Portugal the Plenty

Me at the Pena Place in Sentra. In the 19th century, Portugal had a very romantic prince, German-born Prince Ferdinand. A contemporary and cousin of Bavaria's "Mad" King Ludwig, Flamboyant King Ferdinand hired a German architect to build a fantasy castle which took from 1840 until 1885 when he died. Mixing elements of German and Portuguese style, the architect ended up with a Neo-fortified casserole of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets and Manueline carvings. Sept. 8, 2013

I had just moved back to Texas from Washington, D.C., buying a condo in Dallas and honestly had no plans to journey out of the country this year. I had been living in D.C. for exactly four years, working in the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor but took a transfer to come back home to Texas. The move back was both time consuming and costly and I thought that taking a trip this year would not be practical. But that doesn’t stop a girl from dreaming and checking the Rick Steves tours website to see what I could plan for a future date. And, that’s when I saw it, the “Heart of Portugal in 12 Days,” tour was being discounted by $400 and with my tour member discount, $50 for each Rick Steves tour I’ve taken, the cost of the tour made my budget conscious self very happy.

When I called my friend and travel buddy Debra, who lives in New York and retired from the same government agency, she too was interested so we jumped on it. Debra and I had met when she worked in Dallas during the 1980’s but rekindled a stronger friendship when I moved to D.C. while we both worked for the Labor Department. Debra and I traveled together and took our first Rick Steves tour in 2009 when we went to Paris for the week between Christmas and New and now this trip. We coordinated our departures, meeting in Philadelphia, and flying to Lisbon from there.

We left September 7, arriving in Lisbon on the 8th, a day before our Rick Steves tour was set to begin so I arranged, in advance, for a car service to pick up Debra and I from the Lisbon Airport and take us to Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, to begin our Portugal journey. A journey that according to the Rick Steves description combines a dazzling mix of Roman, Moorish and Baroque architecture with the small towns, seacoast, food, wine and music of this tradition-rich country. Starting in lively Lisbon and ending in proud Porto, the “Heart of Portugal” tour also included visits to Evora, Obidos, Nazare, Alcobaca, Batalha, Fatima, Coimbra and the Souro Valley.

Although Portugal is full of history, the main thing that drew me in are the multicolored tiles and mosaic sidewalks. In Portugal, tiles (azulejos) are found on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary houses and even railway stations or subway stations. Many azulejos chronicle major historical and cultural aspects of Portuguese history. For me, as a quilter, I see gorgeous art and remarkable quilt patterns…which I enjoyed seeing up close.

Join along through the photos and captions.

