VISIT TO PORTUGAL
December 11-21, 2016
We stayed at Caiscais just south of Lisbon in the luxurious house of Connie Goldberg an international bridge player and Rui Marques, a bridge director who works with Eitan, and they were wonderful hosts.
Caiscais is lovely port town with a river emptying into the sea by the lighthouse.
At Boca do Inferno, on a calm day, we watched as the Atlantic Ocean crashed against the rocks.
The previous night we had talked at length about cork and the modern way they prepare it: very thin against a strong material backing that is waterproof, stain-proof and very attractive. We were delighted to find a number of stalls by the site selling cork products, like hats, bags, and purses.
We then met Rui and Connie for lunch in town and enjoyed delicious grilled dorado (denise) fish at Rosa’s Home Cooking. After lunch we drove through fashionable Estoril to Setubal. We stopped at the Igreja de Jesus church to explore manueline decorations only to find the body of some-one in the church awaiting the funeral service. From pictures it seemed he was a famous actor. As the church filled up with people bearing flowers we admired the intricate manueline carving of ropes and columns carved from three twisted strands.The church walls were covered with blue tiles that formed religious pictures, like paintings in other churches. We later found this to be very common.
From there we drove to Sesimbra. The fishing village lies on a steep hillside with narrow roads and plenty of steps. We sat at a café by the waterside in the late afternoon and watched as boats of all sizes made their way to the marina as the sun was setting. Fish in Portugal was plentiful although, like elsewhere, much of it is farmed; crabs and calamari were also common.
We went for dinner and fado to O Faia in Lisbon in an area known for fado restaurants The evening was long. After ordering each course the lights were dimmed and the fado singer accompanied by two excellent guitarists sang four long impassioned songs. Afterwards the food was brought, we ate and ordered the next course, receiving it after the next fado singer performed. This was repeated three times with different singers each time. Our main meal was served after 11 pm! We wished we could have understood the heartfelt words being sung and sometimes shouted.
We were impressed by the fine road system in Portugal; Rui told us that the system of highways connecting the main cities was funded by the EU. We were generally impressed by the drivers, but that changed that evening after dinner. It seems that young people like to hang out and drink while standing in the cobbled streets in the restaurant district. Our taxi driver on the way back had a unique way of driving. He put his foot on the pedal and drove at high speed along the narrow twisting streets crowded with the young people standing and drinking. He obviously relied on their jumping out of his way. I don’t know – I covered my eyes and crouched in the seat but Eitan assured me the driver didn’t manage to hit even one reveler.
The next day we drove to Evora.
parked on a street and couldn't work out how to pay for parking.
Portuguese people generally speak English and are unfailingly helpful.
We were delighted to be told that the parking machine
didn’t work and we needn’t pay. We walked to the main square through
Jewish quarter and even found one doorpost that had a place incised
stone threshold for a mezuzah. We had coffee at Praca
do Giraldo, enjoying the winter sun and
in the main square. We walked towards the Palacio da Inquisicao
to find that the name had been changed to Fundacao
Eugenio de Almeida and instead of the original Inquisition table I had
there, it was now a modern art gallery. To be exact there was a small
the entrance to the building that mentioned “inquisition”. A helpful
woman explained where the courtroom of the inquisition had been and
inquisitor had his office, but there was nothing in the building
In the room of the inquisitor there was an old statue of Mary
rebirth! The main exhibit was of history and memory and what we
it. And what about denial? As we left
I appproved of the sentence scrawled along a wall “Everything is a
story”. That line stayed with me for days. On one hand it means
that everything is worth recounting and ties in with the theme of the
exhibition. But on the other hand stories don't have to be based on
fact; they can be changed or embellished. In the light of the
non-mention of the palace as the seat of the Inquisitor it takes on an
We passed the remains of a Roman Temple, used variously since the 2nd century as a temple for imperial worship, an armoury, theatre and slaughterhouse. The Convento dos Loios is today a posada (tourist inn) and a museum. The church is used only on special occasions and is gaspingly beautiful covered with blue tiles and an elaborate golden altar. An iron grille in the floor allowed a glimpse of the collection of bones and skulls in the basement. Portugal is overwhelmingly Catholic even today, but we saw many churches converted to museums.
The Se Cathedral is an impressive structure; its closely guarded collection of sacred art is truly fascinating. Amongst its collection was a jewel-studded reliquary of the True Cross. Every time I guide at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem I recall that many churches have pieces of theTrue Cross but this was the first time I saw one. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed. For those who have roots in South Africa, it was here that Vasco da Gama's fleet was blessed before his sea voyage to India, via the Cape of Good Hope.
And again we did cork shopping.
On the way back we drove along a severely rutted dirt road to Cromlech of Alamendres – 95 large elliptical stones situated in rings that reminded us of Stonehenge. The stones are smaller but were erected much earlier, even then dedicated to a solar cult.
On our first night Rui and Connie had talked about cork. As we drove along the dirt road we were delighted to see groves of cork oak trees Quercus suber. We learnt that Dom Perignon is not only the name of the most famous champagne, but a monk who use the cork as a seal for wine. On the oak trees we could distincly see where the bark had been removed and the number of the year it was harvested painted on the trunk. A reddish trunk indicated that the bark had only recently been removed. The cork will regenerate itself and ten years later it will be again harvested. Removal of the bark does not harm the tree; in fact it promotes growth and prevents disease. Today thin layers of cork are backed with material and are used to make bags, raincoats, shoes as well as floor and insulating tiles, oil spill absorbants and heat shields. We were delighted to see feral pigs feeding on the acorns as they walked beneath the trees. Their meat is served in restaurants as black pork, a delicacy.
