York and Scarborough, lots of history, and a visit with a travel friend.

So, York is a pretty old city and you can find remnants from when the Vikings were in the area, remains of Roman structures and walls, and buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. Most of the medieval walls remain around the city center and are a fun way to walk around and check out the historic skyline. York got put on our itinerary for this trip mostly as an excuse to catch up with a guy we met on previous travels. We met Ian on the ship we took to Australia, he was looking for a place to eat his lunch one day, so we invited him to join our table. And, as you do on long sea voyages, we ran in to him all over the place after that. Super nice guy and thanks to the wonders of the internet we have been able to keep sufficiently in touch that we were able to schedule a day to hang out in his part of the world. It was great catching up with him!

Ian took advantage of the out of towners visiting to be a tourist himself, and got us to take the local, free walking tour. The tour guide was very informative and entertaining, and we had a great day. Afterwards we found a pub, had a good old pub lunch and I indulged my shandy habit! Here we are in front of the York Minster, the cathedral built by a bishop hoping to compete with Westminster Abbey and that Bishop. The Minster, referred to that despite no longer having a seminary, is under constant repair which has created a pretty impressive training ground for stone masons. We did not take the Minster tour this trip, it was pretty crowded, but one option was a scaffolding tour that allowed you to see the restoration work.
One of several gates to the city on the medieval wall. The gates all have rooms in the upper floors, one is now a museum, one has been resorted to include the gate so you can see how it works. Another is currently a coffee shop but was a private residence as recently as the 1950s if the signage can be believed. We walked along parts of the city walls every day we were in York and were able to see the entire thing.
A view of the Minster from the wall. Alas, my lackadaisical approach to blogging means I have already forgotten what the building in the foreground is. But I think this shot shows off the size and “fanciness” of the Minster pretty well.
One of the newer buildings in the city, this one dates back to the Victorian era (I think). The stonework on the various buildings is amazing.
Who doesn’t love a good Bluestocking? Also, the York the historical markers were varied and covered many topics.
While this is not from the Minster, it is a good representation of what happens to stonework after a few centuries. The Minster has the stonemasons recreating the stonework and replacing it. Not sure if that will be done for other buildings.
The River Ouse, one of many with that name in the UK (Hat Tip to my friend in Pittsburgh- you know who you are), as it goes through York. Apparently, it is connected to the canal system and used by the longboaters of England. I am not certain this photo does justice to how tiny some of these boats are, or to the fact the even the big ones have a width that would allow Dan to stand in the middle of the cabin and touch both sides (likely – we never made it on to one).

As we communicated with Ian leading up to our getting together in York, he offered suggestions for our time in Yorkshire. One recommendation was a day trip to the coast to see the city of Scarborough. So, we hopped on the train, enjoyed a scenic ride through some bucolic British countryside, bought the local tourist map for 1 euro from an interesting map vending machine, and headed – up hill, as usual – to the local castle. The views on the walk up were amazing as the castle was situated at headlands and the coastline in this part of the world is pretty good looking.