I didn’t sleep a lick on the 7- hour plane ride from Philadelphia to Lisbon with an early morning arrival, the best thing to do is to get busy, which is exactly what Debra and I did. A car service picked us up from the Lisbon Airport and took us to the Tivoli Hotel in Sintra. After checking in, we took advantage of our early morning start and headed to the Sintra tourism office, around the corner from the hotel, bought our Moorish Castle and Pena Palace tickets and jumped on bus #434. The bus took us up to the castle first and from there, it was a stoney climb on uneven stairs with no guard rails to the thousand year old ruins of the Moorish Castle with its stunning towers and views. Plus, we spent an extra hour trying to get back to where we start. Walking and climbing up and down these ancient rocks made for sore feet, but we finally made it out and on to our next adventure. Sept. 8, 2013
The medieval Moorish Castle, perched on the top of Sintra Mountain, was constructed by the Moors during the 8th and 9th centuries. It was an important strategic point during the Reconquista, and was taken by Christian forces after the fall of Lisbon in 1147. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sept. 8, 2013
Debra standing at the hilltop entrance of Pena Palace in Sintra. Sept. 8, 2012
For centuries, Portugal’s aristocracy considered Sintra the perfect place to escape from Lisbon. We continued our Sintra adventure by hoping on the same bus to the hilltop of the Pena Place, then take the green shuttle trolley bus up another hill to the palace entrance. Pena is a Disney-esque magical hilltop palace that sits high above Sintra and the Moorish Castle ruins. Thankfully there was a restaurant so Debra and I were able to grab a late lunch while enjoying the magical views of the palace. Sept. 8, 2013
Me at the Pena Place in Sentra. In the 19th century, Portugal had a very romantic prince, German-born Prince Ferdinand. A contemporary and cousin of Bavaria’s “Mad” King Ludwig, Flamboyant King Ferdinand hired a German architect to build a fantasy castle which took from 1840 until 1885 when he died. Mixing elements of German and Portuguese style, the architect ended up with a Neo-fortified casserole of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets and Manueline carvings. Sept. 8, 2013
The depiction of a mythological triton on the exterior entryway at Pena Palace in Sintra, symbolizes the allegory of creation of the world. Sept. 8, 2012
After spending the day walking on medieval rock steps and enjoying the remains of the Moorish Castle and the Disney-esque Pena Palace, Debra and I picked up our dinner at a local cheese shop and headed to our room at the Tivoli Hotel in Sintra. This was the view from our balcony and how we spent our first night in Portugal…enjoying the views, after a nice hot shower, with a great bottle of Burmeister Ruby port wine. Sept. 8, 2013
After a good night’s sleep, I’m so glad we decided to spend our first night in Portugal in Sintra, because there was still more to see. I’m also glad we stayed at the Tivoli Hotel because it is across the way from Portugal’s oldest surviving and best-preserved medieval royal palace, Sintra’s National Palace. It dates back to Moorish times but most of what’s left is from the 15th century reign of King John I, with later Manueline architectural ornamentation from the 16th century.It is a present-day historic house museum. It is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sept. 9, 2013
Me inside Sintra’s National Palace. Sept. 9, 2013
The beautiful tile work inside Sintra’s National Palace. Sept. 9, 2013
Inside the Sintra’s National Palace. Sept. 9, 2013
An overview of Sintra from Sintra’s National Palace. Sept. 9, 2013
After our visit to Sintra’s National Palace, Debra and I headed to Lisbon to start our Rick Steves “Heart of Portugal” tour. Our original plan was to take a cab from the hotel to the Sintra train station, but the cab driver was able to take us straight to Hotel Lisbon Plaza in Lisbon. After meeting our group members and our guide, Maria Jose Aleixo, who gave us a rundown of our schedule. Then off to dinner we went, to enjoy rice, black beans, an assortment of meats and plenty of wine in the beautiful atmosphere of Leao D’Ouro restaurant. Sept. 9, 2013
