Sept 10 to Oct 2, 2005
Caminha – Esposende – Barcelos – Braga – Guimaraes – Oporto – Aveiro – Mira – Coimbra – Tomar – Lisbon
Never was a border so obvious as the ferry crossing into Caminha, northern Portugal. Multicoloured tiled houses, churches dripping with gold, cobblestone streets and a language we didn’t speak all made for a dramatic entrance to this land on the edge of Europe. “In Portugal… we eat!”, was the welcome we received in the tourist office, as the jolly plump lass dismissed Spanish bits and pieces as an excuse for food.
The Atlantic coast of Portugal boasts wonderful, quiet, sandy beaches that continue for miles. Beauty in its simplest form. Waves crash in with great force and there’s a real feeling of being somewhere, as the ocean stretches endlessly ahead. This is quite a change from the sheltered Rias and the Cantabrian coast of Spain, we had en route.
If there’s one thing that Portugal leads on, that is their floral, manicured city parks and gardens. Tiny hedgerows border a blaze of colour in every village and town.
The Bom Jesus Sanctuary towers over a zig-zagging stairway, almost to heaven. Little painted chapels, depicting the Passion of Christ, lead up the path to a magnificent church overlooking the city of Braga
Bom Jesus Church, Braga
Situated on the northern bank of the River Duero, Oporto/Porto is the friendly, scenic home of port wine. The wine is unique in that it is fortified and blended. Its high sugar and alcohol content makes it quite the hip flask beverage for grandma and grandpa alike.
Shop fronts in Oporto
Oporto on the River Duero
Azulejos or painted tiles abound in Oporto, even in the railway station. The church of Sao Francisco was gilded with 400kg of gold before Napoleon’s troops used it as a stable, but even today its carved woodwork and golden altars proudly reflect its former glory.
Train station, Oporto
The best book store in Europe – Lello… to while the hours away in style.
But where was Portugal, when the EU was handing out their millions for roads? Or is it that the idea of a sealed, tarmac road is only now slowly being considered by local engineers as an alternative to bone-rattling, spine-crushing, tummy-churning cobblestones? When it’s not stone mosaics you can expect a corrugated sand track through a hot, dry nothingness. In short, this is not a cyclists’ paradise and we seem to be the only ones willing to give it a try.
One of the three grand cycling routes we found in Portugal was the 15 km stretch of cycle paths along the beaches south of Oporto.
The second was a closed road through farmland, where the seasonal golds of the vines contrasted beautifully with the silver grey olive trees in a dry rust red earth. Being a tourist allows you to sometimes ignore the detour signs… and find paradise.
The harvest season
The third grand afternoon was following the Ria in Aveiro. Brightly painted boats, used for seaweed harvest were tied up on white sand beaches, while the local fishermen snoozed in the shade of pine trees.
Coimbra is famous for its University, dating back to the 12th century. The university library is a world heritage site well worth the visit. The city is full of life, and honest students that return lost wallets, as in Kurt’s case!
The order of the Templar Knights, renouned for their crusades and their reconquista efforts in Portugal had their base in Tomar. Their huge fortified castle and monastery are a prime example of Manueline architecture and reflect the styles of Jerusalem and middle eastern castles from that time.
Fatima, almost 90 years after the apparitions of Our Lady to the three little shepherds, is still a magnet for pilgrims who come with great devotion to this sanctuary. The message of prayer and suffering is taken seriously as crowds drop to their knees in reverence of what Fatima represents.
Wax models of all body parts are thrown into flames in request or gratitude for healing of sickness or disabilities.
Lisbon, besides its grand boulevards, elegant buildings and lively pracas, is quite the melting pot of the Portuguese world. Brazilians rub shoulders with Goans and Angolans, making it a flamboyant people-watching spot. Our friend, Sara, brought us out to a cute, homely restaurant uptown, where half the clients entertained with Portuguese Fado songs and poetry, while the rest of us sat back and enjoyed an enchanting evening.
Grandly situated on the mouth of the River Tejo, Lisbon has been the starting point for many missions bent on discovery… no better place for us to head off tomorrow on our adventure to a new continent. It may not be quite the Vasco de Gama voyage to India, but will certainly enlighten the world with new updates! Watch this space…