October 2016 —
Our trip begins in the capital city of Lisbon. Once a very dirty port city at the mouth of the Tagus River, it is now spotlessly clean and inviting. Its citizens are fiercely proud of this city, and quickly pick up any small piece of trash they see on their pathway. Lisbon’s labyrinthine streets, with their Arab-flavored districts, carry the mystique of 16th-century navigators who sailed on the winds to this wealthy trade city. Home to the Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower, built in 1514, this city stares out to the sea as if waiting for the courageous captains that would bring back foreign treasures to its shores.
Walk the beautiful black-and white tiled streets and stop at one or more of the wonderful sidewalk restaurants which serve some of the best seafood in the world.
We seldom spend time or money shopping on our travels, but on this trip I was on a mission. In the heart of Lisbon’s refined Chiado neighborhood, there is a shop no bigger than a broom closet; enter and your nose practically hits the wall. This one-of-a-kind glove shop is to be experienced. This shop is Luvaria Ulisses. Your elbow is placed on a velvet pillow and your fingers are measured down to the last millimeter. The owner, Carlos Carvalho (measuring me in the photo), offers you gloves in any color and embellishment. The price start at about $54.
But a trip to Lisbon is not complete until you join the locals and sit for awhile in the Rossio, Lisbon’s main square. Since the middle ages, it has been a grand space, with ornate French fountains, where during the Inquisition heretics were burned at the stake. Now locals read newspapers, drink coffee at one of the many small cafes, or get a shoe shine.
We were overwhelmed with this beautiful city. We went expecting all the negative things we had heard in the past, but Lisbon has gotten its act together. A walk in any direction takes you to fortresses, castles, quaint alley ways with their openwork balconies, colorful buildings, and so much more. There is so much history and beauty here that we would not hesitate to visit this beautiful city again.
From Lisbon we a took 4-hour coach ride to the beautiful town of Porto where we boarded our Viking ship for a week of sailing across Portugal on the Douro River, aptly named the “River of Gold”.
Porto is one of Europe’s oldest cities. It is an enticing maze of steep, narrow streets, picturesque plazas, tiled churches, pastel-hued houses, and Portugal’s most popular export, Port wine. The grapes used for Port wine are grown in the Douro Valley overlooking the Douro River. Aged in matured oak casks, when this exquisite wine is bottled it is immediately ready for drinking with no need to decant. Cheers!
One can not talk about Porto without talking about its beautiful tiles. The tiles are used everywhere–almost like we use bricks: on the inside and outside walls of buildings, roadways as paving stones, and in artwork.
Our week of sailing the Douro River, through breathtaking wine country, passed too quickly. Stops in lovely little towns such as Guimaraes, Barca d’Alva, Peso da Regua, Lamego, and Pinhao made amateur photographers of us all.
And of course, there were many wineries to be visited and experienced–I loved my “I Love Lucy” experience! But the most popular winery of all was Portugal’s most recognized icons, Mateus Palace. Here is the birthplace of the famous Mateus wine known around the world for its unique-shaped bottle.
We actually entered Spain twice on this trip. The first time was on the eastern edge of the Douro Valley, where we took an excursion into Salamanca. The dance of flamenco is very much loved here, and we were treated to a wonderful demonstration of this beautiful art form. The singer is always the center of the flamenco group, while the dancer interprets the words through percussive footwork and intricate hand, arm and body movements. The guitarist provides accompaniment to both.
Our second entry into Spain was after we returned to Porto. We disembarked our ship and took a bus to the historical town of Santiago de Compostela. This ancient city is one of the world’s oldest pilgrimage destinations. Northern walking routes have crossed Spain, leading to Santiago, for more than 1,000 years. Thousands of pilgrims walk 20+ days, some more than 500 miles, with only one goal–to complete the journey and pray at the UNESCO site believed by many to be the burial place of James the Apostle, the brother of Jesus. But whether you are an occasional tourist or a devoted pilgrim, this is a beautiful city to visit.
But, the measure of most countries is found in their people and the food: