We have transitioned from Portugal to southern Spain, after spending a full week in the Lisbon and Porto areas. Our Lisbon apartment was in the old historical city center so we had beautiful views of the downtown skyline and were at the foot of the Sao Jorge Castle. We got our exercise going from ground floor to the fourth floor apartment (see spiral stairway photo), but the view was worth the climb and Nuno, the apartment owner, was a wonderful source of local attraction information and gracious host. His welcome package of Portuguese red wine, fresh bread, and a delicious soft sheep/goat cheese wheel helped make an enjoyable transition from Greece to Portugal. There is an endless list of historical buildings to visit in Lisbon but of course these are almost contemporary compared to the ancient ruins that we saw in Greece and Turkey. The churches were most impressive some dating back into the 14th and 15th centuries. The level of detail in the statues of Christ, Mother Mary, and the various saints was remarkable, particularly as these Portuguese artists succeeded in communicating their vision of Christ’s suffering on the cross during crucifixion. At almost all of these older churches there are the remains of notable individuals contained in sarcophagi (stone caskets), similar to what we saw in the Greek and Roman temples - bishops, notable politicians, nobility, artists, poets, and even Vasco de Gama, a famous Portuguese explorer. Returning to our friend Vasco, his image is present in many buildings and mentioned in numerous tourist publications, befitting his remarkable feat of being the first European to establish a sea route from western Europe to India via the southern tip of Africa. This accomplishment enabled Portugal to establish a seafaring empire bringing great wealth to this small country, however, short-lived due to the untimely death and disappearance of the Portuguese king in north Africa. A lack of royal successors provided a chance for Spain to finally accomplish their historic quest of gaining control of Portugal and without any bloodshed. Unfortunately for Portugal, most of the navigational expertise and naval power was transferred and incorporated into the Spanish navy, forever extinguishing the Portuguese Golden Era. Moving up the coast from Lisbon to Porto, provided some insight into the birthplace of Port wine. From what I understand, port wine was born out of a need to preserve the wine on its trip to England and thusly, the addition of brandy to the wine stock. This area along the Douro River moving inland from Porto had a rich history of characteristic rabelo river boats filled with oaken wine casks, threading down the rapids infested river and delivering to waiting ocean going vessels. Ironically, these unique boats were replaced initially by larger boats that were possible after the river was dammed and a lock system enabled transport more efficiently, but eventually the omnipresent semi-truck now is the main transport vehicle making even the river lock system obsolete. Portuguese people are friendly, helpful, industrious, but similar to other countries that we've visited, concerned about the economy, unemployment rate, and changing demographics related to immigration. According to one couple we visited with, a yearly salary of $14,000 in Porto should provide a very comfortable life, but yet rent was not cheap, groceries were in line with American prices, and transportation is costly. Nonetheless, Portugal is now becoming the retirement destination of other western Europeans due to lower cost of housing, more ideal climate, and proximity to European sightseeing venues.
Looking down our apartment building staircase from our fifth floor to the ground level. Good cardio workout with the four suitcases. Cindy enjoyed this staircase more than anyone. Her suitcase was lost for a while in the Munich airport so it had to be delivered the next morning. When Annabelle and i were out grocery shopping, she was buzzed from the ground floor by the suitcase delivery person and by the time she got downstairs he was driving off. She raced back upstairs to call the dispatcher and alert the driver she was home, but fortunately, he was only parking his car. Going back downstairs, again, she was able to intercept the driver, receive the suitcase and manage to get it back up the five flights. I can't repeat her expletives on this forum, but needless to say she had a very emotional experience.
This is a model of a Portuguese naval caravel, the craft designed by these innovative sailors that enabled them to become a leading naval power and discover new trade routes to Africa, India, and the East Indies. This boat would be a similar design as used by Vasco de Gama and was not much bigger than some of the finer San Diego sailing boats.
This Portuguese sailor spent a little too much time counting his money instead of enjoying life - a good lesson for all of us! We went through a wonderful "World of Discovery" museum in Porto that illustrated the development and extent of Portuguese navel might including a "Disneyesque" water boat ride through several different historical venues illustrating Portugal's foray into African, South American, Indian, and Chinese colonization.
Now, these human skeletal remains are the real thing! In a Franciscan Monastery in Porto, there was a catacomb under the church that had many coffins of deceased monks, priests, and bishops, but in addition a lower floor contained a relative graveyard of dismembered skeletons, presumably of the monks that liver there over several centuries. Annabelle was not very comfortable with this viewing and made a quick exit after a cursory look.
A rabelo boat loaded with port wine oaken casks just after making a harrowing journey down the Douro river from the vineyards farther east in the mountain - this would be true if observed 50 years ago, but now this boat is simply staged for the benefit of illustrating this historical boat for tourists.
All along the Douro River, there would be these absolutely lovely small homes and estates with accompanying terraced vineyards or citrus groves. Considering the reasonable price of real estate in Portugal, it made me reconsider the sanity of my California real estate investment for a small city lot and minuscule vegetable boxes to feed my agrarian instincts.
"Ohhh, look at that tile!". This was a common refrain from Cindy as we coursed through Portugal because many of the homes, churches, or public buildings have beautiful ceramic tiles on the outside walls as either decorative, as in this building outside the Porto train station, or functional as an impervious barrier to the elements. Sometimes the tile told a story of past victories or religious figures as on this building or simply served to colorfully decorate the outside of a home or store. Ah, to never again be required to paint your house - maybe this tile idea is not such a bad one!