The castle – it took quite a beating during the Civil War in the 1600s, so what’s left is actually pretty remarkable. As we approached the site, we were greeted by an enterprising staff member who explained – with a map! – the benefits of an annual membership to English Heritage. Needless to say, we now have an incentive to visit sites covered by our new membership.
Another view of the castle, this one closer to where the cannons of the Roundheads would have been as they aimed their cannons. The building to the left was used for many things over the last few hundreds of years, including during the Second World War, when it housed the garrison commander.
A view from the castle grounds back towards the north. The site of the castle has been used by humans dating back several thousand years. The Vikings spend some time here and from here the English engaged in a lot of commerce with Europe before the Romans spent time in the area.
Back in York, more evidence of the age of the city and it’s importance, if the number of fortifications and major religious structures can be a gauge. These are the remains of a monastery and hospital. There are several buildings in this complex still in use by the Museum of York, and the surrounding area is a lovely park. History and Architecture buffs will find so many things to learn and see here.
Outside of the York Minster is this statue of a Roman Emperor. Seemed a bit out of place until we learned that the previous Emperor – and Constantine’s father – was using York as a base of operations for one of the northern most regions of the Empire. I guess at some point in the 200’s the Romans decided to ignore Ceasar’s report declaring England a “cold and rainy land full of barbarians and not worth the effort” (or something along those lines). I also have a recollection from the tour that the Roman general who came to take over England (at least 50 years after Ceasar wrote it off) used Elephants, thinking that would so frighten and confuse the barbarians as to ease the conquest. But, since I am so far behind in posting, I share that as an interesting tidbit that may or may not be based in any fact. Anyway, Constantine led a Roman Legion and was in York supporting the Empire when his father died. He was named Emperor here in York. I am really hoping we find ourselves in a bar doing trivia one day and we can pull this fact out for the win. This photo also shows the extent of the scaffolding in use for the current phase of restoration – so the scaffolding tour of the Minster is probably worth it.
Another of the York Historical Markers, this one outside of a very old church that is no longer in use as such. It is a very subtle way for York to claim to have been the location of the first same sex marriage in England. Anne Lister dressed as a man to conduct business and was known as Gentleman Jack. Since we do not have access to many of the streaming services around, I was not aware of the HBO Show Gentleman Jack until my Pittsburgh friend (yep, that same one – she knows who she is) was less surprised than I would have expected when I posted about this on Facebook.
The back side of the Minster. The building to the left that barely makes in the photo at one time housed some naughty priests. Back in the day, due to primogeniture, wealthy families would by younger sons a post in the church where people would pay them to pray for them to reduce their time in purgatory and ease their passage into heaven. For some reason, this led to a number of members of the clergy who were, shall we say, less devout and pious than they might have been. This meant that the nearby streets housed a number of “entertainment establishments.” At one point, there were curbs put in place to improve the optics of this branch of the church, and there were some unhappy people.

York was a very fun visit and this post just touches on a few of the things that struck me or had a good photo. We will be back!

London

Based on zero planning besides “we should spend at least three weeks in England, so June 1st makes the most sense for our flight to London” we arrived the day before the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee activities were set to begin. Fortunately, our usual dumb luck with things had us find a very nice accommodation just far enough out to avoid the worst of the crowds but remain within easy distance to things we wanted to see. Dan decided we should go to the British Museum before they started to return some of the artifacts as they would be easier to see while they were all in one place, and we could always travel to see them again. While we were very close to a tube stop, there were numerous closures and schedule changes due to the Jubilee, construction, and intermittent “labour actions” so we will have to return to really experience London’s transit.

The British Museum. We booked our free entry tickets on line for opening time, and while there was a good sized queue before they opened the gates, the crowds were not bad for the early part of our visit. The building is lovely, with large halls and galleries in the older part and a very large expansion done as part of London’s Millenium building binge. I know there is a lot of controversy about the expansion, but I thought it was good space and it managed the large crowds that were in the museum as the day progressed.
For some reason we are always surprised by the age of some artifacts – this one, in part because it was glass and remains in amazing shape.

We spent a fair amount of our time in galleries displaying British items, including the finds of archaeological digs of Roman, Celt, and Viking communities. There is a room devoted entirely to timepieces – clocks, watches and such. The level of artistic and mechanical detail was amazing. There was a Middle Eastern room that included a lot of information about coffee; Dan’s favorite item learned was how in one place the host served you strong coffee until your hand shook just the right amount. We then moved on to the Egyptian collection and WOW, the amount, the variety, the sheer audacity of the collection. The comments about the looting and arrogance of the collection are based in truth and well deserved. It was also extremely popular and somewhat informative, however the sheer volume, especially of burial artifacts, was overwhelming.

