Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

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.
Across the street from our flat is building with a unique tile front, the only design like this I have seen in my Porto jaunts.
A lovely green window detail to break up the concrete.
The ever-present graffiti on buildings along the parkway.
Back home in time for cocktail hour. The view doesn’t compare to what we had on our last visit nor is it like what we left behind in Cascais, but we pretty much knew what we would be looking at when we decided to go full-on urban. Cocktails, on the other hand, are deliciously consistent.

We could have comfortably hunkered down into our neighborhood and had a happy stay but we had places to go and, more importantly, people to meet. Two of our dear friends, Lynne and Kerry, have relocated from Reno to Portugal (in Moledo and Porto, respectively); we were eager to catch up with them so we exchanged texts and arranged for a beach afternoon on the north coast.

The beach front in Moledo. We had a beautiful day for being out and about.
We drove up the coast for a late lunch of tapas of which the polvo (octopus) was a highlight.
The batatas fritas (fried potatoes) and carne de porco (pork) were also gobbled up quickly. As Bob would say, “bring me mine with gravy over the whole plate.”
On our way back to the house we stopped at the weekend market in Terres de Cervaria. This mansion, alongside the square, is said to be done in Brazilian style, which I find interesting as Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese and Brazil’s architectural style is based on that Portuguese influence. I think we have a chicken/egg thing going on here.
We peeked into the tourist center (which had closed for the day) to see the display of crocheted items that this area is famous for. Every two years the downtown is decorated with crochet sculptures and installations that cover trees and buildings and fill shop windows. Looks like we will have to plan a return trip.
I was intrigued by this clock which seems to portray the evolution of man. (I am open to other interpretations.)
And my eye was also snagged by this Pinocchio marionette. Unfortunately too big for my suitcase so it won’t be coming back to the USA to delight my grands.

Overall, a lovely day spent doing pleasant things with two life-affirming and truly gracious women. As we exchanged thank yous the next day Kerry treated us to a photo of the ocean view she had that morning while enjoying coffee in Porto (Foz area). She gave me permission to share.

Pretty spectacular! And a testament to the beautify of this area.

One more road trip – actually two because we were so wowed on our first day that we went back for another taste. It’s BRAGA!!

North of Porto about 40 minutes (55 km) is Braga, the oldest city in Portugal; known for its Baroque architecture, its college, and its religious roots throughout history. Entered via one of the four city gates, the entire historic city center is pedestrian-only.

Within the walls we admired buildings and gardens.

Tempting though it was we didn’t make any purchases at the sardine store.

As much as we enjoyed our time on foot we also made a side trip to….

At the end of this hallway is IKEA! The store anchors a huge complex that also has a hospital, the futbol stadium, and lots of other retail. It had a Mall of America feel.
Bob, a connoisseur of grocery stores, was smitten. (The fact that he likes them also means he likes shopping in them. This so works for me.)

And finally, a few random bits with accompanying photos. Who knew 2 quiet weeks in the city would result in so much to post about?!?

On our first lunch in Porto, Bob ordered a Francesinha – the official sandwich. (Bread, ham, linguiça, fresh sausage (chipolata), steak or roast meat, cheese, topped with an egg and spiced tomato and beer sauce, traditionally served with fried potatoes in some form.) He loved it.
He ordered it again in Braga. Same stuff different approach. And once again, he loved it.
Let’s hear it for a wine menu that has an extensive list of vino verde options. (As Kerry and Lynne say, “Are we drinking red or green?”) Back in the states I consider myself lucky it there is one vino verde offered. Here we keep coming across new bottles to try. Happily, we are up to the challenge.
While Bob gravitates toward sandwiches I am consistently drawn to the tiles. When we were in Barcelona a couple of years ago I opined that it must do something wonderful to your brain to be surrounded by all of the art and design that a person is immersed in daily in that environment. I think Portugal, and especially Porto, brings that same brain buzz for me. It feels good to be here.

Formula for Successful International Travel: (2P+T) x Fl / C + BA = Portugal!

