Sunday, October 9, 2016

10/8 -- Fly to New Jersey

We left the hotel early to catch the flight to Madrid and then JFK to spend the next week with Dan's family before going back home. There were a few tense moments trying to make our tight connection in Madrid, but we ended up on time with reasonably good seats. The flight had more bumps that usual, and it rained when we drove to Dan's house, but it was otherwise uneventful AND our luggage arrived with us. After the delay getting it Bilbao with another short connection on the same airline, I had no faith that it would arrive with us this time.

The only blot on the day was the horrendous time to get through passport control. Apparently 4 or 5 flights landed about the same time and there were only 15 electronic kiosks available for hundreds of US citizens and legal residents. It took at least 45 minutes to get our turn at the kiosk and lots of folks, presumably with tight connections, were led to the front ahead of us. It was very disappointing compared to our experiences in every other international airport except Johannesburg, where we waited over an hour each time.

The drive out of JFK was slow and the initial part was confusing -- I think I made the same navigational mistake two years ago, the first time we flew into JFK and drove to New Jersey. Now we get to enjoy the kids and grandkids for a week before heading home.

10/7 -- Last Exploration of Porto

We met a couple of university students at the hotel and took the funicular to the top of the hill and walked over to a favorite student coffee shop and spent an hour talking to them about their lives. They have both just finished their master's degrees in architecture but have little hope of finding good jobs in Portugal. The slowdown that  hit worldwide in 2008 continues here. We had a lively political discussion, but also learned about their outfits.
Funicular track

Getting ready to pass the down car

At the top, older students (in black, capes) hazing the freshmen
who are seated.

Ruined building that can't be torn down because the are 'art
 works' so the facades must be saved when they are rebuilt.

Inside of the train station that celebrated its centennial a few
days ago.

This street was originally intended to be a major
long boulevard like the Champs-Elysees, but a
church in the path refused to move, so they
put the city hall at the end to block the view
of the church.
This is the church that refused to move and was blocked
from easy view.
Joe and John, our student hosts.

Traditional student dress is a black vested suit, white shirt, black tie, and black cape. According to Yolanda (a couple days ago), this was to prevent discrimination between rich and poor students. During the dark days of the dictatorship, people were not allowed to gather in more than threes and the students took to wrapping their cloaks closely to conceal their white shirts and become more invisible. This is also the city where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel, and they said their capes were her  inspiration for Harry's invisibility cape. This formal dress is not usually worn to class these days and professors tend to think that someone who does wear the suit to class must be spending too much time on non-studious activities.

Both men were also involved in a group called a 'tuna', which is a musical club. The clubs are unisex in part because when they were co-ed, they tended to split up as relationships developed and ended. John sings and plays the classical guitar, while Joe described himself as a cheerleader, though not the kind with pom poms. Tuna membership can be for life and there are reunions of the groups. We saw a couple of tunas getting ready to perform outside our hotel over the last few days, but never got to listen.

From the coffee shop, we walked to the famous bookstore that J.K. Rowling used for  more inspiration. You have to buy a ticket to get in and wait in line to enter. The place was crawling with people looking around and taking pictures everywhere. We are not that into Harry Potter, so we escaped within 15 minutes. Then we started ambling to lunch, stopping in a few shops along the way. Iwona was born in Poland and was very excited to see a shop specializing it all kinds of slavic countries' foods.
It was a mob scene in front of the book store.

Picture is blurry but it is the best one to show
the layout of the place.

Second floor. When is the last time you have seen so many
folks in a bookstore??

Where's Lynn? I almost match the paint on the stairs!
As we walked to lunch, we passed a pair of conjoined churches with very different personalities. One was Carmelite and I think the other was Franciscan, but I no longer am sure which is which.
The two different churches are physically connected.

Inside of church one

Inside of church two
After lunch, we walked with Steve across the top level of the bridge near our hotel and came back on the lower level to pack for the trip home.

These are the houses that line the hills next to the funicular.
Not exactly a high rent district.
The Douro river, looking east with lots of tourist boats along
the waterfront.
Our hotel
Our room is on the corner, a floor above
the balcony.
Houses along the Douro that you might call "fixers".
This looked like military barracks, stacked up on the hill.
Looking back at the bridge after we crossed.
Curious spiral ladder rose up in the middle
of the bridge leg for maintenance access.
Jim on the bridge lower level.
The funicular we were on from the bridge.
On the way to our farewell dinner by bus, the sunset was
too pretty to ignore, even shooting thru the window as
we drove. I had to airbrush out a couple of lights from the
bus that  looked like UFOs. Can you find them?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

10/6 -- Minho Province, Visit Guimaraes and Braga

View from our window last night

Same view this morning before the fog got thick.
We rode northeast from Porto to Guimaraes to start the day. This is considered the home of Portugal because it is where the first king was born. Portugal was declared a country by the pope in the 1100s, making it one of the oldest countries in the world. It was also the original capitol. However, as more of Portugal was reclaimed from the Moors, the capitol edged south to its present location in Lisbon. This area is considered a cultural center.

