Monday the 27th and we decide to go up to Tibidabo which is Barcelona’s highest peak. Took a funicular to get to the top. There, one finds a beautiful church and the city’s oldest amusement park. Quite a few families around as today is the last day of the Merce festival. The church – Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor de Jesús – (The Church of the Sacred Heart) sits upon this hill and from here one can see the vistas of the city below. This church is quite interesting as has two very distinctive architectural, decorative styles and the two types of stone that were used. Its almost like a church built on top of another church. Two separate entries which further enforce the fact that this is a very unique structure. The lower Byzantine church was built between 1902 and 1911 using stone from Montjuïc. The neo-gothic main church was built between 1915 and 1961 using a lighter coloured stone from Girona.
Robin reminded me that we visited this area nine years ago with our sister in law Brenda; which I had forgotten. Lots of cyclists who must use the road up here for a challenge….not us; unless we had our ebikes with us! Also at the top one finds an amusement park which is one hundred years old and many families enjoying it on this holiday.
We then found our way to Playa Catalunya as we wanted to walk along the Passeig de Gracia; known as the Champs Élysées of Barcelona. As mentioned earlier, lots of people out and about. The one thing that was very noticeable, were the lineups of people waiting to get into the high end shops like Dior, Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc. The majority of them were Asians….hope no one takes offence, but it’s true. I keep saying to myself, who cares….I would rather have memories than a Gucci purse!
One of the reasons I also wanted to come along the Passeig de Gracia was to once again look at the Block of Discord. The three main buildings for one to view are Casa Batlo which was designed by Gaudi, Casa Amatiler designed by Cadafalch which has Moorish, Gothic and a step gable roof design taken from the Low countries and finally Casa Lleo Morera designed by architect Montaner who also designed the Palau de Catalan Musica. Very long lines of people waiting to get in.
Not sure where the days go, but we both usually have naps when we get back to our apartment….lots of walking. I know I mentioned that the Metro was efficient, but also very cost efficient. We have been buying cards that allow up to 10 rides for one individual. Today we bought new cards and the cost for the two of us was the equivalent of $21 Canadian which means that each time we take the metro it costs us approximately $1 each. What a bargain! So easy to get around this way and one is not at the mercy of the traffic, which I have mentioned before is crazy!
As mentioned earlier, today was the last day of the Merce festival and tonight around 10 pm, the fireworks went on for one half hour. Tried to see from our deck, but just saw the reflection of lights. Couldn’t believe they went on that long.
Tuesday we decided to go to the small town of Sitges (pronounced SEE – juhz) which is a popular coastal town about 39 kilometres from Barcelona. We decided to take the train which took some thirty five minutes and cost $24 for the two of us for a return trip. Once again, amazed by the low cost of mass transit here. Walked through the narrow streets of the old town, eventually making our way down to the ocean front. The streets are crammed with cafe, boutique shops and everything one could want to spend some time on the beach. The main site on the waterfront is a 17th century Baroque style church, Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla Church.
Sitges has nine separate beaches connected by a promenade. One can rent lounge chairs/umbrellas for the day. Reminded us of the times we did that when we spent time in Nice. It was nice to get out of Barcelona for the day and enjoyed our time in Sitges. Robin and I commented on the beautiful weather we have enjoyed while we have been in the Barcelona area. Just one day of rain, but had stopped by the time we headed out for the day. By the way…..my new shoes are very comfortable.
I mentioned that young people get up for us in the metro so we can have a seat….not only young people but middle aged people as well……I feel old when this happens; but sometimes thankful at the end of a long day of walking.
Wednesday and a day of discovering sites we have not yet seen and some that we had previously discovered. I mentioned to Robin that I would like to see the outside of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous unfinished church. We had visited here nine years ago and did enter at that time. It is quite amazing. Took the metro and will say, that this is the place where we have seen the most tourists….hang on to your wallets, also a favourite of pick pockets. People are too busy looking up at the church and forget to keep a hold of their valuables.
I always thought that this was totally Gaudi’s project, but on the official web site and my guide book tell me that “the project itself was dreamt of by Josep Maria Bocabella, a bookseller who found inspiration during his time in the Vatican. The design itself was created by Francisco de Paula del Villar, whose plans were for a piece of Gothic architecture. More than a decade after Josep Maria Bocabella visited the Vatican, Anton Gaudí took control of the project. Naturally, he had very different plans in mind. Taking years to perfect this architectural masterpiece, Gaudí passed away in 1926. Current estimates place Sagrada Família being complete in 2026, a century after Gaudi’s passing.”
Most locals we have spoken to about the Sagrada feel that the project will not be completed in this time frame. As with a lot of other things in the world, the project was affected by Covid 19 when work was stopped altogether. The pandemic also meant no revenue coming in to continue with the construction, so things got stalled.
It was interesting to see the progress on the exterior of the building. One thing we noted were the whimsical “stone fruit” attached to the various spires of the church. Did I mention that the Sagrada Familia and the other Gaudi sites are a World Heritage site…one more for our list. All of the World Heritage Sites that we have visited over the years is on my blog. We have seen some 124 sites around the World, but that only represents some 10% of the total. Lots more to see, not sure we will finish the list in our lifetime, but fun seeing what we can do!
During our visit here in Barcelona and earlier this year in Lyon, we have found it almost necessary to book tickets ahead of time if one wants to ensure that you get to see what you want. Most tickets are also timed; so you have a time slot in which to enter and usually just a fifteen or thirty minute window otherwise you won’t be let in. Certainly saw very long line ups at the Sagrada of people trying to buy tickets, would not want to venture how long they would have to wait.
Stopped for coffee at a small cafe near the Sagrada and certainly interesting people watching. Robin and I always get a laugh at how tourists pose for pictures. I thought one was just supposed to stand there and get your picture….oh no folks…..one must cross your legs the right way, slant your feet, put a pout on your lips, look away or hold your hand up pretending that you are holding up whatever building you might be visiting. Actually quite funny to watch.
We then venture on to see the Arc de Triomf. Funny enough, not even a mention of this monument in our guide book, but I had come across mention of it in my research and saw it on a map in the guide book. It was built by architect Casanovas for the 1888 World’s Fair. It is located at the northern end of Passeig de Sant Joan. A wide central boulevard winds it way to Ciutadella Park (Citadel Park). Barcelona also hosted a second World’s fair in 1929 and I made reference to this in my first posting. The 1929 fair was held in the Montjuic area and we saw many of the buildings when we visited that area on our first day here in Barcelona. Getting back to the 1888 exposition, beautiful buildings were erected all around the park and today still stand, some under repair. One building in particular is called the Castle of the Three Dragons and was a cafe at the time; today it is a museum of zoology. This is a wonderful area as not too many tourists here and a wonderful place to relax and take time strolling through the park.
We then make our way down to Barceloneta area, which is mainly made up of restaurants and small shops. The area was under water in the 1600’s and in the 18th century the area was dredged and fisherman began to come here to be near their fishing grounds. Also, this is the area where the beaches of Barcelona begin. We stop for lunch at a seafood restaurant and funny enough the gentleman trying to drum up business at the front of the restaurant starts speaking french to me. I can’t tell you how many times over the years that this has happened when travelling in Europe. Think it’s my roman nose and small stature that makes them think I am from France….I guess my ancestors from Brittany would be proud. Makes me feel good! Wonderful paella, think it is our last while here.
Stop at a market to pick something up for our dinner. Tomorrow is our last day in Barcelona as we fly to Amsterdam tomorrow evening, overnight there and fly back to Calgary on Friday. Have certainly enjoyed our time here and so thankful that we have been healthy and able to travel again. I enjoy writing my blog and hope that it gives people reading it some idea of the places we visit. Till next time……adios!
Getting to know a city by getting lost and just going with the flow is one of our favourite things to do. One might start off with a destination in mind, but soon, something ahead or around a corner grabs your attention and away you go!
Thursday, September 22nd. At the beginning of our stay we had gone up to Montjuic, but did not go to the very top due to time constraints. So today, our destination was the Castell de Montjuic. Metro, Funicular and finally a cable car to get there. Although not much inside the castle, this visit was worthwhile due to the great views of the city from the ramparts.
The castle was built in the 18th century. Until the late 20th century, this place functioned more to repress the people of Barcelona than to defend them. Being ‘ taken to Montjuic’ probably meant you were never to be seen again…the end of the line! During Franco’s reign, many people were executed here. The Castle is now under control of the City of Barcelona.
We make our way back to the Metro and head to the Mercat de Sant Antoni which is in the El Raval district which used to be an area of disrepute with drug dealers and prostitution. It has transformed and is said to be a magnet for the young, trendy and foodie crowd……guess that doesn’t exactly define us, but hey…we are allowed! Our property Manager, Toni, had told us that this area is the one he and his friends go to for tapas, so we might come back for that on another day. This market was renovated and is quite new inside, more a locals market. The original metal structure dates back to 1882.
We find a nice fish restaurant in the market. The waiter brings a few free starters….some fried sardines and some bread with tomato sauce. Robin opts for an iberian ham omelet and I order some scallops and prawns in a garlic sauce and we share some ham croquettes. The waiter offers us desert, but honestly, just a lot of food and we have had sufficient. We walk around the market and pick up a few items for dinners; some prepared food and some to cook.
We had a discussion with our guide Giuilo the other day and told him that in Canada, Robin and I normally eat our dinner around 7 pm, but that most people eat around 6 pm. He could not believe how early that was. It was around 6 pm the other day when we were in Figueres and it was lovely to see all the families and friends out around this time having coffee/drinks. As is their custom, they normally don’t eat till much later in the evening. So nice to see the families out with the children playing in the streets and not watching their electronic devices….just saying!
Robin and I have mainly been taking the metro and it is always nice that young people offer their seats to us. Respect for older people still seems to be in place here….not sure the same would happen back home. We don’t always take them up on their offers if we don’t have far to go. Pays to be a senior….even getting senior’s rates getting into museums and other venues.
Friday morning and we have tickets to go to Park Guell (pronouced Gway). Timed entry is required as the Park was becoming overrun by tourists. Gaudi intended that this 30 acre garden was to be a high-end community with 60 upscale residences for the rich of Barcelona. The project began in 1900, but came to an end in 1914 at the start of World War 1. Nothing more was done to the park after that. This is one location where we took a taxi. We have been using an « app » called Free Now, which is similar to Uber, but for taxis. It is very efficient. Lots of people here today. Some of the major sights within the park are: the Three Viaducts, the Monumental Staircase, Hypostyle Hall and the Greek Theatre or Nature Square. The staff only allow a certain amount of people into the Greek Theatre at any one time as it is elevated and held up by columns below; so I think it is a safety issue. We also walked up to the Hill of the Three Crosses and then back down to the main entrance where we saw the Dragon Stairway, and La Casa del Guarda (the souvenir shop).
Our guide book describes the park as « playful architecture, inviting spaces, and a one of a kind terrace offering sweeping views over the rooftops of the city ». The buildings at the main entrance are definitely quirky . From there one can go up the twin staircases known as the Dragon Stairway…a smiling dragon made of colourful tiles sits in the centre of the stairway.
The Hypostyle Room was designed to house a produce market for the inhabitant’s of the new houses, which were never built. There are eighty six doric columns. Shards of ceramics cover the bases and some wonderful giant mosaic decorations in the ceiling. In further reading, I did find out that these columns do indeed hold up the viewing terrace above.
It is said that Gaudi drew some of his inspiration from nature and this is reflected in the Pathway of Columns. These walkways were to remind visitors of the various pilgrim routes that are all over Spain.
The View Terrace also known as the Nature Square is the area where they limit the number of people at any one time. Believe this is a safety issues as this area is the one that is held up by the columns of the Hypostyle Room below. Colourful mosaic decorated benches surround the area and one has wonderful views of the city from the edge of the terrace.
A great visit to Park Guell and once again amazed by Gaudi’s talent and imagination.
Took a taxi to Placa Catalunya to find somewhere to have lunch. Stopped by small modern restaurant. Food was mainly pizza and pasta and was good….but two amazing things about this restaurant. First of all was ‘MEOW’ who brought us our meals. She is a robot who brings the food to your table, then the waiter serves it. She is called Meow and has the picture of a cat on the display once she has completed her task.
Second best thing, but even better than the first was the churros served with a cup of thick chocolate for dipping the churros……yum! Didn’t think I wanted desert but Robin and I shared when we saw this on the menu.
Walked around and then headed back to our apartment. Went for our first dinner out and went to a Paella restaurant that was recommended by one of our guides. Very good. We ate outside in a covered area. Some light rain while we were there but nothing substantial. We are supposed to have cooler weather this weekend and some rain.
Saturday morning and we have planned to take in some of the activities of La Merce festival. This festival lasts for around 5 days and is a held in honour of Mare de Deu de la Mercè, the Patron Saint of Barcelona. The festival, which officially first took place in 1902, bids goodbye to the summer and welcomes the cooler months of autumn. What fun and what a lot of people. Hard to get to some of the points of interest. The first thing we took in was « Gigantes » (the Parade of Giants). The giants represent Kings, Queens and Noblemen. This was held in Placa de Sant Jaume, the main square in front of the city hall. Robin and I commented that it is such a small square considering the amount of people who want to see these activities. Lots of families about.
Just so many people we decide to keep moving down some of the side alleys/streets. Stop for coffee/tea and are amazed at the amount of people everywhere. I guess it is a weekend so lots of families about and lots of tourists from all over when you hear the languages being spoken.
One of the other traditions of this celebrations are Castellers (Human Towers). We head down a side street and luckily we come across various groups of Castellers who are practicing and proceeding towards Placa de Sant Jaume for their final performances. The various groups all wear white pants but each group has a distinctive coloured shirt which identifies them as part of a particular group. These groups are made up of a variety of ages including the old and the very young. We know we won’t be able to get the Placa so we decide to stay and enjoy what we were experiencing. This is one of the Catalan traditions and has been around since the end of the 18th century. The castells represent a human collaboration. The youngest is usually the one on the top of the castell (makes sense) and they are now mandated to wear helmets to protect them. They are accompanied by small groups playing various instruments and they all sing….what a great experience to have been able to see this.
We continue walking the streets and alleyways of the Old City and all of a sudden I hear Robin say….’I know you….Lorne, Maria’. Well, they always say it’s a small world….indeed it is. These are neighbours from Calgary who live a few blocks from us. Who could believe that this would happen in a small alleyway half way across the world. Visit with them for a while then on our way once again for more discoveries.
The other day when we were leaving the apartment, we ran into Toni our property manager. He is so delightful and he wanted to know where we had been and what we had seen. When we told him that we had gone to Montserrat he told us that one of his great great great ancestors what an abbot and had been a part of the safekeeping of the Black Madonna. Apparently, he and his family are welcomed to the monastery whenever they want and are also allowed to all parts of the church and monastery. Wow!
The couple of times that we have taken taxis, we comment on the amount of traffic and know that we would not want to drive in this city. One of our guides told us that he will not get a car and walks to his destination whenever possible or takes his motorcycle. Parking is very expensive in the City. Robin and I can attest to the cost of parking. When we were here some nine years ago, I remember the cost of parking being prohibitive. Lots of motorcycles here; but also lots of electric scooters, the kind you stand on. The City of Barcelona banned rental scooters as they became a menace and eyesores as they were left all over the sidewalks. It is amazing how many people own scooters to get around and it really makes sense. They are quite safe with the number of separate bike/scooter lanes exist.
A little history of this part of the world. Barcelona, although part of Spain, maintains a separate identity through its Catalan roots. They pride themselves on their different language and traditions. It is said that the Catalans have an optimistic spirit and are earthy but creative. Spanish and Catalan are the two official languages of Catalunya, with Catalan being the main preferred language. My research tells me that Catalan is not a Spanish dialect, but an independent language. The Catalans have been suppressed over many centuries and their language and customs at times have been banned, with the Franco regime being the most recent. Always talk of a separation by the Catalan state, but of late this movement is not quite as active. In speaking to our guides, they say that the younger generation is quite satisfied with things the way they are. A couple of referendums have been held and in each case a large majority voted to separate; these referendums were proclaimed invalid by the Spanish government.
Sunday the 25th. In deciding what to do today, we opted to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCO) which is a few doors down from the Picasso Museum and is located in a beautiful historic building. We visited the Picasso Museum nine years ago when we were here, so have opted to give it a pass. The MOCA is in the El Raval district which is made up of narrow alleyways which are all so interesting. As all Contemporary art museums, one must have an open mind when viewing the art. It is quite a small art museum, and we found it very interesting.
Walked along Passeig del Born and reached the El Born Cultural and Memory Center which is located in a huge iron and glass building which once served as this neighbourhood’s produce market until 1971. Lots of displays for young children inside due to La Merce holiday. Some roman ruins here as well.
Continue on our walk through the El Ravel district and came by some artisans selling their jewellery, pottery, leather goods, etc. This was near the Church of Santa Maria del Mar a gothic structure (did not enter as church services on a Sunday) which dominates the square.
Next to the church is the Monument of Catalan Independence which sits atop a mass grave of revolutionary Catalans who fought in the 1714 war.
Then onto Port Vell (Old Port) where we see the Barcelona Head sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein and the Lobster. This area was completely redeveloped for the 1992 Olympics. A busy highway was even rerouted underground during the refurbishment of this port area. Lots of artisans here on the Rambla del Mar and bars/restaurants abound.
Monday morning and we are headed off to Montserrat for the day. It is located 62 kms north west of Barcelona. We arranged to join a tour for this day as just thought it would be easier, which it was! We took the metro to the north Barcelona bus station where we met our group.
About 40 people on the bus, but when we reached Montserrat, we were broken up into smaller groups….ours was a group of 18 and our guide was Marcel, a young Barcelonian. Montserrat – the serrated mountain – rises up dramatically from the valley floor. It definitely is a unique rock formation and has a mountaintop monastery. This place is special to the Catalan people as it is the centre of the Catalonian province. It is said that Catalonians must trek here at least once in the life. Marcel told us that when he was eighteen, he and a group of friends decided to take the trek out of the blue one night and they left late evening and arrived at Montserrat early the next morning. He then called his mother to come and pick them up….they could not see making the trek back as all of them had very sore feet. Looked at google maps and it says it would take about twelve hours to make this walk. Oh to be young….and foolish!
It is said that the first hermit monks built huts at Montserrat around 900 AD. By 1025 a monastery was founded and the slogan for the monks was ‘ Prayer and Work’. Legend has it that some young shepherd children saw lights and heard music coming from a cave on the mountainside. Once inside they found the Black Virgin statue (La Moreneta – the little dark skinned one). This made the monastery a pilgrim magnet. In 1811 Napoleon’s troops destroyed the monastery but the monks hid the Black Virgin statue. In 1830 the Spanish royalty dissolved monasteries and convents. In 1850 the monks returned with the statue. The revival of the Montserrat monastery coincided with the rejuvenation of Catalan pride…then along came Franco. To him, Montserrat represented Catalan rebelliousness. But after his reign was over, all things Catalan were important. Some rebuilding of the site took place in the 1990’s after a forest fire and some rain damage.
