Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

The Best of the Rest: A potpourri of photos to round off our Braga adventure

It was a marvelous three months of investigation and adventures. As many of you dear readers know, our recent trip to Portugal was to figure out if this would be a country we could live in long-term. That premise shaped our choice of city, our daily agenda, and the practical matters of just doing life (shopping, dining, entertainment, weather, activities, etc.). The short answer to “Could we live here?” is yes…but…. We came to realize that we missed our Reno nest more than we thought we would, wanted to be able to conveniently reach our grandbabes and extended family, and were honestly not going to become fluent in Portuguese. However, if anyone asks for a recommendation on where to visit in Portugal I would definitely encourage time in Braga.

In no particular order, here are the final shares of our wanderings:

Church of São João do Souto, just at the edge of the historic pedestrian-only center, offered a Happy Hour special: a tour of the sanctuary and a glass of wine for €5. We admired the rooftop gargoyles and decorative carvings.
We were entertained by the adorable children running about the courtyard where we had our repast.
Clearly we had a lovely evening!
Across the walkway from the church was a pocket park that with an installation by the Portuguese artist João Alexandrino. The tile-faced polyptych marks the 25th anniversary of the Literature Grand Prize and (according to the interpretive plaque) “emphasizes the importance and power of contemporary arts and books in the culture”.
Another church roof that caught our eye. We loved the attention to detail and the variety in the carvings.
About 4 blocks from our flat is the Municipal Market; food booths indoors with a central open area filled with vendors who come in daily with fresh fruits and vegetables. This particular photo was taken the weekend of Carnaval. It was early evening and already there were shoulder to shoulders crowds, local musicians playing at full throat, and plenty of costumes, confetti, and ribbons. Fun fact we learned: turns out Braga has the largest population of Brazilian immigrants in Portugal.
We spent most of our Carnaval evening at an open-air cafe on the Praça. You can see Bom Jesus (covered in an earlier post) on the hill in the distance (just left of center). There was a festive and companionable vibe and lots of interesting people watching.
Bob was in such a jovial mood that he consented to having his photo taken at the Jardin de Santa Bárbara gardens.
We took a day trip to visit our dear friend, Lynne, in Moledo, a beach town at the very north end of the country. Our first destination was lunch at Louro Gastronomic, a Michelin-star restaurant that featured a 5-course winter tasting menu. We were the only table in the place but the staff didn’t shave off any amenities and provided us with excellent service. To our delight, the chef surprised us by expanding our meal into seven courses and added an extra dessert! Three hours, many plates of food, and two bottles of wine later we drove over to Ponte de Lima to see the medieval city’s beautiful Roman-built bridge.
Bob vs the Romans.
On our return drive to Braga we were gifted with a double rainbow.
As we got into the city and close to our flat we watched the crowds of people dressed in red making their way to the Braga Municipal Stadium for an evening futbol game.
Estádio Municipal de Braga was designed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. It was carved out of a rock at the site of a former quarry and consists of two sets of stands, connected to each other by steel wires. Notice the absence of handrails in the seating area.
One of our last outings was to the Museum of Archaeology D. Diogo de Sousa. This relatively modern museum (opened in 1980) has galleries beginning with pre-history and continuing through Roman Times and the Middle Ages.
Map showing Bracara Augusta, now Braga; founded in 20 BCE as the capitol of the province.
The city was named after Emperor Augustus, who reigned at the time of its founding. The mosaic behind the bust of Augustus is a hunting scene, dated 4-6C CE.
Broken piece from a Roman sculpture.
Marble relief with theater masks.

Now it’s just totally random stuff:

Museu do Traje Dr. Gonçalo Sampaio houses a small collection of musical instruments, costumes, and clothing indigenous to Northern Portugal.
Just had to get a photo of these tomatoes.
And these HUGE red peppers.
Shelves of boxed wine – even individual portions.
The week we were leaving and fully a month before Easter they were already decorating the streets for Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. It’s a big deal!
Scene in front of Braga Cathedral. Love the comfortable proximity of religious and secular activity.
A collection of brochures showing the range and variety of opportunities available during our stay.

And finally: throughout our time in Braga Bob and I played a bit of a guessing game about what you would call a person who lives in Braga. We toyed with Braganite (as in Renoite) and Bragatonan (as in Minnesotan) but it turns out the correct answer is Bracarense. Thank goodness for Google!

A Cultural Trifecta: a run of three wins

Braga, the third largest city in Portugal, is home to a great number of cultural attractions. First in abundance are religious edifices – churches, cathedrals, monasteries. In fact, Braga has the highest concentration of religious buildings in any Portuguese city. The first cathedral of Portugal was constructed here in 1089 and was the seat of power of Pedro de Braga, the first bishop of Portugal. And though we do enjoy a good cathedral (Bom Jesus from a previous post, for example) we also wanted to investigate the beautiful palaces and homes that are within the city center, so we chose 3 destinations over the course of 3 days.

