Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Destination Portugal: Lisbon

 Lisbon is the vibrant capital of Portugal, a gorgeous city steeped in history, impressive architecture, cultural diversity, and friendly residents. 

The only things that could spoil a visit would be the weather, sitting in an enclosed tour bus, and not having enough time to take in a lot of the activities and sights to satisfy the curious tourist. Unlucky me and my fellow travelers. 

We encountered off-and-on rain during our two days in Lisbon, a city spread over seven hills and facing the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Of course, the weather is something you have no control over when on a guided tour. You take what you get from Mother Nature and deal with it. And you take along an umbrella or rain jacket just in case.

Along the way to our hotel, we drove past many places that I'd seen on YouTube travelogues, Rick Steves's videos about Lisbon, and the three books about Portugal that I had perused in the months before departing from my old Kentucky.

I learned about an earthquake in 1755 that devastated the city and much of Portugal, as well as parts of Morocco and Spain. Up to 50,000 people died and 85 percent of Lisbon's buildings crumbled to the ground in one of the worst earthquakes in history. It's often referred to as the Great Lisbon earthquake.

But you're not here for a history lesson. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Cristo Rei monument
First, a few sights I saw from the bus: the historic Santa Justa Lift, Rossio Square, and Cristo Rei statue. We also passed by some garden areas and parks that looked interesting. I had hoped to find some free time to do some urban hiking. But I didn't.  

 By the way, I seldom take photos from a bus because I don't like to see the reflection of the interior from the windows. 

What we saw was part of my bucket list, so all was not lost. I just wished I could have seen more of what the city offered to visitors. 

We visited the impressive Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which contains the tomb of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and a few other notable citizens. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Vasco da Gama sarcophagus 

From there we went to the massive Monument of the Discoveries, remembering seafaring explorers such as Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral, and other luminaries from the 15th and 16th centuries. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Monument of the

We made a brief stop at the Belém Tower, a 16th-century fortification on the northern bank of the Tagus River. It also served as a departure-and-arrival place for the fearless explorers of the world.

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
 Belém Tower

The principal attraction of the Lisbon stop was the colorful Pena Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site located atop a hill in the Sintra Mountains. It began in the Middle Ages as a small monastery, but like many places in 1755, the Lisbon Earthquake destroyed it. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Pena Palace 

King Ferdinand II built a summer residence for the royal family at the site, with construction between 1842-54.  The castle has an eclectic feel with its colors and styles—because the king wanted it that way. I should mention that it rained during our visit. After touring the palace, we spent part of the afternoon in charming Sintra. I also learned that the pop singer Madonna once lived near the palace. 

I'd like to return to Portugal, but only after I check off other places on my to-do travels. As the old saying notes, "you only go around once and then you ___" (you fill in the blank).

There are an estimated half-million expats living in Portugal, including about 50,000 Americans. That speaks well of the desirability and quality of life in the nation that it would attract others. I know I found it appealing.

I hope you've enjoyed my posts about Portugal. Feel free to "Follow" me on my journeys by clicking the button in the right column.

Until the next time . . . 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Destination Portugal: The Algarve

 Portugal's gorgeous Algarve region offers a variety of things to do and see with charming towns, beautiful beaches, rocky coastline, and historic sites. It is the southernmost region of Portugal with about a half-million inhabitants, but it triples during the vacation season with seasonal residents. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
A marina in Portimão
Our two-day visit in early March was somewhat marred by rain, but when the sun was out, the weather was delightful and places were inviting. We stayed two nights in Portimão, a modern and picturesque ocean-side town that has become a hub for tourism in the area because of its proximity to many places. Our guide informed us that British music legend Cliff Richard once lived in the Algarve while looking after his wine production business. She reminded a few in the group about him by playing "We Don't Talk Anymore" more than a few times the remainder of the trip! 

It was raining off and on and a blustery wind pushed you along the way when we ventured to the Cabo San Vicente Light House and Sagres Fort. Certainly not an ideal time to take photographs. Aside from that, it was another place to soak in the scenery, if you know what I mean. And when you're making what will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime visit, you make the most of the situation, regardless of circumstances. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
The San Vicente Light House 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
A statue in honor of St. Vincent

Photo © Michael Embry 2022

Something I found fascinating was a circular pattern inside Sagres Fort,  believed to be a wind compass. It was discovered in the 18th century and excavated in 1919. That's the Atlantic Ocean past the walls.

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Portuguese constructed the fort in the 16th century

Because of the inclement weather, we had to postpone a boat ride from quaint Lagos along the rocky coast until the second day of the trip. There were no complaints from my fellow travelers. 

