Portugal Trip Day 23 (Monday, Oct. 8)

Some weather I’ll feign

My trip I’ll explain:
Portugal dry to a pain,
the Azores gave rain.

This would be our last day in Portugal and so we packed everything up and walked down castle hill. One of the really nice things I remember about that is that in the midst of all that cobblestone they have a flat runway on which you can run your wheeled luggage nearly all the way down to the square.
A nice cross-dressing person showed us a parking lot locker where we could stuff our luggage.
So unencumbered we could shop, mail our post cards, go back (almost) to where we started our trip in the Praça Rossio and share a bench with a very nice Portuguese lady. She helped us eat the last of the food that we couldn’t bring on the flight.
Of course some rain must fall. We needed to call the emergency number on the locker to get some of our luggage out but that obstacle was a small one and we caught the subway to the airport with all our belongings. Actually the strange thing about my rain comment was that it didn’t rain on any of the days we were in Portugal but did, every day, we were in the Azores. Huh.
And the guitalele was no problem to get on board the TAP flight: now that’s an air line that doesn’t annoy their passengers.
Getting home meant getting back to our old lives but isn’t it often the case, as with many vacations, that you’re refreshed and eager to get back to it? Nope. Not this time. We miss Portugal!

Portugal Trip Day 22 (Sunday, Oct. 7)

The Reverse Tower Noun

I climbed tower down
to the cool smooth floor renown
but tunnels play ground.

A 7AM train left for Sintra in the near dark.
Accompanying two friendly Mexican girls we stiffly hiked all the way up to Pena castle in the early morning light and were the first in line to buy tickets. One of the girls held a place for us in the entry line which was very nice since it became a massive queue by the time the ticket booths opened for business. This castle and the 200 hectares of gardens/woods around it look as if they come straight out of a fairy tale.
The current Palácio da Pena was constructed between 1836 and 1854 in Romanesque Revival and neo-Manueline styles. That was over the ruins of a monastery destroyed in the 1755 earthquake except for a beautiful chapel which was a highlight for us. The Palace itself was clearly a place for play and leisure for royalty and untold wealth was funneled through many exceptional artisans to create a building of exquisite beauty.
We bought a ticket for entry into the Moorish Castle nearby as well. Unlike Pena which is imposed on the landscape that, older place, conforms to its mountain top. Though its stone walls have been built and rebuilt many times it strikes me as more natural and less hubristic. Perhaps less sophisticated but its naturalness has a great appeal. I particularly liked the views of the ocean and Lisbon as well as the archaeological exhibits and dig sites.
Our plan was to visit the Quinta da Regaleira next but we didn’t want to go on the narrow road so we considered ourselves lucky, even if we weren’t totally sure about it, when we found a hiking trail down the hill. It went past the base of a rock cliff where several climbers were getting ready to ascend with ropes. Then, surprisingly, it lead to a gate in a stone wall which was open. Inside that we went from the natural to an artificial planned garden for the Sassetti Vila. That was a delightful walk through plants from all over the world, fountains and sculptures.
But if Pena was a fairy tale and the Moorish Castle, a lesson in history then the Quinta da Regaleira is a remarkable blend of both with imagination pushed to the limit of the looking glass and possibly through it. This place is a Disney land for adults.
Italian set-designer and architect Luigi Manini (1848-1936) who also designed the Palace Hotel do Buçaco was the genius behind the design of at least some of this magical place. I could have spent a week there and still not see everything. My favourites were the reverse tower and tunnels, the small but mind-blowingly beautiful chapel and the incredible statues and other art built into the interior rooms of the ‘palace’. Just before the place closed we shared a small portion of dinner at the cafe.
Then we walked down to Sintra for mass. We were early so we went into a roadside cafe to get something to drink and they let us power up our devices.
The 7:15pm mass was at the Igreja de São Martinho in Sintra and the gospel was read in English as well as in Portuguese which was a very pleasant touch.
An 8:50pm train took us back to Lisbon and the Rossio Station

Portugal Trip Day 21 (Saturday, Oct. 6)

The Life and Death of a Flea at the Feira da Ladra

Fred Flea sought bajra,
was stuck in muck on Seurat
fake. Ant cries rah-rah!

