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Archive for the ‘Spain-Portugal 2018’ Category

21 – The Museum Mile

This is our last day… tomorrow we will go home. While Maneau and Jake opted to see the sights in the west end (the Almudena Cathedral, Royal Palace and Plaza Espana), Monica and I completed Madrid’s famous Golden Triangle of Art; the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sophia and the Prado.

We started with a hearty breakfast just around the corner consisting of strong coffee, scrambled eggs with half-cooked bacon and hot dogs!! Protein for walking and away we went.

Our first stop was at a gorgeous little church off Gran Via called the Real Oratorio del Caballero de Gracie. It is small and cosy with beautiful frescoes in the dome and “one of Madrid’s best statues of the crucifix”. There is only one stained glass window but that is what drew me… The Last Supper window is exquisite.

Then we bought a 3-museum pass and started with the Thyssen-Bornmisza. This is such a fantastic museum holding works by the greatest renaissance and contemporary masters. Best thing about this museum is you can take photos 😀. I have posted just a sample of our favorites.

Next we found a quick lunch spot right across the plaza from our next museum. We quickly scarfed down our caesar salad and pizza and headed for the Reina Sophia. This is a contemporary art museum featuring works by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, among others. It was weird and wonderful and some of the art was beyond contemplation. Although photos were allowed in most exhibitions, they were not allowed on the Picasso floor. The most famous piece is his “Guernica”, which I fondly remember from my Grade 11 History textbook. So, I downloaded a photo from the internet to include in my post. It is an absolutely haunting depiction of the Spanish civil war.

Almost tired now, we pushed on to the third and largest museum, the Prado. Absolutely no photos allowed anywhere inside the museum 😯  so I have downloaded and included four of the more famous artworks. I can only say this is a stunning museum with incredible artwork from the 12th to 18th centuries. The Raphael’s and Ruben’s are beyond exquisite. After an hour and a half, Mon and I were rushing to get through because fatigue was upon us. One could easily spend an entire day here.

We staggered home to regroup with Maneau and Jake to share stories of our day, snacks of M’nMs and chips and start the packing process. We have covered so much in the past three weeks, our minds are exploded and our bodies worn out. Absolutely fantastic, we can’t quite find the right words. We will sleep and dream of Spain and Portugal. Thank you to Maneau and Jake for being such excellent travel companions and thank you to Monica for coordinating the entire trip… you rock, Mon!

Here are the photo highlights of Day 21- The Museum Mile

20 – Exploring Madrid

My mission today was to see some of Madrid’s churches and most popular monuments. Monica was a trooper to tag along with me. We were on the streets at 8:30 and into Iglesia San Isidro just around the corner from our apartment in time for morning mass. San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid and his remains are held in the church along with his wife, Santa Maria. This church was also the official cathedral of Madrid until the late 1900s when the Almudena Cathedral next to the Royal Palace was complete and assumed the title.

Next we strolled to the post office to mail some postcards and then into the absolutely stunning Basilica of San Francisco el Grande. What a gorgeous church! The windows are beautiful, of course, but really take a back seat to the statuary and frescoes. Photos are not allowed but since Mon and I were the only ones there, I couldn’t resist.

Next we visited the Cathedral of the Almudena at Plaza de la Armeria, next to the Royal Palace (residence of the King). This church was begun in the 1800s but not completed until the mid 1900s when it became the official Cathedral of Madrid. It is lovely with abundant statuary, historical relics and priceless artwork. The windows are contemporary and some are exquisitely vibrant.

We carried on to see Plaza de Oriente, stopped for gelato, strolled through Plaza Espana, and unintentionally into Iglesia Santa Teresa. Nice surprise… beautiful glass… very bright church compared to some others.

Then we walked the entire length of Gran Via. Lots of construction as the city is widening the sidewalks to accommodate the increased tourism. The architecture here is sublimely Spanish… ornate and grand. We paused for lunch at James Joyce Pub for chicken salad and chicken burgers. And then, into the huge and tranquil Retiro Park. This is a wonderful 350 acre green space in an otherwise concrete city. All around people were enjoying the peace and quiet.

Back to the apartment to relax and regroup with Maneau and Jake to share stories of our day. Monica’s i-phone had registered 14.3 kms. Our feet were a bit tired but glasses of wine dulled the throb. Refreshed, the four of us strolled to nearby Plaza Mayor for an excellent meal of paella and sangria at Los Galayos. It was a wonderful day in this wonderful city.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 20 – Exploring Madrid.

