Monday, October 29, 2018

A Visit to Sintra


We have been doing a fifteen day tour of Portugal. After five days in Lisbon, we went to to Sintra for two days. The Vila de Sintra is a city in the municipality of Sintra, located in the Sintra Mountains on the west coast. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical importance. This area just north of Lisbon is also known as the Portuguese Riviera.

We stayed in a small b&b in the town of Sintra, and spent the first day exploring the area on foot. We hiked through the town past the municipal administration building, some large gardens, the National Palace Of Sintra (which served as the summer palace for royalty for a couple of centuries until the end of the 1600’s), and the Quinta da Regaleira (which unfortunately had just closed to visitors by the time we made our way there). The photo above shows a small alcove along the main roadway.

Near the Quinta da Regaleira, we took in the view over the Vila de Sintra. Looking in the other direction, through the arch behind us you can see the Palace of Pena on a nearby mountaintop.

Throughout Sintra, there were many stores catering to tourists. For example, these iron items looked interesting, although a little heavy to transport home via airplane in a suitcase.

Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors)

On the second day, we bought tickets for the “hop-on-hop-off” bus, and boarded it to take us to the Castle of the Moors on one mountaintop above the city, and the Palace of Pena on another nearby peak. It is also possible to hike up to the castle via a walking trail and then over to the palace, although it would be a long, steep route. The road was very narrow with many switchbacks to get to the top. We were amazed to see how the well the bus driver negotiated the narrow twisty road, and were glad we had left the rental car parked down below.

The Castelo dos Mouros was a military fort built in the tenth century during the time that the Moors occupied the Iberian peninsula. In this photo, you can see the keep.

From the castle, you get a good view of the Palace of Pena.

The views in all directions from the castle are amazing.

We climbed up and down many stairs as we hiked around the castle.

This photo shows the castle wall going from the keep to a second high point. I walked all along the castle wall, even though the ground fell away below in a rather breathtaking way. Rob took an alternative route to the far side. After exploring the castle, we hiked back out the road and hopped on the bus again, which dropped us off at the wall around Pena Palace.

Palacio Nacional de Pena (Pena National Palace)

Pena Palace is built upon the foundation of a former monastery on the site, and it incorporates many elements of the former building. It was built under the initiative of King-Consort Ferdinand and Queen Maria II in the mid-1800’s. It is considered to be the preeminent example of Portuguese Romantic architecture.

From the wall around the palace to the palace itself there was another long hike up a hill through the Pena Gardens. If we had been so inclined, we could have paid 3€ each and ridden up in a shuttle bus. But we walked, needing to balance some of the eating we had been doing with some vigorous exercise. We certainly achieved more than our 10,000 steps on this day.

Pena Palace is like a fairytale palace, and it is equally beautiful on the inside.

From the palace, there are fabulous views over Sintra and the mountains nearby.

The photo above is of a small niche in the interior. The wall mosaic dates from Moorish times. If you look closely, you can see that seashells were used in the mosaic pattern. Later, this space was used as a storeroom for the palace.

Some brave souls were doing the exterior wall walk. Not I.

There were elaborate carved details throughout the palace. Above you can see a representation of Triton, god of the sea. He was located on the exterior, just above the main entrance.

We were astounded and delighted with the beauty and history in Sintra. We are glad that we made it to this area during our time in Portugal.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Fabulous Pousadas of Portugal

Rob and I have been enjoying 15 days travelling through Portugal. We started in Lisbon, where I attended an academic conference. Although quite a bit of my time was taken up with the conference, we also had plenty of time to tour parts of the city that we hadn’t seen in our last visit here in 2011. In particular, we visited the Tile Museum and explored the Parque das Nacoes, which was the site of the World Exposition in 1998. We ate at many traditional Portuguese restaurants, as well as some featuring new cuisine, and enjoyed listening to fado singers.

From Lisbon, we went on to Sintra and then north to Porto. I will write about those parts of the trip in a separate post.

When we travelled to Portugal in 2011, we discovered Portuguese Pousadas, to our great delight. The pousadas are luxury inns throughout the country, situated in buildings that are national monuments, or that are significant because of their history or natural beauty. They are run by the Pestana group, but I believe that they were initially established as an initiative by the government of Portugal. In 2011, we stayed at Alcacer do Sal, on top of a hill at the mouth of a river where the Romans traded in salt. At various times it was a castle, a Moorish palace, and a Roman fort. There is an archaeological dig under the pousada with artifacts going back to the Bronze Age. Later in that trip, as we toured through the Alentejo region, we stayed at a pousada in Evora which had been convent and before that a beautiful Moorish palace. The third pousada that we stayed in was in Elvas, next to a fabulous walled city, and very impressive Roman aqueducts.

