i heart portugal

June 14, 2011 at 11:43 am 13 comments

for the next 10 days, our tour guide led us into portugal’s heartland where she immersed us in her country’s culture and historic past. here are my favorite moments and observations:

going to the city of evora. it used to be an important roman outpost around the 2nd century b.c. roman ruins abound, most of them still underground and unexcavated. during our stay, we had the opportunity to watch a photo shoot with a local personality in one of the ruins.

evora is also famous for the 12th century cathedral of santa maria, the church of saint francis and the chapel of bones. the chapel was built by franciscan monks in the 15th century using human skulls and bones gathered from local cemeteries to adorn its walls and pillars.

wandering in the douro valley and its terraced vineyards on the hillsides. it brought back memories of the rice terraces in northern philippines. we were accommodated in a castle converted into an hotel. from its hilltop location, we got a spectacular view of the river and surrounding vineyards.

in douro valley, we visited a cork tree farm and vineyard owned by an aristocratic family for generations. signs of wildlife could be felt as we went around the estate in a conveyance pulled by a tractor. the family prepared lunch and was gracious enough to eat with us – all three generations of them. of course, they shared with us their vintage wines, too. on this occasion, i was so caught up in the moment that i forgot to take pictures except of the tractor and the cork tree.

walking on the beach at the fishing village of nazare. it’s becoming a tourist destination, but much of its home-town charm remains.

i watched local fishermen as they hauled their catch from the sea and waited for the public bidding to begin. i watched women as they cleaned fish and laid them out to dry in the sun. i found the townsfolks friendly and eager to practice their english on me as i was eager to practice my portuguese on them. at dinner, we were served arroz de marisco (seafood rice) and this portuguese version of caldereta (stew) using different types of fish instead of chicken or pork.

visiting the famed gothic church and monastery of santa maria in Alcobaça. it was built in the 12th century by king alfonso i to celebrate the conquest of santarém to the moors. in the church, you’d find the tombs of king peter i and his mistress, inês de castro.

in a nutshell, the story of these star-crossed lovers happened in the 14th century. king alfonso iv arranged the marriage of his son, peter 1, to constanza of castile. peter, however, fell in love with her lady-in-waiting, inês de castro. they had an affair. when king alfonso discovered it, he had inês banished from the court. even after constanza’s death, the two continued their relationship. this caused king alfonso to have her murdered. peter was enraged and revolted against his father. the revolt ended when king alfonso defeated his son’s forces. when king alfonso died shortly thereafter, peter assumed the throne. his first order of business was to transfer her remains to the monastery of santa maria in alcobaça and declared her as his legitimate wife. when he died, his body was placed in a tomb opposite hers so that on the day of resurrection, they can behold each other as they rise from their graves.

visiting the grand monastery of santa maria da vitória in batalha. it was built in the 14th century by king john i to commemorate portugal’s victory against spain in the battle of aljubarrota in 1385.

getting a glimpse of the past by strolling down the medieval town of obidos. climbing up and walking on the castle walls (one mile) aren’t recommended for the faint of heart because there are no handrails to hold on to. any false step could lead to serious injury or death. a human statue found at the bottom of the steps didn’t want to have his picture taken without the usual incentive. if you didn’t give him money, he turned his back on you.

spending one sunday morning in the pilgrimage site of fatima. it was here where the virgin mary appeared to three children in 1917. portugal is a country deeply devoted to the blessed mother. many churches and cathedrals were named after her. she may even be more popular than her son. in this country, it wouldn’t appear condescending if jesus is addressed as her son. a statue of pope paul ii, one of her ardent devotees, can be found there.

going to the ancient city of conimbriga. it’s the site of portugal’s largest and most intact roman ruins. at the advice of our guide, we visited the museum first. it was one where photos were allowed inside. unfortunately, my cheap camera can’t take good shots in low light

seeing the artifacts excavated from the place, she reasoned, would give us a glimpse of life in the roman era and make us appreciate the ruins more.

