Madeira – March 2019

Arrived in Madeira the morning of February 28th around 11 am; a two hour flight from Lisbon. Our friend Susan had been to Madeira and told us that the landing strip was very interesting; I really didn’t need to know that! As the plane approaches you see this rocky island in the middle of the ocean and the airstrip is basically hanging on the edge of the cliff. A good landing, but I will say that I was hanging on to him for dear life. People started clapping when the plane made its’ safe landing….is there something we should know!

The reason we chose to come to Madeira, besides not having been here before, is that Robin’s mother’s ancestors were from Madeira. His grandmother and grandfather immigrated to British Guyana at the end of the 19th century. Robin thinks that they came to Guyana as indentured labourers and would have had to work through a period of indenture prior to being given their freedom. My sister in law, Suzanne might be able to shed more light on this assumption.

The gentleman who picked us up at the airport, which is about 20 minutes away from Funchal (the capital of Madeira), informed us that this weekend was the start of Mardi Gras. He certainly got very lively when he found out that Robin’s ancestors were from Madeira. Told us that Madeira was the best island, way better than the Azores! He also gave us a long list of the foods we must try. He said the many types of bananas are grown on the island and they are exported all over the world. Also, lots of cane sugar is grown. He said we must try the “bolo de caco” bread, a white fish served with bananas, all the various pastries and of course, Madeira wine. When Robin asked him about malasada (a pastry Robin remembers from Guyana) his smile was incredible. He told us that in Madeira the malasada is quite large and served with a cane sugar honey. He told us that it was a tradition to cook the malasada just before lent, to use up the lard and sugar in the household. They also discussed bol de mel, which in Madeira is called “bolo de mel”. He also told us to try a traditional Madeira drink called “poncha” made with lemons, oranges, sugar and white rum.

We have rented an apartment for the four days that we are here. After getting settled in, we venture out to get to know the city. Our first stop is the local market, Mercado dos Lavradores and find a fruit vendor. I don’t think I have ever seen so many fruit and lots that I am not familiar with. This island is after all a semi-tropical and grows its own fruit, a lot of which is exported. As we are speaking to the fruit vendor, we said we wanted some bananas. He was quite the salesman. He told us he carried about 8 types of bananas and we walked out with several different kinds which he hand picked for us. Have now tried most of them and each variety really has it’s own taste, all very good.

As we walked into the market we saw flower vendors. These are all women and they all wear traditional clothing.

The tile work at the entrance of the Mercado

The flower lady dressed in traditional clothes

We decide to stop for lunch and we split a sandwich made of the “bolo de caco” bread. The bolo do caco is a flat, circular bread, shaped like a cake and thus called bolo. It is traditionally cooked on a caco, a flat basalt stone slab. The bread is usually served with garlic butter. We ordered one with shredded chicken and it was delicious. Robin decided to pair his with a glass of Madeira wine….it is after noon, so that is allowed, right?

As I walk over to look at the bread, one of the ladies was making a fresh batch, an older gentleman sitting down having his bica (expresso) says to me….”Bonjour Madame”. So I reply in french and we start a short conversation. He is quite a character; he tells me he is going to be the next President of France! He tells the lady making the bread what he has just told me (in Portuguese), she burst out laughing.

Robin and I have often commented as to the many times that people start speaking to me in French; I guess I must have that look!

I go back to our table and lo and behold the older gentleman follows me and asks our permission to sit down. I tell him that Robin cannot speak french but will understand him is he speaks slowly. Once again he introduces himself that he will be the next President of France. He then tells us that he spent thirty years working in France and that his two sons were born there. He came back to Madeira when he retired as he was born here and he calls this his home. We spoke a little longer and then he left. A good chuckle!

We continue walking to Rua de Santa Maria to check out the restaurants. The representative of the management company had gone over where to go to eat and what to see. A charming small lane with all types of restaurants, but mainly seafood.

The doors of the various shops and restaurants are all painted depicting various scenes or people, very peculiar, have never seen this anywhere else.

We then make our way along the promenade, Avenida do Mar and visit the old abandoned Forte Sao Tiago. Believe they are turning the space into art galleries and a museum. Further along we see the cable car, Teleferico do Funchal. We decide on the spur of the moment to take the cable car to the top, an area known as Monte. The length of the ride is 3,200 metres (about 2 miles) and takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Beautiful views of the city of Funchal. The most amazing sight are the gardens which are planted on the hills, all of which are terraced.

When we get to the top I told Robin that I had read about these “basket rides” that one could take down the hill. We weren’t sure what this was all about, so we watched a few people go down. The “Carreiros do Monte” have been operating for over one hundred years. Historically they were used to bring people down from the hilltop village of Monte down to Funchal. Also used to transport their produce for market. The baskets are guided by two men, called “carreiros” and they have special leather boots that they use for breaking/slowing down the sledge. The sledges are made out of wicker and sit on two wooden runners. The trail runs 2 kilometres down the hill. We decide, what they heck, only here once, might as well do it. Halfway down the hill, the carreiros stop and grease the runners.

The ride was so worth it; lot’s of fun and something unique.

On our way back to the apartment, we stop at a small coffee shop and we indulge in malasada and cane sugar honey. This was very special for Robin as these were made in Guyana. Very good.

We were told that this weekend is the start of “Carnival” and that there will be a parade on Saturday night.

We go out to one of the fish restaurants that we saw earlier in the day. I always have to laugh when the waiter says to me as “yes, my lady” . I opt to have the “filete de espada com banana e mara caja” (scabbard fish fillet with banana and passion fruit). I know that this must sound like a weird combination, but it is very good. A specialty of Madeira. Robin has the tuna steak Madeira style (Bife de atum a Madeirense). Both were very good. A musician playing at the restaurant made for a lovely ambience and evening.

On Friday, March 1st we are picked up by a tour guide in an ex-military jeep. I had arranged a tour of the east side of the island and the west side on the next day. On Friday, we were joined by another couple visiting from England. Our guide, Ricardo, was born and raised here in Madeira. The top of the jeep is pulled back and Robin and I are sitting in the back. We stop at an outlook at the top of Funchal and view the sights of the city.

We then do some cross country off roading and head to Pico do Arieiro, a mountain which stands at 1,810 metres high (5,938 feet). To get here we have driven right through the clouds. We asked Ricardo to put the top back on the jeep as we were all quite cold. We had been told by the tour company to come prepared for cold, so thankfully Robin and I had brought sufficient clothes, including our hats and gloves. The views from Mount Arieiro look down into the Valley of the Nuns. Absolutely spectacular views from here, but very windy.

As we are about to get back into the jeep, Ricardo introduces us to his cousin, Diego who is also a tour guide, but with another company. The two of then are hilarious, kidding with each other and the rest of us. Diego tells us that we should really be touring with him as he is much better looking!

Ricardo borrowing my scarf. His cousin Diego says he dresses like a girl for carnival!

We continue and stop in a small bar along the way, really in the middle of nowhere. Ricardo goes behind the bar and tells us he is making us all a poncha. This is the Madeira drink made of white rum, sugar, lemons and limes. I also ask for a galao (latte) and he makes it himself as well. The bar tender/owner just lets him go about his duties. We drink the poncha and wow….what a kick! We find out that the white rum is 50% alcohol. Having said it had a kick, it was good.

Our guide Ricardo, Robin and Pete and Sandra from England

The ingredients for Poncha. The stick is called a caralhinho stick and used to mix the ingredients.

When I asked Ricardo how to spell Poncha….he writes in my little notebook “BEER”.

Then continue our tour. Our next stop is a small village where traditional Madeiran homes still exist. We visit this tiny house and garden and the owner gives us a shot glass of a home made coffee liqueur.

That is Ricardo’s hand trying to cover up the naked parts of the statue as I am taking a picture!

In this same small village we stop for lunch. A little out of the way place mainly for locals. The meal is a set menu and we get the garlic bread, meat skewer’s of beef and chicken (called espetada) served with a salad, french fries and milhofrito ( a side dish of corn, kale water, garlic and olive oil mixed together, shaped into squares and fried). Wine and desert was also included at a very reasonable cost. The meat was so tender. Ricardo told Sandra that she must eat the chicken with her fingers. If she used a knife and fork she would leave behind the most tender part attached to the bones.

Along the way when we are going off road, Ricardo stops along the way to show us native plants, herbs and fruit. At one point, he almost falls out of the truck trying to reach some fruit. He would simply show us how to eat the fruit and tell us it didn’t need to be washed as this was organic, growing in the forest. That is so true. During the day we tasted Japanese plums (really yummy), sugar apples, guava and banana pineapple. All fruit we would rarely see in Canada.

Ricardo standing on top of the jeep to reach some fruit for us to try

He says that a lot of the older generation still use the herbs that grow wild to help with different ailments. He said that his mother and grandmother taught him the herbs’ various uses and he uses them when necessary.

The views along the coast in the afternoon are incredible and ever changing.

Our last stop of the day is about a 1/2 hour walk along a levada. A levada is an irrigation canal that is specific to Madeira and the Azores. In Madeira they were built centuries ago to help bring the water from the northwest of the island to the south, which was drier. It helped with agriculture and sugar cane production. Ricardo explained that farmers are allotted a certain time of the day/week where they divert the water from the levada to their fields. Along the way we can see the small gates where the diversion takes place. They are still used today. Ricardo told us that when he was a small boy, his job was to help his father with the sluice gates. They would put cow manure at the top of the field and when the water would begin its diversion, the water would mix with the cow manure, thus providing fertilizer in the fields.

Levada walk

When one sees the small villages on the island, you wonder how they make a living. Ricardo tells us that farming/agriculture is a way of life here. Although is is mountainous, we have seen the terraced fields every where during our travels. You see cows, sheep and goats munching away on very steep slopes. The types of crops that are grown depend on the altitude of the land. More tropical fruits and vineyards at the lower elevations and root vegetables at higher elevations. Everything that is not used for personal consumption is sold.

At times when we were back roading, we would stand up in the jeep, quite a thrill. Got back into Funchal around 5 pm. A full day of seeing this beautiful island with its’ varied terrain and temperature differences, with a very knowledgeable guide. During the day, we kept running into Ricardo’s cousin Diego and the people he was guiding…lots of jokes by these two cousins.

A lovely dinner on this beautiful night and we were able to sit outside.

On Saturday, March 2nd, Ricardo picks us up to tour the west side of the island. This side of the island is not as forested and has a larger population living off agriculture. We were the only ones on the tour today….but who do we run into on our first stop which is a mirador…..Diego with some Portuguese tourists….the jibbing between the two cousins continues. There was a glass bottom walkway at this mirador.

We continue and stop for our first coffee and poncha. Another little town with a bar and once again Ricardo goes behind the bar and mixes us fresh ponchas. In addition, the woman who runs the bar, gives us a small glass of her home made liquor. She uses white rum and puts in all kinds of herbs. Home made liquor is illegal, so when locals make it, they put it in empty liquor bottles to hide the fact it is home made. We had a little glass and must say it was quite good.

Guess who walks in…yes Diego. He grabs my phone and does a selfie of the two of us….he says so I never forget him!

We continue to drive up the mountain and see fish farms in the ocean. Great views everywhere one looks.

We pass several small stone huts along the countryside and Ricardo explains that these small huts are the original houses of the farmers. He told us that Germans are now buying these huts and expanding them to make summer homes.

Some of the off roads we travelled along

Once again, we are amazed at this beautiful island. We finally make it to Porto Moniz, a small fishing community along the coast. It is also known for its tidal pools. Ricardo told us that seven people were recently hurt due to unexpected large waves coming over the rocks. We stop here for lunch and have a very tasty fish soup, scabbard fish (espada), vegetables and a salad, all very good. We take about 1/2 hour here to walk along the shore and watch the waves crashing, simply incredible.

I had asked Ricardo about the colourful dresses that the flower women wear. He told us that traditionally if women wore white blouses and brown skirts it meant that they were single, colours meant they were married and blue was worn by widows. You may have seen in one of the earlier pictures, a group playing music who wore traditional hats that had a point to them. Ricardo told us that some of the ancients lived in small caves. In order that they wouldn’t hurt their heads, they wore the hats with points so that the point would hit the top of the cave as protection for their heads.

We continue along the way and stop at another lookout. A strange rock formation which had a hole in it, but unfortunately we could only see it as we drove by and I couldn’t get a picture of it.

Our last stop of the day was a small town that is known for its waterfalls.

Another great tour of this beautiful island. It is Saturday night and the Mardi Gras parade is tonight. We go for dinner, then make our way to the parade….hundreds of people already there. We watch for a while, but hard to see what is going on as there are so many people, manage to get a few shots. We can hardly see the parade as there are so many people. Stop at a hotel for a port on our way back to our apartment and watch the rest of the parade on tv.

Sunday, our last day in Funchal and beautiful blue skies. We walk towards the cathedral and make our way to the boardwalk along the ocean. Lots of people in town, then we realize two very large cruise ships in port. Beautiful buildings in the older part of the town. We are amazed how clean the area is near the port, last night it was full of streamers and confetti and now all cleaned up.

We have so enjoyed our time here in Madeira and would recommend it for anyone to visit. So full of traditions, good food and wonderful people.

Monday is a travel day from the island of Madeira, with a stopover in Lisbon and on to Amsterdam. We will spend Tuesday in Amsterdam and back home to Calgary on Wednesday. We have so enjoyed this trip seeing so many new places and meeting wonderful people along the way.

This is my last blog post for this holiday. I enjoy writing them as it allows me to look back and remember these special times. It is my version of a diary and photo album.

Once again, I need to thank Robin for being my partner in life and willing to take on new adventures. We will continue our travels for as long as we can. Until the next time!

Last few days in and around Lisbon

The weather in Lisbon has improved in the last week and we are seeing temperatures in the low 20’s with blue skies. Had a relaxing day on Sunday the 24th just enjoying the city and the warm weather.

Must say that although the exterior of the trains are full of graffiti, the interiors are very clean. We have found all modes of transportation, whether that be tram, bus, metro and trains to be all very efficient and all very clean. We have also used Uber on several occasions. We were told to be very careful with taxis as they are known for charging too much; they try to make bargains and normally these bargains are over what a metered fare would be. Even the locals warned us against taking taxis.

On Monday, we take the train from the Rossio train station to the Palacio Nacional de Quelez, which only takes about 15 minutes. This palace is halfway between Lisbon and Sintra. The Quelez Palace is often overlooked, as most tourists go to the palaces of Sintra/Pena. We had been to Sintra when we were here some 10 years ago, so did not feel we had to see it again.

In 1747 this hunting lodge was transformed into a “Rococo” style summer palace. Over the years the palace was expanded and gardens were designed and planted. Maria, the eldest daughter of Jose 1, lived in the palace after her marriage to her uncle. As one guide told us, the rich and the royalty certainly knew how to keep the wealth in their families. The guide book says that Maria suffered from “melancholia” and when her son died, she went mad. They say that visitors to the palace could hear her shrieking. Her younger son took her to Brazil during the French invasion in the early 1800’s.

Since 1940, the palace has been opened to the public. Part of the palace is used for official ceremonies.

The guide book and markers at the palace indicated there were several lakes; in fact it appears that they refer to fountains. There was also many sculptures throughout the well manicured gardens.

One of the most amazing structures in the gardens is a channel that was built so the royal family could enjoy boat or gondola rides. The sides of this channel were completely covered in tiles depicting hunting and landscape scenes. A few individuals working on restoring the tiles. Looked like very meticulous time consuming work. We have never seen anything like this, quite unique.

We spend about 2 hours touring the palace and grounds and made our way back to Lisbon.

One of the things I have been meaning to mention is the way in which one orders coffee in Portugal. The first few days we arrived, I was ordering cappuccinos, but found them quite strong. One of our tour guides mentioned that even the Italians think that the Portuguese coffee is strong. I had remembered that the guide book had made mention of coffee, as had the young lady who managed the apartment. So I learnt that what I really wanted was called a “galao”, probably the closest to a latte. It is normally served in a glass. An espresso is referred to as a “bica” and a coffee drink with half milk and half coffee is known as a “meia de leite”. I think I mentioned before that we like to make the effort to try to speak as many words or phrases of the local language, so I started ordering “um galao”.

We spoke to one of our guides about the amount of graffiti on the buildings and vans in and around Lisbon. It seems to be an attitude that the government simply does not have the will or resources to tackle the problem. We find this so unfortunate.

On Tuesday we arranged a tour to a few villages and a National Park south of Lisbon. We were picked up by our guide Rodrigo. We used a different company as the company we previously used did not offer this tour. When Rodrigo started talking, I asked him where he learnt his English, as it was very different than what we have heard. He told us that he was born in Canada and lived there with his parents till he was in grade seven, and they moved back to Lisbon. His parents had originally gone to Canada on a two year working visa, but stayed much longer as when they were due to come back to Portugal, the country was in the midst of its revolution. His father was in International Banking and had worked for several banks in Canada. They had lived in Montreal and Toronto.

We left Lisbon via the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and as we passed the southern end of the bridge, we got a good view of the Christo Rei statue. Our first stop was the small town of Azeitao. This area is known for its Moscatel wine. The main building in this small town is the Jose Maria da Fonseca cellars. A majestic building. This family owned business has been producing wines since 1834 and is the oldest table wine in Portugal. It has been a family business for seven generations. Rodrigo tells us that Portuguese wines used to be mainly blends; but the industry is now moving towards producing single varietal wines. He says that there are 600 varieties of grapes in Portugal of which 250 are natural to Portugal.

Stopped at a small cafe for a morning coffee/tea and pastry. Rodrigo says that most of the ancient pastries were made of egg yolks. This was due to the fact that the nuns used the egg whites to starch their wimples and the egg yolks were surplus, thus the pastries!

Driving through the area we see lots of vineyards and cork trees.

