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.

Braga: Historical, Architectural, and Natural Beauty abound!

Well, this happened a few (or more) weeks ago, but we’ve been having so much fun!

Using Porto as our base, we decided to take the regional train for some day trips. Braga was an easy hour or so trip north and appears on so many of the must see lists.

A beautiful fountain as you approach the old section of the city.
A church dating back to the 900s, like so many old churches here, it had been updated, but not for a century or so.
The interior of the church. I am waiting to see if I will ever not be surprised by how ornate they are.
A major attraction here is the Bom Jesus which presides over the city from the hilltop. First, you walk over halfway up the hill, then you start up a path, then you get to the steps. Needless to say, Fitbit says we climbed a lot of flights this day.
A view back to Braga from the plaza. My camera was not really up to the task of getting good photos of the many small buildings that hold life-size depictions of the Crucifiction and Stations of the Cross.
The church, just a few more flights.
Another ornate interior. There was a wedding later in the day.
Another view from the top. Did I mention how much climbing we did?
The city gate, taking you back in to the old city center. As we spent most of our time climbing a hill and stairs, we have to return to see more of this lovely city.

Salamanca and Cuidad Rodrigo, walled cities and churches and storks, so many storks.

We passed this bell towers on our way from the train to our hotel, it was just the first of many towers sporting huge nests and multiple pairs of storks!

We took the slow train from Madrid to Salamanca, which was nice because the countryside was lovely and the regular speed allowed us to catch more than just a quick glimpse of the stone walls and villages, as well as some cows and blooming fields. The train had two stops in Salamanca and the second was closer to our hotel. What we didn’t know was that the stop was just that. The train stopped, there was a platform, but no signs, no buildings; so it was a good thing some guy on the train told the people in front of us that we were at the last stop and should exit. We followed them. I don’t remember what exactly our plan was for getting to the hotel, a short two kilometers away, but it is good we pack so we can make those walks.

When we were planning the trip we came across several suggestions to add Salamanca to our itinerary, so we did. But, as we walked along a nice but nondescript commercial strip, I admitted to Dan that I forgot why we put the city on the list of places to stop. His response “I’m sure there is something worthwhile here.” That’s why he is the best of travel companions (and husbands). As we got closer to the hotel we started to pass by the amazing buildings the city is famous for and I remembered why we came!

Salamanca is home to two major cathedrals, a university, monasteries and cloisters. The city still has much of the medieval walls intact and a bridge dating back to the days Spain was part of the Roman Empire. We enjoyed several days wandering around looking at the buildings and enjoying the end of term vibe given off by the students. One day as we finished our (too early by Spanish standards) lunch, we realized that all of the folks we’d seen walking around in various costumes were following some musicians down the street in an impromptu parade. Apparently it’s a thing, but we couldn’t find many details about it.

The dome of a University of Salamanca building behind some other lovely structures.
An entrance to the “new” Cathedral, built a mere few hundred years after the “old” Cathedral, which still stands. Salamanca is unusual in that it has two Cathedrals. And they are connected.
The “new” Cathedral, done well before the United States declared independence, in the early 1700s. The “old” Cathedral was at least 100 years old at that point.

We took the “tower tour” and made sure we got there early to avoid the lines. We were the first to enter and enjoyed poking around the stairways, rooftop walkways, and various rooms and exhibits with very few others. Good timing too, because as we made our way down and out there were several large groups working their way up to the bell tower.

A view from a lower terrace (3 or 4 steep flights up) at the towers of both cathedrals. The shorter, sharper tower is to the Old Cathedral, and the dome is for the New Cathedral.
The tower tour does not include the nave in either Cathedral, but you do walk across a narrow and very high balcony overlooking the main space of the New Cathedral.
The walkway over the roofs of both Cathedrals.
The balcony on the other side and some of the stained glass.
A view into the old city from one of the many terraces on our way to the bell tower.
The bells in the bell tower. They chime every quarter hour, we managed to be NOT in the tower when that occurred. The stairs were circular, very steep, and winding. They had a set of timed red and green lights to manage traffic and it worked really well.
This room housed the gears for the clock. These gears no longer keep the time on the clock.
The Roman Bridge, built when the Iberian Penninsula was part of the empire, so yep it’s old.