Our experience with the pousadas was outstanding. So on this trip, we decided to book a four-day tour of some pousadas in northern Portugal. (We were aware of their special offers because they have been sending us emails since 2011. If you become a Pestana member, you are eligible for discounts and special offers.)

We started our pousada tour at the Pousada Viana do Castelo. It is located on top of Monte de Santa Luzia in an elegant 100-year-old hotel. From the pousada, there are fabulous views out over the Port of Viana do Castelo. The pousada is decorated in the Belle Epoch style — very beautiful. We rode the funicular down to the city and spent an interesting day wandering around the city, looking at the busy modern port, and walking around the ruins of the old castle on the shore. Viana do Castelo is one of the places on the route of the Portuguese pilgrim’s way, on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, nearby in Spain.

A lovely sitting room

The view from the window of our room

We also enjoyed the gardens of the pousada. I swam in the outdoor pool, although the water was very cold. We sat and enjoyed the view from the salon, read, and sipped port.

From Viana do Castelo, we left the coast and drove east. After a stop in beautiful Ponte de Lima, where we walked across a Roman bridge and toured through a Roman garden, we passed through the north side of Braga and headed up into the mountains. Our next destination was the Pousada de Canicada-Geres, a chalet style inn high in the mountains looking over the National Park Of Peneda-Geres.

A chalet in the mountains

View from the bar out over mountains and a lake

Now we have travelled to the third pousada— Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes, also called the Monastery of Santa Marinha. The monastery dates back to the late 9th century, although the building is older than that. It was founded by Dona Mafalda and named for the patron saint of women in childbirth. It is surrounded by gardens.

Me standing in front of the pousada.

The other thing that I haven’t mentioned are delicious breakfasts included in the cost of the room. A North American breakfast will never look the same after this. We also have splurged on several pousada dinners. I think my waistline is going to pay for it, even though we have been doing a great deal of walking, hill climbing, and clambering up many staircases inside of castles.

A final note. I have found a slow and tedious way to write this post using a tablet, and to import photos off my phone. However, writing on a tablet does not allow for for formatting options, and editing functions are limited. So please pardon any errors you find.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Art, Family, and Food onThanksgiving Weekend

Last weekend was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Thanksgiving, for me, has always centered around family coming together from wherever we are and enjoying good food. Now that I have retired and moved back to BC, it is much easier to enjoy holiday celebrations together. I live near my oldest daughter and her family, and my two other (grownup) children are just a ferry ride away. Rob’s two kids and that set of grandchildren live farther away, and we are planning to travel to spend Christmas with them. 

But, this Thanksgiving was a little different from past years. The studio art tour group that I belong to hosts three events a year — a Spring Showcase, a Thanksgiving Studio Tour, and a Christmas Crawl (which is also a studio tour). I participated in the Spring Showcase, and wrote about it here. The Thanksgiving Tour includes all three days of the long weekend. 

For the tour events, artists open their studio/galleries to the public. People drive from studio to studio to view and purchase art, including paintings, pottery, handmade glass, wood carvings, jewellery, fabric art, and soap. Twenty studios were open for our Thanksgiving Tour.

This is the first time I have been part of a tour. It required lots of preparation.

This photo above shows my new sandwich board sign. There are also photos below showing the sign I now have in front of my studio. My daughter, the net artist designed the logo, and Rob built the cedar signpost and sandwich board.

I had lots of visitors to my studio over the three days, and even started a new painting.
Read more about Nanoose Bay Thanksgiving Studio Tour here.

My younger daughter, her friend, and my son came over on the ferry for the long weekend. Because of the tour, I did not have time to cook a big Thanksgiving Dinner. Instead, my daughter had the whole family over on Thanksgiving. She cooked an amazing feast! We also went out one night to a local English style pub and had a great dinner there, followed by some goofing around.

The weather has turned to Fall, and the leaves are brilliant colours.

I am grateful for my family, good times together, the chance to make art, and the beautiful place that I live.