Just what we wanted to see before packing our bags. Can’t say enough good things about this home test kit – ease of use, computer support, friendly phone app.

WIth a nod to former math lessons on the order of operations, the above formula pretty much sums up our latest travel adventure: Twice the patience plus tenacity multiplied by flexibility and divided by covid and British Airways resulted in an overall happy landing in one of our all-time favorite places, Portugal. (An aside on British Airways: a challenge from start to finish. Poor communication, abysmal website, lethargic service providers, and the repeated excuse of “something is wrong in the computer” when everyone knows that SOMEONE put that something in there in the first place. Even the fact that our flights were relatively empty was countered by finding out that the armrests in our cabin were fixed, meaning you could not lift them up to avail yourself to more comfortable seating. Enough complaining…really…we were happy with travel overall and we got where we wanted to be safely.)

After almost 24 hours of wearing an N95 face mask, a seamless connection through Heathrow to Lisbon (Heads up: the Posh Cheese and Pickle sandwich from Pret A Manger in the airport lounge was a real culinary find: fresh whole grain baguette, sharp cheddar, pickle relish, red onions, lettuce), a productive transaction with our rental car folks at the Lisbon airport and a 30-minute drive to our flat we tumbled into bed and awoke the next morning to beautiful views and comfortable outdoor temperatures.

Looking west over the Atlantic Ocean from our 4th floor balcony.
Our building was set into the hillside at the end of a narrow curving street.
It was interesting to see the mix of old and new buildings.
Bob quickly made this his outdoor office, spending a good part of each morning and evening having coffee and reading.

On this visit we once again chose to stay outside of Lisbon: last time we were in the charming town of Seixal, a ferry ride across the Tagus from the city; this time we stayed in Cascais just up the coast, in an area billed as “The Riviera of Portugal”.

The waterfront just 3 blocks from our front door.
The waterfront, beaches (quite unpopulated in February, bursting full in summer), and Promenade about three blocks from our front door.
It was wonderful to have a train stop just minutes away as well.
While we had mostly sunny days, we did stay closer to home on one overcast afternoon and enjoyed sailboat watching.
Walking down our street we found a variety of shops, restaurants, and parks. This became our favorite cafe.
The obligatory food photo: prato do dia (plate of the day) of cod fritters, rice with tomatoes, salad, bread, olives and wine.

We took a day trip north to check out both Ericeira, with its surfing beaches, and Caldas da Rainha, known for its glazed ceramic pottery. On another day it was a 40-minute train ride into Lisbon city center for a walk along the river and late lunch.

Finding interesting sights even under our feet at Praça do Comércio.
Lovin’ Lisbon!
Walking along the ocean, less than a mile from our flat, we came to Cascais Centro. Sunbathers, volleyball players, and children splashing in the water entertained us as we enjoyed our bench in the sun.
In addition to the town museum that is right on the square, the Casa das Historias Paula Rego and Museu Condes de Castro Guimaraes are within walking distance.

Yes, another look down at our feet.

As we made the transition from Lisbon/Cascais to Porto we stopped to visit the medieval walled city of Òbidos. It has a rich history that includes the Romans, the Moors and the Portuguese. It was presented to Queen Urrana on her wedding day. What a gift!

After driving up a very curvy, steep and narrow dirt road we reached the entrance leading to one of the passageways through the wall.

One of the stonework buildings within the walls.

View of the modern city from atop a rampart.

On to our next adventures in this amazing country.

Basking in Basque Country; FYI: The Rain in Spain does NOT Fall Mainly on the Plain.

Our last weeks of travel were through the beautiful Cantabrian and Pyrenees Mountain ranges in northern Spain – Basque Country. After busy, busy Portugal it was nice to settle into a quieter, more slowly paced part of the world. It felt like Mother Nature was conspiring on our behalf, and the rainy days we had were just perfect for allowing us time to catch our breath and reflect on our travels while the sunny days welcomed us to explore this intriguing area.

