Northern Portugal 2006

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This is a medieval walled city an hour's drive north of the Lisbon airport.  We found the wall without a problem but could not believe that we were supposed to drive through the narrow opening in the wall.  We had a fairly large car and had to bend in the mirrors to get through without a scrape.  We walked on top of the wall which had no railings.  Our hotel room had a balcony adjacent to the city wall.

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The city is entirely surrounded by the wall.  Most of the buildings inside the wall have been preserved in excellent condition.

Our balcony featured fresh flowers and proximity to the wall.

The streets were narrow, curved, and made with cobblestones.  Our SUV was not the best vehicle to have in Òbidos.

This castle forms part of the city wall.  It looks like a movie set.

Walking the wall is an adventure.  There are no guard rails and the stones are quite slippery.  OSHA would not approve.

A hole in the city wall frames a 400 year old windmill.


Nazaré (Nazareth) / Alcobaça

A short drive from Òbidos is the seaside resort of Nazarè.  There is a wide expanse of white sand beach that is very popular in the summertime.  The town was pretty well deserted when we visited.  Alcobaça is a small town on the way which has an old monastery that is still in use although the monks left about 300 years ago.

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Nazarè has a wide expanse of beach that was totally deserted.  We had beer and a snack on the beach bar called Bubba's.  The locals pronounce it "boo-bahs".

The main drag of Nazarè is the only drag.  There is no shortage of tee shirts here.

The most abundant snack is air-dried sardines.  The fish are artistically displayed.  We gave it a miss.

This church, part of the monastery in Alcobaça, was built in the 15th century.  It is purportedly the largest in Portugal.

This tall nave was constructed in the 11th and 12th century.  How did they do that?



On the route north to Viseu we stopped at to visit the best preserved Roman ruins in Portugal.  Conimbriga is a bit out of the way so there were no hordes of tourists.  The entire site is interesting, but the outstanding feature of the sight is mosaic tile work.  We had seen something similar in Romania but this is much more impressive.  Note the use of the swastika symbol.  There is a project underway to replicate the missing pieces integrating whatever original material can be found.  I have mixed feelings about this.

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This city houses the oldest and best university in Portugal.  It sits on a hill overlooking the Mondego River.  One of the highlights of our visit to the campus was getting a look inside the old library.  I thought it was just a museum but a security guard told me that the library is used daily be researchers.  Must be history majors.  The furniture in the library is magnificent as is the oriental art work.

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Our original plan to spend every night in a different 17th century manor house.  In the end we only stayed in two, the first being in Viseu.  When we arrived in town we felt like we were on a treasure hunt, as all we had was a hand-drawn map to the house.  We stopped several people, including a policeman, and no one had a clue.  One person looked at the map and said we were in the wrong town!.  Finally we thought to call the manor house and see if we could get better directions.  The owner answered and did us one better - he came to find us and we followed him home.  Turns out we were the only guests staying at the house.  Our rooms were on the fourth floor, and of course 17th century houses did not come equipped with elevators.  Other than the chore of hauling up the luggage our stay at the Quinta de São Caetano was very enjoyable.


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This was our first look at the manor house as we followed Sr. Julio into his hidden driveway.  Note the flowers on the handrail.

There is a nice swimming pool on the property.  On the wall of the changing room is this typical Portuguese ceramic tile drawing.  This one is a representation of the house.

Sr. Julio welcomed us with beer and wine in the living room where he explained the history of the property.

The view from our bathroom was the other side of this bell tower.  Fortunately it did not peal during our stay.


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Pat got a private tour and detailed explanation from our host, a retired civil engineer and a very nice man.

There is a large garden at the rear of the house.  Roses were in bloom and were spectacular.

Alongside the house is this picturesque little chapel.  I don't think it gets very much use these days.  Note the plaque which is detailed in the next panel.

As the plaque attests, this chapel was constructed in 1680.  At the time this was the country, but today the house sits in a developed residential area. 


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Viseu is in prime wine country.  Here Julio takes Pat on a tour of his vineyard where the grapes will be harvested and turned into wine later in the year.