The Tower Bridge. The Jubilee meant there were large crowds in central London, and road closures meant there was some interesting traffic patterns on the bridges. The walkways along the Thames were busy, but a really good way to spend the day.
In the heart of London – which is just one mile square, and is the central business area – holds most of the really ancient buildings. This is the remains of a very old church.
The Clock Tower, Big Ben resides behind that clock face and rings out the time!
For some reason, this view from the top deck of the Hop On/Hop Off bus tour tickled my fancy. Near Hyde Park, but I am so far behind on blog posts, I can’t remember any other details.
We like to take the Hop On/Hop Off tours in big cities. It is a nice sampler platter to determine where to spend more time, and is also useful in figuring out where and how far away some places really are.
The London Hop On/Hop Off offers a River tour too – son here’s another view of the Tower Bridge.
We tried Marmite – it is a fermented yeast product with a tangy, umami flavor.
Butter and peanut butter improve the taste, at least for us!

Leiria, a town with an old castle and a paper factory opened in 1411!

From Coimbra we caught another convienent and affordable train to Leiria. As we walked in from the train station – which was not quite as close to the center of town as we had hoped – we passed through some nice parks along the river, spied the local sports stadium, and saw the castle on the hill above town. Our adventure from the train station was a good lesson in the limitations of using your phone for navigation. We assumed the station would be close in, or have obvious busses, or cabs because that has been our experience so far. Alas, the Leiria’s station is situated on the edge of the city, and away from the central city. There were no cabs waiting to collect random travelers and the bus stop had no information. A quick search for directions on our phones offered no bus options to our hotel, but it was within 3 KM, so we started walking! It was a lovely and doable walk, even with our bags, but a little more than we usually like to take on. We discovered the busses do run from the station to close to our hotel, but for some reason even all knowing Google does not have their routes or timetables. Lesson learned, we’ll either do a bit more research or ask next time!

In Leiria’s old quarter, tight streets and interesting buildings. Leiria had a good sized Jewish population prior to them being persecuted and eliminated. There are efforts to acknowledge this history, but the conversion of synagogues to churches and the persecution means there are almost no physical reminders of the community.
The alter of a church that was originally the main synagogue in the city.
We ventured up the hill to see the castle. The city has an elevator you can take to get you part way up the hill and several people stopped us to point it out to help us avoid the climb, which is just another example of how kind the people in Portugal are! Once you get to the top the views are well worth it, whether you made the climb or enjoyed the elevator ride!
The castle had an amazing porch with beautiful columns around the archways.
Some of the detail in the stonework. This type of detail appears all over.
Inside the castle church. The complex has been partially restored and the church is in very good shape. Evidence of Roman occupation has also been found in the area.

As we got to the top of the castle complex and wanted to explore the partially restored tower a group of college students asked if we could wait for 9 minutes to go in as they were taking some measurements. We explored the grounds as other groups of students also wandered around. An instructor correctly interpreted our curiosity and said they were devising a plan to rebuild the tower as a class project.

Statue of the King associated with the castle. Again, I gotta start making better notes.
Some more beautiful tile work, this time on the side of the paper factory. Leiria was home to one of the first paper factories in Europe and also one of the first publishers. The first paper factories were in China and date back to 106, this one dates from 1411.
One of at least three water wheels that powered the paper factory.
Not to be outdone, Leiria also has a number of buildings with beautiful tile decor.
We happened to time our visit to be during the month-long city festival. We wandered over one afternoon and saw the carnival rides, were able to resist the temptation of fried dough and ice cream, and checked out the market stalls.
Like all good fairs, there were tractors! Not sure what level of status the Lamborghini tractor represents.
And, some pretty blooms.

Figueira da Foz, a nice town built around an enormous beach!

Another day, another delightful train trip! This trip wound through farmland more than from town to town and then along the river. One crop we were able to identify, rice! Figueira da Foz is primarily a beach town, known for having one of the largest beaches in Portugal and all of Europe. Foz shows up in a lot of coastal town names, including a pretty swanky neighborhood in Porto, and it means “mouth of the river.” There are several options for the source of the name of Figueira da Foz, but one of them is that there was a large fig tree near the mouth of the river, so that’s a pretty good reason for the name.

