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Spain & Portugal 2007 Archives

June 1, 2007

On Our 6th Day

Here we are. On our 6th day. Madrid was great, but we didn´t much enjoy the food.
We are now in Galicia in the town of Cambados. It is our last night before our 1 week rental in Outes.

The seafood is fabulous and Dan is now enjoying the eating part of the trip.

Live From Galicia

Hi everyone! I´m in an Internet cafe in a little town on the southern coast of Galicia. We are having trouble with WiFi availability so our computer is pretty useless.

So far, we´ve stuck to only one of the destinations (Avila) of our planned drive from Madrid to Galicia. Instead we have discovered the most wonderful small towns! Medina del Campo, Toro, Pueblo de Sanabria, Carbonella, and now Cambados.

We are enjoying parts of Spain that we didn´t find in any tour books. Time to go taste a lot of wine! Cheers!

June 4, 2007

Catching Up from the Boonies

Hi everyone, I´m dipping my toe in again from another Internet cafe. Forgive me for not taking the time to read everyone´s posts before I added another. Dan is finished sending all his e-mails and antsy to get out of this smoke filled room.

Our Inn is a rural stay and it is REALLY out in the boonies. We are loving it. Roosters crowing, cow poop and all. Wonderful hiking.

On our first night, the proprietor apologized profusely for the fact that they had a fiesta booked. She said it would be noisy until the wee hours of the morning.

But we got to experience a uniquely Galician musical performance. I´ll try to explain it in my trip report, which I PROMISE, Kim, I will write.

We are in Santiago de Compostela today. Very touristy, but lovely.

I think we´ve been spoiled by our mode of travel. Yesterday we decided to go to Fisterra (the end of the world), so we drove the coast road north. Then we took every little white road we could find on our fairly detailed map coming back.

To our great good fortune, we ended up in a little town called Bainas and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a festival/horse trading fair. A small band of guys all in Tommy Bahama shirts were parading down the street right past our car.

As we got closer to home, we found ourselves in the middle of a cattle jam. The cows were being herded from the field to the milking barn. The farmer seemed very grateful at our show of patience. The dog was a delight to watch as the bossed the cows around.
OK, enough for now.

June 6, 2007

Costa de Morte from Fisterra

I´m making Dan sit and cool his heels while I read and post.

(Plus, this is a non-smoking cyber)

Yesterday was a day that I am sure I will not be able to do justice to in a trip report. We drove the Costa de Morte from Fisterra to north of Muxia. At Muxia we crawled out to the end of the piles of boulders in a gale force (at least it seems like it to me) wind. But we got very close to the brave or foolish souls who were harvesting the barnacles. Awesome to watch the waves batter them as they cut barnacles off the rocks. The women were a few meters back on the rocks cleaning them as fast as the men could bring them in.

The rest of the drive was just as impressive. And we had it almost completely to ourselves.

June 11, 2007

Spectacular

While in Madrid trying to use the WiFi in our hotel, the settings got so screwed up on Dan's computer we can't use his WiFi.

So, we were dependant on cybers (Internet cafe). We were in such small towns in Galicia, there were few of them, and we seemed to only hit them at siesta time.

Now we are in Ponte da Barca, Portugal and this country has a national initiative on computer literacy. Every municipo has a room full of high speed computers (usually in the library).
The computers are free for anyone to use. The rules are few: No gaming, no smoking, when someone is waiting, the person who has been on the longest must give up his computer.
I love those rules!

At any rate. I've been blogging the old fashioned way. Keeping a journal. So when I get home, I'll post a trip report-blog. For now, the Group Blog is my blog.

Continue reading "Spectacular" »

June 12, 2007

Hit the Wall

Last night was a sort of 'hit-the-wall' day for me. We didn't have a particularly hectic day, but we did have a LOT of trouble navigating one particular town. By the time we got home, I just wanted to shower and crash.

Today is a laze around day in this little town. That is why we find ourselves back in the free cyber.

Dan has been doing all of the driving and I've been navigating. It works well because I read the map like a woman. I turn it with every turn we take so that it is always oriented up. Then I can say turn left, turn right, go straight.

As amazingly easy as Spain was to navigate, Portugal is equally difficult.

There seems to be this idea that if you live here, you know where you are. So why put up road signs?

On the major highways there are adequate signs, but as soon as you get off onto a regional road, you are totally on your own. You can drive for 50km and have no way of confirming you turned the correct way.

We went to see Bom Jesus yesterday. It is in all the guide books, and leads you to believe it is the major pilgrimage site. (And we really did enjoy it) BUT, what we read absolutely nothing about was the fairly new (100 yrs) cathedral basilica on the mountain 500 meters above Bom Jesus. In fact there seems to be no attempt to put any literature about "Santuario do Sameiro" into English. Their gift shop was typically full of postcards, medals, guide books and the like; but only in Spanish, Portuguese, & a few in French.

They are obviously a major shrine. They were designated a basilica by Pope John Paul when he visited a dozen or so years ago. And we guessed from our limited translating ability that it is the major force behind Portugal's share of the effort to have him declared a saint.

Anyway, this place is HUGE! It covers many acres of land. All of it paved in granite and marble. I'll explain more about it when I post my photos and trip report.

June 13, 2007

Dinner at Friends'

We were dinner guests in a friends home in Braga (Portugal) last night.

The starter course included Cod Tongue, Braised Mushrooms, and a medley of sausages from four different regions of Portugal.

The main course was a hearty dish of bread topped with a thin broth and then large chunks of roasted lamb.

Dessert was a selection of traditional cheeses, an egg tart, and homemade fig jam.
Wines were: a local vinho verde to start, then red with the lamb, and a silky wonderful local port with the cheese.

The meal finished with coffee spiked with rum, Tia Maria, and topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

June 15, 2007

Funny Story

We are in Evora today. And were 'hustled' for lunch. Funny, story.

We were looking for a place to eat and poked our heads into what looked like a typical bar with the restaurant in the back.

It looked very crowded, so we decided to move on. But the owner came and literally grabbed my elbow telling us that there was plenty of room. Then he shoved the people in the bar out of the way and ushered us to be back of the room where there was a nice quiet restaurant area with about 8 tables.

Continue reading "Funny Story" »

June 22, 2007

Lisboa Dreamin'

Like the old Mamas and Papas song, California Dreamin', I wish I was in Lisboa.

I admit, I'm not a city girl. I don't like the frantic pace. I don't like crowds of people pushing their way through a grey city just to live their daily life.

I only want to be a visitor in cities like New York, Rome, Madrid, London, LA, etc. As vibrant as they are, I wouldn't dream of trying to live in any of them.

But Lisbon is different. Yes, she is big. Yes, she is noisy. Yes, her inhabitants bustle through her streets on their private daily missions.

But, instead of being grey, Lisbon has this pastel glow about her. She wears her white and cream and peach buildings with an innocent flair. She accessorizes with huge scarves of ceramic tile. Her shoes are all four inch square in black and white geometric designs.

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Only her makeup is gaudy. A riot of graffiti. Graffiti everywhere. The most elegant of shops wear it without apology. Churches, fabulous restaurants, monuments. All of them seem to proudly display their graffiti.

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Lisbon is like an aging character actress. She still has fashion sense, she just can't see well enough to put her lipstick on evenly. And you love her for her quirkiness.

Yes, Lisboa is the city I would rather occupy than visit.

June 24, 2007

Preparing to prepare to prepare to write my trip reports

I spent the entire day today organizing photos from Spain & Portugal. More than 700 of them. Just organizing them, mind you. Not even rotating the ones that are supposed to be vertical!

All I've done so far is put them in the correct sequence in sub-folders within the five master folders that I plan to write the five chapters of my trip report about. Jeezzzzz!

Even though I have almost 40 pages of journal and another 20 pages of random thoughts and notes, (And a grocery bag full of brochures, business cards, village maps, travel guides, museum receipts, park guides, etc, etc, etc) I know that after four weeks of travel, I'll need the photos as visual aids to jog my memory on the details.