We continue our journey into the Parque Natural da Arrabida. The park was established in 1910. Beautiful forests of pine and cypress trees. A narrow winding road winds its way across the mountain (hill) range to the Bay of Setubal and the very small towns of Galapos and Figueirinha. We walk through these very small towns. There are some residences here, mainly used as summer escapes. No additional homes can be built as they are located in a National Park. They are allowed to remodel the existing homes, but cannot expand the footprints. A few secluded beaches along the way.

Then on to Setubal which is the third largest port in Portugal, after Lisbon and Oporto. Rodrigo tells us that container ships come here when the port of Lisbon gets too busy. Setubal is still classified as a fishing village, even though it is more like a city now. Rodrigo tells us that many people live in Setubal and commute to Lisbon by train as housing is more reasonable than Lisbon.

Setubal is also known for its dolphins. One sees many statues and murals of dolphins in the town centre. Apparently lots of dolphin tours during the tourist season. The dolphins are protected.

We visit the local market and stalls abound with fish of all types, certainly some we have never seen before. Even lots of fish eggs for sale. I asked Rodrigo about these and he indicated they were delicious when grilled…..not sure about that! Some fruit and vegetable stands in the market as well. Rodrigo tells us that unlike North America, Portugal labels any produce if it is not organic, interesting.

The far wall of the market is covered in ancient blue and white tiles. Rodrigo tells us that if he had the room in his home, he would collect ancient tiles. Portuguese tiles are influenced by Roman mosaics and the Moorish tiles. Portuguese tiles that are simply blue and white date back to the 16th century and those with more colours date to the 18th century. All colours are based on metal oxides; for example greens are copper, red is magnesium, etc. A lot of tiles also have yellow, orange and blue colours.

Back in the car and we drive up to the highest point above Setubal to visit the Castelo de Sao Filipe. This star-shaped fort built in 1595 to watch for invaders. It was transformed into a pousada, but was closed last year due to safety reasons as the building starting to sink! Part of the upper ramparts are also closed. Funny thing, there is still a restaurant and people are still allowed to visit. A beautiful chapel where all the walls are decorated with tiles, mostly in very good condition.

The views from the fort are quite wonderful. We look down onto Setubal but also see the bay. Beautiful beaches all along, probably stretching for several kilometres.

Looking at the other side of the bay from Setubal

Stop for lunch at a small restaurant that serves local fish, very good.

Our last stop of the day is an old water mill. The Mourisca Tide Mill is in the Sado estuary and was working until the 1950’s. It had eight millstones. The tide is out so we see lots of different birds in the mud flats. Apparently lots of bird watchers come here during the migration seasons.

Another great day discovering areas that one would not normally venture to.

Wednesday, the 27th is our last day in Lisbon and basically a laid back day, getting ready for the next four days on the island of Madeira.

Day trip to Mafra, Alcobaca, Batalha and Obidos

On Saturday, February 23rd we arranged for a day tour with our previous guide, Daniel, to Mafra, Alcobaca and Obidos. On the way, we pass many wind turbines and Daniel tells us that Portugal now gets 62% of its energy from renewable resources of which 40% is from wind and the remainder from solar, hydro and biomass. Interestingly enough, there are many old windmills in the same area.

We were also talking about pollution and Daniel tells us that all older cars are subject to emission testing on a regular basis.

Our first stop of the day was the Palacio de Mafra some 40 kms north west of Lisbon. It was built in the 18th century by order of King Joao V to fulfill a vow he made, to be blessed with an heir from his marriage to Maria Ana of Austria, or be cured of a serious illness. I have heard this over and over and it seems that a lot of monasteries, churches and palaces built for these reasons.

The Royal Convent and Palace of Mafra is the most important baroque monument in Portugal. All in limestone and marble from the region, the building covers an area of almost four hectares and includes 1,200 rooms, more than 4,700 doors and windows, 156 stairways and many courtyards. The scope and magnificence of the building was possible due to the Brazilian gold that Portugal brought to the country. The king ordered sculptures and art from Italian, French and Portuguese artists. Daniel told us that normally a monastery is where monks resided and a convent is where nuns resided. He does not know why this monument is known as “The Royal Convent” as at one time up to 300 monks lived there.

As we are touring the Palace, we comment on how cold it is and cannot see any means of heating the Palace. One of the docents working in the palace told us that this was a summer palace only and was used mainly for hunting. You will see in the some of the pictures the reference to hunting.

One of the most magnificent rooms I think was the library. It is said to be one of the most important libraries in Europe and holds 36,000 volumes devoted to 18th century knowledge.

The furnishings, paintings, sculptures, painted ceilings and floors are simply impeccable in this palace. Even the long halls are magnificent; I especially love the royal yellows and light blues that are used throughout. Our guide book says that most of the finest furniture and art works were taken to Brazil when the royal family escaped the French invasion in the early 1800’s. I would say what is left is still quite spectacular.

It appears that part of the convent was used as a convalescent hospital for monks. One chapel had side rooms with beds; I imagine mass was held for the sick as they laid in bed. The monastery (convent) was abandoned when all religious orders were banned.

As we make our way through the various rooms, we finally enter the “hunting room”…kind of creepy for me. Even chairs and a table made of antlers.

The basilica has twin bell towers and has six organs.

We then venture outside in the gardens to find hawks and owls tethered, after all it was a hunting palace.

On the way to our next stop we see many vineyards and orchards, beautiful countryside.

Our next stop is Alcobaca to visit the Alcobaca Monastery, which is located 120 kms north of Lisbon. The building of the monastery began in 1178 by order of the first Portuguese king, Alfonso Henriques and was the first gothic building to be built in Portugal. Construction of the church was finished in 1252. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site…..one more for our list.

Many monarchs were buried here in the 15th and 16th centuries and we were able to see the beautifully carved tombs of King Pedro 1 and his mistress, Ines de Castro. The nave is 20 metres high (65 feet) and very impressive. The interior is quite simple as are the various columns.

We stop for lunch at a beautiful countryside restaurant (O Cabeco) in the hills above Alcobaca. I must say that one would not find these great out of the way places unless you were with a guide. It was a Saturday and full of locals. Food was great and setting was so peaceful. Even the local dog to greet you when you arrived and a couple of goats keeping the grass under control.

On to Batalha to see the Monastery of Batalha, which is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. This monastery was built to commemorate the battle of 1385 against the Castillians (the battle of Aljubarrota) and was originally called the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory. It took over a century to build (1386 to 1517) and spanned the reign of seven kings. Many different architects were used and one of the outer chapels is referred to as the “unfinished chapel”. It has no ceiling and is exposed to the elements.

Our last stop of the day is Obidos, a charming walled town with narrow cobbled streets and traditionally painted houses. It has a medieval castle which was given to one of the Queen’s of Portugal for her wedding. The town is very quaint but I think it is one of those places that would be overrun with tourists in the height of the season. Every second shop had ginga tasting (sour cherry liqueur), sold chocolates and tourist kitsch. It kind of reminded me of Mont St. Michel in France in many ways. We did have a ginga tasting with our guide Daniel, but the best part was that the ginga was served in edible chocolate cups! Even an old Roman aqueduct just outside the castle.

In our travels we have often seen the Knights Templar symbol. Daniel told us that if we looked closely, the symbol was somewhat different. When all christian organizations were banished from Europe it was felt that the Knights Templar were simply too powerful. The King of Portugal was able to convince the Pope that he would start a new organization under his purview. Basically he just renamed them the Order of Christ and changed the cross symbol just a little. To this day, the President of Portugal is always the head of the Order of Christ.

We are told by Daniel that the weather this February has been somewhat warmer and they have had less rain than previous years.

Another great day of seeing new places with our guide Daniel.

More and more to see in Lisbon

On Saturday, February 16th, we decided to head off to the Parque da Nacoes (Park of the Nations) and the Oceanario de Lisboa. The site, which was originally an abandoned industrial area was revitalized and transformed for Expo ’98. One is surrounded by contemporary architecture which is such a difference from the rest of Lisbon. We were told that this is the most expensive real estate area of Lisbon. Lots of condo’s, restaurant’s, parks and paths along the river.

We make our way to the Oceanario de Lisboa which is now the main attraction of the area. The building itself is quite futuristic looking; a bit weird in all honesty! Must say that we are getting Senior’s discount at all the museums, palaces and attractions that we have been to; so helps with the wine budget!

The Oceanario (aquarium) is perched at the end of a pier and is surrounded by water. There is a vast main central tank with a varied array of fish, large and small, swimming around. Numerous view points throughout the building where one can get a different perspective, on two separate levels. We spent about one hour and would be a great place to bring a family. We really enjoyed visiting this aquarium and were very impressed with all the displays; it is world class.

Next stop is to take a ride on the Cable car. From here one can see the 17.5 kms Vasco de Gama bridge, which is said to be the longest in Europe. Beautiful views of the whole Parque de Nacoes.

On Sunday, we decide to take the bus to another market that I had read about, the “Mercado de Ourique”. The City of Lisbon has a great website for their transportation system (Carris) and is interactive. You indicate where you are leaving from and destination and it tells you how to get there using either tram, bus or train. So, we know we have to take the 760 bus at Praca de Figueira and get off at the Ourique Basilica. Great, we just walk to Figueira square, find the 760 and get on. We realize within a few minutes that in our haste to catch the bus, we did not look at the final destination on the front of the bus and we were going in the wrong direction. We laughed at ourselves and simply got off the bus at the next stop, walked across the street and caught the 760 going in the right direction. We realized after, that there were two separate stops at the square; notwithstanding, we know better. We should have looked at the final destination point, same on bus as for the metro. Goes with travelling, not everything works out the way you plan, you just have to be able to shrug those things off and continue on your way.

We finally make it to the Mercado de Ourique. I had read about it on line and reviews indicated that some liked it better than Time out Market as it was not as busy. Their web site indicated that this market concept (similar to Time Out) was undertaken at this location as it was an abandoned market and the City wanted to revitalize the Ourique neighbourhood. Not sure if it was the time of year (fewer tourists at this time of year) or because it was Sunday and we are in the outer tourist area. The place was really quiet and hardly anybody there. We wandered around, stopped for coffee, then were on our way.

On Monday, we decide to take the bus to Belem and visit the Palacio Nacional da Aujuda. The first time we went to Belem, we had taken the train, as it was closer to the Mosterio dos Jeronimos. The Palacio is located up a hill and the bus simply made more sense….by the way….took the right bus going in the right direction! A cool gloomy day, but doesn’t stop us from getting out and about.

This royal palace was destroyed by fire in 1795 and was replaced in the early 19th century with the present Neo-Classical building. It was left unfinished as the royal family was forced into exile in Brazil in 1807 when Napoleon 1 invaded. The palace was eventually finished when Luis 1 became King in 1861 and married Maria Pia from Italy. The guide book says that no expense was spared in furnishing the apartments. It is always amazing to us to see the decorations, furniture and art work of these palaces. The chandeliers abounded everywhere you looked!

The one room that took me aback here, was the Banquet Hall.

Tuesday we take the train to Cascais which took about 45 minutes, about 31 kms from Lisbon. A beautiful sunny day. The city has been a holiday resort for over a century. There are numerous beautiful villas along the coast which were built by the wealthy Lisboetas in the late 19th century. A lovely afternoon in 19 degree temperatures; we were both a little overdressed. Wandered the streets and visited an old fort which is now filled with art galleries, shops and even a 5 star hotel.

Fishing is still a main way of life for the locals and many fishing boats, crab traps etc. in the marina. We even came across two fisherman mending their nets. Young people were playing volleyball along the beach and apparently the surrounding beaches are surfing spots. Although a nice town to visit for the day, not sure I would want to spend too much time here. The streets are filled with Irish and English pubs everywhere and I would think gets pretty rowdy. Having said this, we are really glad we made it out here.

Spent Wednesday and Thursday simply discovering new neighbourhoods in Lisbon. We either walk, take a tram, bus or metro and simply wander, stopping to have a coffee and people watch. We spend more time in Barrio Alto, Baixa/Chiado and our own hood of Graca.

Wednesday night we decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out at a seafood restaurant that had been recommended by our city guide Daniel. The 5 Oceanos restaurant is located along the docks ( Coca de Santo Amaro) just by the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge (the one that looks like the Golden Gate). Numerous restaurants along the docks, mainly all seafood restaurants. Thanks to a suggestion from our friend Shirley, we both decided to try the “Cataplanta”. This is a fish stew prepared in a copper vessel called a cataplanta. The dish contains fresh fish (cod) some shellfish and a mixture of potatoes, onions, garlic and paprika. Delicious!

There are paths all along the river and many cyclists on their way home and runners getting their exercise for the day. Just at the end of the marina are a series of tennis courts, all in use. A beautiful night and we are able to not only see the bridge all lit up but also the statue of Cristo Rei on the other side of the river. This statue is modelled after the the famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro.

Thursday night we attend a football (soccer) match at the Estadio da Luz, home to one of Lisbon’s football teams, Benfica. I had bought tickets before we left Canada. Benfica was playing a team from Turkey, Galatasaray in a UEFFA match. Must say that this evening was something quite spectacular, nothing of which I have seen before. The crowds were incredible. The stadium holds 64,600 and was built in 2003 to replace an older stadium. Not sure what the attendance was on Thursday night, but certainly quite full. When we arrived, hundreds of people streaming into the stadium while hundreds more drinking and eating in the outer areas, similar I guess, to a tail gate party. Most everyone is wearing the red of the Benfica team, team scarves and team shirts. The atmosphere inside the stadium was one of excitement and cause for celebration. The fans are constantly singing, yelling and waving gigantic flags. Robin was one happy guy, watching a live football game!

One thing that did strike both of us is the actual size of the football pitch, much bigger than one seems to see on the television. Lots of action but the outcome was a tie. This was the second match of a two match play and Benfica won 2-1.

Friday, another day to discover the city. We venture out and decide to try one of the elevadors (funicular) and find the “Elevador da Gloria”. It is located in the Restauradores bairro, not too far from our apartment and we ride it up to the Bairro Alto to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. A beautiful view of the city of Lisbon looking across Baixa area. From here we can see the Castelo and churches up in the Graca hills.

Elevador da Gloria – this funicular working, simply graffitied.

This elevador no where near as busy as the popular Santa Justa. In the last week, we have certainly noticed an upswing in the number of tourists in the City. We continue walking through the Real Principe area which is definitely more upscale than a lot of others we have visited. Stop for a coffee in the Praca do Principe Real, a park that goes back to 1860. A beautiful trellis providing shade in the summer.

We realize we are near the Jardim Botanico so decide to venture in that direction. The botanical garden spreads over four hectares (10 acres). I read a little about the garden upon returning back to our apartment. It says that the gardens have ” a distinct air of neglect” and we did find it so. Although nice to walk around the paths and see the trees, not much really here. Still a nice place to spend some quiet relaxing time. Temperature hit 20 C degrees today and beautiful blue skies.

A few days in Bilbao and San Sebastian, Spain

We had decided before we left Canada, that we would go to Bilbao and San Sebastian for a few days, that was a great call on our part. The only thing I would have done differently is probably spend one extra day in each city.

Bilbao was only a two hour flight from Lisbon. We are always amazed at the low cost of flights within Europe. The Bilbao terminal itself is a work of art; it was designed by Santiago Calatrava, the famous Spanish architect. The terminal has a sleek design, and to me has the look of a “Concorde”. We have seen his bridges and buildings throughout the world and are always taken aback by the uniqueness of his designs. In Calgary, the Peace Bridge (pedestrian bridge) was designed by him. A little controversy occurred at the time it was built, but now an iconic symbol of Calgary.

Our main objective of visiting Bilbao was to see the Guggenheim Museum. I had bought tickets prior to leaving Canada. I would think that this would be a must do in the height of the season. The side trip to San Sebastian was added thanks to our friends Joanne and Bob who had visited and told us it was a must see. So glad we took their advice.

We had arranged for a driver from the airport as we landed around 7 pm. Our driver was a young Basque man who was very informative on our way to the hotel. Bilbao proper has a population of about 350,000 and 1 million in greater Bilbao. We talked about the Basque language which is called “Euskara” and he told us that every sign (highway, street name, etc.) was always in the Basque language first and Spanish on the bottom. Bilbao (Bizkaia) is considered the capital of the Basque region. He indicated that the basque language has seen a resurgence; it had been banned under the Franco regime. In the business sector, Spanish is still the main language.

Following are a few examples of the Basque language

Hello = Kaixo

Good Morning = Egunan

Goodbye = Agur

And we thought Portuguese was a hard language!

As we passed the football stadium (soccer in North America), he told us that the Bilbao team is very special as all its members must either be from the Basque region or have some type of relationship with the region.

We talked a little about the separation of the Basque region from Spain, and he advised that issue really no longer existed. The Basque region is the only region in Spain which keeps all of the local taxes. They than have total control over how the money is spent.

Our our first morning in Bilbao, we asked the concierge of the hotel where we could find a coffee shop for breakfast. Hotel breakfasts are so often overpriced and we simply are not interested in the breakfast buffets. He directs us to his favourite coffee shop called Plaza, just at the end of the block. Oh my gosh, we walk in and find that this place is just jumping. Everyone seems to know each other, a quick coffee and short conversation, then they are off to work. So interesting to see the differences between Europe and North America. In the mornings, we in Canada would just have our coffee to go before we went to work vs. Europe where they actually take the time to have their coffee at the coffee shop and enjoy a quick conversation with others.

The concierge at the hotel was so friendly. He provided us with a city map, told us how to get to the Guggenheim. Pointed out other places we should see and gave us a small package of chocolates and wished us a good day.

After our breakfast we decided to walk a bit in the area of the hotel and just one block off was a beautiful urban park called the Parque de Dona Casilda Iturrizar, a wealthy woman who donated the 8.52 hectares (about 21 acres) of land to the City over 100 years ago. When I went to look into the history of the park, once again I noted that it is referred to as the “lung of the city”.

