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October 1, 2016

Undeterred by what every person I asked in the town of Tavira (men in the tourism office and bus station, two reception staffers at my hostel) told me about it being “a LONG walk—two kilometers!” to get there, I hopped on a bus (15 minutes) and then walked the rest of the way (Less than 15 minutes—.66 miles according to my fitness tracker. Seriously, have any of them ever even tried this? Or walking a little more than 20 minutes, which is about what it should take to walk TWO WHOLE KILOMETERS?) to the lovely whitewashed village of Cacela Velha in Portugal’s southern Algarve region.

So, while I know I owe you any number of blog posts, at least there was a payoff to this little excursion—for both you and me. Not a bad way to spent the first part of my last full day in Portugal.

Word to the wise: When, after stepping on this flower/fruit thing to try to figure out what it might be and being somewhat shocked by the blood-colored liquid that comes spurting out, you see what looks like a less-ripe version of it growing on a cactus plant on the other side of the road, don’t give in to temptation and reach out to touch it. Not only will you be pulling prickly spines out of your hands and clothing for several painful minutes, but you will continue to do so many hours later on parts of your body you feel certain came nowhere near said cactus. Ouch.

 

One of the lovely little houses of the tiny village of Cacela Velho.

One of the lovely houses in the tiny village of Cacela Velha (so tiny that I believe I saw them all).

 

So many lovely houses . . .

 

Oh, did I mention there was a beach, too? Right at the edge of the village?

The beautiful, deserted beach at Cacela Velha in the Algarve region of Portugal.

Getting better at using the panorama function on my camera . . .

Cacela Velha also has an old fort . . .

Cacela Velha also has an old fort . . .

 

. . . and an old church at which I stumbled upon a wedding.

 

I also stumbled upon this amazing cemetery that reminded me of so many I’d seen in Central America.

 

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I guess I'm calling this afternoon of the blue doorways.

I guess I’m calling this “Afternoon of the Blue Doorways.”

The end.

September 26, 2016

Graffiti. Portugal is full of it. But while the travel websites and guide books don’t seem to distinguish graffiti (i.e., tagging or just scrawled words) from street art, I do.

Portugal is full of street art as well as graffiti. And the city of Porto in particular has an abundance of the former.

Below is a sampling. Enjoy!

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Friendly . . . banana? Moon?

 

In Portugal, not only the buildings get the artistic treatment.

In Portugal, it’s not only buildings that get the artistic treatment.

 

Graffiti and street art both

Graffiti and street art side by side

 

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Sometimes the taggers don't respect the artists' work, sadly.

Sometimes the taggers don’t respect the artists’ work, sadly.

 

Hey, don't ask me.

Hey, don’t ask me.

 

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And then there is political art. Stenciled political statements are a pretty popular type of graffiti in Portugal. I saw this one in several different cities.

 

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This is presumably political, given the Nike swoosh, Mercedes symbol and the Mona Lisa. What it’s trying to say, however, I have no clue. But you really have to admire way the artist used the space to created the illusion of continuity.

 

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View from the rooftop of my hostel in Leiria, Portugal: Castelo de Leiria by night

View from the rooftop of my hostel in Leiria, Portugal: Castelo de Leiria by night

I arrived at my hostel in the town of Leiria at 11:15 on a Friday night to find that the ground floor doubles as a clearly popular bar. “Reception” and the bar are one and the same, which left me competing with some drink-ordering young folk—not to mention waiting for two gin and tonics to be made—in order to check in. Once that was done and he’d shown me around (including the amazing rooftop view above), the bartender/hostel guy (who looks like he is straight outta Williamsburg, by the by—skinny jeans and all) showed me to my room and handed me my key. And a pair of earplugs.

Hey,  you can’t say they didn’t warn you, right?

September 22, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I think the people who work at this shoe store are a bunch of pendants.

 

Yes, that's a Pringles vending machine. Now you know.

Yes, that is a Pringles vending machine. Now you know.

September 17, 2016

Spent a lovely afternoon and evening in the charming city of Porto (Don’t tell Lisbon, but I think I like it better.), taking waaaay too many photos. So in the interest of actually sleeping tonight, I chose ones from the latter portion of the evening, which are also, I think, the most dramatic.

Sunset over Porto

Porto by night, with Dom Luis I (aka Eiffel) Bridge

OK, it’s only really “also known as” the Eiffel Bridge by me, who can’t help wondering why it wasn’t named that—you know, like the tower. Though I suppose everything the guy built couldn’t be named after him. He’s not Donald Trump, after all.