This morning we took a group walk through Lisbon’s neighborhoods. Lisbon is a hilly port city and capital of Portugal. It has historic trolleys, grand squares, fine art, beautiful tiles and mosaic sidewalks. We spent our first full day in Lisbon walking through the colorful neighborhoods of the Bario Alto, the Alfama and the Baixa. Sept. 10, 2013
Part of our first full day group walking tour in Lisbon included taking a ride on the elevate de Santa Just a, the 150 foot tall iron elevator with an incredible city view. Originally populated by the Romans and Moore, Lisbon, with its vintage trolleys, bird-stained statues, faded ironwork balconies, multicolored tiles, mosaic sidewalks and red-tiled roofs with antique TV antennas, provides Portugal’s capital with a charming mix of then and now. Sept. 10, 2013
An incredible view of Lisbon from a stop the elevate de Santa Just a, the 150 foot tall iron elevator. Sept. 10, 2013
The Sao Jorge Castle in Lisbon which was first built by the Moors in the 11th century.
A long distance view of the Praça do Comércio Square in Lisbon near the Tagus river. Sept. 10, 2013
Our first full day in Lisbon included a free afternoon and evening so Debra and I enjoyed the National Tile Museum, (Juseu Nacional do Azulejo) housed in the Convento d Madre de Deus. Sept. 10, 2013
Me at the courtyard of the National Tile Museum housed in the Convento da Madre de Deus. This convent/museum with beautiful floor, wall and ceiling ornamentation was magnificent. The tile design behind me reminds of a quilt pattern. Sept. 10, 2013
Spending the afternoon of our first full day in Lisbon at the National Tile Museum, (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) housed in the Convento d Madre de Deus. The museum collection features decorative ceramic tiles or azulejos from the second half of the 15th century to the present-day. This is the opulent chapel dedicated to St. Anthony inside the museum. Sept. 10, 2013
A tile design in the National Tile Museum in Lisbon. Sept. 10, 2013
We spent the morning at the world-class Gulbenkian Museum. Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955), an Armenian oil tycoon, gave Portugal his art collection which includes this early 14th century Yuan dynasty China porcelain tea cup. Sept. 11, 2013
A sculpture that caught my eye is this “Homage to Jean Goujon” (1919-24) by French sculptor Alfred-Auguste Janniot (1889-1969) at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Sept. 11, 2013
After visiting the Gulbenkian Museum, we ventured over to the Belem District, which is three miles west of downtown Lisbon. The area is home to some important sights from Portugal’s Golden Age when Vasco de Game and company turned the country into Europe’s richest power. Belem was the send-off point for voyages in the Age of Discovery. Sailors would stay and pray here before embarking on their journey. The Belem Tower, built between 1515-1520, protected Lisbon’s harbor and welcomed its sailors home. The grand buildings of Belem even survived the great 1755 earthquake so this is the best place to experience the grandeur of pre-earthquake Lisbon. Sept. 11, 2013
In 1960, Portugal honored the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator by rebuilding The Monument to the Discoveries. The 170-foot concrete structure shows that exploring the world was team. It too is located in the Belem District. Sept. 11, 2013
In 1960, Portugal honored the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator by rebuilding The Monument to the Discoveries. The 170-foot concrete structure shows that exploring the world was team. It too is located in the Belem District. Sept. 11, 2013
King Manual, who ruled from 1495, erected the Monastery of Jeronimos, across from the Belem Tower and The Monument to the Discoveries, stretches along the Lisbon waterfront. A tomb for Vasco da Gama (1460- 1524) is housed in the cathedral even though his remains in the tomb are questionable. The beautiful laced architecture of the cloisters were also rather dazzling. Sept. 11, 2013
The supposed tomb of Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) housed in the cathedral of the Monastery of Jeronimos in the BelDistrict outside of Lisbon. Sept. 11, 2013
The beautiful laced architecture of the cloisters at the Monastery of Jeronimos in the Belem District outside of Lisbon. Sept. 11, 2013
Interior of the Monastery of Jeronimos’ cathedral’s main chapel in the Belem District outside of Lisbon. Sept. 11, 2013