On our way to the Guggenheim, we note that the City has lovely old buildings in the main area of the city. All are so well preserved, simply magnificent.

When we arrive at the Guggenheim, we take the time to admire the exterior of the building. A work of art in itself, it was designed by the Canadian born architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997. The building is clad in titanium, glass and sandstone and there is a random aspect to the design of the various curves, which is said to have been done, to reflect the light from different angles.

An excerpt from Wikipedia about the museum and it’s impact to the City of Bilbao which I find very interesting…”After the phenomenal success of Gehry’s design for the museum, critics began referring to the economic and cultural revitalization of cities through iconic, innovative architecture as the “Bilbao effect“. In the first 12 months after the museum was opened, an estimated US$160 million were added to the Basque economy. Indeed, over $3.5 billion has been added to the Basque economy since the building opened”.

The interior is a large, light-filled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills. One is allowed to take pictures of the interior of the building, but not of the art work in the various galleries. Works of art on the exterior of the building as well. Spent a couple of hours viewing the art in the various galleries. So worth the wait to see this spectacular building and its art.

Our next stop was the old town, which is mainly a pedestrian zone. We wind our way around the streets and stop for lunch at a small bar and have our first “Pintxos”, the “small bites” of the Basque region. Very good and great for a small lunch or appetizers.

On Thursday, we had arranged for a private tour of San Sebastian. Our guide/driver Aitor picked us up at the hotel and we headed off. San Sebastian is about an one hour drive from Bilbao. I had looked into getting to San Sebastian on our own. It would have been a four hour train trip both there and back. Once again it was one of those “you can’t get there from here” situations. We are so glad that we opted for this private tour. Aitor shared with us his knowledge of the Basque country including both Bilbao and San Sebastian. He was so very considerate the whole day, listening to what we had to say as well. We drive into the old town and do a “walk about”.

Our first stop was the market including the fish market. We always find these places so interesting and all have their own personality. We stop at one vendor and Aitor tells us that we need to try our first “pintxos”. He said that this particular one was one of the first that was invented. The name pintxos referred to the toothpicks that held the creations together. The waiter would then calculate what you owed based on the number of toothpicks on your plate. Today, the toothpicks are used on those pintxos which include a slice of bread at the bottom, simply to keep them together.

We stop for a coffee in a small square, nice people watching. Aitor insisted on doing a selfie.

Walked by a local church and there was a piece of modern art on the front of the church. I found this a little bizarre, but Aitor told us that the local priest had it commissioned. Not sure if it was supposed to stand for anything or represent something.

We continue to meander through the pedestrian zone and our next stop is a “locals” bar. Here is where we taste Chacoli (Txakolina) which is a sparkling Basque white wine. It was quite good, but the most amazing part of the process is the way they pour the wine. They hold the bottle about one meter above the glass and pour slowly. Not sure why they do this, but perhaps to aerate the wine? Aitor also ordered some deep fried shrimp pintxos which were made fresh and very delicious, went well with the wine. I love the way the bartender is not even looking at where he is pouring the wine!

He then tells us that we are going to a locals restaurant for a lunch of various pintxos. He says that he normally has six to seven….there is no way I could eat this many. We ordered various pintxos and shared. A nice way to do it, as we were able to really get a good sense of the variety available. Not just the tastes that are so good, the presentation is always quite amazing.

Walking through the old town, saw a few old gentleman wearing their berets, a Basque tradition. Here, they are not normally worn by woman…..notwithstanding, I will continue to wear my beret when I get back home!

We drive through parts of San Sebastian and view the beautiful buildings and wind our way up to a viewpoint overlooking the city and the Bay of Biscay, beautiful! The city reminded me in many ways of Biarritz, which is in France and only 50 kms away.

Can’t believe it is already time to head back to Bilbao. On our way back, Aitor makes a detour to take Robin to a chocolate manufacturer and shop, Chocolates of Mendaro- Saint Gerons. Robin had mentioned earlier in the day that he liked dark chocolate, so this was a surprise stop, what a lovely gesture on Aitor’s part. They have been in business since 1850 and still use an ancient mill to grind the cocoa beans. The lady who greeted us told us that they had to shut down the mill as they were having a problem with it and they were hoping it would be fixed in the next couple of days. How does one find someone to fix a mill that is over one hundred years old? Needless to say that we left with a few (large) bars of both dark chocolate for Robin and milk chocolate for Claire.

Earlier in the day at one of our stops and discussions with Aitor, I had mentioned that I had a travel blog and he looked at the site. He asked about my heading on “Unesco World Heritage Sites” and I told him that I kept track of those we had visited. Well, guess what, another nice surprise for us. Instead of dropping us off that the hotel, we take another detour and this time it is to see the Vizcaya bridge which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The bridge was built in 1893 and has a gondola which can transport 6 vehicles and several dozen passengers. It runs from side to side of Nervion river every 8 minutes and takes 1 1/2 minutes to cross. It really is quite amazing to see. What a great day.

Look closely at the hanging cable car

There is only one flight per day from Lisbon to Bilbao and back. Our flight left at 7 am. Because of the time we had to be at the airport, we had arranged for a transfer. So little traffic at that time of the morning, we got to the airport before it actually opened. We were not the only ones, several other people waiting outside as well. We start talking to an American couple about their travels and they were on their way home to Chicago. They had been in Bilbao for a week, which we said seemed a long way to come for just a week. He told us he still worked for Bank of Montreal in Chicago. I am always amazed at what a small world it really is. Both Robin and I worked for Bank of Montreal. Nice two hour flight back to Lisbon, watching the sun rise as we travelled.

Really enjoyed our time in both Bilbao and San Sebastian, but could have spent an extra day in Bilbao. A must visit.

Getting to discover Lisbon – February 2019

On Wednesday afternoon, the 6th, we arranged to have a private tour of Lisbon and area. We are picked up by our guide and driver, Daniel. I forgot to take a picture of Daniel….but oh my gosh, he looked so much like our son Richard; a very dark handsome portuguese young man.

This type of private tour is definitely worth it; Daniel was so informative. He started off by telling us the Legend of St. Vincent, the protector of Lisbon. The following is an excerpt from a City of Lisbon website.

” The story behind this coat of arms refers to Saint Vincent, patron of the city. According to a legend, our founding King, D. Afonso Henriques, made a vow to protect the remains of St. Vincent if he would guide the king’s outnumbered forces to victory in the siege of Lisbon in 1147. Well, the Portuguese took the city, and the king was a man of his word. He dispatched his agent to find the bones of the saint, and bring them to the city. St. Vincent had been martyred by the Romans, and his bones hidden in a cave in the Algarve when the Moors later invaded the Iberian Peninsula. The saint’s bones were protected by a flock of crows. And the crows, bones, and all were taken by ship, from what we now call Cape St Vincent to Lisbon. The crows perched on the ship all the way. The bones were buried in the Cathedral, and they say the crows still watch the building to this day.”

Daniel mentioned that we would see the symbol everywhere; and sure enough we did. We had not noticed it before, but once he pointed it out, we now see it everywhere such as lamp posts, sewer covers, on buildings, lights, etc.

The motto “MUI NOBRE E SEMPRE LEAL CIDADE DE LISBOA” means – “most noble and always loyal city of Lisbon”.

We talk a little about modern day Lisbon and Portugal. Daniel does confirm that the country’s debt has been repaid in full to the IMF. He also told us that locals cannot afford to buy property in the inner city. The AirBnB phenomena has affected apartment prices and as previously mentioned, the city of Lisbon has put a moratorium on further transfers of apartment for rental purposes such as AirBnB, VRBO and others. Daniel also mentioned that Portugal has encouraged Europeans to purchase property here. He told us that if a French person buys property in Portugal they do not have to pay property taxes for 10 years. Another reason property prices are rising.

He tells us that Lisbon is the second oldest city in Europe (said to be four centuries older than Rome) as it was first discovered by the Phoenicians. Portugal is the country with the oldest borders (since 1143). I did read somewhere that Lisbon is “one of the oldest cities in Europe; so not too sure on being the second oldest.

Our first stop is the viewpoint at the Igreja (church) da Graca. The church as also known as “Our Lady of the Hill” because of its location. It is said to protect pregnant women. Daniel tells us that this small church used to be located in the Alfama area near the Castelo. It was not overly damaged by the earthquake, but the city made the decision to move the church to this area so it could overlook the city. I loved his expression; he told us the church was “legoed” here. In other words, taken apart and rebuilt on the hill.

We overlook the Graca, Alfama and Baixa areas. The word Baixa means “low or short” and is applicable as the neighbourhood of Baixa lies on the flats by the river Tagus. Alfama (where the Castelo de Sao Jorge is located) is the second oldest neighbourhood in Europe.

It’s funny in a way, I always think that tour guides could actually tell you anything and you would believe them. I always recall our time in Peru. Every time we encountered a local guide they would tell us that Peru has 500 kinds of different potatoes, the next guide would tell us 1,000 different kinds of potatoes and then 800 kinds. Robin and I always laugh about this fact.

Having said this, we will believe our guide Daniel and not do too much back checking will be done!

From this viewpoint we can also see in the distance the Ponte 25 de Abril which looks like the Golden Gate bridge. Apparently it was the same company that build this bridge as the Golden Gate. The bridge was commissioned by Salazar and was originally called Ponte Salazar. Daniel says commissioning the bridge is one of the few good things Salazar did during his time in power. The bridge was renamed after democracy was restored, which was on April 25th. A train runs along the lower part of the bridge.

In the distance we also see a large green area called the Parque Florestal de Monsanto. When we had seen this on the map, we assumed that upkeep/maintenance of the park was funded by Monsanto. It has nothing to do with the Monsato company; the park is located in the Monsanto hills, thereby its’ name. It is over 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) and Daniel tells us that the locals refer to it as Lisbon’s lung due to all the trees that were replanted here after previous years of farming that had destroyed all the trees.

Our next stop is Sao Vicente de Fora which has a beautiful white facade built in the Renaissance style and it dominates the skyline of the area along with the Castelo. At the beginning of this post I referred to St. Vicente. It mentions that St. Vicente will be buried in the cathedral, but his remains are here. The interior of this church was quite beautiful.

Continue our drive down the hill we pass along Marques street. Daniel tells us it is one of the only passages with no stairs, mainly a long ramp to get up the hill. The Tagus river used to reach the start of this street (now some 500 meters further out due to reclamation of land) and the boats would land here and the goods were taken up to the hills via the ramp, by horses and oxen.

Then we stop at the Se (Lisbon Cathedral) which was built in 1150 after the city was recaptured from the Moors. The cathedral was built on top of a mosque. We saw a lot of this in our travels last spring in the Andalusia province of Spain. The church has been rebuilt in part over the years due to tremors and the earthquake. The facade is quite simple and is framed by twin bell towers and a rose window in the middle. It almost looks like a fortress and our guide tells us it is built in the “primitive gothic” style. The guide book refers to the church as “simple and austere with a gloomy interior”. We did find it so. The Sao Vicente had a much more decorative interior.

The Se (Cathedral)

We pass by a small market, this location is where the Fiera de Ladra takes place twice a week. Really is a “flea” market and the locals refer to it as the “Thieves Market”. It has been operating for over a century. Don’t think we will bother returning here.

Daniel points out the light standards in the Baixa area and indeed we see the ship and the two crows, the symbol of Lisbon.

At one point, Daniel referred to an area which used to be a Jewish quarter, but hardly any Jewish people remaining here after their expulsion and or conversion during the time of the inquisitions. He also tells us that there is a Royal family in Portugal, but unlike other monarchs around the world, they keep a very low profile.

We make our way to Avenue da Liberdade and up to the Parque Eduardo V11. The park is called after Edward the V11 as this english monarch helped Portugal financially in the early 1900’s. What spectacular views down to the river. A beautiful monument in this location is a modern commemoration to the “carnation revolution”. This grassy slope runs uphill for 25 hectares (62 acres) from the Praca Marques de Pombal and is filled with beautifully clipped hedges. A botanical garden is located nearby.

The modern monument to commemorate the “Carnation” revolution.

We then head off to the Barrio Alto and Estrela districts. We stop at the small Sao Roque. This church looks quite simple from the outside but is quite ornate inside. Beautiful wood carvings. This church was founded by the Jesuits in the 16th century. The main church is surrounded by many altars and chapels. The Chapel of St. John is embellished with lapis lazuli, agate, alabaster, amethyst and several types of precious marbles, gold, silver and mosaics.

Sao Roque

We pass by a monument to Luís Vaz de Camões, a poet, said to be the father of the Portuguese language.

We see tuk-tuks everywhere and when I asked our guide Daniel about these, he says that the locals think they are a real menace on the roads, especially in the height of the tourist season. The locals say they are too noisy, especially if they are gas powered. The city is looking to ban the gas powered tuk- tuks. Apparently they have been in Lisbon for a very long time and they are very handy in the narrow winding lanes. The drivers are always after the tourists to go for a tour. A good majority of them are now electric.

We are on our way to Belem and along the way, Daniel points out the LX Factory. This old factory is from 1846 and was refurbished in 2008 and he tells us we must stop by. Daniel says it is not as touristy as the Time Out Market, he feels a better option to visit. Apparently full of all types of shops from fashion, books, vintage furniture and many kiosks dedicated to food. We will need to visit.

When we arrive in Belem, Daniel stops by the Monastario, but since we have already visited, we pass on seeing it again. Daniel tells us that he is going to buy some Pasteis de Belem at the famous Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Oh my gosh, the best custard tarts to date. I think I mentioned in my previous blog post that their custard tarts are called “pasteis de Belem” and not “pasteis de Nata”. Big difference I am told. There is a reference in a guide book to “nirvana”. Same recipe since 1837. The location is on the main street of Belem and there was a line up for those wanting takeout. We went in to look at the restaurant while Daniel was ordering. The restaurant sits 400, and you need to take a ticket and wait for a table. The place was jam packed with a line up of people inside, waiting for tables. I simply cannot imagine what this would be like in the height of the tourist season.

We drive by the Torre de Belem, but don’t stop here. We may come back on our own. This was the starting point for navigators who were setting out to discover the trade routes. Daniel tells us that at one time there was 10 fortresses similar to this one in the Tagus river from Lisbon to Cascais to guide the navigators. One has to remember that the river was much wider/higher than it is today. Daniel says that the tower was used as a torture chamber from 1941 to 1974.

Torre de Belem in the background

Our final stop of the day is the “Monument to the Discoveries” which is located along the river Tagus. The monument was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, who is at the head of the statue. The monument was commissioned by Salazar; Daniel says the only other good thing from Salazar’s reign. I particularly like the angular look of this monument and we had great late afternoon sunset to take pictures. The pavement around the monument is all in marble and inset is a map of the world and a huge compass which marks all the Portuguese discovery voyages, even Newfoundland in Canada.

A very informative day with Daniel who finally shares his best loved restaurants and other places/neighbourhoods to visit.

Today is Robin’s birthday and we have booked dinner at a restaurant recommended by the Manager of the apartment. We take an Uber to Tasca da Esquina and must say we certainly enjoyed our meal. I was tempted to take a picture of the small complimentary appetizers, the presentation was lovely….Robin wouldn’t let me, he said that was tacky. O.K., he is right…..just this time though! The appetizers consisted of a basket of various home made breads, a little jar of tuna pate, a round of soft cheese and some spiced olives. Robin ordered the Bachalau a Bras (shredded bits of salted cod, onions, chopped fried potatoes, all bound with scrambled eggs and garnished with black olives). I opted for fried squid and both dishes were excellent. I had booked the restaurant through “The Fork” which is the European counterpart of “Open Table” and I had mentioned in the comments that it was my husband’s birthday. When we walked in, the hostess and waiter both wished him Happy Birthday and we were given a complimentary glass of port at the end of our dinner.

Looked up what Bachalau a Bras means ; “The origin of the recipe is uncertain, but it is said to have originated in Bairro Alto, an old quarter of Lisbon. The name “Brás” (or sometimes Braz, Blaise in English) is supposedly the name of its creator. The “à Brás” technique is often used with other ingredients, such as vegetables and mushrooms.” So, now we all know.

This was a lovely evening out, we are eating most dinner’s at home. Having said this, we are not really cooking, but buying prepared meals from the various markets….hey, we are on holidays. Must say that our apartment is very comfortable. It is so well appointed and has all the amenities we need. So well stocked with all kinds of dishes. The bed is so comfortable which is so important. As we have rented for the month of February, a cleaning lady comes in once a week, very nice touch.

Our apartment is located on the main floor, so only a few stairs, which is great. The building has four floors. Our neighbour next door is an old portuguese lady. We have run into her a few times and we always smile. She tried to talk to us the other day, but she speaks no English and Robin tried Spanish, but not sure she understood. We basically just smile. We find it so funny, at times we hear her talking….sorry shouting, and we are not sure if she is talking on the phone or if she lives with someone (pity that person) or maybe just shouting at the cat. The shouting must be something common in older people here as we have heard this many times.

Normally we are having our lunch at restaurants, as we are usually out and about. We normally try to find small coffee shops and pastry shops as these are much more reasonably priced than restaurants and food is just as good. The odd glass of wine at lunch and must say that they have generous “pours” here.

Next Tuesday we are flying to Bilbao, Spain for a few days, as we have always wanted to visit the Guggenheim Museum. I have been looking for a tour company that will take us on a one day tour to San Sebastian, a town about one hour’s drive from Bilbao. Unfortunately it’s a four hour train trip, which just doesn’t make sense. It is one of those “can’t get there from here” situations. So far, the tour companies I have looked at, do not offer these trips until late March. There was one tour on a website “Be a Shepherd for a day”. I thought this was so funny, not sure what it would entail, but think we will pass on that one.