Our first lodging point was in the very small village of Ramales de la Victoria, less than 30 minutes from Bilbao and the stunning Guggenheim Museum…

…with its titanium exteriors and random curves that were designed to catch the light. The riverside patio features the sculpture Tall Tree & the Eye by Anish Kapoor.

The building’s architect, Frank Gehry, says that he included this ship’s prow portion of the exterior as an homage to Bilbao’s nautical traditions.

The undulating curves with reflected sky felt soothing and hypnotic.

More sculpture to admire: Maman (giant spider, background left) by Louise Bourgeois; Tulips by Jeff Koons.

The interiors are just as inspiring. The curved and layered atrium which is the heart of the museum…

..with its exposed structural supports and glass walls.

We also took a day trip to Santander, the capital city on the north coast that is famous for its golden sand beaches and the emerald green parkland of the Magdalena Peninsula.

Centro Botin, which opened in 2017, is a study in contrasts with Guggenheim Bilbao. The building consists of two volumes, one for art and the other as an exhibition space. The ceramic facade cantilevers over Santander Bay, allowing breathtaking views through its glass walls.

On the day we were there we were treated to a performance piece in this colorful gallery space.

After Ramales it was on to Pomplona. Our flat was near the historic center, and one of our first walkabouts brought us to City Hall in the heart of the Old Quarter. Statues of the virtues Prudence and Justice frame the entrance and gilded lions decorate the balconies. A pediment crowns the upper level and on either side are sculptures of the Greek god Hercules.

We stopped for a late afternoon lunch at this somewhat gaudy belle époque building on the Plaza de Castillo.

On the ground level is Café Iruña, a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. We had eguneko plaka (plate of the day): a choice of soup or salad, entree of codfish or pork loin, bread, a bottle of decent white wine, and desserts – all for 15€/person.

After lunch we wandered about admiring the charming streetscapes.

I even sited a local yarn shop. The owner of this shop holds group classes and the students go “yarn bombing” – covering tree trunks and pillars and posts with knitted sleeves.

On the way home we spent some time enjoying Parque Antoniutti…

the sculptures…

…and the old burled trees.

On another day a road trip through the Pyrenees brought gorgeous panoramic views…

…featuring rolling pastures and flock after flock of sheep.

Our final destination that day was the medieval city of Bayonne, France. The lengthy waterfront is currently undergoing renovation, but we did find much too admire.

Look closely and you will see that the statues atop the building are wearing special neckwear. The town’s futball team (in this case, rugby) had just won a championship and the entire area was in the midst of celebrating.

One afternoon we decided to try our luck at wine tasting and drove through kilometers and kilometers of blooming Scotch broom on our quest for some La Rioja.

Along our way we found the answer to a question we have never asked ourselves: Just where are soup noodles made?

As for wine tasting, unfortunately we did not find even one open winery. In Spain, as in much of Europe, tastings are done by reservation and reservations are for groups of more than two people. We were just hoping…

On a more positive note, we did appreciate the wine fountain at Bodegas Irache, a winery on the site of a former Benedictine monastery. The taps are filled each morning and anyone can come get a glass of wine or water (providing you bring your own drinking vessel). The offer is good until the beverages run out, which can happen fairly early during peak tourist season or when a group of walkers come in from the Camino de Santiago. The fountain is a continuation of the tradition of generous hospitality that the Benedictine monks offered to pilgrims.

The walled city of Pamplona; in a true serendipity it seems we saved the best for last.

Northern Portugal – Photos, Photos, and More Photos (you have been warned…)

View from our patio in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the Douro River from Porto. Some days we were tempted to just stay at home and enjoy the beauty. We had lovely evenings for cocktails al fresco before walking to one of the many neighborhood restaurants for a late dinner. It was also an easy walk down to the port wine lodges along the water.

But first: a disclaimer: Two weeks in this part of the world resulted in almost 250 photos to sort through and choose from. I figured if I kept the text relatively short and the number of photos at around 60 it would take a person with an average reading speed and a quick mouse finger under 10 minutes to make it through this post. (And where are all those middle schoolers who ask when they are going to use math skills?) I am hoping that attention spans will accommodate… Timer starts NOW!

