Coimbra – where the University has some impressive collections!

From Porto we headed south to Coimbra, home of Portugals oldest University. We visited here on our last trip to Portugal, but didn’t make it in to the famous library because of the crowds, so that was definitely on our list for this time! As we checked out the ticket situation we learned there was a “combined” ticket which included the famous Library, the Palace School, Science Museum, and Cabinet of Curiosities. We really weren’t sure how many museums we wanted to commit to because we had several days of mild, sunny weather but who can resist a Cabinet of Curiosities? Not us.

Our hotel brags about the view from their rooftop bar, and the benefit of a December visit means you get the nighttime scene! Those of you who know we keep toddler hours likely aren’t surprised we missed this view when we were here when the days were much longer.
The Cabinet of Curiosities is in a science building and you start out in one of the classrooms watching a film that tells you – in Portuguese – about the creation of the display. While we really couldn’t understand the film, it looked like some people at the University realized they had several hundred years of stuff that had been collected and stored, and maybe they should put some of it on display. Anyway, the classroom was obviously old and the chairs were pretty fancy.
On the way to the Cabinet of Curiosities they walk you through a gallery filled with minerals and other geological samples. They had a number from the United States and elsewhere around the world. I thought this one was lovely.
Inside the Cabinet of Curiosities. A good sized room lined with two stories of glass fronted cabinets and larger samples hanging from the ceiling. There are no labels; each section might have a theme, but it wasn’t always obvious. We have since learned that these cabinets were a thing in the 18th and early 19th Century to show off the variety of things being discovered.
The “theme” of this section was things that scare people! As you can see, there is really nothing to give you any context about what you are looking at. Also, the lighting is very dramatic! The University spent a few years preparing this Cabinet and it opened in 2022. Here’s an article that gives a nice summary https://www.uc.pt/en/article?key=a-aecdff5827
The movie showed how the enormous crocodile was restored and then wheeled through the halls to be hung from the ceiling, so we felt like we really got something out of the movie experience despite not really understanding the information they were sharing. As you can see below the large reptile, the collection spans many academic disciplines and cultures.
Across the street from the Cabinet of Curiosities is the Chemistry Lab Building. As with so many places in Portugal, the building is as much of the experience as the exhibits. The University dates back to the Middle Ages and has been in Coimbra since the mid 1500s.
A lecture hall in the Science Building, my short legs would have had plenty of room, but Dan would have some banged up knees if he had to find a seat for a lecture here.
In the Pharmacy Lab. Here they made medicines to distribute during a terrible cholera outbreak.
The main Library door. The tour starts in the lower levels, walks you through the old “prison” area and then up to book storage before you reach the main library area. There are no photos allowed in the main library, but it very impressive both architecturally and by the volume of old books in the collection. Efforts to digitize the contents of the library are ongoing, and books can still be checked out. I am not sure what status you need to have to check out a 300 year old book, but apparently it can be done! The other fun fact is that there is a colony of bats that live in the library and are used for pest control! They drape the fancy tables with leather blankets at night to protect them from bat droppings and the bats protect the books from insects.
In the area of the library below the main section is what was the “public area” which was available for people to come in and read books. You can see a lot of the architecture here, including the stone mason’s marks on some of the stone work.
Creating the supporting arches for these buildings is quite the engineering feat, and is also an artistic accomplishment when done by the master bricklayers who built these buildings. Yes, I spend a lot of time looking up in these old buildings.
The books.

Coimbra is built on the hillsides that rise up from the banks of the River Mondego, so most days, you climb up to check out the sights. The University is up on the hilltop, our hotel is down by the river. Needless to say, we logged a lot elevation walking around. The Library, the Castle School, and St. Michael’s Chapel – all on our combined ticket – were perched high above the city.

The pipes o the organ in the chapel, as well as some beautiful tiles.
St. Michael’s Chapel has a very elaborate alter. The Chapel itself was smaller than you might think given how ornate the alter is.
The Palace School is in the actual Palace and fort built originally in the 10th Century and used by the first King of Portugal Alfonso Enrique. In the 1500s, when King Joa III moved the University from Lisbon to Coimbra it was housed in the Palace. This is the Armory, and the University still uses those staffs for ceremonies.
The Throne Room is a large, impressive room. The table and chair sitting on the floor are facing a row of impressive chairs. This room is still used today for Ph.D candidates to defend dissertations.
Again with a fancy ceiling!
As several Kings of Portugal used Coimbra as a residence, there are many ornate buildings sprinkled around the city. As you can see from the wear on the stonework, this building has been around for quite some time.
Proof that Coimbra is, at heart, a college town – a 24 hour pizza vending area!

A Castle and the Duke’s Mansion in Guimaraes, and our last days in Matosinhos – this trip.

We took the train from Porto for a day trip back to Guimares with the express goal of checking out the museum housed in the Duke’s residence and visiting the Castle of Portugal’s first King. During our visit here in May we skipped this attraction because there was a bus load of elementary students visiting and we thought it would be better to check it out on a quieter day. A mid week day in November proved to be a perfect time to return. We took the bus from our hotel into the historic train station of Porto, Sao Bento Station, where there are usually several tour groups in the entrance lobby to see the building’s tiles. This day, it was much quieter than usual

This is first time in at least 8 trips here where I could get a photo of the tiles without a large group of people blocking some of them. The various sections of the tiles tell stories from the history of Portugal and they are very pretty.