Destination #1 – Raio Palace

Built in 1754-55 according to the design of André Soares, it was originally the residence of the
family of João Duarte Faria. The main entry door and balcony are cited as excellent examples of a baroque architecture style that is distinctive to Braga.
The central 3-story dual staircase.
As we head up we get a close look at the decoration on the upper portion of the walls which, to our surprise and delight, are not papered but painted. We were a bit taken with the top design on the tile going up the staircase.
To the top I go, as I admire the blue and white azulejo tiles that are a Portuguese classic. These glazed blue ceramic tiles from the 14th century decorate Portuguese cities.
A closer look at one of the panels on a mural wall. Found widely in churches, public buildings, and in the homes of wealthy families, these murals were used to tell stories.
Being handprinted, the joining of the tiles could be a challenge. These two angels were on either side of one of the murals. Oops.
Before leaving we took a quick look around the bottom floor which had a small gallery featuring a collection of works from local artists. This glass panel was a favorite.
Sometimes the functional commentary is as good as the exhibits.
That day’s lunch was at Rāo-Chā-Kao a fabulous spot Bob found for us. Reading the menu I had this thought: Ordering from a Thai menu in Braga is a parallel experience to ordering from a Thai menu in Reno. I still am not quite sure what I am getting until I see it arrive.

Destination #2 – Biscainhos Palace

We started out with lunch at Meze: Portuguese Toast (front; there is a delicious locally-made sausage patty hiding under those eggs), Marinated Chicken Hot Bowl, and green wine. We were really happy to find this place as it meant we could eat in the late afternoon. Traditionally, restaurants in Braga are open from noon – 3p and then reopen around 7:30-8p.
Photo taken from the first floor of the museum. Typical Braga: a mashup of two churches, a traffic triangle, modern sculpture, shops, and a busy bus stop. A couple of blocks away was our lunch spot, and the building I am standing in is a 17th C Baroque palace. The front of the palace was undergoing some renovations so not a great photo opportunity.
There were, however, lots of lovely views in the walled gardens.

Time to go indoors. The palace was in private hands for over 300 years and gives a glimpse of the lifestyle of Portuguese nobility.
The interiors are known for their plasterwork featuring hand-painted motifs.
The tiles, the painted border on the upper wall, the tea service!
To celebrate all that deliciousness (and to honor our grandson, Harper, who was celebrating his 5th birthday that day) we stopped by the gelato stand on our walk back to the flat. Kinder Bueno scoop for Bob and a mint chip cone for me.

Destination #3 – Nogueira da Silva Museum

This museum was founded by a donation given to the University of Minho in 1975 by António Augusto Nogueira da Silva, who made his fortune in commerce and finance. The original buildings that were incorporated into the current museum were built in the 50s and 60s and the architect, Rodrigues Lima, was given the direction to create a space that would serve as a cultural destination. The museum houses various collections including furniture, sculpture, paintings, tapestry, jewelry, and porcelain. There is also a gallery that exhibits works of University of Minho students and instructors, a small performance space, and an outdoor garden and fountains.

One of the first things to catch my eye was this luminous saucière. In the form follows function department it is not very successful as that bowl wouldn’t hold much sauce. But the shape is swoon-worthy. [Pardon me the aside, but if you really want to see some gorgeous silver I invite you to visit Reno and I will take you to see the Mackay silver collection in the Keck Museum at UNR.]
This piece, on the other hand, is a perfect example of function. You don’t even need a spoon. (Am I developing a thing for gravy boats?)
This one’s for my NoVa book group gang and comes with a reading recommendation: The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
A closer look at the intricacy of the carving and those laughing faces. They make me smile in return.
The lower level patio and tiled wall.
The upper gardens and fountain.
And one charming sculpture.
From two different sides.
No meal today…just coffee near the Praça and musical selections by an itinerant musician. Again, this is very typical for Braga. It is the rare day we don’t see entertainment somewhere in this pedestrian-only historic center. Destinations, food, and enjoyment less than 10 minutes from our front door!

Madrid: Olé! Olé!

Looking for a change of pace and space we decided to do a week-away in Madrid. The drive over (not quite 6 hours, toll roads through the snow-covered mountains, lots of tunnels; quite lovely.) brought us to this just-outside-the-urban-core neighborhood. It turned out to be a wonderful locale in most aspects. We had a decent grocery store down the block and a beautiful park a couple of blocks away. The sidewalks were wide and filled with restaurants and outdoor dining options. The downside: parking. Our Airbnb host was a bit disingenuous in telling us we would be able to find a spot for our car. (We were aware beforehand that parking in the city is difficult; we didn’t know that it would be almost impossible.) Our host emphasized that street parking in a “white” zone is free and that there were a number of white zones near the flat. True – there were white zones, but they were full, many cars not moving for days at a time. There were also green zones near the flat, but those were for residents with permits (if you could find one open you could get a 2-hour parking tag). Cars are ticketed and towed 24/7, and we didn’t relish getting up every 2 hours to refill the ticket machine, so we went on a hunt further afield for white zones. Two hours of navigating one-ways and narrow streets = no openings. Next tactic was to go on Google maps and drive to parking lots within a walkable radius to our housing. We found a half dozen that turned out to be private, full, or not allowing cars overnight. As we were beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with the challenge (I mean, you must find parking; you can’t just leave the car and figure it out tomorrow…) we saw a sign that indicated a parking garage that wasn’t identified on Google. Bob was able to both find an attendant and to converse with him in Spanish. We got a space for 7 days, with in-and-out privileges, for €80. A bargain, actually. And we were 4-5 blocks from “home”. You know that feeling that comes when you manage to leap a travel hurdle successfully? We had it.
View from our 4th floor flat. Not exciting, but typical. For our first day in the city we had booked an Airbnb experience titled “Off the Beaten Path: Tapas and beverages in a working class neighborhood”. Low and behold, the tour was within six blocks of our front door.

