Monday, December 30, 2013

LAST DAY IN LISBON 12/14/2013 Belem Tour/Fado in Alfama

Well, it was a fine day. 

It did not start that way for pain.  This was one of my worst, the kind that just makes we want to roll over and stay in bed.  However, Lisbon is not around next week, so on I went. 

The first hour was pretty rough going.  The walking was tough up any stairs, but the pain was worse.

It is a fine bus with plenty of holding bars for hoisting up the stairs with arms, and very comfortable once seated. 

I forgot my notebook, and the guide was great.  So, I lost some of the detail.  Elizabeth got some paper for me from the guide and she had a pen,  I did not do so badly after that.  This is good, since I remember nothing these days without some notes.

 On the site of the old chapel in Belem is Torre de Belem. 

There was also a monument to a plane, with the plane an exact replica.  On the side was a cross that is not the iron cross of WWI, but predates that.  Portugal fought in the first was against Germany, but was neutral in WWII, probably because the leaders were Fascist and so could expect some respect from Hitler.

    here is a video link describing this..
Since the river offered a vulnerability of attack from the sea, a watchtower was built to see and protect.  There is another one on the other side. 

We rode down to the monument to Henry the Navigator in Belem (Bethlehem) named for a small chapel there in the old times. 
The guide had us stand on the map created in the cement.  I was less interested in that than seeing the area.

However, there were some interesting parts of the display.  Here are the celebrated mermaids.  These depictions look nothing like manatees. 

 Then there is a huge monument to Henry the Navigator that is very modern looking.  At the base are some fine depictions of people all moving uphill in their striving to develop ideas.  I like this part.  The rest is a huge wave of cement and it seemed boring in its modernity.  But as whole this was worth seeing. 

 I loved being by the water and sometimes as the guide talked, I just wandered about looking at the sailboat harbor or just watching the water go by.  On the sides of the little harbor were stone steps built into the walls that would allow a person in years past to descend to the water level and board a boat.  Now all the boats are accessed by a modern ramp, but these stone steps sure looked easy for access. 
Here is an interesting video of this area by another tourist

We visited the monastery which is now a cathedral.  Our guide said that because 85 percent of Lisbon are still practicing Catholics, the church is still functioning here.  Other sources questions that mathematics.

It is all built in Manuelino style which our guide explained as Gothic with a twist of Indian and Moorish influence.  '

The guide spent a long time building up the decorative archway, but compared to any cathedral in Spain, it was just average.

Oddly in the sculpted details were artichokes because they had been so helpful in giving sailors the vitamins, especially vitamin C that they needed when at sea a long while to stay healthy and avoid scurvy.  Artichokes kept well on the ship, so they were a good choice.

I thought the church was rather barren and plain and the wonderfully restored stained glass windows had iron bars on the outside which obscured the artistic pleasure of their view.   I best like the wall mural of St Jerome which showed both his time in the cave and his transition to heaven.  This was directly behind the remains of Vasco De Gama.  It was my favorite part.
Interesting also were that the tombs of two dynasties of kings were right up in the altar area.  Below the remains in stone caskets are elephants.
When DeGama came back from India, he brought the king a baby elephant and the king was just amazed and very attached to this animal.  So he decided that all the royal family should be transported to the other life on the backs of elephants, and there we saw them in stone, supporting the tombs. 
Some of the superstitious people thought he had been seduced by the devil and that these were very evil.  I guess it did not make their worship times easy.

Ironically, there are often very terrible faces of what could be easily taken as devils in the stone art of churches.  But a future guide would explain that those monstrous looking faces were to scare off evil demons and keep the inhabitants safe.

Across the water is a huge monument to Christ that is very similar to some I've seen in Latin America and that one just outside of Madrid.

I had not thought about the bridge here as being like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but it is almost a twin.  It is a two decked bridge with the top deck carrying cars and the bottom deck carrying trains and such. 
I have always been a bit chagrinned by the fact that of all the parts of travel, I best love the food.  However, Vasco De Gama and all his life's work and travel was as much about black pepper and cinnamon from India as anything else.  So I guess for the greats as well it sometimes is all about food.  Too bad they did not value Chana Dal in those days.  But perhaps the bean diet of Indians did eventually catch on as there are some Indian restaurants in Lisbon.

