Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy cow, it's Holy Week!

a display in the window of a hair salon

The streets are adorned with huge crosses, purple banners, and Jesus is everywhere!  There's no excuse for forgetting what time of year it is here in Braga.  Yes, the shop windows display lovely chocolate eggs, hand-decorated jelly beans, and almonds covered in zillion different coatings, but many also display heart-wrenching crucifixes draped in purple cloth and decorated with flowers.  Barber shops, jewelry stores and clothing stores all have religious displays. 

the Stations of the Cross procession 

Holy Week events began last Saturday.  We went to a Stations of the Cross procession that evening and a Palm Sunday procession the next morning.  On Saturday night, 6 men in robes carried a large statue of Jesus on a platform through the streets.  It was silent except for the sound of the men banging sticks on the ground in sync as they walked.  It was truly haunting.  There are huge Stations set up around town, and Saturday's procession took us past each one.  A priest lead prayers at each stop and the crowd sang mournfully as we walked.

Palm and Olive Branch Sunday

On Palm Sunday we carried olive branches as we walked a short route to the cathedral, the de Braga.  I'm not sure why we had olive branches instead of palms, but we are used to the fact that events in Portugal often generate more questions than answers.

Our Lady of the Little Burro Procession
on Wednesday night

Wednesday night there was a 'parade' of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, leading up to the time when Jesus began his ministry. All the big names were there; Noah, Abraham, Moses, Herod... The highlight was a live donkey bearing a large statue of Mary being led through the streets by Joseph.  There were a few scenes involving snakes on crosses and severed heads that we didn't quite understand. Otherwise, it was a good Biblical review!

pint-sized participant
a severed head adds some mystery to the Old Testament
portion of the procession

On Holy Thursday there was a procession marking the judgment and imprisonment of Jesus. The procession was led by 3 white horses and followed by men in black hooded robes walking barefoot through the streets (while dodging piles of horse poop). Some were carrying large rattles that made the spookiest sound. This dates back thousands of years to a time when men would walk through the streets of town announcing the names of criminals and their crimes. Others carried baskets of flaming pine cones, recalling the night when Jesus was captured and taken into custody.  The sounds of spectators trying to warn participants about the horse poop added a bit of humor to the otherwise somber procession.

At exactly 3pm on Good Friday, cannon shots were fired from 12 different locations around Braga.  Eric and I were both stunned and it gave me goosebumps.

'Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth'

The procession on Good Friday began the same way as Thursday's but this time the rattles were silent and the flames were extinguished - the work of the captors was done.  There was a heavy mournful feel as banners were dragged through the streets and a coffin bearing a shrouded statue of Christ was held high.  A large statue of Mary with a sword in her heart brought the message home.  This was the final public 'production' for Holy Week.  On Easter, church bells will be ringing LOUDLY as they do every Sunday morning here, to call people to church to celebrate the resurrection.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Wishing you a joyous Easter, blessed Passover and happy spring!

~ Peggy

Friday, April 22, 2011

Julie's mad dash through northern Portugal

Jules in a port wine barrel at Cálem

Although we shared a hotel room in Milan, I rarely saw Julie during my 4 days there.  She sure wasn't very chatty the morning I had to get up at 3:30 to get to the airport and fly back to Braga :)  So, it was great that she was able to come to Portugal to spend a few days here.  Free from work commitments, she could relax, chat, see some sights and sample Portuguese delicacies and vinho verde.

What luck!  Julie made it here in time to experience Semana do Bacalhau (Week of Cod) in Braga!!  Local restaurants were featuring multiple versions of this strange culinary obsession.  The slogan for Bacalhau Week was 'All roads lead to cod.'  Oh brother!

CLICK to see more photos from Julie's visit.

~ Peggy

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Postcards from Italy

heavenly Chiesa di Sant'Anastasia in Verona

Tuesday, April 12      Milan & Verona
Dear Mom, Dad & Lillie~

Arrived in Milan yesterday and met up with Jules in her swanky hotel.  She's working for 3M as they unveil new products here during Design Week.

Today I spent some time in Verona admiring Juliet's balcony along with hoards of tourists and school groups.  It made me laugh to watch pre-pubescent boys timidly touch the right breast on Juliet's statue.  It's supposed to bring good luck in love or some such nonsense.

It was much quieter in the stunningly frescoed Chiesa di Sant'Anastasia.  It's an amazing church that is so different from the gaudily gilded behemoths in Portugal. 

I wish I could have spent more time in Verona!  It's a charming town, but I'm headed back to Milan to meet Julie at a reception hosted by 3M.

love,  Peg

assorted tortelli stuffed with pumpkin, prosciutto di Parma
and spinach

Wednesday, April 13     Modena & Parma
Buongiorno Eric!

I just visited the home of a 4th generation balsamic vinegar maker in Modena.  After harvest, pressing and cooking, the grape juice is aged 12+ or 25+ years in tiny wooden barrels in the attic of the family's home.  The process is really interesting and the final product is intense and delicious!!

After speeding through Verona and having only a salad for lunch there yesterday, I am taking my time to see the sights and eat well in Parma.

I never thought I was going to find Trattoria Corrieri, but now that I found it I may never leave.  I'm surrounded by locals enjoying their cavallo tartare (raw horse meat).  A guy sitting near me just tucked his big cloth napkin into the collar of his shirt as he hunkered down over a pile of fried bread and prosciutto de Parma - I had to stifle a giggle. 