Guimaraes lays claim to being the birthplace of the first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques who unified the area that is now Portugal in the 1100s. The Castle where he was born, and the church where he was baptized remain.

We had a lovely day and arrived to both Holiday decorations and some lovely fall foliage.
The Duke’s Residence is the restored Castle built for the Duke of Braganza in the early 1400s. Restored in the early 20th Century (possibly a little fancier than the original), it is now a museum filled with Art and decor from the first few centuries of Portuguese history. It has a display of armor and weapons, as all good castles should!
Swords, and spears, and blunderbusses, Oh My!
The size of the rooms was impressive, along with the support systems for the ceilings. What amazed both of us was that there were way fewer fireplaces than we would have thought they needed. Many of the larger rooms had one fireplace, and many of the smaller rooms had none. We did see some braziers, where hot coals would be gathered and placed near seating areas, so I guess they relied on the many layers of clothing to keep warm.
The chapel, with some lovely stained glass and nice wood carvings.
A view of the chapel entrance from across the courtyard. The bright marble columns were brought back from the Holy Land as pillage from one of the crusades.
In one of the Duke’s private rooms, a very fancy ceiling. The ceiling details in many of the buildings in Portugal is amazing, so don’t forget to look up when you check out these places!
Another fancy ceiling in the Duke’s private quarters.
A view of the Castle walls. The castle is not restored, except for one tower, so it looks about like you’d expect an eight or nine hundred year old structure to look. Very impressive.
The one tower that is restored houses a nicely done interpretation center, geared toward school groups. It includes the chance to wear a helmet like Alfonso’s and wield a sword! Alas, both were attached to the wall so I couldn’t lop off Dan’s photo finger for taking this shot!
In town there are many old buildings to check out, and they have some lovely details in the stone carvings.
More detail in the carvings. I found this building entryway to be photogenic, and it is quite possible a similar photo appeared in our Guimaraes post earlier this year.

For this trip, we spent the first month or so in Porto and the north of Portugal before heading south. Matosinhos and Porto hold the distinction of being our first favorite spots in Portugal. And, because we had several lengthy stays in the same hotel in Matosinhos, we also made friends with the folks we saw there every day. When people ask us “why Portugal” for the repeat trips the answer always starts with “the people, and the food” and then we go on to discuss the fun things we have done and the places we have visited.

When we arrived back after five months it was nice to be recognized by folks at the front desk who had been so helpful on our first trip, and to have them enforce our “please use Portuguese so we can practice our language lessons” on this trip. When we showed up for breakfast the first day and insisted on trying to say our room number in Portuguese, the giggles we got in response made the “corrections” as difficult to understand as our mangled attempts, but we got better! And, because we got better, we got offered fancy coffee! Getting to chat with familiar people is always a treat for us, and one highlight came a few days before we left when someone came over to say goodbye as she would be on vacation for the next few days and would miss our last day. And then, the night before checkout, a tray with dessert and an envelope was dropped by our room. The envelope had a lovely note signed by many of our new friends! When you travel for months at a time you get a lot of quick interactions with people. But sometimes, you stay in a place long enough to make friends, and those times become the treasures of travel.

One of our last days in Porto we checked out the Jardins do Palacio de Crystal, a lovely park with some amazing views, a Holiday Market, and Peacocks!
Also on our last day, The Dessert Whisperer presented us with some of her favorite cookies – which are not on offer at the hotel – Linguas de Veado. Despite the mildly off putting name, in English it is deer’s tongue, they are a lovely cookie and we really enjoyed one last sweet pushed on our objecting selves!

Porto and Matosinhos, hanging out and enjoying the area.

We spent almost two weeks just checking out the Porto area this time. The plan was to make some day trips, explore the city some more and generally enjoy the rhythm of the area. We took random rides on the bus, walked a lot and checked out a number of local restaurants and shops. The weather was mild for November, with some rainy days and plenty of sun. We walked along the beach, visited the Holiday Market and sampled the cherry liquor that is served as a shot in a chocolate shot glass. Dan let me do the sampling after the first booth, and I can report that there are differences. My favorite had a hint of cinnamon to spice up the cherry flavor. This post is as all over the place as our time, enjoy!

One day we caught the bus to the Balhao Market in Porto. When we were here in May the Market was under renovations and the temporary space was a nicely laid out area in the lower level of a small shopping center nearby. The historic market is a lovely building with very clean lines and a nice open courtyard for the vendors. There were fruits, vegetables, nuts, baked goods, butchers, fishmongers, cheese mongers, candy, coffee, and much more. They are still working on some of the space which looks like it will hold restaurants, so lots of reasons to go back. It is so new and nicely renovated that it was almost too “clean,” but the many folks who will visit and drip and drop will make it feel more like it should soon.
One of the days we walked around Porto we ended up on a street high above the banks of the Douro – if you know anything of Porto, this describes quite a few of them. We came across this sculpture paying homage to the “Carquejeiras” or Gorse women of Porto. These women transported 40 to 50 kilos (88 to 110 pounds) of gorse (a plant with several uses and is edible) from the banks of the river up the steep bank into the city center. They were not celebrated, but they contributed to the local economy.
We visited the Casa do Infante part of the City Museum. The building, built on top of an even older Roman building, began life as the customs house for the bustling port, and was the birthplace of Henry the Navigator while his parents, the Kind and Queen were in residence in the 16th Century. There were several exhibits, but for us the star of the show was the building. There were plenty of placards describing the building features and a very good display walking through the various activities and tools used for counting, weighing and taxing the goods coming through the port. In addition, they minted coins here. This photo is looking toward the main entry hall.
During excavation of the building, which had been sold in the 1800s to a prominent family, but had come back under the possession of the government and was being restored, they found remains of a mosaic floor in the original Roman building with which is shared part of the foundation. They restored and recreated the details of the floor.
A statue in the square near the museum. Yet another location the gulls view as being put there for their use.