We met a couple at a restaurant in Viseu who had just driven down from Guimarães.  They advised to take the back roads along the river.  We took their advice and were rewarded with some beautiful views of the Douro Valley wine region.  The driving was arduous but worth the effort.  Our second manor house experience was fun.  The Casa de Sezim has been in the same family for over 600 years.  It doesn't have all the conveniences of a 5 star hotel but there are compensations.  It's not every day you can sleep in a room that was built 700 years ago. The Casa de Sezim even bottles and sells their own wine.  The city of Guimarães is pretty quiet.  The castle is the only real drawing card.


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The lack of level land doesn't stop these vintners.  They terrace the hills and grow their grapes.

This is a typical view of the Douro River from the highway that took us to Guimarães.

Literally in the middle of nowhere, we came across a first class hotel with a great restaurant for lunch.

Small cruise ships from Porto come here on multi day excursions.  It's too far to go up and back in the same day.


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The entrance to the Casa de Sezim is through this gate.

We had a four poster bed with a canopy.  Fit for a queen.

This sitting room was part of our suite.  Note the interesting wall covering.

The gardens of the Casa are extensive. 

It was too cold to swim but the pool was inviting.


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The Guimarães castle sits in a park in the center of town.  There are no apparent guards or fee collectors in evidence.

Utilizing their wall-walking experience from Òbidos, Don and Jackie climb to the top.  Pat enjoys the view from the ground level.

The town of Guimarães is quite pleasant with windy, colorful streets.  The people are quite friendly.


O Porto

The drive down from Guimarães was easy but navigating the streets of Porto was another matter.  There are no right angle intersections and no helpful signs.  We wound up in a garbage dump.  I knocked on the window of the guard house and apparently woke up the guard.  He was not amused and offered little help..  I had seen a picture of the hotel and knew that it was on the water so  we focused our efforts on finding the river.  That turned out to be a good strategy as we only had to ask directions one more time to find the hotel.  The Pestana Porto Hotel is first class, but is in a preservation zone, ergo no parking.  After dropping off the luggage, I had to drive several blocks to a public parking garage.  Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and is very picturesque.  It is the home of port wine.  More than fifty producers can be found in a very small area.  Over-sampling can be a hazard.  We took a six bridges river tour which includes a trip to where the Douro empties into the Atlantic. 

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The Porto waterfront is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our hotel, the Pestana Porto, is part of it.

We had a corner room with two views.  This one looks our into the Douro.

The other view is of a plaza with a lot of outside restaurants and other activities.

Across the river from our hotel, a short walk across the bridge is the town of Vila Nova de Gaia.  All of the port wine is made here.

This boat is a rabelo.  It is used to transport the wine from Vila Nova de Gaia to Porto.  Note the shape of the prow and the stern.


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Off we go on our six bridges river tour.  Pat is taking notes.

Could this be next year's Christmas card?

These are three of the Douro River bridges upstream from our hotel.

The Sandeman logo is the most famous in the port industry.  Our tour guide was a walking logo.

Every Portuguese town needs a castle.  The only one we saw in Porto was on the small side.



Queluz06 (8).JPG (74306 bytes)Our final night of the driving tour was in Queluz where we stayed in a pousada.  The pousada's in Portugal are a network of very fine historical hotels operated by the government.  This one was formerly part of the Queluz Palace, which is across the street.  The drive from Porto was pretty long, so we arrived in time to spend about an hour in the palace.  It is a slightly smaller version of Versailles, and perhaps even more opulent (see the Queluz version of the Hall of Mirrors on the left).  We had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, and it was by far the best meal we had on the trip.  I doubt if there is a finer restaurant in Portugal at any price range.

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The pousada was used as a residence for workers at the palace.  The entire shell of the building has been preserved, but the inside is luxurious.

Portugal's royal family had a pretty good life style.  This was only their summer home.

Ghosts of the royal family can still be found inside the palace.

Here is a view of the back side of the palace as seen from the gardens.

It's pretty obvious that you didn't get to be queen based on looks.