Martinborough, a wine region that doesn’t disappoint!

We did some wine tasting in the Martinborough region over the last few days. This is a tiny winemaking region, in size, in production, and in many cases in the size of the wineries. New Zealand produces about one percent of the world’s wine. Martinborough produces one percent of New Zealand’s wine, and it does it with about five percent of the countries wineries. So, when you go out to taste wine here, you are very likely going to meet the folks who do all of the work, from planting and caring for the vines, to harvesting, to the magic that makes the wines. The tasting experience  can be very intimate, and, so informative. The winemakers we met all took great pride in their processes and their products. Also, as several of them told us, “when you make such small batches, you make the wine you like.”

The region specializes in Pinot Noir, and it is such a lovely color. It is also a really nice wine.
The region has had agricultural roots since the 1800s, and has rivers and lakes flowing around the hills and mountains.
The view from the “tasting room” which is also the winemakers’ kitchen at The Elder. Needless to say, we were very impressed they are able to produce delicious wine and some pretty amazing olive oil when they could just sit here and enjoy the view.
Another great view from the area around Martinborough.
One day we took the Martinborough Wine Tour, and had a fun group as we traveled around. Lee, our guide, and some New Zealand natives made for a fun afternoon. On the tour, we found out about some of the different methods and varieties for making wine from the grapes grown here – mostly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Sauvingon Blanc, but also some Merlot.

Martinborough was mostly a quiet agricultural region until the 1970s, when they had some agricultural scientists from the government come out to help them determine how to “revitalise” an area that was losing population. When the scientists looked around, they determined that much of the “river terrace” in the area was similar to the soil in Burgandy, France, and combined with the weather, grapes might be a good crop. There had been some vineyards in the area in the past, but they had not been optimized for the region or well cared for, so the government offered incentives to pull out the old vines. A few brave souls – including one of the soil scientists – planted some vines and started a small wine industry. In the 1980s, a local Pinot Noir won a big prize and put the area on the map. Because the areas with the right soil are somewhat limited, the wine industry here is both robust and small. There are so many small producers that there is a lovely variety of wine tastes and styles. Plus, the town in charming and the scenery is great.

Prior to coming to Martinborough, we spent a few days in the central part of the North Island in Taupo. While we were waiting for the floodgates to open on the dam for one of the daily “tourist releases” that fills the channel and is worth hanging around to watch, we started chatting with another couple from the area. When they found out we were from Ohio and headed to Martinborough, they said, “You have to look up this winery – an American from Ohio started it!” Well, Mike is actually from Blue Earth, Minnesota, but he and Margaret have a lovely wine and olive oil business. It took a little bit of time on the Google Machine to track down their winery, but an email request later, and we had an appointment for wine and olive oil tasing!

Margaret and Mike in one of the groves of olive trees. They grow four different types of olives and press them in combination to create three different styles of olive oil. We learned about harvesting olives, both by hand and with a harvester – they do both based on the type of olive. We also learned about pruning olive trees. Apparently, the fruit grows on “last year’s growth” so the pruning takes off big sections of the tree to generate new growth. If you prune too much, you get a huge yield one year and almost nothing the next.
Their vines, they grow both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. When they bought the property, they really weren’t looking to do all of this, they just wanted about five acres, alas, they found this piece of paradise that had just been used to graze sheep, and it was closer to 30. They planted the olive trees, and a year or so later, a friend from town told them they should be using the land for grapes. He talked them into letting him plant the vines, and he was to manage them with minimal help from the landowners. Unfortunately, he passed away after a few years, leaving them with the vines. So, they went into the wine business. The wine is good, and Margaret was one of the folks who admitted to making the wine she likes, so their Pinot Gris is nice and dry and very complex.

We are not really oeniphiles (a new word we learned recently), but we have come to appreciate wine, and really enjoy going to wineries and learning about the wine process. It is one of those things where the more you know about the stuff, the more you get interested in it. It doesn’t hurt that most wine is grown in areas that are incredibly scenic!

New Zealand Netball!

No, we don’t know the rules, and we don’t understand the strategy, but we always say we want local experiences. So, when the high level league has a game in the town we’re visiting, we buy tickets and check it out!

The Avis Magic are the home team for this game in Hamilton, New Zealand. They also stayed at the same hotel we did!
Introducing the teams, with the mascot. The team in black is the Magic, the team in Yellow is Te Wananga o Raukawa Pulse.