So, now I have five folders of photos. 1) Madrid; 2) Drive from Madrid to Galicia; 3) Galicia; 4) Northern Portugal and Drive to Lisboa; and 5) Lisboa.

I still have to go through each folder and create a descriptive line for each photo.

Then I need to copy all of the photos to a CD in their original format before I begin reformatting them to the 72ppi and 600p limits for online posting.

Once that is done, I can finally begin to create five photo essays and then five cooresponding trip reports for SlowTrav.

I'm considering reneging on my promise to Kim.

And then there is the travel note on the Renault buy-back program we used. Colleen never misses a chance to remind me about that one! Oh yeah, and Chris tells me that MY trip report may help her decide where she is going next year.

Pressure, pressure, pressure.

What I'm really considering is beginning my planning for next year. Trip planning is so much more fun that trip reporting.

But, SlowTrav is a 'pay-it-forward' community. So, I'll continue to trudge through this report. Thus earning my right to continue to research future trips. Karma.

June 25, 2007

Porn Stars Outside Our Window

While in Lisboa, one of our favorite things to do was lean on our windowsill with a glass of ice cold Vinho Verde and watch all the cool stuff happening in the Praca below.

One day we look out to see about a dozen or so people coming out of a building up the street a bit.

Dan said, "Wow, those women are sure dressed up for the middle of the afternoon." Actually, it would be more appropriate to say they were dressed down. Not in a casual way, but in a square inches of cloth way.

I guess they made up for the lack of fabric with the height of their heels, though.

As they came down the street toward us we got a closer look, and realized that the women (there were about 8 of them) looked more like street walkers than party goers. And the men were either young and divinely handsome, or they were older, brawnier, and looked like body guards.

Pornstars

We were trying to figure out what was going on, when suddenly a bunch of paparazzi appeared, snapping pictures of the group.

Ah ha...celebrities of some sort. They must have been at some function in that building they came out of.

Pretty soon, a charter bus pulled up to the curb and the whole bunch of them (minus the photographers) boarded and drove away.

Later that afternoon, as we walked up the street to the market, we stuck our head in at the building the group had come from. We hadn't paid any attention to it previously. Now we noticed the name. Cine Paradiso. Then we noticed the somewhat graphic posters inside.

The 'event' this group had been attending was evidently a premier for one of these movies, because we recognized several of them on the posters.

July 11, 2007

From The Beginning, Now....

I realize that my blog has been jumping around instead of following the actual time-line of our travels.
So, I'm starting over here. I'm pretending it is week one and I'm going to begin an account of our trip to Spain & Portugal.

We left St. Louis on the 25th of May, traveling to Madrid via Chicago, on American and Iberian.
Since we were only spending 3 nights in Madrid, I booked a hotel instead of an apartment. We stayed at the Hotel Arosa (a Best Western).

The hotel was priced very well for its ideal location in the Porto del Sol/Plaza Major area. It is modern with good amenities. You can check it out at its web site above.

We arrived in Madrid at 08:00 on Saturday the 26th. Took a taxi to the hotel and left our bags at the desk. We decided what we needed most was exercise and fresh air. So we headed straight to Parque del Buen Retiro while we waited for check in time.

The park was on my must-do list because the annual Madrid Bookfair was being held there. The Barnes & Noble Bookseller in me, is naturally drawn to books. In this case, hundreds of identical white tents, filled with thousands of books. In almost every tent sat an author, proudly signing their book for a long line of fans.

The fact that I didn't recognize the names of of any of these authors, served to point out to me the vastness of the book universe.

I took our store's mascot - Bookworm on our trip with us. He sent back dispatches to the booksellers at the store about his adventures. His first was, appropriately, the Madrid bookfair. Here he purchased the first book of the Magic Treehouse series in Spanish.

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After the bookfair we wondered through Retiro, enjoying the cool green, the beautiful monuments, the street music, and people watching. Our favorite part was sitting on the steps below Alfonso XII's monument and watching the families and couples in rented row boats on the lake.

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July 12, 2007

Check-in and Lunch - May 26th

After a lovely day enjoying Retiro, we headed back to our hotel to check in and shower away more than 24 hours worth of grunge.

We were assigned room 529, overlooking a charming side street with several bars and night clubs. When we opened our door, the bed was still unmade from the last occupant. The front desk attendant was very embarassed and apologetic. She offered us a drink in the lounge while housekeeping cleaned, or another room if we prefer?

Still apologizing, she explained that the only other available room was 523, which looked out onto the central courtyard of the building. "Courtyard" is an optimistic word, don't you think?

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We VERY happily accepted the new room! Not only did it mean that we could shower immediately, but it also meant that we would not be awakened at 1 AM as the nightlife below our window got into full swing. We highly recommend room #523.

After showering & putting on clean clothing, we were ready for our first lunch in Madrid. We ask the young lady at the front desk for a recommendation. We specified that we would like something reasonably priced, not elegant, & where more Madrilenos than visitors were likely to dine.

She sent us to a place on Cava Baja between Plaza Pueorta Cerrada and Plaza Puerta de Moros. (This is south of Plaza Mayor).

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The restaurant is called "Taberna los de Lucio" At 4:30 in the afternoon it was a hopping place. It was also like a dive into the cold deep end for Dan (gastronomically speaking). He did not enjoy it at all.

I think it was a combination of the thick, thick cigarette smoke and the dish he ordered, which consisted of a variety of meats and sausages (one being blood sausage).

I enjoyed mine meal very much. Especially the pimentos rellenos, which was stuffed with a delicate cod mixture and topped with a rich but not overpowering sauce.

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However, we did think the meal was too expensive. We had three plates to share & two glasses of wine. The bill with a small tip was almost 60 E.

Coming back to our hotel at about 6:00 PM, we strolled through a fairly deserted Plaza Mayor.

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July 22, 2007

Matador and Game Show Champion

Blackout shades & quiet room equal sleeping in. If a child hadn't slamed the door across the hall and yelled at his sibling, we may have slept into the afternoon. As it was, we woke at 10:30; left the room at 11:00 & were eating breakfast at 11:15.

Our first breakfast location in Madrid became our only breakfast location, Zahara -- restaurante, cafe, cerveceria -- on Gran Via -- for several reasons.

It was conveniently around the corner from our hotel.
It was amazingly reasonably priced for the location.
The food was very good (if perhaps a bit boringly based on eggs, eggs, eggs.)
And most important, we really liked the waiter.

Since Sunday is "free" day in all of Madrid's museum, we decided to head over to the Prado to pay our respects.

We really were not in the museum mood, still craving long walks and fresh air, but how can you go to Madrid and not at least stroll through the Prado?

And stroll through is exactly what we did. Stopping only occasionally to remind ourselves that we were in the presence of so many masters, we really did just skim. Just to clarify... I don't recommend this approach.

Dan commented that he wondered if the masters painted with any sense of posterity. Did Rubens sit at his easel and contemplate who may be admiring his work some 500 years later? Good question. One to chew on.

After the Prado we continued our wondering and evidentually found ourselves on a street called Calle de Jesus. There was a little tapas bar called El Olivar calling out to us.

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We shared a plate of tosta misto. I thought it was yummy! Dan was still struggling to appreciate Spanish food, but he is getting better at it. I promised him he could order the next time. He was a bit put off by some of the toppings.

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This tapas bar is owned by a very nice propriator named, Jose Antonio Sanz. Senor Sanz has twice had his 15 minutes of fame. First he was an aclaimed matador. And second, he was a big winner on a game show.

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I apologize for the poor quality of the photograph. Someone brushed past me just as I was snapping it. Senor Sanz, was very pleased that we noticed the photo on the wall and asked him about his long gone glory days.

Another very intesting yet unexplained oddity at El Olivar was the cubby holes above the tables with ring binders in them. I pulled one down thinking that it would be a sort of scrapbook of Senor Sanz's matador triumphs. Instead it was a book of days. Literally...
It held hand written calendar pages for evey year between 1400 and 1700! You could flip to a page to find out what day of the week any particular date fell on. We chose Dan's birthday in the year 1649 (300 years before his birth). Turns out, it was a Wednesday.