The Ponte Dom Luís I. Bridge, designed by German architect, Téophile Seyrig, a student of French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame), Originally meant for road traffic, now the upper span carries line D of the Metro along with a pedestrian walkway while the lower span has road traffic and walkway.

Looking back toward our rental – within the cluster of apartments just behind the G on the Graham’s Port Lodge sign.

Road trip: the Route of the Romans.

Guimarães, once the capital of Portugal and heralded as the “birthplace of the Portuguese nationality” or “the cradle city”.

The medieval castle, built in the 10th Century, was originally a monastery which was fortified to protect the area from Moors and Norsemen.

The unusual round brick chimneys on the the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza.

The azulejos mural on the exterior wall of the Church of our Lady of Consolation.

Quintandona – an agricultural village that was completely restored in 2006.

The historical restoration meant building all structures out of slate.

On another afternoon it was off to Manteigas to visit the Burel wool factory. At one time there were 11 fabrication plants in this mountain town. Today there are only two.

The stone buildings that house the factory.

Wall hanging at entrance…

…reveals itself to be felted sweater shapes sewn together.

The 30 foot multi-bobbin winder.

This threaded loom…

…was making this polka dot fabric.

The machine that twists the fringes at the ends of shawls, wraps, and throws. (I had never even thought about how this was accomplished – though I have many articles of clothing that have twisted fringe on the ends. Nice new piece of understanding.)

In addition to weaving, many of Burel”s signature lines are made from felted cloth. This machine is at the beginning of the felting process where the fibers get combed and pressed. The fabric is then turned into…

…whimsical pillows…

…intricately hand sewn custom pillows….

…or a variety of upholstery and wall covering applications..

On our way back to Porto we wound through Serra da Estrela, a nature park with beautiful forests and lakes.

The views were incredible and the rock formations a delight to look at.

Up early one morning (yes, 8a is early for us…), we arrive at São Bento Station to catch a train to Pinhão, in the heart of the Douro Valley wine region.

While waiting for our tour contact we have time to admire the floor-to-ceiling murals that surround us.

We are met at the Pinhão station by Paul, a resident of the valley, who takes us to a port wine vineyard with beautiful views where we enjoy a pre-lunch treat of wine, cheese, and sliced meats.

The rolling terraces that cover the hillsides all along this section of the Douro.

Lunch is at Paul’s family vineyard. (Quinta means farm.) It is a delicious multiple course meal with a variety of wines to taste. Afterwards we get a tour of their facilities – the port barrel storage and a reenactment of the harvest process, complete with the stomping of the grapes. Another new piece of learning – stomping of grapes is a regimented process, not the Lucy and Ethel version many think of. Stompers move in unison and on cue and it is very physically tiring. Wine at the end of the process is a good incentive.

Our final stop of the day is to visit the Bread and Wine museum, an interactive space that tells of the regional importance of these two products. Paul then takes us to a local bakery where we enjoy and purchase some amazing loaves. Paul also gifts us with a bag of family wines and then drives us back to our flat in Porto. Great day – and I am happy to share tour contact information if anyone is interested.

Museum time – or, in this case, Serralves – an art museum, villa and gardens. Built in the 1930’s the villa is an art deco dream. The green candlestick sculpture on the left is made of wine bottles.

Originally a private residence, the rooms evoke a luxurious lifestyle.

My favorite – the dining room, as I do love people gathered ’round the table. The French doors look out to a series of landscaped pools and gardens.

The gardens have a teapot…

…Cindrella’s slippers – back together as a pair…

…and an engagement ring at the end of a tree-lined path.

Trying it on for size.

We walk through more gardens, enjoying the Sky Mirror (Anish Kapoor) on our way to the modern art building.

Inside we are tickled with the galley of the featured artist: Joanna Vasconcelos, entitled “I’m Your Mirror”.