Anyway . . .  point being, since I have been unable to remember which Luis’s bridge it is (V has been my default guess. So I was off by four. Or, I guess, IV.), I began thinking of it as the Eiffel Bridge. And this is my blog. So there you go.

Porto—and its across-the-Douro River cousin, Vila Nova de Gaia—by night

Porto—and its across-the-Douro-River-cousin, Vila Nova de Gaia—by night

Vila Nova de Gaia is, incidentally, where all the port is aged and stored, each in its respective vineyard’s port “cave”—which I thought was a word chosen by the port-wine-tourism conspiracy to lure us tourists in with something more exotic, mysterious and earthy-sounding than “cellar,” but turns out (Duh, Mia. Aren’t you glad you googled before posting?) to be Portuguese for, you guessed it, wine cellar.

Anyway . . .  point being, this is where the port-wine industry pays its membership dues to the port-wine-tourism conspiracy. Which is to say you can visit the caves (which are emphatically not caves) for tours and tastings. Which I, as a lover of wine and victim of conspiracies, of course plan to do. Tomorrow. Before I get on an early-evening bus bound for my next destination. Should be interesting.

 

September 16, 2016

On my second (and last) day in Sintra, I visited two extraordinary palaces: the brightly colored fairy-tale majesty that is the Palácio da Pena and the Palácio de Monserrate, an extravagantly (and exquisitely) decorated 19th-century estate blending Moorish, Indian and Gothic Portuguese architectural styles, which was the summer retreat of Sir Francis Cook, an English textile baron.

Palácio de Monserrate

Interior, Palácio de Monserrate

Monserrate features a beautiful botanical garden (of which I sadly only had time to see a small fraction) with non-native plants from all over the world arranged according to their geographic origin.

The chapel on the grounds of the Palacio de Monserrate, one corner of which has been entirely overtaken and suffocated by this incredible tree

The Palácio da Pena is thought of as one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romantic architecture not just in Portugal, but the world. It is surrounded by a forest and gardens—from which the castle is visible from all parts, apparently—that contain over five hundred species of trees also originating from the far corners of the earth.

Palácio da Pena, with tourists (of course)

As with all the other buildings I have loved so far in Portugal, the Palácio da Pena has many a hand-painted ceramic tile (known as azulejos).

As with all the other buildings I have loved so far in Portugal, the Palácio da Pena has many a hand-painted ceramic tile (which are known as azulejos).

Another view of the Palácio da Pena

I think whimsical is a good word to describe this castle (other than fairy-tale).

I think whimsical is a good word to describe this castle (fairy-tale being the other obvious choice).

As you can see from these too-up-close photos, I did not get a chance to see for myself (literally) whether the castle actually *can* be seen from everywhere in the gardens. This is because, sadly, due to the previous day’s rain (and not in some small part to mismanagement of time (aka laziness) on my part, I was left with only enough hours in the day—if I was going to see both palaces, which of course I damn well was—to basically do a shoot-and-run. My companion for the day’s adventure—Tauna, a lovely Aussie trauma nurse who lives in Hawaii—and I therefore were forced to become (thankfully temporarily) what she referred to as “terror tourists.” Honestly, we spent most of our time at Pena waiting for *other* tourists (terror and otherwise, but mostly terror, in our terribly impatient opinion) to get out of the way of our shots. If you want to see one of those great, iconic shots of the full castle, you could, of course, google it and see many, but I humbly suggest that you rather view such a photo here first, on this great website I discovered last night (when they liked my post; thanks, guys!), Salt of Portugal.

Yet another view of the Palácio da Pena

So, yes, once we’d seen and photographed everything we possibly could at the castle (the fabulous views will have to wait for when I post my entire photo album), we were off to make our way to Monserrate—which, with an accident that put all traffic to a standstill such that we got off our bus and started walking (until we got back to town, where we found a tuk tuk; they have tuk tuks here!)— we also barely had any time to see. After our photographic and just general love-fest with the house, we were in a hurry to leave, but I did some quick time recalculating and decided we had 20 minutes to see the gardens (which I policed very strictly, believe it or not; I *had* to make my train), after which we were blessed with yet another instance the good travel luck/karma (depending on if you asked me or Tauna) we’d had that day for the most part, when the every-half-hour bus we needed to catch (or walk an hour back) appeared about one minute after we’d crossed the street from the palace to the bus stop to check the schedule. (It was almost quarter past the hour, by the by.) Phew!