We ended our time in Lisbon with a group dinner and a Fado performance. Although the origins of Fado are difficult to trace, it is commonly regarded as simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. Sept. 11, 2013
We left Lisbon and headed east to the Alentejo countryside and the old town of Evora which is contained within a medieval wall. The major sights include this main square from the first century A.D.; the Roman Temple, part of a Roman forum; the gothic cathedral of Santa Maria de Evora built in the late 12th century; the ancient city walls and the Chapel of Bones. Sept. 12, 2013
The Roman Temple of Evora, also known as the Temple of Diana, the ancient Roman goddess of the moon, the hunt, and chastity. The temple is believed to have been constructed around the first century A.D. Sept. 12, 2013
The cache of Santa Maria de Evora built in the late 12th century. Sept. 12, 2013
The gorgeous interior of the Santa Maria de Evora gothic cathedral built in the late 12th century. Sept. 12, 2013
An open air store along one of Evora’s narrow streets of Moorish origins, sells various carved cork ornaments. The bark of the cork tree is peeled without destroying the tree and it grows back within nine years, ready to be harvested again. Portugal is the world’s leading manufacturer of cork and represents 53% of world production. Sept. 12, 2013
Part of the ancient city wall of Evora. Sept. 12, 2013
The entrance to the Chapel of Bones, a small interior chapel is located next to the Church of St. Francis. Sept. 12, 2013
The Chapel of Bones, which was built in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk, has the interior of its walls covered with human skulls and bones. The monk wanted to transmit the message of life being transitory. This saying is clearly written at the entrance of the chapel: “We, the bones that are here, await yours.” Sept. 12, 2013
On our way to Nazare, we stopped to visit a working cork farm, Rovisco Garcia. We had an opportunity to walk through their forest of cord oaks to learn how the bark is harvested and to enjoy a delicious lunch. The Alentejo region is known for producing cork. After 25 years, a tree is mature enough for harvest. The outer bark is stripped from the trunk. It takes nine years for the bark to grow back and then can be harvested again. Sept. 13, 2013
We made it to Nazare late in the afternoon. This Atlantic-coast fishing town, turned resort, ws pretty cool especially since our hotel, Mar Bravo, was within the town and across from the beach. This was the view from our room, with an outdoor balcony. Sept. 13, 2013
We arrived early enough to walk along the main drag by the beach, the Avenida Da Republica. Sept. 13, 2013
And, time enough to catch this beautiful sunset over the Atlantic in Nazare. Sept. 13, 2013
From our home base in Nazare, our Rick Steves tour group ventured to Alcobaca where we visited this ornate Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria while paying respect to Portugal’s romantic tragic couple of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines de Castro, entombed at the monastery. Sept. 14, 2013
The chapel inside the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria in Alcobaca. Sept. 14, 2013
The cloister inside the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria in Alcobaca. Sept. 14, 2013
The tomb of Portugal’s romantic and tragic couple of King Pedro I and Dona Ines de Castro at the Cistercian Monastery of Santa maria in Alcobaca. Ines de Castro was a Galician noblewoman born of a Portuguese mother. She is best known as lover and posthumously-recognized as the wife of King Pedro I of Portugal. The dramatic circumstances of her relationship with Pedro began when Pedro was forbidden by his father King Afonso IV to marry her. Instead Pedro marries Constance of Castile, but when she dies, he seeks to marry Ines even though his father, King Alfonso, disapproved. So, after many attempts to keep them apart, Alfonso orders Ines to be killed while Pedro is out hunting. So enraged by the death of his beloved Ines, Pedro hunts down the killers. Some sources say that after Pedro became king of Portugal, he had Ines’ body exhumed from her grave and forced the entire court to swear allegiance to their new queen but this could also be a legend of their story. What is not a legend is that King Pedro and Ines buried opposite one another in the monastery so that, according to the legend, at the Last Judgment Pedro and Ines can look at each other as they rise from their graves. Sept. 14, 2013