We had a nice slow morning: I wrote and Karen played her guitar. Around noon we ventured out into the heat downhill toward the Feira da Ladra or Mercado de Santa Clara (Campo de Santa Clara). Along the way we bumped into and, of course, entered the Church of São Vicente de Fora (Largo de São Vicente) in which I was told I wasn’t allowed to take any more pictures. Too bad since the use of clear glass for windows instead of stained for a brighter interior. It was one of the most beautiful churches I’d seen thus far.
We continued on to the market and got some stuff for the kids. The Feria or Flea Market is a bustling place on a Saturday where you can buy almost anything. Cork wallets to beautiful artwork to cheesy artwork to porn to azulejo tiles to old tools to used teflon frying pans! Oh so tempting.
The Panteao Nacional (Campo de Santa Clara) is a tall landmark locals like to use. It was right next to the market so we went for a look-see. It was a little pricey and since I didn’t consider it a real church and Karen was somewhat indifferent we gave it a pass and walked back to our love nest in the castle walls.
It shouldn’t be surprising when a quiet day, one with less highlights to tick off some crazy list, is one that I recall fondly. After all that occurs, if there’s no re-creation time then when can there be creation time? And make a difference?

Vinho (Vinho Branco,Península de Setúbal): Moscatel – Contra Forte
Queijo (ovelha) Serra da Estrela: Vale da Estrela

Portugal Trip Day 20 (Friday, Oct. 5)

Expensive Bastard Pirates, arr!

We flew Ryan-Arrrrr,
had to pay for wee guitar
now we can’t go far—

Karen and I had to get up very early in the morning to do all we had to do to leave our airB&B duplex in Sete Cidades and get to the airport. I had no problem with the rental car but we did go through an ordeal to get Karen’s guitalele on board the plane. The Ryanair Gestapo insisted it had to be put into luggage and that we pay for it.
Karen was in tears at the idea: that would destroy the instrument for sure and, later, we saw proof of that in Lisbon as the luggage from the hold came down the belt and we saw multiple broken handles, zippers and all kinds of baggage mayhem and horror.
So like on our trip to the Azores I had Karen carry my bag and I put the guitalele over my shoulder and covered the baggage sticker with my iPad and coat. We were the first out on the tarmac since we had been brought up to the head of the line to pay for our 100€ baggage sticker. So I walked right to the baggage guy and pointed questioningly at the stairs to the plane’s font door. He nodded and smiled and I smiled back and quickly I went for the stairs without giving him the guitalele. I hid the instrument at our feet once we boarded.
When we were safely in the air I told Karen that that little guitar needed a name for having survived Ryanair twice.
It was a safe landing at Lisbon and Sylvia, who manages our next airB&B, whisked us directly to the apartment early by car for a small fee. This was to the Beco do Forno do Castelo (and they’re not kidding: it was right in the walls of Castelo Jorge).
We relaxed for a bit, put some wash on and then went to find the closest Pingo Doce. I promptly got us lost BUT we did find the Sé (the Lisbon Cathedral) and toured through both the free and paid portions. It’s a beautiful igreja.
In the Tesouro rooms they had the most incredible (and probably the most expensive) monstrance I’ve ever seen and a piece of liturgical equipment I’d never heard of before and so had to research: an asterisk. Nothing like the Gaulish warrior at all.
Unsure whether the guy selling them was a scam artist or not we bought tickets to a concert in the Se cloister that evening hosted by Lisbon Classical Guitar Concerts.
Then came the time to actually find the Pingo Doce. We bought chicken for supper and enjoyed it in the apartment along with the rest of a red vinho we’d opened earlier and some of our landlord’s homemade ginja licor.
It turned out that our tickets were real and the guitarist Miguel Vieira da Silva was fantastico. His performance was one of the trip highlights for Karen. The stone cloister behind the altar of the Sé had fabulous acoustics. And Miguel’s wonderful selection of music included the Spanish composer Francisco Tarrega, Leo Brower, Alfonso Correia Leite, Thilo Krassman, Angustin Barrios Mangore and more. For anyone interested his biography is here and he’s a member of the Lisbon Guitar quartet which has a great website with lots of music links including this great YouTube video.

