Showing posts from May, 2019

We found the Celtic ruins!

With our return to northern Portugal, we were finally able to take our long-delayed trip to Guimarães. It was certainly worth the wait! (But that overview will be a different post.) In Gumarães, we stumbled across the  Museu Arqueológico da Sociedade Martins Sarmento. Housed in the former 14th century convent of São Domingos, the museum displays works of the famed archeologist, Martins Sarmento. Sarmento was known for his work on the nearby Iron Age Citânia de Briteiros and Celtic settlement of Castro de Sabrosa. He began his work at the  Citânia de Briteiros in 1875 and the museum housing his discoveries was inaugurated in 1885.  It is one of the oldest in Portugal, with a collection that includes thousands of pieces gathered from his lifetime, including many pre-Roman Celtiberian and Roman artifacts.  In addition to tiles, weapons and other tools, it showcases Celtic and Roman sculpture, gravestones and statues.  It took the sting off of the ruins in Viana do Castelo being

Celtic ruins? What Celtic ruins?

Viana do Castelo is a nice little town in northern Portugal near the Spanish border. It has what I'm told is a very nice beach, but we did not have time to take the ferry to it on the day we visited. The downtown is also nice, with tons of the types of tourist shops and restaurants that you would see at any beach town. It also has a medieval fort at the river's edge. But the real attraction is the  Santuario de Santa Luzia that sits at the top of a steep hill (accessible by a funicular.) Santa Luzia is a brand new chapel, by Portuguese standards - it was started in 1904 and completed in 1959. It sits on the site of what had been a medieval hermitage dedicated to St. Luzia - the patron saint of sight. A local cavalry captain, Luís de Andrade e Sousa, came to the hermitage to pray for help with his eyesight. When his sight improved, he instituted a fraternity to take care of the hermitage in 1884 in gratitude. The chapel (and later, a complete temple) was erected to serve

We, the bones that are here await yours

It's either the creepiest example of recycling ever, or a sobering reminder of how fleeting this life is. Either way, the  Capela Dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones, in Évora is among my  favorite Portugal side trips, so far. The bones used in this chapel are those of the inhabitants of the area who were disinterred from the local cemetery to make room for newer corpses.   Beyond the somewhat macabre idea of creating a chapel from actual human bones, the place held a weird beauty, as well. The bones weren't simply stacked to make a space - the chapel is laid out meticulously in the same baroque style as the cathedrals of the day - with "decorative" columns of human bones and high arches outlined with skull and filled with bone filigree. There was something oddly peaceful about the place. The only bones that were even slightly disturbing were the complete human skeletons laid out in display in one room - a reminder that these are not simply architectural elements, bu

Becoming Immersed

I’m studying Portuguese in Lisbon. There are a lot of people who live in Lisbon who do not speak Portuguese. The people in my class come from all over the world – from Canada, Venezuela, France, Albania, and, of course, Spain. Most of them live in Lisbon now. They want to speak Portuguese better for many reasons. Some want to be able to talk with their family members who are native Portuguese speakers.  Other wish to speak more correctly for work opportunities. One is a doctor who wants to be able to converse with is colleagues in Portugal. One is a journalist who needs to be able to speak fluent Portuguese to cover Portuguese news. Most of the class has about the same understanding of Portuguese. Our instructor is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We are learning not only Portuguese grammar, but also regional differences. For example, she explained to us that people in the north of Portugal, slur their words together more. I noticed that when I rode the Metro in Porto. I

You'll Trip Right Over History If You Don't Watch Where You're Going

I n Portugal, history is everywhere. It is, in fact, literally just below your feet in many spots. In Braga, we happened upon a Roman bath in the underground car park for the train station. In Conimbriga, of course, an entire Roman city lay just below the top of a hill among farms.  In Viana do Castelo, the same was true for a Celtic settlement at the top of a hill.  In Evora, there was a Roman temple, beautifully preserved behind the walls of a slaughterhouse for centuries. In every major city there were castle walls and cathedrals from medieval times, and homes with foundations that went back many centuries.   Among the most fascinating finds on our trip, was  ruins - going back nearly 2,500 years - found under the foundation of the Millennium BCP Bank in downtown Lisbon. While finding a few Roman artifacts is, apparently, no big deal - dig a hole in Lisbon and you'll hit an urn - finding extensive remnants of Celtic, Roman and Medieval civilizations all in one spot were. 

