Another year, another country, another adventure. The Bohemian had been before but not with Mrs Bohemian, so off it was on a Friday afternoon on a flight from the Rocky Mountains to Lisboa, capitol of Portugal. Our hotel, the Marques du Pombal, was right in the heart of Lisboa on the Avenida  da Liberdade, a perfect place to start a walking journey. A relaxing lunch on the Avenida was followed by a journey to find the Chiado district, which is known as one of the bohemian districts bordering Lisbon. We did discover that the Bohemian remembered enough Portuguese to ask directions once or twice, and we found our objective: the oldest bookstore in the world. The Bertrand has been around since 1732.

 

The Basilica in Fatima

The next day was another exploring day: the Alfama district, the oldest area of Lisbon, which wasn’t destroyed by the earthquake in the 18th century. The Alfama district is a World Heritage Site; I think it is unique in that you find a restaurant every 20 feet, on streets so narrow you could touch the buildings on each side of the street. Up next was Jeronimos, the monastery in Belem, and a quiet little port tasting on the riverside next to the Torre de Belem. Jeronimos was impressive, even more so when you saw the lines waiting to get in (we didn’t have to wait, sometimes it pays to go on a tour). Got an unexpected treat when we happened to be there for the changing of the Guard with the Horse Guards and band.

Alfama on a Sunday morning

Tasting port at the fort (Torre de Belem)

Of course, we couldn’t be in Portugal without a trip to the holy Sanctuary of Fatima, which holds such a special place in the hearts of Catholics around the world. We enjoyed a private ride in a Mercedes Benz because the Bohemian is not a font of knowledge when it comes to navigating or what rules of the road apply in Portugal these days. The Sanctuary itself is impressive, with the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, the new church which holds thousands, and the path from the new church to the Basilica, where we saw pilgrims walking on their knees towards the Basilica. We also visited the home of the children who saw the apparition of the Virgin Mary. It was located on a narrow street, and, despite the amount of people, it was quiet and peaceful in the area where the children used to tend to their goats.

Lunch in Sintra, looks like an Australian Christmas dinner to me

We took the opportunity of a nice day to go visit Sintra, a favorite of the Portuguese royal family and noted artists such as Lord Byron. The Bohemian had kind of forgotten how far it was from the entrance to the Pena Palace, and being Portugal, of course, all uphill. While it was a hike, you are surrounded by a forest made up of exotic plants and trees. The palace itself is quite spectacular, but is actually outshone by the landscape.

Bohemian at what once was the end of the world

After Sintra, we had time to stop at Cabo do Roca, the westernmost point of the European continent. Windy, foggy (we could almost see the ocean) but nice to say we were at the most western edge of Europe. Also stopped at Boca do Inferno (the Devil’s Mouth); hard to explain it, but it was quiet the day we went. Then a leisurely stop in Cascais, where I once lived. Recognized the buildings, but they now held a lot of restaurants, and a whole lot more people. Ended the day with a drink in an Irish pub, and then made our way back to the hotel.

Walking up to Pena Palace

Day four found us on the train headed north to Porto, and what we found made us want to go back again. Easy to get around, history in abundance, food and wine second to none. Not a minute was wasted in this beautiful city. Without going through a minute by minute recap, what we found were churches everywhere: Se Porto and Sao Francisco in Porto, Sao Goncalo in Amarante. What you tend to notice is that the Portuguese really, really liked to gild everything in gold. It was almost overwhelming, especially in Sao Francisco which was built by the Franciscan order which fought against poverty. Lots of stories behind that. And there are very few places in Porto where you walk on flat ground; we did take a walk that led us straight downhill from central Porto to the river. We then walked across one of the six bridges spanning the Douro River to Gaia (or Villa Nova de Gaia), where all the port wine used to flow from Portugal to England. The riverfront in Gaia is filled with port wine cellars and lots of restaurants, and has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. We had lunch at Dom Rodizio’s overlooking the Douro; I ordered a francesinha, a sandwich with enough meat and cheese in it to feed the entire population of western North Dakota. Pretty light dinner that night.

The Bohemian with his “franchesinha”

Can you be happier than this?

On our last day in Portugal, we ventured off to the Douro Valley; why hadn’t we been here before? Absolutely beautiful. Terraced vineyards everywhere, beautiful little towns (all with narrow, cobblestone streets), and the picturesque Douro flowing through. We had four gastronomic stops and four wine tasting stops. But I feel that the best wine I had on the entire tour was in a restaurant in Pinhal; the wine had no name, and the bottle had no label, but it led me to want to just hang out at that restaurant the rest of the day. A side story to this journey is that we ended up traveling with 6 Canadians, which now means we have holidayed with Canadians everywhere from the Cook Islands to Portugal! Oh, and the hotel we stayed at was in the heart of the Praca de Batalha; no streets, you just walked out of the door into a plaza with some great cafes.

Azuleijo in the Douro Valley

Everyone needs one of these

 

The Majestic Cafe, Porto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven days in Portugal, could have done seventy. Certainly ranked amongst the best of vacations yet. Great wine, great cappuccino’s, great food, wonderful landscape, friendly people, the atmosphere was relaxed; what more could you ask for? All in all, it just The Bohemians anxious to start the next adventure. Bom dia, all.