We learned a lot about the port making process during our stay in Pinhão, and a big part of that process is the aging of the port which takes place down the river. While the grapes are grown, stomped and initially fermented on the quintas (farms or vineyards) further inland along the Douro Valley, the port is stored and aged in cellars known as caves on the shore opposite the city of Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. Originally the location was selected to avoid taxation, but the riverfront is much less steep and easier to move the cargo and the environment proved to be ideal for the storage and aging. We toured the Grahams Cellar because several folks had recommended it, and it did not disappoint. The location had a great view, the guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, and the tasting introduced us to some very good port. Many of the major Port companies are British owned, and this is one of them. British ownership of port companies goes back to the early 1700s.

The tawny port ages in the smaller barrels shown here, which hold about 600 litres each. These barrels previously aged wine and this also adds to the port process. The smaller barrels mean the port spends more time in contact with the wood which impacts both the flavors and the colors.

The process to make port involves getting the grape juice from several varieties of grapes, then stopping the fermentation after a few days with a distilled alcohol (77%). The alcohol is a standard, required by the entity that oversees the certification of the ports and is a distilled white wine that is neutral in flavor and smell. It turns out that it is produced in Spain, so if you can get someone in Portugal to give you that information it is often accompanied by an eye roll. The alcohol volume of port is 20%, so based on the alcohol level of the fermenting juice, the amount of the distilled alcohol is determined. The stopping of the fermentation keeps the sweet flavors, and then barrel aging process adds other flavors, finally they blend different barrels and years, or not if it is a vintage, and you get port. Well, there’s actually a lot more to it, some science and more art, but that’s the outline. Like beer and wine, we are finding the more we know about Port the more we like it.

Our awesome guide standing in front of the barrels used for the ruby port, these hold 73,000 liters of port, so there is much less contact with the wood, and rubies also don’t age as long. This cellar holds nearly seven million liters of port aging in barrels. That’s a lot of port. Grahams still has one barrel full of port that has been aging since the mid 1800s. There was evaporation and a small leak, so they topped it off with another barrel from the same year and bottled what was left in the opened barrel. Port, especially tawny port, improves with age both in the barrel and in the bottle. Grahams keeps a cellar of bottles dating back at least one hundred years, and some of those bottles are from famous vintage years. We did not have a chance to ask what the insured value of the grape juice in that port cave was.
One of the people who recommended Grahams said they had a great view. We were not disappointed as we came out after the tour.
There is a teleferico from the bank of the river up to the hill where the metro stop is, so we jumped on that and got some more great views.
I didn’t manage to get a good photo of our Grahams tasting, but we did another tasting a few days later and got a good photo from Calem. We got lots of recommendations about which port to taste, so we tried to follow everyone’s advice!
Matosinhos is on the Atlantic coast, has a nice beach and there is a walking/biking path that will take you back into Porto along the water. We spent a lot of time walking that, watching the waves and shipping.
The holiday decorations were out!

There is a gothic church in Porto with catacombs that can be toured. The church has a long history in the city and the interior decor is amazing. There are no photos allowed in the baroque church, alas, because the wood carving was amazing. The catacombs are under a chapel and administrative building that now houses a museum and is lovely space.

This is the chapel, more classical less ornate than the church, so you can just imagine how fancy that is, despite the lack of photos.
The catacombs. There is no explanation of what the numbered wood panels are, but given that one woman very carefully avoided stepping on any, my guess is they are associated with the ossuary. There were bones visible (barely) under one small, scratched plexiglass plate, so that is also a clue. There are several rooms with tomb lined walls under the arched ceilings. All in all, not nearly as dark and creepy as one would expect.

Between the Rivers Lima and Minho in the north of Portugal.

We took the train north of Porto to the city of Viana do Castelo. Viana do Castelo is a beautiful city situated on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the River Lima. The area is known for fishing and for the jewelry and costumes that are traditionally made and worn in this region. The city certainly lived up to the reputation! The old center was a rabbit warren of narrow streets and lovely old buildings, the river front and the beaches gave beautiful water views and the Santa Luzia mountains frame the area.

The sun, and a rainbow, over the Praça da Republica. The city was decorating for the Natal (Christmas) Holidays but there were still plenty of flowers blooming.
Another square and a statue honoring someone from the city’s past. Look, I know you follow this blog for the photos and not for the detailed information!
Some of the lovely buildings facing the park and the river. The tiles are used in many places in Portugal, and especially along the coast as they provide good protection from the elements.
The park along the river.
One of the “must see” places in Viana is the Sanctuary of Santa Luzia, which presides over the city atop the hill. There are choices on how to get there, one choice is the steps. According to the Fitbit fitness tracker, it was about 46 flights of steps to get to the top of the hill.
Another options that is usually available is the Funicular, which also advertises great views on the way up and down. Alas, it was being serviced while we were in town, so we can save this option for a future visit.
The day was a bit cloudy with intermittent rain, but as we got to the top, the sun came out and highlighted the beauty of the church.
The Sanctuary of the church had some beautiful windows and stonework. Like many churches in Portugal, the interiors have lots of flourish and statuary.
The stairs to the top of the hill are not the end of the climb. You can also climb to the top of the church! It starts out with regular steps and then you get to some VERY NARROW and windy circular stairs. Dan had his backpack with him, and he took it off and carried it because stairs were so narrow.
Once you complete the climb, you are rewarded with some amazing views! This is looking west from the top of the church over part of the city and the Atlantic coast.
An interesting statue on the grounds. The church sits in a large park that includes the ruins of a Roman fortification. The ruins were not open when we wandered by, so we have another item for a future visit.