19 – Madrid arriving

Up early, packed and ready to go to the airport at 9am. Our Uber taxi was efficient and had us there in 30 minutes. A bit of shopping at the duty free shop and we were on Iberia Air for the 1 hour flight to Madrid. Taxi to our apartment in the city center and we were checked in by 4pm… all thanks to Monica’s excellent planning and coordination.

The sun was shining this afternoon so we took the opportunity for a quick walk about to get our bearings. Although a city of 3 million people, Madrid’s downtown core is easy enough to get across on foot. We saw Plaza Mayor, where Maneau and Jake stayed on a visit 14 years ago… I could tell it was very nostalgic for them. We also saw the backside of the Cathedral of the Almudena next to the Royal Palace (can’t wait to visit this tomorrow). Then we made our way down Calle Atocha to find the restaurant Monica and her girlfriends had discovered three weeks earlier. It is very near Atocha train station so I snapped a couple of photos there to catch the light.

Dinner was superb at the Italian restaurant, Oven. Then home to blog and make sightseeing plans for tomorrow.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 19 – Madrid arriving.

18 – The Douro River

Fortunately, Cyclone Leslie had moved on leaving only her cloudy skirt tails. We were praying for good weather as we had booked a guided tour today with Living Tours up the Douro River valley. We gathered by Sao Bento station at 8am and chatted with other guests as we waited for our coach. We met folks from Canada, Australia, China, Brazil and the U.S.

Our guide, Daniel, greeted us and away we went. The first stop was up the river 20 kms at the charming village of Amarante. It is beautiful with its Roman arch bridge over the river leading to the town square. There we visited the Igreja of Santo Goncalo. There is a statue of him inside the church. My photo is blurry but I included it anyway because of the interesting story that goes with it. Apparently, in days of old, young girls wishing for a husband, would tug on his robe and, if something moved inside the robe 😉, they would get their wish. Today, townsfolk bake delicious pastries to sell outside the church… in the shape of, well you will see in the photos. Monica had one… I did not.

We continued up the valley, climbing higher to 500 meters for a viewpoint stop and our first look at the famous vineyards where port wine is born. The hills are extremely steep forcing the vine roots to dig way down into the slate soil to find water. The road here is narrow and winds around the side of the mountain with sheer drops over the edge. Our driver was very skilled, thank God!

Next we stopped at the village of Pinhao for lunch (included in the tour). All 30 passengers were escorted into a great little restaurant where the tables were set for us and provided with wine (as much as you wanted). The menu choice was vegetable soup to start and either grilled mackerel (me) or pork stew (Mon). Yum!

Moving on, we were now in the heart of wine county and visited the estate of Croft Port. We toured the vineyards and learned that the wine is crushed by foot. It is the best way to avoid breaking the grape seeds which would otherwise add too many tannins to the wine. After only 6 hours of fermentation, grape spitirs are added to fortify the wine and stop any further fermentation. Then the wine is sent down river to Porto to be made into Port and aged in oak barrels. In the tasting room, the guide had prepared 3 tastings for everyone; pink, ruby and tawny (my favorite).

Next on the agenda was a 1-hour boat cruise from Pinhao up the Douro to see the vineyards from water level. The entire valley is covered in vines and it is spectacular to see. No wonder this is one of the world’s most renowned wine regions. With no wind, the river was calm and the temperature just right. We met several other tour boats and even some larger cruise ships.

Then back on the bus for the return trip to Porto, stopping at a couple more stunning view points. It was thrilling to see the large white billboard names of the big Port companies on the hillsides; Dow, Warres, Sandeman, Taylor, etc. At Sabrosa, we saw the birthplace and monument to Ferdinand Magellan, 15th century explorer who charted the East Indies and first to circumnavigate the earth.

Arriving home at 7pm, it was a long day. We walked down to the riverfront for an excellent dinner of tuna and steaks. After dinner, Monica and I strolled along the quay. The night air was filled with music and wonderful smells wafting from the restaurants. Instead of climbing the 15 stories on foot, we took the funicular for 2.50€ (tired feet thanked us) up the hill and strolled out onto Pont (bridge) Luis I. We enjoyed one last time the beautiful view and night lights of Porto. That memory will stick with me forever.

Home for a nightcap of Mateus wine, made here in Portugal up the Douro valley. Here are the photo highlights of Day 18 – The Douro River. 

17 – A Rainy Day in Porto

Formerly a cyclone but reduced to a topical storm, Leslie moved up the coast of Portugal and was sitting just off Porto as we headed out for the day. So the days activities were a bit more subdued. Rain ponchos and good spirits got us going.