Just one view of the beach, and we are standing at least 100 meters from the roadway and sidewalk on the boardwalk, the beach is huge, even during high tide. It was still pretty early in the year, and while there were lots of campers parked by the beach and a good number of people walking around town, we never saw any crowds on the beach – but given the size there could have been a stadium full of people out there and it wouldn’t be too bad!
There were a few places with “fair food” stands along the beach. Apparently, we have the sense of humor of 10 year old’s, because we always got a giggle out of the name of one of the delightful looking fried dough snacks.

We had a lovely few days in Figueira de Foz, but we apparently didn’t take too many photos. We will try to do better when we go back – because everyone was very nice, the beach was beautiful, and the food was good we will most certainly return.

Aviero

Aviero is a beach town with a canal! Everyone in Porto referred to it as the Venice of Portugal. While there was a very nice canal, and we have never been to Venice, it seemed as though that claim might be a slight exaggeration. This was another easy day trip from Porto, just an hour’s train ride from the main station in Porto. It was a lovely day for the ride and the tourist information center at the train station set us up with a nice map and tickets to take the canal tour on one of the traditional boats. Aviero’s traditional use for the canal was to transport the salt from the nearby salt flats and for harvesting a specific algae used as fertilizer. The salt process is no longer commercially viable, but they still harvest some in the summer using the traditional methods so the tourists can see how it was done. Nowadays, the boats are used to give tourists a nice ride through town to see the lovely tiled covered buildings.

The canal goes right through the heart of town and there are many beautiful buildings. The tile is both decorative and useful in repelling the effects of the salty air so close to the sea and the salt marshes.
One of the two types of traditional boats used in the canal. These could transport several tons of salt or algae along thee canal.
Over the years some more modern bridges have been put across the canal. This one is pretty striking from a distance, and as you get closer…
It is even cooler! the bridge is circular and the single arm supporting it is curved like a ribbon!
The canal is wide enough to allow several boats to pass, but does not seem to divide the town too much.

Aveiro is also home to the first open air mall in Portugal, built in the 1990s and still a bustling place these days. We didn’t make it to the salt flats or the beach on this trip, so we will have to return some day.

Matosinhos, a laid back neighbor to Porto

We spent most of our time in the Porto area using Matosinhos as our base. From here we ventured into Porto, took our day trips to Braga, Guimaraes, and Aviera, and generally got comfortable navigating the area. It is a busy port city for cargo, cruises, and fishing. And it also has some beautiful beaches.

The Market in Matosinhos is a modern building from the 1950s and they are very proud of the architecture. It has a large section for the fishmongers, a lot of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, and butchers line the walls. They sell a lot more of the animals than we are used to seeing in American supermarkets, you see a lot of organs, and full heads among other things. Also, several large booths had live fowl and rabbits as well as the eggs.
A restaurant on one of the beaches with a great view.
The food was pretty good too!
The coast near Porto has several castle forts used to defend the country. This one is on the beach between Matosinhos and Porto. It is Castelo de Queijo, and with my rudimentary Portugese I was calling it Castle of Cheese in my head but was also certain that couldn’t be right. So, I was much pleased when the bartender called it that too! It is fairly historic and we were able to go in and walk around as it is now run by a Portugese Veterans group.
A view down the beach near our hotel. This is just a small portion of the beach. On the other side of the port and river there is another long sandy beach.
A view of the Cruise Port. Since we came to town via land, we did not use the port, but they offer tours. We weren’t able to get a tour, but it looks like an impressive building.
When the port was built in the late 1800s it was quite the engineering feat. They used enormous steam powered cranes in the construction. A few years ago they restored one of the cranes and opened it for tours. The crane, Titan, is a major part of the skyline. Well worth the short walk from the port entrance and the climb up the stairs.
Mind your head when walking along the cranes top arm. Well, many people like Dan must mind their head, I am not one of those people though.
Inside the room with the steam engine and motors.
Matosinhos was having the community fair during our stay, and in addition to the games, carnival rides, craft booths and food – a knit bombed park!
Matosinhos is a mostly modern city but has a lovely church.
With a very fancy interior.
The view of a city park from our hotel. The area once was a major refinery which is now relocated a bit further north of town. The park attracted lots of skateboarders and dog walkers daily and on one Saturday, a youth football (soccer) tournament. This area had a lot of new residential and commercial construction going on and is clearly a bustling place!

