December 29, 2013
We left Fatima for a day, to visit Coimbra. But maybe that was not a perfect idea. Fatima has a very good atmosphere, which is understandable, a pilgrimage town, lots of good energy. Therefore we decided to stay another night in the hotel of Sao Antonio in the very center – where we were the only guests. And the trip to Coimbra and back didn’t look a long trip. Well, it got long, because on the way back we got lost in Leiria…Completely lost in the dark of a December evening, coming and coming to the same place somewhere in the outskirts of Leiria. No signs, no directions, and the nice and helpful people in roadside cafes were useless. Whatever they told us – we did and came to the same place. It was horrible. had to go back to the highway and go to Fatima through the long way on the roads that were marked. So it goes…
On the way to Coimbra the smaller roads were marked well enough and we stopped in Pombal – named after their very big figure Marquez de Pombal, or vice verso. A cute town, a nice museum of folk art, very recommendable!
Then on the way we had to find Coinbriga – which was not very easy, but we did it. It is an ancient Roman ruin site – there was Roman city on the way from Rome to the sea shore, turned now into a museum. But because of the lack of funds, only partially is covered with roofs, lots of precious mosaics that were the floor of the mansion – are now under the elements…
While looking for Coimbriga and driving the main road back and forth we were astonished to see prostitutes here and there literally standing by the road. In the middle of the day and in the middle of nowhere, o big city around. We wondered – who are their clients?
At last we reached Coimbra, the city of the oldest university in Europe, or maybe only in Portugal. Here is the view from Santa Clara side. There is some interesting Santa Clara monastery there. but we couldn’t find a way to it…Several hours in Coimbra are definitely not enough, I would allocate a couple or three days.
So then we drove to the very center, easy to find, on the other side of the river and parked pour car immediately there, a comfortable location for university visitors. And went up the old winding streets:
The university plaza is spectacular, as well as all the corridors and halls that one can see entering the most of the doors. But some are for ticketed visitors only. Which is understandable. I saw the library in Rick Steve’s Europe. But in our case- wegot so tired. especially me, while climbing this rather steep hill, then looking frantically where they sell tickets for the visit – that when I saw where, which was on the other side of the gates, I lost interest in going all the long way back. Visitors usually come from a tram or bus stop, few of them climb, so maybe that is why they sell tickets from tat side:
The buildings there a huge and it takes a lot of walking to see the old town. So I went towards Nova Se -New Cathedral, saw it inside and also the museum there and then noticed an art museum close by, which was so worth visiting! There are many stories of different collections, from all ages and countries, but the most impressive were the cellars – the very bottom part of the museum – the ancient roman ruins,maybe of an ancient city.
Walking in Coimbra is a little more impressive than in other Portugal towns because of the spirit and creativity of young people -you never know what you see on the next corner:
And the buildings reminded mes some of Barcelona.
December 27, 2013
I have been not blogging for a while but as every job has to be finished – I’d like to finish describing our very saturated trip to Portugal, which happened already a year ago. There are some good tips for those who decide to go there.
So as I mentioned in my last Blog, we reached Nazare on the sea in the evening of December 11th. Saw the older ladies with with many skirts holding signs offering rooms, and also young ladies dressed in a modern way. The flat we rented was from a young lady – it had a kitchen and a view to the sea. But very cold…All the rooms in Portugal were very cold- what could we expect – it was December! The country is not used to cold weather and also – nobody travels in December. The beds were very hard. Everywhere we stayed. Maybe they like it. So the next morning we walked along the sea – there is a good tile walkway, or you can walk on the sand.