The Pulse raced out to a quick lead. We did understand the scoring, if nothing else. Our seats were pretty high up, alright, they were row Z. No one was sitting right next to us to ask, so we just tried to figure out the game on our own. We enjoyed the action; lots of passing, no dribbling or running with the ball. Players are restricted to zones, and we’re still not sure what prompted a lot of the whistles or actions after the whistles, but it was fun, and we’d go again.

Getting the ball into scoring position.
Taking the shot – she made it.

The Magic clawed their way to a small lead in the 4th quarter, and there was an exciting see saw of baskets. The final score wasn’t what the local crowd hoped for.

Close game!


Where to start? We spent a lot of December and January with Lisbon as our base of operations. This gave us plenty of time to explore the city at our leisure. Which was a very good thing, because there is a lot to do in Lisbon, and it can get pretty overwhelming, especially when it is crowded. Having a base of operation was a nice way to balance how much you can do with some down time.

Most of the roads, sidewalks, and squares are paved with stones. This started after the earthquake that devastated the city in the 1700s. In order to reduce mud and make getting around cleaner and easier, the rubble was used around the city. Today? The paving is known as Calçada,  and very often includes beautiful and whimsical patterns. This merperson is located in a park near the river.
Our stay was over the Holidays. There were lots of lights and decorations around town. We walked past this tree daily as our lodgings were near by. We dubbed it the “cat proof tree.”
The city, as seen from one of several miradouros on a hill. Miradouros are viewpoints, often with a park and cafe. Lisbon is a city on Seven hills, so lots of veiwpoints!
At the Church in the Graca neighborhood. It began as a Monastery and the dining hall was ringed with these tile murals telling the history of the order. This tile memorialized the conversion of some African Leaders.
Inside the chapel. We got some advice early on to always look up. So, here is a shot of the ceiling.
One of the enclaves in the church. This one shows some of the black saints, which you don’t see very often.
Fado is the music of Portugal, and this is a calçada mural of one of the most famous Fado singers of the 20th century. The mural was done by an artist know for public art around the city and elsewhere. No, I did not have the chance to record the name, but we did see many examples of the art he has done around the city.
More street art in the old sector of the city. We saw a piece by the same artist in Coimbra, and there were several more around Lisbon.  No, I didn’t get his name either.
We were told to look up, but don’t forget to take a quick look at the floors too!
Around the corner from our lodgings we found the Bistro Carioca, a recently opened restaurant run by a wonderful couple from Brazil. Both were musicians, and Rafael will bring out his guitar and serenade customers whenever there is a chance. The food was amazing too! Since we were there at Christmas, we got to take advantage of their “take and heat” Holiday Dinner. It was a traditional Portugese cod dish with rice and Brazilian Farofa – ground casava root – made with grandpa’s recipe. Delicious!
A wonky lock in our accommodations meant a service call. The very nice man spent a good amount of time trying to fix the electronic lock before he had to just put in a physical key lock. Fortunately, he had the right tools! We sent him off to his dinner with a beer for thanks.
At Castelo de São Jorge there are peacocks and peahens roaming the grounds.
Very pretty Peacocks.
The walls of the castle.

We took a walking tour, one of three we took with the same guide, and were advised to check out the Lisbon Geographic Society to see the collection. We took that advice and enjoyed an informative time looking at the building and many treasures from Portugal’s 19th Century explorations. They had items from India, China, and Africa. Brazil was already independent when the Society was formed, so it was not represented in the collection. The building is worth the visit, and the displays were very interesting.

This is a stone marker left on the southwest coast of Africa several hundred years ago as Portugese explorers expanded trade routes.
The Portugal Room. There are display cabinets with artifacts circling the main meeting room for the society.
They have a smaller meeting room that also holds a map with the routes around the world blazed by the Portugese.

Our guide for the walking tour, Peter, also recommended we go to the Pantheon and  the Monestary nearby. Both buildings were well worth the visit. Many notable Portugese are entombed in the Pantheon, politicians, poets, sports figures, and explorers are all there.

The impressive Rotunda of the Pantheon.

From the Pantheon, it is a short walk, and only slightly uphill, to the Mosteiro de Sao Vincente de Fora. The monestary is well worth the visit for both the building and the exhibits.