We assumed that the other binders we saw were for other decades. Very, very strange. I can't imagine the amount of time this unusual hobby took to complete.

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July 27, 2007

Padron, Cuban Politics, & Street Performers

Still Sunday, still daylight. Still questing after fresh air.

We left El Olivar and headed for Palacio Real. And like the Prado, it felt more like we were checking off something on our to-do list than anything else.

Palacio Real is impressive, especially its gardens.

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From there we strolled over to Plaza Mayor to see if the action had picked up any. Still a bit slow, but then we understood that things didn't start swinging until almost midnight.

We found a great tapas place just outside the walls of Plaza Mayor -- Taberna la Posta de Quitapenas. It is at C/ Postas, 15

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We enjoyed our first taste of Shannon's current food obsession -- Pimentos Padron! I have to say that I can see how one could become obsessed with these wonderful little fried peppers. They weren't wimpy in their mildness. They have an extraordinary amount of flavor without the singe-the-skin-off-your-mouth heat from some of Mexico's typical pepper dishes.

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We came back here twice more during our short stay in Madrid. But, the first visit was the best. Mostly because of the great conversation we had with our young Cuban waiter (with an economics degree).

Tomas was eager to engage in a political discussion with us because we were Americans. He said that there is an almost electric air of anticipation in Cuba waiting for "Papa" to die.

Many, many Cubans (most of them from inside the government) are laying the groundwork to rapidly turn Cuba into a premier tourism destination. They have silent partners in Miami who are quietly accumulating the capital to invest in the thousands of tiny islands around Cuba.

We asked him how long the government would be able to keep Castro's death a secret. He thinks perhaps as long as a year. But they will be doing it more to position as many of themselves for the financial boom, than to preserve the political system.

We asked him if Castro's brother would be able to hold power. He said absolutely not, that the people were fed up and there would be a free-for-all power struggle. The only sure thing was that capitalism of some sort would win and Cuba would be a tourist powerhouse in less than a decade.

It was fun to see his excitement and anticipation. It was sad to realize that the Cuba we have been long wishing to visit -- legally, is almost history. I just hope they can keep Disney out of there!!!

There were street performers everywhere. Most of them the typical statue types. The musicians were also typically mediocre. I do have two exceptions to report.

First was the "Late Business Man". Most statues drape themselves in green or brown and paint their faces. Then they sit still waiting for your money. This guy was amazing with his wired clothing to look like he was facing a strong wind. We were standing next to two couples taking bets on how long he could balance on just the toes of one foot and the heal of the other. The losing couple had to double whatever tip the winning couple put in his collection box.
I have to say that the guy was a real trooper. We put our 2 euro in and left after over five minutes. I hope he earned an entire evening's worth of tips from those people!

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The second impressive street performance was a group of six musicians. They were world class, and I'm sure they were moonlighting from the National Symphony. We stood there in a very large group and listened for almost a half-hour. Most of their tips were of the folding money variety...and it was a bargain!

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This blogging is moving along much too slowly. So, I've made a decision to put an end to the Madrid portion of our trip.

My justification is two fold:

First, there is plenty of information out there about Madrid. From people who are much more qualified to talk about it. My notes aren't going to add anything significant to the global knowledge base.

Second, we just weren't thrilled with the city, and don't want to offer additional negative feedback, considering that bias. It wouldn't be representational.

Much better to have the Madrid lovers tell you all the great reasons to visit, that to have me poison you against it just because I have no interest in returning.

SO..next blog entry will satisfy Colleen's request for an accounting of the Renault car purchase alternative to long term rental. And then we will continue with our drive from Madrid to Galicia.

July 31, 2007

We Owned it for 21 Days

When we began planning this trip, one of the arrangements we needed to make was an extended car rental.

We had very specific ideas about the kind of car we wanted.

Dan wanted head room. As a long-term minivan driver, I wanted to be able to sit up high off the ground. We both wanted diesel and manual transmission, and we wanted to make sure the window configuration allowed for very good visibility.

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We had heard of the Renault Eurodrive program, but we really didn't understand how it worked.

It is basically a tax dodge for Renault. By "selling" you a car with your rental fee acting as your down payment and then "buying" it back from you at the end of your rental, they slide through a loophole in French law and avoid paying a bunch of taxes.

So, the questions are...How does it work? Is it easy? Is it safe? What is the advantage to the renter? What are the disadvantages? How does it compare in cost to traditional car rental?

Pros:
1- You can pick everything about your car but the exterior color. That means you can be absolutely sure you will have a deisel if you want it. You can have manual or automatic if that is what you want. And you can have any model Renault makes.

2- There are NO hidden charges. Everything is clearly spelled out, including the pickup and drop off charges for locations outside France.

3- This is a walk-away rental, they really don't care if you bring the car back clean. They don't even walk around the car to see if you have any damage. 100% insurance coverage is part of the deal.

4- Pickup and drop off are so fast and easy it almost feels weird.

5- You get to keep the keyring.

Cons:
1- The paperwork in advance of pickup and drop off is excessive. You are, after all, actually buying this car. Even if it is only on paper.

2- You are limited in your pickup and drop off locations. Usually only one or two big cities in each country, and only one location in each of those cities. You have to make an appointment in advance for both you pickup and dropoff.

3- For the extra trouble, it really isn't any cheaper than a traditional rental.

If we had it to do over again, would we? Yes, but probably only in France. The pickup and dropoff fees are high. That is what brought the cost up to par with AutoEurope.

Also, we would be very, very careful with all the paperwork so that we didn't have to repeat any of it.

We used a US based broker because we don't speak French. http://www.ideamerge.com
Our contact at this company, Jerry Svaboda was extraordinarily patient and helpful as he held my hand through the paperwork process. I know he was thinking that I was a dimwit, but he was too kind to say so.

So there you are, Colleen! I've reported on the Renault program -- just for you!

August 2, 2007

Free of the City and Heading North

Picking up or car was crazy easy. But then it took us a full HOUR to find our way to the road to Segovia. The Italians bombard you with highway signage. The Spanish offer almost none!

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Segovia's aquaduct was beyond anything we had expected. The size overwhelms you. That little Chinese alphabet character in the bottom right corner of the picture is actually two people standing on the road.

However, once we had walked the length, looked at and photographed it from every angle, and come to terms with our awe, there really wasn't much else to Segovia that interested us. So, we drove on to Avila and arrived there at about 3:00 PM.

We had a late lunch at a place called Las Murillas. It was good, but not great. While we sat there, we decided we were looking at the most perfect tree we'd ever seen. I fell in love with that tree. I don't know why. Maybe because of its size. Maybe its shape. Maybe the way the branches started at only a few feet off the ground. Who knows.

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We decided to "rough it" and chose a two star hotel. It was clean, plenty of hot water & towels, breakfast included. At less than 40 Euro for the night, we figured we could do without the scented soaps and towel heater.

Another thing to recommend the Hostel Puerto del Alcazar was its ideal location directly across from the Alcarzar gate in Avila's wall. We were outside the wall and we had a free parking place right on the street in front of our hotel.

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They showed us two rooms. One overlooking the busy street and other overlooking an interior roof patio. We chose the second because our ultimate need was quiet. This was a mistake. There were no screens and the roof patio was only 2 feet below our window. So, we were unable to sleep with an open window. We had a very stuffy and restless sleep.

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The next morning we decided to spring for tickets to walk the ramparts of the wall. The walk doesn't cover the entire wall, and only about one in three of the towers is open, but still a great stroll with lovely views. A bonus was the hundreds of nesting storks. Storks everywhere.

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While up there, we met a lovely Canadian woman named Liz, who was recently widowed. This was her first solo trip and she was taking it all by bus and train. She did almost all of her planning on Rick Steves website. She was quite ridgid about sticking to the plan laid out on his sight. Dan & I decided that it was probably what gave her the courage to do the trip alone. Good for her! I couldn't resist, however, offering her a SlowTrav card. I recommended that for her next trip, she may want to explore the ST website and philosophy.