Cuidad Rodrigo

Our original plans for the trip through Spain included Vigo on the west coast, but the transportation just didn’t work out. So, faced with a need to find a way to get to Porto we came across a private tour where a driver would take us! It was only a little more than the other options and took way less time. There was an option to add a “tour” and Dan signed us up for the stop at the town of Cuidad Rodrigo. It was perfect! Marta was friendly, knowledgeable, and was almost s excited we were going to Porto (her home town) as we were.

Your random flowering tree for this post. They smelled really good too!
Still defending the town! The fortification walls still surround the town. The walls are very thick. We didn’t get a photo, but we drove through a gate and it was at least twenty feet in that section.
A bell tower with more nesting storks!

On the drive to reach Ciudad Rodrigo we passed so many more nesting storks. I started pointing out the ones I saw and Marta, our delightful Portugese driver, was so impressed that when I dubbed myself “stork spotter” she agreed! Dan mumbled something along the lines: they can’t be storks, there aren’t anywhere near enough babies…

A view of the Cathedral from the walking path along the wall. This is one of the few spots where there weren’t locals out getting their steps in!

Madrid, Spain-where everybody had to be out and about!

We took the high speed train from Barcelona to Madrid, and it was fast! With only 2 short stops, the trip was easy. It helped that I took advantage of the onboard free wifi to put up a blog post. What a great way to travel, too bad we can’t do that in the US because a train like that to Pittsburgh or Indianapolis would allow me to really annoy some of my favorite family members!

If you have ever heard my dad tell stories of our travels through England in 1972, you will get why I sent this photo to him and my sister with the caption “looks like Wisconsin.” You can also see from the way the tracks look that we were moving pretty fast!
These are some of the train cars, they look a little fast…
Dan took a screenshot, this was not the fastest we were going, but close!

We arrived to a rainy Madrid a few hours before we could check in to our accommodations, so we decided to store our bags and check out some of the city. There was a place to store bags a few hundred meters from the station, so we headed over stash our stuff. The whole thing was automated, just select the size locker you need (S,M,L), choose how many hours, a locker magically opens and they email you the code you need to open it with later. Easy peasy! Again, why isn’t this a thing in the US?

We wandered away from the train station and found ourselves near the botanical garden, which those of you who remember the posts from Australia and New Zealand know we are susceptible to, but it was closed for some event. We carried on and found a large city park and spent time wandering there. It was lovely.

The Madrid Atocha Train Station. This station has high speed rail connections to many Eurpean cities.
A plaza at the park. Yes, it was very rainy, yes were very wet by the time we were ready to head to our accommodations. I am a bit surprised the cab driver didn’t charge us extra for the puddles we must have left in the cab…

We stayed in the “Times Square of Madrid” full of theaters, neon billboards, shops, and action. It was located near many of the highlights of old Madrid, so it was a great, if noisy, location! We inquired at the i-Site (tourist information center) about the Hop on Hop off bus on Saturday but they advised that we should avoid it on Saturday due to a “labor demonstration” and on Sunday for the Madrid Marathon. So, we just started wandering around. We ended up in a local market and decided to buy some cheese and wine at a booth. While waiting in line a man asked me something in rapid fire Spanish. At my befuddled look, he immediately asked me in un-accented English if I was in line. I said yes and then asked him to repeat slowly which he did. He asked where I was from, and then because I said Ohio, he admitted to being from Indianapolis! He said he usually says Chicago because it’s easier. Nice Midwestern chat ensued where I learned he had followed a woman to Madrid (and introduced me to the 6ish year old result of that who was with him). Small world indeed.

The next few days we walked around Madrid, took the Hop on Hop off, found some “outside the tourist district” neighborhoods for low key, yummy food. We also learned that sometimes you need to pre buy the tickets! Oh well, we will just have to go back to Madrid so we can tour the palace next time!

Lots of monuments in Madrid.
The Cathedral, and the crowds in the square it shares with the castle, so you can see the need to pre-book.
One of the many impressive doors to the Cathedral.
Just one example of the buildings along the Via Grande. Many had large sculptures adorning the roofs.
Madrid is a very large and busy city, but there are parks, fountains and public art scattered everywhere, so you are always able to stop and take a deep, appreciative breath.
I don’t only make Dan visit government buildings in US.
The main square in Madrid. This was taken on our second visit, the first was on a weekend and it was full of people!
The lake in the middle of the main city park on our rainy arrival day.
The same view of the lake a few days later, when the sun was out. Between the Madrid Marathon, the good weather and the weekend, I would have sworn the city passed an ordinance saying no one was allowed to stay home!