Friday, August 28, 2015

QUINTA DO CONVENTO DA FRANQUEIRA, BARCELOS, PORTUGAL

THE EVENING ARRIVAL 
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 d├ęcor 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 FIRST MORING
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.















THE FOG
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.











THE CHURCH
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.

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