We left Avila at about noon and headed for our intended destination of Salamanca. But, in what was to become a theme of our entire trip, we got turned around and missed the road, ending up on the road headed north toward Burgo.

Instead of turning around and heading back to find the right highway, we took it as a sign and decided, "Hey, why not go to Medina Del Campo instead?" We much prefer smaller towns, and weren't much in the mood for the hyper energy of a university town with several thousand exchange students from all over the world visiting.

This turned out to be one of our luckiest detours.

August 4, 2007

Isabella's Home Town

It isn't exactly a secret to be discovered. It is more that Medina Del Campo is just not on the travel route of most tourists in Spain.

I guess this could be said for the entire area of Spain we are visiting. Simply because it is central and north west instead of eastern and southern coastal.

At any rate, Medina, for us was a small and perfect gem of discovery. As is our practice, we made our first stop at the tourist information office. There we picked up an information booklet on the town and restaurant recommendations. For a population of only 20,000 it has more than its share of interesting attractions.

We prefer cultural museums to art museums - and Medina del Campo has a fabulous little museum dedicated to the activity that the town has been known for since before the Roman days -- fairs, or in Spanish, ferias.

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Known for its fairs all over Europe, the original being the sheep and cattle and rapidly expanding to an international trade center that would rival any major port city.

the Museo de las Ferias has a wonderful little multi-media presentation of what the fairs must have been like from the 1,300 century to the 1,700 century. When the kings of Spain brought their courts to Medina from 1421 to 1606, the town was the Tower of Babel of trade and finance.

After the museum we enjoyed a late lunch at Restaurante la Rinconda. This was a very hearty stew featuring lamb, beef, and chicken. Delicious.

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Near our restaurant and on the corner of the plaza was the Royal Testamentaire Palace. And I must say, for a native of the Americas, it was moving to be standing in the the room where the woman who made Columbus' trip possible, Isabella, wrote her will and then died. Her bedchamber in this little museum has only been recently decorated to 'represent' what it must have looked like when she lived and died there. But, you can forgive the creative imagination that applied 20th century textiles. You still feel the history. The copy of her will lying on the desk was a nice touch.

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I have a relative who has made it a habit of visiting a place; liking it enough to decide she wants to come back every year; and then buying a house there. She VRBOs the houses most of the year, and reserves the 2 weeks or month she wants to be there for herself. Tahoe in the winter so she can take her dogs to play in the snow. Cody, WY so she can go to the annual western art festival. Clarksdale, MS because it is becoming the Blues mecca of the country. And so on.

Anyway, she now plans to follow our path in Spain. I figure she'll buy something. So, why shouldn't I nudge her toward Medina? Here is a newly rehabbed condo building right in the middle of town that I'm recommending.

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Other points of interest to recommend Medina:
The main square is unusual in that it is planted with many trees. An oasis.
Just outside of town is the Castelo de la Mota. Mota was the original name of the town in the Iron Age. At some point it becaume Metina, and finally Medina.
The Royal Meat Markets . Established in 1550 by King Felipe II, it is a museum that continues to serve its original function. The market operates every Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Events in Medina del Campo:
The festival of San Antolin is in early September. This is the main celebration of the year.
Sunday in Medina is the Mercado Nacional de Ganados (national cattle market created in 1870.

For shopping, Medina stays open on Sundays, and the shops close down on Thursdays.

To learn more about Medina Del Campo visit: http://turismomedina.net

August 5, 2007

Bushwacked by the Bodega

We left Medina Del Campo with every intention of moving on to Zamora for the night. We did really plan to explore Zamora.

But to get to Zamora, we had to navigate the treacherous drive through the Toro wine region. Toro may be one of the smallest wine regions in Spain, but as we were soon to learn, it was a powerful one.

In Morales de Toro, we let our guard down for just an instant and our car was drawn into the parking lot of the Bodega Vina Bajoz.

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After being forced to taste glass after glass of glorious red wines, we wisely decided that the furthest we should drive was the nearest hotel.

The vicious woman who forced all that wine on us was quick to offer a call to a hotel in the town of Toro. The Hotel Juan II sits at the very top of the hill just behind the church. It is a simple traditional, but lovely and reasonably priced 3-star. Whatever she told them about us produced a room with a fabulous view of the Duero River from our balcony.

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We decided to take a walk through town to clear our heads and check out the restaurants. The desk clerk gave us a town plan on which she marked several recommended restaurants in various price ranges. She warned us that Toroinos eat very, very late. This became obvious as we walked the almost deserted streets of town and found most of the marked restaurants still closed up tight at 9:00 PM.

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As we wondered around we found some vibrant shopping areas with beautiful green spaces. Then we discovered that the oldest walking streets in town, were the most vacant. The buildings were in poor repair and many of them were unoccupied.

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What intrigued us most about this area of town was the columns used to prop up the crumbling 2nd floor of many buildings. Where did they come from? Were they just lying around some ancient ruin? Was this a version of recycling, much like the fad in the 70s of using used brick to build houses in the US? And when did they do this? The wood and ironwork look pretty ancient as well.

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After deciding that we didn't want to wait until 11 PM for a restaurant to open, we headed back to the hotel to take our chances with the in-house restaurant. This turned out to be a good decision, and it provided us with the catch phrase we were to use for the rest of our trip.

August 7, 2007

"JUST EAT YOUR BEANS, ALREADY!"

Restaurante Los Bocoyes is a slightly rustic and cozy place with wood ceilings, brick walls, and terra cotta floors. It was 10:00 PM and the place had only one occupied table. A British couple who were also staying at the hotel. They were just finishing their dessert and said they had been there since 7:00 PM. After they left, we had the restaurant to ourselves for our entire meal.

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The waiter was a friendly guy who spoke not one word of English.

He was patient with our attempts to communicate, but much was lost in the translation.

Add in our lack of understanding about the local traditions and you have the formula for our comedic evening.

More about that in a minute, but first here is my picture of the traditional bread of Toro. I intended to find out the story behind its shape, but forgot to ask. So, if anyone out there knows, please post.

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As we decided what to order, we saw broad beans on the menu and jumped at the chance to have a vegetable that WASN'T potatoes or yucky, brine soaked white asparagus. (WHAT is it with this Spanish love affair with white asparagus, anyway?). I ordered a bowl of soup as a starter. Dan didn't.

We tried to explain that we both wanted the beans and were ordering them as a side dish to our entrees.

Obviously we were not successful. He brought us my consumme and two HUGE plates of beans as the first course. Realizing the error of our ways, I ate my soup and resigned myself to enjoying the beans before my entree arrived.

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But Dan really wanted to have his beans WITH his main course. So, he just picked at them while we waited for its arrival.

The waiter kept strolling past our table, but he didn't approach. 15 minutes passed. Then 30 minutes. Finally, he came and cleared my plates, and we thought -- Yeah, now we get our main course. But, no...he just kept peeking at Dan with confusion on his face.

It finally dawned on me that he was waiting for Dan to finish his beans before he brought our entrees. Dan comment that the poor waiter probably wondered how the two crazy Americans could possibly take so long to eat a simple plate of beans.

Our new inside joke for hurrying each other up from then on was: "JUST EAT YOUR BEANS, ALREADY!"

As soon as Dan gobbled down the beans, two beautiful plates arrived in a flash! Dan had a steak and I had a lovely fish dish. It tasted like monk fish, but I forgot to make a note of the name. As you can see from the picture...more of that stupid asparagus.

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We were finishing our dessert and coffee as the clock struck midnight, and magically three different groups arrived and the restaurant came to life.

September 7, 2007

Orense or Bust

On the morning of 31May, in the spirit of staying faithful to our original itinery, we left Toro and headed in the general direction of Zamora. And yet again, opportunity interfered with the temptation of a worthwhile diversion.

Once we realized how rapidly we would arrive in Zamora, we began to question making such an early stop. So we skimmed the outer suburbs of Zamora and acknowledged that it was probably a choice we would regret. We were just feeling that we needed to get further along if we were going to end up at Casa Perfuto Maria by Saturday.

