Saturday, August 29, 2015

BARCELOS, BRAGA, AND THE FOODS OF NORTHERN PORTUGAL

BARCELOS
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.










BRAGA
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.























OUR LAST DINNER ON OUR LAST NIGHT
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

2 comments:

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  2. Nutella and papal attire. The mind boggles! This time with proper spelling.

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