A closer look reveals this mural is knitted fabric with embellishments. I am awed.

There was a lace-covered bull’s head…

…and sculptures made from steam irons…

…and Bob riding the Chair-o-sel taking a photo…

…of me riding the Chair-o-sel.

At the close of one afternoon we hopped on the Metro (we had 3-day Andante cards allowing us unlimited Metro and bus travel – the procurement of which is a story unto itself, but to be saved for another less photo-filled blog post) and went to Póvoa de Varzim, a beach town at the end of the Red Line, for an amazingly wonderful fresh seafood dinner @ Restaurant 31.

Of course, our visit wouldn’t be compete without a tour of a performance space, Casa da Musica.

This very modern and somewhat controversial building, is basically a huge cube with some corners and various edges trimmed off and a symphony hall situated in the center interior. It is surrounded by undulating patios that are signed for “No Skateboarding”…Right…

Our tour guide made a great point of telling us of that the seating was “democratic” (all sound and sight lines equal) and that the funds for construction were from the European Union at the time Porto was declared the European Capital of Culture. The Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, wanted to escape the traditional box that performance spaces are typically housed in and put acoustics as a secondary priority to design. (Vision Bob cringing~)

The back wall is completely window. There is a curtain that can be drawn to shade the space.

The double glass wall we were just standing behind, as seen from the opposite side of the house. Of note: the walls are plywood with metallic rivers of actual gold fill. (Now vision Bob eye-rolling~)

Not your traditional Green Room, this one is walled with foam to aid in acoustics for small performances.

A small performance space that had to have the floor tiles scraped of their colored pattern. Patrons kept complaining of getting disoriented and feeling nauseous.

A non-designated corner that our guide says parents use for entertaining children. An architect in our group called this “Sloap: space left over after planning”.

One our last day in Porto we took a walk through Palácio de Cristal – a beautiful and peaceful panoramic garden spot…

…with flocks of peacocks.. and their shrill calls…

… and a sunset view of the Douro as it heads out to the Atlantic.

Before we know it, it is time to take a final descent on the spiral staircase for the next leg of our journey. Basque Country…here we come! Ah – but Portugal. You will stay in my heart.

Southern Portugal: “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Just like Oliver Twist with his longing for more food, we have realized that one visit to this beautiful area will just not be enough. As I mentioned to my friend and fellow travel lover, Patty Bartscher: We dived into the vast attractions of Portugal like were like first-timers at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. We wanted to try everything and we just kept piling more on our plate.

Our rental was in Seixal, just across the Tagus River from Lisbon. We arrived in town on a rainy Wednesday evening to find that the streets around our house were being blocked in anticipation of Freedom Day celebrations. Freedom Day commemorates the Carnation Revolution, a peaceful coup that overthrew the Estado Novo regime and ended 48 years of authoritarian rule. The name comes from the fact that almost no shots were fired, and Celeste Caeiro, a Portuguese pacifist, offered carnations to the soldiers when the population took to the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship; other demonstrators followed suit, and carnations were placed in the muzzles of guns and on the soldiers’ uniforms. On Freedom Day we were treated to parades, bands playing in the square just up the street from our house, and an evening of fireworks. Seemed like a pretty spectacular way to start our visit.
Seixal itself is quite small, but had a vibrant and engaging vibe (think Half Moon Bay, fellow coastsiders!) – friendly neighbors, great bakery (yeah, always that…) and shops, beautiful beaches. One of the best features was that the ferry dock for boats to Lisbon was less than a 15 minute walk from our digs.

We made it a point to frequent local restaurants in town and were very pleased with all of the fresh fish options. After one outing Bob decided he would venture into the world of dessert and asked the waitperson to bring us the speciality of the house. This strawberry fluff ball arrived on it’s chessboard.

And wouldn’t you know, that Queen of Hearts was edible – printed on a sheet of marshmallow.

One of our first Lisbon forays was to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. This complex sits within a beautiful botanical park and has three large buildings with a variety of galleries.