Once we reached the base of the mountain, we took a rack (cog) railway up to the monastery which is 731 meters above the valley floor. This is a Benedictine monastery which is still functioning and it also has a boy’s choir and school. The boys are allowed to be at the school till age 14. After that they need to go elsewhere for their schooling , as their voices change.
Upon arrival we stop to take a few pictures, then our guide takes us to a viewpoint to get a better idea of the setting of the monastery and to view Montserrat, the mountain.
Marcel tells us the history of Montserrat, then takes us to the Basilica which is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance as parts that were destroyed during wars were rebuilt in different styles. The Black Virgin statue is in the church, but high above the altar and from our viewpoint looked golden not black. We did not pay extra or wait in line for hours to see the Black Virgin. Marcel told me that the tickets to see the statue are sold out two weeks in advance. It is said that one makes the pilgrim to see the Virgin and when leaving, lights a candle to hope that their prayers come true.
While at Montserrat we did some liqueur tastings. They were way too sweet for both Robin and I. I can remember all the liqueurs we use to drink after dinner parties; no wonder we had headaches the next day! I then visited the local cheese and honey vendors who are set up near the boy’s school. The vendor I chose to visit must have been related to the « soup Nazi » from Seinfeld. Here I thought to myself …why don’t I go see what kind of cheese that little old lady is selling….the other vendors were busy. I proceed to say ‘ Buenos Dias’. The response I get….and without a smile…is…you taste? Si Senora I say She says…you taste…YOU BUY! Ok, I tasted all the cheese she was selling to get my money’s worth, then I asked her to cut one of the pieces in half and I would buy it! By the way, all the cheeses were very tasty. Wish I would have taken her picture; but she probably would have charged me for that.
I always like to read more about places we have visited and I looked up the official web site for the Monastery. There is a section there ‘How to Become a Monk’. No real additional information there…if one wanted to become a monk, you would need to send an email. Just FYI in case any of my male friends are interested!
I always get a kick out of some of the stories that guides have to share when on these group tours; makes things interesting. Marcel talked about the ancient Royalty and commented that if one looked at their pictures, you would notice that their noses got bigger and their faces more distorted and eventually were not able to produce any heirs, as they were marrying their cousins! He then goes on to say that Catalan people are good at making money and they like political power; but unfortunately, they are also good at losing both! He tells us that the National Day of the Catalan people is the day they lost the war…how funny is that. When telling us the history of Spain and the Catalan people, he did speak of Franco and the oppression that people suffered during his reign. He said the best day was the day Franco died. He went on to say that ‘Cava – their sparkling wine used for celebrations’ was sold out for 2 weeks after Franco died. He says his Grandmother says she still has a hangover from those days!
He says the Spanish are good at making olive oil and wine. We certainly can attest to that; all the wine we have tasted, even that bought at the supermarket have been very good. He says the national sport here is ‘Siesta’…we have also had a few of those!
I had read that the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 created more awareness of this beautiful city and Marcel reiterated that. He said that Barcelona used to get one million visitors a year and now they get 18 million. I will have to correct Marcel if I see him again……the official tourism site tells me that Barcelona received at least 20 million tourists in 2019…yikers that is a lot of people!
We leave Montserrat by bus and head off to go to a winery for tapas and wine tasting. On the way, we pass a Benedictine convent and Marcel asks us what we see. Someone on the bus says they see a swimming pool and sure enough we see it, not a bad convent if one had to choose. Marcel says that he thinks the nuns wear ‘Nun – kinis’ to go swimming or maybe ‘No – kinis’. Ok……this guy definitely deserves a tip!
The wine tasting took place at the Oller del Mas winery. Our tasting was accompanied by some tapas. As in some of the restaurants where we have had tapas in Barcelona, the tapas are served with bread and one puts a tomato sauce on the bread to accompany the tapas. Very good.
During the wine tasting our group started chatting more as really had not had much opportunity during the tour in Montserrat. An english couple on one side of us had just finished a seven day cruise in the Mediterranean and on the other side a very young couple from Chicago. The english gentleman commented that amazing that after just a few sips of wines, everyone started chatting! The Chicago couple were only in Barcelona for five days then heading back home. We all toasted the English queen as today was her funeral. Many Commonwealth people on our tour…a couple from Australia, a few English couples and ourselves from Canada.
A DAY OF ROAMING AROUND BARCELONA
After a full day yesterday, started our day off by doing some much needed laundry. We always rent apartments that have a washer available. Put our laundry outside….not sure why I don’t do this at home; smells so much better.
We take the metro to the Barri Gotic neighbourhood to roam around and discover a little more of various areas of Barcelona. Our first stop is the Catedral de Barcelona, a 14th century Gothic style cathedral with a neo-Gothic facade. I kind of laugh at guide books. Mine tells me that this cathedral is unexciting and doesn’t even make the list of the top twenty cathedrals in Europe and yet devotes some eight pages to the description inside and outside. Nonetheless we did visit and took some time for contemplation/prayer.
In my research of Santa Eulalia, I find out that she was a thirteen year old daughter of a prominent Barcelones family and was martyred for her faith by the Romans in AD 304. It says that she was tortured and then crucified on an X shaped cross. Today all the pews in the church have an X.
We then continue our walk and come across The City Hall in Placa de Sant Jaume. It is in this square where all major events are held during holidays. This is also the square where the Catalan people celebrated the return to self rule after the death of Franco.
Within Barri Gotic is the Jewish quarter, but no synagogue here as it was destroyed in 1391, although it is said that some ancient remains exist. The remainder of the city’s Jews were expelled in 1492. This area has very narrow alleyways – pedestrian only walkways. Shops abound and I bought a pair of espadrille sandals and Robin bought a nice linen shirt.
Stopped for lunch at a bar where we could sit and watch the comings and goings of the street….good people watching. Quite funny, the young couple we met from Chicago on our tour to Montserrat, walked by so we chatted for a few minutes: small world. Every bar serves tapas, but I opted for mussels and Robin had a Bacalhau omelet. Got hooked on Bacalhau when we first went to Portugal several years ago. Had to laugh; they were playing country and western music in this bar. The waitress asked us if we had been to the Familia Sagrada yet. We said we had seen it on a previous trip and probably wouldn’t go back. Besides it still wasn’t finished….she said she didn’t think that it would be finished in her lifetime!
Bars also serve « pinchos » in addition to Tapas. Pinchos are small portions of food served on a small piece of bread with a toothpick through them to keep them together; while tapas are usually smaller portions of a main dish. We first came across Pinxtos (spelt this way in the north of Spain – Basque region) when we visited San Sebastian and Bilbao a few years ago. When you get pinchos you keep the toothpicks on your plate and you are charged by how many toothpicks are on your plate.
Keep meandering the streets and enjoy the architecture take in what is going on around us.
The Carrer del Bisbe Bridge reminds me of the Bridge of Sigh’s in Venice. This bridge was built in 1920 by a Catalan architect. Such lovely architecture in Europe.
Finally decide to head back home and catch the closest metro. We are mainly eating out at lunch time, but cooking our own dinners. Some prepared meals, but some cooking from scratch.
Robin and I were commenting on how inexpensive some items seem to be versus back home. When we were at the concert the other night, we each had a glass of wine after the performance which cost the equivalent of about $9 Cdn for both. At home, when we go to the opera or theatre, we usually end up spending about $25 for 2 glasses of wine. Also the cost of a latte and tea are way lower…about $3 for a latte here vs. $7 at home. Also fortunate that oat milk (avena) is readily available here. Also talked about the metro in general. For the most part, the stations and trains are clean and we feel very safe. Mask are mandatory here in Barcelona on trains and taxis. Don’t think this is monitored as probably 70% of people do not wear masks. We continue to wear our in stores, on the metro and wherever there are crowds. Dogs are also allowed on metro and they all seem well behaved. The dogs of favour seem to be whippets and dachshunds. Nice bottle of wine from Toni (property manager) when we got back to our apartment, nice touch!
BRAVA COSTA AND FIGUERES DAY TRIP
Up early this morning, Wednesday the 21st, as we are on a full day trip to the Costa Brava and the city of Figueres. We take the metro to our meeting place along the Passeig de Gracia, which is said to be like the Champs Élysées in Paris. Beautiful buildings along the major boulevard which is lined by trees. Gaudi’s Block of Discord and La Pedrera are located along this boulevard.
I booked this day trip to the Costa Brava as it was a small group; which is something both Robin and I prefer. Our group was made up of a young American couple from Portland, Oregon and a young lady from San Mateo. Our guide and driver was Giuilo, one of the owners of this small touring company.
Our first stop was the small fishing village and holiday resort of Calella de Palafrugell which was about 100 kms from Barcelona along the Costa Brava. It was pretty quiet here. Giulio told us that this town and two other small towns nearby, serve as holiday destinations for families and once the children are back in school, these towns basically close down, even the grocery store. One would have to use a vehicle to go to the closest town with services. We stopped for coffee and a small bite to eat and walked around the town on our own. A beautiful little town with some great beaches!
On to our next stop, which is the ancient village of Peratallada about 30 minutes inland. The name means carved stone and once you see how the town is built it is understandable. Peratallada is known for its beautiful old stone buildings, cobbled streets and passageways. Its proximity to the beaches and its numerous restaurants and small shops make it a popular destination. In researching the town I found out that the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was partly filmed on location here. Spent about one and half hours here including a lunch and an impromptu siesta on a stone bench!
On to our final stop of the day…Figueres, which was about one hour away and just minutes from the French border. Figueres is the birth and death place of the artist, Salvador Dali. The main attraction is the Dali Theater-Museum which is a work of art in itself. Dali had a large part in the designing the museum and he lived in one of the towers before his death. In addition to the art work, the museum also contains Dali’s tomb. Even the exterior of the building is a work of art. It is painted a dark pink/red and is studded with golden loaves of bread and the top of the building has huge eggs on it and a geodesic dome. The museum is called the largest Surrealist object in the world and yes, we can see that makes sense.
The museum has two parts – the theater-mausoleum where most of the art is displayed and the Dali Jewel’s. We didn’t even know that Dali had designed jewellery; but I guess not surprising when one sees how prolific and varied mediums he worked with. Quite a few people here and some of the galleries were a bit crowded. As Figueres is near the border, a lot of French groups visiting. When one first enters the gallery, you walk into a large courtyard which is overwhelming. So much to look at and take in.
It is written that Dali produced some of the most thought provoking and trailblazing art of the 20th century. He was born in 1904 and died in 1989. Our guide said that many people asked Dali if he took drugs for his inspiration and Dali denied the rumours. Guilio told us that he heard that Dali went to bed with a spoon in his hand and this helped him « surf » between that period of sleep and being just barely aware. He said this is where he got most of his inspiration. Haven’t heard that before but I commented that perhaps he drank Absinthe, which was a drink of choice of many artists of the day. For those of you who aren’t familiar with absinthe, it has often been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and hallucinogen. Not sure that Dali used it, but really…..when you look at some of his work you have to wonder how on earth could he even think of doing this.
The following picture is a depiction of Mae West. When you walk into the room you see a soft couch, 2 portraits, something that looks like the front of a car with two lights. Then one climbs some stairs and you look down at this installation through some blond hair and voila….what you see is Dali’s tribute to Mae West.
Yes, we left the gallery and walked a bit through the town and had a cold glass of beer/wine. Met our group and drove back to Barcelona, which took about one hour and forty five minutes and some traffic issues getting near Barcelona. Back to our apartment close to 8 pm. A long day, but very rewarding. Please overlook my typos and any errors….all mine!
We were supposed to spend the month of February 2022 in Barcelona, but cancelled as Covid cases had substantially increased and we felt more comfortable staying in Canada. So having missed that opportunity, we made the decision, this summer, to come and spend a couple of weeks here. A little concerned at first with travel, as the day we were to depart, we got a text early in the morning to say our flight had been delayed by about one hour and we only had a 2 hour transfer time in Amsterdam. No issue, the time was made up during the flight and we landed in Schiphol airport in The Netherlands on time. Long line ups at passport control, but this also ran smoothly and we had plenty of time for our flight to Barcelona. Arrived in Barcelona around 1 pm on Thursday, September 15th, 2022.
We have rented an apartment in the Eixample (pronounced eye-SHAM-plah). This area is the heart of the Modernista movement, a carefully planned “new town” just beyond the Old City with wide sidewalks, shade trees, with the major road having side lanes for taxis a separate lane for scooters, and large intersections. At the edge of this area is Gaudi’s “yet to be finished” Sagrada Familia. We visited in a previous trip in 2013 when we spent 3 days here so will not be going back…..why….it still hasn’t been finished! I read an update and it says that they hope to finish two of towers by the end of 2022, but more yet to be done. They started building this church 140 years ago….glad they aren’t our contractors! Can you imagine the cost overruns! It is now estimated that the church will be completed in 2026 which is the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The Block of Discord (three apartments) and La Pedrera are also in the area, but again, we won’t be visiting these as we have already seen. Just to give those who have visited Barcelona an idea of where our apartment is located. One of the Metro lines is just a few steps away and very easy to get around to see the major sites.
A little history – One may choose to ignore this paragraph! Barcelona was an original Roman town from the time of Christ and was contained within Roman walls. The Cathedral was the centre of the city. Churches were built outside the original walls which drew more people to the city. In the 14th century, the Mediterranean was the center of trade and Barcelona thrived and a lot of Gothic buildings were erected during that period. When new sea routes opened up, its fortunes declined. In the 19th century, Barcelona bounced back due to the Industrial Revolution. The outer wall was torn down and replaced by circular boulevards. This was the period of the Modernista architecture movement. The summer Olympics were held her in 1992 and brought more focus to the city of Barcelona. As with many other port cities, Barcelona is struggling under the pressure of cruise ship visitors. The mayor of Barcelona has recently announced that the City will look at cutting the number of cruise ships in half and this would limit the amount of visitors to 10,000 per day. Still a very large number on a daily basis. Today, the population of the city of Barcelona is 1.6 million, but up to 4.8 million including the urban areas. The native language in the province of Catalunya is Catalan. Today many Catalans are striving for increased autonomy and some even want independence from the rest of Spain. All the signs are first in Catalan, then Spanish and finally English.
On our first afternoon here, we got settled in our apartment, did some grocery shopping (handy as a small grocery just a few steps away). Jet lag is very powerful; to bed very early and then up very early. On day two we headed out towards Placa d’Espanya with our destination being the Las Arenas Mall where we could get a Spanish SIM card for our phone – mission accomplished. I still can’t get over the cost of our cell phone service in Canada as compared to the rest of the World. So affordable here in Europe. Las Arenas was originally a bullfighting arena. Bullfights were banned here in Catalunya in 2010 so the arena was transformed into a modern shopping mall; what a great re-purpose of a building.
This area is known as Montjuic and was the location of the 1929 World Expo. Today the buildings are used as a convention centre, the Fira de Barcelona. The Monumental Fountain was the entrance into the World Expo site and the architect was an associate of Gaudi. One also sees ‘ The Four Columns’. These columns signify the four pillars of the Catalan movement and had been demolished in 1928, just prior to the Expo. In 2010 after pressure from the Catalan movement and independent political parties, four similar columns were commissioned and installed near there original location. At the base of Montjuic are the two large columns, a Mies van der Rohe Pavilion and the Magic Fountains. At the top of the hill is the Catalan Art Museum which is housed in the Palau National (National Palace).
We then took the metro to the Santa Caterina Market located in the El Born district of the City. A smaller market that was built on the ruins of an old Dominican Monastery. Our guide book indicates that the construction of the market was delayed (seems to be a recurring theme here in Barcelona!) and was known as the ‘ The Hole of Shame’. In 2006 the hall was renovated and a Gaudi-inspired roof was added. We bought a few food items in the hall, then stopped at one of the restaurants for our first taste of Tapas. We chose ham croquettes, fried calamari and potatoes bravas….yummy. Of course a glass of beer and a cold glass of white wine had to accompany our meal. Although the market wasn’t that busy, the few restaurants there were bustling. Back to the apartment after a first full day of seeing this wonderful City.
Saturday and I am still suffering from jet lag, Robin seems to be doing better than me. Late get away today. Took the Metro to Placa de Catalunya, the major square of Barcelona,which covers 12 acres. The square is surrounded by four major thoroughfares, the Ramblas ( a favourite tourist promenade and also pickpockets love it here), Passeig de Gracia (Barcelona’s Champs Elysees), the Rambla de Catalunya and Avinguda del Portal de l’Angel (traffic free) which leads to the area of Barri Gotic where the Cathedral is located. We decide to stroll down the Ramblas and we are amazed at the number of people. Although it is a Saturday, it is the middle of September; would not like to be here in the height of the summer. Our property Manager, Toni, told us we had to go this market as it is the most central and the most crowded. Very good people watching I must say. We find a table at one of the many bars/restaurants located on the edge of the market. Tapas once again; this time we try garlic shrimp, calamari (I love calamari) and tortilla de patatas. Again, all very good. All these restaurants are extremely busy and I find it amazing how quickly they get the food out to you and they appreciate if you don’t lounge around, they turn the tables over very quickly. We walk around the market and once again pick up a few items which we cannot do without, such as pastries and chocolate! Weather very pleasant.
The metro here is very clean and as mentioned before a stop is located just steps from our apartment. When we decide where we are going, I chart out the route on the ‘ Metro App’ and it is so precise. Tells you which line to take, how many stops to your next transfer, where to transfer to another line and which exit to take to get to your destination and how far you need to walk to get to your destination. Must say, it certainly makes things very easy. We have also downloaded the ‘Free Now’ app which is used to get a taxi. Proliferation of official taxis here. Uber is not widely used or popular in Barcelona. They just returned about a year ago after a two year absence due to protests by the taxi industry and the City imposing very strict regulations on ride sharing companies.
This morning, Sunday, we decide to head off to Fundacion Joan Miro, which is said to have the world’s best collection of this Catalan modern artist. Both Robin and I have enjoyed seeing his work in galleries around the world . The gallery is located half way up on Montjuic. To get there we took two separate metro lines and a funicular.
The building which houses his works, was built in 1975 by Josep Lluis Sert, a friend of Miro and a student of Le Corbusier. I always get a kick out of some of the remarks in guide books. Regarding Miro’s work, our guide book says ‘ Some tips to enjoy Miro’s work – First, meditate on it, then read the title , then meditate on it again. Repeat the process until you have an epiphany.’ It goes on to say ‘Devotees of Miro say they fly with him and don’t even need drugs. Psychoanalysts liken the free for all canvases to Rorschach tests – is that a cigar in that star’s mouth?’ Although the guide book comments are interesting, we have always enjoyed Miro’s art work.
I think we will simply admire his work and the many mediums he worked with. The history of his works progresses as one proceeds through the many rooms in the gallery. I especially like the 400 square foot Tapestry of the Foundation which was designed for the space in 1979. Miro died in 1983 at 90 years of age.
Not too busy today, but quite a number of families with young children. Just as an aside, the guide book did say that ‘ Children probably understand Miro’s art the best’. Looking at one of his pieces, Robin commented that Hazel, our young 7 year old neighbour, could do better…probably even our great niece, Maeve, who is only 3 years old!