Some of the tile work in the receiving room of the Monestary.
The floor and railings in the receiving room of the Monestary. It makes for an impressive introduction.
The courtyard of the Monestary.
A bench in the Monestary with some lovely tilework.
The ceiling. Always look up when roaming around buildings, you are going to see some lovely stuff!
And look down. Often, there are these markers on the floors of chapels noting burial sites.
A view of the river from the roof of the Monestary. This may be the best reason to visit – you can wander on the roof and get many great views of the city.
One of the views from the roof of the Monestary is the roof of the Pantheon – which you can also access and look over to the Monestary.
The roof – yes, we enjoyed the perspective up here.

We happily recommend the walking tour we took, it was very informative and served as a “sampler platter” of the area because Peter, our guide, recommended various places that were worth a more in-depth visit. One of those places was the 11th Century Se, or Cathedral. Harking back to the rule of Portugals’ first king and rebuilt after the earthquake, it holds a wealth of history and artifacts. And, across the street in the small square, the public toilets are built above some Roman ruins. They are visible from the steps before you need to pay to use the toilets, so you can visit even if you don’t need a pit stop.

Another roof view point, this from the Se (Cathedral) in Lisbon. Another stop well worth the visit. Parts of the 11th century building survived the earthquake, and it has been in use for a long time. That square is where the Roman ruins can be viewed.
A view into the Catherdral from the Choir loft.
A stained glass window in the Catherdral.
More beautiful stained glass.
The organ in the Se.

The municipal trains around Lisbon will take you to many notable sights, some are historic, some are beaches, and all are easily accessible and affordable. We took the train out to the west of the city center and enjoyed a lovely day walking along the river and looking at the lines of people to visit some of the iconic sites of Lisbon. As we waited for our return train, we noticed the Coaches Museum across the way from the train station. As it was late in the day and we were a bit punchy, the speculation included “sports museum” and “train engine barn.” When some expats living in the city said ‘it’s well worth the visit,’ but didn’t tell us why, we added it to the plans. It is an amazing museum. There are royal coaches – you know the horse-drawn carriages, like the one that took Cinderella to the ball – dating back to the 1600s on display. They are in great shape, and, even better, the displays have really good interpretive signs detailing the provenance, engineering, and other significant information about the coaches.

The building is modern, and the coaches are laid out in an orderly and chronological fashion. And there are a lot of them.
And they are elaborate. The signs expain who built them, and why. We aren’t huge museum people, but we both agreed that these explanations made the exhibit more interesting and fun.
The signage explained that this coach was an early user of a suspension system from Berlin that used the thick leather straps to smooth the ride.
A concept vehicle. Not a royal coach like everything else in the place, but totally deserving of its parking spot!
coach – just go to the museum when in Lisbon. In fact, if you’re on the fence about a visit to Portugal, this place is a reason to go.

With so much time in Lisbon, we indulged in many random activities, including weekend craft and art markets, museums, and long walks that may have included checking out scenic and fancy cemetaries.

This fancy tilework is on the wall of a building where the LX Market, a craft and art market with some amazing booths, art galeries, and restaurants.
Another big map that caused me some map envy. This map is in the entry to the Maritime Museum. The museum was very informative and fun.
This is a navigation sphere, and representations of these appear all over Portugal.
The cannons are both deadly and whimsically decorated.
The museum houses many models of sailing vessels, showing the breadth of Portugese naval accomplishment.
And a fair number of actual ship parts, not just the cannons.
There is an entire wing to house various Royal Barges used in the river. Not quite as extensive as the Coaches Museum, but included is the barge used by the last King of Portugal. This barge was brought out to carry Queen Elizabeth on the river during her first Royal Visit in the 1950s.
An impressive succulent growing in the botanical garden.
A whimsical mauseleum in the Cemiterio de Prazeres. This cemetery is actually at the end of one of Lisbon’s iconic street car lines. Of course, we didn’t find this out until we had walked, uphill, of course, quite a distance from the train stop. The trolley ride back was fun, and the views from the cemetary were well worth it!

Lisbon has a lot going on, and this long post is just a small sampling of what we were able to do!

Sintra – Beautiful castles in the clouds!