I learned that these little cobblestones that form all the walkways are small stones set without mortar just in sand and so they are very vulnerable to weather and wear.  Once one I pushed out, those around it loosen and so a hole is formed.  There are men trained in fixing these holes and repairing the walkways.  One guide on another day said there was some movement to replace them, placing the practical over tradition.  We liked the look of them, but they were hard to navigate and when wet they were very slippery.
We would later see the work of replacing those cobblestones as it was beginning in downtown Regula when we were there.  (see later blog post)  

 There are so many lions in Portugal.  They seem to have been taken as symbols by many ruling classes.  This one caught my interest.

 Elizabeth's fine camera technique caught the shadows here.  Great shot!

The cloister inner courtyard was circled with gargoyles.  Most of them look devilish.  There was a dove and there was a fine representation of a grasshopper (see the gargoyle closest to us in this photo,) but most were frightful as gargoyles usually are.

The guide explained that these stone creatures were actually thought to scare away evil spirits and leave the protected cloister fellows in peace and safely.
I loved the stonework of the innercourtyard of the monastery.  Here were really interesting designs in stone in each archway.
We visited the upper choir above the chapel last:


Upstairs we visited a room dedicated to the memory of  Alexander Herculano born in 1810 who became a great social reformer and political reformer.  He was a truly dedicated intellectual.  I want to read more about him.
On the way back we passed the oldest fish market in Portugal which is still a market today and then we had a fine tour of Alfama, an area that worked as a ghetto for both the Moors and for Jews, established in the 1400's as a refuge for those persecuted in the inquisition.  The story of this place would be very interesting.  One bit was that the inquisitors wanted to see if the conversion of the Jews was true or just fake and so they would go and see if the Jews would eat the pork sausage famous to Portugal. So the Jews created alheira a similar sausage that was made with chicken and ate it publically, fooling the inquisitors.

Another detail were shutters on the windows where Moorish women were able to look out while remaining unseen, as is their custom.  I liked this Alfama area.  There were little places where there was inexpensive wine and Fado was everywhere.  However, much of the entertainment does not start until 9 PM, so we don't know if we will last long enough to enjoy it.

 Residents have access the these laundry facilities where they wash their clothes.


There is a cancer institute here that does good basic research.  It is called the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown and was funded by a legacy from a rich man who died of cancer.


We wanted to revisit the Alfama neighborhood where we had walked and see if we could hear some Fada and get perhaps some inexpensive drinks. 

The cabby let us off far from our intended destination, and the place was not as busy as I thought it might be for a Saturday night. 

Basically, we were lost. We decided to ask directions to the Fado Museum, knowing that would get us close to an area with Fado.

Fado Museum

We found average folks on the street who could and would give us directions.  Some students from Oporto on holiday had perfect English.   A rough fellow who I took for a working class man had enough to help us with directions.  I think it is easier than France and certainly easier than Italy.

We had both left all our cameras and wallets in the room when we went wandering tonight just in case, but we did not feel we were in danger even when we were lost. 
It felt to me so much like when I was in Spain years ago and would be walking narrow streets at night and perhaps a bit lost.  We have heard there are pick pockets everywhere, but they can't pick much from ours because we carry so little. 
While riding one of the buses popular with tourists one of our fellow boat travelers did find the hand of a fellow in his pocket.  He pulled it out and gave the guy a slight punch in the shoulder, just to say, "Cut that out!"  It worked for him.

Finally, after quite a while of wandering, Elizabeth picked a Fado place right near the Fado museum, and we had a really wonderful time there.  The food was priced decently and we did not spend too much.  But it was not cheap.  We ate some roast chicken and I asked for piri piri for the French Fries.  We had some very good cheese.  And the wine was fine as well.
We sat next to a rather stuffy Portuguese couple and a very friendly couple from Holland.  We talked to the Holland couple for most of the night and had a fine time.  They were very friendly.  They did have some rather difficult things to say about the US, but we agree with most of them, and they were said with a twinkle and more as a question than an outspoken criticism. 