There was a fair amount of rain during our visit, so we had incentive to check out a museum or two. The town boasts a Costume Museum that shows the various clothing traditionally worn by people in the Minho region. It also shows the methods for creating the cloth. This region appears to have a history of providing textiles in Portugal.

Preparing yarn for the weaving of cloth.
Working costumes for various types of labor. The straw garment is very similar to those used in the Douro valley to keep farm laborers warm and dry during the region’s rainy winters.
The Festival Costumes for women are usually red and include ornately embellished aprons and pockets worn over patterned skirts, and then the bright scarves and bodices are added. The stockings are knit, often with a pattern and paired with a clog. Young women would weave the fabric with designs ranging from geometric patterns to elaborate florals. The pockets, which are tied around the waist and just peek out from behind the aprons, are worked with colorful thread and shiny beadwork.
The region is also known for distinctive gold jewelry. Even today, the jewelry stores display pieces with the distinctive patterns and filigrees. Necklaces and lacy dangling earrings are as much a part of the costume as the apron and fancy pockets.
The jewelry ranges from the large and fancy to the more delicate.

Given the position of the city on the coast and close to the northern border with Spain, there are forts!

The main fort in Viana do Castelo is near the mouth of the river and is good sized. It also still has a moat filled with water! The buildings inside the wall are currently in use, it looks like a school for tourism if our translation of some of the signs is correct.
They may no longer put guards in the lookouts, but they are still useful for checking out the surroundings.

From Viana we headed north one day to check out the border with Spain in Valenca. A nice train ride along the Atlantic coast and the River Minho gets you to this nice city.

A bridge across the River Minho that has great views and a nice set up for pedestrians. This area is part of a Caminho de Santiago Portugal, so there are lots of folks making the walk that starts in Lisbon and takes you up in to Spain. We have been in many cities that have portions of the trail.
The border marker in the middle of the bridge – and the river.
Valenca is home to the most expansive fort built in Portugal, and it is impressive. The walls still “protect” a vibrant community inside. We approached from the north, or river, side of the fortress and were, frankly, unprepared for how big this place is!
Looking out over just one small area of the fortifications.
One of several churches inside the walls. This one is being restored and you can see how elaborate the embellishments are since there are fewer distractions.
The artwork seems a bit graphic about the fate expected for some!
Another view of the fortifications, looking back in toward the fort and the community inside the walls.

Back in Viana do Castelo, we stayed in the Flag Design Hotel in the old part of the city. After we checked in we were treated to a quick tour and some history of part of the building. Originally the town villa of an influential and important family, there was a nicely tiled entry foyer that took you to a winding stair that took visitors up to the reception rooms on the first floor.

The area was lit by a skylight three stories above. The sky lights here are often round or oval with some decorative metal work visible from the outside and I was very excited to be able to see how one looks from the inside finally! This one, especially, did not disappoint.
Looking down from the third floor. The stairs only go to the “public receiving rooms” on the first floor, there are other stairs to get to the upper floors.
The skylights can be clear glass, but it is not unusual for there to be stained glass. These had some nice color. Also, the detail on the ceiling show just how wealthy and important this family portrayed itself to be. Not casting aspersions or anything, but we weren’t able to find out too many details about them, so we have to base our impressions on what the house was like.
It is my blog, so I can put up as many photos of the skylights as I want. I have been intrigued by these on every visit to Portugal and often commented that it would be nice to see what they are like from the inside, so this hotel gets extra credit points for giving me the opportunity to see such a nice one!

The Douro Valley, wine, accordions, and a houseboat!

Just a wine barrel waiting it’s turn to head across the very narrow bridge.

From Porto we headed west in to the wine region famous for being the home of Port Wine, and the oldest demarcated wine region. Just as wines from areas outside of Champange, France just sparkle, Port must come from the Douro Valley. But, there is more wine in the region than just the fortified varieties. There is also a lot of olive oil produced here too.

The region is beautiful with a wide, meandering river and terraced hillsides rising up both sides. Early November was well past the harvest this year, but many vines still wore leaves resplendent in their fall colors. We had mild and sunny days for most of our visit.

Just one of many great river views from the train out of Porto. While the river cruise season is winding down, there are still a lot of boats making the trek on the Douro. One night there were three river cruise ships docked near us, but we heard they have as many as seven at a time during high season!

The wine region not only has all of the production and process rules in place for centuries, it is also a UNESCO site which means tradition is very important. So, grapes are harvested by hand by the women and carried out of the vineyards in baskets by the men. This method is also necessary because of the tight rows and steep inclines in many vineyards-known as Quintas. Many of the vineyards still have the stone walled terraces built by the Romans when they first came to the region in the 2nd century BC. The stone walled terraces are not only historic, they reduce erosion, which is a problem in newer vineyards that are not installing them.