My tortelli assortment was fantastic, especially the ones stuffed with pumpkin, ground almonds, and amaretto.  They were drizzled with melted butter and plenty of Parmesan cheese.  Eating them felt like a sin. 

Right now I'm waiting for my order of vecchia cavallo.  When in Parma...

After 1 glass of fizzy lambrusco, I'm starting to think that a sabbatical in Italy would be a very bad good idea!

♥,  Me

p.s.  My vecchia cavallo was yummy!!  Only the Italians could make you fall in love with horse meat stew.  I'm smitten!  Unfortunately, the Mr. Ed theme song is playing in an endless loop in my head now.

it took 600 years to complete the massive Duomo di Milano

Thursday, April 14    Milan
Dear Nance & Spike~

I've only been in Italy for 4 days, but I've covered a lot of ground!  Today I decided to stay put and embrace Milan.

I'm not usually willing to hop on a brightly colored bus with a bunch of chatty tourists and a guide waving a little flag, but I did it today.  It was really fun!  I got to see a lot of sights and learned so much about this sprawling city. 

We visited the magnificent cathedral of Milan, Teatro alla Scala opera house, the beautiful art deco Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and the imposing castle of the Sforza family.

Saving the best for last, our final stop was at the dining hall of a Dominican convent.  This is where Leonard da Vinci painted The Last Supper.  After standing in multiple chambers which gently remove humidity and dust from us commoners, we were allowed to see the mural.  Although it's in rough shape, the expressions on the faces of the apostles and their gestures are powerful,  and Jesus' serene and radiant face glows with life.  I'm so glad I got to see it!!

Heading back to Portugal tomorrow, but am very happy to have spent a few days in Italy!!

love ya,  Peg

balsamic vinegar aging in the attic at Acetaia di Giorgio

Friday, April 15     Milan & Portugal
Ciao Jules!

da Vinci's 'Last Supper' ... cute little Verona ... balsamic vinegar in Modena ... feasting in Parma ... I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!!

Grazie for letting me share your room and giving me the opportunity to return to Italy and see you!

Next stop Braga!  I'm so glad you're coming to visit us.  See you Sunday!

arrivederci,  Margie

To see additional photos from this trip, click  HERE

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

Helena, a teacher from the school where I volunteer, asked if I'd like to join her for an event with a newly-formed walking group from Braga.  She explained that we'd be walking through a wooded area in the hills near the coast.  It sounded fun, so I was definitely in!  I didn't realize that it would be so much more than just a walk in the woods. 

When we arrived at Esposende, the skies looked ominous, but we forged ahead anyway.   The air was refreshingly cool and the path was beautiful; lined with eucalyptus and pines.  The organizers of the walk invited Jorge, a local archaeologist, to join the group.  Our first stop was a high viewpoint overlooking the Atlantic ocean.  The sweeping views of small towns and coastline were lovely!

helping us reach our next destination

Our next stop was at a series of windmills constructed on a hillside.  Until recently, they had been used to grind flour in the summer months.  Several of the windmills have been restored and are now used by families or rented as cozy guest cottages.  We stopped at one that is owned by a woman whose grandmother had run the mill.  The interior has been converted into a small living space but the sails can still be unfurled to activate the milling mechanism.  The owner demonstrated how the roof rotates in order to direct the sails, and we got to see the mill in action.

one of many windmills in the area

In the winter and spring, water flows from the mountains behind the windmills and was used to operate watermills in this area.  No longer used for milling, there was still a LOT of water flowing through the channels used to direct the flow towards the water wheel.


From there, we hiked into a heavily forested area that is sprinkled with dolmen, which are megalithic tombs built from huge vertical and horizontal stones. They are from the late Stone Age so they are about 5000 years old!  At this site, the entrance to each tomb is long and narrow (always opening to the east) and leads to a circular burial chamber with waves etched into the stone.  The shape of the tombs is reminiscent of a womb and birth canal, and the deceased were buried in the fetal position.

Jorge explains the significance of the
Stone Age tombs

Our last stop was at the Castro de São Lourenço, a pre-Roman hilltop village that was occupied from about 300 B.C.  Although there is still ongoing excavation at this site, the foundations of many structures have been unearthed and several have been restored with historical accuracy.  Because of its strategic location, this site was used as a fortress throughout the Middle Ages.

pre-Roman foundations and restored home 

The history in this country runs so deep that I can barely wrap my brain around it!  I can't believe that so many traces of human history can be found in such a small area.  At the end of our hike, I was definitely ready to rest and process all the amazing things I had seen. 

Helena & I are happy to be out of the rain & ready to eat!

Dodging some gigantic raindrops, we returned to Esposende and went to O Buraco for lunch. Esposende, an old fishing village and seaweed harvesting point, is one of the coastal towns participating in a month-long seafood festival.  Oh the seafood!  Appetizers included mussels with pepper relish, garlic & wine basted clams, and giant prawns.  Our main course was a huge boat of arroz de tamboril com gambas which is chunks of monkfish, shrimp and rice cooked in a slightly spicy tomato, herb and white wine broth.  I almost fell face first into my plate - the flavors were lush and lively.  For dessert I had a gorgeous pear poached in a saffron syrup.

a boat full of monkfish rice
What an amazing day!  I thought I was just going to take a little walk near the coast with a friend, but it turned out to be so much more!  I truly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Helena better, met some fun people, and saw many layers of Portuguese history that were completely new to me.  I am already looking forward to our next trek!

saffron poached pear

~ Peggy

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Break Photo Album

Here's a link to more photos from Lori & JoAnn's visit to northern Portugal:   CLICK HERE!

~ Peggy