Above is just a small sampling of Miro’s work and the variety of mediums that he worked with…..all amazing! Following is a Calder sculpture – Mercury Fountain – which was in the lobby of the gallery. This piece was created in 1937 for an exhibition at which Picasso premiered his well known work – Guernica. Both of these works were created to honour victims of the Spanish Civil War. Note the picture above the statue showing the Guernica in the background.
This afternoon, we attended a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The concert hall only took 3 years to build and was completed in 1908. Guess they had better contractors than those that are building the Sagrada and those that built the market! Its’ location, on a very narrow street, is very interesting and the interior, which is in the Modernista style, is said to be one of the finest in the city. First time using the « Free Now » taxi cab application and it worked like a charm….very similar to Uber.
This concert was to honour the Catalan pianist and composer Leonora Mila who just celebrated her 80th birthday. She was a child prodigy composing her first work at the age of six and started her international career at the age of twelve. It was very special as she was in attendance. The symphony played a good number of her compositions and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The interior of the concert hall is one of the most beautiful we have seen and is very intimate.
I am always amazed at the talent of those who can play an instrument. I was especially taken by the percussionist. Had I pursued my kindergarten instrument….the triangle….yes folks, I could have been playing in this orchestra. Mind you, I would also have had to learn to play the tambourine and wooden blocks.
As we were leaving the concert hall, I asked a young man if he would take our picture. I do not do selfies…..arms too short! He asked if we spoke English and then went on to say that he was from California and would be in Spain and Portugal for a couple of months. He had just arrived in Barcelona a few days ago and already had fallen for a scam and had all his valuables, including his passport stolen. Luckily he already had his passport replaced as there is a U.S. embassy here. Guess this young man has not read guide books advising those to safeguard their valuables and not to fall prey to these scams. He was pretty positive considering what had just happened to him.
Tuesday – June 14th – Started our day by attending our local market to buy some provisions. Must say it is very convenient as it is held three days a week…Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Not too busy this morning as compared to Saturday. We bought some prepared foods; so not having to cook too much. So both yesterday morning and this morning we stop at bars/cafe in the “hood”. We have been to both of these before. We like them as they are situated around the square and great for people watching. Both times, the waiters brought me a “cafe” then they have a look of dismay on their faces as they remember I ordered a “grand cafe creme”. They both hurriedly brought some hot milk to accompany my coffee. One of the waiters even discounted the cost of the coffee! Think it’s a conspiracy!
The people who sell their wares at the market are so efficient at setting up and taking down their stalls. By 2:30 pm, everything is gone and all is clean. This is when the older people playing pétanque take over the square.
Today we walked about half way to the old town, then caught the metro the rest of the way. Meandered the streets of the old town and had lunch at a small restaurant. I had a crepe and Robin had the traditional “Sausage Lyonnais” (almost like a ham sausage normally served with warm green beans) which was very good. Some little birds dropped by to eat the leftover bread at one of the tables near to us. By the way, the washroom was inside a traboule which split the restaurant into two sections
We note that lots of rain happening back home and I almost hate to post this….ok, not.
There are separated bike paths and dedicated lanes for bikes and scooters throughout the City. The city has a shared bike and scooter system which is well used. They also have a shared vehicle system. Unlike Calgary, people use the bikes/scooters for transportation. Lots of two stroke motorcycles/scooters around and they sure make a loud noise….not a fan of these! We notice that the majority of the buses here are electric. The Europeans seem to be so much more aware of energy costs and also safeguarding the environment. Most cars are small and not many SUV’s, not even small ones.
Notice the dog of choice in France still seems to be the Jack Russell terrier….I just love these. Robin says, no designer dogs here. We have a few mourning doves around, lots of cooing in the mornings and evening. Nice sound to wake up to as we keep our windows open at night; no alarm needed.
You can certainly tell it is nearing the end of the school year. We have seen many student groups out and about on field trips. Poor teachers..looks like they are trying hard to keep the kids’ interest and trying to keep their attention. Herding cats comes to mind.
When we decide where we are going for the day, I use the TCL app (Transports en Commun Lyonnais – Lyon’s public transport operator). It covers the metro, the trams and buses. Just enter where we are leaving from and where we want to go. When I get the results, I just email to myself so I have the directions right on my phone. I could just use the app, but would need to reload each time. By emailing it, I have the ready reference. Very handy. Certainly puts things in perspective of where you are heading.
Got to love technology. If I have a question about what is taking place in the City or clarification on an event, etc. I simply “message” or “chat” with the local tourist bureau. No need to make the trek down to the Tourist office. Works very efficiently.
Today (Wednesday, June 15th) we visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. It is located on Place de Terreaux, the same square as the City Hall and the Opera House. This is basically the centre of Presqu’il area. We did pass here and took pictures when we were on the Hop on/off bus earlier in our stay.
We enter a lovely garden with some stone statues. A few are sculpted by Rodin; I happen to really like his work. If one looks closely you can see the muscles in the bodies he has sculpted. This garden area is open to the public and as we were leaving, a lot of locals were eating their lunch here. This building was a former 17th century Benedictine abbey and hence the courtyard which used to be cloisters, lovely. This building was originally transformed into a museum in 1803 and underwent restoration in 1989 and finally reopened to the public in 1998. We spent a couple of hours touring the collection.
As we enter the museum, the first work of art we come across are the statues of the Rhone and Soane. These two statues that represent the two rivers here in Lyon. These two bronze sculptures were commissioned in 1714 and sculpted by the Coustou brothers. The statues were originally placed at the bottom of the equestrian statue of Louis the XIV which is located in Place Bellecour. The statues were restored and placed in the museum in 2021.
A lot of religious art, which is not our favourite, but a small collection of Gauguin, Manet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Chagall, Matisse and hundreds of other artists. The first floor was mainly devoted to Egyptian antiquities…..I can’t help but wonder…”who really is the rightful owner of these Egyptian artifacts?” Always love to see the tile work and mosaics that go back centuries; some of the designs, albeit possibly modernized are still used today. Our apartment happens to have beautiful tile work in the bathroom and shower area.
Massive rooms in the Museum which in themselves are pieces of art. Beautiful mosaic floors and painted frescoes on some of the walls. My investigation of this museum tells me that the Louvre in Paris is the only fine arts museum in France which is larger.
Lunch on the local square, Place des Terreaux. They have a water feature on the square, similar to a lot of other cities around the world. Not sure if adults really notice it or pay attention, but certainly it draws the children who run in and out of the water. The square is also the location of a beautiful fountain, la Fontaine Bartholdi. Sculpted by Frederick Bartholdi (Statue of Liberty fame) in 1892.
As we are walking back to the Metro I notice a store called “C’est deux Euro”, translating to everything cost two euros. I suppose a dollar store, but inflation has hit hard….now charging two euros instead of one euro. On the metro, two young ladies give up their seats for us. This has happened several times and we always thank the young people. I comment later to Robin that they must think we are old…..he says “Honey, we are old!”.
Robin reminds me that we need to stop at our local épicerie (grocery store) to pick up a few things. I go through the list and tell him, eggs, orange juice with no pulp and some more yogurt. “Claire…..WINE.” I don’t know why he tells me this, I didn’t think one needed to write wine down on a list; not something either of us would forget. It is now 33 C at 6 pm and weather to continue to be hot.
As we cross the square, stalls are being set up. I stop and ask a vendor what is happening and she informs me that every Wednesday from 2:30 pm till 8 pm an organic market is held. Aren’t we lucky….four markets a week to choose from.
Thursday and we decide to go to the Aquarium. We stop at one of our favourite bar/resto and the usual waiter is there and he remembers what we want to drink. We get into a conversation with him and he asks us where we are from and how long are we here for. Told him we did a bike trip prior to arriving of 228 kms. He says there is no way he could do that.
I find it amusing that we go to aquariums all over the world, yet we have never gone to the one in Toronto where our kids live and that we visit on a regular basis. I plan out our route and for the first time, in addition to taking the metro, we need to transfer to a “C’ bus (a C bus is one that travels on major routes throughout the City). Takes us a few minutes to find the right stop and yes, we actually go in the right direction. We have been known to take buses in the wrong direction on occasion during our travels! More school groups at the aquarium, but they are leaving. We find the aquarium to be mediocre compared to others we have seen, but still nice to see. Lots of different fish species and love the colours of the fish.
We make our way back to Place Bellecour and decide to stop for lunch in Place Antonin Poncet, just off the main square. There is a bell tower here, which is all that is left of a Catholic hospital (Hôpital de la Charité) circa 1622. The main hospital burnt down in 1934. One of the buildings on the square was a hotbed of resistance activities. Dr. Jean Rousset used an insane asylum on the top floor to hide Allied pilots. He was eventually captured, but survived the war. He also helped Virginia Hall a famous member of the SOE (Special Operations Executive). She was an American but worked with the British and she subsequently received the Croix de Guerre and an MBE. She has an interesting history which I enjoyed reading about, but too much information to partake here.
There is also a water feature, a beautiful flower sculpture and steps leading to the Rhone on this square. The sculpture was part of the 2003 Biennale.
We stop for lunch on the square at Cafe Français and share a delicious meal. “Confit de boeuf et jus sauce de tandoori avec olives vertes et pommes de terres”. The beef is preserved/tenderized in its’ own fat for eight hours. Simply delicious….had to take a picture.
As we arrive back to our apartment around 2:30 pm it is 32 C. Very hot, so the a/c went on immediately. Must say that travelling by metro and bus is comfortable as they are all air conditioned.
Robin and I have made the decision to return to Calgary early and have been able to get a flight back tomorrow – Saturday. I have had some health issues in the last week and just thought it would be better to return home. We feel very fortunate for the time we were able to spend on our bike ride and here in Lyon. So long for now.
Arrived back in Lyon from our bike trip yesterday afternoon (Thursday). At around 10 am Friday morning, there was a fire alarm at the hotel, so we proceeded to vacate our room and walk down four flights of stairs. Good thing we weren’t on the 10th floor and thankfully it was a false alarm, but certainly a jolt when not expecting something like this. One of the staff approached us and apologized…..as if it was his fault. Only out of the hotel for about 5 minutes. They are doing some renovations to the bar of the hotel and had to wonder if this wasn’t the reason.
As an aside, last night after dinner, Robin and I were watching the BBC news channel; the only english tv channel at the hotel. A banner comes across the bottom and it says “New Zealand plans to tax cow and sheep burps”. Seriously how does one or the government for that fact, keep track of burps and does the definition of burps include those coming out of both ends of the cow/sheep. Just asking!
We took possession of our apartment at noon today (Friday), which is in the 8th arrondissement of Lyon. Our landlady, Catherine and her husband Marc, met us and walked us through everything we had to know. The apartment has everything one would need or want. A bright one bedroom with a fully stocked kitchen and air conditioned. It is to reach 25 C today and get warmer next week, so that may be very welcome. Having said this, we are getting a lovely cross breeze from opening the large windows in bedroom and kitchen/dining area. This apartment belongs to our landlady’s daughter who is away in Ireland studying for a few years. Robin and I are always so impressed with the linens in France. I know they may sound strange, but the bed linens are gorgeous….you almost don’t want to sleep in them! The other thing about the bedding that one finds a lot in Europe is square pillows vs our rectangular pillows. I always find these small differences interesting and wonder how these changes evolved. Something to look into when I am really bored or can’t sleep! Maybe I will investigate this along with the New Zealand “burp” thing. If I find anything, I will be sure to report back.
There is an elementary school across the street and it is nice to hear the children’s voices. This afternoon a parade of parents picking up their kids from school. “Bon weekend”….that is by the way what the French actually say.
This apartment is in a residential neighbourhood, so away from the tourist centre, which is one reason we chose it. The metro is two blocks away and a ten minute metro ride to Place Bellecour, which is the major square in Lyon and is the historical centre.
We are only a couple of blocks from Place Ambroise which is the local square of this neighbourhood (Monplaisir) and is surrounded by cafes, grocery stores, butchers, bakeries and most importantly of all a chocolate shop…Jeff de Bruges, a well known chocolate maker in France. We unpack and make our way to the local butcher, Maison Vessiere. We spend a pile of money here on wonderfully prepared meals, fresh cuts of meat and some seasoned and fully cooked meats as well. Then on to the local épicerie (grocery store) Casino. There is also a UExpress nearby which we will also check out. Nice that everything we need is really within a very short walking distance.
After getting the provisions we need, we decide to stop at one of the local cafes for a late lunch. In addition to the restaurant, they also have a section of tables in the square. When we first approached the host of the restaurant, he asks if we are here to eat; to ensure we just weren’t there to have something to drink. Busy lunch time and it appears they try to maximize their earnings by insisting that one eats as well as drinks; can’t say I blame them. They did turn away a few people.
A lot of you know that I am on a special diet and the one thing I am really missing are all the wonderful/delicious salads that they make in France. Salads used to be our main staple for lunch whenever we came to France and they are so large, we used to share and still had plenty to eat. Who said this was fair! We share (a partagée) a pasta dish and some beer for Robin and white wine for myself. We engage the young waiter to find out what time the restaurant opens in the morning as we like to usually have a coffee/tea before heading out for the day. I also ask where we could get a drink nearby in the afternoon. He tells us that starting at 2:30 pm, after the lunch time crowd is finished, they do allow people to come in and simply have drinks. It is now 2:35 pm and the outdoor chairs are filling up with the University crowd…..I guess they know the rules of when to come for drinks!
OK….I know the next part might be quite boring for some readers, but I always like to know about the history of where we are visiting. Our dear nephew Marc, asked if I was going to write my blog on this trip. When I responded yes, he said he could hardly wait to read the “history” part. Think he was being sarcastic….he has trouble falling asleep and I think reading this section of my blog helps him sleep!
Lyon is the capital the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region in east-central France. It is set on a hilly site at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. It is the third largest city in France, after Paris and Marseille and is know as the gastronomic capital of France.
It was founded in 43BC by the Roman military and became the capital of the Gauls. In 1032 it was integrated into the Holy Roman Empire and annexed to the kingdom of France in 1312.
The Renaissance brought prosperity to the area. By the 17th century it was the silk-manufacturing capital of Europe. Printing was introduced as early as 1473, and Lyon soon became one of the most active printing centres in Europe.
The city now has a diversified economy. The textile industry is dominated by the manufacture of rayon and silk. The production of chemicals has become a key industry as it was originally connected with the treatment of textiles. The construction, food, and printing industries are prosperous.
Lyon is the third-largest city in France after Paris and Marseille with a population of 472,317 in 2019. The larger metropolitan area has a population is 1,747,246 and it’s the second-largest metro area in France behind Paris. I always find it amusing when searching out statistics or information about an area we are visiting. Depending which site you use, the numbers vary somewhat; but I’ll stick with those above.
It’s large historic centre, Le Vieux Lyon, is a Unesco World Heritage site….another one for our list! The city also has the largest ensemble of Renaissance buildings in Europe.
From Wikipedia –
“ Economically, Lyon is a major centre for banking, as well as for the chemical, pharmaceutical and biotech industries. The city contains a significant software industry with a particular focus on video games; in recent years it has fostered a growing local start-up sector. Home of renowned universities and higher education schools, Lyon is the second-largest student city in France, with a university population of nearly 200,000 students within the Metropolis of Lyon. Lyon hosts the international headquarters of Interpol, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, as well as Euronews. According to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network it ranked second in France and 40th globally in Mercer’s 2019 livability rankings.” END of history lesson…..for now!
In the News
1) This past Thursday, ground crew and firemen at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports called a one day strike. They are demanding a raise due to the high cost of living. They have also called for another strike on July 2nd; thankfully that won’t affect us, flying home on July 1st through Amsterdam. I have to love the French workers….they always give advance of when they are going to strike….so polite. Health workers demonstrated this past Tuesday. Lack of resources have caused extreme stress…..sounds familiar! Same happening in our country. 2) Sunday, June 12th is the first round of Regional and Departmental elections. These elections are held over two Sunday’s and will affect the Assemble Nationale (the lower house) and could weaken/strengthen Macron’s efforts. Results from today’s election are posted then the public votes again on Sunday. A little confusing. Right across the street from our apartment is an elementary school and on the notice board are all the candidates posters. It has been interesting to watch the public walk by in the last few days and actually stop and look at the posters….don’t think I ever pay attention to posters during elections back in Canada. People already entering poll at eight am this morning and I did notice that the candidates’ posters have had paint thrown on them overnight….damage to political posters….my, my, what a surprise! Update at 5 pm….people still streaming in to vote and news reports that the voter turnout is 39%. 3) France football (soccer) team has qualified for the 2022 World Cup. 4) Eighteen people went on trial on Tuesday accused of running a Europe-wide giant horse meat trading network involving produce not cleared for human consumption. We know the French take their horse-meat seriously. We have actually tried horse-meat in previous travels; but not really a fan.
An interesting point of these elections is gender parity. For departmental elections, candidate duos (always a man and a woman) are paired together. All the posters show both of them. If a certain duo wins, they both get a seat and exercise their duties separately. For regional elections, parties lists must alternate candidates male and female. After reading more about the regional elections related to gender equality, I was totally confused!
On Saturday, we attended the local market, stopped for coffee/tea in an outside cafe in the park. There was a group of adults just off the square giving a concert, nice to hear.
We then headed out to the Westfield Mall in the Part Dieu area of the city. You ask “Robin and Claire going to a mall in Lyon, France…why?”. Robin decided he wanted a pair of sandals when he looked at the weather forecast for the next few weeks. Temperatures are to be in the high 20’s and low 30’s and he only brought his shoes for cycling and some dress shoes. We take the Metro to get there. This mall was built in 1975 and was one of the largest when built; not sure where is ranks now. It takes up 5 floors and has retail square footage of 1,370,000. No dilly – dallying…..find the Decathlon store, buy the shoes and get the heck out of there. Actually, we stopped at a pizza restaurant on the outer part of the mall for lunch. As the host approached us, he says “Bonjourno”….really, we are in France, not Italy. Like me ordering a cappuccino and being told I need to go to Italy. Robin decides to go to the washroom before we leave the restaurant and he tells me that their is a recording to teach one Italian!
On the way back to our apartment, we stop at the local grocery store as we missed getting a few things we needed yesterday. When I went over the list with Robin and asked if there was anything else we needed, his reply….WINE. Of course, how silly of me. Not sure why wine has go on the list though, not sure I would have forgotten. This evening in our local square a “block party” of sorts was happening; games and demonstrations for kids and bands playing.
Love some of the things I have come across in the apartment.
On Sunday, our second full day in our apartment, we decide to do the Hop on/off bus. I know this sounds very touristy, but we have done this on occasion when visiting a new city. It is good at giving one a good overview of the City and where you want to return. The tour starts from Place Bellecour, which is the major square in Lyon. This square is located in the heart of the Presqu’ile (peninsula) district which is considered the heart of the City.