On Thursday, the 7th, we take the metro to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Many of our friends told us this was a must see and they were right. We spent a few hours here enjoying the magnificent art works and the beautiful grounds. Calouste Gulbenkian was a wealthy Armenian oil magnate. The museum opened in 1969 and was specifically built to house his various art collections; which span centuries. Both Robin and I love sculptures and perhaps my favourite was the Lalique glass collection in one of the galleries. I read that Gulbenkian started his art collection at the age of 14, buying some ancient coins in a bazaar. He came to live in Portugal during WW11 and bequeathed his estate to the Portuguese via a charitable trust. Beautiful art, buildings and grounds.

Love this Lalique work and the shadows spilling down.

On Friday morning we head out to scout out a few places. Firstly, we head out to locate a Fado restaurant where we have a reservation on Saturday night. We know it is within walking distance and eventually find it in an alley which has many murals dedicated to Fado singers.

Next, an internet cafe so that we can print off some vouchers that are needed for a car transfer in Bilbao. Can’t understand why one can’t use vouchers on a phone, but oh well. We find an internet cafe just around the block from our apartment.

Today, we are doing something very touristy, but heh, I guess we are tourists! We are taking the famous yellow Tram 28. The starting point of this tram is just a few block away from us in Praca Martim Moniz, which is where we also catch the metro. There is already a line up of tourists waiting to catch the tram, but we are told that the trams come every 10 minutes or so. We only have to wait for the second tram to get on and we can use our metro cards. The route goes through the Graca neighbourhood and up the hill to the Alfama district where the Castelo and Se are located. It continues along where we can see good views of the city by some of the “miradouros”. Our tram was not too packed, so our views were pretty good. Once again, would not want to see how crammed these would be in the height of the tourist season. We did comment that there seemed to be more tourists around today and then we see a huge cruise boat at the port. In addition, it is the start of the weekend. The tram continues through the Baixa area and up to the Bairro Alto area and the trip finishes at Campo de Ourique. I have read that there is a market there, similar to the Time Out Market, so we must make this one of our day outings.

Some of the streets that the tram travel on are very narrow. Street lights control the two way traffic, as at times only room for one vehicle. Sometimes the tram is so close to the building, you could actually put your had out the window and touch them. I laughed, because at one point we passed an ATM machine in the wall. I said if we had stopped for traffic, I would have had enough time to reach down and get some cash!We get off the tram, then walk a few steps and get back on the 28 again, for our trip back. We decide to get off in the Baixa area and make our way back home.

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Views from the tram ride, love the wall painting of the Carnation revolution.

Saturday, February 9th and our objective is to go to an English used book store which is located in the outer area of the touristy section. The closest metro station to the bookstore is the only one in the system that is closed for renovations. Look into a bus option but really doesn’t work, so we use Uber. What a great service. We get to the Bookshop Bivar which I had found on the internet searching for used english bookstores. A tiny shop but a great selection of fiction upstairs and non-fiction in the basement. A young lady greets us in english and offers help, but we tell her we will just browse. She asks where we are from and she tells us that the owner is from Canada but born in the Azores. The owner comes up from downstairs when she hears our conversation, so we had a nice visit with her as well. We buy some books and are on our way.

Whenever we tell people here that Calgary is suffering with cold of -26, they simply can’t comprehend it. A lot of the locals have told us that the coldest temperatures that they have encountered are 0 or -5 Celsius. We have seen a lot of women wearing fur coats while we have been here. We think it is quite lovely, sunny and a high of 16 degrees today, usually around 9 or 10 degrees when we leave in the morning.

After the bookshop we go to one of the most famous coffee shops in Lisbon. The Cafe a Brasileira (The Brazilian Lady Cafe) was once the haunt of writers and intellectuals and is in the Chiado district. Beautiful interior and exterior; it was built in the 19th century. I think the name is a bit of a misnomer as the picture on the outside of the restaurant and on the menu is that of a grouchy looking man.

Interesting fact, if you have your coffee/tea outside it is more expensive than the interior of the cafe and less expensive again if you drink your coffee at the counter. We opt to have ours on the terrace outdoors and do some people watching.

Outside is a statue of Fernando Pessoa a famous 20th century Portuguese poet. I love these types of statues. A lot of people came by, while we were having coffee/tea and pastries outside, to sit next to the statue and have their pictures taken.

Walk around the Chiado neighbourhood and see some lovely buildings. A fire back in 1988 burnt a lot of the Chiado area. Apparently the fire engines were unable to enter the pedestrian streets so the fire spread and burnt a lot of shops. Fortunately during the reconstruction of the area, they were able to preserve some of the original facades of some of the buildings. If one takes the Santa Justa elevador from the Baixa area, it will deposit you up in the Chiado area.

Love the monuments and the window displays

On Saturday night, we booked a dinner at a restaurant just near us which included an evening of Fado music. A small house which has been converted into this restaurant called the “Maria da Mouraria”. It only had about 11 tables and last night it was full with about 30 people. If you recall, I had posted pictures of this alleyway earlier in this blog. Taken from the restaurant’s website “At the entrance of Rua do Capelão a sculpture of a Portuguese guitar announces Mouraria, the Cradle Of Fado. It is here where Casa da Severa (Maria Severa’s House) would have once stood. Severa, a woman who played the guitar and whose singing evoked pain and melancholy, as if she were singing of Fate, longing and disgrace, of loves and lovers lost. It was why people would say that Maria Severa “used to sing fado.

I loved the “cartoon” figures that led to the basement kitchen.

Our evening included a fixed menu which included appetizers, main entree, desert, wine, and coffee/tea. After our meal, the waiters came by and gave us a complimentary glass of “Ginjinhas” (ginja for short). Wikipedia tells us that “Ginjinha is a Portuguese liqueur that’s made from combining aguardente (brandy) and ginja berries, a sour type of cherry that’s known in English as a Morello Cherry.” It is served in a shot glass. I thought it was sweet and just ok, I still prefer a nice glass of port. He then offered us a glass of Muscatel, but with the non stop pouring of wine during the evening and the ginja, we passed on the Muscatel.

I apologize for the darkness of the following videos, but they put all the lights out when the entertainment started; only candles at the tables. Lovely ambience. This first video is the owner singing.

The owner of the restaurant singing Fado and the two musicians

The entertainment started about 9 pm and we had just finished eating our dinner. The first set was two young men playing a Spanish guitar and the other must have been a Portuguese guitar, much smaller and more bulbous. One of them sang some Fado as well. About twenty minute till the next set, which featured the same two guitar players and an older woman.

She certainly sang from her soul, such a display of emotions. We were about ready to leave and the waiters told us we simply could not leave as the owner was about to sing. Glad we stayed, he was excellent. We left a little after 11 pm, but were told that the Fado went on till much later……way past our bedtime already.

One of the waiters insisted on walking us down to the end of the alley to the main square. From here we only had a five minute walk back to our apartment. When we said it wasn’t necessary to walk us to the square, they insisted saying that the neighbourhood was in “transition”. We haven’t found it to be a problem, although some men hanging around a few corners and bars near our apartment, we simply avoid these areas and if out late, usually take an Uber right to the door of our apartment. Other Fado restaurants had been recommended by the Manager of our apartment, but we opted for this one as reviews on Trip Advisor were descent, nearby and could book online. An absolutely wonderful evening. Good choice.

We had already decided to go the LX Factory on Sunday. We had seen this market during our tour on Wednesday and our guide told us a must see, especially on Sundays as they have artisans selling their wares. During the week, just the shops are open. LX Factory is simply that……a series of old buildings that have been “somewhat refurbished” to accommodate shops and restaurants. They had great murals everywhere you looked. We took the metro, then the train to get there. We followed some people that looked like they were headed to the market…..lo and behold, they were tourists as well and we had to walk an additional ten minutes around the complex to get inside.

This is a description of LX Factory from their website.

[“LX FACTORY

It is in the year of 1846 that the Company of Wiring and Fabricos Lisbonense, one of the most important factory complexes of Lisbon, settles in Alcântara. This industrial area of 23,000m2 was in subsequent years, occupied by the Industrial Company of Portugal and Colonies, Typography Anuário Comercial de Portugal and Gráfica Mirandela.

A fraction of a city that has remained hidden for years is now returned to the city in the form of LXFACTORY. A creative island occupied by companies and industry professionals has also been the scene of a diverse range of events in the fields of fashion, advertising, communication, multimedia, art, architecture, music, etc. generating a dynamic that has attracted countless visitors to re-discover this area of Alcântara.

In LXF, at every step you live the industrial environment. A factory of experiences where it becomes possible to intervene, think, produce, present ideas and products in a place that belongs to everyone, for everyone.” ]

This place is not in all the guidebooks, but certainly a must see. Reminiscent of the Distillery District in Toronto, but on a much larger scale and more diverse. Absolutely loved the wall art here.

LX Factory Market

There weren’t any take out restaurants here at LX, as in the Time Out Market . We decide that is our next stop, to buy some meals for the next few days. We take a tram to the this market. While we are waiting for our food to be prepared at Time Out, we sit and enjoy a glass of wine….heh, it’s late Sunday afternoon.

Sitting next to us are an older couple from Munich visiting Lisbon for a long weekend. We tell them that they are so lucky to be able to travel these short distances at a reasonable cost. Their flight was only 2 hours long. I told him that we have to fly four hours to get from Calgary to Toronto, they simply have no idea of our distances in Canada and what a large country we live in.

The Time Our Market

Along come two young ladies. They are two Venezuelans, one now living in Washington, DC (recently becoming a US citizen) and the other lives in Toronto. A lively discussion ensues between all of us. A great way of meeting people sitting down at the various markets. Must say that it is always a challenge finding seats here in the Time Out Market, so popular. We have always managed to find some, after a little patience. A great place to meet fellow travellers and share stories!

A quiet day on Monday, ran a few errands, then took the metro and elevadors up the Castelo district just walking around and stopping for tea. I love the art on some of the walls around Lisbon, Following is from the Castelo area. Some houses that are dilapidated and some beautiful city sketch in one of the restaurants. Took the bus back to our apartment. We continue to rely on the transportation system in Lisbon; a great way to get around.

We are flying to Bibao, Spain late tomorrow afternoon and looking forward to our two days there.

I do apologize, a lot of you reading the blog may be seeing some of these pictures twice as Robin posts some on FaceBook.

First few days in Lisbon – February 2019

We arrived in Lisbon in the afternoon on Friday, February 1st, 2019. Always a long day travelling from Canada to Europe; but must say that everyone went well. We will be in Lisbon for the month of February, with a side trip to Bilbao, Spain for three days in the middle of the month. At the end of the month, we fly to the Portuguese island of Madeira for 4 nights and then back to Amsterdam for a couple of nights before our return home.

Lisbon is situated on the Atlantic coast in the southwest part of Portugal and lies on steep hills on the north bank of the Tagus river and greater Lisbon has a population of 3.3 million.

As always, I like to know the history of where we are visiting. First of all, a little about the Lisbon airport, which was built in 1942. As a neutral airport it was open to both German and British airlines, and was a hub for smuggling people into, out of, and across Europe. Because of this, it was heavily monitored by both Axis and Allied spies. Although Portugal was neutral, the airport was used by allied flights en route to Gibraltar, North Africa and Cairo. I love reading WW1 and WW11 fiction/non-fiction so I found this little tidbit very interesting. The movie Casablanca also comes to mind.

Lisbon is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Mythology tells us that Ulysses founded Lisbon on his journey home from Troy. The Phoenicians established a trading post many centuries ago. It has been ruled by the Romans, the Visigoths (mentioned in my blog of Andalusia last year), then of course the Moors. The Moorish influence is evident here with the Castelo de Sao Jorge and the narrow winding streets and white washed buildings of the Alfama district.

The first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, ousted the Moors in 1147. In 1256 Lisbon became the capital of Portugal. During this time the University of Lisbon was founded and the city flourished due to its trade with the rest of Europe. Then, as with the remainder of Europe, the plague destabilized the economy. Eventually prosperity returned and greatly improved, mainly due to Vasco de Gama’s successful navigation to India in 1497 setting up the spice trade. Hopefully the readers will remember Vasco de Gama from our history lessons in school!

The inquisition took place in Lisbon in the 16th century and its main purpose was to root out non believers, especially those that had converted. We know from our travels last June, that Evora, Portugal was also a site of the inquisition.

For a short period the Spanish controlled the area, but were eventually ousted. Then with the discovery of Brazilian gold a new wave of prosperity was enjoyed by Lisbon. An earthquake hit Lisbon in 1755 and along with fires and a tsunami, the city and surrounding areas were mostly destroyed.

The King was assassinated in 1908 and subsequently a lengthy dictatorship ensued with Antonio Salazar at the helm from 1926 to 1968. On April 25th, 1974 a military coup took place ending the totalitarian regime and peaceful civil resistance took place. Almost no shots were fired. The resistance was called the Carnation Revolution as the demonstrators gave carnations out and placed them in the muzzles of the army rifles.

In 1986 Portugal joined the European Community and foreign companies began to set up in Lisbon. Today the economy in Lisbon is driven by manufacturing and construction which together accounts for 30.2% of Portugal’s GDP in 2004. The largest industries are clothing, textiles, footwear, food processing, wood pulp, paper, cork, metal working, oil refining, chemicals, fish canning, wine, telecommunications, and tourism. Agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing employs about 12.5% of the work force.  Definitely knew about the cork from our trip to Evora, Portugal last year. That area grows the most cork. I read somewhere that Portugal produces one half of the world’s cork. Most of its trade is done within the European Union. I have to wonder how much trade is done with England and how Brexit will affect Portugal.

The unemployment rate in Portugal was 6.7% as of November 2018, but 20% in the youth sector. Seems to be that youth unemployment is a problem around the world. In 2013 the overall unemployment rate reached a high of 17.50%.

The forestry and agriculture sectors are somewhat at risk, as Portugal has seen wild fires in the summer season (similar to California) and I would dare say probably due to climate change. I used to say global warming, but my 10 year old granddaughter told me that I should use the term climate change…thank you Caitriona.

In 2011, Portugal received a bailout from the EU/IMF due to its high debt load. We have been told that Portugal has repaid its debt to the IMF and I did see an article (not fake news I hope) that confirmed this.

That is probably enough history and economic data! Hopefully I haven’t put you to sleep yet.

Arrived at our rental apartment around 3:30 pm on Friday. It is located in Graca neighbourhood, bordering on the Alfama district. Not very touristy in this area, which is what we like. We are a 2 minute walk to the metro station and within walking distance of the main downtown areas of Baixa and Avenida. After unpacking we head off to stock up on groceries and get to know our way around the neighbourhood. Praca (square) de Rossio and Praca de Figueira both very near by.

We just want an easy dinner as we are very tired and opt to share a hamburger (take away) and a salad. Oh, of course, and some wine. A young man at the wine section in the grocery store took the time to recommend some good Portuguese wines. OK, another rant; why do we need to go to another store to buy our wine and not just get it in a grocery store….so civilized here. We stopped at a local hamburger shop (upscale, if there is such a thing) and while we are waiting, the owner and Robin start talking about football (soccer for those back home) and Robin tells him that we have tickets to a “Benfica” game. The owner tells us he is a rabid “Sporting Lisbon” fan. He takes out his phone and proceeds to show us pictures of his attendance at all the games, the green outfits he wears (colours of his team), a picture of him with various players of the team and tells us that he is very sorry that we won’t be able to see his team play. I love these interactions….so fun!

On our first full day, our objective is to get a metro card and a new Sim card for our phone (way cheaper that to pay roaming charges). Our metro station does not have a kiosk and only has machines. One can add to an existing metro card or buy a one way ticket. We see a small shop and ask if they have metro cards. The guy tells us to wait a minute, then another guy appears and tells us he has metro cards. Always a little leery when something like this happens, but sometimes you have to have faith in people. I ask this young man who he works for. He tells me he sub contracts to the transit system and he makes a commission on every card that he sells. The card itself only costs 1.50 Euro and you top it up at one of the machines. We finally agree and he takes us to one of the machines, he tops the cards up with 10 Euro each and we give him the required funds. He even gives us a small metro guide. This transaction works and we are off on the metro. The card is good for the metro, tram, bus, train, ferry and the elevadors in and around Lisbon.

Our next stop was Vodafone, to get a new SIM card to replace our Canadian SIM. He tells me my phone is locked and the sim card won’t work. Well that is funny as I swapped out for a Spanish sim last June. Luck is with us today and the sim card works in Robin’s phone. Really all we need is just one of our phones to make calls and get data as we are out and about. It cost us 20 Euro for the month with more than enough data for the month. Can’t understand why our telecommunication costs are so high in Canada…..well, yes I do. Not enough competition and a smaller population base.

Just as an aside, I find it interesting that in Europe, “What’sApp” app. is widely used vs North America. Not sure if you all know what this app is for, but it is great. When we landed at the airport I had used the airport internet and used the What’s app to contact our driver. It is a messenger application which crosses platforms. So basically can text from an apple to an android without cost as long as you have an internet connection; don’t need to use up data on your phone. It has other functions, but this is its main use.

The Baixa neighbourhood (two metro stops away) is full of restaurants and shops such as H & M, Mango and the like. We are told by our landlord to avoid these restaurants, as they cater to tourists and suggests much better restaurants to frequent. We do however stop at a small pastelaria/coffee shop on Rua Aurea and enjoy our first “pasteis de nata” (custard tart) which is renown in this area of Portugal. Very good.

Clockwise from top left – Teatro Nacional Dona Maria11 in Praca Rossi – Elevador de Santa Justa – Baixa neighbourhood – shopping and restaurants – Enjoying my first cappuccino and Pasteis de nata (custard tart)

Well, I spot a Muji store (a Japanese home goods and clothing store) which we have seen in major cities around the world. I have told the story before of Robin really liking their toothbrushes, so yes, he did buy more. When I want to sound “too big for my britches”, I say…..”my husband buys his toothbrushes in Paris, Barcelona and New York”. I can now add Lisbon to that list.

Walking around, many tourists waiting to take the famous ” Elevador de Santa Justa” so we decide to wait and come back during the week. Brings you up to a view point where one can see the City from above.