We started by visiting the #1 bookstore in Portugal (#3 in the world after those in San Francisco and Buenos Aires), called Livrario Lello. It is famous as one of the inspirations for Hogwarts School in Harry Potter, which makes it a magnet for thousands of icon-seeking tourists every day. Although small, it is very charming and fantastic with finely detailed woodwork, a flamboyant crimson staircase and a stained glass ceiling! Fortunately for us, we got there early enough to avoid the 2-block line-ups we had seen a couple of days earlier. An entry fee of 5€ is deducted from your purchase which certainly encourages visitors to purchase something (good marketing).

Monica and I went from there on our own to look for some artwork as a travel souvenir of Porto. We found a lovely lithograph of a typical Porto street scene onto which the artist has applied gold leaf to accentuate the building windows and lamp lights. In another shop, I found a little painted rooster to add to my menagerie. The rooster is the national emblem of Portugal and legend tells of a dead rooster’s miraculous intervention in saving a man who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death. These souvenirs are found everywhere here… most are made of plastic or glass but this one is metal (safer to transport).

As respite from the rain, we ducked momentarily into the beautiful Igreja Carmo with its exterior side wall fully covered in Azuelo tiles depicting scenes of the founding of the Carmelite order of monks. The interior is also ornately gilded with several side chapels and statues of saints.

We carried on down the streets to the river, window shopping as we went and enjoying the colorful and sometimes strange street art. We found a quaint lunch spot on the river front at Chez Lapin and ordered the cod cakes and grilled chorizo sausage which arrived at our table in flames. I was instructed by the waiter to continue cooking it myself rotisserie style… it was very good and, as usual, came with bread, olives and wine.

Back to the apartment to dry out and relax. Towards evening, my tummy was still off from lunch (too much bread and grease I think) so I opted out of dinner. Monica stayed home with me while Maneau and Jake strolled to a nearby burger restaurant, Honorato Clerigos.

Here are the photo highlights of Day 17 – A Rainy Day in Porto

16 – Viana do Castelo

Today, Jake and I took the bus 1 hour north to the coastal town of Viana do Castelo to see something truly spectacular… the Basilica Sanctuary of Santa Luzia. We took the funicular up the mountain for 3€ (round trip ticket and so worth it). Perched high up on the hills overlooking the town, it is a sight to behold. The crowds were very light this day, much to my delight, and we practically had the church to ourselves. The rose windows (3 of them) are massive and gorgeous as is the alter and the painted stations of the cross encircling it in the chancel. See Gallery/World Windows for all photos.

Jake and I climbed to the top of the sanctuary above the dome for the 360° view up the river and up and down the Portugal coast.. The climb was exhilarating with the final 10 meters of the spiral staircase akin to a squirrel squeezing up through a paper towel tube…very tight.. Then stepping out onto the narrow cupola at 300 meters above sea level just took my breath away. Hard to top that for a “closer to heaven” experience.

Back down to earth, we filled the last hour waiting for the return bus back to Porto strolling through the ancient town of Viana do Castelo. Dating to the 1200s, this town was a strategic provisional stop point for the ships of the Portuguese discovery missions.

Arriving back in Porto just as Monica and Maneau were returning from a movie matinee to see “A Star is Born”, we shared stories over glasses of wine and ordered online delivery pizza from Pizza.com Arte. We were guessing at the ingredients and hoped we weren’t ordering live chickens or goats (lots of laughs).

Here are the photo highlights of Day 16 – Viana do Castelo


15 – Exploring Porto

This was a big walking day. I did an early morning run to mail some post cards and photograph the windows at Sao Ildefonfo church just down the street. The exterior is covered in beautiful azulejo tiled scenes and the windows inside sparkled in the morning sunrise. Then home for a hearty breakfast (left over chicken from last night, eggs and cheese… protein for fuel).

Then we walked and walked over the entire upper levels of Porto seeing Clerigos Church and Tower, City Hall, Igreja Santissima Trinidade, a bustling street market and Balhao Market. Being a Saturday, the streets were absolutely packed with people (testament to the populatiry of this city) so we passed on some of our planned visits because of the long line-ups. Hopefully we can see them later. We strolled all the way down to the river front and back up for an afternoon break at Mirradouro Ignez (incredible views here overlooking the Douro River).

Back to the apartment by 4pm to put up tired feet and enjoy a glass (or two) of great port and red wine with potatoes chips. Relax and laugh. Then at 7pm, we walked a short distance to our supper destination at Petisqueira Voltaria (#5 restaurant in Porto) for a wonderful meal of Francesinha sandwiches, mini steak burgers and delicious charcuterie board washed down with excellent wine.

A gentle rain started to fall as we strolled home (our first rain since we arrived).

Here are the photo highlights of Day 15 – Exploring Porto