Saturday, August 29, 2015


The only fault we could find with our hosts at the Quinta do Convento da Franqueira was in laying out directions for how to get from place to place. Our GPS on our phone was connected to a data plan we had purchased before we left the States and we were getting concerned we were about to run into overages, overages we had been warned could break our bank. So we were a bit more reliant on Piers and his printed maps of the area.
On our first attempt to get into the historic center of Barcelos we tried to follow the lengthy explanation Piers had given us. About fifty frustrating minutes later we some how managed to find our way in. It was on our return when we decided to throw caution to the wind and turn on our GPS. We discovered the center was approximately three turns and less than ten minutes away from the convent.
Barcelos is a small town with a lot of charm. The origins of the mythical symbol of Portugal, the Galo de Barcelos, originated here and give reason for why there are so many cock sculptures littered throughout the town.
The cock story has to do with a man convicted of crime he said he didn't commit. The crime was severe enough for his punishment to be death. In a last ditch plea he was brought to the home of the judge who convicted him. The judge was dining at the time. The accused saw a platter of chickens being brought in, he pleaded to God to show his innocence by making the dead chicken crow three times. Of course, the rooster did as told and the man was sent free. The cock now stands for honesty, integrity, trust, and honor throughout the country.
Unfortunately the over-sized decorated plastic versions have now overrun the historic town in a Disneyland-ish way and have now gone beyond extending into a collection of various painted animals and folkloric-attired munchkins as well. It is a Bermuda short, camera swinging tourist's dream with a photo op at every turn.
The historic center begins right over the Roman Bridge that spans the Rio Douro. There's a small sand beach down below but we were warned not go there. The river has a lot of industrial waste in it and whirlpools that claim at least a few swimmers every summer. Emmy was disappointed.
She had hoped for the beach while we were in Portugal but had to settle for shopping instead, poor kid.
After maneuvering the narrow bridge with traffic coming in both directions you arrive at the castle, the starting point for our entry into the city. The remains of the castle's ramparts have been converted into a sculpture garden. Whether permanent or not the gardens collection of human forms is both powerful and sublime.
The arched remains work as frames for the three-dimensional pieces of art.
A pedestal lifts a masculine form with outstretched arms skyward making it appear to be rising out of the ruin.
A major shopping street connects the castle and museum area to the major church and park at the other end of the street. There were a surprising number of high-end shops for such a small town lining the mostly pedestrian street,
but the beauty for me was the tile facades decorating the buildings above the street level stores.
Even when the buildings had been abandoned there was still a regal beauty in their deteriorated presence.
The church over-looking the main square seems small from the outside,
but inside it bursts with gold and glitter not seen in any of the other churches we had visited during the previous part of our trip.
At night the church and square become a beacon for the little city that gave Portugal its cock.
Dinners have always been a high point of our travels and Barcelos did not disappoint.
Our first night out brought us down the hill from our hotel to a restaurant outside the historic district and patronized primarily by locals.
We dined on steaks served on very hot stone delivered to our table sizzling to such an extent the waiters had to place cotton bibs on all of us before they set the wooden plate on the table, a way of protecting us from the spitting piece of meat.
We finished off our meal with the best cappuccino I've ever had, piled high with sugary whipped cream.
Our second meal was at a very small restaurant on a little side street in the historic center called, Babette. We were a little hungrier that evening.
We started out with a charcuterie and cheese platter that was easily large enough for all three of us.
We then went on to try three separate entrees: Emmy had another steak served on a bed of spinach and boiled potatoes then topped with prosciutto held in place by a spear of rosemary.
Rick went for the rabbit confit with a coulee of wild berries and a side of almond and mushroom spiked risotto.
I went for a regional specialty of cod swimming in a boat of potato, onion, crawfish and parsley that was the most delicious dish of all three that we had ordered.
Our last major meal was at the Bagoerira, a restaurant that has been in operation for the past four hundred and fifty years.
The restaurant has grown to gargantuan size as it hosts the thousands of vendors and customers that have been showing up for centuries to Thursday market in the square.
We sat in the oldest part of the restaurant, a warren of small stone-walled rooms with wood beam ceilings.
I dined on kid, or baby goat, although I'd rather not think of it that way.
Emmy went for a tuna steak and the charm that four and a half centuries can bring to a place.

Our only other venture outside beyond the walls of the Quinta was to Braga, a larger town than Barcelos located another twenty kilometers away. Thanks to a GPS app available in Portugal called Meo we were able to find our way to Bragga as if we had lived in the area for years and absolutely knew our way around.
The town had more shopping than we needed to know about.
You could even purchase your Papal attire and look just like the Pope if you had a mind to go that route.
I was almost tempted to go into a Nutella shop if only for the novelty of it.
Braga was large enough and had a big enough tourist base to support its version of street entertainers.
It was also picturesque enough to attract wedding couples and be used as a background for their nuptial photographs.
We had lunch at a café that was more Parisian than Portuguese with its gilded interior walls and coffeehouse appeal.
But the highlight was the Library garden with its abundance of flowers
and a backdrop of another architectural ruin.