Our first stop was a ceramics shop where one of the last few people in Guimaraes makes the Lover's Gift Pot, a traditional gift given to get engaged to a girl. The cup is not for using except to have small gifts placed in it for the wedding couple. It is made in a single piece (except for the handle, lid, and decorations). The decorations are a combination of lines and dots etched into the pot and small shaped bits of clay with grains of powdered mica embedded.
We watched a master potter work, and she made
it look simple.
The yellowish one is the one that was thrown
while we watched and needs to be decorated
and fired. The red one is a completed pot. The
fluted edges are a trademark of this factory.

Then it was our turn to try. As you can see, it was a fun(ny)

Iwona's ended up with an interesting wrinkle.
Katie ended up being the most successful -- a new career???

Jim gave it a try because his attempt in Indonesia was WAY
better than mine.
However, he had some difficulty trying to make a bowl
instead of a plate.

And eventually gave up. I tried too, with very little time and
somewhat more success, but the pictures of my attempt
didn't turn out well.
This original section of the Roman wall says
"Portugal was born here".

Another, longer section of the Roman wall

Alfonso, Count of Barcelos, an illegitimate
son of the king, who built the Ducal Palace,
pictured below.
After being abandoned as a palace, it was used as a military
barracks, then in 1935, restored as a summer residence for the
president, Salazar, who also wanted it to be a museum. The
top floor is officially for the president, but has no hot water,
so it is only used for meetings.
We walked down the hill into the main part of the town but first off, we noticed a scallop shell imprinted in the sidewalk and learned that this is part of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.

Someone asked about the rooster decorations we see and Yolanda told us the story of the two miracles. A man was accused and convicted of a crime that he said he did not commit. He managed to talk his way into seeing the judge and declared that his innocence would be proved when the rooster on the table (currently headless and in a roasted state) stood up and sang when as the convict was being hanged. The judge did not eat the rooster, but refused to reverse the sentence. The rooster stood up and sang when the hanging started, and St. James extended  his hand to hold up the convict so that he lived. Now the rooster is the symbol of honesty and a good heart. The  most authentic are shown like the ones below: large comb, painted hearts, and standing on a blue rock.

Famous dessert of Guimaraes, translates as 'bacon from
heaven' though it is really an almond cake with no bacon.

One of the village squares we saw.
You can identify the wealth of the residents from the balconies.
The rich have metal ones, the middle class has wood, and the
poor have none.
Old city hall. Business was conducted outdoors in the sheltered
lower  level (because of frequent rain) and villagers never went
upstairs to the offices.
The next square over is famous for its church, Our Lady of the Olive Tree, and an olive tree that supplied the oil for the church lamps. When the tree got sick, the lamps went out and a new tree was planted. After a glass of the local vinho verde and some cheeses in the square, we hopped on the bus for the ride to Braga and lunch.

Our Lady of the Olive Tree
 Our main objective in Braga was the Bom Jesus do Monte, a pilgrimage site that translates to Good Jesus of the Mount. There  are a lot of steps -- almost 700 -- to go to the top, but fortunately, we walked down. There is also a funicular that goes both ways. There are six sets of stairs and landings which are designed to make the pilgrim consider each of his sins on the way up.We went backwards, down instead of up,

The church also contained the mummified body of St. Clement
who was a favorite of students in Braga, one of the main
university locations in Portugal.

Interior of the church -- relatively constrained compared to many
others here.

The altar area is unique in that the depiction
is in 3 dimensions instead of just  painted.

Looking west from the top of the Bom Jesus staircase.
The level just below the top. The three tiered
fountain represents the trinity.

Looking down over the various levels you have to walk up.

Yolanda explains the meaning of the first sense
level we encountered. All 5 senses are represented
in order of their badness. The worst was touch
because you can use touch to kill and lust could
play a factor too. Each sense also had an animal
associated with it, though some of the connections
seemed a bit weak. (Bull for hearing because they
hear so well????)
Looking back up, Yolanda said you could now see cherubs
that were not apparent on each individual level.
We took the bus down to the main square and walked around some more. The day had turned out to be quite warm and the three fountains in the square wafted some lovely mist in our direction.
The square used to be an ugly transit hub and is now more
attractive and relaxing.

Looking back up the hill and using my long
zoom, we got a great view of Bom Jesus.

This is a prime shopping area and at  least 3
of us could have spent more time here.

This church has a patron saint La Virgen de La
Leche, the virgin of the milk. This rendition
was considered to be too risque for the sanctuary,
so it was placed outside and a more discreet
version was created for inside.

From there, we drove back to Porto for another dinner,  and now it is time to think about packing for the trip home. Only one more day to tour here! The time has gone really fast.
The  monastery across the river all lit up at night.