The terraced vineyards, and you can see the fall colors!

Another tradition is the stomping of the grapes. Not every vineyard or vintage is done this way, but at Quinta da Foz the charming woman helping us select wine proudly declared their wine was made this way. They had some photos of men stomping the grapes and Dan asked where the photo of her stomping grapes was. She said it was a job for men and their big feet!

A view of Quinta da Foz, more terraced vineyard and a bright tree.

We learned some other stuff about wine too. They use American root stock because it is resistant to a pest that damages European root stock. There is a fungus that will affect the vines that also hits roses, and shows up earlier on the roses. So, some vineyards have rosebushes planted around the grapes so they know if they need to treat for the fungus. Our guide called them the sacrificial lambs for the wine.

These aren’t sacrificial lamb roses, but they are blooming in early November! The bridge behind it was designed by Eiffel-of that tower in Paris fame-and is very narrow, although the number of vehicles willing to make it two lane is surprisingly high.

It takes about 3 years for a vine to get rooted and start producing, then the vine will supply a lot of grapes. As the vine matures the quality increases, but the quantity goes down. Old vines, we have learned on previous winery visits, are highly valued and by old they mean over 30 years. Here in the Douro they have vines which are producing at over 100 years.

The vineyards, especially those which grow grapes primarily for Port wine have the varieties intermingled. The winery tour guide may have explained why, but he was also telling jokes and neither of us can remember the reason. Several of the wines we tasted are blends with 20 or more grape varieties in them.

Storage tanks for the wine.

Olive oil is another major product of the region. The olive trees are often planted at the boundaries of vineyards and, increasingly, in place of vineyards as they require less work and money to maintain and harvest. On a tour of the area we visited an olive oil collective and learned about the old process for pressing the fruit. During that tour we learned the difference between “regular” processed and cold processed oil. Cold process is newer, and a much easier and shorter process, which also results in better oil. Apologies to anyone who runs in to us in real life over the next bit, because the factoids I learned are sure to be brought up in conversation.

Olive trees being prepped for harvest. Mostly the olives get knocked out of the trees onto the netting.
Back in the day, before the cold press process, the olives were crushed into a paste which was spread onto matts, stacked and pressed to extract the juice (oil). There would be bits of skin, pulp, and seed so they would add water and allow the oil to rise to the top.
This press had a McLaren engine. If you’re a car person that will likely impress you, if you’re not, trust me – it’s kinda like the Lamborghini tractor from Leiria.
We learned all about the wine and olive oil making on a wonderful day tour. Our delightful and very knowledgeable guide showed us great views and took us to the village in the region with the very best water – apparently many folks come up here to get water! So glad we took the tour! Added bonus – for us, maybe less for her – we kept running in to our new friend around town during the rest of our stay!

Our home base for exploring the region was Pinhão, but one day we took the train to Pocinho which is the end of the train line. The tracks hug the river and it was well worth the 2 hour round trip. We got off in Tua, the stop just past Pinhão and hiked a trail laid out as a school project during COVID, which was both a feat and perfect assignment given the lock downs and social distancing in 2020.

Yep, that’s a tunnel, yep the tracks go through there, yep, our train did too!
Here’s a view of a river cruise ship as it enters the lock for a dam in the Douro River on the way to Pocinho – that’s a long way down!
A view of the dam on the Tua River from the trail. The release happening gave us a bonus rainbow.
The trail takes you down along the Douro River.
A Viking river cruise ship passes us by as we hike along the Douro in Tua. Remember the ship we saw in the lock from the train? It was very likely the same boat!

On the surprisingly full train from Pocinho, someone broke out an accordion in the car behind us and played some lively music as we rolled along beside the Douro River. They were in the car behind us, but opening the connecting door we could hear the music and even see a bit of the aisle dancing that was going on. This might be Dan’s favorite story of the trip!

Another river cruise ship going down river toward Pinhão and Porto.

When we were planning our trip to Pinhão one of the lodging choices was a houseboat. I was intrigued but would not have booked it left to my own devices. After I mentioned the choice to Dan he was all in! “Of course we should stay on the houseboat! Think of the experience.” So, we spent the week on a really nice, tiny, but nice houseboat. After we adjusted to the realities of a marine toilet and figured out how to get in and out of the bunk beds we settled in and enjoyed the gentle sway of our space.

Our home sweet home on the Pinhão River. Yes, the boat is named for a type of beer, in the middle of the great wine region. No, no one told us why…
The lodging came with breakfast delivered every day. They also had snacks, wine and beer (mini bar style – so we didn’t partake of them – but Homeboat is a nice place to stay if you’re ever here).
The very generous breakfast basket also yielded dinner most evenings! We found several really nice restaurants in town that served great lunches, so a light dinner was all we needed anyway.

Another view of our houseboat!

Matosinhos-you can have adventures in familiar places.

We have returned to Portugal! Porto is our starting point, as it would be a gentle re-entry thanks to already figuring out the transit, and we had a list of things in the region we knew we wanted to see. The decision on where to stay was easy too, thanks to a great experience on our last stay. For those who know us in real life, we do like having our bar preferences known and a familiar greeting. Well, from the “Welcome Back!, how long will you be here this time?” at check in, the “you take one coffee and one tea” at breakfast, the bartenders remembering which beer we preferred-and that they could offer us “guidance” as to which Portugese futbol team was best, the servers all knowing they had seen us before, and the dessert whisperer smiling with glee as she contemplated which desserts to recommend, we certainly made a great decision!