The main hall had a featured exhibit on The Brain and contained many interactive stations to demonstrate how the brain functions. Over our heads was a gallery-long sculpture of a dendron.

Taking up an entire wall was slide show, set to music, of a plastinated brain: “preserved through impregnation with a liquid polymer for educational and instructional purposes. Created through a process of informed donor consent.”

People gathered to watch the show and see the changing colors and cross-section perspectives.

Oddly mesmerizing; almost radiant.

One corner of the exhibit explained a research study that used robots to work with autistic children. The robots are programmed to break down complex behaviors into a series of neutral interactions. The robot receives a command from an instructor; the child watches the robot along side the instructor, listens to the command, and then sees how the robot responds. Then the child responds in kind. They have found that this sequencing has made it possible for the autistic child to improve their reading of facial expressions and gestures.

After The Brain we went for a quick trip through the Founder’s Collection – lots of antiquities. My favorite was this tapestry, especially when I got up close to appreciate all of the hand work that went into its creation.

On to the Modern Wing. This unassuming piece by Fernanda Fragateiro (made of books arranged with spines down) had the witty title, “Reading the Landscape” Okay, I admit, I sometimes get more of a kick out of the clever name than the piece itself.

Featured artist, Rogério Ribeiros’s beautiful oil titled Família.

Before the Bullfight by Amadeo de Souza-Cardiso. One of the things we appreciated about this particular collection was that all of the work was by Portuguese artists, few of which we had been exposed to before. A nice change of pace, especially after having visited so many museums with classic offerings.

One day it was just about walking and looking. We climbed tons of steps and wound through lots of narrow walkways in Lisbon’s Alfama District.

On another day it was a walk about the Belém District, admiring the vast Gothic Jerónimos Monastery and then some time at Museu Coleção Berardo.

This sculpture takes up most of the hallway in the lower level of the museum.

This very compelling description…

…was next to this piece of art. So understated. I loved it.

The bold Portrait of Jacqueline, 1984, by Julian Schnabel…

…is made with broken ceramics.

We were even tickled by the graphics on the WC doors.

We walked back along the river and stopped at MAAT – the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. They have two buildings. The first is a renovated power plant. Let’s just say that Bob was awed.

One of the great things about this place was how unrestricted it was. We could walk pretty much anywhere we wanted – even climbing ladders for new views. Sort of like a play structure for adults.

View from the ground floor up to the fourth level.

And how about this set of stairs!?!

The boiler room: industry as art. (Though we are sure the place looks a lot better all cleaned up as it is now than it did when it was a hydraulic plant.)

The second building holds their art and photography exhibits. But it was the outside that captured our interest.

For all my quilting friends – inspiration???

We took one over night trip to the magical mountain city of Sintra. The red door is actually the entrance to our lodging.

It was a bit like entering a playhouse.

We walked from our accommodations up – and I do mean UP – to Quinta da Regaleira – with its romantic castle and chapel set in a luxurious park. From this angle the castle almost looks like it could be in Disneyland. The entire complex was the vision of Carvalho Monteiro, a Portuguese entomologist whose family money came from coffee and gemstones. Monteiro wanted to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he rebuilt a former 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added buildings that allegedly hold symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians.

The park is filled with lakes, grottos, fountains and follies – and, in our case, a Bob.

A view of the chapel from the castle balcony.

The Ibis Bench.

The intricate carvings of the mantle in the dining room of the castle which is done in Neo-Manueline style; a revival architecture and decorative arts style developed in Portugal between the middle of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Learned something new there…

Ceiling in the living room. You know how I always like to look up, but…

…sometimes it is also good to look down. You might just catch a gorgeous floor mosaic.

Closer look at the stunning columns of the outdoor spiral staircase going from the ground floor to the second floor balcony that wraps the castle.

Just when we think we have seen the ultimate castle there’s this: Pena Palace, which is at the top of the hill. (We took a bus and a tram and then did a good bit of walking to get there.) The palace started out as a chapel then became a monastery before being left for ruin until King Ferdinand decided to rebuild the site as a summer palace for the royal family. One of the quirky features to the palace is a drawbridge that doesn’t draw. Maybe they thought the climb was insurance enough that they would be prepared for attacked.

