Posts Tagged ‘portugal’

New Posts From Lindblad About Our Trip

May 10th, 2008 at 6:09 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The Lindblad staff have posted two new daily reports on their site about the visit of the ship we are on, the National Geographic Endeavour, to two other ports of call:

May 6 – Lisbon, Portugal
May 7 – Porto, Portugal


Porto or Oporto? Tasting Port in Portugal

May 10th, 2008 at 10:59 am (AST) by Jake Richter

On Wednesday, the day after we visited Lisbon we docked near Porto, Portugal. Porto is also known as Oporto as a result of linguistic mis-interpretation, as apparently when the Portuguese referred the city of Porto, they would precede it with an article “O”, and foreign traders therefore assumed the actually name of the city was Oporto.

A sure sign that we are in Porto, Portugal

The fame of Oporto, or at least the surrounding area, is that this is where the fortified wine known as Port is distributed from. According to our tour guide, there are 35 primary distributors of Port wine (all of whom are also producers of Port), and 35,000 total producers of Port. The large number of producers can be attributed to small mom and pop Port houses, many of whom sell their production to the larger Port distributors for blending into their larger productions. Until relatively recently, Port wine was shipping to London in casks and bottled there, but now Port is bottled primarily in Porto.

Before we docked in Porto, however, we spent the morning in the lounge of the Endeavour for a presentation by National Geographic photographer Massimo Bassano, a short and energetic Italian who has been a blast to travel with these last 10 days or so. Massimo shared some of his background and his storytelling approach to photography, as well as a video presentation on a long term stay with Curthusian monks in Italy. That was followed by photo critique by Massimo of both Krystyana’s and my photography. We both received kudos for our works and our sense of visual balance (i.e. “having an eye for composition”), as well as some suggestions for how to further improve our images. I hope to get some of our images up on this site when we have a faster (and cheaper) Internet connection.

After lunch we boarded a bus which took us around Porto and its environs, with the first stop being the Porto Cathedral, followed by a visit to the so-called Golden Church of St. Francis. The Church of St. Francis was built by the Franciscan monks after permission was granted in the 1300s from King John the First. We were told that John’s marriage to Phillipa of Lancaster resulted in the first official European agreement of cooperation between nations.

The inside of the St. Francis church is covered in gold, estimated to weigh be between 300 and 400 kilograms, which is a contradiction when considering that the Franciscans are an order of monks with a vow of poverty. However, it turns out that the funds for the ornate interior of the church came from wealthy patrons in the area around Porto in the form of donations in exchange for a promise that when such patrons and their families died, they would be buried in hallowed ground inside the church so that they would be “closer to heaven”.

The front of the St. Francis church in Porto, Portugal

During renovations in the 19th century, when laws in Portugal changed and started to forbid burials inside churches, the bones of those previously laid to rest within the floor of St. Francis were excavated and moved to the nearby consecrated grounds of the catacombs at St. Francis, where we were able to see the bones in person after we left the church.

Another thing that was interesting in the church was the rather graphic portrayal in the form of a three dimensional diorama of the beheading of Christian missionaries by Moors in Morocco and the crucifixion of others in Nagasaki, Japan. These missionaries were thus deemed martyred.
Once we had finished view the church and catacombs (sadly, we could not take photos without getting kicked out), we re-boarded the bus for our final destination, the House of Sandeman in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro river from Porto (although arguably still considered part of Porto).

Sandeman’s extremely rare and old vintages are under lock and key

At Sandeman, we were given a tour of the facilities of Porto’s oldest Port house, started in 1790, and now one of the best known names in Port wine. Port wine is wine whose fermentation is stopped before all the sugars have been converted to alcohol, and then fortified with neutral wine spirits to maintain sweetness as well as boost the alcohol content of Port to about 20%. There are three basic types of Port: White, which is crisper and recommended as an aperitif; tawny, which is brownish red in color and aged in barrels before being bottled; and ruby, which has a dark red and burgundy color, and is used for bottle aged vintage Port. After our tour we were treated to a tasting of white and tawny ports. The kids tried them too but weren’t much enthralled. We ended up buying a vintage port “sampler” of three 375ml bottles, the oldest of which was from 1994 at the company store in the tasting area.