We stop for a coffee/tea as we are early for our tour, we had bought tickets on line for a specified departure. I order a cafe creme and I get what looks like an expresso with a bit of milk. I have ordered a cafe creme on other occasions since arriving and I get what we would call a latte, which is what I want. The “lightbulb” in my head goes off and I realize I need to order “un grand cafe creme” (a large).
We are on the bus for about 1 1/2 hours and see the main sites. We begin in the Bellecour neighbourhood where we see an equestrian statue of Louis XlV (Le Cheval de Bronze). This statue was commissioned by the King and was cast by a couple of Lyon brothers. He wanted the statue placed in this square as it is said he fell in love with Lyon. I read that the statue was hidden during the French Revolution and put back in the square in 1826. We then view the “Grand Hotel Dieu”. This was at one time a charity hospital and was refurbished into a 5 star hotel and high end shops. Beautiful architecture in Lyon.
The bus then proceeds to the Terreaux neighbourhood where we see the lovely Opera house. We do attend the opera in Calgary, but unfortunately no opera held here during the summer months. City Hall (Hotel de Ville) and the Palais de la Bourse are also located in this area. The Chamber of Commerce now inhabits the Palais de la Bourse as the major stock exchange and treasury are now in Paris. Beautiful painted wall murals in this section of the City. Will have to come back and get more pictures. Also note many book vendors along the river here, reminds of Paris.
A funny aside about Hotel de Ville. Many years ago Robin and I were travelling by car through Europe and had a very long day of driving and had some issues at a “payage” (toll road/booth). This was in the days before the EU and we ended up paying our toll in Swiss Francs, Italian Lira and Deutsche Marks. Completely stressed we finally enter France and are looking for a hotel in a small town just across the border. I spot a hotel across the square and say to Robin, there is a hotel…..he says to me “ sweetheart, that is the Hotel de Ville…the city Hall”. Kind of funny when you think I am the French person. Robin never lets me forget this.
The bus follows the Soane, an area we have not yet seen. Along here we can see the Basilica, the Cathedrale, the Tour Metallique which are situated on the Fourviere hill above the City.
We continue and find ourselves at the Confluence. This is located at the southern most end of Presqu’ile and is where the Soane and Rhone meet. There is a spectacular Musee de Confluences and some spectacular architectural buildings along the southern part of the City.
Up the hill to the Fourviere district and this is where we decide to disembark.
We are both hungry and want to find a restaurant. Just a few cafes up here on the hill, so we take the “funicular” down the hill and stop at a local cafe. A young lady is sitting next to us and she has the reddish/pink drink, so I ask her what she is drinking and if it is alcoholic. She tells me it is a “Monaco” and it is beer mixed with syrup. So of course I have to look this up. A Monaco is two parts beer and one part lemonade with a splash of grenadine (guess that is what gives it a pink colour). I do like the odd Radler at home on a hot day, so I will have to try one of these and will report back. Still see a lot of people drinking Aperol Spritz’s, but I just find them too sweet. It is now 29C and with the constant breeze, it is very nice sitting in the shade. The owner of the restaurant comes out and sees that the sun is now shining a little on our table, so she promptly tells me that she will move the table a little to ensure we are in the shade. Too kind, thank you. By the way, the old adage that the French are rude is totally not true. If one makes the effort, they are very kind.
More Expressions. Vous avez commander? – You have ordered? Dite moi – tell me what you would like. Pas de soucis – No problem
After getting off the bus, we stopped for lunch. During the bus tour today, we also came across the “vide-greniers” (flea market) just near where we were having lunch. Following is a picture of the funicular we caught going down from the cathedral to the old town. Also came across several local food markets. The food market in our square runs three days a week.
Must mention that you don’t see many people here wearing masks; I would say less than 1%. Robin and I continue to wear ours on the Metro or crowded indoor areas.
Monday with Konstantin
I had booked a private tour of the City before we left Canada. Spent three hours Monday afternoon touring the old City with a local guide Konstantin. Although I say local, Konstantin was born in Belarus, moved to the Czech Republic as a young boy, as his parents thought it would be safer for the family. As an adult, he decided he wanted a French wife, so he went to China to study….makes sense so far. Believe it or not, he met a young French lady studying in China and “ergo” he made his dreams come true. They both had scholarships to study in China and they were there for a few years and travelled around. They decided to settle in a small French town of about two thousand people in the north of France. They found this town simply too small as they had come from a city of ten million in China. The lack of jobs there was also a driver to move to a larger city and they decided on Lyon. They have been here for five years. With hard work, they have been able to buy an apartment in the outskirts of Lyon. Konstantin teaches English at two Universities and runs his tour company on the side. He told us that he teaches English to reluctant French people who should have taken English in school and are finding it difficult later in life to learn a second language, which they now require in the work world.
We start off our tour at Place Bellecour, which is the largest pedestrian square in France. It is also the heart of Lyon’s historic district. Konstantin tells us that no change can take place in the square, except for possibly planting more trees around the perimeter, as the square is part of the Unesco World Heritage site. This Unesco site includes the districts of Vieux-Lyon, Fourviere Hill (site of the Basilica and the Roman amphitheatre), the slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill (home of the silk industry) and much of the Presqu’ile (location of Place Bellecour). On the square we see the statue of Louis the XIV. He wanted this area to become a second Versailles. The land was owned by a local monastery and they did not want to give it up as they used the land for agricultural purposes. Needless to say, the King took the land. Some gardens were planted, then the French Revolution took place and the square was destroyed. It was rebuilt and two identical buildings are on either sides of the square.
We start walking along a pedestrian area which Konstantin refers to the “Champs Élysées” of Lyon as this area features many high end shops. We get to Place des Celestines, where we view the Theatre de Celestines. The theatre was rebuilt several times as it had burnt down on a couple of occasions. It is said that this was mainly due to the lighting, which in olden times was by candlelight. So the owners of the theatre decided to have its own fire brigade. One night, a fire takes place and the building burns down, once again. Where were the firefighters? Apparently enjoying a beer in a nearby local establishment…wonder if they were FIRED!
Then on to Place des Jacobins where we see a beautiful fountain. This area is bordered by 19th century Haussmann style buildings. These buildings have been refurbished over the last few years and the apartments are very expensive due to their location. I ask Konstantin if this warm weather is usual for this time of year. He says probably a little warmer, but he feels that this has to do with the increase in buildings in the Presqu’ile area over the years and the lack of trees which were cut down to make the roads wider for more cars. He said the previous mayor, who was in power for 30 years, should take most of the blame for this. Last year the mayor was overthrown in the elections and the city is now ruled by the Green Party.
Konstantin takes us to a parking garage…..yes, a parking garage which is below the Place des Celestines. In 1996 this car park won an award for Europe’s most remarkable car park renovation. Who would think of going into a car park when touring a city…..that is why getting a private guide is so worth it.
Robin asks Konstantin about local beers. He says that growing up in the Czech Republic, he always thought they had the best beer. But having travelled in Europe and China, he has come across a lot of good beer and went on to say that Czech beer is the best Czech beer! Konstantin points out a sign which shows the height of the river during flooding.
Some of the streets in the area were known for their printing shops. Lyon has a history in the printing industry and many of its streets are named after famous printers. During WW11, Lyon was a centre for the Resistance and its printers produced many Resistance newspapers. We view the upper town, known as the Croix Rousse. This is where the silk industry established itself. It is said the workers lived on the hills as they would have to climb up to their homes. Whereas the wealthy lived on the flats, closer to the river and fresh water. Konstantin says their are two hills….Croix Rousse, the hill that works and Fourviere (Basilica located there), the hill that prays.
We cross the Soane and ahead of us is the Palais de Justice. Our guide tells us that Klaus Barbie was tried here.
We continue on to Vieux Lyon. On one end of Vieux Lyon is the Saint Jean Baptiste Cathedral and on the other end was (centuries ago) the banking and trading centre of Lyon. People came to Lyon to trade goods; at the time the silk industry was the largest in Europe.
The Cathedral was complete in 1476 and is older that the Basilica further up the hill. Inside is an astronomical clock. Konstantin points out that the last year on the clock is 2019…..just before the pandemic….he raises his eyebrows!
Konstantin then takes us to several Traboules; an informal network of elusive passageways. The doors to these passageways are not evident; they look like any other door, so one needs to know where they are. It is said that some 400 existed at one time, now about 40 are accessible to the public; others being private. These are like hallways that give one a shortcut from one street to another. Some of these have access to basements and tunnels that lead to the river. These were also used by the French Resistance to avoid the Nazi’s and to spy and plot against them. One can also see the stairs that lead up to apartments. Some of the stairs had small holes in them and Konstantin tells us that these were used for carrier pigeons.
We take the funicular up Fourviere hill to visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere. This basilica was built in the 19th century on land that was once a Roman forum. It blends both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. It has four main towers and a bell tower with a gold top and a small chapel on the side. The basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the City from the bubonic plague that swept Europe in the 1600’s. The Virgin is also credited with saving the city from a Cholera epidemic and the Prussian invasion. Interesting to see that above the altar, where one would normally see a cross with crucified Jesus, here you see a statue of the Virgin Mary. Each year in December, the city of Lyon thanks the Virgin Mary by lighting candles throughout the City; which is called the Festival of Lights. Konstantin says that the Festival now takes on a new spin by having fire works and lights throughout the city.
We also see La Tour Métallique de Fourviere in the distance. This is a television tower and not accessible to the public. Built in 1892-94 it resembles the Eiffel tower. The metallic tower was actually constructed with financial assistance from the republican/secular local council that wanted a secular monument to balance against the religious symbolism of the Basilica, which was built 10 years earlier by public subscription. Apparently once the spire was positioned on top of the tower, it was higher than the Basilica. I also read that the Nazi’s considered disassembling the tower for the metal for its war effort, but this never transpired. Not sure who built it, but it was not Eiffel.
There are gardens beside the Basilica with beautiful views of the City below. This is the end of our tour. A wonderful three hours spent with our very informative guide, Konstantin.
We take the funicular back down the hill and stop for a cold beer. It is very warm today (32 C), but thankfully a breeze blowing. I think I have already drank more beer this trip than I did all of last summer!
We are also thankful that our apartment is air conditioned. It is 9:30 p.m. as I am writing my blog and still 24 C. We have the windows open and enjoying a nice cool breeze. Very tired with all the walking but certainly a worthwhile day. We always find it so interesting to view a city from a locals’ perspective and enjoy all the stories we are told, not just the history.
OH MY GOSH……Back to international travel and Europe after almost 2 1/2 years, what a feeling!
Left Calgary on Friday, June 3rd and arrived in Amsterdam on Saturday morning. The EU no longer requires passengers to wear masks on planes, so many people on our plane did not wear them, but Robin and I chose to wear ours…..a little hard to wear a mask for 8 hours straight. Do not need to get sick and thought this was the safest route for us….a personal choice.
Having arrived in Amsterdam we had a 4 hour layover, which morphed into 7 hours as our flight to Lyon was delayed. KLM told us that this was the Schiphol airport’s fault as they were having work done on one of the runways and only half of the planes could land and take off. Just wondering….what have they been doing for the last two years when no one was travelling….just asking! Must also mention that airlines must be trying to recoup some of their losses from the last couple of years. Food/service on flights really cut back!
The airport terminal in Lyon was designed by Calatrava; a spectacular piece of architecture.
Finally arrive in Lyon around 5 pm in the afternoon and after getting settled in our hotel, we find our way to a large mall where we find an Orange telephone store. Orange is one of the major Telco’s in France and we both arrange new SIM cards and a monthly cell phone plan as we will be here in France for the month of June. Then off to the local Carrefour grocery store (epicerie) and buy some goodies for our bike ride.
On Sunday, we take a one hour train journey to Seyssel (population about 2,200), where we will start our bike trip on Monday. We had been told by the company who arranged our bike trip that on Mondays, a lot of shops and restaurants are closed and that we should ensure we have enough food for the first day of cycling. In addition, Monday, here in France is a “jour ferie”, a public holiday. When looking into this, I find out the holiday is Whit Monday. Whit Monday is a Christian holiday that celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus’s disciples. The Holy Spirit’s descent is said to mark the “birthday” of the Christian church. Just wondering…..how many people still go to church or just think…sure glad we have today off; what should we do? Hope the restaurants/ boulangerie’s/cafe’s are open tomorrow…hey, we need nourishment on our bike ride!
Seyssel, the small town from where we are starting our bike trip
Seyssel is a small community but seems to be a destination for cyclists. Many bike trips either start here or on the route. Some of the bike trips start in Geneva and follow the same route we are taking from Seyssel along the Rhone river. Our bike trip is self guided but we have a GPS and a hard copy guide. We did a trip very similar to this in the Bordeaux area about 4 years ago. Robin and I both prefer self guided as we can stop whenever and wherever we want. By the way….did I say…..”don’t try to tell Robin where and when he can stop”. Think that is my outside voice instead of my inside voice….oops!
Settled in our hotel in Seyssel, a boutique type of hotel; you would never know from the old exterior of the building that this is such a charming hotel inside.
Went for a walk in the town to find somewhere to get a beer/wine; very warm here..mid to high 20’s. Only one local bar is open as it is Sunday. Robin orders a local beer and I order a glass of white wine. I do believe that this is the smallest glass of wine I have ever had in my life. I estimated it was 2 ounces; Robin says more like 3 ounce….who cares…..I wanted a glass of wine; not a vial of wine! Having said this the wine was good and I don’t think they cater to wine drinkers in this pub.
Had our first very memorable meal here in Seyssel. I had a “filet de Sandre” (perch) with riz venere (black rice). Robin chose “piece du boucher avec sauce au poivre, puree blue d’autun et patate douce ( a tendre cut of meat in pepper sauce with puree of blue potatoes and sweet potatoes). Neither of us have ever seen these blue potatoes before. The lady who owns the restaurant told us they a variety known as Vitelotte and are grown in northern France and Belgium. They are a solid blue/purple potato with a very mild taste; so different looking.
Robin and I had a good chuckle remembering our days in Peru. Every guide told us that Peru was the home to many types of potatoes; which in relating stories ranged from 1,000 species and above. Just had to google that as Robin remembered it being much more than 1,000. Dr. Google tells me that there are over 4,000 kinds of potatoes in Peru!
Going back to my story about the small glass of wine in the local pub, the restaurant in our hotel had a superb wine list. I ordered a french wine from the Seyssel region….excellent in taste and quantity! Robin had a Cote du Rhone; we are after all along the Rhone river. When we went to order desert, I ordered a creme brûlée Madagascar. The owner says; “that’s not chocolate”. She had heard Robin and I talking about chocolate. Robin had a chocolate desert called “Chocosphere”…..oh my goodness, so chocolatity and came in a dish that looked a space ship/volcano. Oh, the French know how to cook and the presentation of dishes always spectacular. By the way delicious sauces on both the steak and the fish….yum. I may actually gain some weight on this trip; which I very much need! Robin says that is why we chose to come to Lyon as it is known as the gastronomic capital of France.
Coming back to France has brought back some wonderful memories. I just love some of the French expressions such as
“Je vous entends”…this is what a waiter/waitress will say when they come to take your order. The literal translation is….I am listening
“Pas de souhets”…. No worries
“Je vous en prie”….You are welcome
Bonjour Monsier/Dame…good morning Mr. and Mrs.
DAY ONE of BIKE TRIP – Great breakfast on day 2 of our bike trip to get us fuelled for the day. Had a good chuckle this morning. Our waiter was a middle aged man who asked us what we would like as a hot drink for breakfast. Robin indicated he would like a green tea and I asked for a cappuccino. The gentleman told me I would have to go to Italy to get a cappuccino, but he would get me a “cafe creme” ! Guess I should have remembered this, but at the previous hotel we were at they had automatic machines with the option of a cappuccino. Nice to have a waiter with a sense of humour first thing in the morning.
Our ebikes were delivered this morning around 9 am and a representative from the bike company went over everything with us. These ebikes are heavier than the ones we have at home, but we managed well throughout the day. The company also arranges to take our luggage from town to town to our specified accommodation. We did leave half of our luggage at the hotel in Lyon as we will be returning there on the last day of our bike trip. We only took what we needed for the bike trip and evenings out while on the trip.
By the way, we still only travel with a carry on suitcase and one personal bag. We will be gone for the month of June and we always ensure that the apartments we rent have a washer. We have rented an apartment in Lyon for three weeks upon our return. The bike trip ends up in Lyon on Friday.
Today (Monday) we cycled 55 kms, mainly on bike paths along the Rhone, but some of the route on narrow secondary roads. We are cycling from Seyssel to Champagneux. Wouldn’t you know it…..the last kilometre to our gite was all uphill. Just not fair at the end of a long day of cycling. The company that we booked with for our cycling trip, provided us with the “Guido” app which, when we entered our code, has a full GPS of our route; with voice activation. You just simply follow the line, if you veer off the line, it actually has an alarm to warn you. Very easy to use and we also have a backup paper copy. Many stops along the way with one such stop being in Chanaz, which is known as the “La Petite Venise Savoyarde”. Lots of people here on boats, canoes and kayaks along the canal as well as lots of families cycling due to the holiday. The weather was perfect for riding today, about 27 degrees with a gentle breeze.
Some of the varied countryside on the first day of our bike trip.
We ended our day in the small village of Champagneux. We are staying in a two guest room gîtes. The owner, Jean Richard, greeted us as we arrived and had graciously made a reservation for us for dinner tonight at the only restaurant in town……thank you, thank you! He even offered to drive us to the restaurant as it is again uphill….thank you Jean Richard!
The gite is made of stone and dates back to the 1800’s. Wonderful room in the basement, which is nice and cool and has some exposed brick. Needless to say, we both had a snooze upon our arrival at around 3 pm and a welcomed shower to get reinvigorated. Spending some time in the beautiful back yard of the gites doing some reading and watching the cows next door.
Robin and I were commenting how the European’s certainly have a handle on electric consumption. The electricity in the hotel we stayed in last night in Seyssel was regulated with a card key system. Once you enter the room, one inserts the card into the slot (which is also your room card) and electricity is available as long as the card is inserted. Once you leave the room with the card key, the electricity goes off, so no errant lights left on and/or air conditioning running while no one in the room. When we arrived in our gites this afternoon, Jean Richard said that he had two special outlets for us to charge our ebike batteries. These outlets have timers on them and the electricity to these two outlets will come on at 11 pm and stay on till 6 am the following morning. This timing is when electricity is at a its lowest cost.
Last night when Jean Richard offered to drive us up to the local restaurant, he said it would take two trips as his vehicle was a small van which only sat one passenger. I told him I could sit on Robin’s lap so he wouldn’t have to make separate trips…..I said just like when we were young. He said….oh, to be in love!
DAY TWO – This morning at breakfast, Jean Richard and his wife served yogurt, fruit, thin pancakes and home made jellies. One jelly was especially different and delicious…..jelly with black bergamot tea. The prize was a baked bun called “gateau St. Agathe de Catone”. The legend is that a royal asked Agathe for her hand in marriage, she declined…..so he had her “boob” cut off….and that my friends is what the baked bun looks like!