Emmy had wanted desperately to get to the beach while in Portugal. We made it as close as we could on that last evening. An English couple staying at our hotel had told us over breakfast that morning about a restaurant they had gone to the night before.
It was called A Salgueira and located very near the beach in the town of Apulia. Once again our MEO app did not let us down but dropped us off right in the restaurant's parking lot. The restaurant was far more contemporary than anything else we'd been to in Portugal.
Being by the ocean it specialized in seafood but an odd entry on the menu was Beef Wellington. We stuck to the fish sharing a plate of sea bass and grouper. Had we had bigger stomachs we would have gone for these crustaceans or even the beef but we knew we didn't want to overload ourselves for the following day flight back to Newark.
All in all it was a trip well spent. Obrigado - Thank you

Friday, August 28, 2015


How did we ever travel without GPS? Being in a foreign country with no or very little knowledge of the language and frequently no understanding of their road signage would have made us appear to be chasing our tails if it weren't for our GPS.
We arrived at the Porto airport right around ten in the evening. By the time we had retrieved our luggage and got our rental car it was approaching eleven. The roads in Portugal are fairly well maintained but not terribly well lit. If it weren't for Siri we might never have found our way to our hotel in the dead darkness of a moonless night. The last mile to the Quinta do Convento da Franqueira is up a narrow winding road barely wide enough for two small cars to pass and we were in a luxury Volkswagon Passat sedan. The last hundred yards to the Quinta are on a dirt road and the grounds of the hotel are completely unlit with a maze of arbor-covered alleys. Once inside the compound we found ourselves at the entry to a stone filled road that didn't appear wide enough for us fit through and didn't seem to go anywhere but up at a very steep angle. Instead of going on with the farce of pretending we knew where we were we pulled the car off the drive, Rick and I got out leaving Emmy cringing in the backseat by herself. We started a walk in the dark . Rick, being an application aficionado, had the flashlight app on his phone. It was what we used to guide us around the convent until we finally found a door with a buzzer. Piers came down and let us in with huge apologies about the darkness and the unmarked paths. In his high British accent he retrieved a "proper torch", British for flashlight and guided us to the car and then to the parking area.
What we would see of the exterior of the Quinta would have to wait until morning when the sun would illuminate what we couldn't see at half past midnight. Piers was insistent on helping us lug all our luggage up the flight of stairs to our rooms. We had thought we had booked a room with a double bed and a nook with a little bed for Emmy. What Piers took us to had us wondering if there had been some miscommunication, a miscommunication we thought totally in our favor. He assured us that that wasn't the case so we went ahead with putting our bags into the ante-room of our four-room suite.
The whole décor of the Quinta is more English than Portuguese. The ante-room had a divan with a couple of chairs
and an ottoman with a tray laid out with china cups, teapot and a tin filled with various pekoes and earl grays.
The next set of double doors lead to our room with two twin beds and a desk and chair. I'm guessing this was the safer bet with a reservation for two men in a country not yet ready to acknowledge gay marriage.
From our room a single door led into the bathroom tiled with typical Portuguese blue ceramic in a fashion very reminiscent of the Dutch tiling we had just left.
The room was quite large for a hotel bathroom with an oversized tub, a toilet and bidet, a sink, a vanity and enough extra room to hold an exercise class for all of us.
The last doorway opened into Emmy's own private room. With yellow walls, another pair of single beds, a huge armoire and space for her now three exploding suitcases. We all need to learn better packing strategies although if Rick and I haven't learned by now I doubt we can be very good examples or guides for Emmy. With Emmy already exploding all over her room and Rick and I too tired to do much more than plotz, we all decided to go to bed and deal with everything else in the morning.

The sun seems to rise a little later here than it did in Holland. It wasn't until almost eight when the tile roofs of the Quinta started to bake with that hot terra cotta color we were expecting. From our window, well windows, we could now see the courtyard of the former 16th century convent, the white-washed walls, the formal central garden with a bubbling fountain fed with freshwater from the hills above and filled with golden koi.
We could now see a veranda running the length of the interior courtyard on two sides.
A gatehouse now converted into another apartment was directly opposite our apartment with beautiful blue doors that led out to the fields and vineyards beyond.
A huge bougainvillea vine had entwined itself on a eucalyptus tree just outside the gate spilling beautiful fuchsia petals all over the ground below.
Breakfast was served between nine and ten. We barely made it on time that first morning. Kate had prepared plates of prosciutto and cheese and a selection of Portuguese breads. There were bowls of granola, yogurt and fresh fruit picked from their own orchards and berry patches and of course there was coffee, hot milk and English tea.
After breakfast, Piers took us on a little tour of the grounds. We discovered that the path we had almost driven up that previous evening wouldn't have gotten us very far. It led to the pool, a beautiful pool overlooking the grounds. The square shaped pool had been the convents water reservoir before Piers' father had built it up an additional meter and turned it into a swimming pool.
Since the water is from an underground spring they only need to use a little chlorine to keep it clear and fresh but it retains a temperature only a few degrees above freezing. It had to get very hot outside before any of us could jump in and stay there for any length of time.

For the next couple of days a fog rolled in making swimming or sunning impossible.
Instead we hunkered down in the sitting room and Hugh, Piers and Kate's son, built a roaring fire to take the chill out of the air.
We actually didn't mind the cold or the fog or the drizzle that came with it. It made us slowdown and relax in exactly the way we had told ourselves we would do.
It also painted the convent in a shroud of mystery that my iPhone couldn't help but enjoy.

Barcelos and most of Portugal is a culture very wrapped up in their religion. The small area of Barcelos where the Quinta is located has as many as a dozen churches but now only one priest to manage them.
Atop the hill and almost in walking distance of the convent is another smaller church but one more popular for weddings because of its view. I
Along with all the other parishes in this district it meant that the church part of the convent is rarely used and kept under lock and key for most of the year. But there's a door in the sitting room that Piers unlocked for us that leads directly into the choir loft of the church. The beauty of the space is so amazing in comparison to local churches you'd find in larger communities in the United States. The fact that this church is only used a maximum of twice a year is a shame.
The bounty of religious artifacts is immense in an area of a country that is rich in its spirituality. Knowing that God was on the other side of the wall at the Quinta do Convento da Franquiera made us all feel a little safer.