 

For lunch, we stopped a lot market and ate our goodies at the 14th century walled in town of Obidos where we got to enjoy a wedding taking place. Sept. 14, 2013
Here I am at the 14th century walled in town of Obidos enjoying my first Ginja, cherry liquor served in an edible chocolate cup. Delicious! Sept. 14, 2013
The 14th century walled in town of Obidos. Sept. 14, 2013
The wall surrounding the 14th century town of Obidos. Sept. 14, 2013
Back in Nazare, we celebrated our last night at this Atlantic-coast fishing town with dinner in Sitio. To get to Sitio, we took the funicular which was originally built in 1889. Sept. 14, 2013
Back in Nazare, we celebrated our last night at this Atlantic-coast fishing town with dinner in Sitio. To get to Sitio, we took the funicular which was originally built in 1889. From the edge of the bluff, the view of Nazare and its beach was absolutely breathtaking. Sept. 14, 2013
Back in Nazare, we celebrated our last night at this Atlantic-coast fishing town with dinner in Sitio. To get to Sitio, we took the funicular which was originally built in 1889. At the town square was a celebration, the miracle of Nazare. Sept. 14, 2013

 

Back in Nazare, we celebrated our last night at this Atlantic-coast fishing town with dinner in Sitio. To get to Sitio, we took the funicular which was originally built in 1889. At the town square was a celebration, the miracle of Nazare. And, at dinner we had fish soup, which was plentiful and delicious, along with barnacles and shrimp for appetizers. This was my first barnacle experience, which I did not find tasty. Sept. 14, 2013
We left Nazare on our way to Coimbra and made several stops along the way including a visit to Portugal’s finest architectural achievement, the Monastery of Batalha with the statue of Nuno Álvares Pereira. The monastery was built by King John I who with his English queen, Phillippa, ruled from 1385-1433 and are entombed together in the Founders Chapel. The most beautiful part of the monastery is the unfinished, finely carved, enormous outdoor chapels. Sept. 15, 2013
The tombs of John I and Philippa inside the Monastery of Batalha. Sept. 15, 2013
Cloister hall of the monastery at the Monastery of Batalha. Sept. 15, 2013
The most beautiful part of the Monastery of Batalha is the unfitted, finely carved enormous outdoor chapels. This entryway is the portal of the unfinished chapel. Sept. 15, 2013
Another stop on our way to Coimbra included the pilgrimage site of Fatima where mass was being held at the Basilica. Fatima was made famous when three children, tending sheep on May 13, 1917, saw Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, when she appeared standing in an oak tree. Sept. 15, 2013
Our last stop on our way to Coimbra is the Conimbriga Roman ruins are Portugal’s best Roman site with rather impressive mosaics. Sept. 15, 2013
Our room at the Hotel Astoria in Coimbra had an outdoor balcony with beautiful views of the Mondego River and the Santa Clara bridge. Sept. 15, 2013
The balcony from our room at the Hotel Astoria in Coimbra. Sept. 15, 2013
Beginning our evening walk from our hotel, Astoria, in Coimbra before dinner. Sept. 15, 2013
An evening view of the college town of Coimbra and the third-largest city. Sept. 15, 2013
An evening view of the square in Coimbra. Sept. 15, 2013
The main square and buildings of the historic block of the University of Coimbra. Coimbra’s college town is Portugal’s version of Oxford. The 700-year-old university was founded in 1290. Sept. 16, 2013
A view of old town Coimbra and the Mondego River from a top Coimbra University. The building with the dome by the river is the Astoria Hotel where we stayed. Sept. 16, 2013
Gypsy woman statue in a Coimbra square. Sept. 16, 2013
A street in Coimbra. Sept. 16, 2013
Since Portugal is known for its stunning tile work, our tour guide, Maria, arranged for our group to design our own piece of tile as a souvenir. Maria is the woman with the dark her bending over in the middle of the photo. Sept. 16, 2013
Our evening entertainment was a Coimbra-style Fado performance. This performance was with three men, however the Fado performance we saw in Lisbon featured a woman singer. Feb. 16, 2013
We left Coimbra to head to the scenic Douro Valley, birthplace of port wine, with an overnight stay in the town of Pinhao. The Douro hillsides are horizontal homes to grape vines and olive trees. The drive up and around the hills is both beautiful and scary, but thankfully our bus driver did a wonder job on those narrow roads and hair-pinned curves. Sept. 17, 2013
The Quinta Santa Eufemia farm led by eldest sister Teresa walked us through the hilly grape vines and shows us how they produce the wine. Sept. 17, 2013
For lunch we had appetizers of little sandwiches with olive oil from the Quinta Santa Eufemia farm. The two main courses of cod fish with potatoes, beans and rice were utterly delicious and topped off with cream braille and cake for dessert. We also drank quite a bit of the family’s port and wine. Sept. 17, 2013
Another hotel with a gorgeous view from our room, but this time its in Pinhao at the Vintage House Hotel in the Douro Valley. Our beautiful hotel room had a balcony with a view of the Douro River. Sept. 17, 2013
The walkable bridge leading to Pinhoa’s town center. Sept. 18, 2013
Pinhoa, a quaint, quiet town is home to this beautiful train station adorned with tiles illustrating the people and traditions of the countryside. Sept. 18, 2013
The first thing we did when we hit Porto was to descend on the Cais de Ribeira, porto’s picturesque Old World riverfront with shops, restaurants and colorful traditional homes. We took a cruise of the Douro River and did a walking tour of Porto before checking into our hotel, the Grande Hotel do Porto on Rua de Santa Catarina in the bustling historic city center surrounded by shops and restaurants. Sept. 18, 2013
The shoreline of Old World Porto’s riverfront as we cruise the Douro River. Sept. 18, 2013
Porto’s Old World riverfront, Cais da Ribeira, with its shops, restaurants and colorful traditional homes. Sept. 18, 2013
Porto’s Old World riverfront, Cais da Ribeira, with its shops, restaurants and colorful traditional homes. Sept. 18, 2013
A walk through Porto leads us to the classic electric tram. Sept. 19, 2013
The Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina in Porto exterior is covered in blue and white tiles. This chapel dates from the early 18th century and was restored and extended in 1801. In 1929, the outer facades were faced with tiles. Sept. 19, 2013
The statue of Prince Henry the Navigator in Porto. Sept. 19, 2013
The Clerigos Church in the distance and on top of the hill in Port with its tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos, can be seen from various points of the city and is one of its most characteristic symbols. Sept. 19, 2013
The Clergies Tower in Porto. Sept. 19, 2013
Even the Sao Beto Train Station in Porto carries out the beautiful blue and white tile them with its impressive azulejo mural. Sept. 19, 2013
For a lunch break, Debra and I decided to have the local specialty, the Francesinha at the Majestic Cafe in Porto. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich originally from Porto, made with bread, spiced sausage, ham, roast beef, cheese served with a special sauce and french fries…topped off with a sparkling wine Sangria. Sept. 19, 2013
Our Rick Steves “Heart of Portugal” tour has come to an end and in celebration of a great tour, Maria, our illustrious tour guide, treated all of us to a glass of champagne before leaving for our last group dinner together. Sept. 19, 2013