Vinho (Vinho Tinto,Alentejano): Ocidente – Reserva 2015

Portugal Trip Day 19 (Thursday, Oct. 4)

Miradouro cats Retort

Cats hold their boxed court
on long points of land athwart
green. Free they cavort.

This was a disappointing day. Our plan was to do Nordeste (Northeast in English) and Furnas. We ended up doing a lot of driving and seeing a lot including the Reserva Florestal de Recreio do Viveiro in Nordeste and the Farol do (Lighthouse) Arnel but neither were too impressive. We piled into the Fiat and just kept driving around to the south coast of São Miguel.
Cats infested two scenic viewpoints on the way: Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego and the even more remarkable Ponta da Madrugada. This latter one has mossy paths and stone picnic tables on the slopes to either side that remind me of a fairy realm.
Steamy Furnas has its bubbling hot springs, boiling mud and many other geothermal wonders. We walked around the town a bit. Then we drove out to the Lagoa das Furnas. The famous Capela de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias (Our Lady of the Victories) arrested our attention from clear across the lake. In a beautiful and romantic gesture and to fulfill a vow he’d made during her terminal illness, José do Canto had a beautiful neo-gothic funerary chapel built for his wife Maria Guilhermina Taveira Brum do Canto. They are both buried inside it.
Karen and walked down the long path to it but it and the botanical garden do Canto had created were both, unfortunately, closed.
Upon reflection we should have stayed in the car as we went around Nordeste and enjoyed the sights. We could have made a few stops at Sossego and Madrugada, done a quick walk through Furnas and spent the rest of the day at the Jardim da Lagoa das Furnas, the botanical Mata José do Canto park and particularly the Capela.
That evening we were busy getting ready to fly out the next morning.

Licor (Lemon,Acores): Licor de Limã

Portugal Trip Day 18 (Wednesday, Oct. 3)

The Moontaneers

Cows up on the slope
never show their gear, their rope.
How are they so dope?

A sunny morning dawned for us as a change but…no. Pause for effect. Then torrential rain descended. I’m reminded of an old saying from Nova Scotia: ‘If you don’t like the weather wait a minute’.
It was a good thing. We’d had an intense schedule on a lot of our vacation so far so the rain was a blessing in a wet disguise. We could enjoy time with each other and relax. Karen played guitar, I wrote, did some tai chi on the garage and we both caught up with our homework: reviews for the various Air B&B’s we’d stayed at in Portugal.
It cleared up in the afternoon and we drove west out of the crater for the first time. At a parking lot at the top we stopped for the view. There’s a trail there that you can take going around the rim. We didn’t do that as it would take several hours but it looked interesting. Instead we carried on to the hot spring at Ponta da Ferraria. This is a U-shaped cove in the Atlantic sheltered by black, sharp volcanic rock.
Several ropes are tied across the cove to hang onto as big waves of cold water came in to mix with the hot water coursing up at the head. Floating on the water was an unappealing light brown scum but there was a lineup behind me at the swimming pool style ladder so I didn’t turn back. Onward. In fact the ‘scum’ was actually a variety of flotsam comprised most surprisingly of floating pumice rock and some vegetative matter.
Floating rocks! That’s not something I saw every day.
This was a truly idyllic and wonderful place to relax.
Indoor hot water but outdoors.
A hot spring but underwater.
There is a spa there but the core is absolutely free unlike the Caldeira Velha which charges admission.
Looking back on this part of our Azores adventure both Karen and I wish we’d spent more time at Ferraria.

Vinho (Vinho Verde,Vinho Verde): Alvarinho – Via Latina 2017

Portugal Trip Day 17 (Tuesday, Oct. 2)

Restaurante da Associação Agrícola de São Miguel comes across

Steak in pepper sauce
is Restaurante’s fare’s boss.
Mmm. An absence loss.