Our cycling route of 66 kilometres today took us from Champagneux to Villebois. We have been having breakfast around 8 am and usually leaving around 9 am and this has worked out very well. Today just after stopping to admire the Cascade de Glandieu.
Robin was riding ahead of me and I yelled out turn left in the small village. He kept going, so I yelled louder, he finally stopped. There was a French gentleman walking his dog who was stopped at the corner; and he had a big smile on his face. I said to him (in French of course) “my husband does not listen”. He started laughing and he said the same thing happens with his wife. We stopped and had a lovely chat with this lovely man. He had a beautiful Westie terrier, so we asked about his dog. He said that he and his wife had a previous Westie, but it had died after only 3 years and they were heartbroken and they said it would be too hard to get another dog. Time went on and they decided to get another Westie. He said he was seventy seven and if he lived to one hundred, time enough to enjoy another dog. He went on to say, if one was 23 and thought they would live to 100, that just seemed like to long a time. I mentioned to him that Robin was seventy nine…..he bowed his head and said he respected his elders…..love it. We said goodbye and he wished us good travels.
With having to bike 66 kilometres today, we took numerous breaks which worked out really well, able to manage this distance….although having said that, always seems that the last couple of kilometres seem extra hard. Did I mention it was uphill at the end…..again!
On one section of the bike path today, it was completely taken over by young school kids. The teachers noticed we were coming and they told the kids to clear the bike path. As we passed by, they all clapped and yelled and we smiled and waved …..just like the Royals!
Near our final destination of Villebois today, there was a widening of the Rhone where we saw school children taking sailing lessons and white water rafting on a side area. Also a few marinas along this section of the river.
Beautiful weather again today in the mid to high 20’s. Even though we had sunscreen on, probably need to re-apply….arms and ears a little red!
When we arrived at our lodging this afternoon around 3 pm the gates were closed. A sign on the entrance said that the guest house desk is open at 5 pm for greeting new guests…..I just about started crying! Needless to say, I rung the bell (why not) and after two attempts, a gentleman walked out and let us in. The owner, Thierry, said we were lucky to catch him as he was on his way out. Don’t think he lives here. He asked if the bike company told us about the 5 pm entry…..NO! Oh well, someone upstairs must be looking after us, as we did get our room…..snooze and shower and felt much better! I had yet another beer upon arriving this afternoon; I must say, after a warm day and biking, it went down very well…..not usually a beer drinker, but sometime just what one needs.
I always get a kick from finding odd or funny signs. The sign on the left is self explanatory, as Robin posted, an property owner with a sense of humour. The sign on the right is a warning about “cattle grates”. We found it amusing that they relate to them as “Barriere Canadienne” !
Our dinner tonight was included with our accommodation, so nice not to have to go out after a long day of riding. Thierry has a contract with a local provisioner and our supper was basically a catered set menu….very good, but way too much food for me! Two english gentlemen are the only other guests here (only 5 rooms in this guest house). They are also on a bike trip, although self planned. They had cycled about 100 kms today, as one of the them had lost their phone and had to go back and find it. Smart of them, to call the number and someone actually answered the call, so they knew where to go pick it up.
Beautiful little town with the majority of the buildings being made of stone as their is a local quarry nearby. Thierry told us that this guest house dates back to the 14th century.
This guest house also caters to cyclists. The owner has a small garage for bikes with about 8 built in power outlets to power ebike batteries. E bikes have certainly become popular and businesses have learnt to cater to this segment.
Did I mention that this guest house is across the road from the local church? We found this out when the church bells were going off once every half hour and the relative amount of rings on the hour. At 11 pm, they rang 11 times of course, but twice and then went silent for the rest of the night. Guess what, church bells start at 5 am! Then soon after the morning doves started cooing….we finally closed the windows.
To my fashionista friends out there who usually don’t see me wearing the same clothes day after day…yes, I am wearing the same cycling outfit and washing as needed….hey, only carry on and spending three weeks in Lyon….got to have enough outfits for then.
DAY THREE – Wednesday found us cycling from Villebois to Perouges, a total of 55.6 kilometres. Once again we left the guest house about 9 am. Quite cloudy today and cooler, about 14 C when we left. The countryside today was mainly farming communities and passed by about three locations where Nuclear reactors are operating…..quite ugly in all honesty….but we all need power. On today’s leg we had to cross major highways on several occasions and rode more on secondary roads. When waiting to cross the major roads, our GPS Guy always tells us to be very careful. Lots of trucks on the road. I mentioned to Robin, considering the number of goods that are transported by truck, not just in Europe but in North America, not sure I see a future without fossil fuels!
Started raining about 11 am so we stopped and donned our rain jackets. It rained the rest of the way, but in all honesty, really not that wet by the time we reached to hotel in Meximieux. Many stops along the way in sheltered areas to take a break and fuel up on power bars for Robin and cookies/apples for me. Wouldn’t you know it, about 1/2 hour after arriving, it quit raining. Rain in forecast again for tomorrow, but we are prepared.
During the last few days of our cycling, we have seen large rolls of cable (or so we thought) in farmer’s fields. At first we simply assumed they were cables, but finally dawned on us, that these were part of irrigation systems. Today we saw a farmer hitch his tractor to the spool and draw out the flexible pipe to irrigate his fields. We have seen lots of wheat, corn and other grain crops during the last few days. This area certainly appears to be one of the “bread baskets” of France.
Again, the hotel we are staying in tonight caters to cyclists and we were able to leave our bikes in a secure covered area; great not to have to worry about the bikes. We arrived about 1:30 pm. When we arrived at the hotel, the lady at the front desk said that our luggage had not yet arrived. She was kind enough to phone the bike company and they said the luggage was on its way and we had simply cycled too fast and we beat the luggage! When checking us in the clerk confirmed our first names and said Marie Claire sounds french and the conversation was on about where we were from. Then she says…oh, Robin Alexander; just like Robin of Batman! She really thought this was funny.
There is a restaurant attached to this hotel where we went for lunch and by the time we got back to our room, our luggage had arrived. Glass of wine/beer for lunch, so had to have that snooze…..I really didn’t sleep well the previous night due to the ringing bells and unable to sleep…just because….happens to ladies my age. Mind you both Robin and I woke up about 5 am to the sounds of the church bells and then the doves. Did try to go back asleep after closing the window but not very succesful.
About 6 pm, a rain storm starts including hail….glad we are inside the hotel and not out riding. Showers/rain (?) in the forecast for tomorrow….hope the weather gods are good to us on our last day of biking.
DAY FOUR – When I went to bring our luggage to the front desk to be transported to Lyon, the lady at the front desk (same one as yesterday) says “ Oh bonjour a la femme de Batman” (good morning to the wife of Mr. Batman). It is so nice to make connections with local….even though they can be a little strange. Had a good laugh when I told Robin.
Hearty breakfast once again and weather forecast calling for more rain a little later in the morning. Last night we had a very strong storm with thunder and lots of rain. We decide to take off at 9, which we have done most mornings.
The first half of our route today was on secondary “D” roads. These roads do not have any shoulders, but must say that drivers here are very respectful towards cyclists. When going around traffic circles, I ride in the middle and stick out my hand for the direction we are headed and traffic has been great about us getting through and waiting for us. Have had to cross a couple of busy highways in the last few days, but we always take our time and wait for traffic to ease up.
For the first half of our ride we encounter some rain, but thankfully nothing too severe. We stop in the small town of Balan and I see an older lady walking, so I stop and ask her if there is a cafe. She points directly ahead where I see a very small grocery store and attached is a bar/tabac where one can always get a tea/coffee or something stronger if one wanted. As we walk into the small bar, there are two tables occupied. At one table a middle aged man and at the other two older gentlemen. As I walk in I say “Bonjour Messieurs”, and of course they all reply. We strike up a conversation (in french of course) with the two older men. They ask where we are going and where we came from….they are impressed. I say “we are Canadians and we are tough!”Then one looks out the window and says “ah, you have electric bikes”. I quickly reply, “but we still have to work hard”. He tells us that he has an electric bike at home, but he lives one kilometre away, so he has driven to the tabac for his morning coffee with his friend….we all laugh. The other asks if we have maps and I inform his that we have an app on our phone, that is a GPS of sorts with our route marked on it and we happen to get off the trail, it beeps at us. I get my phone and show them. They ask if we are going back to Canada and we advise them that we are staying in Lyon in an apartment for 3 weeks. I wish I had asked to take a picture of these two. They leave and wish us “bonne journée” and tell us to enjoy the rest of our trip. As we are ready to leave the cafe, the owner tells us that the two gentlemen paid for our coffee/tea….WOW. I ask the owner if they are regulars and he tells us they come in every day. I asked him to please ensure that he thanked them on our behalf.
A few kilometres later, we cross a bridge and the instructions tell us to go down a set of stairs. Sure enough there are stairs and a rut in which to put your bike wheels to get you down safely. Two young men come upon us just as we are trying to get my bike wheel into the channel and they offer to help. We decline and say we can manage, which we do. We are now back on a bike path for the remainder of our trip to Lyon. We cycle through “Le Grand Parc Mirabel Jonage” and “Le Parc Tete D’or”. Both these parks encompass huge areas and are being enjoyed by lots of people. Ran across of group of young teenagers, but they were not as enthusiastic about us as the young kids from a few days ago who clapped for us! These teenagers seem to be the usual sulky types and did not seem to be impressed to be forced to be outdoors, probably forced by the school!
We arrive in Lyon and find our way to our hotel which is the same one we stayed in when we first arrived. Very convenient as it is just off the bike pathway and once again a hotel that caters to cyclists. They have an underground parking lot and a locked storage room for bikes. We store our bikes and make sure we take all our belongings. The bike company will arrange to pick up the bikes and all the gear, very convenient for us.
As we check in around 1 pm, we encounter the same lady who had checked us in when we first arrived almost a week ago. She told us she gave us a bigger room as she knew we had been cycling and she felt that a larger room would be nice and that it was ready…YES!
Tomorrow, we take possession of our apartment at noon, so looking forward to getting settled in. Robin and I both feel a sense of accomplishment today and feel fortunate that our health has allowed us to do this bike trip. We have met some wonderful locals along the way and fellow cyclists to share stories. Very enjoyable.
Well, we have been able to add two more Unesco World Heritage Sites to our list. The Douro Valley and the City of Porto. We have now visited 121 Unesco World Heritage Sites in our travels, but this still only represents 10% of the sites.
Went to the Guarnany Cafe for coffee/tea on Tuesday morning, another of the old classic cafes in Porto. It was founded in 1933 and is decorated in an art deco style. It was known as an artists cafe and catered to the artsy crowd. We opted to share a desert crepe with our drinks and it was delicious…..chocolate, whipped cream and ice cream…..what is not to like.
Hop on the tram to get to the grocery store and simply spend a relaxing day in the City.
Our time in Porto has come to an end and we have so enjoyed this city. On to our next adventure.
It is Friday, Valentine’s Day and we are going on an organized day tour of the Douro Valley with Manuel and Family. Manuel started the company, his cousin Jorge drives and guides and Antonio, another cousin, will guide us through the Croft winery. When Robin asked if any of the women in the family were involved, he was told that it was a male family company! We leave Porto at 8:30 am and drive out to Pinhao which is about a one hour drive. We are joined by two other couples, both from England. Our driver is Jorge, but tells us to call him George…..why…..his name is Jorge, let’s call him that! Actually found out later that you indeed say Jorge as “George” but pronounce it the French way….easy for me!
On the way to Pinhao, Jorge tells us that irrigation is not allowed in the Douro Valley except under exceptional circumstances (for the first two years of a vines growth or if the vines appear to be dying). This is controlled by the Wine authorities. The soil in the Douro Valley is comprised of shist and blue shale. The shale gathers heat during the day and releases it at night to create an even temperature in the soil. The shale also absorbs water. The composition of the ground forces the roots of the vines to go down very deep to get water which helps the vines become very strong. If irrigation was allowed, the roots of the vine would be very shallow and contribute to a weaker stock. Jorge and others during the day explained it in this way…..”the vines would get lazy, not have to search for water and eventually die”.
Once we arrive in the valley we stop at a viewpoint to see that terraced fields. One can also see many olive trees. The farmers here also produce olive oil but in small quantities for their own consumption. Manuel tells us that the olive oil here is very good and has an acidity of only .1 or .2 percent.
When we arrive in Pinhao, we get aboard a small pontoon boat and enjoy a short ride down the river with Douro Vintage Boat Tours who work with Manuel and Family. We were met by Bruno and Antonio. The boat is called ‘Syrah”….love it. Bruno talks about the Douro Valley and its wine and port trade. I asked the question about what percentage of the grapes were used for port and what percentage used for table wine. He told us that the Douro valley produces more grapes for table wine than for port; although he could not give me percentages. In Portugal, port is usually only drunk on special occasions. He went on to say that most Portuguese also prefer a dry white port which is what they consume as an aperitif or cocktail.
By the way, anything I write about port and wine is not to be taken too seriously or as fact…..I am not a wine critic like Robert Parker! I just drink the stuff….and oh….like it a lot!
Bruno goes on to tell us a little about the Douro River. It runs for about 900 kilometres and is mostly in Spain. One can navigate to the border, but then the river becomes unnavigable. Once you get to Pinhao, there are no roads along the river, so the only way to really experience the valley and its terraced fields is by boat. It takes about six hours by boat to get to Porto. This is due to the fact that there are three major locks from Pinhao to Porto and the process to get through the locks is very time consuming.
Bruno points out rows of olive trees along the terraces. These trees were originally planted to help demarcate property ownership and to also help prevent erosion. He also points out rows of various bushes and trees that are planted close to the river. This helps prevent insects from invading the wines; they go after the bushes first. Next a line of roses are planted. As we know, these also help the farmers. If they see that there is a disease on the roses, they can them take preventative action with the vines. Bruno also says that with the natural barriers of trees and rose bushes that the farmers are able to use less chemicals as less insects and less disease.
The way in which the vines are planted in horizontal rows allows for maximum sun exposure. One row of vines will not shadow another. This area has a Mediterranean microclimate and temperatures in the summer sometimes reach 52 degrees. But as mentioned before the shale absorbs the heat and releases at night creating constant temperatures for the vines. These are perfect conditions for producing smaller grapes with a high concentration of sugar. Bruno also talked about the ban on irrigation. He explained that if irrigation was allowed, one would get larger grapes with more water and therefore less sugar, which contributes to a lesser quality of wine.
The grapes here are all picked by hand and when a vintner deems the crop is ready to be picked, it usually needs to be done in a matter of days and not weeks. As one could see from the steep terraces, this would be back breaking work. He tells us that the Quinta’s (farms) usually try to hire the same people year after year. The grape pickers are well paid and get about 50 Euros a day and can make up to 80 Euros a day depending on the type of work they do. For example the grapes that are picked need to be brought up to the top of the hills to be brought by truck to the wineries. This means that someone needs to carry anywhere from 40 to 50 litres of grapes in a barrel. The grape pickers are normally provided with housing and food. Today a lot of migrant workers are used during the picking season.
In the 19th century, phylloxera destroyed about 90% of European vines. This was due to an American wine maker who inadvertently brought over some diseased stock. Bruno tells us that four famous European wine makers got together to try to solve this problem. They found that if they planted the American stock and then grafted the European stock to it, the vines grew healthy. He tells us that this process is still used today.
Bruno starts bringing out some “snacks” to enjoy with our port. The port is from a small local Quinta and is exquisite. We start with some bread with some cheese and a pumpkin walnut jam. Then he serves goat cheese from the Azores and some chorizo sausage and pate made from Iberic black pigs who only eat acorns. We came across a lot of this type of sausage in the south of Spain a few years ago, very tasty. These pairings with the port are scrumptious. Drinking port at 11 am…..yikes!
He tells us that the Douro valley is at about 80 metres above sea level and that here they produce grapes for red table wines and port. About 15 minutes away and at a higher elevation they produce grapes for white, sparkling and muscat wines. There are about 130 different varietals grown in the valley, but most vintners use a combination of five or so to make their wine.
While we are on the river, Bruno points out one of the other boats which is a replica of a rabelo boat. He told us that at times the rabelo boats would get caught on sand bars on the river and that oxen were used to pull them out. The river had some rapids and boats would capsize and they would lose their barrels of wine. They soon figured out that if they only filled 75% of the barrels, they would float if the boats overturned and therefore be able to recover the barrels.
By the way, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day today, what a bonus! We disembark and back in the van and only about five minutes up the road we visit the Croft winery. This winery has been in business since 1588 and is said to be the oldest in the area and is referred to the “Jewel of the Douro”.
Manuel points out an old olive tree which he says is hundreds of years old. He told us to be careful when we buy olive oil. He says that Spanish buyers come to Portugal to buy their oil, they bring it back to Spain, bottle it and label it as Italian. Well…not sure I believe this, but he was quite adamant. So I guess one should buy your Italian olive oil from your local Italian store.
The big concrete vats, pictured above, are where the wine is stored before it is bottled. The concrete does not affect the wine.
We are led through the property by Antonio, another of Manuel’s cousins….how many cousins are there? In the distance we see some smoke and Antonio tells us that they are burning some roots. They then put the ashes back into the ground to be used as fertilizer. I mentioned before that the farmers use roses to act as a means of early detection of any diseases. Here they also use lavender for the same purpose. First time we come across that. At the Croft winery they use coloured posts to mark the varietals of wine, so they can easily see which vines are planted in which sector of their land. The harvest usually commences in September and all the crushing is done by human feet. Some of the port houses we have visited on the Douro tell us that they have mechanized this process but here at Croft everything is still done manually.
Sit on the patio for a port tasting. The port is filtered into a carafe and then poured into the appropriate style of glass. Antonio tells us to swirl, smell the aroma, take a small sip and breathe out through your nose. This will give one the maximum flavours and aromas.
Antonio tells us that it is a tradition for a family to buy a “vintage” port on the year of the birth of a child. It is then kept until that child turns eighteen, when the port is opened and used to celebrate the “coming of age”.
We then head off for a lunch, which is included in the tour. Tabua d’Aco is run by a “green chef” Thomas Egger and we enjoy a “farm to table” lunch. We have a breaded cod fish with potatoes and vegetables and some local pork with a gravy. This is accompanied with a wine tasting of two whites and two reds. Then desert which was two local cakes. Ok…..way too much food and wine for me. One of the ladies in our group asked me for my deserts and I happily handed them over. At the end of our lunch, our guide and driver Jorge, gives everyone a taste of “grappa” poured in a very unique manner!
Our last stop of the day is to visit the very small town of Barcos. We visit the small local church which is very ornate. A lot of the buildings in this small town have been refurbished. Jorge tells us that the mayor of the town was the major force in getting funds for the people of the village to undertake their renovations. Certainly a charming little town. We are treated to an olive oil tasting and a final glass of wine!
Well, what a fabulous day. We get back to our apartment around six in the evening. No food for us….just water to hydrate after all that wine, port and food.
Saturday morning and we decide to head off to the local market. The market in Porto is undergoing a renovation and a temporary market has been set up in the basement area of a shopping centre. We love local markets and great to see the various vendors ….fish, vegetables, flowers, nuts and dried fruit, meat, etc. As we walked into the market, we see banners hanging from the ceilings which show pictures of the vendors….love it.