Continue our walk towards the river Tagus and reach the Praca de Comercio (Palace Square). Beautiful arcades with artists selling their wares as it is Saturday. I am now the owner of a new ring; just what I need, more jewellery! This was once the site of the royal palace for some 400 years. The original palace was destroyed in the earthquake and the new square and surrounding areas were designed by the Marques de Pombal incorporating a more modern grid system. The new palace was built along three sides of the square and are all arcaded buildings. They are painted the royal yellow. Shops on the main levels and government administrative offices in the remainder of the buildings. The square is used today for cultural events and festivals. There was a small demonstration going on while we are there, but couldn’t really see what it was all about. The square was also the sight of the 1974 peaceful Carnation uprising; which I referred to in my opening history comments. In the middle of the square is the equestrian statue of Jose 1 who was the King at the time of the earthquake.

There is a beautiful arch, Arco da Rua Augusta leading to the Praca de Comercio and on the other side the gateway to the Baixa area.

I love this picture of the Praca de Comercio. It had just rained as we came out of our wine tasting. Love the reflections!

Walking around the square, we spot a wine store. It turns out to be “The Wines of Portugal Tasting Room”. A very interesting concept. One can sign up for wine tastings or you can do self serve wine tasting. You purchase a card (with a chip) and you decant the wines you want to try and you can opt for three sizes of pours and you will be charged the appropriate amount depending on the size of your pour. Thought this was ingenious and must say, we tried some very good wines. They also had a section of ports that you could also taste. Their motto….”Taste and discover Wines of Portugal”, well that is not too hard to take on a Saturday afternoon.

As we finish our wine tasting, we are treated to a group of young musicians just outside the entrance. Very good music, not sure why they were wearing kilts! Well, my curiosity always gets the better of me. I looked this up and sure enough, kilts are traditional to the Trás-os-Montes area (Douro region) of Portugal. I found this on a website dedicated to kilts…..

On Sunday, February 3rd we decide to take an Uber to the Time Out Market, which is located in the Mercado de Ribeira, which was founded in 1890. It is right across the Cais do Sodre train station by the Tagus river. The existing food and fish market still exists and is open daily. The Time Out Market was opened in 2014 and has 24 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops, a cooking school and a high-end music venue. Some of the restaurants/kiosk are run by Michelin chefs. A great concept. I read that they are opening more Time Out Market’s in various cities around the world this coming year including Montreal, London and Chicago.

We really weren’t hungry, but bought some meals for take-away for our dinners at the apartment later in the week. While waiting for our meals, we decide to enjoy a glass of wine. We sit next to a young English couple and had a delightful visit. They were in Lisbon for four days, they had never been away together since they had had children. I think this is so important for couples, they need time away on their own. The young mother said upon returning she might be a more patient mother and her kids might appreciate her more.

We walk along the river back towards Praca de Comercio. Lots of people out today along the paths enjoying the sunshine, eating and having drinks and riding scooters and rental bikes.

On Monday, we decide to venture to the Avenida neighbourhood. This runs along the Avenida da Liberdade, a very upscale area. Shops would include Prada, Louis Vuitton and many others that I would not even enter. Many embassies have their offices along the Avenida, including the Canadian embassy. I read in my guide book, that this area was also rebuilt after the earthquake, but it was a park restricted to Lisbon’s high society and was “surrounded by walls and gates ensuring the exclusion of the lower class”. The boulevard is built in the style of the Champs Elysees in Paris. The gates and walls were taken down in 1821 when the liberals came to power.

Enjoy a coffee in a little outdoor cafe along the large boulevard. I love the patterns of bricks on the sidewalks. We walk to the north end of the Avenida and reach the Praca Marques de Pombal on the large rotunda (traffic circle). Above this lies the Parque Eduardo V11. We both recall the surrounding area from when we were in Lisbon some 10 years ago. We continue our walk, then make our way to the Castelo Sao Jorge via Uber. The Uber driver can’t quite get us to the castle as traffic is limited to this area. He drops us off as closely as he can and he proceeds to show us where we can catch elevators that go down the hills. I had not read anywhere in my research about these elevators, one would not know they are there unless you were really looking. They are elevators located in residential/commercial buildings.

After a short two minute walk, we arrive at Castelo de Sao Jorge which was built in the mid 11th century during the Moorish period. The purpose of the castle was to house military troops and in case of a siege, take in the elite. The information tells me that it is built on the most inaccessible area of the city taking advantage of the natural slopes. Eleven towers still remain and we climbed up to the ramparts. The castle was modified and enlarged when Dom Afonso Henriques became the first king of Portugal and it became the Royal residence. I know from my research on the history of Lisbon, that the Royal residence was moved to the Praca de Comercio when buildings were erected.

Stop for lunch at a tiny little cafe called Claras em Castelo located just outside the castle gates. What a lovely surprise; great food. We shared a dish of fresh “Pescada em Caril & Leite Coco” or in english, “calamari stuffed with shrimp in coconut milk”…absolutely delicious. We had told the waiter/owner that we weren’t that hungry and we thought we would share. He says “no problem,if you want more, we just give you more”. After lunch he brings us our tea and cappuccino for me and says “Nespresso” but not the home kind, professional nespresso maker! Not sure why he felt he had to say that, but it was a very good cappuccino. Afterward I looked up this restaurant and all the reviews were excellent, might have to go back for dinner during our time here in Lisbon.

We head off and take the two separate elevators to get down to the Baixa area. Much easier than walking down all the steps from the castle or trying to take the overstuffed tram cars.

Our uber driver had told us that real estate in the inner city of Lisbon was very expensive and most people of Lisbon could not afford to buy. A lot of foreigners also buying in the inner city. This was confirmed by the representative of our apartment as well. The city of Lisbon has also put a cap on the number of AirBnB’s in the inner city.

We realized when we got home that Robin had forgotten his hat at the restaurant. We called the next morning and they did indeed have his hat. We head out Tuesday morning to pick up the hat and of course, now that we know about the elevators, we take advantage of these to make our way up to the castle.

We start heading back down to Baixa as we are off to Belem today. We spot a lovely shop and realize it is a sardine shop called Comur and was established in 1942. Lisbon is know for its sardines. We have seen t-shirts and all other sorts of tourist memorabilia with pictures of sardines. Well, this must be a very upscale sardine shop. They not only carry sardines, but all types of tinned smoked fish. On their website they mention that they are mainly known for their canned eels. The young sales lady explains all the types of tinned fish and tells us that they have the ultimate tinned sardines which have been deboned by hand. I think this is the way to go as sometimes I find the small bones in sardines a little annoying, although I know many eat them. I go to pick up this “gold” coloured tin and Robin points out the cost….20 Euro! I quickly put it down and go purchase three different types of tinned fish, not the gold! This shop was so amazing with the different coloured and artistic tins of fish and of course the beautiful chandelier just topped it off.

Back down the elevators and catch the metro to the Cais do Sodre train station, where we catch the train to Belem. The train runs along the Tagus river. There is a tram and bus that go to Belem, but for our first visit we opted for the train which is quicker and more direct. Might have to try the slower bus or tram option at a later date which would give us the opportunity to see different neighbourhoods.

Belem is at the mouth of the Tagus river and was where the caravels set sail for their voyages of discovery. We have read and been told that the Tagus river used to come much higher up in Lisbon as well as in Belem. In Belem it used to come right up to the Monastery, but today it is about 1/2 kilometre away. We enjoy a lunch of fresh fish looking onto the the Parque Alfonso de Albuquerque.

We head off to visit the “Mosteiro dos Jeronimos” which was commissioned by the King after the return of Vasco de Gama’s successful voyages around 1501. His tomb is located in the monastery. If you recall your history, Vasco de Gama successfully sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and opened the sea route to India. We visit both the church (Santa Maria) and walk through the cloisters. I thought the cloister here was so beautiful with its’ carved columns and arches. Small doors around the perimeter of the cloister were confessionals….no I did not go in!

As we are leaving the Monastery, Robin spots some “lime” scooters which is the same company that has started a bike share program in Calgary. He has the “app” on his phone, so we decide to try it. I mention that I might try it first as Robin’s balance isn’t the greatest. Well folks, they are definitely hard to balance when you first take off and I almost broke my neck! The ride didn’t last very long. Not sure how everyone manages these scooters on the cobblestones. You see young people all over Lisbon riding these and often time with two people on the scooters.

We walk by the Palacio de Belem, which is the official residence of the President of Portugal. Must say that it is not a very impressive building. The Royal family happened to be residing here during the earthquake and were kept safe.

On our way back to the train, I spot the “Antiga Confeitaria de Belem” and there is a line up going down the street. I mentioned to Robin that I had read about this pastry shop on an article posted on Pinterest. In 1837 they began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We will definitely have to stop here and indulge the next time we visit.

We have seen a lot in our first few days in Lisbon and certainly enjoying our time here. Weather has been cool in the mornings but warms up to +16C in the afternoons.

Malaga – Part two and Finale – June 2018

On Saturday, June 9th we leave Evora, Portugal and drive to Malaga, Spain. Took us about 7 1/2 hours with stops; so really a travel day. I must say that although this seems a long time to be in a car, when one is travelling through new countryside, the time goes by quite quickly. We dropped off the car at the train station, which was easy to find and take a cab to our hotel, the same one we stayed at when we first arrived in Spain about a month ago. Funny thing, got the same room!

We take a few hours to relax and go out for dinner. Weather here is marvellous, nice to enjoy some hot weather, it is 25 degrees at 8 in the evening.

The first time we were in Malaga, we simply took a chance at finding restaurants (we were here for two nights); and not good experiences, just passable food. When in Evora, I checked out places on Trip Advisor and made reservations at various restaurants for our next three nights in Malaga. Well, the first of these, turned out to be a gem, a small french restaurant “La Recreation”. As we walk in, we are greeted by the owner and I say we have a reservation. Must be the way I said “reservation” probably more french than spanish in pronunciation. Robin is always correcting me, which is ok. The owner starts speaking to us in french. We find out that he and his wife (the cook) moved to Malaga and opened their restaurant 4 months ago. I would say by the reviews on TripAdvisor that they should do very well. The food was excellent. A small quiet restaurant on a side street; away from the busyness of the city. After we had finished our dinner, the owners wife came out and we had a lovely chat with her.

As we are leaving the restaurant, we turn into one of the main squares. We feel like we just got hit by a “tsunami” of noise and people. Oh my gosh, this place is packed and the noise level has gone up, enough so, that I can hardly hear Robin speaking. We try to take pictures, not sure they would do justice to the amount of people here. It is of course Saturday night and as usual in these tourist cities we see many “hen parties and stag parties” happening. One bride to be had a veil on her head topped off with a “penis”….one sees all sorts of costumes being worn by the prospective brides and grooms. One group of guys even had a megaphone, singing away. Such a change from quiet Evora and Merida where the loudest thing around was a dog barking! Not sure the pictures below even come close to capturing the number of people.

On our walk back to the hotel, we bought some fresh almonds from a street vendor, the vendors abound. The almonds have a lovely taste; slightly salted and some sweetness…nice desert!

Sunday, June 10th. Thinking of my aunt this morning, Tante Gaby who is 92 today and a force to be reckon with; she has her own Facebook account! Hope to see her soon, love spending time with her.

We head out to take in the Museo Picasso here in Malaga. Picasso was born here and is where he spent the first few years of his life. It opened in 2003 in the Buenavista Palace, and has works donated by members of Picasso’s family. Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures of any of the Picasso pictures. I did take a picture of the interior courtyard of the building which is lovely. The Picasso museum includes his early work, sculptures, pottery work, drawings and paintings from his “cubist” period. A very good range of his work and nice to see.

There was also an Andy Warhol exhibition taking place this month, so very fortunate to view that as well. Able to take pictures of the Warhol work. Always love going to the museum stores, always so many interesting things in these stores.

As we are about to enter, we see a display and it talks about taking your picture in the Andy Warhol style and posting it on Facebook. Couldn’t resist, just too different….might consider having a poster made of this….too cool!

A room in the museum where you use various mediums to copy some of Warhol’s art….below are our creations!

Make a stop at the Cathedral, mass in going on , so we are able to view only a portion of it. Time to stop for reflection and prayer.

As we were walking through the old town this morning, we saw many groups of young men and women who looked totally hung over, dragging their suitcases down the road. Guess the parties are over and they have to go back to reality!

Walk to the port where many outdoor stalls are set up and vendors are selling their wares from jewellery to clothes, clocks made out of old LP’s, baby clothes, etc. It is now late afternoon and we decide to head back to the old town for a bite to eat and go back to the hotel for a rest. Temperature gauges on stores show that it is 29C. Nice to have some heat after the cool weather that we have experienced. Lovely breeze blowing as we are near the sea, so doesn’t feel too hot.

We stopped at a pastry shop this morning and one thing we have noticed is that donuts seem to be prevalent in the shops. We have seen this in every city we have visited on this trip…must be a new trend; as have not noticed this on previous trips.

Walk by another shop and a window display catches my eye. It is a men’s store and sells specialty shoes that can make one 7cm taller! Ok, that is different.

Talking about weird signs, following is one that is on our toilet in the hotel; just had to share! “Please do not flush paper towels, tissues, wipes, hopes & dreams into the toilet. Thank you.”

Came across some good graffiti today…..love it.

We had arranged for an ebike tour on Sunday afternoon. Our young guide, Marcos, has lived his whole life in Malaga. We had done a walking tour when we were here a month ago, but decided on this tour as well to get a better sense of the city. Turned out great as with the electric bikes we were able to get up to the upper heights of the city with wonderful views of the city, the mountains in the back and the Mediterranean sea. Spent a couple of hours out on the bikes with the guide, a young English couple and a Spanish lady from Madrid who was looking to move to Malaga. A great way to see the city and surroundings and get a little exercise at the same time.

In the pictures below, Robin is rubbing the head of the Picasso statue. They say if you rub Picasso’s head that you will return to Malaga!

Went out for dinner tonight, we notice the crowds not quite as large as on the weekend, but still busy. On our way to dinner, ran across another religious celebration where they were carrying a statue of Mary. We noticed the swaying of the platform, this is from the men underneath waking step by step causing the swaying.

Beautiful colours in the evening and we stop in a local square to enjoy life going by.

Monday, June 11th and we head out to the Alcazaba. Our guide book says that if you can’t make it to Granada to visit the Alhambra, these is second best! This is a palace/fortress from the 11th century Moorish period. It is mostly built of limestone, which crumbles easily and has required frequent rebuilding throughout its existence. The palace was largely restored in 1930. Nice to meander around the fortified walls with good views of the city. There were some decorated rooms (ceilings, some fountains) to view, but must admit, doesn’t come close to the Alhambra. It is said that in ancient times the sea reached the lower walls of the fortress. We have read that the land upon which the port shops and walkway, along with the park are all built on reclaimed land.

Our next stop is the Centre Pompidou, Malaga which is a branch of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It opened in 2015 on the port and is housed in a low modern building which is topped with a multicoloured cube. A wonderful selection of art by multiple artists.

We decide to see if we can find a table at the famous Bodegas El Pimpi for lunch. When we arrive the outdoor area is jammed packed with patrons, but inside we are able to scoop a table. Actually, considering it is 28 degrees outside, quite happy to be indoors. Great service, even though this place is packed. The interior of the restaurant is a rabbit’s warren of rooms, containing tables and a couple of the rooms are bars only. The walls are decorated with old “feria” (fair) posters and photos of famous visitors, including of course, Antonio Banderas a native son of Malaga.

Nice dinner out tonight, once again…..going to be hard to get back to cooking our own meals!

Picked up by a driver on Tuesday morning, June 12th and flew to Paris where we had a two hour layover, then a flight to Amsterdam. We have tomorrow to spend wandering around Amsterdam. We have been here on several previous occasions, but do not tire of this vibrant city. A little hard not to say “gracias” after a month in Spain. We will be back home in Calgary on Thursday, June 14th and although we have had a wonderful trip its always nice to get back home.

This is my last post for this trip and I hope readers have enjoyed reading our adventures as much as enjoy writing about them. I alway do a photo book of our various trips when I get home and I use a lot of the narrative from my blog for these books. Good memories!

Thanks to my wonderful husband and travelling partner, Robin, who is always there by my side experiencing life with me…..in good times like these and in the hard times! We will continue to make memories together for as long as we can. Adios for now!

Evora, Portugal – June 2018

As we are driving to Evora from Merida, about 3 hours, I download the Portuguese dictionary for Google translate so we can use it offline. We start to practice a few words in Portuguese, not easy. The pronunciation of words is very different. I think I read somewhere that the Portuguese language is one of the hardest to master. For example “good morning” is spelt “bom Dia” but pronounced “bom Jia”. “Thank you” for a man is “obrigado” but when a woman says it one says “obrigada”. “Good night” is spelt “boa noite” but phonetically you say” boa noiche”. Yikes!

On the way, we decide to stop in the small town of Elvas. It is a former frontier fortress of easternmost central Portugal, located only 8 kilometres west of the Spanish fortress of Badajoz. Elvas is known for its “star fort” and the “Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications” was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2012. We visited the fortress at the top of the town, not well maintained, really just walls, but the grounds are overgrown. Nice view of the countryside. Stop and viewed the church before heading off to Evora.

Along the way we see more vineyards, crops which are being cut, more olive groves and closer to Evora, we see what we think are cork trees. This was indeed confirmed when we arrived at the hotel, as this area is known for its cork. Arrive at the hotel, the Nobel House, a little earlier than thought due to the one hour time difference. Fortunately I had sent a message to the hotel saying we would arrive earlier than their check in time and they were good enough to give us our room right away. Beautiful view from our room to part of the city and the countryside. This place, specifically the parking lot was easy to find. Once again the parking lot is on a different street and will only accommodate six vehicles; but we were fortunate to get a spot.