We were not allowed to take photos of the interiors, but I did take shots of the exterior – including the tower wing with its lovely tiled walls.

The turrets at each corner of the open arcades and the clocktower (background, in red). Now this REALLY feels like Disneyland!

On our last Lisbon excursion day we went to the National Tile Museum. The building is a former monestary (seems like a common theme of late).

This is a a piece that captivated me…

…while Bob really liked this…

…and then there was the surprise of grasshoppers…

…and the urge to interpret this in quilt form…those roses…

…followed by the traditionally painted and classic blue of Portugal azulejos…

… switching to the unique rail piece that sings of movement…

…or finally, the set of tiles that looks like something I would like to have in my own home.

Now it is on to Porto. And the Portugal question is: how much of a good thing is too much of a good thing? We will see.

Three Days to Rock the Kasbah

Arrival on Easter Sunday. We had booked our digs through Airbnb and the owner recommended the services of her property manager, Abdellah, as a guide. It was our good fortune to take her suggestion as over the course of our visit we were given what felt to be a real inside view of life in this part of Morocco. This photo was taken just as we go off our ferry. The tall building to the right is a mosque. Our rental was just below that orange arrow, within the walls of the Kasbah and set amidst a warren of narrow, winding streets. (“First the Continental Hotel, then to Hawmat Zaitouna (rough translation: Olive Street), then to #73” were the directions we repeated over and over as we memorized our route.)

We had to go through 3 passport check points and two security screenings on our crossing from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier. Bob did get a brief rest break aboard the ferry. Abdellah arranged to meet us at the ferry terminal. Before he arrived we were confronted by a bevy of locals offering us rides and tours and various tourist services. It was a cacophony of marketing and persuasion techniques. When he reached us, Abdellah diverted their efforts but not before he was taken to task for “stealing” us from the folks who felt they had first dibs because they worked the terminal parking lots.

Our first evening was an unexpected treat. We were invited to the engagement party of Abdellah’s niece, to be given in the home of his parents. We tried to gracefully decline as it seemed like it would be an intrusion, but he was adamant. Upon arriving at the house we were first introduced to the men gathered upstairs. Bob stayed with them and I was escorted (not by Abdellah, but by his wife, Sara) into the women’s lounge downstairs. The main room had a large display at the entrance holding significant items and representative symbols for the engaged couple.

The party, planned for 6-10 p with dinner be served at 9p, was running late – very late. We had arrived by taxi about 7p, and spent the next two and a half hours waiting for the family of the future groom to arrive. While waiting, we were served beverages and chocolates and small snacks were passed around. There was music playing and many of the women danced. Bob says that upstairs they were pretty quiet with a number of sessions of prayers.

Finally, from out in the street we hear the sounds of the family procession, bringing gifts to the bride to be. If you look closely you can see Bob, with a smile on his face, in the far left side of the photo.

The gifts are brought downstairs and put under and around the entry table.

The engaged couple and all of their family members proceeded into the house with the trumpets and drummers following behind. The music they played sounded for all the world like a traffic jam in Times Square on New Years Eve. This lovely little lady and I (who became quite friendly over the course of the evening) held similar sentiments, but I kept my hands away from my ears.

Following the entrance there is a chunk of time devoted to photo taking – 2 hours worth, actually. Everyone is expected to get a photo taken with the couple. Abdellah, our guide and host, is the gentleman on the right.

And when I said everyone was expected to be in the photos, I meant EVERYONE. Sometimes it’s just best to smile and keep things moving along.

Finally, at about midnight, dinner was served and then the cake cut. It is another photo opportunity and the whole group gets into the action. The videographer had to fight for her space in the front row. By now it is close to 1am and the party pretty quickly breaks up. We get a ride back to the Kasbah and make our way home repeating “Continental Hotel, Zaitouna, 73.” It works.