Most everyone we have met here in Portugal likes Obama.
These folks were farther left than Obama, but perhaps not far from our own leanings.  The huge difference is that the did not distrust government to ever be efficiently helpful to people the way our Tea Party folks do.
We talked too of yoga which the woman and Elizabeth both enjoy.  The woman hopes to retire at 65 and teach yoga.

I left as Elizabeth waited to settle the bill.  I wanted to stretch my cramping and painful leg and walk a bit.  Right next door I found one of the cheap hole-in-the-wall places to drink and ordered our first ginja en copa de chocolate. 


 I tried to tell the woman serving the liquor it was our first, and she got it and asked, “Primera vez” which made me wonder why I had not used my Spanish first.  Here my Spanish works easily, unlike Italy where it did not work at all.  I cannot hear the Portuguese, the Fado songs were totally beyond me, but I can read some sense into much of the printed stuff with some comprehension.  It is a relief to be able to easily communicate. 

The Fado was in our face Fado.  An old woman sang with such gusto and sang right to customers.  A tall young man had a fine voice.  A middle aged woman sang and was very talkative to the couple from Holland who ended buying her CD. 
It was really an amazing experience, the music so intense and so moving although we did not understand the reason for the pain in the songs.
I like the sounds I have heard from this Portuguese guitar.  There were times when the classical guitar was a bit too loud for it, but many times the Classical just played some basic background and the guy playing the Portuguese guitar went off on rifts that were great fun. 

Well, a fine last night here in Lisboa.  We leave early tomorrow.  I am not as anxious as I was before today because the bus felt very spacey and comfortable. 



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Historical lecture along the ride to Porto 12/15/2013


Wow!  This was an amazing ride.  I was dreading it, but I learned in Lisboa that the Aleve in the morning and then a healthy dose vinho tinto about 2 PM makes the arthritis lessen.

I am very tired of daily pain and acute stiffness that makes walking a limp and bus stairs a challenge, and when I get home I will look for the Humira.  But just now to have discovered the wine as anti-inflammatory is very helpful.

Most readers have been delightfully drunk in their lives, but I suspect few have found that as well as the elation of the drinking there was the elimination of intense and restrictive pain.

Of course, I know that it is a slim bit of a balance.  I must not drink too much, just enough to be happy.  Otherwise I would  have to pay for the medication with hangover.

Oh, red wine is the one alcohol that lowers blood sugar.

 I dreaded the bus part of our trip because long bus rides (190 Miles) are generally pretty boring.  However, we first managed to get seats to ourselves so that Elizabeth was not right next to me and both of us have space to expand. 

Then the stopping was just wonderful. The comfort stops were right as they were needed, and I was never uncomfortable. 

I fell asleep for part of the journey and most of the rest was full of Sandra explaining something.  She brings the information down to my level. I've read guidebooks, but this was absolutely the best composites of Portuguese information that I might imagine. 

There was a short lesson in Portuguese. I'll record it phonetically. 

Sim = yes

Nao = No

Quanto Pushka _ How much

“s” in the middle is pronounced “sh”

“j” is always like the “g” in george.

“Toilet” will work fine

Kenca – hot

Frio – cold

gelado – icy

shyooo – full the cup to the top

chaio – tea 

A good toast, "saude" sounds something like Sawuda meaning good health.

We learned that a  referendum in Portugal has eliminated the possibility of developing nuclear energy, so the electricity comes from dams, wind farms, and solar with a small percentage imported. From the bus we often see the wind turbines. 

Most of the time it is very green in Portugal.  It is warm and dry in summer and winter rainfall is abundant.  The common trees are pine including the round top umbrella pines, eucalyptis trees, and cork trees.
The eucalyptus is used for lumber because it grows much faster than pine, and the leaves make the oil we buy.  The cork is used for wine bottles, but also processed and used for making shoes and purses and even jewelry and hats.   Eucalyptus burns fast, so forest fires are a problem and very hard to stop once they gain a foothold. 
The cork bark is peeled.  As our former guide explained, this makes the tree live longer, but it can only be done every 9 years. A cork tree will live for three of four hundred years if the cork is not harvested, but taking it extends the life of the tree indefinitely.