exploring the city of coimbra, portugal’s historic capital during the middle ages. it’s home to the university of coimbra. established in 1290, it’s one of the oldest universities in europe.

getting around the city on foot required going up and down centuries-old stairs, but it was worth it. climbing up to the highest point gave me a panoramic view of the city.

as a book lover, the highlight of my stay in coimbra was seeing the university’s baroque library, the biblioteca joanina, which contains a priceless collection of ancient volumes. it was built in the 18th century during the reign of king john v of portugal. to help preserve the volumes, a colony of bats live inside the library to take care of insects feeding on paper. alas, entry is limited to 10 minutes just enough to appreciate the elaborate furnishings and array of books on display. in addition, no photos were allowed.

a fado performance was scheduled by our tour guide for the group, but i decided to pass since i’d already been to one in lisbon. fado is the traditional folk music of portugal. its melody and lyrics remind me of the filipino kundiman full of love and sadness and longing for something lost or unattainable

tour ended in porto where we spent three days and two nights.

on our last night in porto, we had a group dinner and shared travel stories together. as we were heading back to the hotel, i walked with our tour guide to say goodbye. the tour would end in the morning at breakfast, but i wouldn’t make it because of my early flight to lisbon.

“this is what i hate about going on a tour,” she said, “once we start getting to know each other, it ends and we go on our separate ways.”

at the entrance of the hotel, we paused for a moment. “it’s been a blast,” i said as i gave her a hug.


Entry filed under: Blogroll, travel, vacation. Tags: , , , .

it all began in lisbon Fernando Pessoa – Portuguese Poet

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joy  |  June 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Welcome back!

    • 2. plaridel  |  June 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm


      thanks, my friend. now i need a vacation after this vacation. 🙂

  • 3. sarah  |  June 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    wow! kainggit!

    • 4. plaridel  |  June 22, 2011 at 7:23 am


      it’s a beautiful country, but i don’t think i’ll be back. life is short. there are other places i want to see before i die.

  • 5. sub  |  June 27, 2011 at 3:06 am

    “it’s been a blast,” i said as i gave her a hug. — woot woot!

    welcome back sir! 🙂 dami kwento ahh, im learning..

    • 6. plaridel  |  June 27, 2011 at 4:55 pm


      thanks. that’ll encourage me to travel more. 🙂

  • 7. coolwaterworks  |  July 16, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Very nice post!

    I must admit, it’s a shame that I consider myself a history freak but I know less of Portugal… Probably because our history is so tied up with Spain and Portugal is obscured by its historical rival…

    Thanks for sharing Plaridel…

  • 8. Leigh W. Smith  |  September 4, 2014 at 7:51 am

    These are quite some cool adventures, Plaridel. Love the star-crossed lovers’ tale as well as the current story about the bats patrolling the library for bugs. Very cool! (I just read the other day in SciAm about book scorpions.) Lovely pictures and stories, as always! 🙂

    • 9. plaridel  |  September 4, 2014 at 9:41 am


      thank for reading as always. 🙂

      • 10. Leigh W. Smith  |  September 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

        Plaridel: I am curious, though, do you know how the library dealt with all the bat guano? I can’t imagine what to do with that aspect!

        • 11. plaridel  |  September 4, 2014 at 10:00 am


          they clean up the droppings daily. at night, they cover the tables, which are also antique, with animal hide to protect them.

          • 12. Leigh W. Smith  |  September 4, 2014 at 10:04 am

            Aha, talk about world’s worst job (not involving killing living things). Did the librarians do this or some other staff? (if you know). Inquiring minds (mine and my MLS husband’s) would like to know. Thanks so much for responding!

            • 13. plaridel  |  September 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm


              it might not be that bad. our guide said there are only about 10 bats allowed inside to do the work. i forgot to ask if it’s part of the librarian duties to clean up.


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