So we pushed on with the intention of arriving in Orense by early afternoon and spending rest of the day and night there.

The entire drive beyond Zamora had yielded not one of those underlined towns on the map. You know the towns that for some reason the map makers have decided are "localidades de interes". (If the town has a green box around it, it is a "localidade de GRAN interes")

Just as I begin to regret our choice of the faster A52; and wish we had taken the N122 through Braganca, or at least that we had opted to spend the day in Zamora and then drive to Orense for the night; I look down at my map and see the town Pueble de Sanabria underlined in green. And slightly north of that town is the "Parque Natural del Lago do Sanabria." Things are looking up.

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Lago de Sanabria is the largest glacial lake in Spain. And, at least during the day we were there, a remarkably 'untouristed' one. We guessed that it was truly a local holiday destination. Like Lake of the Ozarks for Missourians, or The Catskills for New Yorkers.

There were modest vacation houses scattered around the park but few docks or boat ramps. Many hiking trails and a few small hamlets that predated the Parque Natural designation of the area.

One of those hamlets, Moncabril, was the dead end of the road we were driving. It was home to no more than 4-5 cottages, a few dilapidated barns, and a herd of goats. At the very end of the dead end, where the road devolved into a rutted cart path, we found an interesting one marker grave, overgrown with weeds, yet the marker itself didn't look terribly old. So, if anyone reading this can translate the marker, that would be great.

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We left the park at about 2PM and headed back to town to find lunch. The only game in town appeared to be a restaurant called Plaza Armas. The building itself was very interesting. You entered on the ground floor to a nondescript bar. If you wanted to eat anything other than tapas you are directed up a steep staircase in the back of the room leading to the first floor. Here tuxedoed waiters and white linens awaited. We sat at a table next to the bank of windows that overlooked the town.

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Plaza Armas may have been the only restaurant in town, but it surely didn't use that advantage to serve second rate food. My gambo stuffed pimiento morron dish was served in the BEST remesco sauce I've ever eaten. It was ultra smooth - silky in fact. I don't know how they got the almonds and hazelnuts ground finely enough. However, I know they were in it, because I could taste them. I've been trying to recreate it every since we got home.

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After lunch, we walked around town for a few minutes. This town has an interesting tradition of constructing homes with large family coats of arms on the facade. Even the most modest home sports a family crest. Most of them are carved in stone.

Here are two pictures of the same house. The first of the entire front of the house and the second a close up of the crest.

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There was a large castle in town, with some historic significance, but we didn't want to wait for siesta to be over for it to open. We were already becoming somewhat immune to the castles of Spain. There are just SO many. So we headed out on our way to Orense -- at least we thought that was where we were going.


February 19, 2008

Fading Memories

As I plan for our June/July trip, I realize that my memories of last summer are fading. Part of it is my failure to document the trip in either a trip report or photo essay for SlowTrav, or to complete my blog entries here.
My last entry in this category was back in September, and it only takes me through about day five of our trip.
So, I went back to my journal this morning to see where we were headed on day six. Carbollino.
We had finally officially made it into Galicia.
I'm a romantic about almost everywhere we visit, but I do have to realistically say that the town of Carbollino doesn't really have much to recommend it for holiday makers.
The only hotel we found was a rather modern business class hotel. The ApartHotel. There was nothing wrong with it. It would have been great for someone staying in town for a week who wanted an efficient, if sterile place.

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As far as town goes. It is a large enough town to be a business center for the surrounding region. Everyone went home in the evening. We wondered the town for several hours in search of an interesting place for dinner. We finally gave up and went back to the hotel dining room.

The skyline is dominated by a rather morose looking cathedral which matched the grey vibe we were getting from the town as a whole.

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Here and there, were snippets of what the town must have been before modernization. One was this house that sat on the plaza across from our hotel.

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The highlight of Carbollino was dinner in the hotel dining room. It was delicious and reminded us that we were getting close enough to the coast to enjoy fresh seafood!

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We had the restaurant and our waiter to ourselves. We enticed him to sit down with us for our after dinner coffee. We had another interesting conversation about world politics. Just like the one with our cuban waiter in Madrid. This time, he was from Venezuela and had emigrated to escape the political policies of Hugo Chavez.

February 20, 2008

Built to Last

We left Carbollino early, stopping at a market for a breakfast of fresh bread and water to be eaten as we drove.

The drive from Carbollino toward Pontevedra (our intended destination) was beautiful. Broad expanses of low hills with small communities nestled in the valleys.

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We stopped several times just to enjoy the view. It wasn't that it was dramatic or spectacular. It was peaceful and bucolic.

Dan stood in this pose, looking out over the valley for almost 10 minutes - completely unaware that I was taking his picture.
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I thought it was interesting that picnic benches and fencing were made of granite, yet the roadside parks were overgrown. They weren't littered, but it was obvious that mowing wasn't a priority. It is easy to imagine that alien visitors in some distant future will come across these unexplainable stone tables in an overgrown wilderness and wonder who put them there and why.

Perhaps anthropolgists will try to connect the tables' position with celestial alignments and conclude that they were for some sort of religious sacrificial rite.

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February 23, 2008

Recycled Windows

We reached the coast by noon and had lunch on the island of O Grove, obviously a popular local holiday spot, but not particularly exciting. We were a bit ahead of season, so that may have contributed to our ho-hum reaction.
After lunch we made the short drive to Cambarro, a very beautiful coastal town where we were planning to spend the night in our first Parador.
We stopped at the tourist information office and visited with a young man who advised against the Parador. (too expensive, poor service, attitude). Instead he sent us to a TWO star hotel called Casa Rosita.

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Casa Rosita was absolutely beautiful; famous for its offerings of traditional Galician food; and rivals anything a 4 star offers. I really don't understand the 2 star designation. But I'm not complaining! We thought we might like to try some of that famous food for dinner, but first we wanted to go into town and see some of the interesting sights the young man at the information office told us about.

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The town's most important landmark is the skeleton of an old church that holds the graves of generations of families. The churchyard is so full to overflowing with graves. They occupy every square inch of space outside the remaining walls and spill over into what used to be the sanctuary.

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The commemorative plaque on the gate of Santa Marina Dozo was our first exposure to the dual language signage of Galicia, and a reminder that Gallangos have their own dialect.

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One of the very interesting things about the churchyard was the way parts of the original church had been cannibalized to mark the graves. Here is an example of one of the churches windows being used as a frame for the tombstone.

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After the church, we saw a gardening shop across the street. I thought it would be the place to find Shannon's Pimentos Padron Seeds. They didn't have them, but with the help of yet another Cuban (a musician just passing thru town) we got directions to a hardware store where we scored 4 packages.

Dinner that night was in a place called Los Amigos. The food was excellent, and we had our first bottle of the famous local white wine called Albarino.

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After a lovely nights sleep at Casa Rosita we headed north for our week long stay at Casa Parfuto Maria, in Cabana Mauro.

March 1, 2008

Did I Mention My Obsession?

I tend to develop a photographic obsession unique to each trip we take. To only name a few, I've worked my way through door knockers, road signs, street dogs, & vegetable stands.

In Galicia it was horreos.

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As we crossed the boarder from Spain to Portugal, Dan breathed a sigh of relief because we believed we had left the horreos behind us.

But, guess what! In the Minho they are called 'espegrieiros'. They look a bit different, but they serve the same purpose and there are just as many of them.

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I'll have many more pictures and much more to say about horreos and espegrieiros when I get to that part of my trip postings.

I just wanted something to post for March 1st, even though the Feb. Blogging Pact is finished.

March 3, 2008

Our First Taste of Bucolic Splendor

The excellent and aptly named website: Secretplaces.com, even with its wonderful descriptions and beautiful pictures, didn't prepare us for the reality of Casa Perfeuto Maria in the tiny hamlet of Cabana Mauro; which is 10K north of Serra de Outes; which in turn is northwest of Noia; which itself isn't on the average person's travel radar.