The day started out with lots of rain but that changed to torrential rain before it went back to lots. We took the opportunity to relax, organize, eat a nice breakfast, do some work and dishes.
Manny and Michael met us in Ponta Delgada at the Convent called Santuário de Nosso Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Avenida Roberto Ivens). To get there we had to cross the Praca 5 Outubro with its famous bearded tree supported by pillars to keep it aloft.
The Chapel of the Lord of Miracles in the Convent was an ornate space of honour for this famous statue but I found the church through which you have to proceed to get to it more interesting and beautiful. The story of the nun who made the place famous is beautifully told in azulejo tile paintings on the walls and the ceiling and altar area are gorgeous. The nuns there are cloistered and you can only see them extramuros on very special occasions. However you can donate through a turntable offering device. I put a 5€ note in it and spun it about. Back came a rosary and prayer card.
The next places Manny wanted to show us were on the northern coast. We stopped at the Miradouro de Santa Iria for a great view of the coast which has a colony of stray cats (and we learned later this wasn’t the only scenic spot with a feline component). There aren’t many wild animals in the Azores left: most are ‘domestic’ like the ever-present climbing cows and sheep.
Our next stop was the only place that grows and makes tea in Europe: Gorreana Tea Factory (Plantações de Chá Gorreana) with its beautiful tea hedges all lined up and the very interesting factory where they treat the leaves to make tea. Manny’s ex once work there and we were introduced to his sister-in-law who still does. Michael was interested in all the old equipment in the factory and in the huge spiders outside it.
Very close to where Manny was born is the Restaurante da Associação Agrícola de São Miguel in the Campo Do Santana which had the best steak I’ve had in Portugal! The four of us had a delightful meal and Manny told us many stories about the area including the beach where he’d frequently swam as a child. We went down to check it out after parting from our guides. The beach was completely washed out and there’s no access down to the water any longer.
As we drove back we stopped at the mall in Punta Delgada to get supplies and so arrived in Sete Cidades once again in the dark, though this time we used the correct road.

Portugal Trip Day 16 (Monday, Oct. 1)

Caldeira Velha Park Geothermals

Stone hot tub lingers
‘neath the furnace water falls
and puckers fingers.