Linda and Krystyana are among those at the Port wine tasting at Sandeman in Porto

After a small bit of something sweet at the neighboring café, we hooked up with Massimo as well as new trip friends Gretchen (from Bermuda), and Natalie and Bruce (from Oahu, Hawaii) and went on a walking tour of Gaia to see the back streets and take pictures, finally ending up at Adega & Presuntaria Transmontana 2, a local restaurant recommended to us by several people.

As soon as we sat down we started being served a wide range of local Tapas, including a cold cut plate, local cheeses, olives, marinated pig’s ears, pickled white anchovies, and pork livers. We topped this off with the house red wine, a “vino tinto” of the Douro river area. While we were not particularly wild about the pig’s ears (too chewy), everything else was pretty good. We ended with a large dessert buffet and some more twilight photography before returning back to the Endeavour, sated in many ways.


Official Daily Reports from Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour

May 7th, 2008 at 5:13 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Looks like the official daily expedition reports prepared by the staff of the ship we’re on, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour, are slowly starting to trickle onto Lindblad’s web site.

You can look at them here. Make sure to click the date of the entry to read the complete report for that day. There are presently three days posted:

We’ll post our own entry here on The Traveling Richters for today’s nice visit to Porto, Portugal in the next couple of days as we have to get up very early in the morning to go see the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela tomorrow, and we’re losing an hour due to a time zone change going from Portugal to Spain (we will be six hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast).


Visiting Lisbon, Portugal

May 6th, 2008 at 7:41 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Visiting Lisbon, Portugal

This morning, around 6:30am, as the sun rose, we sailed (actually motored) our way to dock in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Locally, the name of the city is Lisboa, pronounced “Leezh-boh-ah”.

The sun rises over Lisbon, Portugal
The sun rises over Lisbon, Portugal

We left the ship, after breakfast of course, around 8:30am, boarded the ubiquitous tour buses we’ve so become accustomed to, and got a tour of Lisbon, stopping first at the Tower of Lisbon, then the Explorer’s Monument, and then the Cathedral of Geronimo (where famed explorer Vasco de Gama is buried). The latter two stops were interesting, but the cathedral was overcrowded with tourists.

After the cathedral tour, we stopped in at another Lisbon landmark, Pasteis de Belem, a pastry and coffee shop that has been around since 1837, and which specialized in little custard tarts you sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Yum!

Linda, Bas, Diane, and Krystyana after a great cafe stop in Lisbon, Portugal
Linda, Bas, Diane, and Krystyana after a great cafe stop in Lisbon, Portugal

From there the bus took us out from the Belem area to the heart of Lisbon, and on to the top of the tallest hill of Lisbon, where we disembarked, and made our way down the hill for some sightseeing on foot. We stumbled over a rather derelict building built in 1922 which had phenomenal tile work and statuary, and then after about three quarters of an hour, stopped into a local restaurant with outdoor seating and dined on seafood (Bas had pizza, and Diane, who had joined us, had vegetarian food – a mushroom omelet.

We then took a taxi to visit one of our favorite trip things to see, namely the local aquarium. The one in Lisbon is called the Oceanarium, and is located some ways out of town, but it’s absolutely brilliant. It has one of the best designs for a giant ocean tank, where huge viewing spaces are available all the way around, and other exhibits are well integrated into the environment. The tank was well stocked with a variety of interesting species, including a mola-mola (ocean sunfish), over a half dozen species of sharks, and likewise a number of different species of rays – and all in good health.