Here is a link to Casa Perfeuto Maria's page on the Secretplaces web site.

http://www.secretplaces.com/sp/1/hotels/Casa_Perfeuto_Maria.asp

This brief post is just to give you the chance to explore Secretplaces.com in general and Casa Perfeuto Maria in particular.

Below is the first glimpse we got of Cabana Mauro from the road just before we turned down the lane.

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This is our bedroom.


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And this is the view from our bedroom window.

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Here is another really great website if you are interested in Turismo Rural for Spain. I've pointed you directly to Casa Perfeuto Maria's page. But you can go back to the home page and REALLY have fun finding out about the great rural stays of any area in Spain that interests you.

http://www.casas-turismo-rural.com/alojamiento.phtml?alojamiento=1050#

When you look at the pictures, the bedroom shot is the same room we had. Only a better picture than mine.

March 5, 2008

Riberia - Our Last Stop Before Casa Perfeuto Maria

One thing we noticed as we drove through Galicia is how clean it was. The people were all out sweeping streets. Buildings were in good repair. The houses are either painted a variety of colors, or many of them have small one inch square ceramic tile facades.

I was quite taken with these houses. Some of the patterns are beautiful.

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I know it is a little hard to see here, but the carving on the black frame around the door and windows was amazing.

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On the way to Casa Perfeuto Maria we drove the coast roads all the way from Pontevedra to Noia.

Getting around Galicia has been very easy. We bought some detailed maps at the book festival in Madrid. They have all of the "AC" roads marked and they show all of the "CP" roads even though they aren't marked.

When in doubt we kept circling the roundabouts until we got our bearings. Spanish roads are built on the roundabout system. Very sensible!

Because the Galician's speak a different language than the rest of Spain, many of Galicia's town names are spelled just slightly differently than the names on the map. For example, the town of Riberia is spelled with a 'B' on the map and on some of the signs. But on many other signs it is spelled "Riveria".

We decided to stop in Riberia for lunch and because there was a bustling market going on as we passed through.

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The market was right on the water's edge, overlooking the boat slips for what appeared to be the entire town's population of fishermen.

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Out in the water, just beyond the boat slips was a very interesting rock formation. To me it looks like a family of seals sunning themselves. What do you think?

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April 20, 2008

Yellow Curly Ribbon

First let me say that we really do subscribe to Pauline's definition of Slow Travel. It is just that sometimes, concentric circles just aren't very concentric, or very circular for that matter.

Sometimes, they end up looking more like a big bunch of yellow curly ribbon on top of gift wrapped in a map.

That is what the western third of Galicia was for us.

We got up every morning in our wonderful Turismo Rural called Casa Perfeuto Maria; enjoyed a 10AM breakfast; and left the tiny hamlet of Cabana Moura (population 25) on our way to find out what the day would offer.

We trusted that as we strayed from our tentative plan, our trusty Espana Norte map from the Anaya Touring Club would bring us safely home.

It always did, even if the route was far from direct.

I know you can't really read this scanned image of our well worn map. But, you can see the yellow highlighted record of our wonderings.

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As the crow flies, the area we covered was only 108 kms from south to north, and 88 kms from east to west. As the yellow ribbon curled, it was well over 1,000 kms of our total trip.

It was glorious.

April 23, 2008

Dinner Every Night ! !

I'm not going to say much here. Just let the photos speak for themselves. These were the dinners we enjoyed for five of the six nights we spent at Casa Perfuto Maria.

I've thrown in a picture of breakfast as well, just because it actually shows more than just a close-up of the plate I was drooling over.

What our breakfast table looked like every morning when we came down from our room.
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The ever-present, but delicious salad. We never had a salad in Galicia that didn't automatically have tuna in it.
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Meat was center stage for every meal. Prepared perfectly. And, allowed to shine on its own without heavy sauces. These pork cutlets were so juicy you could cut them with your fork.
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Vegetable of choice with every meal was potatoes. But we never got tired of them. As you can imagine in Galicia, the fish was plentiful.
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The one night we told her we wanted a "light" meal, she served us a huge empanada (it filled the entire plate) made of potatoes and a buttery, flaky fish. DELICIOUS.
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This beef was so fresh and tender, I felt like I should go out and count the calves in the pasture to make sure they were all still there!
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I almost forgot to take the picture of my chicken. I wish I could have captured the smell, too!
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If more country inns cooked like this, I might be tempted to give up self-catered apartment rentals on future trips.

April 24, 2008

The End of the World

We decided that on our first day of exploring we would accomplish one of our traditional 'must-dos'.

I have this thing about getting to the furthest point of any coast we're visiting. I really have no explanation. I just feel the need. I scramble as far out as I can possibly get, and have my picture taken.

Last year it was the very tip of the heel of Italy - Capo Sta Maria di Leuca.
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So, the part of Galicia we were visiting was like a dream come true. I mean REALLY. What better than to visit the town that was considered "the end of the world" at one point in time?

Fisterra is not really the furthest western point in Galicia -- at least not on modern maps. It was another story 3 centuries ago, however. Because it was the then known world's jumping off point, it did stick out further on the maps that anything else. This town is also the point at which the Rias Bajas meets the Costa Morte and it is the final destination of the pilgrimage of the Camino. (Some pilgrims believe that Fisterra was the original and true destination of the Camino.)

Dan thinks my obsessions are silly. But, it looks to me like he is buying into it here, doesn't it to you?
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April 26, 2008

Horreos

When we left Fisterra, we white-roaded our way back so we could drive through the twin towns of Lira & Carnota. I wanted to see the dualing Horreos.

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Horreos are unusual and unique in Spain to Galicia. They are graineries made of stone and stand on stilts to keep rats from getting to the stores. The design has unusual louvered slats (also of stone) that allow air to circulate but keep rain out. Every home has its own horreo.

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In many areas the size of the horreo was an indication of your prosperity. A family with an 8 ft long horreo was middle class.

the reason the two towns of Lira & Canota have these ridiculously long 35 foot horreos was because the two bishops in these towns were in competition. The horreos are both in the churchyards.

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Horreos are a source of exteme regional pride in Galicia. I don't know if there is legislation to protect them, or if their protection is through cultural tradition. But, as you can tell from the picture below, Galicians go to great lengths to preserve the Horreo.

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April 28, 2008

Infant Graves, Horse Trading, Resort Wear, & Cattle Jams

While visiting the churchyard for the Lira horreo, we noticed a small graveyard off in a corner. It was in a depressed corner of the churchyard, so you couldn't see it until you walked down there. How sad.

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As we headed home we decided to go a few kms out of our way in order to not repeat the road we took in the morning. This decision took us through the town of Bainos, and rewarded us with a glimpse of a small town festival centered on horse trading. In fields all along the highway leading into town people were inspecting horses.

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In the middle of town, traffic slowed to a crawl because coming the other direction was a brass band in resort shirts. Tommy Bahama shirts in the middle of a tiny Galician town.

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And finally, one more traffic jam -- or should I say cattle jam, before we made it home.

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April 29, 2008

Santiago

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The entire day of Monday, June 4th was dedicated to Santiago. There is much written in guidebooks about this town, so I'll just share some of our impressions.

The 5 euro for the museum is a good value. We especially enjoyed the tapestries.

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It was rewarding to look down on the plaza and watch pilgrims arrive and flop down on their backs in the middle of the square.

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When we first arrived in the plaza, it was impressive. The parador had 18 flags on poles outside, and we noticed that none of them were US flags.

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Maybe they were just EU flags. Nope. If that were the case, Brazil, Mexico, & Japan wouldn't be there. Maybe they put flags out from the countries of their current guests -- kind of a welcome. That would be cool. Curiosity got the best of us, so we went inside to ask about the significance of the choice of flags. The answer...there isn't a significance. They have 18 flag poles and there are a heck of alot more than 18 countries. They just rotate the flags.

A couple of hours later, as we walked back through the plaza....

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I guess the figured since we noticed, they would change flags to make us feel welcome. I wonder how they decided that Mexico would be the flag to give up its pole.