A bumpy and splashy boat ride along the rugged coast ranked as one of the highlights of the tour, perhaps because it has an amusement element for the adventurous side in a few of the travelers. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022

The last stop during our stay in the Algarve was the historic town of Lagos. It's a friendly, interesting place where a person can take in maritime history, sit back and relax on a street bench, enjoy a delicious meal in one of the many restaurants, or simply take a lazy stroll along the quiet streets. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Colorful and laid-back Lagos 

 The next stop will be Lisbon. Come along for the ride (Hint: hit the Follow button in the right column)!

Until the next time . . .

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Destination Portugal: Évora

 Évora is a charming and historic city in central Portugal with relics from Roman and Moorish influence before and during the Medieval period, including protective walls, a temple, several cathedrals, and remains of a royal palace.

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Group following the guide
Our tour of the UNESCO Heritage Site began with a walk through a quiet park bordering an ancient wall as a local guide provided information about the city's rich history when it was one of Portugal's cultural and educational centers. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Church of St. Francis

And then on toward the Old Town center, stopping first at the eerie Chapel of Bones at the Gothic-style Church of St. Francis, its walls "decorated" by Franciscan monks with the remains of 5,000 corpses. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Bones in the Chapel of Bones

Walking on the cobblestone street, we headed to the Old Town square of Évora, where there are shops and restaurants. People congregated to eat at tables next to a fountain, while others sat on benches along the perimeter to chat or take in the sunshine. For me, this was one of the most relaxing places on the tour. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Church of Santo Antao in Old Town square

Now on to some other sites in this enchanting place.

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Sentry post along wall

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Side street 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Temple of Diana, built in the first century

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Church of Grace 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Remains of the Royal Palace

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Bust of Dr. Francisco Eduardo de Barahona,
 a benefactor of the city, in the Garden of Diana 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Évora Cathedral 

After our visit to Évora, we made a stop at a cork-making factory. Wine is an important Portuguese product, so it makes sense that cork would be prominent as well. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Bark stripped from cork oak trees 

Now on to the Algarve region in the southern part of Portugal. I hope you stay along for the ride.

Until the next time . . .

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Destination Portugal: Coimbra

After spending a couple of days in Porto, we traveled south to historic Coimbra, the fourth-largest city in Portugal. 

Photo © Michael Embry
Belltower at the university
Our half-day visit focused on the University of Coimbra and the shopping area near the Mondego River. There's a limit on what you can see before moving to the next destination on the itinerary.

The Romans found the city, naming it Aeminium in the first century. In the succeeding centuries, the Suebi, Alans, Visigoths, and Muslims ruled for periods of time before King Ferdinand I of Leon reconquered the territory in 1064. 

You might say that Coimbra is a college town, as most activity appears to revolve around the campus that sits atop the hill overlooking the venerable city. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
King Joao III statue
The public university, which has 23,000 students, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its architectural and cultural heritage. Although created in Lisbon in 1290, officials permanently established it in Coimbra in 1537 during the reign of King Joao (John) III, and it's the oldest continuous higher education operation in Portugal. A statue of the king stands in the university's courtyard, the former Alcacova Palace. 

Photo © Michael Embry
Joanine Library 
Among the places to see at the university is the Joanine Library, which contains many valuable documents and books dating back to the 16th century. Construction started in 1717 and completed in 1728. It's named in honor of King Joao (John) V. The building is registered as a National Monument. 

Here are a few other images from Coimbra:

The Rainha Santa Isabel bridge crossing the Mondego River 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
The Tricana of Coimbra sculpture, honoring a woman of the city 

Photo © Michael Embry
Sculpture celebrating Fado guitar 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Monument to 19th century Prime Minister Joaquin Antonio de Auigar 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Coimbra street scene 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Shopping district

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Santa Cruz Church and Monastery 

I've only touched on a few things to see and do in Coimbra, but it's definitely a place to spend several days and take in the history and culture of this beautiful city.

My next stop will be in Evora.

Until the next time . . . 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Destination Portugal: Porto

 I suppose one adventure of travel is making connecting flights at various airports. The ideal is to board a plane at your home airport and fly nonstop to your destination. That's highly unlikely if you're flying overseas in economy class. I like to think it adds to the adventure of seeing fresh places, even if it is an airport.

For my wife and I on our journey to Portugal, we flew out of Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., to O'Hare International in Chicago, then a long flight to Zurich Airport in Switzerland (we can now say we've been to Switzerland), and then on to Porto Airport in Portugal. Enough about airports. 