We stayed in Lisbon for several weeks over the holidays and happened upon a British born tour guide near our accommodations. We took several tours with him – you’ll hear more about that when I post about Lisbon (but we have a lot of photos and stories, so that one will take some time) – and one of the tours was Sintra. We started out bright and early, catching the first train from Lisbon to Sintra. We met our tour guide, Peter, at Rossio Station early enough that he was able to tell us about the history of the station and point out the beautiful stone carvings and decor. He also explained about how the statue featured in the front of the building was a recent reproduction because a few years ago some tourists, who clearly had enjoyed way too much Portuguese wine, had decided to climb up for a photo and managed to cause the statue to fall and break into many pieces. The original statue, of King Sebastion who was killed fighting in North Africa, dated back to the 1500s, so it was quite a shame to have some foolishness destroy it. Alas, it was cloudy and still dark when we met at the station, so I have no photos for this post, guess I’ll make a note to get a few on a future visit for a future post.

Our tour group consisted or our guide Peter and a lovely couple from Northern California. We spent the hour on the train learning about Sintra. We began with information about the Moors when they controlled this part of Portugal and the fortifications and outpost that was on the hillside. When the Portuguese and Crusaders from elsewhere in Europe approached the outpost one day in the 1100s, the soldiers garrisoned there realized how outnumbered they were and immediately surrendered the area. From here, King Alfonso and the Crusaders would carry on to Lisbon and lay siege to the main Moorish settlement and, ultimately, take Portugal from the Moors. Sintra still boasts significant Moorish remains and influences and was always an important place for the monarchs who ruled the country. In the 1800s, Queen Maria’s German husband, Prince Ferdinand II, designed Pena Palace, using remains of the much older convent on the sight. It is quite the building, incorporating many styles from the existing buildings and the new construction. The park it sits on is also renowned for great views, but on the day we were there it was shrouded in clouds – I guess we’ll have to go back some day!

Approaching the Pena Palace. As you can see, it was a bit foggy and damp. We had timed tickets for the first entry of the day, and Peter said it was not crowded, but it was certainly a popular place. If you go, go as early as you can. Also, you need to enter the grounds a good 30 minutes before your ticket time, as there is a bit of a climb (or you can catch the paid shuttle) to the top from the ticket booth. It is also a bit of a climb from town. This is definitely one of those experiences that need to be planned in advance, there are some logistics that need to be taken into account. We appreciated having a tour guide, especially for such a small group.
The entry gate, the Prince, part of the German Monarchy, had a very good sense of what it took to impress those in the exalted social and political circles they interacted with.
The stone carvings scattered around the palace were impressive, and fun!
I could probably do an entire post on the various ceilings, not just in the Palace, but all over Portugal.
The bathing chamber for the Prince’s quarters.
A sleeping chamber, this one is in part of the convent that was incorporated into the Palace. Again, notice the ceiling.
The queen’s sleeping quarters and bed. The detail work on the furniture, walls, and ceiling really ups the luxury and wow factors for the space.
Another elaborate room in what was the original convent, these areas of the palace are notable for the relatively small size of the rooms compared to what you might expect from such a luxurious Royal Residence of the period.
A stained glass window.
The “Stag Room” was used to host feasts.
After our tour of the Palace we walked back down the hill toward town past the Moorish Castle and walls that remain. Because the cloud cover remained, we put touring this site on our “next time” list. The walk through the grounds is another highlight of a visit to Sintra, so when doing your planning remember your walking shoes!
A fancy tower and roof as seen in town.

Sintra has been a favorite place for Portuguese Royalty since they defeated the Moors and took over the place. In addition to the Pena Palace, the city also boasts the National Palace, built on the foundation of a large Moorish building. Another grand building well worth a visit.

Sintra has both the Pena Palace and the National Palace. The National Palace is right in town and has history going back to the time the Moors were in charge. In fact, there are several Moorish influences still very visible in the Palace, like these tiles, which have vibrant colors and raised edges. You see this style of tile in lots of places and you see its influence lots of places.
This large room had a Magpie motif on the ceiling and the story has it that King John I (1357-1433) had it painted as such after he was caught kissing a lady which caused the women of the court to chatter like magpies. This story does not appear on the “official” websites, but I am certain our tour guide was not sharing a story that had not been handed down based on some accurate recording of the King’s thoughts as the room was decorated. The room also had more lovely tile and an impressive fire place.
Another room in the National Palace with more elaborate tiles and a very fancy door frame.
This little alcove in the National Place has so many of the ornamental features that catch my eye: an elaborately carved frame, beautiful tiles and a decorated ceiling.
A fountain on the palace grounds, with bright fish!
I just like the look of this handsome fellow.