May 6, 2008

Dinosaur Toes

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bar na cle (barn'ne kel) n. a saltwater shellfish that attaches itself to rocks, ship bottoms, etc. {Webster's New World Dictionary} In Spanish -- percebes.

For a quick, easy read on gooseneck barnacles here is a link to the Chow.com website.

One of our "must-dos" in Galicia was to witness a percebes harvest. And then taste the delicacy for ourselves.

Our strategy for this particular day was to drive up the coast from Fisterra until we found a place where a harvest was in progress. We probably should have planned more carefully, and researched towns and times of day.

As it happened, we were very, very lucky to stumble upon the town of Muxie (pronounced MOO shah) at the perfect time of day.

We spent several hours marveling at the men who were harvesting percebes on the rocky coast below the church. (Although traditionally harvesting is a male job, we did see several women braving the waves as well.)

Can you see two of them in their orange safety vests on the side of the rock?

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A harvester takes advantage of the seconds he has between waves to swoop down and pry the barnacles off the sides of the rocks. Then he jumps back as the next wave hits, and stows them in a net bag hanging from his waist.

When his bag is full he runs up the rocks to a dry spot, where a woman is kneeling on the rocks with nothing but a small pocket knife. He dumps the bag in front of her and heads back to the edge.

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We reluctantly got back in the car and headed up the coast to Camarinas to find a spot for lunch.


Mike Tyson

In Camarinas we found a nice little patio cafe.

The only other occupants of the outdoor tables were a friendly lady, her elderly Gallecian father and Panamanian mother -- plus an adorable, lovable, and quite obviously misnamed dog.

Look at him. Does he look like he would want to throw a knockout punch? Even if he could?

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The woman lives and works in Madrid. But every year for holiday, she flies her Dad and Mom home from Panama for a month so that her Dad can reconnect with his hometown of Noia. It seems he left Noia as a young sailor in the early 1950s, traveled to Panama, met and fell in love with her mother, and never came back.

May 9, 2008

Cabo Vilan & The Serpent

After we left Mike Tyson at the cafe, we decided to drive over to Cabo Vilan to the lighthouse.

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After braving the strong winds to climb up to the base of the light we got back in the car and followed the coast road to Praia de Traba before turning back south toward Ponte do Porto before heading home for dinner.

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This entire drive was completely deserted. We didn't see a single car. What we did see was some beautiful coast line.

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This beach is called La Playa de los Ingleses. It takes its name from the 1890 wreck of the Serpent during a violent storm. A wreck in which 172 English sailors were drowned. There were only three survivors. They managed to find their way to Camarinas to tell the villagers what happened.

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The villagers went to the beach, recovered the bodies and buried them on the beach, creating what is now know as The English Cemetary.

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It is a windy and lonely place. Dan and I commented that if there was any place that would be haunted, it would be here.

May 13, 2008

Lugo is Well Worth a Visit

By slow travel standards, this day trip was a real stretch. It was a very long drive to the town of Lugo. However, we really wanted to experience this town and its wall -- proported to be the most well preserved Roman wall in Spain.
Our time spent in the car was rewarded, and we were not disappointed.

You can circle the city atop the wall on a well preserved pedestrian walkway. It reminds me of the bypass highways that circle cities so you don't have to get into the stop and go traffic of the surface roads.

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Along the way you can look out at the modern city that has grown up outside the wall through what used to be the battlements.

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But it is the view toward the inside of the wall that is the most interesting. Life in Lugo is like a fishbowl. Homes are built right up to the wall. Sometimes you actually walk right past a "backdoor" that opens onto the path. Sometimes you are within five feet of a family's livingroom or kitchen window.

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We felt like guilty voyeurs as we strolled along. But the strange thing is that there seems to be no sense of lost privacy. Or in fact a desire for privacy. Few of these homes had their windows covered. People in their back gardens acted like the strangers above them on the wall didn't exist. And from the looks of the ads in real estate office windows around town, they pay extra for house that back to the wall. Having a home that people can stare into appears to be a highly desirable.

When we looked down onto the pedestrian areas of the center city we saw these weird
"half-busts" of the cities famous ancestors hanging on marble slabs. The slabs divided the walking streets. If you look at the first picture, you will see in the center bars of light on the pavement. The next picture is an enlarged detail of that area so you can tell what I'm talking about. It was really kind of spooky to see these faces sticking out of a slab of marble as you walked by.

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Lugo, for some reason that we didn't figure out, seems to be in the business of marketing the lore of witchcraft, in kind of the same way Salem, MA does. I gather it has something to do with the history of the villages and countryside outside the city. At any rate, there were more than a few witch-as-souvenir type shops around. Here was one of my favorites. It was practically next door to the cathedral. The second picture is a closeup of the middle window.

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Speaking of the cathedral... my header photo this week is a slice of this photo.

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An obviously very important float that dipicts the last supper and is stored INSIDE the cathedral next to the confessionals. It is quite a bit larger than life size. The figures are gold covered wooden sculptures. The sides of the wagon are covered in hammered silver. Here is a bit of detail.

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This final image is a poem by one of Lugo's famous sons. I'm sure his half-head is one of those we saw floating on the marble slabs. I really need to do some research on him and try to get the poem translated. Just from all the nos and nas and references to no life and no death, I have a feeling it's got something to do with the timelessness of the city. If anyone can supply the translation as a comment, I'll edit this entry and move it into the body of the text.

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May 16, 2008

Bookworm's Excellent Adventure

We had a freeloader on our trip to Spain & Portugal. He crawled into our luggage and hitched a ride. After we discovered him, he begged us to document his trip for him so he could show the humans back at the bookstore.

So what follows is Bookworm's photo essay of his Excellent Adventure (In his own words.)

Hi! Like she said, my name is Bookworm. But she lied about how I got here. She stole me off our store manager's desk. He didn't even miss me the whole trip.

You can see clearly that she knew I was with her. She took me out for the ride on Iberian from Chicago to Madrid. In the second picture it is our first day in Madrid. We went to the book expo in the park so I could write part of this trip off on my taxes.

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When they stopped in Toro for the wine tasting, I got to taste too. After they checked into the hotel they put me on the balcony railing to enjoy the view. Too tell you the truth, I was probably a little too tipsy to be sitting way up there.

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At the hotel in Avila they set me on an open windowsill and at Hotel Rosita in Cambarro I was placed on yet another balcony railing. Now I'm beginning to think they are trying to get rid of me!

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After our lunch in O Grove (the beer was excellent), we checked in at the Casa Perfuto Maria. I immediately began making new friends.

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Watching the barnacle harvest was very educational. And climbing the Torre of Hercules was an athletic accomplishment. I'm quite proud of myself.

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We left Spain, but my adventures were far from over! I got to shoot the rapids in Ponte da Barca!

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We went to a friends house in Braga for dinner. I didn't think I was being invited to BE dinner. Whew, he was only kidding. Strange sense of humor, the Portuguese.

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I LOVE LISBON! I got to visit the Castello and sit in a very, very old olive tree as I looked out over the rooftops. And then they took me on a cable car ride at the worlds fair expo. Good thing I'm not afraid of heights.

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I had a wonderful trip, but I was glad to be on the plane headed home. To tell you the truth, I was beginning to miss my spot on David's desk.

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Since he didn't realize I was gone, he refused to believe me when I told him about my Excellent Adventure. He'll have to believe me once he sees this!

May 19, 2008

Torre de Hercules & Control Tower

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The Tower of Hercules is really a lighthouse, the oldest fully fuctioning lighthouse in the world. It sits surrounded by a museum. So the first story of the tower is hidden. To say it is massive is an understatement. If you look at this detail below of the top picture, you will see two people on the far right and a man just below the wall.

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With its roots in Roman times, there is are inscriptions in the base that mention Sevius Lupus, a 2nd century engineer. The earliest reference to it in written text is 415 AD.

The original tower had an external access ramp so that wood could be carried to the top for burning. It was enclosed in its current facade by King Carlos IV in 1788, but you can still follow the path of the ramp along the exterior. It is on a lower part of this visible ledge that I placed Bookworm for his climb. (See Bookworm's blog entry)


Below the tower as you take the path down to the water's edge, is a giant paved circular area that is a sort of mosaic compass.