Our host, Isaac, is an expat from Detroit; gregarious, upbeat, and charming. We started our afternoon at Cerveceria A’Cochina with an aperitif of Spanish vermouth (served on the rocks and garnished with citrus and olive) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a mild red sauce). The vermouth was a happy surprise – somewhat sweet and nicely spiced. Our second beverage was a beer and lemon Fanta concoction that the restaurant is famous for. It was quite good, but the mussels that came with it were the real star.

Following Isaac through the busy streets we made our second stop at a standing only countertop where they doled out sauteed pig ears and Mahou (brewed and bottled in Spain) beer. The recommendation is to eat the ears right when they come to you as they get pretty springy and gelatinous as they cool. They were okay, though the texture was not really a winner for me – even hot.

A short distance from our pig ears course was Joyma Restaurante where we found a table outside in the sun and enjoyed a tall glass of summer red wine (a bit of a sangria-like combination of wine and fruit and spices) that was a nice palate cleanser. It came with a tapas plate of sliders made from Spanish omelet on toast and a side of fried potatoes and onions.

Our final stop of the afternoon (and probably a good thing because by now we had been eating and drinking for about 3 hours) was at El Callejon de Alverez Gato. Here we had both red and white wines accompanied by chorizo croquettes and a heavenly mushroom risotto. It was a filling and fulfilling start to our Madrid days.

An offshoot of the tapas experience: Bob went to our local Aldi store and picked up a bottle of vermouth for us to have at the flat. (Not quite knowing how to choose a worthy bottle for consumption he went all out and bought the most expensive one on the shelf – €4.) He also came back with with a new ice cream treat. Leche Merengada is a classic Spanish dessert that is typically served as a beverage but can also be frozen. It has a milk shake type of consistency and is flavored with lemon and cinnamon. For those of you who haven’t guessed yet – yes, it was time for vermouth floats!
One of the reasons we like having a car is for day trips outside the city. One sunny afternoon we took inspiration from Cervantes and headed out to the La Mancha region, north of Madrid. Our goal was windmills, but there were other sights to see as well, including this former castle as well as the walled city of Toledo.
This line of white windmills, the ones Don Quixote mistook for giants and attacked, are located outside the village of Consuegra (a word that translates to “the mother-in-law of one’s son”; interestingly enough).
To get to the ridge with the windmills we wound through the town, which had an eerily deserted feeling. We longed for these types of open street spaces back in our neck of the woods.
On our way back to Madrid we spotted one of the famous/infamous Osborne Bulls. Originally designed by a British company to advertise brandy, this symbol was embraced by Spain and has now become something of a cultural icon.
Just before we entered the city we passed Linear Park Manzanares and the intriguing Head of Ariadne sculpture. I think the line of admirers is a nice addition to the scene.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía courtyard. This was our favorite viewing afternoon and the photos that follow are all from that museum.
(As many of you blog readers are probably aware, photography of any kind is not allowed in most of the Madrid art museums, therefore I have few things to share visually. Sorry…)
Bronze from a display of indigenous clothing. She’s a beauty, and the floral work just glowed.
I loved everything about the Le Corbusier exhibit. His avant-garde architectural style has been embraced by much of Latin America and Spain. This photo shows one side of a model while the next photo is a close up of the drawings that can be seen through the windows.
Low and behold – miniature architecture renderings of the building and grounds. How perfectly delightful, and a bit cheeky.
The one that got me in trouble. I was so taken with this painting that I acted a bit spontaneously and took a (flashless) photo. Two museum workers rushed to my side, wagging fingers and clucking tongues, to remind me that photos were off limits. This oil, titled Adam and Eve, by Rosario de Velasco took my breath. That elaborate background work, the almost contemporary appearance of the couple, the every day pose of these two archetypes. Lush and evocative. Worth every bit of that scolding.
A photo that I was allowed to take: the schematic for one of the wings in the museum. The entire building, originally a hospital, formed a 4-story high square surrounding an open courtyard. The galleries were maze-like, no straight path from end to end. I found myself going back through rooms, some more than once. The good news is that much of the art was worth seeing again. Through one opening, walking south/downward from the red dot in the photo, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica took up the entire wall of the room. I knew it was going to be there. I have seen lots of prints and copies of it before. I was just not prepared for the overwhelming effect of it. It has stayed with my in a haunting sort of way.
One last stop in the courtyard to admire the fabulous Calder mobile.
Since we know that cooking diverse foods can be about as wonderful as eating them, we had signed up for a paella-making class. One of us (not Bob) loves paella and was looking for some tips and secrets. The class was small – only 4 of us, which made for nice conversations and a relaxed cooking experience. We did get tips: which wines are best for making Spanish dishes, how to identify a good smoked paprika, which ingredients are used for local/regional variations of the dish, the best variety of rice to choose, a reminder NOT to put in much heat as Spanish dishes are NOT spicy, and how to insure we get socarrat – that essential layer of crispy rice at the bottom of the pan that indicates that the paella has been perfectly cooked.
Our pan of goodness turned out really well and I am now ready to take on creating a meal for guests. Let us know when you can join our table group.
One final small town visit, Avila, with it’s intact historic walls and 80-plus crenelated towers. Within the walls are a cathedral, a convent, a monastery and a variety of housing options. The modern portion of the city is all outside the walls.
So it is adiós to our Madrid neighborhood and back to Braga. (Did those of you with sharp eyes notice the bull ring off to the right side in the first photo in this posting? Just checking.)