Coimbra, a very old university town!

Coimbra is on every “what to see in Portugal” list.  So, we packed our bags and hopped on the train.  It was a comfortable and scenic trip south of Porto. The train system was easy to use, convenient, and very reasonable. One of the folks who pointed us to the francesinas in Porto turned us on to the train systems app which made it really easy to find and book our train travels.

When we arrived in Coimbra and checked into our hotel the woman who helped us was so enthusiastic about what we could see and do! We were arriving just as the University term was ending so there were lots of students in town doing end of term activities, including lots of Fado singing. Fado is traditional Portugese singing and Coimbra is considered to be quite the hotspot. While we are still avoiding crowds and stayed away from the really big gatherings we did come across groups of students in their black academic robes singing and playing as we wandered around town. It was very enjoyable.

This church dates back to the 1100s and has beautiful detail on the columns and entries.
Zoom in for some information on the church. The restoration is pretty impressive.
The entry to the monastery in town. It is now a museum. A popular and crowded museum, so we may go in on another visit during a quieter season.
We were encouraged by our friend from the hotel to check out the “amazing beautiful botanical garden.” She was not wrong. And, we love it when someone is so enthusiastic their place!
Blooms in the Botanical Garden.
The view from the top entrance of the Botanical Garden over the River Mondego.
The old Roman Aqueduct that runs along the side of the gardens.
At the University there are many old buildings housing various academic departments and activities. While the Library is famous (and too crowded for us this trip) we wandered in to the psychology building and came across this lovely area.
Just some public art in the student quarter.
The arched entry to the park. They were taking down the last of the booths that had been there for a week long francesina festival that we missed by one day.
A fountain in the park. Coimbra is very hilly and the park flows up hill. It is a nice shady walk though.

One morning we set out from the hotel with no plan. Dan said something like “let’s just take a short walk to the other side of the river.” At least we brought the backpack and water bottle because we ended up spending most of the day meandering up the other side of the river valley, visiting an impressive Monastery, and wandering around a new neighborhood.

Across the river is a huge building, the Monastery Santa Clara-a-Nova. The remains of Queen Isabel, who is also a saint, are there in a silver casket on the alter. Her husband the king was important in setting up the University. I think. I gotta start taking better notes about the many factoids we come across. Anyway the courtyard was lovely.
In the church, back in a smaller chapel/sacristry, they had some fancy light fixtures and decorations.
This isn’t even the main chapel.
Again, not in the main chapel, the elaborate decor of the churches always amazes me.
Looking from the alter to the back of the main chapel.

Coimbra also has a large cemetery with mausoleums that can be seen from the river valley. After spotting them, we put that on our list of places to find. One morning off we went, uphill, in that direction.

The central chapel surrounded by family monuments.

Coumbra is a city with a lot of history that also has the energy of a university town. The narrow streets and hilly terrain give you the opportunity to turn a corner and find something fun every time you head out.

Porto, Portugal, Good food, good (fortified) wine and beautiful sights.

We spent a few days in the heart of Porto, steps from the River Douro, Se Cathedral and across the river from the famed river port that stores the even more famous Port wines!