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Here is a detail of two of the compass points: The shell represents Santiago and the scull and crossbones, of course, represents the Costa da Morte.

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At the southern end of the Paseo Maritimo is the "Torre de Control Maritima" -- the modern version of a light house. Except they warn ships of danger via traffic control transmissions. Just to give you some perspective. The glassed areas are two stories each. The entire tower is about 14 stories tall. The legs are the elevator shafts.

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All along the causeway leading up to the control tower were hundreds of feral cats. At every flat space along the way, someone had left cat kibble for them.

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That's IT. We are finally leaving our time in Spain and heading for Portugal. Two more weeks of trip to report on. Am I boring you yet?

May 24, 2008

A Delicious Welcome-to-Portugal Dinner

The new header is your clue that we've finally moved our trip account across the border from Galicia into Portugal. It was a fast trip from Cabana moura to Ponte da Barca.

Snaking our way south from Outes to Noia, Padron, & Pontevedra, we stopped in the border town of Moncao for a late lunch and to stretch our legs.

Due south of Moncao, Ponte da Barca sits on the southern bank of the Rio Lima. We checked into our hotel and headed out to see the town and find dinner.

Here is what we found. Trout fresh from the river.

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May 28, 2008

Peneda-Geres National Park - first half of day one

We've settled into our hotel in the small riverside town of Ponte de Barca. The hotel, Frei Agosteinho, although modern and comfortable, is without charm. It is basically a business hotel. But it is an ideal place to base yourself for park exploration.

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We were able to devote only two full days of our five days here to exploring Peneda-Geres. That is like saying your are visiting Rome for an afternoon. If you are a serious nature & hiking lover, you need a minimum of a full week to do justice to this huge park.

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So on our first trip into the park we headed for the castle at Lindoso. Aside from these fabulous views

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what I really wanted to see was the castles large grouping of graneries called espigueiros.

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And it appears this particular group are still serving their original purpose.

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We left Lindoso and drove uphill to the dam and then across to Leijo. Here was a well preserved wall from a Roman settlement. As in the rest of Peneda-Geres the wall was completely accessable. In fact, a goatherd has taken advantage of the wall to serve as the back wall of his shed.

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The goats were free range, grazing all around the wall. In fact domestic animals are free range all over the park. The cow was happy to pose, the pig was a bit camera shy.

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June 7, 2008

Peneda-Geres National Park - second half of day one

From Leijo we headed seriously uphill toward Soajo. The mountain we climbed before coming back down was intimidating, to say the least.

I, who am not at all afraid of heights, got butterflies looking straight down some 2,100 feet with no guardrail to obstruct my view. This drive is not for the timid.

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We had decided to spending the afternoon hiking the path that lead to a large group of "beehives". Beehives are ancient (pre-Roman) circular stone huts called abrigos. They have slab stone roofs and blend into the granite strewn hillside, almost becoming invisible.

According to the map of the park. We should be able to start the walk from the foot of the village of Varzea. Here is Varzea at a distance from the road above. If you look in the upper right corner of the picture, you will see a rocky, barren patch of land a little bit uphill from the left bank of the water. That is where the beehives are.

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As we drove down to Varzea, we were greated by a beautiful little cemetery perched on the side of the hill and overlooking the water below. It was here that we had to abandon our car.

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Peneda-Geres National Park was established in the early 1970's. So, of course there were many long settled villages within it's borders. Some of the families in these villages have been there for generations.

Park regulations require that residents give access to all of the historic areas of the park. And there are supposed to be markers at the beginning of each hiking path. However, it is understandable that they don't appreciate a bunch of tourist hikers tromping through their streets and fields. And it is also to be expected that some of those path markers just might get knocked over, and nobody gets around to putting them back up. ::wink::

After we left the car, we began trying to find the marker for the path. Here is the first dead end we came to.
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And here is the second dead end. We could see people peeking out their windows at us as we tried to figure out where the marker might be.

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The third deadend is the one that defeated us.

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It was spooky knowing we were in a town that was occupied, but looked deserted -- to see curtains flutter at the windows and know that someone was watching us and willing us to go away. So, we did.

Even though we didn't get to see the abrigos in person, or take pictures for this blog entry, I did find a good picture at this link: http://www.freguesiasdeportugal.com/distritoviana/01/soajo/historia.htm Just click on the first picture you see in the body of the text.

We headed on to Soajo where we found more espiguerios and the famous "Smiling Pillory". I wonder if the smile made the punishment more tolerable?

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On our way back to the hotel, we decided dinner in our room sounded great. So we stopped in the market, picked up some items & had a picnic as we sat on our balcony.

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June 14, 2008

June 11, 2007 -- Guimaraes, Bom Jesus & Samerio

We decided that today we would visit two towns of interest to us, plus the shrine of Bom Jesus.

Guimaraes is the birthplace of the nation of Portugal. So designated because Afonso proclaimed himself king in 1139 and made the town his capital. And here he is.

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The Castelo is impressive & we enjoyed wondering around inside its walls and looking out over the Paco dos Duques and the modern town beyond.

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Then we walked the short path over to the Paco dos Duques. This is a Disnesque restoration. A 15th century palace that was in rubble and rebuilt in the 1930s. But instead of restoring it to its 15th century state, they modernized it in a careless way. They then turned it into a museum of 17th & 18th century furniture & tapestries. All very beautiful, but so out of place.

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We had a bit of trouble getting out of Guimaraes. We kept going in circles. It felt like a vortex in the twilight zone.

Finally we broke the gravitational pull of the place and headed to Braga & the Shrine of Bom Jesus. The shrine was as interesting as we had read. The steps were much easier to climb than we expected. Here is that so well known shot that is seen in all the travel brochures and guide books.

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But you don't often see photos of the view from the top looking down.

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The thing that struck me about the outside of the shrine was the beautiful and very, very formal plantings all around the grounds.

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At each landing on steps going up was a grotto with a life size, three dimensional tableau representing one of the Stations of the Cross inside. I regret that none of my pictures were clear enough to post. But I did get a good picture of the inside of the shrine. The tableau behind the alter is representative of the ones that were inside the individual grottos, only bigger of course, and better lighted.

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As we were leaving Bom Jesus, I just happened to glance up at the top of the hill above. some 500 meters above, I was a large white dome. Since this was in none of our internet research, nor in the guidebooks, we were obviously curious. We drove up to an amazing site. A HUGE religious shrine run by the m\Marionists. It is called Samerio. Acres and acres paved in marble and granite. A gigantic cathedral with a vast underground chapel that reminds you of one of those huge charismatic churches that seat thousands. A series of beautiful sculpture monuments, and the most fantastic view!

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It is evidently only on the religious tourism radar, and judging from the fact that the information in the gift shop was printed only in Portuguese, Spanish and a little bit of French. I'd say that it isn't well known to English speaking tourists.

Time to head home. Tomorrow is a lazy day and then to Braga again. This time for dinner with our hospitalityclub.org friend, Luis.

March 12, 2010

Would You Eat Here?

Our favorite restaurant experience in Lisbon was at Travessa da Espera 34, a two block walk from our apartment. As you approach the entry to Primavera do Jeronimo, this is what you see.

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If you understand that graffiti doesn't mean this is an undesirable neighborhood, then you will enter and find this tiny, cozy dining room.

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In a place of honor on the wall is a decades old photo of their favorite regular patron from days gone by. Do you recognize her? I was proud to tell the owner that we were from her home town of St. Louis, Missouri in the US. I don't think he was particularily impressed with my tenuous connection, however. Probably because he had no idea where St. Louis was.

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We were seated, and because it was a warm evening, the door remained open. That allowed us to enjoy this view.

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Even though it is hidden away from the tourists, who will rarely find their way there, the reason Primavera do Jeronimo is a favorite for the locals is obvious.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Old Shoes - New Trip in the Spain & Portugal 2007 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

SlowTrav GTGs is the previous category.

Susie's Candle is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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