You Have Arrived

Greetings from Braga, Portugal. We have been here a month and it has been a unique start to our 3-month stay: rainy, informative, delicious, and relaxing.
Our flat is conveniently located just off a main thoroughfare, only a 5-minute walk from the city’s historic plaza (Praça da Republic), a less than a 10 minute drive to a couple of great grocery stores, two multiplex theaters, a huge mall, and an Ikea. Add in a number of neighborhood pastelarias (pastry shops), vegetable/fruit stands, and restaurants, and we are in what is turning out to be an ideal location. (Oh – and our building provides a reserved parking space in an underground garage and an elevator.) Observation: most of the housing complexes in Portugal (excepting for the historical zones) look pretty much like those you see in the photo. The uniformity is striking.
First up on our list for settling in: adding feathers to the nest. The flat is spacious and comfortable but lacked a bit in its depth of amenities – particularly for a “Chef Bob” kitchen. It always amazes us what hosts supply – and don’t supply. For instance, who doesn’t need a paring knife, dish towels, a pizza pan, aluminum foil, dinner bowls, and pepper? There was more we ended up purchasing, but you get the idea.
We were itching to do some site seeing, but the rainy weather for the first couple of weeks kept us indoors much of the time. I did try an extended walk one afternoon and got surprised by a sudden shower. Almost got my umbrella turned inside out; came home wet to the bone. Most days we opted to stay dry and warm, and I occupy myself by painting, knitting and wearing my newly acquired and eye-poppingly colorful TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses) socks.
One evening, to keep from going stir-crazy, we braved the weather and went to Bicla Burger, a couple of blocks from the flat. We both loved our meal, not to mention the beer prices – less than $2/bottle.
The fries (should I say chips?) came in this British-inspired paper cone. Take a moment to read the print… What???
We were amused by the restaurant’s repurposing of mattress springs as a lighting feature. (This isn’t the first time I have found proof that it is alway wise to look up, right?)
On another less-than-seriously rainy evening we headed for a lovely park that had a pizza restaurant. It was a nice walk and excellent pizza: cracker-thin crust and interesting ingredients (salted cod, prawns, truffle carpaccio).
One of the other things beside nearby restaurants that has been a real boon is finding a fitness center just a short drive from the flat. (Allowing us to eat more pizza, maybe?) Our monthly (and reasonable fee) gives us access to both the facility and all classes; they even have private parking. So 3-4 times each week Bob heads for the upper level – recumbent bike and weight machines, and I go to the pool. Pool rules dictate that I have to wear a swimming cap and I also wanted my own water weights so it was off to a sporting goods store. Decathlon provide us with a new experience. To check out you just dump all the stuff you want to buy into the bin and, voila!, via the miracle of technology, all your tags are read and you get your bill.
We have a dear friend who lives in Porto, so as the weather got more favorable we made plans to meet there for lunch. We could have driven into the city (about 35 minutes) but decided to experiment with the train. What we learned: the Braga station is close to our flat (walkable distance but major roads in between nudged us into driving), parking for the day was €2, the trip took an hour and had 25 stops and cost €3.25/person (one way). There was some great people watching and pleasing scenery.
Lunch at Traça, our favorite! Based on our friend, Kerry’s, recommendation we shared a venison carpaccio. Bob had wild boar and I had veal. There was the requisite green wine to accompany, of course.
Traça is just a short walk from the beautiful São Bento Station. In a post from an earlier visit I shared photos of the stations’s interior walls and the gorgeous tile work. To mix things up, here’s an exterior wall from a building adjacent to the tracks.
Looking for a change of scenery we decided on a short road trip. Just a 45-minute car drive north from Braga is Portugal’s only National Park: Peneda-Geres. The experience is different from that of parklands in the states as the Peneda-Geres area is designated but not contained within conventional boundaries. There are small communities and various roads throughout. It was a curvy and steep excursion and well worth the afternoon.
The weather got clearer just as we welcomed a visit from our nephew, the amazing and the I-am-thrilled-we-are-related-to-this-great-human-being, Kyle. One of our first outings was to Bom Jesus do Monte – a Braga must-see. This is the view from the cathedral at the top of the mount.
And this is the view after walking down to the plaza. Note: those diagonal railings at each side designate a flight of stairs. Lot of steps, interestingly crazy fountains, and an appreciation of how this all got constructed.
Kyle and I standing at the terrace in front of the cathedral. Photo credit: Bob.
The cathedral interior. The art above the alter is a sculptural interpretation of the crucifixion.
The cathedral ceiling.
Bob catching me looking (predictable) up.
A trip to Guimaraes, an historic town and an UNESCO sited based on the preservation of its medieval origins. We walked up into the walled city, continued uphill to the Duke’s Palace, and after a wonderful visit that included exquisite tapestries, we again walked upward to the Castle.
And so went January. As for the rest of 2023, I stay open to nudges. This was on my tea bag from a beverage I had at Dulles before boarding our flight to Portugal. More next month…

We Land on the Islands: Madeira and The Azores

Having covered much of mainland Portugal we decided to spend our last two weeks checking out island life. First stop:


