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…