On the way to Porto. The transportation from Spain to Porto was a bit…complicated. Dan found a “private tour” that would take us door to door for not much more than a multi transfer trip with hours spent going the wrong way. It was a delightful treat, our driver was great and informative about her hometown of Porto! Bonus. She, like most people in Porto, mostly recommended food and wine. “We love to eat” was a common comment!
Tiled buildings in the center of town. Porto is pretty hilly by the river, we entered the Plaza of the Se Cathedral at street level and this is looking over the wall on the opposite side.
My cod dinner. There were very few places that didn’t have a cod dish on the menu.
The main road along the river heading toward the ocean was built out over the water. The medieval walls and old buildings were in the way of other options, I guess.
Along the Atlantic coast just north of the mouth of the Douro River. Not sure what the concrete boat was before it became this bit of art.
One of many tiled churches in downtown Porto.
Inside the Sao Bento train station. The tiles tell stories from the history of Portugal. Also, a bustling regional train station.
Another, famous (but alas, the name not recorded by yours truly) tiled church. This one is very near the major market in Porto. The historical market building is undergoing major renovations so the market was in temporary digs at the mall down the street. We can’t wait to check it out next time we’re in town.
Another very pretty church we wandered by as we explored a neighborhood a few transit stops from the river.

For some reason we often wander into a cemetery if we come across them on our travels, or even as we wander around closer to home. We are interested in how long they’ve been in use and there always are at least a few interesting comments on the headstones.

This is part of the cemetery at the Lapa Church. The church is lovely, but the cemetery is amazing. These are graveside and many seem to hold multiple members of a family.
There were also a lot of these mausoleums, some dating back to the 1800s and still in use. Others were not in use and a few had signs indicating they were available for use by a new family.
A mausoleum with some of the beautiful tile work.

We had some business to conduct in Porto and the folks we met with pointed us to some authentic franceshina, a local specialty. As we worked our way to the restaurant we heard some chiming bells and stopped to look around. It was an animatronic clock with quite the display. What really intrigued us though was the NO ONE had mentioned anything about this, and we had talked to lots of folks about we should see while in town.

This photo does not do justice to the animatronic show that occurred on this street corner!
Franceschina is a sandwich of steak, ham, sausage, and possibly some other meat, that is smothered in cheese, doused in a tangy gravy and served with a fried egg on top. Apparently the really good ones are differentiated by the sauce. Delicious.
And, when in Porto, Port!

Guimaraes, another short train ride from Porto

We had so much success with our day trip to Braga, a few days later we headed to Guimaraes, often referred to as the birthplace of Portugal. It was here that King Afonso Henriques was born, and near where Portugese forces expelled the Ottoman forces and Portugal began to assert itself.

The King

There is a Castle and the residence of a Duke that can be toured, but as we approached the site a large group of school children arrived for a field trip. For those of you who don’t know us that well, that means we decided to put those attractions on the list for “next time, a quieter time.” And we wandered a little bit down the road.

We came across this church with the fancy sign pointing to the museum. We paid a Euro each to the nice man at the desk. He then proceeded to show us a few highlights. As his English was only slightly better than our Portugese, it was a lot of pointing and enthusiastic waving and air writing the dates of various church and hospital artifacts. He was delightful!
A beautiful old clock, he opened the case and advanced the time so we could hear the lovely chimes. My dad has an antique clock that plays the same chimes.
A restored area in the church.
Then we went up to the choir loft and he showed us the 300 year old pipe organ. Which he proceeded to turn on and open the access panel so we could see the bellows fill with air. Then he sat to show us how good it sounded.
He admitted to not been much of an organist and insisted that I play. So we had two “not much of an organists” banging away on a 300 year old organ! Best. Tour. Ever!
The interior of the church from the loft.

After he turned off the organ he explained he needed to get back to the desk, but he left us to explore, and showed us the very narrow stone steps to the bell tower and encouraged us to check it out.

The bell tower, yes that is a rope, yes were were supposed to tug it and ring the bell!
The view in to the courtyard from the bell tower.
While we took a pass on the interior tours of the castle and Duke’s place, we walked the grounds and marveled at the buildings.
The side of the Duke’s Residence. Apparently it was a very influential and wealthy Duchy.
Well, it has been a while since I posted a photo of some flowers.
There are often doors on older buildings that are not exactly Dan sized.
At the edge of the old part of the city looking through the medieval wall at the plaza leading to a church.
The church at the end of the Plaza.