There is a town or extension of Nazare on the hill in front.One can take a funicular or drive up to there. We had our tiny car so we drove. it is called Sitio, has a nice square. church with a magic picture and a little chaplet with a magic Holy Mary:
It would be nice to stay there in a warmer month, so we rushed to do our sightseeing. This day was filled with monasteries and churches. First half an hour away is Alcobaca:
It is the biggest church in Portugal and the monastery was also outstanding. Known for the two sarcophagus of their king Pedro and his beloved Ines whom he married and crowned only after her death because his father killed her in order not to get a non royal into their family. But Pedro’s love was so great that here they are both buried in elaborately carved sarcophagus ‘s right by the main altar right in front of each other so that during the day of Rapture – they will wake up and see each other first of all:
The monastery is also very impressive but I guess – more like most of Portugal’s monasteries:
Here I am sitting in their kitchen on the edge of their water source – a spring came from a hole here directly into the water basin and was used for cooking. The lower picture is of their chimney – under which they cooked a whole pig or cow…Makes you wonder what a number of monks they had and explains why at some point in history their kings closed all monasteries and kicked out the monks.
The next stop – a small town spread out on picturesque hills -Porto de Mos – it was so nice, that one can allocate several days to stay there. As well as Don Kichote could stay there, too, for there were old fashioned windmills seen here and there on the hill tops. It had a cute green roofed castle and a typical cemetery by its side:
I like cemeteries, but to see coffins in those mausoleums,not old ones, but freshly buried – was a little too much…A very strange custom.
This next big church is in Batalha - a very impressive one, also with some king couple buried here- holding hands! But we were already filled up with monasteries so just visited and church and moved on. Somehow the little ones are perceptible to me:So we reached Fatima for the night. This is how we saw it that evening:
It was Christmas season.but evidently – not the season for pilgrimages. It was good to see it so spacious and empty, with lots of hotels around that were also empty. Ours had this colorful house in front,so playful:
That was a very saturated day, we even drank magical water from a fountain in the main plaza and listened to a rosary read in the chapel where Virgin Mary showed herself to pastinhos several times. It was a good day!
February 3, 2013
Next morning we drove to get one more glimpse of Cabo da Roca, it was nice to see it with the sun shining from the East, as usual – there were crowds of Oriental tourists already. And then drove towards Sintra again with the idea of driving there on another road, but at some point we lost the main road. found ourselves on a super narrow road through some village, scared to death to drive there – what if a car from the in front appears? but no cars appeared, so we managed to get to the main road, but not on the right spot, had to skip Palacio de Moserrate, and we came back to where we were yesterday and then drove to the side to see one more palace – Quinta da Regaleira – it belonged to a collector and bibliophile and was designed by an italian architect Luigi Maninin in a neo-manueline style:
We wanted to visit this palace, for it didn’t look too big, it had a very cozy yard with the little church, but…we were too early there, and to wait for an hour was not convenient. In retrospect – one must allocate at least 3 days for Sintra alone. There are so many palaces, castles, chapels, monasteries and other fancy houses of different eras besides huge parks with long walkways, fantastic vistas and viewpoints. I would say – the Sintra Park is a very amazing place to visit and a very good place for those who like active rest with cultural elements.
Here is another palace of Seteais. We didn’t plan to see it. just wandered around and came to its gardens. The main entrance was very picture perfect in the morning sun:
From there we drove North. You don’t need to drive far away – no time even to relax in the car – there is another town with a monastery and a palace or castle, then there is another and another…Yes, lots of monasteries. It is even hard to remember their names or distinctions, big ones, huge ones, with impressive front spaces and tall Gothic naves (some a Baroque) in the churches…So you stop in the middle of almost each town, get out, walk towards the castle, enjoy the old streets. the views, get back into the car and 10-20 min to another town. Here is Mafra monastery:
It was Monday, the museum was closed,so we missed the big library on display, but went to wander in the park behind the monastery:
The alleys were like rays of sun – in each intersection there was a statue. And here is Torres Vedras, our next stop:
Modern buildings pleased me a lot, their architects are very creative, and I can’t say which I liked more – the old or the new?..Then on the way we see those two humongous figures -it is Christmas time, so here is the Nativity scene..:
So we had to stop and turn around to document this “humor” or a serious thing, I don’t know. Evidently the real monks built those statues, because at least this monastery seemed to be functioning with the gates closed:
There was a vineyard on the left, seemed that monks were having a good time making wine. There was a point in Portugal’s history when monasteries acquired so much land and real estate that one of their kings kicked them out of the country. Seems like they are coming back and settling in much newer buildings.
