Sunday, February 21, 2016

Saving the best for last....PORTO!

Porto skyline
At Geres National Park
The end of this trip has come. Both Ricardo and I wrote our posts separately without reading to each other until finished. You will find some duplicate thoughts and descriptions which helps us to realize that we feel similarly about our travels.

Ribiera District, Porto
Porto was our last but certainly not our least stop. We originally had plans for a few more places in Northern Portugal but changed our mind to stay put in Porto for nearly two weeks and with afterthought it seems like this was a really good idea. The longer we stay in one place, the more we get the “feel” and here we go again with a similar refrain – we love Porto and could see coming back for a longer stay. I know we have said this before and we do mean it each time – there are certain things that we loved about this city, namely: near the water (on a big river only 45 min walk from the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean); very close to many beaches, one hour train ride to loads of interesting cities (we visited Guimaraes this time); several National Parks in close proximity (we visited Geres on this trip); walkable city; great vegan options and many specifically vegetarian/vegan restaurants; several yoga spots (did not do on this trip); VERY friendly people. I guess the only real negative is the language barrier though most folks do speak some English so we did not really have trouble. It would be hard, though, to make close friends with those who do not speak some English or Spanish. The Portuguese do understand Spanish but the Spanish do not understand Portuguese – there are some sounds that are just not familiar to either English or Spanish that is used in Portuguese so I think it would be hard for me to learn. Reading is easier as the words are very similar to Spanish.
Atlantic Ocean waves crashing
at mouth of river

Fish market at Matoshinhos
Once again, you can travel with me through our pictures. As in many of the cities we have been – it is hard to get a bad photograph as the views from up or down, often with the river in the background, are awesome.
Ribiera riverfront

Favorite church - built in the rocks
in Guimaraes Pena Park
Now, at the very end of this amazing ten week adventure I will try to summarize a bit my thoughts and feelings. This is the first time that we have traveled this way – 3-5 days in many places. Let’s see how many different places we stayed at least one night: Sevilla, Aracena, Granada, Cabo de Gata, Ronda, Cadiz, Cordoba, Buxton, Lisbon, Sintra, Evora, Coimbra, Porto, Madrid….14 different homes! The good thing about our flexibility is that we make each new place a “home” very quickly. We stayed in mostly Airbnb’s meaning we had kitchen access and it was like being home. We had our routines without a real routine – Richard up early, Susan sleeping later and leaving home by 10—11 each day meant a very relaxed lifestyle. We did our activities and mostly were home early in the evenings to watch a show or two on the computer through Netflix or ITunes. Ricardo had his naps, I had my time to write, draw a bit or read….keeping up on all my photos and my blogs to share with you and to keep our memory alive.

Pena Park, Guimaraes
My thoughts are jumbled. I love this trip though I am happy it is coming to an end. I enjoyed the planning and investigations before traveling, but glad when I did not use a map or guide and just went with the flow. The yin/yang of travel…..I would not want to have missed anything that we did so the planning was definitely worth it. My early childhood lessons of map reading pay off in these travels as I always knew where we were and where we were going but sometimes my eyes were in the map and maybe I missed seeing something…..will I ever know what??? I liked that we always knew where the veggie restaurants were and that we went out of our way to find them, even though several were closed upon arrival. I also liked days like yesterday when we searched for one which was closed and went into a food court and found an amazing wok spot where we could choose whatever we wanted for them to wok together with sauce and serve. We might have missed that. That is the thing about travel….there is always more to see and one has to cut and run sometimes. Whatever we miss we never know. Letting go is important.

I learned another lesson about “stuff”. I hope I have learned it well this time. We left one suitcase full of stuff in Madrid which we will get tomorrow when we get back to Madrid. We have lived without everything in it for the last 5 weeks so obviously we did not need that stuff. I will admit that of what we have in this suitcase we only used half of the clothes. When moving around less is much more.
I love that after ten weeks with my sweetheart we are still happily looking forward to our next 3 month adventure in Chiapas – we love being together and do not seem to tire of each other.

And now from Ricardo....

Porto, Portugal and end of the journey.
How many cups of tea did we
have on this trip. Too many to count!
Geres National Park

Now that we have ended our ten weeks traveling here on the Iberian peninsula, where in Spain the most used word is VALE and in Portugal is OBRIGADO(A).  No matter what or how you talk as long as you end the phrase with one of these two words people will smile.  The people in both places were very kind, helpful and most of all generous.  Nobody seems to be in a rush and they truly enjoy spending time with foreigners like us. The people in Portugal were more comfortable speaking English than Spanish. Also the Portuguese can understand Spanish since their language is very close to Spanish.  The only difference is Spanish speakers have no idea what they are saying when they talk. The Portuguese accent and the pronunciation of their words have sounds that don't exist in Spanish or English language.

Without intention Porto, Portugal was the best place to visit by far.  We are already planning our return sometime in the future.  Porto has everything one could imagine, something for everyone. Just to list a few: ocean beaches, river cruises, old and new coming together all over the city,  places to hike, great food from fresh fish grilled in front of you to many vegetarian restaurants and so so much more. One must come here and see it for oneself and also to mention reasonable prices with great value.

