Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Guimarães....

Grace and I finally left Bragança. We had a wonderful time there, fairy castle and all that stuff, and a marvelous time in the national park. And those wonderful windy roads on top of the hills where every turn displayed a new remarkable vista of the mountain valleys. Oh, I think we both will remember it a long time. And probably tell you about it for the next decade, at least!

From Bragança, we headed off to Guimarães, which is the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. It was here that one of those dukes of Bragança told the King of Leon to take a hike. The duke was no longer going to be a vassal, but instead was going to be his own man. So he fortified the castle in Guimarães, and set about his own way. We arrived there on Sunday. Nothing is open on Sundays on the Iberian Peninsula, until late in the day. We immediately got lost BUT found a parking place, parked the car, and decided to go exploring. Within a block of where we parked, we found a Residencia, and booked a room for the night. In order to park in front of the Residencia, though, we had to drive about 2 km because of the narrow one-way streets that only lead one deeper into the maze of the old city. The woman at the desk gave us a map and some elaborate instructions, and Grace navigated while I drove. We executed the drive flawlessly.

We had a beautiful room overlooking the street, complete with a balcony. Oh, it was very dramatic! And we do have pictures to prove it, too. We went into the neighborhood, had some ice cream and coffee, then set off for our daily adventure. We first found the ducal palace. It's built in the style of a French Chateau around a central courtyard. The palace was restored by the dictator Salazar, and he used it as one of his residences. It is now a residence of the President of Portugal when he is in the city. The palace is furnished with some beautiful tapestries, and period Portuguese furniture. All of the Portuguese were out to see their castle, too, and we saw lots of happy families enjoying their national treasures. It is a big heap of stone, and has fewer creature comforts than 2101 Bucknell Ter. On the other hand, it is definitely a palace.

Behind the palace is an imposing castle (of course) that was built by a countess in the 12th century to protect a monastery that she had founded from the Moors. The duke, when he declared independence from Leon, re-fortified the castle and the reconquest of Portugal from the Moors started in Guimaraes. Of course, we clambered all over the castle walls, after all, we are tourists. Then we went into the keep, and climbed all the way to the roof of the tower for some dramatic views of the old city and the new city beyond. These castles really are remarkable fortresses complete with multiple walls and fall back defenses to make them impregnable from anything except a very prolonged siege. The keeps and the inner walls all have storerooms, and all the keeps had cisterns or springs. The walls were designed with slots in them so that arrows could be fired from the walls such that they completely covered any advancing enemy line.

After the castle we walked down the oldest street in town, and Grace discovered an artists shop. It had tiles, icons, and other kinds of art from local artists - some really beautiful stuff. We looked through all of it, I think. You know, visiting shops like this is almost as good as visiting a museum. The shopkeeper was a young woman who was very friendly, and told us about the items in the shop, and about the town. Again, this was one of those remarkable conversations where a person befriended us and revealed something of the character of the Portuguese people. We found a genuineness and a friendliness that really captured our hearts. And we're grateful the the many kindnesses that people extended to us.

We went to a wonderful restaurant, the Vira Bar, in the old town, up many stairs to a delightful dining room that was romantic - very fitting for our final dinner in Portugal. We had a grilled black pork, Minho style with a bean and greens side, a mixed salad, and bola dos bolaches (literally cake of cookies) for dessert. Ummmm. I know I sound preoccupied with food, but it's an easy thing to do in Portugal.

The next day, we got on the road pretty early, and headed out to Porto. We hit the beach for an hour or so at Vila de Conde, then we went to the airport. With that, we said goodbye to Portugal. I don't think it will be the last time we visit. I'm already planning to return.

With love,