Diane and Linda observe the plethora of wildlife in the giant tank at the Lisbon Oceanarium
Diane and Linda observe the plethora of wildlife in the giant tank at the Lisbon Oceanarium

We had to hustle, as we only had an hour available because we had dawdled a bit at lunch, but we managed to get through everything in that time, making back to the ship only two minutes later than intended (and it did not leave without us).

Pre-dinner we learned how to tie a turban – two different ways and also learned about Spanish wines. During dinner we were joined by a Lindblad staff cultural historian, Steve Blamires from Scotland, who specializes in the history of the British Isles, and had a fascinating discussion on a range of topics including the building of places like Stonehenge, the Celtic peoples and their mythology and languages, cultural elements which gain or lose significance with the passage of time, and the decline of the Roman civilization. While little of our discussion was about the Iberian peninsula where we currently are visiting, the topics we did discuss were incredibly interesting and mentally stimulating. Both kids ended up getting very engrossed as well (although Bas’ tiredness finally won out and he headed back to his room). Steve will continue on the next segment the Endeavour goes on after it drops us off in Portsmouth, which is a tour of the British Isles (which is where David Barnes will be rejoining the vessel as well).

Tomorrow’s (actually by the time this posts it will be today’s, locally speaking) plans include a photography lecture followed by a photo critique session and then the rest of the day in Oporto, Portugal, where we will visit the Sandeman port house (where they make port wine), among other places.


Iberian Peninsula History as well as Silves and Portimao in Portugal

May 6th, 2008 at 7:15 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We had an early wake-up at 6:30am Portugal time, which was 5:30am Morocco time, had breakfast, and then attended a presentation by the on-board historian, David Barnes (who sadly had to leave today, Tuesday, for another Lindblad trip), about the Iberian peninsula and the clashes between Christianity and Islam as well as Judaism, or more accurately the followers of each of those three mono-deistic religions.

While much of the Iberian peninsula (which is where Spain and Portugal are now located) was Muslim for hundreds of years, a crusade formed in the Christian northwest of the peninsula under the flag of St. James – who was referred to as Santiago Matamores (“death to the Moors”), even though he had lived and died some 1400 years before the crusade was even initiated. The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, which we will be visiting in a few days, are said to contain the remains of St. James, and it is the third most popular Christian pilgrimage site in the world, after Jerusalem and the Vatican in Rome.

Another fascinating point David brought up was the history of why one can see the famous Iberian ham shanks at the entrance to most bars and restaurants in Spain, as well as displays of wine. Apparently, after 1492, when the last Moorish stronghold, Granada, fell to the crusade led by Ferdinand and Isabella, Muslims and Jews were told they either had to convert to Christianity or leave the peninsula (or face near certain death for being infidels). The Spanish Inquisition then would assert that converts had falsely converted, and they would be tested by being forced to eat pork (which neither devout Jews nor Muslims would eat) and drink wine (which devout Muslims would not do). Hence the start of the tradition that evolved into tapas – namely that of offering a small plate of ham along with a cup of wine to those entering a bar or similar establishment to weed out false converts to Christianity.

Amazingly, while the effort to weed out “false believers” has faded, the practice of hanging smoked hams and showing wines has lived on and become a part of Spain’s culinary culture.

David’s presentation was fascinating, but short, due in part to a video promoting the partnership of Lindblad and the National Geographic as well as a scheduled presentation on photograph techniques with digital cameras following his presentation. We’ll miss David’s interesting insights and witty commentaries.

While we had been sleeping and watching lectures the ship had made its way to Portugal, and was nearing Portimao, our destination for the day.

We had an early lunch before boarding buses to visit the historical city of Silves (pronounced “Sihl-vihsh”), the site of a Moorish fortress and old cathedral. We were apparently supposed to visit the village of Alte too, but I suspect the whole upset in our cruise schedule contributed to that stop being skipped.