The next morning, with rain threatening, we drove northwards towards Cabo da Roca.
It is the most western point of the European continent. Braving the cold and the biting wind, we watched the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash against the dramatic rocks below.
Having been to Cape Agulhas, the most southern point on the African continent where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and Mount Warning in Australia where the sun’s rays first reach the continent, we were happy to add this to our list of "most" points. (Unfortunately when we climbed Mount Warning at night, the weather was so bad that it seemed the sun didn’t rise that day. What we did see was our legs covered with leeches! See what we wrote then.)
The mountain ridges on the way to Sintra were dotted with wind turbines. But there were also many old windmills, painted white. We may have been in Portugal but I kept an eye out for Sancho Panza. In Sintra, spurning the bus service we took a tuktuk driven by an informative driver who assured us her little vehicle would make it up the steep mountain to Palacio de Pena. It did; slowly. The palace is an exuberant collection of architecture and decorative styles built in the 19th century. It must have been like living in Disneyland. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the castle. Happily we decided to photograph the Castelo dos Mouros from the Pena Palace because the rains started when we took another tuktuk down the steep hill back.
Our final stop for the day was at the delightful hill town of Obidos. Encircled by a wall and guarded by a tower the white houses with brown roof tiles clustered together looked enchanting. We first stopped for coffee and Pasteis de Belem, a delicious traditional egg tart. We then walked along the quaint streets, buying chocolate sardines, tasting cherry liqueur in little chocolate cups and eating excellent chestnuts roasted on the street. The rains came again so we hurried back to the car and made our way to Leira where we stopped for the night. In Leira we ate too much at an excellent fish restaurant. In Portugal, when you sit down at a restaurant the waiter immediately brings little appetizers: fried balls of fish, delicious rounds of cheese, sardine paste, bread etc. This will all be charged so if you don’t want it you are welcome to send it back. But if you, like us, come to the table very hungry, who can resist?
The next morning Eitan woke up with an awful toothache. He was most satisfied with the excellent emergency dental care he received. We also couldn’t believe that an examination, X-ray and prescription cost only Eu25. When ready we drove to Figueira da Foz. We found parking by the Mercado and went to explore. The market was housed in a building with rows of neat counters offering fruit, vegetables, flowers and nuts and all kinds of fish. What was remarkable was the orderliness and cleanliness of the whole place. A porter preparing to remove the fish (fish was taken away at noon while the other stalls remained open until 4.00pm) directed us to a fish restaurant Casarol 1. I had been dreaming of Portuguese sardines served on a red clay plate (memories of the Polano Hotel at Lourenzo Marques now Maputo, in Mocambique) but was informed that sardines were out of season and it was forbidden to catch them in winter. So we ate squid instead.
After lunch we made our way to Casa do Paco
to see the tiles. In the 1700’s when a boat was shipwrecked 7,000 tiles
salvaged, sorted and placed on the walls of an old house.
would call them Delft tiles, they were made in Rotterdam. The tiles are
three styles – landscapes, horsemen and women, and biblical scenes. The
are either in blue or brown. The young curator told us the stories
the tiles, including tiles placed upside down and those with special
With the memory of the Inquisition still on our minds we
surprised, and pleased, to see that there was an extensive exhibition
of how Figueira da Foz,
as well as other
towns in Portugal gave refuge to Jews during the Holocaust. Arisitides
de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese consul to Bordeaux, issued thousands of
visas to refugees from France Jews and others, at great cost. He
subsequently fired and lost his pension. In 1966 he was deservedly
declared Righteous Among the Nations.
Our next stop was at Aveiro. We typed in an incorrect street name on the GPS but it was fortunate as it took us through an old area with houses picturesquely covered with tiles.
Finally reaching the town centre, we declined the urgings of young women to take a moliceiro boat ride along the canals in the freezing cold and instead walked to find a café. Together with our coffee we tried a local specialty Ovos moles de Aveiro. Small shell or barrel shaped casings made from flour and egg whites are filled with a cream made from egg yolks, sugar (lots) and water. It’s name can only be used in products made in the region
After that we drove to our hotel
in Porto along miles and miles of pine trees and eucalyptus in
mainly for logging it seems.
16th December is our wedding anniversary, and today we celebrated our 52nd anniversary – no mean achievement. We decided on a more relaxing day and drove to the Duoro Valley Port Wine region.For hours, the road snaked its way up and down hills all covered with narrow terraces on which the vines grow. Even private houses had their little vineyards. The British Taylors and Sandeman are very big producers of port but we didn’t want something we could buy back home. Instead we decided to stop at Quinta do Tedo, a spontaneous and fortunate choice. At the Quinta, Phillipa told us that their grapes are crushed the old way, by foot. We learnt about the different kinds of port and how they are produced. We tasted rose port – more like a wine and then ruby and tawny port. They latter two were very good, but when Phillipa learnt it was our wedding anniversary she took out a bottle of 20 year old tawny port for us to taste. It was delicious. Of course we bought a bottle and shall have to wait for an occasion to open it as it seems that port, like wine, has a very limited shelf life once opened.
We continued along the Duoro River to Pinhao where we had lunch
at Veladoura Restaurant by the river's edge. Eitan ordered black pork,
prepared from the feral pigs that feed on the acorns of the cork
he declared. To my query of how delicious, he replied that if an
were to eat it by mistake he would become secular so he couuld eat it
again.. Although there were
many bottles of wine displayed there were none of port. We were told
that they are chilled and only sold by the bottle because they don't
keep. We learnt something today.