Saturday, January 22, 2011

"I need not have feared that!"

~ Peggy said after her first bite of the sausage with a suspiciously dark color.

Today we borrowed João's car and drove east, up the valley of the River Cávado into the more rugged and mountainous parts of Portugal. For 70 kilometers the road hugged the hillside with plenty of twists and turns. Our destination was Albufeira.

This is a very Portuguese restaurant that serves delicious traditional fare. João had suggested that we order the Cozida à Portuguesa - a collection of various types of pork with boiled veggies. Besides ham and chorizo sausage there was the black sausage, black due to the blood used to add more flavor, the fatty but delicious pork belly or back, we weren't sure which, and to make it complete, the strips of pig ear. The meat at the base of the ear is salty and tender and maybe my favorite part. Peggy likes the ear itself, but the white cartilage is a bit too crunchy for me. As you can see, it all comes in a big trough. We ordered a single dose. Many places assume that 1/2 dose is what most people will eat and we've learned that when ordering for 2 "uma dose, faz favor" (one dose, please) is a phrase to keep at the tip of your tongue.

After this, we were plenty full. But they serve rabanadas here all year long and we could not resist getting some. This is something most places only serve around Christmas. It is not unlike French toast, but so much better.

The bread is light and a bit sweet; it is lightly battered and fried and served with a honey-based sauce with lemon and hint of cinnamon. So very tasty. Some versions call for a sauce based on Port wine but this version with honey and lemon just as good as any others we've had.

After this fantastic lunch we both agreed that salad for dinner might be a good idea and wobbled out to the car to head back towards Braga.

Our first stop heading back was 100 feet from the restaurant and just before crossing the dam to get back to the main road. The water in the river is very clear and the blue color of the lake was phenomenal.

On the way up we had seen signs for a medieval bridge and mill in Vila da Ponte and decided to stop in on our way home. This was a very good idea. The town is named for the the bridge and the main road winds its way down towards the river. We could tell it was the main road because it was the widest of the small single lane cobblestone roads.

At the top of the road was a great example of an espigueiro. These are stone structures for drying corn that are elevated to keep the corn away from chickens and rodents. This one is full of corn and has its own shrine with Jesus painted on the tiles.

The town is full of old stone buildings, some beautiful, some a bit more on the rugged side of things. We followed the narrow road between these for a hundred yards until traffic got heavy. Heavy as in cows - a few farmers were moving their herd so we stopped and took pictures of the building and other espigueiros for a few minutes. We continued on, weaving through the town, until we came upon the cows again. But this time they were getting close to the medieval bridge so we got out and walked, carefully watching our step.

On our way out, more cows.

We next headed for the old mill, or what was left of it, slowly following a rutted dirt and rock road between stone fences. At the bottom we crossed another stone bridge and walked up the hillside next to the stream and mill. This shot looks back down to the bridge, car, and Peggy.

The stream has been damned and redirected to provide a water source for two separate mill buildings - this one, in the upper left, is losing its roof.

Here, too, the water is crystal clear. We don't know how old these mills are, presumably quite old. Our guide books say nothing and even Wikipedia doesn't have an entry for Vila da Ponte, Portugal...

After negotiating our way out of Vila da Ponte we headed back toward Braga. Going back we were not on the side of the road that hugged the mountain but on the side next to steep drop offs to the valley below. On a few occasions I tried to get close enough to the guardrail to give Peggy a good view. It reminded me of family drives through the mountains - I could almost hear: "Do you have a good view now, Lois?", "Marv, this is not funny, do not drive so close to the edge!"

Our final stop was the Castelo de Lanhoso - a castle that started out as a Roman guard tower and was later rebuilt over the years by different kings. The castle sits on the largest single monolithic piece of granite on the Iberian Peninsula (all of Portugal and Spain).

It was a great day out and we really enjoyed driving the back roads of Portugal. We were glad to get the car back to Braga safely without hitting any stone walls or buildings and driving through only a moderate amount of cow manure.


Friday, January 21, 2011

OMG Óbidos !!

Just 6 hours on a bus and we were in another world!  Óbidos, the cutest town ever, is about 200 miles south of Braga near Lisbon.  The Moors first established a fortress here around 700 AD.  Then in the 1100s the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, booted out the Moors, took over the town and rebuilt the castle.  Later, in 1282, King Dinis gave the town and its castle to his bride Isabel as a wedding gift.  Yup, it's that precious.

a view of our B & B Casa de São Tiago do Castelo

The entire town is surrounded by a VERY HIGH 13th century wall and a stroll along the top of the wall provides some amazing views of the town and surrounding area.  When I wasn't too busy clinging to the walls or squealing when the wind kicked up, I actually enjoyed the stunning rooftop views.  

When we arrived in Óbidos we were on a mission to sample and purchase ginjinha, a delicious cherry liqueur.  Tart Morello cherries (ginja) grow in abundance near Óbidos and the locals have used the cherries to make ginjinha for centuries.   It is so popular in Lisbon that there are small kiosks which sell tiny cups of it all day long.  On a previous trip to Portugal we tried a heavenly version of ginjinha infused with dark chocolate and we've been thinking about it ever since.  Unable to find it in Braga, we had to travel to the source in Óbidos - any excuse for a road trip. 

ginjinha, sunshine & postcard writing - a great combination
Restaurant Lagar da Mouraria is housed in an
old distillery - the fruit press, stone tanks and drains
are still intact

Our favorite sipping stop was Ibn Errik Rex Reis Nobre bar.  The ceiling is decorated with hundreds of miniature liquor bottles and the walls are painted with murals and covered with mosaics made from broken pieces of locally made ceramics.  It was a great place for people-watching and sampling the good stuff. 

Out of loyalty to our friends and family back in the Midwest, our last stop before leaving Óbidos was an ice bar.  We wrapped ourselves in over-sized parkas, braved the 20 degree temperatures inside a large igloo, plunked ourselves down on loungers carved out of ice and sipped our last icy cups of ginjinha.  Heading out into the sunshine and seeing daffodils, lilies and iris in bloom reminded us that we were definitely still in Portugal.   

Click HERE to see more photos from the trip.




Thursday, January 13, 2011

Road Trip to Fátima

I can't resist a good diorama, especially when it features taxidermy
(the sheep & chickens, not the children)
This scene portrays the first appearance of the BVM to the
children of Fátima
Until 1917, Fátima was a tiny, quiet village in central Portugal. As soon as news spread about apparitions of the Virgin Mary to a trio of young children, everything changed. Fátima now attracts more than 4 million visitors each year and is a lovely spiritual and touristy destination. Whether you believe in the apparitions or not, there is definitely a peaceful, magical feel here. Seeing so many pilgrims gathered in faith, some of them approaching the shrine on their knees, is a moving experience.

With the beautifully crowned basilica
in the background, pilgrims approach
the small chapel on the left
The open-air Chapel of the Apparitions
is built on the site of Mary's appearances
Candles blaze in thanksgiving, request and remembrance
One-stop shopping for 6' candles, wax body parts, knee pads, icons and toys ~
The reasonably priced body parts are left at the shrine as prayer offerings for healing

During my 3 hour bus ride from Fátima back to Braga, I had plenty of time to absorb and reflect on the experience.  I'm so glad I went, but I couldn't help wishing that my mom could have made the journey with me.   I know it would have been unforgettable for her too.

~ Peggy