Our hotel overlooks a park with fountains, and lots of space for wheeled activities. The weather was great for early November, so the people and dog watching has been fun!
The Chocolate Hazelnut dessert. We were talked into this on our first visit, exactly 6 months to the day before we were again tempted. On the first visit, it was observed that we must really like each other, because this is seldom shared.
And, the remains of another dessert – this time the chocolate brownie. It’s actually not on the dinner menu, but was brought over (10 feet or so) from the cafe because the Dessert Whisperer knew we had tried all of the other desserts.
The hotel is in Matosinhos, just north of Porto on the Atlantic Coast. There are a lot of beaches, and a very nice walking path. This view is from a small park that offers shady places to sit and enjoy the waves.
There are many buildings with skylights like this, not all of them are colored glass, nor do they line up with the setting sun for a photo so nicely.
This is the cruise port lit up at sunset. And the beach, which is just down the street from our hotel. One of the things we really like about this location is being able to take a short walk down to the ocean. There are always things going on, from surfing lessons and futbol matches, to beach volleyball and a paddle ball game that looks like fun.
One of the items on our list to do during this visit was ride the transit to the far flung stops and see what was there. Povoa De Varzim is at the north end of the red line, so we bought some tickets and headed out. It was a nice ride out at mid-morning. We arrived in town, and this is the city building.
The fort for the city. This is a coastal fishing village and the fort provided protection from Pirates!
The gates to the fort. Beginning in the 1400s, these fortifications protected the city. It took its current form in the 1740s and was restored by the city in 2015.
Povoa de Varzim is on the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage that goes through northern Portugal. This church sits on one of the routes.
Lapa Church, built by the local fishermen and near where the fishing boats dock. On the back is a small lighthouse.
The Main Church, this church is away from the coast and a bit out of the city center, but the sun was shining on it and it looked nice.
Back in Matosinhos, another scene from the walkway along the ocean. They aren’t kidding, between the spaces in the boardwalks, the gneiss boulders protruding on the walkway, and the risk of wandering to the edge of the path while watching the waves, a tumble is certainly possible! But, so far, we have managed to fall in love with the area and not make an actual fall.

Peoria and the Illinois River Road

Road Trip! We had an excuse to head west to Kansas City, so we made it a Road Trip! As I looked for things to see and do I found the Illinois River Road Scenic Drive. Peoria is well situated at a wide spot in the river known as Lake Peoria. We shared our hotel with 3 different wedding parties, so it was a very positive vibe as we waited for our “historic” (read small and slow) elevators.

A cool piece of art along the Riverfront Park in Peoria.
Dan Fogelberg, crooner of songs from my tween and teen years, was born in Peoria. This lovely view is a fitting Memorial.
Peoria is one of many communities that has a “solar system walk” where you can get a sense of how big our solar system is, and learn about the planets. The final lines of the description of Earth made us giggle. “Speculation abounds concerning the possibility of intelligent life on Earth. The Planet hasn’t always been hospitable for humans, and isn’t guaranteed to remain so.”

Caterpillar is headquartered in Peoria, and they have a Visitors Center. It is a Cat Museum! Lots of information about the history of the company, how the huge machines are made and used, and hands on ways to see what the innards of machines look like. So, you can see a lot of the equipment with way less mud and dust than you might expect. Plus, they have simulators! You might think the simulators would fairly straight forward, but Lisa can tell you it is easier to wreck the bulldozer (and, remarkably, even the backhoe) than you would think.

This truck, used for mining, is 2 stories high with the truck bed down and a whopping 5 stories high when fully extended. They put a theater for the introductory movie in the truck bed. The seats rumble as you watch the movie so you can experience the power of the engine.
The tires of that beast are 14 feet high!
Why is it called Caterpillar? Because a photographer brought out to document one of the first pieces of equipment made a comment. So, pretty much how many nicknames are assigned.
For our loyal readers, the random building with copper that has achieved that beautiful green patina.
It is the City Hall, so maybe less of a random building.

We did spend some time on the scenic drive. The road itself

The road itself is mostly a two lane highway with access roads to the wetlands and river area. We turned down one access road and came across a whole herd of river pelicans. There were also a lot of swans, but they were on the other side of the car.

One place of interest listed with the scenic drive is the Dickson Mounds State Museum. The museum is on land formerly owned by the Dickson family. When a family member noticed what appeared to be burial mounds and did some shovel based exploration, they discovered a burial site for the Native Americans who originally inhabited the land. in the early 1900s, he turned it in to a private museum by putting a tent over the remains and charging admission. The one “good” thing was that the remains and artifacts were left in place. Over the years archeologists, historians and others studied the site, it was sold to the state for a museum and a building and interpretive center were built. In the early 1990s the state agreed with the descendants of those buried that the display was not appropriate and updated the museum to focus on the natural history, the human history and the culture of the area. The grounds offer some hiking trails as well, so it is a good stop.