Buskers: the Good, the Bad and the Weird

Buskers - street performers - can be found in just about every tourist area of Portugal. The types of performances vary markedly by location.  In Porto, for example, most buskers are m usicians and are confined for the most part to the waterfront Ribeira tourist area - although there are a particular concertina (small accordion) player who works the Metro, riding it back and forth between the airport and train station with a small chihuahua on his shoulder.  Another notable busker was the old organ-grinder (with a pet chicken) who used to play  a barrel organ in  front of the  Mercado do Bolh ão (a famed Porto market and landmark) . The mercado is closed for a couple of years for total renovation, and the market is now in the basement of a nearby mall. Much cleaner and not nearly as interesting. I wonder what has become of all of the  peripheral  people who made livings just on the edge of the market as performers, trinket sellers, etc. There is no place for them in the modern merc

Azulejos and Calçadas - the mosaics of Portugal

Wherever you go in Portugal you are surrounded by beautiful mosaics and tiles. Many of the buildings in cities such as Porto and Lisbon are covered in distinctive azulejo tiles. The sidewalks, city streets and largos are paved in calçada Portuguesa  ( Portuguese pavement ).  Together, these tiles help give Portugal its distinctive ambiance.  São Bento train station in Porto Capela de Santa Catarina, Porto The term azulejo comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj, or "small polished stone." While the name comes from the Moors, the actual decorative tiles were introduced from Spain in the 15 th  century. King Manuel I was fascinated with the ceramic tiles decorating the Alhambra Palace when he visited Granada, Spain. He decided to have his palace in Sintra decorated with the same tiles. Soon they were all the rage in Portugal, decorating everything from churches and palaces, to ordinary houses, shops, and train stations.  The tiles were used to cover up the large area

Jam Club

It's Not Always About the Food, Part II Sometimes a meal is memorable for the amazing food. Other times it is the decor of the restaurant. Sometimes it is great service. And sometimes it is that one person you meet there. Our visit to the Jam Club in Bairro Alto is memorable for the owner, João.  To call him outgoing would be a big understatement. João greets you when you enter the small (actually tiny) bar/restaurant as if you were his best friend that he hasn't seen in ages. He introduces you to the other patrons ("these folks are from Michigan in the US - they have the best cars! Sorry, the people at the next table are from Germany where they also have the best cars. So Michigan has the best US cars and Germany has the best European cars! Cheers!") He finds something to complement the people from France at another table, as well.     Soon he is asking you to quiz him on various areas of knowledge - He'll bet you he knows all of the state capitals

Pastel de Nata

Even more than baccaula, the pastry treat “Pastel de Nata” are at the center of Portugal’s culinary heart. Every restaurant, bar, café, food court etc. has pastel de nata for sale throughout the day. At the groc ery store, you can enjoy a breakfast of a sweet pastel and a bitter espresso for 1 € . Tour books will tell you that the best Pastel de Nata are to be found in Belém, where they were first made at the Pastéis de Belém in 1837, following a recipe said to be handed down from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.  They are quite good there, and a line out the door of the assembly line like bakery attests to their popularity. Of course, any pastel that is fresh out of the oven is going to be tasty! For me, however, the best Pastel de Nata in Portugal are to be had in Alfama at a tiny unassuming bakery, the Pastelaria Alfama Doce. Their secret, I think, is a hint of lemon juice in the custard – not according to tradition, of course, but a great upgrade to this Portuguese treat!