The night before I wasn’t sure what things looked like in the dark and the mist. Well. It turned out that was a very good thing. Now I knew I could drive those crazy roads because I’d already done it. Without the terrifying background scenery or, more importantly, the backdrop.
We’ve driven the same roads more than twice now in daylight and the steering wheel still probably has nail marks from the way I was holding it. The edge of the cliff is always so close when you’re driving up the volcano and then down into it that you forget how to close your mouth after the silent screams and stream of ‘oh shit, oh shit, oh shit’!
But the day started fine… we stayed safely in the crater and went for a walk down to the Blue Lake. There are two lakes or lagoa, blue and green and the air B&B was nearest to the larger blue lake. It was so quiet that it came as a complete surprise when we learned that the other part of the duplex was the house for a working farm. They’ve got dogs, cats, cows and a small barn at the back of their property and the land behind our place too. The backyard is partially walled by masonry and by very thick and tall shrubs which protects several fruit and other exotic tree species. A flat-topped garage affords a great view of the surroundings including the many cows and crater walls rising up in a ring all about.
We got the Fiat all prepped and out of the secure gate under the hedge (the only way to leave the Magic Place, the name for our Air B&B location) and drove down to the other end of the blue lake. We’d read there was a Túnel there and were intrigued. At the end of a very bumpy road we found a parking lot by a gate-less pasture going up the side of the crater from which the cows and one horse seemed completely uninterested in escaping.
A small trail led to a hole up in the slope of the cliff side that could be reached by steep earthen steps. We looked inside and there was nothing more than liverworts, mosses and graffiti. That clearly was not the Túnel.
We kept walking and found a concrete raceway going to a tunnel into the side of the caldera just above the level of the lake. It seems that if the lake floods this can drain the excess water. Or perhaps it goes clear through the caldera! I’ve no idea. Nothing besides fear of the dark stops an intrepid traveller from venturing into the Túnel. In fact there’s a light way, way in the distance you can walk to. I wasn’t in an intrepid mood so I only went in a few metres.
Manny and Michael, our official unofficial Azores guides, met us at the Miradouro da Vista do Rei where you can see a breathtaking view of Sete Cidades and, if you but cross the road, of the ocean. The twin lakes, the blue and green lagoa on a clear day will easily demonstrate how they inspired a legend of lost love. Or how pictures of them are often used to show up the Azores.
Up there is also the location of an incredible abandoned resort that was built years ago and which won a very prestigious world-wide award and went bankrupt the same day. What an view you could have from its mossy and overgrown balconies but, alas, that would only work when you weren’t in the middle of a cloud which happens nearly every night and morning.
Manny’s next location was the ‘Miradouro da Boca do Inferno’ which translates into ‘Scenic Viewpoint into the Mouth of Hell’. That is on a spine of land that juts out far above two sheer valleys and shows that Sete Cidades was actually not a single crater but several. Still, a frightening name for an extraordinary scenic view that is definitely worth the hike. And it would have been quite the sight into veritable mouths of a hell of a lot of lava at one point.
A 40 minute drive brought us to the ‘Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha’ for which Manny had warned us to bring our bathing suits. Geographically our trip went from the centre of the western end to nearly the middle of the oblong island.
Anyway, Caldeira Velha is actually a series of hot springs that have been channelled into four different stone hot tubs. The topmost one isn’t really ‘hot’: it’s more of a warmish pool. But what makes it really cool is the fact that it’s fed by a waterfall along an orange-tinged flange of rock. That’s probably because of the sulphur-loving bacteria in the water. The whole place smells of rotten eggs.
But then there are the lowest three pools. They’re between 36 and 32°C. Very nice. There is another pool cordoned off above those three that no one can go in unless they want to be cooked: it’s between 60 and 100°C. Despite the smell we all loved it.
Manny and Michael had family obligations so we parted at that point.
From our parking spot uphill from Caldeira Velha we decided to go up. And up. Up. And more up. Until we got to the frigging top of the mountain. The viewpoint up there is called ‘Miradouro da Barrosa’ and is so high up you can actually see large stretches of both the north and the south shores of the island of São Miguel at the same time. Phew!
But Manny wasn’t done with us yet. He’d mentioned the waterfall ‘Salto do Cabrito’ if we were interested in seeing it on the way back. Well. The road down to that was so steep we couldn’t see the bottom from the inside of the car. We backed up and do you think we’d just leave? Nope.
Karen and I parked the shitbox Fiat and walked down that road which snaked down three incredibly steep graded cutbacks down to a stream. Even with the low water levels the waterfall was pretty, I’ll admit, but we didn’t get back to our place in Sete Cidades until just after sunset.
We walked to the restaurante Lagoa Azul which served us excellent ribs and chicken dishes. And the appetizer was a big wedge of Sao Jorge cheese. It was an excellent meal and then we walked home admiring the many religious azulejo tiles. A wonderous, relaxing day.

Vinho (Tinto,Alentejano): Frederico, Jorge e Vasco – Implicit 2015

Portugal Trip Day 15 (Sunday, Sept. 30)

First impression, João Paulo II International Airport, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

Stepping off plane, push
to terminal, rain rush.
Slurp the air so lush.