Our first view of Madeira, an archipelago of four islands that is known for its namesake wine and warm, subtropical climate (think Caribbean).
The main island of Madeira is green and rugged. The island itself is actually atop a volcano. Note the deep gorges leading down to the ocean. This topography presents a challenge for road construction and thus for getting around to sightsee. (More on that coming up.)
We stayed in Funchal, the capital. This view, from our back patio, was a 15 minute walk downhill to the harbor and the city center. The walk back to the house took longer, truthfully, because there was not a level stretch along the entire route. We spent time on the patio each day and remarked on the constant presence of cruise ships. Some days only one but often as many as three.
A park near the harbor in Zona Velha, the old historic center. There were also lovely pocket parks sprinkled along my return route to the house. I made note of them as I was walking downhill just in case I felt the need for a rest stop on my way back up. Good news is that I made it all the way without taking a break.
This cleverly done mural shows women doing traditional Madeira hand embroidery. I loved the way they incorporated the building’s windows into the lanterns. When the lights were on indoors it made the lamp panes glow authentically.
Our rental unit was absolutely charming and well appointed, even down to the Portuguese fishermen water spouts. The only drawback was parking, which was on a deeply curved shoulder-less 2-lane street with 2-way traffic INCLUDING city buses. Lots of honking, yielding, and taking turns. Yikes!
Just a couple of blocks from our rental was a wonderful bakery where we came across two new (to us) delicious treats. In the foreground are rice muffins. Even Bob, who does not like rice claiming it has no taste, took a fancy to these. At the back are custard-filled phyllo pastries topped with a baked meringue. We quickly found out that you had to get to the bakery early if you wanted the phyllo pastries as they were often sold out by mid-morning.
Off on a day trip to the western-most point on the island. To get to the towns we wanted to see we had to drive at the top of the mountain ridges on gaspingly close-to-the edge, barrier-less roads. In spite of my discomfort with heights I did step one foot out of the car to take this photo. Bob, fortunately, is an incredibly terrific and unruffled driver.
The other challenge is that once you start down or up there was no turning back. (Remember those deep gorges shown in the top photo of this post?) This capture from our GPS gives an idea of the curves, switch backs and bridges (black/white section in middle of map) we navigated.
Looking back and down to see the route we had just traveled.
In many places the steep mountain sides were covered with staggered tiers planted with banana trees.
One of our destinations was outside of Camara de Lobos – the famous Cabo Girao. Take a moment to look at the drawing of the overlook…
…because, yes, you had to walk out onto the glass platform to get the full view.
Despite the overcast weather it was breathtaking.
As we got lower and closer to the water the weather changed in our favor. We stopped at a local fish restaurant in Calheta. It felt like we had the entire promenade to ourselves. As you can see, beaches in Madeira are rock/stone except for where they make an artificial one. They build an enclosure and fill it with sand brought in from the Sahara. You can just see a sand-filled area at the top right of the photo.
The view from our restaurant. A good day for waves.
Back in Funchal we parked the car near the harbor and walked the Rua de Santa Maria. This mural, at one of the entrances to the street, pretty much captured the highlights of our road trip.
This pedestrian-only street houses Projecto artE pORtas abErtas (the Art of Open Doors Project). This collaborative public art effort was undertaken to reclaim aging structures and enhance the cultural appeal of the old city.
This one caught our eye.
But this was definitely my favorite. The clever integration of the door hardware: the doorknob and lock in the bubbles, the mail slot in the seat of the swing, and especially the door knocker that forms the clasp in the mermaid’s hair.
On our final evening on the island we went to a restaurant at the top of the road behind our house. This establishment was recommended by our hosts because of the terrific view…
…as well as for the superb Espetada, a dish originating from the island of Madeira. It traditionally consists of large chunks of beef that are rubbed with garlic and salt and skewered before being grilled over hot coals. Can you tell that Bob loved it?
Coming out of the restaurant we admired the gorgeous colonial-style villa essentially hanging onto the side of the mountain.
And we are off to our next stop:

The Azores!

This archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is comprised of nine islands. We stayed on São Miguel, nicknamed “The Green Island” (Ilha Verde). We flew into Ponta Delgada, the island’s largest city, and immediately jumped into our rental car and headed for the northwest corner of the island to Mosteiros, Portuguese for monasteries. This tiny town of just over 1000 inhabitants offered us a damp and windy week that also allowed us to get in some quiet time before we headed back to the states.

Our rental unit was unique in that it curved around to follow the street that lead to the beach. You can spy the retaining wall at the end of the street on the left of the photo.
Inside there were also some interesting areas to contend with. In this old house, the remodeled cooking area was formerly a wood-burning oven built into the back wall. Bob bumped his head more than once while trying to do some meal prep.
Aside from the quirks of our rental, our location was excellent for when we had sunny days and could walk down to the black sand beach. These outcroppings are graben, which indicate faults or rifts in the ocean floor. In fact, one of the other Azore Islands, São Jorge, was being evacuated while we are in the area because of extensive earthquake activity.
Regardless of the weather we enjoyed evening beverages purchased from our local food stand and on more than one occasion we are entertained by people attempting to surf.
One evening we were rewarded with this spectacular sunset. Photo courtesy of my Bob.
You can drive around the entire island of São Miguel in about 2.5 hours so of course a car outing was on our agenda. The roadsides are filled with flowers year-round, and they are particularly gorgeous when the hydrangea hedges are in bloom in late July and early August. In case you would like to see what we missed check out I was also fascinated by what looked like hedge rows in the fields. These are actually old rock walls covered with foliage.
We pulled off at a miradouro (viewpoint) to get a sense of the coastline. You can see more of the greenery-covered rock walls in the upper right.
Sunning themselves on the ledges of the overlook were lots – LOTS – of lizards. They would scatter if we came near but if we waited quietly they once again braved our presence and came our for more warm rays.
One of our focused stops was a tea factory.
Tea fields on the mountain side.