As I've probably mentioned in previous posts, we take guided tours on our trips to Europe because we like someone holding our hands and leading us to various sundry places. Well, it's not quite that bad because we do like the free time to explore on our own, but a director gives us ideas and can point us in the right direction. And she is someone we can contact if we get totally lost! 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
The Douro River at twilight
Porto, or Oporto to the Portuguese and probably a few others, is a picturesque city on the northwest coast. It's the second-largest city in Portugal, with a metro population of 1.7 million people. 

Porto is a historic city, much like most European places visited by Americans. We began with a walking tour of the Ribeira District, which borders the Douro riverfront. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Porto Cathedral 

Our first stop was the Porto Cathedral, overlooking the Douro River. Construction on the Romanesque structure began in 1110 and was completed in 1737, a mere 627 years. An impressive pillory stands on the grounds. A statue of Vimara Peres, a ninth-century nobleman, stands near the entrance.  

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Vimara Peres
We took a short walk from the cathedral to the Sao Bento Railway Station, which is noted for its tiled mosaics depicting the history of Portugal in the main hall. The predominately blue-and-white tiles are an important part of the nation's history and culture that you'll see in other parts of the country. The display on the station's walls is captivating by the artistry and detail.

Without going on and on, here are a few other highlights from our tour of Porto that including bus stops along the Atlantic coastline and a leisurely boat ride on the Douro River.

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Statue of Prince Henry the Navigator

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
A church with a blue-and-white tile facade

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Restaurants in the historic Ribeira District 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Boats on the Douro River 

Photo © Michael Embry 2022
Barrel in a warehouse containing Porto wine 

We also visited the Stock Exchange or Bolsa Palace, viewed marvelous wood carvings in the Church of the Convent of St. Francis, and toured Ferreira wine cellars and took part in a tasting of its delightful product. 

There was so much to see and do in Porto but so little time as we had to move on to our next stops in Coimbra and Evora. If ever I return to Portugal, Porto is a city where I want to spend a lot of time.

Until the next time . . .


Monday, May 2, 2022

Destination Portugal: The Beginning

 It had been nearly three long years since my wife Mary and I traveled to Greece. In the next two years, we had planned trips to Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Life, as most travelers knew it, had come to a standstill. We were able to take several day trips to nearby state parks to take in the fall foliage or visit the Louisville, Cincinnati, and Columbus zoos. An overnight trip was to Gatlinburg, Tenn., for some Smoky Mountain scenery. Our big journey was a long and memorable weekend at Mackinac Island, Mich., to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. 

Portugal flag
But we still longed to return to Europe. When it appeared that travel to Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia wasn't going to happen, we changed our destination plans to Portugal. But we still weren't sure it would happen as strict protocols for international travel were in place because of the pandemic.

We counted down the days to departure in February, knowing that the tour could be canceled at any time. Then we were notified the trip was on, but with conditions. We had to have a negative Covid-19 test within three days of departure and we had to complete locator forms for Portugal.

Arriving in Porto
Our tests were negative, but we had difficulty submitting the required information to the host country. Because of that, our airline wouldn't let us board until it was completed. Without getting into the complicated details, we were fortunate to have a tech-savvy young man at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., help complete the needed form. We were on our way -- to Chicago, Zurich, and Porto.

We were told the forms would be required at our final stop, but that wasn't the case as we retrieved our luggage and met our attentive guide inside the terminal. Then we were whisked to the hotel to officially begin our Portuguese adventure with fellow travelers and soon-to-be friends.

In the coming days, I'll share something about our various stops in Portugal. I hope you come along for the trip.

Until the next time . . . 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Back to the Keyboard

 It's been a while since I've written anything here; on Feb. 11 to be exact when I posted about a few love songs for Valentine's Day.

For those who are concerned or curious, I have been writing. Just not here. 

I'm a contributor on Medium, where I've had about five posts in recent weeks. I call them "Random thoughts" if you'd like to read them. I plan to eventually have them here.

And I've written book reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and other places. 

Oh, almost forgot. I'm also working on the sixth book in the "John Ross Boomer Lit series." It's a slow process but I'll eventually have it finished. I'm not as fast at writing novels as I used to be. It's an age thing like so many other tasks that take time to finish.

On a personal note, my wife and I traveled to Portugal in late February and I intend to have something about that fabulous country in the coming days, much like I've had about our other travels. Photos will be posted as well. Needless to say, it was great to be traveling again (even if the pandemic has only slightly subsided), and we've got more adventures lined up in the coming months.

So, I hope you haven't abandoned me. I simply took some time off to get recharged and refocused on my writing. We all need that once in a while, regardless of our interests and endeavors. 

Until the next time . . .