Due to its well-preserved old town centre, still partially enclosed by medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, including a Roman Temple, Évora was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Its population as of 2011 was 56,700, this being the most recent data I can find. It is the capital of the central Alentejo region; which is known for its wines.

Our hotel is said to date back to the 15th century and was a Noble’s house, fully renovated into a hotel and opened its doors about one year ago. The hotel has kept some of the original furniture in common areas (just to look at, not to sit on) and shows some original brick and tile work that are said date back centuries. A beautifully brick arched ceiling in the restaurant area.

Weather continues to be cool, 20C and everyone is saying that the weather is unusually cool for this time of year. Hasn’t stopped us from doing anything, we have avoided the rain for the most part.

Spent the afternoon walking around the town and once again getting to know our way around, although not difficult in this small town. The manager of the hotel told us to simply get lost!

We visited the Evora Cathedral. The main façade is built with rose granite, and has two massive towers completed in the 16th century. The Cathedral itself was built mainly between 1280 and 1340 and was designed following closely the floor plan of the Lisbon cathedral. Beautiful cloisters in a gothic style. I opted to climb the tower and found myself on the roof of the cathedral which is said to be the highest point in Evora. Got some great pictures from there. A museum next door of Christian artifacts and art but we opted out of visiting.

Ate at the hotel tonight and our young waiter told us that he was from a small town of about 200 residents, near Evora, and he and his mother moved here so that he could make a living to support her as she had separated from her husband. His english was quite good and he gave us a few words in Portuguese to get us by. We had two traditional dishes “Bacalhau a Bras” (A Bras Codfish ) and “Arroz de Pato” (Duck rice); both very delicious. Could not find what “a bras” meant…….possibly a peasant dish?

Thursday the 7th of June. The hotel tried to organize a walking tour, but insufficient people attending; so the tour was cancelled. Not a big issue, this is a very small old town and we can find our way around very easily. As the Manager said, just get lost.

The young lady at the front desk suggests that we go the the Univerdidade de Evora, so we head out in that direction, just a couple blocks from the hotel. The University was founded in 1559. I am always amazed when I see some of these dates in Europe…Canada wasn’t even a country! It was originally a community of Jesuit seminarians, and we know they were missionaries and teachers. In 1759 the university was closed by the Marquis of Pombal and the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal. They make it sound like we should know this Marquis!

OK, my reading on the Marquis tells me that he was basically the Prime Minister of the day. He was instrumental in acting quickly after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake to restore order to the country. From Wikipidia – [He introduced many fundamental administrative, educational, economic, and ecclesiastical reforms justified in the name of “reason” and instrumental in advancing secularisation in Portugal. However, historians argue that Pombal’s implementation of the ideas of the “Enlightenment”, while far-reaching, was primarily a mechanism for enhancing autocracy at the expense of individual liberty and especially an apparatus for crushing opposition, suppressing criticism, and furthering colonial economic exploitation as well as intensifying print censorship and consolidating personal control and profit. He was the leading opponent of the Jesuits across Europe.] Doesn’t sound all that nice!

The University remained closed for over 200 years until it reopened in 1973. During the years the building had been used for other purposes. A double-tiered limestone building with arched galleries, lovely. We tour the building, even peaking into the classrooms. Some students and teachers around, but really quite empty, assume classes are over for the summer season. Lovely mosaics in the classrooms and I particularly liked the tiles that are sculpted into designs and not square.

We are looking for the “biblioteca” and I ask a gentleman who is coming out of an office, “where is the library located”. By the way I said “perdon” probably with my french accent and he proceeded to direct us, in french” and told us we must not miss the library and to ensure we looked at the ceiling. I continue to be amazed by the people in Europe who speak multiple languages, what a gift. We find the library and enter, fantastic. Like walking back in time with the bookshelves all around and old desks where students are studying. A sign on the door said “silencio” when we walked in and indeed it was quiet and indeed the ceiling was marvellous.

We then go to view the Templo Romano with its corinthian columns but not as well preserved as the one we saw in Merida. The temple is believed to have been built in the first century. My research tells me that the temple was partially destroyed in the fifth century by “invading Germanic peoples”, probably those darn Visigoths! It is also often mistakenly called the Temple of Diana but it has no association with the Roman goddess of hunt but is from a legend created in the 17th century by the Portuguese priest and the name is still used today when people refer to it. I read that it was somewhat restored in 1871.

In front of the statue are the “Jardin de Diana”, a lovely tree lined garden which overlooks part of the town and in the distance we note an ancient aqueduct. Nice stop for a cup of coffee/tea.

We decide to take in the Modern Art Gallery which is located in a beautiful building, not sure of the style, but very imposing. The entry was free and the present installation featured several Portuguese female artists. As usual with a modern art gallery, some really weird art and some very interesting works. When we left we asked the guard what the building was originally used for…..he tells us it was the “Palace of Inquisition”. I did find out that Evora was a town where the inquisition was conducted in addition to Lisbon and Goa in India.

Head down to the main shopping area, Rua 5 de Outubro. This narrow cobblestone pedestrian street is lined with souvenir shops that hold everything “cork”……cork purses, cork hats, wallets, glass cases, key chains, fobs, etc. Some lovely homes above the shops, all whitewashed buildings, with wrought iron balconies decorated with flowers. This road leads to the main square, Praca do Giraldo. The dog below is real, not cork….thought he was just too cute…..he also had a mate with him.

While heading down to the main square, we came across a little french cafe which caught our eye, as the menu featured quiche and croissants. I know we are not in France, but we need something different to eat than tapas and meat. We came back here for lunch and indeed the owner was a French woman so we were able to converse in french. Also indulged in a “pain au raisin” and a “pain au chocolat” for our late afternoon tea back at the hotel. Some different wall art and signs in the town, always like coming across something different.

Well what a great dining experience tonight. We had a reservation at Momentos, a restaurant recommended by the hotel. From the minute we walked in, till we left a very enjoyable evening. The owner, George, is quite the character and very hands on. When he first comes to the table, he looks at me and says “I know you, I saw you today at the french cafe”. He goes on to tell us that when we were using our translator program on our phone, that the Portuguese was Brazilian Portuguese which is pronounced differently from that here in Portugal. Well, we all had a good chuckle about this. We have come across this difference in pronunciation relating to Spanish where the Spanish pronunciation in Spain is different than that of South America.

He comes to the table, welcomes us then proceeds to explain the menu which is on a chalkboard. He cooks farm to table and uses whatever is fresh at the market. He goes over the appetizers and main meals, explaining in detail the ingredients used. We opt for fresh sautéed vegetables (minus the balsamic vinegar – for Robin who has trouble with vinegar) and George tells us that he will add spices to add flavour as we asked him to omit the vinegar. All the dishes are served on slate platters. To start he provides a basket of fresh bread, local olive oil, local cheese and olives. Then a small “amuse bouche” of a vegetable soup in a shot glass. The sautéed vegetables arrive and the spices are arranged aside so that one has the option to mix them in . Robin has lamb and I had goat. Both are served with small diced vegetables and my goat also has figs. Both were served with four different purees surrounding the meat. Vegetable, onion, tomato, beet with strawberries, pumpkin and squash. So delicious. Skipped desert as simply sated with the main meals. Someone wrote on a review that George was the price of admission. Every time he would come to the table or by the table he would tap me on the shoulder or give me a big smile……had to get my picture taken with him! The waitresses were just as charming. Owners like George are those who make a total difference in one’s experience.

I have to add that while I was working on my blog, I got a message from Bob, a friend in Calgary, who had seen Robin’s pictures on FB from our time in Evora. I usually post my blogs a few days after leaving a town/city. Bob sent me a picture of his spouse, Joanne with George…..what a laugh! Not sure how long ago that picture was taken as George looked younger! I won’t tell him that. He must charm all the ladies that dine at his restaurant!

Friday, June 8th and we head out to see some of the recommended sites in Evora. Our first stop is the “Jardim Publico” the public gardens and it starts raining, so we take cover under some large umbrella at an outdoor cafe. Robin had his umbrella and I have a rain jacket on. The rain finally subsides, walk around the garden and locate some old ruins; the gardens seem a little neglected.

Then off to the “Igreja de San Francisco” and the “Capela dos Ossos; a church and its chapel. They say that this is the most impressive church after the Cathedral, but both Robin and I think it is much more ornate. It was built in the 16th century and is really quite lovely inside. The first time that we see the blue tile, that we saw in places like the University, has been incorporated into the beautification of the interior of this church. The church also had a museum of nativity scenes that were really quite interesting.

It is the chapel however that sees most of the tourists. If you haven’t figured it out yet “Ossos” means bones. There is an inscription above the chapel that reads “We, the bones that are here, await yours”. The bones of some 5,000 skeletons dug up from cemeteries in the area line the ceilings and supporting columns.A 16th century Franciscan monk placed skulls and jaws across the ceiling; arm and leg bones are stacked on the supporting columns. It is said that this monk wanted to prod his brothers into contemplation of life!

Robin and I came across a very small chapel like this last year while cycling in the countryside along the Danube in a tiny village. Very creepy!

We come across an abandoned church which is being used for a public art display, very small but interesting.

We also go down a small alley to view the “Igreja da Graca”, this building/church appears abandoned as well; but definitely has Roman themes. Then continue to the Praca do Giraldo, the arcade lined square in the centre of the old walled city where we stop for coffee/tea. we also stop in to look at the Cafe Arcada. I had read that this cafe/restaurant was an institution in Evora and that it was decorated with photos of the big bands that played there in the 1940’s. Has a bit of an art deco inside and some pictures hanging, but not many.

As I mentioned before a lot of shops that sell everything cork. My usual curiosity led me to read a little more about cork. Portugal is the world’s larges producer of cork and mainly from this region. It takes two decades before the trees can be harvested and their bark is carefully stripped once every nine years. They put numbers on the trees to indicate the last year of harvest.

Continue our walk in search of the “Termas Romanas”, the Roman baths. We enter one building and we think it is a water pumping station. They do have a display regarding water in the area and we find out that the aqueducts that the Roman’s built are still in use today. A dam was built many years ago, but they had problems with the water quality for a while, so repaired the aqueducts and started to use them again. The lady at the desk of the pumping station tells us that the Roman baths are located at City Hall. On to City Hall and indeed the city hall is built on top of the Roman baths and one can view them. Not much there, but still nice to see.

Back to the main square to get some lunch and all of a sudden we here “Bonjour” being said to us. We turn around to see George from the restaurant last night. He was having coffee with a friend and just wanted to wish us a good day. Very charming!

Some additional pictures from our time in Evora.

This evening we arranged a tour with a private guide (Jose) and driver (Hugo), to take us out to the megaliths near Evora. There are 10 megalithic enclosures in the area and we visited two that were nearby. The megalithic monuments (made up of big rocks) were placed in the Evora region because the plains in Alentejo were perfect for the last communities of hunter-gatherers to practise their way of living.

Jose is an archeologist with the City of Evora but started up his own tour company a few months ago to supplement his income. He told us that wages in Portugal are very low, even with the improvement in the economy in the last year. He told us that the main economy of Evora is its wine production, cork production and tourism. This is only his second tour in English, and although broken, he is understood.

Our first stop is a Monolith, one large stone. He tells us that these were used to mark the landscape, as sort of road marker. It stands on the highest point in the valley. Also a phallic symbol which is symbolic of reproduction. Meant to “thank Mother Earth” for all that she provides. Is also known as a centre of positive energy. Jose tells us that at summer solstice, the various monuments are inundated with people who believe in the spirits and positive energy of the megaliths. He goes on to mention that surveys have shown that only 1/3 of the monoliths and other stones are above earth with the other 2/3rds buried deep in the ground.

Evora is in the middle of 3 major sites and if one drew a line from the city of Evora to the various sites, they would each point to the cathedral. The stones are all granite and some have markings on them. The second site he takes us to is a sight of hundreds of stones, a megalith. Here the stones form two circles, one smaller inner circle, which the archeologists believe to be older and a larger circle which encompasses the smaller circle. Small excavations have been done on both sites and small shards of pottery and jewellery have been found, which they believe to be offerings.

We enjoyed touring these sights out in the countryside and the light was absolutely wonderful in the late afternoon. Quite lovely overlooking the valleys below.

We also saw lots of cork trees and Jose confirmed what I had stated earlier. He added that people who remove the cork are highly paid as it is an art to remove the cork so that the tree is not destroyed. These basically use a chisel and mark a line down the truck and then carefully peel off the cork. He told us the richest man in Portugal is the one who owns the cork business. The Evora region is the sole cork producer of Portugal.

Also saw lots of storks on their nests in the countryside, unfortunately unable to get a picture. Jose told us that they are a protected species. At one time they were in danger of extinction, but have made a great come back.

Go to another restaurant La Tabla de Nada which was recommended by our hotel. Another excellent meal. We shared an appetizer and also a main meal, “Presa de Porco Preto” a black pork loin which was the house specialty, delicious. We have been told several times that the pork used in better restaurants is from black pigs. They are smaller than a normal pig and the meat is better.

We really had no expectations of our time in Evora, but must say, we really enjoyed our time here. The people in Evora, Portugal were so friendly and we enjoyed getting lost in the streets!

Merida – June 2018

Took about 2 1/2 hours to get to Merida from Sevilla. Mérida is the capital of western Spain’s Extremadura region, which was founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. Remains of the ancient city include the still-used Teatro Romano, which has a double tier of columns rising onstage. The ancient Puente Romano, a 792m bridge spanning the Río Guadiana, adjoins the Alcazaba, a 9th-century Islamic fortress built over Roman walls. It is in the Province of Badajoz.

The closer we got to Merida we started to notice many vineyards, along with wheat fields.

There are flags throughout the town advertising the classical theatre festival that will take place in July. I can imagine how spectacular it would be so see a play amongst these ruins. The outdoor theatre sits up to 6,000 people

The population as of 2017 was 60,119 so a small city. The “Archaelogical Ensemble of Merida” in on the the Unesco World Heritage list as of 1993.

This is the first time we are out of the Andalusia region, main reason being that it was a stop on the way to Evora in Portugal.

We wondered why so many well preserved Roman ruins in a place that we thought was really in the middle of no where, but on further reading I find out that this city was strategically located at the junction of major Roman roads from Leon to Sevilla and Toledo to Lisbon. The guide book notes that the city has never regained the importance it had during Roman times, other than the Roman monuments, and that the city is rather plain.

We arrive to find our hotel, easily this time I might add, and Robin was ushered to the parking garage by a staff member. Seems quite common that parking garages belonging to hotels and apartments, aren’t necessarily located in the same place, let alone same block. We get settled, nice small hotel with lovely outer deck. It is quite cool here compared to Sevilla; about 19C and overcast when we arrived.

We are interested in the museum, but it is closed on Mondays, so will try to take it in tomorrow. All the major Roman ruins are within walking distance of one another.

We walk to the “Teatro Y Anfiteatro Romano” and very impressed with its size and condition. As we went to pay, the lady asked if we were “seniors”. She gave us a 50% discount and the ticket is good for the other Roman sites, with exception of the Museum. We were quite surprised, in France they only give discounts to seniors if you are part of the Euro community……bonus marks for Spain!

There are workers, assumably archeologists or their assistants, who are working on some of the site. Using small brushes to undercover some of the ruins and one lady is using a brush with some type of liquid to clean off some moss/algae. Seems very painstaking. We spend quite some time here and hardly anyone else around. They say these are the best preserved Roman ruins in Spain. While we are in the Teatro we run into two separate couples, one from Mexico and the other from Brazil. Think we are the only foreign tourists! Robin and the Brazilian strike up a conversation about the World Cup.

Some of the pictures below have explanations that were on placards on the site.

Must admit that not many foreign tourists here, mainly Spaniards visiting the area. I believe that this is off the tourist track and one must make the effort to come here. This is also evident in the fact of the food that is served and when restaurants operate. Went out for dinner on our first night at 8 pm, which we think is late and the restaurants here do not open till 8:30. My poor digestive system!

While waiting till 8:30 pm to find somewhere to eat, we walk down to the Plaza de Esapana; which is Merida’s main square. It is filled with many bars/restaurants and tables outside (even though a little cool outside) are packed with locals enjoying drinks and tapas. The city hall is at one end of the plaza and the midst of the square is the “Arco de Trajano” part of a Roman city gate. Great for people watching.

We also view the “Temple of Diana” which is literally on the same street as our hotel, basically surrounded by shops and houses. It is said to be the oldest of Merida’s Roman ruins. The Temple of Diana (Templo de Diana) was a sacred site constructed by the Romans in the early first century AD, after the conquest of the area by the Emperor Augustus. It is incredibly well preserved.

Our hotel does not provide breakfast so we have to go out. This morning we found a small trendy restaurant for breakfast; but all they serve is tostadas. Basically a large bun, similar to a small baguette with different toppings. We looked at other places, but no one serves eggs or what we would classify as a North American breakfast. A “normal” breakfast has been available every where else we have been, but as mentioned, Merida is off the beaten track. All part of the adventure.

Tuesday, the 5th of June we head off to view some of the sights of the city. Our first stop is to view the Roman bridge. There is a walking path below, which we took later, and further along the path, a pedestrian bridge which goes over to a few islands in the centre of the RIo Guadiana, which have been turned into park areas. We see cyclists, runners and walkers enjoying this area.

Next stop is the Alcazba Arabe (fortress). This was built by the Romans and strengthened by the Visogoths and Moors. Have seen reference to VIsogoths a lot in the areas we have visited, so from my reading up on them, I will provide a little bit more information. I love history, so can’t help myself.

The Visigoths were one of the most important of the Germanic peoples. They separated from the Ostrogoths in the 4th century and proceeded to raid Roman territories repeatedly, and established great kingdoms in Gaul and Spain. O.K., now we all now about the Visigoths!