The ever-elusive Wi-Fi connection

Can you hear me now? With the creation of a blog and the desire to keep in touch with my Dad back home, we are constantly in need of a free Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, the apartment we are staying in in Lisbon does not have Wi-Fi or an internet connection. This has meant an ongoing hunt for good Wi-Fi. Many public spaces in Portugal boast free Wi-Fi – from the Metro to local bars and malls. These are often not very reliable, or not the sort of spot you would spend more than an hour taking up a spot.  In the Metro it has become a bit of a game for me to try to get onto the free Wi-Fi before the next train arrives (and the Wi-Fi disappears). Even with 5-10 minutes between trains, I have never yet won this game. The Wi-Fi is very slow to load and often off-line. There seems to be only one spot on the Metro with reasonably reliable Wi-Fi – at the coffee shop in the Marquês de Pombal station. So this is where we call Dad using Facebook messenger to talk for free each day.

Time is Relative

Einstein was right, time is relative. In Lisbon there is a Metro station at  Cais do Sodré, the azulejos  tiles depicting the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland – a series of rabbits in motion scurrying across the tiles furiously checking a pocket watch. I doubt most Lisboans know what that is ab out. For example, I arrived at my language class a few minutes early, only to pass my professor on the way down the stairs. She was heading out for a quick bite to eat before class. Our class trailed in over the next half hour before we got started. Nobody worries about being late…you’ll get there. In fairness, the same is true at the end of class. We were in an intense discussion of some rule of grammar – suddenly the professor looks up and asks the time. “Oh no! We’ve gone a half hour over time!” She must run to pick up her son from school. Time ebbs and flows here. It is virtually impossible to guarantee getting to work at exactly 9 a.m. If you are crazy enough to drive, you w

The Sound of Music

In Portugal, music surrounds you. Buskers of various talents decorate the tourist thoroughfares.  Musicians practice in parks. Bars and restaurants pack balconies and patios when a band is playing bosa nova or light jazz. Malls set the mood for buying with an uptempo mix of piped in music. Then there is the ever-present radio in cabs and ubers tuned to the least offensive channel for potential fares - usually some variation of the hits of the '80s. Generally, the sound is pleasant and adds to the festive air of the day. Sometimes you will catch a phrase of English and realize the singer is interpreting some oldie from the US. Portuguese interpretations of American music are very popular here. And by interpretation, I mean interpretation.    Listening to some sultry singer crooning a love song that would be at home in any smokey lounge back home, I suddenly catch the lyrics. Think a Frank Sinatra wannabe singing "Hungry Like The Wolf" at about 1/4 tempo.  This happens a

Os costumes esquisito de Portugal

  Portugal tem muito dos costumes interessante e esquisito. Por exemplo as pessoas de Portugal acreditam que tu não deves escrever os nomes a vermelho. Eles acreditam que má sorte para a pessoa do nome. Um outro exemplo é eles acreditam que tu não deves brinde com água. Para mim, é muito estranho, eu brindo com água todos os aniversários. O costume mais estranho para mim é tu não deves largar a faca para almoço e jantar. Eles seguram as facas para a refeição.   Portugal has a lot of interesting and weird customs. For example the people of Portugal believe that you should not write  names in red. They believe that it is bad luck for the person whose name it is. Another example is they believe that you should not toast with water. For me, it's very strange, I toast with water every birthday. The strangest custom for me is you should not drop the knife during lunch or dinner. They hold their knives for the entire meal.

Evolution of an instrument

You may be surprised to learn that the ukulele was invented by the Portuguese. The uke is a slightly smaller version of the Portuguese machete de braga – or braguinah.     The braguinah is a member of the guitar family, descended from the early European lute.   It is a member of the family of Portuguese stringed instruments that include: The  viola braguesa . This oldest of the group, is not a violin-style instrument, but rather a small 10-string guitar (set in five courses much like a 12-string guitar). It was invented in Braga. The  citole  was an instrument played by troubadours and restricted to the nobility in the 15 th and 16 th centuries. By the 17 th and 18 th centuries, however, it had found its way to the lower classes, and could be found in theaters, taverns and barbershops. A smaller, flatter (and cheaper) version of the citole, the  cittern , became popular during the Renaissance, because it was easier to play, cheaper to make and more portable. The  guitarra