We passed the Fatima Shrine where the three young girls had the repeating vision on the 13th of the month.  It ended on my birthday, but long before I was born,  1917.  In 1920-21 the chapel was built.  Two of the children died fairly young, one from tuberculosis and one from Spanish Flu, but the third became a nun and lasted until she was 97 years old. 


First came the Celts.  Then the Romans beat them down and developed roads and aqueducts and bridges.  Technology does help when one group wants to conquer another.

With the 15th century falling of the Empire came the pressure of the Barbarians from the North, the Visigoths.  The Visigoths did blend well with the Romans. 

In 711 the Moors arrived and beat out the Visigoths except for the mountainous area of Asturias.  The Moors brought in the crop of rice which has been popular ever since.  And the Arabic language blended in as well.

CRUSADES -  The Moors were attacked and eventually defeated.  This is the time of Reconquista.

Henry of Burgandy.  Here is the guy who sets off the development of Portugal.
His son Prince Alfonso finishes the job.  Alfonse the I creates the capital in Coimbra.  Now the job is less war and more development of farming and of fishing so that the country can be prosperous. 




Saturday, December 28, 2013

Coimbra Sunday 12/15/2013


We went next for lunch along the highway on our way from Lisbon to Porto.
Codfish, potato, onion, fried squares.  Very tasty
A creamy soup
Lots of wine.  I drank the red mostly.

We sat with a doctor from Toronto and his wife.  Both had started in Hong Kong.  He travels all the time.  He is semi retired and works about 3 days a week.  We talked about naming children.
They had some say in their grandchildren's names, and she had lobbied for "Elizabeth." 
They had arranged their own rooms in Lisboa for less money than Viking booked and still met for the tour.  He recommended Smart Tour for South America.
While one guide said that 85% of the population were Catholics and so the churches were full, another said that only one third of the country actually practices the religion.  I had heard that Catholicism was easing off in Europe, but continuing to grow in Central and South America. 
Wikipedia says 81% are Roman Catholic but only 19% attend mass and take sacraments with more wanting marriage and funeral services.  This seems to match the progression of Roman Catholicism in most of modern Europe.  It is funny because I base my sense of Europe on immigrants and families that came to the US and build the large churches that I saw as a kid. Both the East side (Polish) and the West side (Italian) of Buffalo were full of practicing Catholics.
From reading around I see it is very difficult to really know how the Catholic church is doing in Portugal.  Here is a recent article

The town of Coimbra welcomes the students and the culture of the town works to accept them.  The school has uniforms, religion, and is quite disciplined with great respect for tradition.

As we headed into Coimbra we learned that rice is grown here. 
We came in along the Modego River.

King Denis is celebrated here because as well as being a farmer advocate, he was well educated and promoted the university as well as arts and literature.

This is one of the oldest continuously working universities in the world, having been first ratified in 1290.
This is a university town; one third of the town are students. But it is much different than what we think of here in the States.  The students are conservative, wear the uniform capes, and are proud of all the symbolism.  This is one of the students who graduates this year.
There are many customs in the capes.

Here Jacqueline who came from Brazil has sewed patches that reflect parts of her life that are important to her like patches that represent Brazil.

The cape is cut in unusual and symbolic ways.  Before graduation it is cut by the teeth, family making cuts on the left and friends making cuts on the right.  If it is cut in the back it means the student has a lover, a longer cut means a serious lover.  Jacqueline is going to be married so she has a long cut. 
Sometimes small one night stand cuts are made and then sewn up when the relationship goes awray.
Students in Portugal go to Primary School from age 6-age 10.  Then they do 2 years of preparatory school and 6 years of Secondary schools.  A national exam as well as report card grades allow them access to University.   The state determines the tuition.  Just now it is 1055 euros per semester.  Students who do not have the funds can qualify for scholarship.   Most go into Medicine, Law, or Engineering.