Here we reached Obidos – named after an artist who lived there. the town is all enclosed withing 14th century walls, so you park your car behind the walls by this ancient Roman aqueduct and then go up through the tiled gate:
to the main pedestrian street with whitewashed houses:
Kids are so important in Portugal that even without understanding their language one can see groups of them organized by kindergarten teachers for certain excursions or sight-seeings:
The center of Obidos – to imagine – this town was a wedding present from kind Dinis to Isabel of Aragon in 1282…
Here I liked the very old and big vine Andrei liked the cats :-)…
It is an amazing town and I would recommend to stay there at least overnight…maybe in one of the fancy hotels, like this, established in a former castle or fortress:
But we rushed. as usual, to see more and more…On the way still stopped at Caldas da Rainha because of its hot springs, but none of them are now available neither for public nor for patients…
it was getting dark once we reached Nazare -only because we saw it in Rick Steve’s Europe on our public TV – otherwise we would have stopped somewhere on the way. But we were curious to see those little women wearing many skirts and looking for renters to their apartments on the beach front of the town. Believe it or not – they were there, even on an empty evening of December…waiting for us with their signs in front of them. And not all of them were little and wearing those national many skirts. The one who lead us to our apartment was a modern looking young woman, who apparently is one of those people who are drowning in debts and dragging the country to the same place, too. Seems that all the buildings on the ocean front street are apartments for rent and all of them except the one we took were empty…all the window shutters were down, no cars…But we didn’t suffer because of that. Were happy at least to help them in this way.
January 31, 2013
We went to Portugal in the beginning of December – not the best time to go. But so went the travel plans combined with a trip to Lithuania. However , the weather was not as bad as I expected. Though we got our portion of rain/ At the beginning of the trip the days were sunny, therefore the nights were cool, close to freezing. That would be not so bad. but they are not used to heaters. Their summers are so hot that they must be enjoying the cool. On the other hand - there are almost no travelers. We in the hotels used to be almost or the only ones there. So after two freezing nights in different places we decided to stay at least two nights in one hotel so tat we could leave the heater through the day when we are traveling and come to a warmer room in the evening. That would be my main advice in case you decide to travel in December :-). They also said that closer to Christmas there will be more visitors. Here is the first hostel we stayed in Lisbon after arival, where a beautiful Lithuanian girl is working as a hostess. The world is full of us…:
The rooms were good, the hospitality also outstanding -we were met with hot wine, the rooms were private and not bad, except that as we later found to be wherever we stayed – the beds are very hard in Portugal…Hotels or hostels alike…
As we had only 8 days to see as much as we can – we drove out of Lisbon and rushed to see Sintra, only less than an hour away from Lisbon:
This is the center of Sintra. Across the square the Royal Palace of Sintra is very prominent with its two super large chimneys:
It seemed that Sintra is located by a mountainous park all saturated with different kinds of palaces and promenades:
The modern sculptures impressed me most of all…more than palaces. Though we didn’t visit them form inside, had not too much time and somehow lost interest. The parks were so luscious green, tall trees, nice paths, beautiful drives in that big “Paisagem Cultural” that we didn’t want to loose time while seeing only one of those palaces.
Tiles on the walls, special stone cobbles on the streets- they were everywhere we drove and went- i was wondering who made such an enormous number of those little street “squares”?
Here is the little car we rented – Smart. As you can see – the parking is almost empty…
Each time we come to our car – it made me laugh and wonder how can we manage to fit our not so small selves into it. But we did and felt very comfortable in it. It was even enough space for our small luggage. In addition it could ride pretty fast and was economical on gas, which is much more expensive than in the US and also than in Lithuania, too.