Tea fields leading down to the ocean.
While Bob went indoors to tour the manufacturing area and look at the old machinery I spent time looking at the out buildings on the property. Not being a fan of pigeons I almost didn’t take this photo…but that weathered structure was just too good to pass up.
The last stop on this outing was the parish of Furnas. It sits in the bowl of a volcano and has a large lake including fumaroles (openings in or near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge) and mudpots. You can see the effect of the sulfurous gas in the green color of the water which gets brighter green near shore. There are public baths on that side of the lake but the odor was so strong I had to ask Bob to keep moving along.
Back to our rental and another evening walk about our quaint town. It takes us less than an hour to cover the entire community; west to east, north to south. This waterway runs along the street behind our house.
Walking uphill about four blocks we arrive at the town plaza with the town’s only church alongside. During our road trip we noticed that each town had its own Catholic church and remarked on how essentially identical all of the churches were. We found this quite unusual in that in our experience churches tend to have local distinctions. We speculated that the same footprint and materials may have been a cost effective way to get structures build throughout the island. Other suggestions welcome…
Hey Lake City, Minnesotans! It’s no Patton Park but it is a picturesque gazebo.
Stating the obvious, this town has a robust cat population. Every morning on our front patio there are eight butterscotch-colored and one black cat. We have to keep doors and windows closed so that they don’t try to come inside. The cats are fed by the woman who lives across the street from us. Feline dining at her abode, warm sunshine for naps at our place.
We observed the effect that an ocean climate has on structures, though this wall has a unique beauty to it. A downside corollary to the dampness was the challenge for drying a load of laundry (no electric dryer+rainy days+high humidity), the moisture that left sheets and rugs feeling a bit clammy, and the mold that grew on my suitcase that was near an outside wall. But, hey, we have been through worse. We slept in a gully-washing rainstorm in the Boundary Waters where my dear husband admonished me to “Just warm up a puddle and go back to sleep.”
And a final indulgence: our rental was on Rua de Cemitério (Cemetery Street) and this colorful memorial spot was next door to our building. It made me think of my father, Roy, and his dry sense of humor. When driving through the countryside on a Sunday “spin” he would spot a cemetery and ask: ” Why do cemeteries have fences around them?’ Though we had heard this query many times before we kiddos in the backseat would oblige him with a “Why, Dad?” To which he would chortle and answer joyfully, “Because people are dying to get in there.” Thanks for allowing me to share…

We are now back in our Reno nest, happy to sleep in our own bed. As after every trip we talk about what we missed and want to do now that we are home. My choices this go-round were to eat a big salad and drink a large-sized coffee with creamer. (In most of Europe coffee comes in a thimble and the whitening option is milk.) Bob’s choices were a shower with constant hot water pressure and a gas stove to cook on. We have both already had our longings come true. We are grateful.

We Used to Say Al’-gaarv; We now say Al-gar’-vay.

Our last stay on the mainland before heading off for a couple of weeks on the islands was on the beautiful southern tip of Portugal, in the tiny town of Bagau. The Algarve is known for its white sand beaches, abundance of storks, and picturesque fishing villages. Being that we were traveling in spring we knew we would have to deal with some rain so were not dismayed when we got socked in for a few days at the beginning of the week. Fortunately we had a lovely near-to-the-water and very comfortable condo for waiting out the storms while being able to also watch the changes in weather.
One of the changes, and a complete surprise to us, was the arrival of rain combined with a dust storm comprised of sand that originated in the Sahara Desert. When we got the alert for “clay rain” on our phones we were not quite sure what to expect. The top portion of the photo is at sunset on the first day of the approaching storm. The bottom photo was taken 48 hours later, at the exact same time in the evening. (Neither photo edited.)
At top, a sunset during the clay rain; at bottom the sunset taken at the same time, again 48 hours later, again unedited.
The post-storm residue that coated everything outdoors, including our car.
We took one very nice day trip to Faro, the capital of The Algarve region and about an hour away from Bagau. Though crowded, we had no trouble finding parking near the pedestrian-only town center. The building directly in from of where we parked is Lethes Theater, a former Jesuit collage.
On our walk to find some history and some lunch we came across this vibrant window display. Couldn’t resist taking a photo.
I admired this set of windows for their cheeky asymmetry, the iron window detail, and the harmonic components of the rooftop.
Sometimes it is just a sweet window statement that stands out.
Sometimes it is a peak into the past via a look inside an old wall.
Then there is this beauty to enjoy: the tiles on the front, the undulating balcony railing, the lunette about the windows (maybe French doors?), the flower garland tiles and the banister atop it all.
Our destination was Arco da Vila, the gateway to the city through the original Moorish wall.
Close-up of the vaulted ceiling.
On top of the Arc – storks, of course!
For reference: that Arco grouping does not compare to what we dubbed “stork hotels” that are abundant in areas with electric power lines stretching across the countryside. (I apologize for the lack of definition on this photo. It was taken as Bob was motoring along the toll road at 120km/hr.)
We have a wide range of lunch options. Our choice was not this pastalaria as we wanted more hearty fare, but I did like the sentiment in the window.
On the way back to the car I spotted this mural in an alley. Too pretty to be hidden away.
Took a different route back to our beach digs. We were rewarded with this architecturally stunning bridge.
I have a new tree to add to my list of favorites: Stone Pine. Bob kept calling them lollipop trees. He claims he couldn’t remember the name. I gave him a mnemonic to use (think of our friends, Judi and Brad Stone) but he has yet to adopt it.
Back to our flat. Every time I came to the top of the stairs and saw this cutout in the wall I had to remind myself that I am was not viewing artwork but looking at the hillside. I am now officially on the lookout for images that are framed by architecture.
One final dust storm photo before I end this post. And we are off…

Three Cities; Three Vibes

On the road. We were tempted to take a detour to Constancia. How often do you find a town that shares your name? Going on our list for another time… But on to the cities we did visit.