Once again some “archeological types” are working around the area, one even had survey equipment, not sure what he was doing. I found that the most interesting building was the cistern. A small building, well preserved, with steps and ramp going down to a cavern still containing water today. The historians feel that beast of burden went down these ramps to haul back the water for the people.

Also an original Roman passage way/road still exists……Brenda…..an “iter” , a word often used in crosswords.

We head off down the path by the river and walk about 20 minutes to the next archeological site. The “Casa Mitreo y Columbarios” is a late-1st- or 2nd-century Roman house with a well-preserved fresco and several intricate mosaics. What is interesting about this site is the metal roof that the city has installed over the complete area for preservation of this historic site. Beautiful mosaics and original paintings still evident, although some parts are missing. Archeologist working here as well.

Next to the Casa Mitreo is Merida’s bull ring which was built in 1914 and is still used today.

We go to the main square, Plaza d’Espana for lunch. Next to us sits a local man and his dog. Before you know it, the dog has sat next to me, so I start to pet him and rub his ears. I stop, then he puts his head on my lap. I said to the dog in Spanish as we left “quieres venir a Canada”….do you want to come to Canada. His owner got quite a chuckle out of this. I continue to say “es frio”….is cold and the owner replied in Spanish “that might be better than our heat”. I love this interactions with locals.

I have to laugh….Robin posted the picture below on his Facebook page and it got the most likes of any other picture of Merida. I think deep down inside, people are all animal lovers!

Meant to comment on something peculiar that we noticed on our way from Grazalema. We were nearing Merida and stopped in a small town for coffee/tea, a kind of truck stop and there were napkins and garbage such used sugar packets, plastic stir sticks all over he floor. A cleaning woman was in process of sweeping everything up. Well, then we notice the same thing in the outdoor cafes int he main square in Merida, people simply throw their garbage on the ground. We have not noticed this anywhere else in Spain, weird! In fact, in Sevilla, there is always a small garbage bin near the table.

In the late afternoon, we head off to the “Museo Nacional de Arte Romano” which was built in 1981. The scale of this museum is quite something. The main exhibition hall is 50 feet high (cathedral like) and there is a main level in addition to two upper passageways. We were so impressed by the displays, the mosaics, some as high(big) as 30 feet, frescoes, jewelry, statues, pottery, household utensils and a variety of Roman remains. The pictures we have of the large mosaics will show some blank spaces; but for the most part, so well preserved. This museum is world class, glad we did not miss it……and yeah, the seniors, yes even Canadian seniors got in for free. Who says my grey hair doesn’t pay off!

Merida was certainly a surprise to us. The roman ruins were amazing and the museum was definitely first class.

On our last morning, we find a small cafe that serves smoothies and tostadas. Great to get some fruit, even if in the form of a smoothie. Very cloudy day and cool as we head off to Evora, Portugal for the next three days.

Sevilla – June 2018

Left Grazalema on Thursday May 31st for Sevilla. Woke up to bright blue skies in Grazalema and forecast is for 20 degrees today. Although it was cool during our three days here, it didn’t stop us from doing anything and we really enjoyed it here. Thanks to Steve F. for his recommendation.

As we were leaving Grazalema on the winding mountain roads, came across lots of cyclists. Amazing at their skill in riding these roads.

Took us about 2 1/2 hours to get to Sevilla, with a stop along the way. We have rented an apartment in Sevilla for four nights, which is about a 15-20 minute walk to the Cathedral and Alcazar. We are near the Alameda de Hercules monument.

Sevilla has a population of 704,000(2018) and stands at 12 meters (39 feet). Sevilla has the largest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of any city in Andalusia, and is said to account for one whole quarter of Andalusia’s total GDP, and is the most populated city in Southern Spain. Agriculture is the dominant industry in the smaller villages surrounding Sevilla. Seville has the most important inland port of Andalusia, being thus an import/export hub for the whole region. The city depends on service and industry sectors: in particular trade, financial services, technology and tourism. The latter is one of the pillars of the local economy, since the city and its rich cultural heritage are appealing more and more visitors. The city has technological and aerospace research centres. The economy was hit with the downturn in 2008, but has steadily gotten better in the last few years.

The average temperature in Sevilla is 26C and the summers average over 35C. Yikes, not sure I would like the summers here. There is a Calatrava bridge here the Puente del Alamillo, which we saw from a distance on our drive into the city. We love his bridges, always very different in design. Our Peace Bridge in Calgary is one of his designs and we have seen others throughout our travels (Dublin, Buenos Aries). An update here, we drove across the Calatrava bridge as we left the city on Monday, June 4th.

We had set our GPS for the parking garage of the apartment; as you had to enter the garage from a side street. Well….talk about frustration! For 15 minutes we drive around the narrow streets trying to find the parking garage. We get near, then we see signs that indicate no entry, you know the kind I mean….a red circle with a white line through it….do not enter. We go around again and try from another direction; no luck. Robin comes up with the idea to find a parking space or parking garage and leave the car there till we figure out what to do. We contact the management company that handles this apartment and a young lady was waiting for us at the apartment. After speaking to her, we left the car in the parking garage that we had found outside the old town, and took a taxi with our luggage to the apartment. The young lady shows us around the apartment and shows us where we get into the garage. She could not understand why we had a problem. I pointed out that the sign on the street entering the alley indicated “no entry”. She pointed out a sign below that indicated “except authorized cars”. OK, guess we should have figured that out….did I mention that this sign was almost totally obliterated with graffiti and stickers! Oh well, all part of the experience. We take a taxi back to the parking garage, get our rental car and find the parking garage of our apartment. So easy…not!

Walk around our neighbourhood and get our bearings. Our guide book says that this neighbourhood was once a “no go neighbourhood, only reserved for “painted ladies and their pimps” and a wide range of “shady characters”! Today it has been transformed and has been taken over by the young and is crammed with trendy bars along the Alameda. It is also the main gay area of the city. At the end of the Alameda are two Roman columns and are said to be 2,000 years old. One column bears a statue of Hercules and the other Caesar.

We have a wonderful dinner out at a tapas bar that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. I know we said that we were somewhat tired of tapas, but this place was incredible. Edition Limitada Espacio Gastronomico; how about that for a name. I had made a reservation and they had a little sign made up welcoming us….all right, welcoming Robin! It was a twist on tapas; one could say “fusion tapas”. We had lamb stew served in a soft bread, a dish of potatoes, truffle oil and grana padano cheese, a block of boar meat with fig sauce and snap peas and grilled vegetables in a romanescu sauce. So good, think we are going to go back here.

When we stopped in a small roadside cafe on our way to Sevilla, the owner had the television on and was watching what appeared to be a political show live from the Spanish parliament. Later in the day in Sevilla when walking around noticed televisions on in several places watching the same thing. Well, now we know what was going on. The Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, lost a no confidence as his conservative People’s Party is mired in a financial scandal that last week saw 29 people linked to the party, including elected officials, receive heavy sentences while the party itself was fined for operating hidden accounts. His successor is said to be Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the center-left Socialists, the same man who helped bring down the government.

I always like to take pride on how organized I am when it comes to trip planning. Yes, I make mistakes. I totally forgot to book tickets for the Alcazar and the Real Palace. I realized this the morning we left Grazalema and when we arrived in Sevilla, I went on line to book tickets. They were totally sold out for the days that we are here! What to do. Robin goes on line and through Tripadvisor/Viator he finds a company that does guided tours. Booked tickets for Friday afternoon…..Whew!

On Friday morning, June 1st, we had arranged for an ebike tour of Sevilla. Opted for this for a change vs the free walking tours we have been doing in the other cities we have visited to date. Our guide Gabriel was incredible. There could have been up to six people on the tour, but we were the only two, so in essence our own private tour. We were gone for 2 1/2 hours. Cycling through the streets and bike paths of Sevilla felt very comfortable. Many stops along the way as Gabriel spoke about the history of Sevilla and the various monuments, historic buildings and gardens that we visited. Once again a great way to get to know your way around the city. Amazing the number of tourists here in Sevilla this weekend.

The city was founded by the Romans, still some remnants or Roman structures, and then the Moors arrived in 1085. A great mosque was built; but you know the story, it was destroyed in 1248 when the Christians arrived and a cathedral was built where the mosque once stood. Our guide tells us that mythology claims that Hercules founded the city of Sevilla. The plague did arrive in Sevilla in 1649 and we are told that 1/2 the population was lost. After the discovery of America in 1492 Sevilla became the main port for trade with the New World. When you look at a map it is hard to think of Sevilla as a port; it is classified as an inland port. In ancient times, boats could navigate down the Guadalquivir river to the ocean. In the 18th century the river became more silted and the majority of trade moved to the port of Cadiz.

Gabriel tells us that the when Sevilla hosted the Latin American Exposition of 1929 much construction took place in the city in the years prior to the exposition. The Plaza de Espana was the centrepiece. We ride by the Hotel Alfonso Xll and this hotel was built to provide upscale accommodations for the fair. He tells us that he believes that the minimal cost of the hotel is 1,000 Euro per night in the high season, it is a 4 star hotel….we are definitely not staying there. Just out of curiosity, I looked it up and we could get a room tonight for 230 Euro……probably in the basement!

The city also sponsored a world expo in 1992 and once again new construction took place, including a high speed train from Madrid.

We stop in front of the cathedral and Gabriel tells us that this is the biggest cathedral in Europe, with the exception of the Vatican of course, he says he is sure the Pope at the time had some say in the matter. There is a legend that says that the church authorities at the time said “Let’s construct a church so large that future generations will think we were mad”. The cathedral took 100 years to be built in the gothic style and was finished in 1502. We will come back on our own to visit the cathedral in the next few days. Then cycle to the other side to view the El Giraldillo, the minaret that is left from Moorish times. The Christians did install a bell tower……of course. Once again we see the ancient red writing on names on the cathedral outer walls; I mentioned this in my Granada blog.

Then on to the city hall, the Ayuntamiento built in the Neo-Classical style built in 1867 and sits at the Plaza Nueva. What is interesting about the city hall is that half the building is incredibly decorated and the other half is quite plain, apparently they ran out of money and the authorities over the years have not wanted to complete the work. Gabriel says that the majority of the population don’t even notice the fact of the different facades.

Ride to the Archivo General de Indias. This building at one time housed all of the historical trading archives of ancient times. Apparently they are now housed in a new building which has high security. These archives make up part of the Unesco World Heritage Sight of Sevilla along with the Catedral and the Alcazar. The guide book says there are more than 80 million pages of documents dating back to 1492 and up to the end of the 19th century; a statement of Spain’s power and influence during the Golden Age. The building is not much to look at, but certainly has historical meaning.

Stop to take in the Alcazar, which is very impressive. Gabriel tells us that the King and Queen of Spain stay here whenever they are in Sevilla and one can tell when they are there as the municipal flag is lowered and the royal flag goes up. They stay on the second story, which we are told is not included in a tour of the Alcazar. We will be visiting later today, thanks to Robin! All these sights are very close to one another so very easy to walk or cycle around to visit.

On to the Antigua Fabrica de Tabacos, an old tobacco factory, which was built in 1758. It was the setting for Bizet’s Carmen, and was where she toiled. Seville became the centre of the tobacco trade in the 17th century. Gabriel tells us that originally the factory employed men, but they found that women were gentler with handling the tobacco and they could pay them a lesser salary. Sounds like this has been going on for centuries, think the world has finally changed! The factory closed in 1950 an is now part of the University of Sevilla. We walked through the building which was huge.

We continue our ride and end up at Plaza de Espana. I always thought that this was just another plaza, but oh my gosh, so much more. A huge area with a large fountain and mini canals. Beautiful tile work throughout. We stop to take some pictures then Gabriel takes us through the gardens, the Parque Maria Luisa. He tells us that years ago the gardens were neglected by the city, but eventually they realized that they must invest in. Must say that the gardens were mainly free of tourists and just a small number of locals. Two beautiful buildings in the gardens built for the 1929 expo, one is now the Museo Arqueologico and the other the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares. Gabriel is also very interested in the history of Sevilla and Spain and plays percussion instruments on nights and weekends in addition to his guiding activities. He tells us that during the hot summer, his favourite place to come is the costume museum. He loves to see the exhibits which are constantly changing, then he says he goes down to the basement where there is a cafeteria and is very cool in the summer. So he takes a good book and spends a few hours there cooling off and having a coffee at a very reasonable price!.

Then continue cycling through the gardens and he takes us to his “special bench”. He tells us that he comes here with his girlfriend on warm evenings and they bring a bottle of wine and enjoy their time together. He tells us we should come as is a magical place around 10:00 pm. Are you kidding, I tell him; that is about the time we are getting ready to go to bed. Must admit that this eating at 8 and 9 o’clock at night is difficult, but a way of life here, so one has to adjust to the local ways.

Then cycle along the river bike path to the Torre del Oro, a 13th century watchtower. It supposedly had a roof covered in gold. Gabriel tells us that it is has this name as it is said that all the gold coming from the Americas came through this port.

We then cross the Isabella bridge and view Sevilla from the other side of the river. Along the river he points out a fig tree and tells us that it reminds him of his childhood. He used to pick figs in the countryside along the roads. He says he loves figs, but just can’t bring himself to buy them in a grocery store.

He points out the bull ring, which we will visit in the next couple of days. Robin asks if they still bullfight and if so, do they still use picadors (lancers). Gabriel says that bullfighting is still very much a sport in Spain. The only place that it has been banned is in Catalonia (a province that wants to separate from Spain) as they see bullfighting as a symbol of Spain and they don’t want anything to do with Spain!

Across the river there stands one sole high rise building and is very different looking, circular in shape with a sloped roof. Gabriel tells us that this is the most hated building in Sevilla, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is taller than the cathedral bell tower, which is thought to be a sacrilege. Christians feel that the most important building, the cathedral, should be the tallest as it is closest to God. Secondly, the building was built and is occupied by a Catalonian bank. This is the province that wants to separate from Spain, so why did the local municipality allow them to build this monstrosity!

We ask about the Gypsy women walking around in local cities with rosemary. They try to stop people, we always ignore them and wave them off. Gabriel says it is there way of earning a living. They will tell you that rosemary will bring you good luck and then they go on to read your palm and tell your fortune. He says that he has been approached on many occasions and he tells the Gypsy women that he has never heard of rosemary bringing any good luck to anyone. He thinks that they also get the rosemary from the public gardens, so funny, but ingenious on their part.

Across the river, the city also built a stadium in 1999 and seats 60,000. The stadium was one of those included in the Sevilla’s bid for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic bids. After the failure of the last bid, the stadium remained unused by either of Seville’s major football teams as both Real Betis and Sevilla each use their own stadia. It is now mainly used as a concert venue.

It is now the end of our cycle tour and Gabriel has been so great and good to get some exercise other than walking! Finally he gives up a detailed map of the city, shows us where we have been and points out more sights that we should visit. He talks about getting lost in a few neighbourhoods, which we plan on doing. We usually do this, and always fun to explore new places. Gabriel says that the residents of Sevilla have a tendency to stay in their own barrios, even as much as spending time in their own squares. This is where they come out in the evenings for their drinks and tapas and to visit in the early evening. We have definitely noticed this, Sevilla has little plazas everywhere you turn. I suppose just like us, going for coffee in Kensington area in Calgary.

We head back to the bike shop and stop for lunch prior to heading back to the apartment and a rest prior to visiting the Alcazar later today. Not sure I mentioned, but all the Jacaranda trees are in bloom, beautiful.

We noticed, as we have been walking through the streets of Sevilla, that they do of course have graffiti, as do all cities, but not with an artistic flair as we have seen in other places. The one thing they do which is different is paint the metal shutters on the store fronts with various scenes. Also, lovely ceramic inserts in the buildings; either Christian in nature or depicting a scene. I love seeing the small differences in the various cities we visit….graffiti, unique doors, flowers in windows, ceramic signs, etc. Each city with its own artistic flair!

At 5 pm we join our group of 10 to visit the Real Alcazar with our guide Vincente. Our visit lasts about two hours and once again very informative. I must add that our bike guide, Gabriel and Vincente both talk about the “Mudajar”. The word denotes a partly Gothic, partly Islamic style of architecture and art prevalent in Spain in the 12th to 15th centuries. both the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar are of this style. This late afternoon tour was great as the palace and gardens weren’t really busy.

This Alcazar was built primarily in the 1300’s and was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987, yes, another one added to the list. It was originally founded as a fort and has been expanded or reconstructed several times over the centuries. One of the areas that we visited was said to be the rooms of King Alfonso Xl mistress, Leonor de Guzman, who was reputedly the most beautiful woman in Spain. Our guide told us that the baths were specifically built for her as well. One aspect that we thought was really interesting is that a lot of the pillars holding up the various rooms do not match. Some are made of red marble, white marble and some from other types of stone. Our guide tells us that the builders of the time went off to an abandoned town nearby and collected columns from old Roman ruins. Talk about recycling! I somehow think that one might not notice this unless it was pointed out to you.

There all different rooms in the castle some used for entertaining and some used for trade. We also visited the throne room. One hall had very large Belgium tapestries which represented the kingdom of Spain.

The Moorish type ceramic work is interspersed with Christian symbols is again a sign of he Mudajar type of architecture, a blend of the two cultures. One must never forget to look up and see the beautifully wooden sculptured ceilings. Many fountains throughout which are guide tells us is equivalent to air conditioning. One major difference that I found between the Real Alcazar and the Alhambra is the amount of colour used here in the Real Alcazar. Blues and reds used in the plaster work, whereas a lot of the plaster work in Granada was in its natural state. Beautiful intricate ceramic work here depicting pictures of flora, fauna, emblems and characters.

The outer gardens here are absolutely magnificent with pruned hedges, fountains with fish, mazes and of course beautiful shaded treed areas, rose gardens, various benches and courtyards and statues throughout. I loved the bath area which was in a lower part of the palace. Loved to see the reflection in the water. Vincente points out an area in the garden where Game of Thrones (season 5, I think he said) was filmed here in the Alcazar. One of the American men on the tour was so excited about this, he said he was going to watch it again, just to see these gardens in the show. Thought this was so funny as he was so excited about this.