When students graduate the big ceremony is the burning of the silk ribbons described here:
It might be fun to come back for that in May.

The university is very old.  1290.

The place is discussed in great detail and photographs of the square we visited are much better on this site than they were to our camera with limited lenses.


Note the distinctive colorful tile roof, unusual in Portugal.  I thought it was delightful. The red and green celebrate the colors of the Portuguese flag.

The square itself was interesting and the views were spectacular. 

 Our guide showed us a staircase called the "Latin staircase" because once a student is on it, only Latin can be spoken.  She said the students often called it the "silent staircase"

We saw the Faculty of letters and visited the huge old library which is really now a museum.  The Joanina library was very ornate and impressive. .  It is now really a museum rather than a working library. Massive shelves of very old books in an antique like setting. The climate is such that it helps preserve the books.   I suppose the romance of being in a huge library is slowly passing with the electronic age bringing all libraries right in the hand of the reader.  But I am still delighted in books.

There are 24 bats that live in the library and so keep down any insects or such that might come in when the door is open or through small holes.  That was a strange use of bats, but I suppose these will not be subject to any diseases.

Biblioteca Joanina

The movie, Name of the Rose, based on Umberto Ecco's novel set in Italy was filmed in part in this courtyard.

They thought about using it for some of the Harry Potter films, but that did not happen.

I wished I could photograph the ornate posts that supported parts of the structure.  They narrowed near the bottom, expanded to wider at the top and then held interesting scroll like pieces.
They can be seen here.

The ceiling was deceptively painted to look vaulted when it was flat.  No amount of looking could convince us that this was painted on a flat surface.

Elizabeth's credit card fell out of her purse near the library and a kind young woman and her man returned it to Elizabeth.  Ironic.  All these days of our taking precautions against pick pockets and we when we falter, we stumble into honesty.

On our way out we stopped for lunch and some Fado music. 

Codfish, potato, onion, fried squares.  Very tasty
A creamy soup
Lots of wine.  I drank the red mostly.

We sat with a doctor from Toronto and his wife.  Both had started in Hong Kong.  He travels all the time.  He is semi retired and works about 3 days a week.  We talked about naming children.  They had some say in their grandchildren's names and she had lobbied for Elizabeth.  They got rooms in Lisboa for less money than Viking booked and still met for the tour.  He recommended Smart Tour for South American travels.  We were not to see them very much over the rest of the journey. 
As part of the performance after lunch we sang along to an old Faco folksong that tells about Coimbra having more charm when saying goodbye.  The mournful tune well reflects some of the sense of Fado which works somewhat like the older Blues in the US to sing personal troubles.

I'm on my Facebook singing this along with our guide and two others. 

The three women were wrapped in a traditional cape and I was nearby.  My guide swept me into the swaying.  It was fun, but my performance was inadequate.  For one thing, I had only written the lyrics phonetically on the bus on the way and I had some of that wrong.  Here is one version.

My friend Fatima, who was born in the Azores and is fluent in Portuguese, sends these along as the actual lyrics.
She writes:

Here are the lyrics to the song: Coimbra Tem Mais Encanto sometimes called Balada Da Despedida ( The Goodbye Ballad )

tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
2-Que as lágrimas do meu pranto
São a luz que lhe dá vida.
3-Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.

Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.

4-Quem me dera estar contente
Enganar minha dor
Mas a saudade não mente
Se é verdadeiro o amor.

5-Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.

6-Não me tentes enganar
Com a tua formosura
Que para além do luar
Há sempre uma noite escura.

7-Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.

8-Que as lágrimas do meu pranto
São a luz que lhe dá vida.

9-Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
9-Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida.
Coimbra tem mais encanto
Na hora da despedida

Thanks, Fatima.
link to this song on you Tube:
In Coimbra I saw these hotels:
Hotel Astoria was right on the river.  I'd like staying in Coimbra.
Trip advisor reviews

Hotel Bracama
Hotel Oslo
Almeidina Hotel