For a country that is approximately the same size as the state of Indiana we are constantly amazed at the the diversity Portugal offers. By the time our latest adventure is concluded we will have driven the entire length of the country (it takes about 5 hours if you do it in one continuous trip) and even jumped off to a couple of islands. We are finding some wonderful cities to explore and have taken great road trips. FYI: When exploring we routinely get off the main roads, which are primarily toll ways, and opt for the more scenic byways. Overall we have found that the milage (kilometerage?) of one route versus another is pretty equivalent. The big difference is time – and that we have lots of.

Since gas prices are currently a hot topic I am happy to report that our first rental, a Toyota Corolla hybrid, got 42 mpg and our current car, a Toyota C-HR hybrid, is getting 51 mpg. Some of you may be wondering, “Why two cars?” Our insurance coverage using our travel card is only good for 30 days, so a 60 day trip = two 30 day contracts. A minor inconvenience to make the switch but well worth it. And heck, with the size of Portugal it’s not far back to the Lisbon airport!

Aveiro: known in country as the Venice of Portugal

This absolutely charming city does have some Venice-like qualities. The canals are navigated by colorful boats that were traditionally used to harvest seaweed.
The pedestrian bridges over the canals are beautifully and colorfully decorated with ribbons.
There are various pieces of artwork adorning the balconies. This school of fish tickled me as it seems that the fish are leaping into the window.
Murals on the seawall depict things Aveiro is known for. In this case it’s fish and signature egg-based edibles. (More about that coming …)
On this bright sunny day we took advantage of the many outdoor dining options. The restaurant we chose for late lunch had a menu of “only things from the pig” as our waitress informed us. The meat was cooked on a rotisserie and the portion we received was chopped into wedges and presented in a basket. It came with fried potatoes, an exception to all pig, but the potatoes were fried in lard so I guess that counts. After lunch, on our way back to the car, we were taken with this pink vignette which compelled us to stop for some coffee and a bite of dessert. (Lots of things compel us to do that.) Just because some eagle-eyed reader is likely going to ask: the bust is Gustavo Ferreira Pinto Basto, a general and 2-time mayor of Aveiro, and the tent to his left is a covid testing station.
Now for the signature edibles. These are Ovos Moles, a traditional sweet with a filling made from egg yolk, sugar, and water. Traditionally, the filling is not stirred in a circular motion but mixed by moving a paddle back and forth or side to side.
The filling is put into moulds that are lined with rice paper, similar to a communion wafer. The mould shapes have a nautical theme.
Bob enjoyed his with a glass of red wine. Douro winery of course.

Coimbra: a former capital of Portugal and its 4th largest city

Just two blocks from our flat, at the top is these stairs is the University of Coimbra. Established in Lisbon in 1290, it went through a number of relocations until moving permanently to Coimbra in 1537. This institution is among the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and the oldest in Portugal.
The university is in the midst of the city high atop a hill.
The views from the top level of the campus are stunning.
We visited The Square, which is currently undergoing a lot of construction. The building at the right sports a construction cover with an image of how the finished work will look.
The administrative building has carvings across the front that represent the eight faculties. This is Education, chosen for personal reasons. (A bravo shout out to my teacher friends.)
Within the campus grounds is a very uniquely designed botanical garden with three tiered levels. On the top/entrance level are green houses.
The next level down has sculpture gardens and water features.
At the bottom level includes walkways and a fountain.
Heading back up to where I started.
Along the way I came across one of my favorites: a Plane Tree. (This one is for you Patty Bartscher.)

All-in-all a lovely day of discoveries. Though the weather was a bit chilly and the wind was blowing so hard it actually snatched the sunglasses off my face, it was definitely worth the climb. That said, it was also nice to have a short walk home.

We were directly across the street from Praça da República (Republic Square). Our building is the pinkish one with a green door, pretty much in the center of the block. The University is behind the trees on the right. The first floor of our building houses a bar and restaurant; actually mostly a bar, as we found out on our second night in town when the students were celebrating Carnaval until almost 4am. (Lots of party music sounds the same when you don’t know the words.) The street going up hill (left side of photo) leads to a roundabout and the 16th C. aqueduct.
The one kilometer long aqueduct has 21 arches and is lit beautifully at night. In the center is a statue of Pope John Paul II.
At one end of Praça da República is a very large and lush park. The sidewalks around the square and leading up to the park are filled with restaurants; everything from kebobs to sushi; burgers to pizza.
One of the restaurants we chose NOT to eat at.
One of the restaurants we loved for “take away”. Their numbered menu offers 100 hundred different sandwiches, most priced at €1 with none going over €3. Admittedly, the sandwiches were made on a not-so big 4-inch bun and we didn’t know exactly what were were ordering some of the time (at one point we just ordered favorite numbers) they were all delicious and some quite unusual. Great way to sample.
Our favorite restaurant, right by the aqueduct. We went here early in the week and were wowed by the food and the wine list. It was so good that we decided to make this the place for our last-evening-in-the-city meal. We walked in and got seated and a waiter came over to us and said, “You’re back!” Sort of a Norm being greeted at Cheers moment.
Looking into Papa’s as we walk home after dinner.