One bit of weirdness though – the area showing how the Native Americans would have lived seemed a bit “off” at first. Well, by the time I got to the second display showing the activities usually done by women I realized that they had added really bad shirts to cover the breasts. They also added coverings for some of the two dimensional displays. It was very off putting and so distracting that anything I learned in the museum is lost behind this fact. Later in the day we came across some signage by the conservation area that included some photos from the museum that included the display – minus the weird togashirts – that were dated about 2011, so the shirts are a recent addition. A quick internet search netted zero results, so apparently the dressing was done stealthily enough to avoid any commentary that would show up for those of us curious as to who thought this was a good idea.
Apparently, the excess of culturally inappropriate modesty only extended to the displays of women’s activities.
Lovely flowers.
A fungus, it was about the size of a football.
If you look closely, you can see two cranes in this photo. The estuaries and wetlands along the river were drained in the last century or so and used for farmland. The river went from being one of the most lucrative fisheries in the United States to being overfished and impacted by farm runoff. In the last twenty years or so conservation groups have obtained the land and restored it to a more natural state. Part of the recovery is seeing the return of many native species, plants and migratory birds. We also saw kayakers, campers and lots of people fishing.

Jefferson City, the Missouri Capital

Visiting State Capitol Buildings is a side travel hobby that has been going on for over 20 years, there are only a few left, so there won’t be too many featured on this blog. But, our fall road trip took us through one of the remaining to be seen Capital cities, Jefferson City, Missouri. Our hotel was perfectly situated on a hill opposite of the rise where the Capitol was built. The building was situated above the banks of the Missouri River and is visible from a long way away – intentionally. We lucked out with a beautiful evening view and a nice day for the walk to take our tour.

Our view, the hotel had a great outdoor space, with firepit, so we spent the evening out there. Three women who were locals joined us after a successful evening gambling at the local Veterans club and were very enthusiastic about what we would see and learn about on our tour.
The Capitol from the Missouri River side, they had several nice plazas.
Barges being moved down the river as seen from the plaza near the Capitol Building.
A Rotunda Picture. The Missouri Capitol has a lovely, layered Rotunda. It is the third capitol, replacing two previous buildings both destroyed by fire. When the second one burned, the state budgeted $3 million for a new building and sold bonds. They raised almost $4 million, but stayed on budget and completed the building with about a million dollars left over.
After the Attorney General ruled the extra money could not be returned, and had to be used on the Capitol Building, they allocated those funds to art and decor, and boy does it show. There are many decorative flourishes, including stained glass windows, murals, and statuary.
This little guy lives at the base of the banister on the stairs in the rotunda near the visitor center.
The House Chamber was getting new carpet, so they had temporary desks set up for the upcoming special session. They were also upgrading the voting system, so there was a lot going on. The stained glass here was made by a company set up by two men who had recently left the Tiffany Company to set up their own shop. The folks in charge of spending the money on this building were always on the lookout for a bargain.
More of the stained glass and the pillars, which are made to look like marble using an Italian method known as Scagliola. This method was used on the columns in the Ohio Statehouse’s Judicial Annex Building as it was a favorite design method in the early 1900s. Yes, one of us is a little bit geeky about this stuff.
Did we say the patio at our hotel had a great view?

Southampton and NYC – Bookends of the Queen Mary 2 voyage.

For this trip, we decided to check out the Queen Mary 2 as transportation, and we booked on the seven-day Transatlantic crossing for our return to the US. My parents had done this trip several years ago and really enjoyed it, we like travelling by ship, and it’s the QM2, so…

In part because of the labor actions impact train travel, one of the strikes was scheduled for the day before the ship was set to sail, we decided to spend some time in Southampton, which was an easy decision because even a quick search brought up plenty to keep us entertained. After all of the historic buildings in London and York, and even after seeing newer neighborhoods in Lancaster built to replace places damaged during World War 2, Southampton definitely brought home just how much bombing the Germans did during the war. There were just enough remnants of the older structures to get a sense of how much was missing.

One place that survived was a medieval merchants home which is tricked out with period furnishings and accessories so you get a really good sense of what life was like for a prosperous family of the time.
This was likely a very good sized and comfortable bed, with bed hangings to keep you warm, but it was a bit cramped even for those of us with a more diminutive stature (so only one of us).
One of the older buildings that survived the relentless bombing of the war. Because Southampton was a major port and the place where the British Spitfire Fighter Planes were manufactured, it was a pretty attractive target.
While out wandering around the city with no set goals, as we often do, a nice man standing outside of the Aviation Museum chatted with us and when he found out we were from Ohio, let us know he was interested in getting to the Air Force Museum in Dayton. Then he encouraged us to visit the museum, which we had been discussing once we figured out what the building was. So, we went and grabbed lunch with the air of people who had plans for the afternoon and returned. And it was very worth it. If you ever find yourself in Southampton, don’t let the small size of the building fool you – there is a whole lot of aviation history in there. Added bonus, they have the police and firefighters museums too. We learned a lot that afternoon.
Like I said, a lot of stuff in that aviation museum, and they made the most of their space and the unique attributes of some of their artifacts. They also had several planes-or at least cockpits-you could get in to!
We also visited the Southampton City Museum. It had a very good exhibit about the Titanic focused primarily on the impact to the city, given that many of the crew were from the area and had families there. The local focus, including showing the perspective of particular crew members ranging from bridge crew to 1st and 3rd class stewards to mechanics in the engine room, gave the sense of a very complete picture of life on board. They also had an area to highlight the inquest and the maritime practices that were changed and standardized in the wake of some of the failures that increased the number of deaths. Of course, this photo has nothing to do with that. It was one of the many late 1800s “games” on display. There were a lot of animatronic games that would have been at theme parks in the Victorian era. Many were elaborate.
The Queen Mary 2 as we approached dock. Our hotel was situated just close enough to where the ship was docked that we couldn’t bring ourselves to hire a cab. And it was pretty cool to walk through a port area where large car carriers, freighters and cruise ships all dock.
While these may look like cool pieces of sculpture, they are actual spare propellor blades for the ship. They are stored on the fore deck and – unless it is too windy – accessible to folks walking around the ship. They were not accessible several days on our journey as we had a lot of wind, and one full day of very heavy fog so it was a bit like sailing in the clouds.
This is about as close as we got to the site of the Titanic. Interesting choice to highlight that site on a ship making a similar journey. Part of the reason we were further north is because taking that “high” route exploits the curvature of the earth to make the journey shorter. The QM2 is an Ocean Liner, not a Cruise Ship, and as such, is designed for these long sea voyages. The ship moved along at a pretty fast clip of about 24 knots, as compared to the cruise ship we took over which kept the pace at no more than 18 knots. Not only were we going faster, the ride was incredibly smooth, even on the days when we had higher swells.
Entering New York City, one of several impressive bridges.
The sunrise as we approached Manhattan Island. It was a very dramatic way to come into port.
The Statue of Liberty.
Another bridge, hey – they don’t have labels!

