote played next to standardized music. It became clear that this was more like Karaoke, with individuals who want to present their work have a couple guitar players at their disposal. It was one of the most interesting cultural experiences I have had, and it gave us all an appriciation of the music that could not be obtained in any other way.