Also several port vendors, which is not a surprise. We decide to finally try a “port tonic”. We opt for a port tonic with white port vs rose port; as the lady who owns the small shop tells us that the rose port is very sweet so we opt for the drier white port. Very refreshing, would be great on a sunny day in the summer! Did I mention it was only 11:00 am when we imbibed!
We walk along Rua Santa Catarina which is a pedestrian street in this area. Lots of people here today as is the weekend so we also see many street entertainers. We come across the Majestic Cafe. All the guide books say this is a must see.
The Majestic, a belle époque cafe goes back to 1920 and was the meeting place for the writers and artists of Porto. A beautiful facade and an interior that is quite unique. It is said that J K Rowling spent a lot of time here. There is even a doorman on this Saturday morning who is controlling entry to the cafe. Robin insists we stop for a coffee/tea even though I say it will be very expensive. He asks the doorman if we can sit outside, not a problem. Our waiter arrives and we order our green tea and galao (late). Tea served in a china pot, very lovely. We get our bill……12 Euro. I just about gag and Robin just laughs. We pay about 3 Euro for the same at our regular coffee haunt. Needless to say, this cafe is packed with tourists and not locals.
We continue our walk and I come across the small shop “A Perola do Bolhao” which is one I wanted to visit. This is a small grocery cafe founded in 1917 and has an wonderful Art Nouveau exterior. Inside this tiny cluttered shop one can find port wines, cheeses, smokes meats and dried cod. Love the art work on this building.
We hop on the tram back to our apartment and go out for a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Some of the sights we saw on our walk today; including a student with his typical cape.
We have certainly noticed much Belle Epoque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings here in Porto. Also some very ugly modern “brutal” concrete architecture!
Sunday and we head off to the Casa da Musica for an afternoon Philarmonic Concert. This is Porto’s major concert hall and was built in 2005. It is quite an impressive building; one of the guide books says that it looks like ” a mother ship has landed”. I had booked tickets for this concert when we first arrived and it only cost us 10 Euro each to attend. The concert hall was packed for this event. Lots of families as it is an afternoon concert and the program is featuring music from films such as Star Wars, Cinema Paradiso, Robin Hood and Jurassic Park. Noticeably absent in the orchestra were the lack of stringed instruments only a harpist and one double bass. I personally loved watching the percussionists. They had all kinds of instruments from bells, gongs, drums, triangles, tambourines and cymbals. I think it would be great to be able to play all of these and just make plenty of noise! An afternoon of great music in a beautiful venue.
On the way home noticed some great black and white drawings along a construction wall.
Robin and I were commenting on the number of young children at the concert and a few around us were fidgeting after about 15 minutes into the concert. Guess their parents are trying to give them some exposure to music and considering the concert had a lot of Star Wars type music, not a bad way to start them. Although I could not understand the children, it looked like there were a lot of comments like “Is it finished yet?”
On Monday morning we headed out to the small city of Aveiro which is 76 kilometres from Porto. We went by local train and took us one hour and fifteen minutes. The train was packed both in the morning and afternoon as it stopped in about twelve towns along the way; with Aveiro being the final destination. The city of Aveiro was once a sea port and has a history of salt production. By the 16th century is was a very wealthy town due to its salt trade (we know from our travels that salt was used as a type of currency in trading throughout the world). Also a strong fishing history and our guide book says that the “bacalhoeiros” fished cod off of Newfoundland. In 1575 a storm silted the harbour and the town died off, as its’ access to the ocean was cut off. The population also declined due to fever caused by the stagnant waters.
In 1808 the lagoon and canals were dredged to link them once again to the ocean. The lagoon that remains is 65 square kilometres and 50 kilometres long. In the 19th century Aveiro regained its’ prosperity. There are some absolutely beautiful buildings in this city, which really surprised me. After doing some reading about the city, I thought it might be a bit seedy, but it is lovely. With its’ system of canals Aveiro is known as the “Venice of Portugal”.
We took a ride in a moliceiro, a boat that was historically used for the harvesting of seaweed. These boats are now used for tourists to enjoy a ride along the canals and view the city from a different perspective. Nice views of the beautiful buildings; the guide described the majority of them as Art Nouveau. Also sailed along some of the old salt warehouses which have been refurbished into shops and restaurants. One salt vendor remains.
As we approached the canals, when we first arrived, we noticed ribbons hanging off some of the railings of the pedestrians bridges. This is what they do here vs putting locks on bridges…..makes so much sense as does not put extra weight on the bridges.
Another great day of discovering a new area. Sunny skies today, very welcomed.
Apologies to all, especially my teacher and newspaper friends/family for any errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation……for example, sculptor vs. sculptures for one. Sometimes when I reread my blog I don’t see these……
Today we decided to go for port tastings, after all, it is Robin’s birthday (Feb. 6th) and we must celebrate. Our landlord Fred has given us the names of four port houses that we must visit while we are here….Taylors, Cockburns, Pocas and Symington’s. So what do we do….we make a booking at Sandeman’s. Actually the only reason is that Sandeman’s could accommodate us early this afternoon and they are right along the river. We have booked for Cockburns for next week and will definitely take in Taylors as that is the port we usually drink at home. The tour at Taylors is a self audio guide however both Cockburns and Sandeman’s are guided tours.
So off we go to Sandeman’s. We are running late, so decide to take an Uber across the river. We really could have walked but we would have been late…..next time, we will walk. Great views of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia.
The Historyof Port Wine
The following is mainly from various guidebooks. “In the 17th century, as a result of the rivalry between England and France, the English increased their interest in Iberian wines. England signed a treaty with Portugal in 1703 wherein they would increase their imports of Portuguese wines and England, in turn, would return British textiles. Due to the time it would take to ship the wines, the Portuguese starting adding a grape brandy to the wine so that it would not sour. This process, called aguardentacao, halts the fermentation and it is said that this resulted in “port”. As port exports increased there was a fear on the part of the Douro Valley producers that cheaper wines would take over the market. Therefore in 1756, the Marquis de Pombal created the General Company of Alto Douro Viticulture in order to preserve the quality of the product and stabilize the prices”.
The Marquis was the Secretary of State for Internal Affairs. I wrote at length about him in my Lisbon blog last year. He was also influential in the rebuilding of Lisbon after the great earthquake of 1711.
” The “Company” also instituted demarcation lines to note the best wines “vinho fino”. Over the years the rules have been changed and added to, mainly for the protection of the wine known as port. At one point they did have a phylloxera infestation and the production areas were expanded to allow for more production from healthy vines. Port must have a minimum alcoholic content of 16.5%. In 1932, the Casa de Douro was created and they took ove the control of the port industry. All the port companies were forced to build “lodges” to age their wines in Vila Nova de Gaia. The goal was to protect and control the production of port.”
In 2001 the Upper Douro region, consisting of 61,776 acres was classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We will be visiting the Douro region next week.
Historically, the wine was brought down to Vila Nova de Gaia in “Rabelo Boats” – picture of a traditional boat above. They could carry between 50 to 80 casks, depending on the size of the boats. Today, the grapes are transported in stainless steel tanker trucks.
Styles of Port Wine
As our guide told us at Sandeman’s, port is a “robust winewith unique flavours, aromas and a range of colours“.
Tawny Port (pictures on the left) Tawny port may be a blend of red and white ports.
Ruby Port (middle) Deep red in colour and has been aged two or three years. Should be full of fruit flavour.
White Port (pictured right) Made from white grapes. Very sweet and should be drank chilled.
Vintage Port Made from wines of a single year, the liquid is blended and bottled after two years and left to mature.
Late Bottled Vintage Made from wines of a single year, but bottled between four and six years after the harvest.
History of Sandeman’s
Sandeman’s was founded by a young Scotsman, George Sandeman in 1790 to trade Port Wine and Sherry. It is known for its iconic logo “The Don”, which is a man who wears two distinctive Iberian symbols: the Spanish sombrero and the black cloak worn by Portuguese students. This symbol was created in the early 20th century and our guide (dressed like the Don) told us that it was one of the first logo’s created. Sandeman’s produces sherry in the southern part of Spain in Jerez de la Frontera and port here in Porto; so that is why the two symbols. We were near Jerez in Spain a couple of years ago, but did not stop….pity!
Sandeman’s is located right along the Douro River. We take the guided tour, led by The Don (pictured above). He leads us into the caves which were dug out in 1811. The temperature is a constant 22 degrees. We walk among the rows of wine vats and large barrels and he explains the history and process of aging this special wine. They use both oak and chestnut wood casks. A large barrel, called a Bosedos (?) can hold anywhere from 1,000 litres to 50,000 litres depending on its size. The small barrels hold a maximum of 550 litres. Here in the Douro they normally use a blend of five varietals of grapes to produce some of their port. The wine is normally put into the large barrels first so that the wine stabilizes – white maximum 5 years and the reds a maximum of 7 years. They are then transferred to smaller barrels and when the wine maker decides it is time, the wine is bottled. He spoke about vintage bottles of port. If you happen to own one of the port can stay in the bottle for years if not a century. Once you open a bottle of vintage port, it should be drunk in one week, otherwise it starts to lose its flavours.
We follow this up with a tasting of the three types of port….white, ruby and tawny.
We purchase a bottle of “ruby” port and head off to get some lunch along the river. We decide on shared appetizers of a goat cheese platter and bachalau fish cakes.
We then walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis1 back to Porto. Before this bridge was built, people used to tie their boats together to cross the Douro. This bridge was constructed in 1886 by Theophile Seyrig, a student/partner of Gustave Eiffel. It was the longest metal arch bridge in the world when it was first built.
For something different, we decide to take the funicular back up to the cathedral near our apartment. When we arrive I note that the automatic ticket machine is not working so we join the line at the ticket wicket. The gentleman in the booth seems perplexed and is clicking away at his computer with nothing happening. After about five minutes, he exits his booth and tells everyone in line that we will have to wait five to ten minutes for the system to work or he tells us…..walk up the hill! This is the first person we have run into who is not overly friendly…..but hey, he is probably stressed out.
Robin and I decide to walk back up the hill and we make our away along Rua das Flores. This street was Porto’s upmarket shopping area in the 19th century. I soon realize that it is the same street where we had a glass of wine the other night. The upper part of the street is just a few steps from our apartment. Over the years, this area declined but in the last decade there has been a refurbishment of the buildings and the area. Still lots of construction happening and we do see some beautifully restored balconied buildings and tile work. New shops and cafes have sprung up. We come across one lovely shop where everything is made of wholly or partially of wood, such as purses, wallets, lamps, furniture and even bikes. Robin can’t believe his eyes.
We also pass by the “Wines of Portugal” shop which we will definitely come back to visit. We had enjoyed some wine tasting at their shop in Lisbon last year.
As it is Robin’s birthday today, we decided to book a dinner out at one of the restaurants that was recommended by our landlord and it is a short walk from the apartment. When I called for a reservation, they told me they had two seatings. Either 7:30 pm or 9:30 pm. If you chose the 7:30 pm seating you had to be out before 9:30pm and if you chose the later seating, you had to be out by midnight. I simply cannot imagine starting to eat dinner at 9:30 pm, simply too late, I would be falling asleep in my plate of food.
We make it to the restaurant “Brick” a little before 7:30 pm, but the doors do not open till then. I look inside and I am surprised that is communal seating and worse, one sits on stools…..oh no, this is not looking good. When we are being seated, Robin notices a bench that backs onto the window and asks to sit there. There is room for five other people at the table. We are given the menu and we see that the choices are limited to salads, wraps and sandwiches. Oh my, I feel so bad, it’s his birthday and here we are at a restaurant that seems to be more of a lunch venue. Well, all we can do is laugh. We opt on sharing a chicken wrap and a chorizo sausage sandwich accompanied by a bottle of wine. Hey don’t judge. The chicken wrap looks more like a quesadilla. It is accompanied with a fruit/vegetable salad. My eldest brother would not like this salad….he tells us that it is just not right to mix fruit in a salad! The chorizo sausage had been taken out of its casing and lightly fried. I wish I had taken pictures of these two entrees, the presentation was spectacular and the food was excellent. Robin opted for a chocolate cake for desert, I passed. Well this ends up to be such a tasty meal, a pleasant surprise…. think we were a little quick to judge. Notwithstanding the great meal, I still have to take Robin to a nice restaurant for his birthday…..one with proper chairs!
Friday comes along and not really anything on the agenda. We decide to walk down Rua de Flores which leads down to the Ribeira, the river front. Came across at least three chocolate shops, needless to say, we will be back. As mentioned before, some beautifully restored buildings along this street and the 16th century Igreja da Misericordia church.
We continue walking along the path of the Douro river.
We find ourselves by the tram stop. We hop on and continue the ride until we arrive at one of the transfer stops, then onto another tram to get to the grocery store. The second tram we ride is at one of its final destinations and there is no place to turnaround. The driver takes his removable chair which is hung on a steel bar and walks to the other side of the tram car where there is another driving hub. He then comes back along the car, asks people to stand up and he takes the backs of the chairs and simply turns them over, we are now able to sit facing the direction in which we will be travelling…ingenious!
We know we have to buy some groceries today, and I remembered that the “Santiago” restaurant which serves the Francesinha is located right across the street from the grocery store. This specific restaurant was recommended by both our guide and landlord. When we arrive about 1 pm, there is a line of people waiting outside. Not only tourists, but locals as well. I check in with the hostess who tells us that there is about a 20 minute wait, not an issue for us.
Robin and I wisely choose to split the sandwich and our waiter signals that this is a good choice. We certainly enjoyed our lunch…wouldn’t want to guess how many calories this sandwich contained. The sauce that is poured over the sandwich and french fries is also very good. I noted that some locals actually ask for more sauce which is provided in a stand up gravy pitcher. Robin says he feels his arteries clogging up!
Saturday arrives and we decide to visit the Casa Museu Teixeira Lopes which is located in Vila Nova de Gaia. It is an easy metro ride and short walk to get there. This museum is the former house and studio of Portuguese sculptor Antonio Teixeria Lopes. He was born in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1866 and died in 1942. His father was also a sculptor and ceramist. The home was designed and built by Antonio’s brother Jose who was an architect. Once I started reading about this sculptor, I also found lots of references to both he and his brother. Many of Antonio’s sculptures and some buildings designed by Jose exist in Porto and in other parts of Portugal.
What a beautiful home, almost reminiscent to me of a hacienda. Also a small intimate garden on the grounds with some of Antonio’s work. We are taken on a guided tour of the interior of the home. In addition to the sculptures, we also view Antonio’s various collections (art work, coin collection, ceramics, etc). The home is built in a circular design with a specific room built as a studio which spans two floor and large windows to allow for natural light. There is a small balcony on the upper level which allowed his students to see what he was working on.
Another building attached to the main building housed his parents. The guide told us that in the Porto area there once was some 32 ceramic manufacturers but unfortunately today, none are in business. Not sure where all the ceramic tiles that are still used in building are coming from.
I had read that it was a tradition for people from Porto to go to Matosinhos (a suburb adjacent to Porto along the ocean) for reasonably priced fish/seafood lunch on Sundays. Our landlord had told us to go to the Ramada do Mar for Sunday lunch as it was owned by his friend. By the way, I think he has rich friends….this restaurant was probably one of the more expensive ones in Matosinhos. What a great choice though….ambience and food certainly made up for the birthday dinner….even comfortable chairs to sit on! We enjoyed a delicious lunch of grilled sea bass with vegetables and potatoes. This was of course served with some white wine, desert and port. Got here by metro and a short 5 minute walk. The restaurant is only about one block from the ocean, so after our lunch we decide for a short walk along the beach. Very windy and cool, but there are locals in wet suits kite surfing and surfing.
The metro system here is very efficient, but like any other metro we have travelled on, once must validate your card each time you change lines. Good thing we noticed that a few days after we arrived, as everyones cards including ours, were checked the other day while we were on the metro. A guard simply scans your card; quite efficient on their part.
As mentioned before, it is nice to spend a month in a city. One gets to know your way around and you are in no hurry to see the sites. There is a small coffee shop that we have stopped at on several occasions and the waiter now knows that we order a chai verde (green tea) and a galao (latte).
We opt to do the “Six Bridges” cruise which in all honesty is probably a tour that everyone who visits Porto undertakes. You embark on a large “rabelo” replica boat and cruise the Douro river enjoying views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
– Arrabida – This is the closest bridge to Foz do Douro (where the Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean). We can sea the ocean crashing agains the sea wall in the distance.
– Dom Luis 1 – An iron bridge which dates to 1886 and connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. As mentioned before the upper deck is for the metro and the lower deck for cars; while pedestrians can use either the upper or lower decks.
Dona Maria – The first metal railway bridge to link the two banks. Finished in 1877; it was designed by Eiffel Constructions Metalliques. It was deactivated in 1991 for safety reasons and has been replaced by the Sao Joao bridge.
Infante – Opened in 2003 due to the lack of road traffic once the metro started using the upper deck of the Dom Luis 1 bridge.
Sao Joao – The new railway bridge has three spans supported by two pillars grounded in the riverbed. The engineer who built this bridge described it as “a steel bridge with a concrete coating”.
Freixo – This bridge lies at the eastern part of the city and built in 1995 to relieve some of the road traffic of the Arrabida bridge.
Not sure the reader really cares about these six bridges in detail…..wrote about them to satisfy my curiosity. Hey….our tour was in spanish, yes spanish not portuguese so I had to pursue this!
On our way back to the apartment, we took the Funicular dos Guindais (2004) for the first time as it was working today. It rises 60 metres from the riverfront to Praca da Batalha; which is only about a 5 minute walk to home. Great picture of the Dom Luis 1 bridge from there.
Another day and somewhere else to visit. Today we decide to visit the Museu do Carro Electrico; so we walk up the hill about five minutes and of course, catch a tram to get to the tram museum…what other way to go! Even got a discount on our entry ticket as we had a monthly Metro pass! The museum is housed in the former power station and houses the equipment used in the metro system and its history. In 1895 the city of Porto opened the first electric tram service for public passenger transport. In the museum we saw a variety of tram cars, the oldest dating to 1872, a horse drawn tram. Lots of other trams on exhibit such as summer trams, those used to transport fish baskets from the fish markets of Matosinhos, coal wagons and even the type of specialty vehicles used to fix the tram lines and equipment.
In the afternoon, we head off to Cockburn Port Cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia. This is one of the port cellars which was highly recommended to us. This port house was founded in 1815 by a scottish wine merchant Robert Cockburn. In 1962 it was sold to Harvey’s of Bristol and eventually became part of an international group. In 2010, Cockburn was returned to family ownership, the Symington’s, descendants of Cockburn. Upon acquiring the port house they reviewed all the processes and started to introduce improvements and by 2011 were receiving accolades over the port. The Symington family not only owns Cockburn, they also own Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s in addition to their lands in the Douro.