And now for some random moments…

Shoe tossing; yes, even here.
While we do eat at a fair number of restaurants we almost always have breakfast in our rental spaces. That means we do a good amount of shopping for breakfast items. Since these chips are prosciutto and egg flavored I figured they might count as first meal of the day fare, so they went into our cart. They were amazingly addicting and were also eaten for meals other than breakfast, while they lasted.
Better sense prevailed and I passed on this nougat-filled chocolate cereal. I couldn’t get past the picture on the box.

Évora: a must-see walled city

This map gives a good overview of the city. The center ringed area is the main shopping, though there are small restaurants and shops scattered throughout the entire town. The University of Evora is in the upper right quardrant, adjacent the wall at about 2 o’clock. Our flat is located under the bright green X, convenient to a city gate and free parking. (No cars are allowed in the city unless you have a resident pass.) The proximity was particularly appreciated when we were jostling our roller bags over cobblestone streets.
All of the city streets are one-way and gates are one directional as well – entrance or exit. This is “our” gate, an exit only, and our rental was less than 3 blocks from this corner.
This photo was taken right outside our front door, looking down the street in the direction we walked to get to the gate and our car. Note the power cable that runs outside the buildings. This is common throughout the city. Getting electricity to these old structures is a challenge.
Off on a city jaunt. As we turn a corner to go into the center of town we spy this old church. I was taken with the uneven patio stones that show wear and the passing of time in juxtaposition to the power cord draping across the exterior wall.
This door!
In Centro we come to Praça do Giraldo, named in honor of Giraldo the Brave, who led the fight to oust the Moors. (He won, BTW.) Bob takes a break from walking to ponder a broken torso sculpture installation.

I headed down to check out what I thought was an unusual tree. Turns out it was cleverly made of scrap metal.
It’s always a treat to hear some good jazz. Doubly good because it doesn’t need to be translated from Portuguese into English.

Atop one of the cathedrals we spot a stork on its nest. We have been seeing both storks and nesting spots since leaving Coimbra. They are actually quite common in Portugal, especially in the Algarve, where we are headed to next.

This iron gate in front of a tiled wall made for an eye-catching pattern on pattern composition.
One of our best adventures was an outing to Almendres Cromlech, a megalithic complex which dates back to the 6th millennium BC. – older than Stonehenge.
Formed in a circular pattern, the site is made up of 95 granite menhir, or standing stones, deposited in small groups.
Due to age and environmental erosion it is difficult to see the carved drawings on the stones. To aid recognition they are highlighted using a UV sensitive liquid.
It felt good to hang out with some hard rock types that were even older than me.
Almendras Cromlech is surrounded by an old cork forest. The trees were incredible. I am sort of embarrassed by how many photos of them I took. Then again, maybe not.

Tomorrow we are off for the Algarve. I will keep you posted. Adeus from Portugal, where even the bridge support columns are beautiful.

Porto: Thirty-Six Square Blocks and Some Road Trips

We are back in one of our all-time favorite cities! On our previous visit (pre-covid) our rental flat was in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. (For a recap of that visit, photos of our beautiful views, and stories of various vagabond activities: For this go-round we decided that staying near the historic center of Porto would be an interesting change of pace. Bob did the research and found us a rental that was a 15-minute leisurely stroll into Centro with its gorgeous São Bento train station and must-eat-at Traça restaurant (where the prato da dia was olives, bread, squash soup, baby mushroom risotto, coffee; it met our lofty expectations).

This is the block where our flat was located. It is clearly a transitioning neighborhood. Much of the new construction is narrow and, frankly, quite visually stark.
Case in point: this is building where our flat is located. The good news – there was a dedicated parking space (note the roll-up door) and an elevator for conveniently taking our suitcases and grocery bags up to the third floor.

I thought it might be fun to share our neighborhood so I decided to take a boundaried walkabout. Using our flat as the center point I walked three blocks in each direction and did some investigating of what I would find within those thirty-six square blocks. (I am using the term “blocks” pretty loosely as very few of the intersections meet at 90 degrees and some junctions branch out in 5 or more directions. It’s good to be flexible in our thinking.) Within that zone we had at least one bakery (padaria) and a fruit stand per block, 4 motorcycle showrooms, a decent grocery store, a unique pizza place for easy takeout, a meat market, a variety of hair salons/barber shops, a laundromat, and a nice mix of other eating/shopping establishments.

This corner, just 2 blocks from the flat, is across the street from a large hospital. Always busy; great coffee and an excellent spot for people watching.
The beautiful house fronts directly across the street from the coffee shops. Those tall doors, the circular grill work above the doors, varied embellishments under the windows. Details, details, details! (And I am not going to bore you with my enthusiasm for the roller shades…those of us who like to sleep in a cave are great fans.)
Not more than a couple of blocks from the coffee shops is a practice field complex for the Porto Foot-ball Club.
Look closely – I did manage to peek through a fence and watch a bit of the action.

Go Dragões!!

Down a couple of blocks (Bob and I have an ongoing domestic debate about what “down” means…after over 45 years of marriage we still have not reached concensus, so I am hoping you will just trust me here and know that we are still within those 36 square blocks) is a beautiful park with a metro stop.

This park, along with a number of others we have seen in Portugal, offers walk-in free rapid covid tests. Impressive response to the pandemic.

And now for some random visual delights:

A lovely tile front.
A unique approach (a compromise?) to no tile but not spartan.