Silves was a village surrounding a rather steep hill upon which a fortress known as Xelb sat, overlooking the town and river below. Xelb, which is now referred to as Castelo Silves, started as Roman fortification that was then later absorbed into a Moorish structure. Directly beneath the fortress was a Catholic cathedral, locally referred to as See of Silves, built sometime in the latter half of the thirteenth century. Parts of the cathedral collapsed during the massive Lisbon earthquake of 1755. This earthquake, incidentally, had a huge range, destroying whole towns and buildings as far south as mid-Morocco, and was felt as far away as Jamaica (presumably as a result of a tsunami generated by the earthquake).

We walked up the hill to the fortress, which is going through renovation/restoration in the courtyard and garden area, so our visit was limited to walking the top of the rather extensive walls. Great views of the surrounding area, but we felt a bit saddened to see how much modern building sprawl there was everywhere, destroying, at least in our minds, the quaintness and atmosphere of antiquity that some parts of the village still showed as we walked uphill through it. Sadly though, many of those older homes appear to be in a state of disrepair, so we have fallen antiquity battling well kept modernity, and the former will likely lose out as people continue to disregard community history in exchange for great personal comfort.

Bas tries to move the sword of a statue in Silves, Portugal
Bas tries to move the sword of a statue in Silves, Portugal

After our circuit of the fortress walls we visited the cathedral and marveled at all the relics and burial markers – a number of people are buried under large marble slabs in the floor of the cathedral, as has been the tradition with older cathedrals for centuries. The newer part of the cathedral, rebuilt after 1755, was noticeably different in structure and tone from the older part that had withstood the great earthquake.

We made our way down to a café where we were treated to ice cream, and then returned to Portimao, stopping at the Mirador of St. Catherine, a small chapel dedicated to St. Catherine surrounded by fortifications. This structure had a great view of the nearby beaches and ocean, but again was surrounded by modern construction.

Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour in port at Portimao, Portugal
Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour in port at Portimao, Portugal

Back on board the ship we dressed up for the Captain’s cocktail party, had a nice dinner, and collapsed to bed, still somewhat tired and sleep deprived, but did finally sleep pretty well.


Our Next Trip… Spain, Morocco, Portugal, England, France

April 13th, 2008 at 8:48 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We’re now in the final throes of getting ready for the next expedition of The Traveling Richters. We depart Bonaire on Friday, April 18th on a five week journey which will take us to Spain and then Morocco.

We start in Spain in Barcelona for several days (which including meeting up with our friend Martin and his father), then fly to Granada to see the Alhambra. We then rent a car, drive south to the mountains of Andalusia to stay at villas managed by Peter, an old friend from Bonaire. We’ll use his place as a base to visit Gibraltar for a day, and then when we leave, go via Ronda to then spend several days in Sevilla before flying south.

In Morocco we join up with a group as part of a Lindblad Expeditions tour which includes academic lectures on culture, history, and sociology, as well as hands on work with a National Geographic photographer.

After a few days in Marrakech and the Atlas mountains visiting with Berber tribes, we board the National Geographic Endeavour in Safi, visit Kenitra and some historical sites there, and then head up to spend three days learning about Portugal (including the making of port wine) and then visit the largest and most revered cathedral and third most visited Christian pilgrimage site at Santiago de Compostella.

Then, after a couple of days at sea, we will go to Mont St. Michel off the northern coast of France, then Sark in the Channel Islands the next day, before finally arriving in England. After a private tour with the curator of the HMS Victory, we spend three days in London. On the night of May 13th, we take part in a BonaireTalk mini-meet in Surrey – if you’re in the London area that night and want to join us, drop a note on BonaireTalk.

On May 15th, courtesy of the TGV high speed train and the Chunnel, we head to Paris to finish off our trip with non-stop tours of museums, galleries, and restaurants. Our friends Martin and Angela will join us over the weekend we’re there as well.

And, assuming flights all work out, we’ll be back home sometime on May 23rd!

The itinerary, by date, is here.