Peter & Nadine very graciously drove us to the airport so we could embark on the next leg of our vacation: our flight to the Azores (the flying part is very appropriate since Açores is the northern Goshawk [Accipiter gentilis]). Our greatest worry was for Karen’s guitalele as we boarded since it was too long of a short guitar for the overhead bins or to fit in our biggest luggage and too delicate for cargo. So we redistributed. Karen’s pack went into my luggage, she carried my pack and I carried it over my shoulder and under my raincoat (draped quite jauntily much like a bullfighter’s cape). Somehow that was good enough to get by the Ryanair goons at the check in and at the gate. Or maybe they were too surprised that anyone had bought a cork hat!
We had some torrential rain when we landed in the afternoon but just as I was braving it out to get to our shitbox rental Fiat it changed to spitting. Since it was Sunday so we went to mass at Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião in Ponta Delgada (the cathedral in Punta Delgada).
Not knowing where to go after that and being hungry (it was a Ryanair flight after all) we drove east for a bit and stopped at the first restaurant we saw. And texted our buddy Manny who was visiting from Guelph with his son Michael and had a short reunion there.
Then: provisions! The Continente Modelo in the Parque Atlantico mall (the biggest we saw on the island) is like a Walmart grocery plus store. The thing I don’t understand is why an island grocery store would be called ‘continente’. Also, how you are supposed to contain your bladder while in it? But it had a great selection of food and wine!
By the time we’d finished it was getting dark and Karen and I had to locate our Azores base of operations which was half a duplex Air B&B in Sete Cidades. And Google was our guide. Hmph. While the road may have been the ‘shortest’ route we learned later it was by no means the fastest. Or driest. But I think I’ve figured out since that that wasn’t rain… we were high enough that we going through the bottom of clouds as they scurried around the old volcanic peaks.
It was a crazy ride in the dark but we finally arrived and entered through the hedge arched gate into a very narrow driveway.
Our quiet castle might be in the old crater of a volcano but it was a cozy place with all kinds of antiques and local art on the wall including two old Portuguese Guitarras and a Viola do Fado. And an L-shaped sectional couch hard to get out of and a very comfy bed in the master bedroom.

Vinho (Tinto,Lisboa): Mula Velha 2015

Portugal Trip Day 14 (Saturday, Sept. 29)

Recycled Sound to Bandy

The Artisandy
is reclaimed music’s dandy,
instrument handy.

It was time to leave our ‘Porto’ Air B&B (#51) and our intention was to drive back down to Lisbon. Having heard about that incredible walled town we decided to stop at Óbidos along the route. It’s aqueduct is in much better repair than that at Évora just like its wall. Many tourists and Portuguese on day trips go to this town of Queens for its beauty and we weren’t disappointed.
Ahead of the main gate were artisans showing off their wares at various stalls. We purchased some cheese from a young lady and joined a crowd who’d gathered around a man demonstrating his many musical instruments made with recycled trash including a bagpipe made with a box-wine bladder bag. A corner inside the gate was occupied by an older bearded man playing an amplified four string mini-guitar with a cut away. Later, as we were leaving, Karen got in a verse and chorus of “All of Me”. A beautiful moment!
The narrow roads within the castle and its strollable walls were a delightful contained medieval microcosm. I liked, in particular, its garden containing very large succulents.
We were trying to get to an Óbidos restaurant in the Opal outside the walls and I nearly slid into a building on the smooth tiles of a very steep stretch of road. Only luck and the fact that the car behind backed up to give me room saved me there so, frustrated, we left Óbidos. That turned out to be a good decision since it meant we went to the next town south, Bombarral, where Karen picked an excellent restaurant (Casa da Lú, Lj, R. Cidade de Nampula 1N). The food was superb:

  • Carne de Porco à Alentejana (Pork)
  • Bacalhau com Natas (Codfish with cream)
  • The women each had a Portotonic (a mixed drink of port and tonic)

Our friendly waitress told us about a nearby park and wilderness. The section behind the city hall included an elegantly landscaped garden centered with four statues each depicting a season. The woods were very dry but included some very old cork oaks.
We went straight to P&N’s Ideal Place Air B&B close to the Castle on Rua Manuel Soares Guedes upon reaching Lisbon. It has an incredible view but is not an ideal place to park as it’s such a very steep hill. It’s hard to walk much less drive. This is the same Castle Hill from the roller coaster Trolley 28 route! The locals choose insane places to park often half up on the curb. I had to go twice around before I found a flatter place to park near the summit.
For our last night together we walked to Fado Maior (Fado na Morgadinha on Largo Peneireiro 5). It’s on a tiny crossroad or cross alleyway, one of which is so narrow that I could stretch my arms wide and touch opposing walls. The only motorized vehicle there were motorcycles two of which we saw delivering pizza on the way. This fado place was different than the Tasca Do Chico. The guitarists and singers were all younger, seemed less traditional (the bearded guy in his late twenties on the Guitarra warmed up with some rock and roll tunes with a half smile on his lips) and were very entertaining. Lots of passion there. And the food and wine were excellent.