We also met a friend in New York City. One of my (Lisa’s) friends from my hometown. Another person Facebook has made accessible. While we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a nice NYC restaurant, we figured out he and I had not seen each other since the mid 1980s. Not that anyone eavesdropping on the conversation would think that the way we chattered away. Dan is such a good sport.

Birmingham – Canals, Victorian Splendor, and a lesson in regret we will try to avoid in the future.

We arrived in England with minimal itinerary and plans beyond checking out London and the Museum, seeing our friend in York and getting to the dock before our ship sailed! There were intermittent rail and tube strikes planned during the few weeks we were there which added to the degree of difficulty associated with our no plan planning strategy. So, we decided the easiest thing was to only take direct trains and travel on the non-strike days. Birmingham got on our radar because it had a site where we could use our shiny new British Heritage Membership, it had a direct train from York, and seemed big enough to keep us entertained for a few days. Beyond that, it was going to be an adventure. We got very protective of this city we knew nothing about when the reaction folks had when we answered the question “where are you headed next?” was often “Birmingham? Really? Interesting choice, what are you going to do there?” But we did get one more enthusiastic response from the lovely woman pulling our pints at the pub – “Oohh, I love Birmingham!” When I asked what we should do there, she replied “I have no idea, I went down for an interview, had a really good meal – can’t remember where – and came back, but it was nice.” Good enough recommendation for us.

Birmingham came into prominence during the Victorian Era and a lot of the architecture shows it.
It is also a bustling, modern city and the Main Library shows it!
The monument is to Queen Victoria, and the building behind is part of an impressive block of civic and public buildings.
Our Missed Opportunity. The couple sailing away from us on that canal boat arrived at the lock as we were approaching. She got off and started doing all of the “water level management tasks” as he steered the boat through the canal. As we all waited for the lock to fill, I went over to see what their story was. They were meeting their son in Birmingham to start a longboat trip. He had recently had a hip replaced, so she was managing the locks. We offered to close the lock behind them and as they started up, they said – hopefully – “we have about 7 more locks in the next few kilometers, we’d give you a tour of the boat and a ride if you’d like to help.” And for some reason, we declined. Idiots! They weren’t to the next lock before we were kicking ourselves and wondering if we should race walk back to catch up. We didn’t, but we have spent a lot of time talking ourselves through similar situations so we’re more prepared to say yes to the next opportunity.
This is what “lock management activities” look like, and our help.
We saw several of these stations around town – they are folding electric bikes you can rent. Pretty cool!
The English Heritage Site that tempted us to go to Birmingham was a jewelry factory. It was a place where they carved forms and stamped items that were then silver plated and sold by various jewelers. This place was held by the same family for generations and was in operation from the late 1700s to the early 2000s. It was then sold to English Heritage, but the last remaining family member and company president will still show up and do tours. We didn’t have him for the guide, but it was very interesting. This picture is the display that showed the stages of making their signature candle stick.
The family kept everything, so they have pretty much every form they ever used. In fact, some group was in town to celebrate their 100th anniversary and approached the company to see if they could recreate some piece that had been done for the organization in it’s early days. Well, a little digging in the files, and some rooting around in the shelves, and yes! they could recreate the100 year old design using the original forms! The tour guide had to warn everyone that this was a very old factory, so there were lots of hazards – trip hazards, random nails, and the like – and that it was a bit dirty, because “even our dust and dirt is historic!”
The side of a canal boat, from the canal boat tour.
Another canal boat and one of many pedestrian bridges over the canals. There is also a bridge that was renamed to celebrate a famous Birmingham Group – Black Sabbath.
One of many of the original bridges used to for traffic over the canals. This is at a canal intersection, so there is a tow path below, and that bridge was part of the tow path for the canal we are on.

If you have hung in on this post this long, here is a bonus story. Liverpool has two football teams, Aston Villa and Liverpool FC. During our tour of the jewelry factory we got to the shipping department and were given the option of checking out the shipping room, but our tour guide would not be joining us. Did I mention that they basically turned over the whole place to English Heritage, and by whole place, every item, tool, record, metal shaving, dust, and office decor. Anyway, we entered the room and it was decked out in Aston Villa paraphernalia, posters, articles and player photos from previous decades. Didn’t take much to deduce that the tour guide was a Birmingham FC fan.