After the tour was completed, we stayed and toured the gardens for a little while longer, so nice and cool in the shade. The weather here in Sevilla has been about 25 each day, and we are enjoying it.

On our way back to our apartment we come across an Italian restaurant tucked away in an alley and opt for this change from tapas and meat. A jam packed day, but great to see so many new places and get to know the city and its history.

Saturday, June 2nd and we head off to the Catedral. The line up to get in only takes about a half hour, so not to bad at all. The total area of the Cathedral is at 11,520 square meters (124,000 square feet). The building is 135 meters (443 feet) long and 100 meters (328 feet) wide, and a ceiling height of 42 meters (138 feet). Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in the world (after St.Peter’s in Rome and St.Paul’s in London) as well as the largest Gothic church in the world. It was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987. Construction began in 1433 and ended in 1506.

The oldest door of the church is called the Puerta del Perdon (Door of Forgiveness) and dates from the early 16th century and is Moorish in design.

As you enter the courtyard to get to the ticket office, there is a replica of the statue and wind vane called the El Giraldillo, which sits on top of the Giralda, the original mosque minaret, now the bell tower. As one first enters you see the Church treasures, then you enter the church itself. It is indeed immense, vaulted ceilings, various chapels along the perimeter, outer chambers with paintings and church treasures, stained glass windows, and beautiful woodwork. Several alters, including one completely made of silver. The main altarpiece which is intricately carved, is said to be the largest in Christendom. As I was taking a picture, I noticed that lights kept coming on and off to highlight particular sections of the altar piece. I just read some statistics on the cathedral. Its interior is divided into: 5 naves, 43 chapels and altars, 81 stain glass windows, 28 attached pillars, 32 free standing pillars, 26 murals, 68 vaults. They say over 1.3 million people visit every year and that the cathedral has enjoyed two papal visits.

We also see Christopher Columbus’s sepulchre. He died in northern Spain and his remains were moved four separate times. Originally his remains were laid to rest in a monastery in Sevilla, then they were moved to the Dominican Republic, then to Cuba and back to Spain. There has been some question if the remains buried here in the cathedral were indeed Christopher Columbus or possibly his brother. They now say that recent DNA testing prove that these are indeed the remains of Christopher Columbus. THe sepulchre is quite grand. It shows four statues holding up the casket. These represent the four Spanish kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarra which existed during Columbuses time. A beautiful work of art.

The outer courtyard the Patio de los Naranjos (the Patio of the Orange Trees) is quite lovely and is the exit of the church tour. We were about to leave and I realized that we had not seen the Giralda. We were told that we really should go up it, and that the climb was easy as it is a ramp and not steps. At the top, we noticed we went up 34 ramps. I read the reason for the ramps is that they were used by horsemen that went up to the top of the tower to see if any enemies were approaching. Good views from the top. It is said that the Giralda the best know symbol of Sevilla.

We then make our way to the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the bull ring. This is the oldest bull ring in Spain, building began in 1758 and this is where bull fighting began along the same time as the bull ring in Ronda. One is guided through the museum, some great pictures and memorabilia. I really loved the old posters and the drawings. The guide speaks in Spanish and English and she told us when to listen to our audio guides for a further description. The bullfighting season goes from October to April and some later and yes, they still kill the bulls here in Spain. We view the horse corrals then a chapel where the bull fighters say their prayers before there debut into the ring. We then visited the ring itself.

On our way back to our apartment we come across an artisans market, always great to come across these shops where locals show and sell their wares. I am now the proud owner of a new necklace!

Another wonderful dinner out at a small bar in one of the many squares in our barrio. The Bodega Palo Alto was a great choice. Very unassuming from the outside, but great food, which really is all that counts. Robin had Preso con jamon (ham with prosciutto and potatoes) and I had Bacaloa in Salsa Verde con Jamon y Lagostinos (cod in a greeen sauce with ham and shrimp). Love finding these out of the way places with good food. A lot of locals here having their tapas and drinks. A lovely older couple outside enjoying their evening together, lovely to see. We can’t help but continue to relish in the European way of life!

Sunday, June 3rd and after doing some laundry (glad for the apartment washer), we head off to the Metropol Parasol. Not too far from where we are staying Prior to going up to the Parasol, we stop and have a coffee/tea and finally indulge in some churros. Well, sorry to say, not as good as the churros that we have had in Mexico. People here have their churros with hot chocolate the majority of the time, and dunk them in their drink.

Read a little about the Parasol and as anything different, there was controversy. It was designed by the German architect Jurgen Mayer and completed in April 2011. It has dimensions of 150 by 70 metres (490 by 230 ft) and an approximate height of 26 metres (85 ft) and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Its appearance, location, delays and cost overruns in construction resulted in much public controversy. It was supposed to cost 50 million Euro and was originally to be completed in 2007 and it is said that the cost ballooned to 100 million Euro.

The building is popularly known as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Incarnation’s mushrooms) it has six parasols in the form of mushrooms. There are four levels to this structure. The underground level houses the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains discovered on site are displayed in a museum. Level 1 (street level) is the Central Market (closed today as is Sunday). The roof of Level 1 is the surface of the open-air public plaza, shaded by the wooden parasols above and designed for public events. Levels 2 and 3 are the two stages of the panoramic terraces (including a restaurant), offering one of the best views of the city centre. It was great to see Sevilla from a higher perspective. Took several shots of various sectors of the city from this viewpoint.

As we are on our way to the an art gallery we want to see, we come across a religious procession, very moving. It is similar to what has been explained to us as to a brotherhood carrying the statue of Mary. The procession had many men, assume the brotherhood and some of them were close to the platform carrying the statue, giving those underneath instructions as to when to turn a corner or to stop. Men carrying the platform cannot be seen as they are under it and there is a covering all around the platform. We however, did see their feet! So nice to come across this. Sometimes the best memories are unexpected ones!

We then continue further into the inner city to find the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes. This building is a 17th century mansion which was once used as a hospice for aging priests. It is now an art gallery and also encompasses a church. We saw masterpieces by Diego Velaquez and Esteban Murillo. Wonderful typical Sevillano patios in a couple of areas. The church was quite remarkable with its painted walls.

Stop for lunch around the corner in the barrio of Santa Cruz. Must say that it drives Robin and I crazy when we hear english speaking people make no effort whatsoever to try to speak even a little Spanish….why can’t they even try to say “por favor” or “gracias”. This after all this is a Spanish speaking country….make an effort.

We follow the suggestions of our guide Gabriel and we get lost in the Santa Cruz barrio and wind our way in the various alleyways looking into the small shops. Also come across the Murillo Gardens and view the interesting statue of Isabella and a ship belonging to Columbus, we presume. These gardens are behind the Alcazar gardens and Robin and I wondered if these Murillo gardens were for the peons!

We find our way back to our barrio, La Macarena, and go to the Mercado de la Feria. I had read on their official website that they were open today, but alas, that information was wrong and they were closed. Oh well. We decide to stop in the Almada de Hercules area and enjoy a drink in the late afternoon. This area is a large open square full of bars, water features and areas for kids to play. So great on a Sunday afternoon, the square if full of families and groups of friends enjoying each others company. As we head back to our apartment, there is an area set up in the square where local kids are trying different acrobatic apparatus….trampolines, jumping mats, hula hoops, juggling, unicycles and many other items. Nice to see them having so much fun; but at times I thought the breaking of an arm or leg wasn’t too far off!

Lots of walking these past few days in Sevilla which had been great.

We are off tomorrow morning, Monday, June 4th to Merida, Spain for 2 nights. It is a couple of hours by car and our first sojourn out of the province of Andalusia. This is a stopover for our visit to Evora, Portugal.

Grazalema – May 2018

Our drive from Cadiz to Grazalema took about three hours as we stopped in the small town of Arcos de Frontera along the way.

Oh my gosh, once again very happy that we have a small car. Robin did an excellent job getting us to the top of the town of Arcos de Fontera, through the very narrow roads. As we approached the top of the village, a local lady tells us to continue as there is parking at the top. Well, when we arrive, we get the last parking stop and I have to help Robin maneuver into the spot. He almost has to hit the wall so that other cars can get by. A wonderful mirador with great views of the valley below. We then visit the church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion. Another beautiful church. Back in the car, some maneuvering to get out of the parking lot and then get down the windy narrow streets to get out of this charming town. Beautiful countryside.

As we left Arcos, the cloud ceiling dropped and it begins to rain. The road to Grazalema is one that steadily climbs up the mountain and is very windy with no shoulder. My brother Denis would not have done well due to the sheer drop offs and our daughter in law Lisa would not have like the hairpin turns. We finally arrive in Grazalema and our GPS would not pick up the address of the guest house, or the parking area. Fortunately the owner, Andres, must know this and he had sent a link to Google maps, which really helped. The only problem is that when we arrived at the road to take us down to the parking lot, it was closed due to repairs. We park the car and proceed to walk down the street. We ask a local woman where our hotel, The Mejorana, is located. She walks down the street to show us. We arrive, only about a 2 minute walk from where we have parked the car and the hotel is all locked up. We press a buzzer and it rings four times, then stops. We then see a phone number and call. The owner, Andres answers and asks where we are, I say…the front door. He is actually in the hotel, so comes to let us in. So friendly, he takes us around the hotel, shows us our room. Nothing spectacular, but seems comfortable, albeit a bit cold. He also takes the time to explain what to see around this small town, where to go and eat and sights to see in the surrounding area. This area is known for its hiking and there are numerous trails surrounding the town. Andres tells us that the weather is about 10 degrees cooler than normal at this time of year. Right now it is only 16 and have layered on the clothes.

The guide book says the population of Grazalema is 1,650 and the elevation is 825 metres (2,700 feet). It is a very old town and the local tourist bureau tell us that this town has been continually habited for at least 2,000 years. Not a significant town, but was a stopover for merchants and they provided produce and staples to surrounding areas. It is also an area that produces cheese and honey and is also know for its merino wool blankets.

He has a binder for every room, which describes in detail, all of the hiking routes, along with ratings for each hike. The binder also has suggested driving routes to nearby noteworthy towns. One town that he mentions could be overlooked is Ronda. Funny enough most guides books say this is a must see. A friend who had been there some thirty years ago said we must not miss it. Our friend Steve, who had been in the area this past November told us not to stay here and that he found it very touristy. He is the one who recommended Grazalema and this guest house. A beautiful pool and gardens but way too cool to take advantage of these amenities.

We get settled in and head off to discover this small town. Stop at a local bar for lunch, great food. The owner of the inn gives us the name of several bars and a couple of restaurants that are worth going to. Spend the afternoon walking around the town, but a lot of the shops are closed for the siesta period. These small towns still adhere to this schedule where they are usually closed from about 2 to 5 pm and then re-open for a couple of hours in the evening.

Must mention what a small world it is sometimes. When we went to one of the local bars for our lunch, there were two men speaking english behind us. They were cyclists so I struck up a conversation and asked where they were from ……Calgary! They were in Spain for three weeks doing a self guided bike tour. Pretty sure these guys were hard core, one of them has done several Gran Fondo’s in Alberta and has even lead one of them. This area is so hilly, windy and even mountainous, one would have to be very hard core; of perhaps have an electric bike!

We had read in our guide book of a bike trail called the Via Verde de la Sierra. The trail starts in a small near here and the trail crosses the countryside using an abandoned railway system. Sounds like the Kettle Valley railway in Kelowna/Penticton area. After a couple of phone calls, Robin finally reaches someone who does rent bikes for the Via Verde, but tells us the trail is closed due to the rains that the area has had of late. Oh well!

We go eat at the landlords favourite restaurant, S’Abor. We passed in the afternoon and it was filled with cyclists from a bike tour. Some people were coming out saying it was full and that they were disappointed they couldn’t get in. Robin and I made a reservation for dinner and what a great choice. I may have said this before, but was the best meal we have had on our trip so far and so reasonably priced. The presentation was beautiful, but most importantly the food was excellent. Even given a complimentary glass of very good sherry after our dinner. They have a beautiful patio, but simply too cold for anyone to take advantage of this.

On Tuesday May 29th, we head off in the car to visit the small villages around this area called the “ Pueblos Blanco” (White Villages). Grazalema is one of these as is Arcos de la Frontera which we visited yesterday. Our landlord tells us which towns are worthwhile visiting, in his opinion. Our first stop is Zahara de la Sierra. It overlooks the Embalse de Zahara ( a reservoir). We stop here and take in the views as well as stop for coffee/tea.

One thing that I have meant to mention on several occasions is how loud the Spanish women (in particular) and kids speak. It seems like they are screaming and mad at everyone. The Spanish men don’t seem to speak as loud, they probably can’t get a word in edgewise in any event!

Then on to Olvera and we try to get into the town of Setenil, but the street that leads to the top of the village is being worked on, so we simply drive on. Beautiful vistas everywhere and the countryside is diverse. Wheat fields, olive groves, goat and sheep farmers, mountains and valleys. Our last stop of the day is Ronda, and yes….this place is very touristy. We stop here for lunch, take in the views and then go visit the bull ring.

After visiting some of the other “white mountain villages” today, I do believe that Grazalema’ s inhabitants have taken great care of their homes and have made extra efforts with the beautiful plants and flowers in front of their homes. The majority of the windows on the houses are encased in iron bars which allowed windows to be left open without bandits being able to enter in ancient times. These are still there today and lots of plants and flowers hanging off of them.

One thing that is very unique in these mountain towns is the doorways. In Cordoba we saw courtyards and patios. Here they have an outer door, a vestibule which is usually decorated with tiles, then an inner door and some of these entrances are lovely indeed. Also, a lot of the outer doors have studs on the doors. This is said to be an Arabic decorative style. They say that these studs originated in India and the Arab world. Originally they were large and vicious looking to deter robbers and big animals!

Very cool again today, most of the time about 16 degrees and when the sun came out, would reach about 19. Back to the guest house and we make a cup and tea and sit in the living/common room. We visit for some time with an English couple who have just arrived. Great dinner out again; at such a reasonable price. Find it amazing that such good restaurants in such a small town.

Wednesday, May 30th and I go downstairs early to get a cup of tea. I run into Andreas and I ask him how long he has run this guest house. He tells me that he was born and raised in Grazalema and years ago he moved to Madrid for four years and met his wife there. He missed the mountains and the small town so much, his wife agreed to move to Grazamela. He told me that she was reluctant at first, but now loves it here and they have children. He tells me that it is a great place to raise children. He said that when they moved back 18 years ago, he took out a BIG mortgage and bought this home. It took him a year to renovate it, put bathrooms in each room and upgrade the electric system.

On Wednesday May 30th, we head out for a hike up the hillside from the town. This was one of the hikes recommended by our host Andreas. We head out, dressed in layers, as is cool again this morning, only 16, very cloudy and a few showers. The detailed hike information that Andreas provides for each guest is in a binder and each detailed map and hiking directions are laminated so that you can take it with you. Great for us since we don’t really know the area and the trails in the area aren’t really well marked.

As we are walking up one of the streets, we run into a couple from New Zealand staying at the same guest house. We strike up a conversation and share travelling stories. It is so funny that most people we run into who are driving, have stories to tell about their driving experiences. This couple said that in one small town, they were trying to find a place to park. An elderly gentleman came along and he actually insisted he get behind the wheel and he drove them to the parking lot. He asked for 5 Euro. They said that during their stay in this village, they saw this gentleman several times helping other tourists and always getting 5 Euro!

They were travelling for 5 weeks and said they got quite a chuckle when they contacted their daughter to see how she was doing at home. She has just finished her second year of “Uni” (this is what they call University in Australia and N.Z.). They asked if there was anything of importance in the mail, “Mail” she says. She is supposed to be looking after things when they are gone! She was also astounded as to all the leaves that had fallen on the deck, she had never seen this before. Not sure that she realizes what Mom and Dad do around the house!

We walk to the top of the village and find the trail head quite easily. This hike takes us about two hours and is quite nice, up in a forest above the village. Andreas told us that their spring is about a month late, but notwithstanding, we saw lots of wildflowers. Many similar to what we would see in the Rocky Mountains, but some very different. At the head of the trail an information board shows the type of flora and fauna in the area. Of note, they indicated that the area was known for its orchids, especially a specific orchid (nicknamed the bee orchid) as it has the same colours as a bee. Because of its colouring, it attracts bees and the flower has a sticky substance so the bee automatically pollinates the orchid.

I go a little crazy taking pictures of all the flowers, but some were so unique. Really enjoyed our hike, especially with the views of Grazalema below us. Also came across an abandoned church, very interesting.

Stop for lunch at a small bar and although it is cool, we opt to sit outside. Stop at a store that sells local goods and pick up some locally produced wine. We have also tasted some of the local cheese, which is very good, as is the wine.

OK….my wine consumption has gone up….heck I haven’t even been drinking at home….you only live once, and I am on holidays. White wine seems to be ok with my medication but do miss my red wine!

Late afternoon and I go downstairs to the common room of our guest house to get a couple of glasses of wine. Sitting in the living room is an older couple who arrived yesterday and I had heard them speaking French at breakfast this morning. I asked them if they were from France and they said they were from Belgium. They were from the southern part of Belgium where French is spoken. I told the gentleman that my French was a little rusty and at times I forgot words. I was so taken aback when he told me that if he spoke English the way I spoke French, he would give English lessons. Wow, that was flattering! Great to be able to use my French, we spoke for about 15 minutes, then I said I had to go as my husband was waiting for his glass so he could have his wine. A delightful couple.

Various picture of Grazalema, a lovely quiet “white town”.

Pictures from our hike above the town of Grazalema.

It really has been nice to spend time in a small village and a small guesthouse where you can get to know your fellow travellers.

Off to Sevilla tomorrow, May 31st, for four nights.