They have the largest collection of oak barrels and wooden vats of any Port cellar in Porto. Once again, we are guided through the cellars where the temperature is very cool. Probably the most interesting difference in this port house, is that they have their own “cooper’s”; a dedicated team that take care of all the barrels and vats in the Lodge. We saw them working on fixing barrels during our visit. The Symington group is the only port group which has a full team of skilled coopers. They feel it is essential to making Ports of top quality. They clean and repair the oak barrels and large vats; quite interesting to see them at work.
In both port houses that we have visited to date, we have been told that the picking of the grapes is still mostly done by hand in the Douro Valley. This is mainly due to the steep and terraced landscapes. They have mechanized some processes, such as the stomping of the grapes.
For our port tasting this afternoon, we opted to taste three types of port paired with chocolates. The first was the white port with a passion fruit dark chocolate, the second was the 10 year tawny port paired with a yuzu/cinnamon chocolate (yuzu is a citrus fruit grown in China, Japan and Korea) and the final was a vintage port paired with a raspberry chocolate.
I always love the way wineries/port houses define their wines; a port with crisp flowery aromas and hints of tropical fruits, silky smooth with notes of vanilla and honey and spice flavours, a very rich red fruit flavour with minty aromas and peppery tannins…..heck, I don’t know…..they all taste really good! Robin was in heaven….port and chocolate.
In the last week, we have seen more flowers coming out in bloom….look what we came across today.
I also like the many quirky/interesting signs, displays symbols and graffiti that one comes across when visiting cities. Below are a few, including the blue logo for the City of Porto.
We decide to visit the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis. This museum is housed in an old palace that was built in the late 18th century for a wealthy Porto family. On the main floor they manufactured epaulets and their residence took up the second and third floors. It later became a royal palace and was used by the King when he visited Porto. The state later acquired the Palace and it is now a museum. The Museum takes it name from a Portuguese sculptor Antonio Soares dos Reis. When we arrived, we were told that the second floor which exhibits comprise paintings and sculptors was closed as it was being painted. We did visit the decorative exhibit on the third floor which included some beautiful ceramics, pottery, glassware, a few paintings and some spectacular jewellery and silver work.
As we were walking through the final gallery, we saw the following on the grand stair landing.
This horse is made out of wood and duct tape! Just too funny…not sure what it was doing here as it had no signage and certainly not in keeping with the rest of the museum. By the way, it was a three legged horse with one peg leg and check the underwear hanging off the the lance on the back. Certainly made us laugh.
Our weather here in Porto has been mainly cloudy with highs of anywhere between 16C to 18C. Just a few showers which haven’t stopped us from enjoying this beautiful city.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and we are off on a tour of the Douro Valley….stay tuned!
This February we decided to spend the month of February in Porto, Portugal.
Many of you know that I like to learn the history of the places we visit. Last year we spent the month of February in Lisbon and in that blog I wrote about the history of Portugal. So, this time, I will focus on the history of Porto and the Douro area of Portugal where we will be spending our time.
The following is mainly taken from “Wikipedia”.
“History books refer to a settlement in the Porto area dating back to 4th century and Roman times. The Roman period established Porto as a strong trading partner with Lisbon and Braga. This trade came to a halt when the Muslim Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 700’s. In the late 800’s, the Moors were expelled by a Christian warlord who took over the land from the Minho river to the Douro river. The Minho river is north of Porto in Spain and the Douro river runs east into Spain. The county of Portugal was formed at that time. In 1093 the county was transferred to the rule of Spain through a royal marriage.
Wines from the Douro region were being transported down to Porto for local consumption and for trade with England in the 1700’s. When England was at war with France, this became very important, as the English access to French wines was blocked. This is when port became very popular in England.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto spurred on the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415, Henry the Navigator, sailed from Porto to invade the Muslim ports in Morocco. After this assault, further expeditions were made down the coast of Africa.” I wrote about Henry the Navigator in my Lisbon blog last year.
As an aside, the people from Porto are often referred to as “tripeiros”. This comes from the fact that better cuts of meat were given to the sailing ships for their crew on the long exploratory voyages and the “offcuts” such as tripe were left behind for the locals….thus the name “tripeiros”. Not sure if they are still referred to this today; almost sounds derogatory.
” During the 18th and 19th centuries the city became an important industrial centre and saw its size and population increase. In 1820 the Liberal revolution started in Porto. The people demanded the return of a constitutional monarchy. Miguel of Portugal took the throne in 1828 but ruled as an absolute monarch and a civil war took place. After the abdication of the King, a liberal constitution was re-established. In 1920, the Portuguese republic was formed.”
As of 2019 the city of Porto has a population of 237,559 and metropolitan area has 2.4 million people; making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. ” Porto is also known asOporto as a result of linguistic mis-interpretation, as apparently when the Portuguese referred to the city ofPorto, they would precede it with an article “O” meaning “the”, and foreign traders therefore assumed the actual name of the city was Oporto.” Still referred to as both names. “
The historic centre of Porto is a Unesco World Heritage Site…..another one for my list. Porto is mainly known for two things – its location along the Douro River (which has become very popular for cruises) and port. The town of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto, is where vast quantities of port wine are blended and stored in the port houses.
From the “Britannia Encyclopedia”
“Porto has mild humid winters and generally fertile soils which have helped with agriculture including winter and summer cereals, vegetables, and tree crops (cork, oak and olive). Timber and its associated industries and the production ofvinho verde(an effervescent wine) are also important.
A sizable proportion of the population is engaged in manufacturing, and fisheries and tourism is also important.“
We arrived in Porto on January 31st and our plane had to circle for about 1/2 hour due to rain and misty/foggy conditions. We stayed in a hotel the first night as we took possession of our apartment on February 1st. Jet lag has to be the worse and one has to keep going and get on a local schedule.
Once checked in to our hotel, we ventured out and our first task was to go to Vodafone kiosk to get a Portuguese SIM card for our cell phone. This makes the most sense when in a different country for a period of time. Still mist in the air and the atmosphere is interesting…grey and overcast. This makes for great “moody” pictures. Our hotel and apartment are both located in the historic centre of Porto. We continue to wander along the streets and find our way around some of the famous landmarks…..the University, Carmo church, Livraria Lello (famous book store) and the Clerigos Tower. We will visit all these places at a later date during our stay.
It is late afternoon and we are feeling very tired and decide to find a wine shop and somewhere to stop for a glass of wine as well, before we head back to our hotel. As we are walking down one of the streets, Robin spots some wine bottles in a shop window….oh….its a religious store…..sacramental wine. My comment is, that if we can’t find a wine shop, we can always come back here!!!!
Next door, is an actual wine shop. A great selection of local wines. A conundrum….is there a wine opener at the hotel? All the wines here have corks. I ask the young gentleman if he can open the wine for us, thinking this may be a very odd request. He doesn’t bat an eye. He takes out a corkscrew, opens the wine, puts the cork back in just enough so that we can open it, puts it in a bag and wishes us a good day.
A few more steps and we come across a lovely little shop which serves snacks and wine. We decide on one glass of wine before we get back to the hotel. We sit down and next to us is a couple from Germany enjoying a weekend away in Porto. We are always so envious of people living in Europe who can just fly for a couple of hours and be in a different country; they have so many options. We find out that he is Greek and she is Slovenian, but now live in Germany. They both spoke three languages and they told us that their daughter spoke six languages and that she had a gift in learning new languages. We feel so inadequate when it comes to languages. Although I speak French and Robin speaks a bit of Spanish; we have a long way to go when it comes to other languages. We enjoy chatting with them for about one hour and decide its time to make it back to our hotel before we fall asleep.
We simply can’t even fathom going out for dinner. We have the hotel order us a pizza and we are in bed by 7:30 pm local time……think we have been up for about 30 hours or so. I wake up about 1:00 am, read for a while but able to go back to sleep.
Our landlord meets us at the hotel at noon on Saturday and takes our suitcases and we walk about 2 blocks to the apartment. I had chosen the hotel as it was close to the apartment. My brother would say “I’m smarter than I look”. Never can figure it if this is a complement…..I think not! Oh my, love the apartment. Nice and open with lovely large windows looking into an inner courtyard, so not too noisy. We are just a block from the Sao Bento train station. Fred (our landlord) explains everything we need to know about the apartment and even advised us where to go to buy groceries; nothing near by as we are in the historic area. The apartment still needs to be cleaned, so we leave our suitcases and head off for a couple of hours. It starts raining, so we decide to take the hop on/hop off bus to pass the time and to get a quick overview of the City of Porto. Although not necessarily our favourite way to visit a City, we are here for a month, and the tour gives us a general idea of where things are located. A great way to get ones’ bearings.
After our tour, we stop for a lunch at a little local restaurant. We enjoy a glass of local port with our lunch. The prices on the menu were 1 Euro more for each dish if you ate out on the terrace; we ate inside due to the weather.
We find our way back to the apartment and Fred has left us a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine and a bottle of port…..oh my gosh! We get unpacked and decide we need to get to the grocery store before it closes, as it is late Saturday afternoon by this time. Remember we are in Europe, shops close earlier and sometimes even mid day. Also, most shops close on Sundays. We get our grocery bags, call an Uber and make it to Pingo Doce. This is a local Portuguese grocery store and we used them when we spent the month in Lisbon last year. We find everything we need, including some prepared meals. You are probably wondering why I had to name the grocery store…I just like the way it sounds….Pingo Doce! I know that ” doce” means “sweet” and I looked up “pingo” which means “drop”. Nice name for a store…Sweet Drop. There you go!
On Sunday, February 2nd, I had arranged for a three hour private walking tour of the City. We meet our guide Diana at the University campus of science and engineering at the Praca Gomes Texeira. There are many other campuses around the City, but this is the main campus. The name of the square, Praca Gomes Texeira is in honour of one of the famous professors at the University. She tells us that locals refer to this square as the “Lion Square” because of the fountain which has statues of lions on the top. She says if you ask a local where Praca Gomes Texeira is, it might take them a while to make the connection. Locals normally refer to a square based on some type of sculpture or piece of art and not by its given name. She tells us that this area is the main meeting square of the historic district.
When the locals celebrate St. John’s day ( Festa de São João do Porto) on June 23rd, the Lion Square is where the action takes place. An interesting tradition among the people of Porto during the festival, is to hit each other with soft plastic hammers. This is the most important festival of the year in Porto and dates back to the 14th century when it was a pagan ritual. I forgot to ask Diana about the plastic hammers, so needless to say, I looked this up. One of the local web sites tells me that in the early 20th century, a gentleman who owned a plastic factory, came up with the idea of introducing plastic hammers to be used as a “fun” implement when University students graduated. It eventually found its way into the St. John’s festival……I think this is called “marketing”…..right Christine! (Our daughter works in marketing!).
Diana has a bachelor’s degree in tourism and is now working on her Masters degree in sustainable tourism. She speaks six languages fluently…..yes….six! She tells us that at times she comes home and starts speaking a different language to her husband as she has been conversing in another language all day.
First a little history of Portugal, Porto and area. She tells us that Porto is the 3rd oldest city in Portugal. After the “Carnation Revolution” of 1975, when the previous military dictator Salazar was overthrown, Porto underwent cultural, social and economic changes. The city made more of an effort to preserve its monuments and historic buildings. The historic centre of Porto became a “Unesco World Heritage Site” in 1996.
Diana tells us that Porto has two symbols. One being the “Azulejos” tiles. The decorative tile work dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. I did read however that the Moors brought this craft here in the 8th century. Whatever…..it’s an old craft! In the 19th century, locals started using the tiles on the facades of their homes here in Porto. At this time, only one small factory survives. To protect this art, there is a law in this area which prevents people from removing tile work from the facades of their homes.
The second symbol of Porto is the “Calcada Portuguesa” (Portuguese pavement). Portuguese pavement is a traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal. It consists of small flat pieces of stones arranged in a pattern or image. We were familiar with this as we saw some beautiful patterns in Lisbon last year. Here are a few we came across today.
Across the “Lion Square” we stop to view the Carmo (on the right below) and Carmelitas churches. These are two separate churches but connected.
The Carmo church belong to the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Brothers (that’s a mouthful) and was built from 1756-1768. The front of the church is in a Baroque and Rococo styles. Beautiful tiles on the side of the church. We did not enter this church but may visit at a later date.
The Carmelites church (left on picture above) belongs to the Convent of the Carmelitas Descalcos built between 1619 to 1650. A much simpler church from the outside, but lovely interior.
We then walk through the Jardim da Cordoaria. There are come wonderful works of art on the far side of the garden which I want to see, but we are headed in a different direction. Diana tells us that outdoor works of art abound in Porto. This is why it is known as the “culture” capital of Portugal. Huge plane trees throughout the garden and two of the three tram lines start/stop next to the park. I must come back to take pictures of the sculptures.
She tells us that the several of the streets near the University are full of bars and restaurants and this is where a lot of the locals come for drinks and petiscos (small bites). They usually come here most weekdays except on Wednesdays when they frequent bars along the Douro river. She didn’t really know why…just because! She recommends that on a sunny day we try a “Porto Tonic”. Just like it sounds, a cocktail made with white port and tonic water. Add a slice of lemon of a garnish of mint and there you have it. Hope to try one before we leave, we always love trying local food and drinks.
Diana points out a building which is today the Photography Museum. She asks Robin what he thinks the buildings was previously used for. He answers “a jail”….yes….he is right; but no prize this time!. She goes on to tell us that the famous 19th century Portuguese book called ” Amor de Perdição“ was written here. The story is based on a true episode of the author’s life. The author tells the love story of a young couple, Simão and Teresa. Although they belong to enemy families, the loversfind themselves drowning in a passion that knows only the limits of tragedy and fate. They are sent to prison where she is housed in a cell for the poor and she eventually dies there and he stays in a cell for the upper class and gets out of prison in a couple of years. Apparently this book is mandatory reading in school. The book is part of the “Lucky 13” list of books by the Livraria Lello. I will refer to this later.
A bit further on our walk, Diana points out the Torre dos Clerigos. The tower was built in 1763 by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. He is the individual who brought the Baroque style of architecture to Portugal. The tower is 75 meters above the city streets and when it was built it was the tallest structure in Portugal. It is said that this is the best place to get sweeping views of the city. Unfortunately you have to walk up 200+ stairs to get to the top viewing point. With Robin’s sore knees, I don’t think we will be doing the climb.
In ancient times, women who were waiting for their husband’s to come back from fishing in Norway, would climb the stairs to look for their return. Their husband’s fished for cod and would salt it to preserve it for the long way home. Diana tells us that “salting cod” goes back to the days of the Vikings. In every grocery store and market in Portugal one sees “salted cod”.
Our next stop is to see the “Livraria Lello”. People are waiting in line to get into the shop. One needs a ticket at a cost of 5 Euro. If you buy a book, the 5 Euro is put against the price. We will come back to visit on a weekday afternoon when not too busy. The bookstore was established in 1906 by the Lello brothers with a Neo-Gothic exterior and an Art Nouveau interior. It is said that J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) spent lots of time here when she lived in Porto and even worked at the bookstore for a few months. Apparently her inspiration for many things”Harry Potter” came from the bookstore and surrounding area. As an example, Diana tells us that students of the University wear capes with crests of what faculty they attend….sounds like “Hogwarts” different houses and the crests they used.
I will write more about the store once we have visited later during our time here in Porto.
We visit the Fernandes and Mattos store which is housed in the old post office. It has a Neo-Gothic exterior and an interesting interior as they have kept the old post office wickets. The store, Fernandes and Mattos, has been in existence since 1886 and sells all sorts of different items….trendy socks, large model cars, purses, t-shirts, etc. All very different and not a tourist shop. The kind of shop you would buy something for yourself as a gift. So interesting to browse but I did not buy anything….this time!
Several jewellery stores in the area and one sees beautiful filagree work (rings, necklaces, etc.) This area of Portugal is known for its filagree work.
Diana also points out that the architects of buildings place their names somewhere on the exterior, interesting!
Our next stop is a “sweet” stop. We go to the famous Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata, This shop is known as the best maker of Pasteis de Nata here in Porto. The shop is very small and you can see them making the tarts. You order the tarts at the counter along with a drink. They offer tea, coffee, Ginjinha liqueur (tasted this in Lisbon last year) and of course Port. Too early for liquor this early in the morning. The tarts here are a little different than those of Lisbon. Here they add lemon juice, cinnamon and more butter in the pastry. Very, very good!
Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata
We continue our walk and enter the Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa shop. We had seen a few of these type of canned fish shops last year in Lisbon. The interiors are always quite decorative; but the items I like the best of the various decorative sardine tins that are for purchase. Now they also sell other types of tinned fish.
I quickly spotted some tins that depicted the Festival of St. John which depicts dancing and plastic hammers….love it!
We make our way to Praca da Liberdade and looking up Avenida dos Aliados one looks onto the Camara Municipal do Porto (City Hall). Diana tells us that as a young girl she would meet her cousins here and they would play on the grassy areas along the boulevard. Unfortunately years ago the green spaces were ripped up for the metro construction. She tells us that there is a move towards refurbishing this area back to “what it was”.
Along Avenida Dos Aliados one sees many beautiful Neo-Classical buildings. Diana tells us that these were once the residences of the very wealthy. A lot of them left when Salazar took power. This was not a good period in Portugal’s history. Salazar closed the borders and many people starved. (Refer my Portugal blog from last year if you want to read more about Salazar) Some of the buildings are still empty but most are now owned by large multinational companies.
The statue in the middle of the square is that of Dom Pedro 1V, who is a hero of the Liberal wars (royal succession wars). The statue dates back to 1866. At the base is a replica of a heart. This is said to represent Dom Pedro giving his heart to the people of Porto for their loyalty. Diana tells us that his heart is said to lie in the Lapa Church in Porto. Every four years it is brought out of safekeeping and on display for the people to see. Not sure I would run right out and see that!
At the end of this avenue we come across the O Ardina statue depicting an old newspaper seller which were commonly seen in this area.
Diana tells us that we are about to see a building with beautiful art deco designs. We turn around and we are looking at a McDonald’s burgers.
She tells us that before McDonald’s took over the building it has been abandoned for many years. Not sure the last time that Robin and I would have crossed the threshold of a McDonald’s, but I can assure you it was not to eat, just took pictures.
We talk a little about the port industry. Diana touched on the fact that the port is one of the oldest “controlled” wines in the world. We will visit some of the port houses while we are here.
We see many churches during our walk and Diana says that there are 76 churches in Porto. Some like Church of Congregados, pictured below, only open on very special occasions.
We then cross the street and enter the Sao Bento train station. We had come here on our first day in Porto as I had read about the beautiful tile work and it is located very near to the hotel we stayed at. It is only about two blocks from our apartment. Looking out our windows, we can see the clock towers. The train station was completed in 1916, although the first train arrived in 1896. It is named Sao Bento as it was built on the land where once stood the Monastery of Sao Bento de Ave Maria. It was demolished to make way for the train station. The completion of the railway system in the valley allowed for easier transportation of the port from the Douro valley.
The interior of the railway station is decorated with some 20,000 azulejos tiles by the painter Jorge Colaco. These show various scenes from Portuguese history, the history of transport and every day life such as harvesting, the transportation of wine and holy events. This place is simply stunning considering it is a train station.