The next morning we head out to meet Abedllah and our driver, Azding, whom Bob had actually gotten to speak with a bit during last night’s events. Along the way we come upon a tangle of ropes and look up to see…

scaffolding on a work in progress. This give an idea as to the extreme narrowness of the streets we were navigating through.

We admire the many murals we see along the way. This one is at an intersection/crossroads. During the afternoon and evening there are food stalls and merchants doing business here. Oh – and the cat! There are almost as many cats as there are people.
The first stop on our driving tour is to Charf Hill, which overlooks Tangier (on the left) and the Mediterranean (on the right). Down the slope is a cemetery with some of the oldest graves in the city.

Many people plan herb beds atop the graves.

Next stop is Malabata Lighthouse with it’s castle spire and Moroccan star. Bob, Abdellah and Azding look across to locate Charf Hill, where we just came from.

My favorite sight was the cluster of bouys that were scattered among the cedar trees.

On to Cap Spartel.

We watch the fishing boats coming in and note the variations in color in the water, indicating the rocky and hazardous entrance to the harbor. In the lower left corner is a rock painted with the Moroccan star, a task that gets repeated frequently and faithfully as it is a point of pride for the local fishermen.

Cap Spartel is also noteworthy as it is where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. Legend has it then if you are there at the right time in the morning there is a green line that can be seen separating the two bodies of water.

On our way back into the city we stop at the Caves of Hercules. Moroccans will tell you the opening represents a map of Africa. When I took the photo I saw a man sitting upon a ledge (to the lower left of the opening) looking out to sea. Speaks to varied perspectives and the delight of a found optical illusion.

Final stop: Cafe Hafa, overlooking the Bay of Tangier and known for both its mint tea and for its gatherings of writers and musicians – from Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Our evening is capped off by a dinner made for us at our flat by Abdellah’s sister, Loubna, who is also the mother of the to-be-bride from last night’s party. It was another feast with enough food to last us through the next day’s dinner as well.

Our third day, and we are off to Chefchaouen, the Blue City. It is an almost 3 hour drive so we have plenty of time for conversation. Abdellah is very candid about his thoughts and feelings about Morocco. He is frustrated with the political and economic conditions, particularly bemoaning the lack of jobs, poor educational opportunities, and difficulty in accessing health care services. (He and his wife of 7 months are expecting their first child and he will be paying privately for her doctor visits and hospital stay.) We are told that they and their friends are always looking for opportunities to improve their lives and wish for capitalism but are wary of the regulations that they feel would come along with it. Since Abdellah had arranged for Azding to drive, I asked if they had Uber in Morocco. “What’s this Uber?” he asked. What followed was a lively discussion of how the car service worked and a number of expressions of disbelief on their part. They told us that taxi licenses in Morocco are given out by the king – mostly as favors. When we questioned if their frustrations ever led them to think of relocating they tell us that they are not allowed visas as there is a concern that they would leave and not come back.

Upon arrival we walk through beautiful blue hued streets and plazas.

I am tempted by the food stands – especially those long strands of dried figs, which are delicious.

Abdellah urges us to hold on to our appetite until we get to a restaurant he favors. It is typically Moroccan, serving the same array of dishes to every diner. Bob and I are the only non-locals and I am the only woman. We have chickpeas in broth, fava beans in tomato sauce, chicken with vegetables, olives, fish, chickpea porridge, french fries (!?!?) and bread. Our bill comes to 130 MAD (dirham) or $13.45 for all four of us.

Part of our walk around the city takes us to the waterfalls.

As we leave we are taken with how much Chefchaouen reminds of of Guanajuato, particularly if Guanajuato had been done in blue.

We have collected great memories of our Kasbah days and it’s quirky and intriguing style.

We loved the warm and gracious, up-close-and-personal style of Abdellah’s tour guidance and our comfortably authentic house.

We won’t miss the many flights of stairs we had to take to get from street level to bedrooms to bathrooms to kitchen.

Yup, from the medina to the Blue City; we rocked it.