New friends from tour to
Geres National Park with
Oporto Adventure Tours

Ended our trip to Geres in these

Last view of Geres at sunset
It is hard to make comparisons especially when every place was so full of interesting features and the people are so kind. If you had some time to follow the blogs or just the pictures you would see that we were able to immerse ourselves deeply into this part of the world. A month in each country is more then most travelers will ever have and I am very grateful to have had the time and resources. But in order to feel community here one would have to stop and invest so much more as we have done in Mexico. Maybe next time when we come here we will be able to invest ourselves deeper and look for more opportunity to build community here.
We saw ancient stones to magnificent castles, Mediterranean beaches to the Atlantic Ocean beaches.  All was varied except for the churches and monasteries - they seemed like huge caves of the man-made type. These structures were well decorated, but for me being in nature always is more profound. We were very lucky to have done many great hikes up mountain tops and along rivers and of course all of the towns were walker friendly except for Cabo de Gata where we needed a car.
Since the pictures say more then a thousand words more or less, I will leave you here and let the pictures do the talking.
Safe travels always with great adventures.
Sending love,


Purple steps in Casa de Musica. Porto
Lastly, I invite you to look at my collages. I have done one photo collage for each of the places that we have been - mostly geometric forms and design elements that caught my eye while visiting and taking photos. I have enjoyed putting them together and will keep them here in this blog post so that we will always have them as memories of each of these wonderful places.

I know that we have written much and posted photos on Facebook but we are happy to be sharing our adventures with you and appreciate your joining us. 

Seville, Spain

Aracena, Spain

Granada, Spain

Cabo de Gata, Spain

Ronda, Spain

Cadiz, Spain

Cordoba, Spain

Buxton and Manchester, England

Lisbon, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal

Evora, Portugal

Coimbra, Portugal

Casa de Musica, Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Continuing in Portugal: Évora and Coimbra

Typical street in Évora

We left you in Lisbon heading to Évora. This was a special place - a walled in small college town of 57,000 - only one hr west of Lisbon. Noticeably different were its white buildings with a yellow golden accent. This was a time for us to "chill out" as we had 5 days in this small city. We found nice long walks for exercise every day either inside or outside the "walls".  We are now traveling in a "slow" pace of taking it easy every morning (though Richard is up early enjoying his morning quiet.) I am not sure how I will readjust to another world where the daylight comes early and I get back to rising early. We feel we are now "living in Portugal".

Roman Forum
Aqueduct along walking path
In Évora we stayed in a cute Airbnb (recommended by our friends Erin and Philip.) Our routine almost every day was to go to Salsa Verde - a buffet vegetarian/vegan restaurant.

Our side trip outside of town was with Mario of Ebora Megalithica Guided Tours.  He is a very knowledgeable archaeologist and we enjoyed great explanations of the Megalithic sites from Neolithic age 2000 years before Stonehenge as well as current politics of Portugal and the world. If you get a chance to visit Évora - take a tour with Mario.

Almendres megalithic site - 2000 years before Stonehenge

Cork removed from bottom trunk
of trees - Portugal leads the world
in cork production and export

Solitary stones -
The Monte dos Alemendres menhir

Zambujeiro Dolmen - one of the collective
funeral monuments
From above the campus in Coimbra
Exhibit of all the planets at the
University Science Museum
We left for Coimbra which we had heard much about. This was about twice the size of Évora with a large and very famous old University from the 16th century which is the main attraction even today. School was not in session when we were there so we did not get to see students wearing their black robes or capes which apparently they still do in this very traditional school. I captured the back of one of them walking away.
The old Chem lab sink
University at Coimbra
Old tiles used for mathematics at Univ.
We did the usual churches and monasteries and are beginning to tire of them - liking the gardens and outdoor spaces more. An exception for a museum was the University Museum of Science, housed in the old Chemistry building with old and new mixed together. I guess that is the theme of Coimbra - the old and the new. Walking the streets, visiting these ancient buildings gives me a feeling of connection to the past. Again, the streets were narrow and cobbled - with the daily rain making walking a little more difficult.
Typical cape of campus students
Fado in Coimbra

Coimbra is also known for Fado, the music I described from Lisbon though it is apparently a little different in Coimbra. We enjoyed a short concert in the Santa Cruz Cafe and appreciate the talent of the singer though we could not understand a word.

We made a decision to head to Porto for the next 12 days instead of shorter trips to other places and we are now here ready for our last adventures.

Again - some feelings from Ricardo: Évora verses Coimbra

We have now visited two different university towns of ancient origins Évora being about 57,000 and Coimbra being about 106,000 people. What I have come to see is that size means everything to me especially when it come to places to visit. In this case small is better but a larger town like Coimbra will naturally have more options. The other factor when you plan to move about every 5 days is the weather. The weather in Évora was calmer due to less rain. We are now in the rainy season here in Portugal so everyday can take a different turn. Évora was flat so we took longer walks where Coimbra was hilly and the walking more strenuous. I recommend visiting both places in Portugal and see which you would prefer.  I liked them both but prefer the smaller Évora experience. We are now on the last leg of our trip in Porto and I will summarize more when we write our next and last post from this part of the world.
The University Botanical Garden - spring is coming!!