Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Iowans in Portugal

My parents visited us in northern Portugal for a week before heading off on their own for regions further south.  They flew into Lisbon on Sunday, May 1 - which is Mother's Day in Portugal - and managed to get a bus up to us in Braga without any trouble.  We let them settle in and cooked dinner at home that night thinking that they might like an easy night on their first day.   After all, they had prepared for this trip by surviving cancer, attacks of gout, and unexplained hip/lower back ailments; so we didn't want to push them into too many sightseeing treks right away!

On Monday we hit the sites in Braga.  We started with breakfast at São João before venturing to the cathedral, the Santa Barbara gardens, and various other Braga sights.  Lunch at Frigideiras was followed by a trip to Bom Jesus.  All these points are familiar to faithful readers of this blog so I won't recount those details here except to point out that my parents handled all the steps up to Bom Jesus like champs.

Mom and Dad at the top of Bom Jesus.

On Tuesday we hit another cafe for pastry and coffee before heading out to Barcelos for the market and Festa das Cruzes procession (which Peggy wrote about earlier).  The market is always interesting and Mom was amused by the way that the vendors make it all too clear what they are selling.

The linen vendors were a special attraction - here is Peggy with her Portuguese-language overload face.

We visited the outdoor Archeological Museum with the ruins of the palace of the Duke of Bragança which was toppled by an earthquake in 1786. It also has a great view of the river below.

On Wednesday we borrowed João's car for a day trip up to the Peneda-Gerês National Park.   We did a little hiking on a trail named "The Lazy Trail" - which made little sense to us as it seems plenty hilly.

Next we drove towards a Roman road that weaves through the park.  This took us through a part of the park that was burned in the forest fires last summer.  Lots of new growth abounds and the goats and cows we came across did seem to be enjoying it.

The Roman road "milestones" were impressive.  These appear every "mile" and used to impress upon those traveling on the road the importance of those who placed the carved stones there.

On Thursday we headed to Guimarães for the tour of the castle and the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança.  Lots of fun, but you've read about this destination before: link to earlier visit .  We prepared our favorite Portuguese treats for dinner that night.  Any plans for getting to sleep early were (happily) ruined by the festivities down on the street.  That night Braga beat Benfica in the second leg of the 2-game semi-final for the Europa League Cup.  Thus, Braga will be in the final in Dublin and the local fans were out in force driving, honking, and celebrating until midnight.

The view from our balcony as fans celebrate.

On Friday we drove to Viana do Castelo and on to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.  This trip was great and deserves its own blog entry - check back for that one.

After returning to Portugal on Sunday I took Mom and Dad down to Porto so they could get started on the next leg of their trip.   They got checked into their hotel and we wandered around a bit before having dinner on the Ribiera at the Restaurante da Alzira.  The polvo (octopus) here is fantastic.  The Galicians in northern Spain claim to be good at preparing this, but really, it is Porto and this place that have consistently served the very best polvo that we've had. Mom, Dad, and I all ordered it and it was fantastic.  We left here full and happy and walked up to São Bento train station so I could catch my train back to Braga and leave Mom and Dad to explore Portugal on their own for the next week. 

It was wonderful to have them here and to be able to show them some many of our Portuguese favorites and explore new ones with them.  I feel blessed to have such fun and energetic parents!

Last we heard they'd had a great day in Porto and did more there in a day that we ever have - touring the Old Stock Exchange building, the San Francisco church (so gaudy and elaborate that (even) the Catholic church was embarrassed and decommissioned it), lunch on the Ribeira, a tour and tasting at the Cálem Port Caves, a boat cruise up the river, a ride on the new gondola from river level on the Vila Nova de Gaia side up to the top of the hills, a walk across the top of the bridge to visit the cathedral and its cloisters. Whew!

So much for our concern that we were pushing them too hard and visiting too many things.  In reality it seems that we were holding them back!

Well, look out Sintra and Lisbon - they are headed your way next!

~ Eric