Because Sintra was where the Royals spent so much time the city has many large villas for the members of the court who moved around with the Kings and Queens. One of these is the Quinta da Regaleira, which has extensive grounds with many whimsical, and sometimes befuddling structures. The owner was a very wealthy Brazilian mining magnate who had a thing for secret societies, like the Freemasons, so not only is it very fancy, it also has grottos and caves on the grounds that could have been used for any number of rituals and activities.

The main house, built in the early 1900s it has a lot of gothic style and incorporates the intricate carvings of the Manuelian style, which you see a lot in Portugal.
There is an inverted tower on the grounds that lead down to some tunnels. It is not a well, and you can take the stone stairs down to the bottom.
Looking up from the bottom of the tower.
Inside the caves, these are not naturally occurring. There are several dead ends, but also a path out to a water feature.
Looking out on the water feature from the cave.
One of the more whimsical structures on the grounds.

We spent a good day in Sintra, and only scratched the surface. This is definitely one of those places that deserves the amount of tourism and attention it gets. We will likely make a few more trips here over the years to see more of sights and the area.

Nazare, where the big waves can happen, but maybe not on your schedule.

It is the big wave season and most of the top ten biggest waves surfed in the world have happened off the coast of Portugal in sight of the town of Nazare. There is a combination of topography, wind and ocean currents that create these big waves. It takes a big storm out at sea pushing the water toward a trench that funnels the water toward the beach where it pushes up and amplifies the “regular” wave action. Expert surfers from around the world come to surf these waves which require them to be towed out behind jet skis. There are not many days with the huge waves given the need for several factors to occur in just the right way to get the results. That said, none of those conditions were in place during the several days we were in Nazare. The water was calm, the winds mild and the town quiet. We enjoyed our stay and will try to be there for big waves on a future visit! One bartender did comment that lots of people come thinking the waves happen all of the time when in reality is a lot of waiting around for a few days with big waves.

Nazare is a fishing village, and the town sits on a long, wide sandy beach that curves behind a cliff to the north. On the other side of the cliff is another beach where the big waves roll. The end of the cliff is the prime viewing spot for the waves.
There is a nice path that allows you to climb to the top of the cliff, where the best views of the waves are. This is a view from about halfway up the trail.
Looking down on the beach and town from the top of the trail. Yes, it was a pretty steep hike, but there were lots of great views, so it was a pleasant walk up.
A view of the Praia do Norte – North Beach – from the fort, which is well situated for watching the action.
The coastline between the beaches has some rocky areas that must help make the crashing waves all that much more impressive.
The fort, in addition to being the prime viewing spot, also hosts exhibits, including a collection of these whimsical sculptures watching over the coastline.
Legend has it that back in the Middle Ages a local noble was out hunting deer and got separated from the rest of the hunt in some fog. As he realized he was approaching the cliff at great speed, he called out a prayer and was able to avoid going over the cliff. It was attributed to the saint he called upon, who became the local patron saint. Not sure why the sure-footed horse he was riding was not given more credit. This story also has stags being a local symbol, and a sculpture combining the stag and the surfing culture sits atop the cliff with an excellent view.
There is also a nice elevator – cable car – to get up and down the hill, so we took advantage of that for a repeat visit.
The station for the elevator has some lovely tiles. We were here during the holidays and there was also a very impressive holiday display.
In addition to the impressive holiday display, the floor of the elevator station is very nice. Portugal has so many things to love, the people, the food, the beautiful coastline, the tiles, the floors! I have so many photos of floors, ceilings and the paving tiles, they deserve their own post!
At the top is another lovely neighborhood and it boasts a fancy church.
An interior view of the church.
The local huntsman and his trusty steed are memorialized in here as well.
A close up of the fort and the cliff, which is rumored to be where the lost hunter avoided his plunge.
Some colorful fishing boats on display. Nazare has a long history as a fishing village and proudly displays these traditional boats as part of their “living museum.” Shortly after we left the town I saw a news report that a small boat with five local fishermen aboard and run in to trouble and only one survivor had been found after the first day.

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
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!