One of the buildings in those endless parks, decorated with cork tree. Lower is the Palace of Pena – they were all summer residencies for this or that monarch of Portugal:
This natural stone-wood combination reminded me of Orvidu Sodyba in Lithuania… So we wandered around, then found a tiny village close to the most Western Point in Europe and settled there for the night in an apartment that was rented by this tiny man:
As there was still some time till sunset, we visited the Most Western Point:
The evening was really warm, the Atlantic ocean was calm, no wind – too good to be true…
and then even drove to the Cultural Park again and walked around an abandoned monastery:
From this mountain we saw the sun sink into the ocean…
That was a good day!
November 21, 2012
On February the 6th Andrei was 50 years young. We had to celebrate! The first part of celebration was “Swimming with the dolphins”, and that was super! They sell tickets to the attraction everywhere. There are three levels or sorts of packages. We picked the most inexpensive, it was around $100 US per person. We went to the delphinarium, with a taxi about 10 min drive, at about 9 am. The activities there start at 10 am. but before that we had a wonderful chance to stay in the beautifully built grounds by ourselves, observing the trainers feed and doctor the dolphins in special parts of the whole big fenced area from the sea. They also swam loops with the dolphins at their sides as if competing or keeping company. They are the smartest creatures from the animal world I ever observed. And they seemed to be the most loyal. I never noticed a dolphin not fulfilling the orders…It was very touching:
The dolphins were having fun before their very tense work day. They were jumping in coordinated manner in twos or threes, quite a spectacle:
Then at 10 am the boats from Cancun started coming and crowds of tourists occupied the area. No more peace and quiet/ Everyone was lined up into groups, depending on the ticked they bought (the most expensive tickets were $150 US). We got instructions, left pour clothes in the safe boxes and lined up for our attractions in groups of 12. WE were taken to certain areas on the bridge and then went down onto a lower bridge in the water up to waste. Each group had a dolphin trying to please us…poor guy…At first he had to greet us, then one by one we would step up to the front of your bridge and he would come and kiss with you or reach your hands or lay in your arms like a baby:
The nicest two tricks were when we had to swim further from the bridge and wait with a special sign making with our hands for the dolphin to come and pick us from the bottom. The first time he pushed my heel and I was swimming like a rocket. And the second time he came from under me on his back, with his belly fins in front of me- I grabbed them and he pulled, it was fantastic! Those amazing dolphins, how can people be cruel to them…it breaks my heart.
So the program lasted around an hour during which my teethe were shaking, so cold to stand in that water without moving much. After that – whatever you want to do. they feed you buffet lunch, then you can lay in hammocks, swim in their little pools and play in the fountains, or go and watch the sharks in a special tank, or snorkel in a cage with manta rays.
There were also a manatee and a sea lion – you could get an individual encounter with them for a special price.
What I did was watch others have fun with dolphins and watch the sea and birds, so that the day went by very fast. It is hard to understand how those cute pelicans balance on the wire fence with their water shoes…
Here is a man who bought the mos expensive package – their group had 2 dolphins and he is pushed by both on each of his soles.
After the wonderful encounter with nature and a little sad that poor dolphins have to work so hard for their fish, we walked some 2 km to a place which Leo and Susan ( also from Zion ) rented, on the beach. They had a table set right on sand and Susan had a dinner cooked, it was a good celebration of Andrei’s Birthday!
The next morning I went for a walk with Nancy and Craig to the other end of the island – 7km – to the very tip of it. On the way there were beautiful, creative villas, this one resembling a shell:
there was a peculiar cemetery:
at the very tip of the island there is a sculpture park:
and the very very tip looks like this, as if two seas meeting:
with Nancy and Craig having fun:
We returned home by bus – were lucky to nice on on our way. there are some buses there, but nobody knows their schedule because there is none :-).
The trip back was easy, so much easier than going and coming form Thailand…So this is my big suggestion – go to Yucatan! people are friendly, mellow, the food is great the hotels, motels and hostels are clean, the sights are beautiful and interesting, what else can one wish?