During our time with Diana, she tells us about local dishes that we must try while we are in Porto. The most famous, which I had read about, it called a Francesinha “little French thing”. This is a sandwich which is made with a big piece of steak, sausage and ham between toasted bread. It is covered with melted cheese and a peppery tomato and beer sauce. It was invented by a Portuguese cafe owner who had lived in France. He got this inspiration from the Croque Monsieur. We told Diana that we have seen this advertised in most restaurants but that we simply can’t fathom eating this. She insists that we must try, but warns us to share one and only eat it at mid day as you will need to walk a lot to get rid of the calories. She said she made her first Francesinha at home for herself and her husband. She even shows us a picture of her masterpiece. Her husband told her it was the best Francesinha that he had ever tasted. Did I say they have only been married for one year!
The other dish she tells us to try is “Tripas a moda Porto”. This is one of the most typical dishes of Porto which dates back to the 15th century. Earlier in this blog entry, I referred to the people of Porto being called Tripeiros (tripe eaters). Well yes, this stew has tripe, various types of meat, sausage and white beans. There is even a fraternity “Confraria das Tripas a Moda do Porto” and they meet once a year to celebrate this dish. It is classified as on the seven wonders of Portuguese gastronomy. We might actually give this one a try. Diana gave us recommendations on where to find the best Francesinha and the best Tripas a Moda Porto.
The other famous dishes are of course grilled sardines. Diana tells us that the best sardines are seasonal and to wait till June. The other is Bacalhau (cod fish). We ate a lot of cod fish in Lisbon last year and always so good. The Bacalhau specialty here in Porto is called “Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa. The codfish is cooked in the oven with olive oil, garlic, onion and is served with olives, parsley and hard boiled eggs. This is definitely on the list to try.
We cross the road and look onto the Se (Cathedral). It really looks like more of a fortress that a church. We had seen it on our first day in Porto. One guidebook referred to the Se as “a great hulk of a building” and I can certainly understand why. It sits on the eastern high point of the city above the Douro river. Construction started in the 12th century not long after the Moors left and just a few years after Portugal had become an independent country. It has been expanded over the years incorporating Gothic, Romanesque and Portuguese styles. On a walking tour you often just see the exteriors of buildings; but this is fine as we will come back to visit the interior later.
Nice views of the city of Porto from the Se.
We continue our walk through one of the Santa Ana area of Porto one of the poorer areas. Diana tells us that the City of Porto has a program to help people in need to refurbish their houses in this area. That way, they don’t have to move and can stay in the city centre. We wind our way down towards the Douro river through these narrow streets. We see the “seashell” symbol of the route of the Camino de Santiago which passes through Porto.
I love coming across interesting signs… I especially like the one that refer to “wine”!
We finally make our way down to the Douro river along the Cais da Ribeira (meaning riverside). This area is full of restaurants and is probably the most people we have seen. It is of course Sunday, so lots of tourists abound and one of the most popular tourist spots is along the river. Many boat tours along the river and the port houses are just across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The Praca de Ribeira is also known as the “cube square” as one of the fountains has a modern cube sculpture. Once again Diana reminds us that locals do not refer to squares by their proper names….they call them by a landmark such a Lion square or Cube square.
Diana points out the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 bridge which stands just beside us. This is Porto’s iconic bridge which was designed by a colleague of Gustav Eiffel. Many pictures are taken of the bridge and from the bridge as it give great views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. One can walk across the lower level of the bridge over to the port houses. Traffic also runs along this lower level. The metro travels across the top level.
I love the picture below….the tourists eating and drinking in the restaurants along the Douro and people’s laundry hanging from the windows just above! Great juxtaposition!
It is the end of our tour with Diana and we have learnt so much about the history and the sites of Porto. Lots more for us to see in the month ahead. So nice to get such a good overview from a knowledgeable local.
Robin and I decide to stop for lunch. Diana warned us that the restaurants along the river have high prices…..pay for the view! We walked back up one of the alleys and shared cod fish cakes and a salad for lunch accompanied of course by a glass of wine and a cold beer for Robin. The temperature reached 18 C today and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies. When we first arrived, we had met two women staying at our hotel who had spent the last week in Porto and they told us it had rained every day. Looking forward we have a pretty good forecast coming up.
On Tuesday we walk over to that Sao Bento train station to buy our metro cards for the month that we are here. Once this is accomplished we decide to visit Fundacao Serralves, the “Museu de Arte Contemporanea”….Contemporary art museum. To get there we must take the 2 separate metro lines, then transfer to a bus. The instructions tell us to catch the bus on the corner of the roundabout once we get out of the metro station. The stop is just as we get out of the metro and we have to wait about 10 minutes. As we get on the bus, I realize that we are going in the wrong direction. Robin asks the bus driver and the good news is that we caught the right bus number…..but in the wrong direction! We get off and cross the road and get back on the right path. I think this happens to us at least once if not more during our travels…..all part of the adventure.
I will say that in our modern world it is certainly nice to be able to buy tickets on line and simply show the electronic version once you arrive. Fewer line ups and quicker to get in to your attraction. We did this to enter the Serralves Museum and for tomorrow at the book store.
In 1986 the State acquired the Serralves estate with the aim of creating this contemporary art museum and park. It is run by a foundation made up of the state and several large corporations and private donors. The estate is made up of 8.6 acres of land and several buildings. The main museum building was built by a Porto architect, Alvaro Vieira and is in the minimalist style. White facades and rounded edges with protruding balconies; very impressive. Oops, forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building.
There are no permanent art exhibits here, rather the exhibitions are changed on a regular basis. I think that Robin and I are pretty open minded when it comes to art, but I have to tell you that this really wasn’t to our taste…..but hey that’s art. Like music different types of art appeal to different audiences. Below is a montage of some of the art from the main exhibition.
By the way, three floors of this artist’s work! Oh well, one has to keep an open mind.
One of the guide books I was reading said “If the exhibitions aren’t to your taste, you miss nothing by just visiting the expansive, surrounding park”. I think that pretty much sums it up for us!
We make our way onto the grounds. Beautiful sculptures in the gardens. Winding gravel paths and beautiful rose bushes and camellia trees that are still somewhat in bloom.
The original Serralves Villa was refurbished and is also used for art installations.
We then venture into one of the outer buildings which features films as works of art. The guard lets us into a dark theatre; a little disconcerting at first to get your way around. There are several rooms featuring different short films. We watch a few of them but the funniest one had to be about two men and a priest who are trying to exorcise the evils spirits from a bottle of Coca Louca. Hilarious!
A recent addition to the Serralves estate is a “tree walk”; a boardwalk that is above the trees, looks down onto a small lake and their farm in the distance. Very serene and quiet.
Back home by bus and metro……and took the right one….and yes, going in the right direction!
Late afternoon and we decided to enjoy a glass of wine at a small nearby cafe before heading to our apartment for the evening. Listened to a musician playing the guitar, people watched and thankful that we can enjoy life. By the way, 2 glasses of wine cost us 5 Euro. More expensive in other places, but this was a nearby cafe in a small alleyway. We will be back!
Another day arrives and no need to be in a hurry as we have a full month here. We brought along our exercise bands, so our daily routine includes exercising a little each morning before we head out to explore more of Porto.
I had bought tickets on line to visit the Livraria Lello this morning. One of the must see locations when one is in Porto. We had walked by the bookstore on our tour with Diana. It is recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Oh my, what a delight when one first walks in.
The Lello brothers had a publishing house dating back to 1881 and in 1894 they bought the assets of the Livraria Chardon bookshop and on January 13th, 1906 the new Neo-Gothic style Livraria Lello building opened. The opening of the bookstore had a major impact on the city’s cultural scene. For over a century they have showcased Portuguese literature in Portugal as well as in the world at large. I love one of the dedications in their visitor’s book on the opening day back in 1906. “In a country of so many illiterate people, building such a beautiful temple to the divine worship of Emotion and Idea is a great act of merit”.
On the facade of the building there are two painted figures representing Art and Science. As you walk in you see the magnificent wooden spiral staircase. An ornamental ceiling, carved wood everywhere you look and a beautiful stained glass skylight. Carved pillars with busts of great writers. Along the carved bookshelves you can see small plaster bust of writers. They carry books in all languages.
On their 114th anniversary this year, the bookstore displayed 13 rare first editions.
– Pride and Prejudice, Le Petit Prince, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Madame Bovary, Amor de Perdicao, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Le Avventure di Pinocchio, Os Maias, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Jungle Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mensagem and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
They are selling these books (of course not the originals) and I could not resist and bought the english version of Amor de Perdicao after hearing our guide Diana tell us the story. Robin, an avid reader, bought two books. He also wanted to buy a third, which was a tome (very large book) and I reminded him we only had carry on luggage and it certainly would not fit and would be very heavy!
Robin in his “happy place”
The famous staircase in Livraria Lello
After our visit to the bookstore, we stop for a coffee/tea in the Parada de Leitao and sit outside at the Cafe D’Ouro. We chose this coffee shop as they had glass barriers to stop the wind, a little cool this morning, but later it is going to be 18C. Well, I realize that this coffee shop was one that I wanted to visit based on some reading I had done. It was the first coffee shop in Porto to acquire the famous Italian coffee machine La Cimbali. The coffee shop is also know as “Piolho” which means “lice”. Although the origin of the name is not really known, it is said that it might relate to the large number of students crowded in a space that they say is never big enough. Lucky for us, no students here today! The coffee shop is right across the Parada from the University Campus.
We see that a tram stop is on the Parada. Two of the three trams have a stop here. We decide to catch the tram to the Batalha area. We walk to the Se (Cathedral) and decide to visit. As mentioned earlier, I felt that the exterior of the church looks more like a fortress than a church. The building of the church dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and is Romanesque in style. Later additions were built in a Baroque style. A beautiful interior with flying buttresses and a beautiful rose window.
All of the cloister walls are filled with azulejo tiles, simply beautiful.
We wind our way down some small alleyways and are looking for a cafe/restaurant for lunch. We try to find out of the way places that are reasonable priced. We come across a very tiny and cute restaurant, Portuguesa de Gema. We shared a chorizo sausage and Bachalau a Bras (cod fish, onions, potatoes and scrambled eggs). We had a lot of this cod dish in Lisbon last year and loved it. This restaurant did not let us down, very tasty. Loved the atmosphere as well.
We must be getting into the Porto way of life. We have usually eaten lunch about 2 in the afternoon, so needless to say, eating a late supper as well. Mainly cooking in for dinner.
We catch the high speed train from Innsbruck to Vienna. I have booked us first class, just more comfortable when on the train for three hours. Our steward comes along and introduces himself; Mike or Magic Mike he says….without the six pack!
Beautiful countryside once again; Denis loves travelling by train so I had arranged a few legs of our trip via trains. Must say it is easy to do in these countries that have so many train routes. We left the mountain area and found ourselves in rolling countryside. We arrived in Vienna in three hours and grab a taxi to our apartment. We are met by our host who is Viennese. His AirBnB profile indicates that he speaks five languages, including Dutch as his mother was from the Netherlands. Always amazes me as to the multiple languages that Europeans’ speak, a real gift.
I believe I mentioned before that I did not write about the history of Austria on this trip, as I had covered it in my blog from two years ago. Thought I would mention though, that there is a national election on September 29th. The people will elect the 27th National Council. This snap election was called in the wake of the collapse of the ruling ÖVP–FPÖ coalition and the announcement of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache’s resignation on 18 May 2019, following the Ibiza affair. The Ibiza affair was a recording of a secret meeting held in Ibiza between a Russian who indicated they would ensure positive press coverage for Strache’s party, the FPO, in return for government contracts. The election was called the day after Strache resigned. We keep hearing that the Russians don’t meddle in other countries politics and elections…yeah, right!
We get settled in, find the local grocery store and relax on the upper floor deck; still some sunshine for us to enjoy a glass of wine. None of us feel like walking too far to find a place for dinner. Debbie finds a Spanish restaurant that is a two minute walk from the apartment. Perfect….nice change from the heavy German/Austrian menu.
Saturday arrives and we are off to the Naschmarkt. A tourist website tells me “Vienna’s best-known market has around 120 market stands and restaurants for a colorful culinary offering ranging from Viennese to Indian, from Vietnamese to Italian. The Naschmarkt has developed into a meeting point for young and old. The Flea Market on Saturday is already a cult event.” I wasn’t aware that there was a flea market on Saturday’s. The market is about a ten minute walk from our apartment. Robin and I visited here two years ago when we were here. Walk along the market and it is already quite busy. Stop for a coffee at a small outdoor cafe at the market and enjoy the sun. A little cool this morning…..just 7 degrees. We are layered for the cool weather and it is supposed to reach 19C this afternoon.
We then make our way to the centre of Vienna. We had booked tickets to go see the famous Lipizzaner Horse Show before we left Canada. Good thing as I do believe that it was sold out. We enjoyed the program….not so sure Denis did…..thinks he likes the bucking horses at the Calgary Stampede a bit better. Took one picture of the arena before the performance started, but one could not take pictures once the horses came into the arena.
The Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) is a Viennese institution. The horses perform a “horse ballet” to classical music.
From my guide book – “The Lipizzaner stallion breed dates back to 1520, when Ferdinand 1 imported the first horses from Spain for the Imperial Palace. His son imported new stock in the late 1500’s and Archduke Charles 11 established the imperial stud in Lipizza (in Slovenia today). Italian horses were added to the stock around the mid 1700’s and by the 18th century the Lipizzaner horses were well established and had a reputation for being Europe’s finest horses.”
During this trip we have heard a lot about the Nazi regime. Well, here we go again. When the second world war broke out, Hitler’s army wanted the Lippizaner stud so that they could breed military horses. In 1945 the American army seized the Lipizzaner and other horses and transferred them back to Austria. We weren’t sure why Hitler’s army wanted to breed military horses during WW11 as this was a mechanized war.
Love the beautiful buildings, monuments and statues in Vienna.
We then stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe where they have blankets on the chairs and they have the heaters going. We then go our own way. Debbie and Denis go off and take a Hop on Hop off bus. Robin and I went to the Albertina Museum. We missed going on our last trip here. Enjoyed the works of Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Miro, Durer and others. The building that houses the art was once used as Habsburg’s imperial apartments for guests. It is always amazing to us at how proficient these artists must have been as we have seen their art work throughout our travels at many museums and art galleries.
On the way back to the apartment, Robin and I stop at Cafe Mozart which is just across the street from the museum. This is one of the coffee shops that was recommended by our landlord. We shared a piece of the famous Viennese “Sacha Torte”. Very good…..as Robin would say “of course, it’s chocolate”!
On Saturday night we attended a Mozart concert at the Musikverein concert hall. I had bought tickets for this concert when we started planning this trip back in April. This concert hall is so beautiful and said to have the best acoustics of any concert hall in Austria. We were able to take pictures of the concert hall prior to the concert beginning, but not during the concert itself.
When we go to find our seats, we are escorted to the Orchestra platform; we all look at each other. We are basically seated just to the side and a little back from the orchestra. This gave us a perfect view of the Conductor of the orchestra. All of the orchestra members are dressed in period costumes and wigs which added to the performance. In addition to the orchestra, we were entertained by a Soprano and a Tenor opera singer for a few songs. We all thought that seated where we were, was absolutely wonderful. The best part; as I mentioned before was watching the conductor. You can tell this man loves his job. He would point to the violin, cello, horn or drum section and he would give a little shrug, give a little wink, raise his eyebrows, point his baton and give a little twirl. Not sure one would see this if you were seated in the main auditorium.
Just before the intermission, the conductor starts to conduct the audience by clapping. He would clap slowly, speed up, clap slower then stop. He would expect the audience to follow. If someone kept clapping when he stopped, he would simply shake his finger. He would then point at his eyes and then the audience, as if to say….”I am watching you and you better listen to what I am telling you to do”. This was so entertaining; he did it again at the end of the evening. The concert lasted almost two hours and we all enjoyed it.
On our way back to the apartment after the concert, we walk past the Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) is lit up, beautiful at night. This Baroque church was built between 1716-1739. A huge copper dome on the top and two tall twin towers anchor the church.
On Sunday, we head off to Schonbrunn Palace. Although Robin and I had visited here two years ago, we decided to return so Debbie and Denis could see it. We take the subway to get there. Once again, cannot believe the crowds. We arrive at 9:30am and there must already be 10 – 12 tour buses in the parking lot.
OK, I don’t want to offend anyone, but following is a rant about rude tourists who travel in large groups. These people, often Asian, are pushy, take over the whole sidewalk or take over a whole room in a gallery or museum, making it very difficult for other’s to get by. Often during this trip, in major tourists areas, all of us have had to elbow our way through, stop them from running us over. Last night at the concert, as I was about to ask an usher a question, this Asian man tries to but in. I put my had out and stopped him and told him it was not his turn! My favourite saying when something like this happens….”Shame on you”. I was thinking it, just used my inside voice! I really think the tour guides for these large groups need to have some “tourist etiquette” lessons with these people. For example, when we toured Hitler’s Aerie, our guide would tell us to stand to one side so other people could get through and she was also respectful in keeping her voice low, but loud enough for our group to hear. Ok, that is the end of my rant.
Tickets for Schonbrunn Palace are for a specific entry time and ours was 10 to 10:15 am. If you are later than this, you forfeit your entry. We have seen this in several places we have visited.
Schonbrunn (means beautiful spring) was the summer palace of the Habsburg’s and is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The land was purchased in 1569 by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian 11. The land was used for hunting and a recreation ground of the ruling class of the day. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodelled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa (spoke about her in length in my blog from 2 yrs. ago) who received the estate as a wedding gift.
In November 1918, the palace became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum. After WW11, the palace was made into an administrative centre for the British army. With the reestablishment of the Austrian republic in 1955, the palace once again became a museum. It is still sometimes used for important events such as the meeting between U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. It is also used for concerts. In 2017, some 3.8 million people visited the palace, Vienna’s most popular tourist site. The palace and grounds cover 186 hectares (about 460 acres).
Unfortunately one cannot take pictures when touring the interior of the palace.
The palace itself is a huge building and is built in the neoclassical style and decorated in the Rococo style. It has 1441 rooms of which 40 are open to the public; we did the “Grand Tour” and visited all 40 rooms. All very opulent with the finest of materials used in the furnishings, beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings, wonderful art work and the finest of wooden finishings. The grounds of the Schonbrunn are immense and the formal gardens, in a French style, are meticulously tended.
Subway back to the apartment and our final dinner out tonight to a traditional Viennese restaurant. Monday morning we catch an early flight to Amsterdam, overnight there and then back home to Calgary on Tuesday.
We have been very fortunate with the weather on our trip.
We have enjoyed sharing this trip with my brother Denis and our sister in law Debbie. A wonderful three weeks in Germany and Austria both of which have much history and much beauty. Thanks again to Robin for sharing these trips with me….wouldn’t have it any other way.
My final chapter on this trip. I do enjoy writing my blog and hopefully provides the readers with some insight to the places we visit.