And so I made my train and then my bus and arrived in Porto by 11:30pm (Arrived about eight minutes ahead of schedule and my hostel is four minutes from the bus station . . . nice). So tomorrow’s photo(s) shall be of Porto (and not just of me drinking it, though that will happen at the end of my self-propelled five-or-more-hour walking tour, you can count on that!).

September 15, 2016

Lago da Cascata

Waterfall Lake, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

I spent the better part of the afternoon today exploring the somewhat surreal, somewhat magical grounds of the Quinta da Regaleiro mansion and gardens in Sintra, Portugal, the brainchild of Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini, who appears to have been hired to bring his fantasy to life, no expense spared, no idea too over-the-top. The guy had clearly read a lot of fairy tales as a child. And then graduated to Knights of the Templar adventures. (Apparently the main house is full of Knights of the Templar symbols for those in the know. Which I am not. Sorry.)

Labyrinthine Grotto

Labyrinthine Grotto, Quinta da Regaleiro

Here you will find many a fountain and grotto, as well as several underground tunnels—not all of which are shown on the tourist map, including the one from which the Labyrinthine Grotto above gets its name. It somehow hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about the origin of this lovely grotto’s name—any more than it occurred to me to wonder who Leda was when I went to Leda’s Cave.

So perhaps it is fitting that, since I never bothered wondering, I found out the answer purely by accident, and not without a bit of luck. Which I needed, because a few minutes after I’d wandered into a dark cave tunnel armed with nothing but my camera to “light” the way, it was looking like I’d have to turn around, as it was so dark I didn’t even know if what was in front of me was more tunnel or I was about to walk head-on into a dead-end wall. But then rescue came in the form of an Aussie mom-and-daughter pair wielding a phone flashlight, which enabled us to continue walking—somewhat precariously at times, as the further we went, the wetter it got (which should have been our hint right there)—and find out where the tunnel ended, i.e., at the grotto at which I’d taken the above photo about fifteen minutes earlier.

So, yeah. The whole place is pretty crazy. But also pretty. But also, yeah, kind of a nutty dream movie-set of a place.

Unfortunately, it was also a pain in the ass that it rained most of the time I was there, and when it got heavy I had to sit on a carved stone bench under a carved stone overhang for an hour and wait it out. (I know. First World problems.) The silver lining, however (Hey, how many times does one get to use that in the context of actual rain?), was that when the rain lightened up enough for me brave leaving (with my sun hat turned rain hat and my linen shirt damp and useless against the cold), I again passed Waterfall Lake, which had been my first stop at the Quinta three hours earlier, when it had been so full of pain-in-the-ass tourists (I know. How dare they?) that it was impossible to get a photo without them marring it. With the rain falling, it was now blissfully empty. So, Mother Nature taketh away, but she also giveth, and the above photo is proof. Obrigado, mãe.

Below is the mansion, in which, presumably, the man who let Luigi Manini’s imagination run wild—Brazilian coffee magnate António Carvalho Monteiro, aka Monteiro dos Milhões (Moneybags Monteiro. Of course.)—and his family lived.

Main house, Quinta da Regaleiro

Main house, Quinta da Regaleiro

Lastly, I give you the view from the top of the admittedly pretty incredible “Initiation Well” (before the rain got heavy enough to scare away the majority of us tourists, unfortunately).

Initiation Well

Initiation Well, with tourists

For all these sights, but especially the latter, the interweb’s photos are far superior to mine. So I suggest giving it a google if you want a better idea.

Tchau! (Yes, that is really how it’s spelled in Portuguese. Obrigado yet again, interwebz.)

September 13, 2016

Alfama

This may be my favorite of all the photos I took today. I didn’t even notice the multicolored clothespins until I saw the full-sized image on my computer. They add the perfect touch, don’t you think?

Spent most of my second day in Lisbon wandering the winding streets of Alfama, which resulted in my getting lost, both figuratively and literally, among its narrow streets and old-world homes and charm.

As the city’s historically Jewish and Muslim neighborhood, that Alfama has retained all three is not a coincidence. It is at least partially due to the fact that after the massive 1755 earthquake devastated the city, chief minister and master rebuilder Marquês de Pombal—while apparently holding quite tolerant views for the day, such as “You can’t kill that person just because he’s a Jew.”—chose not to implement his new formal (and “earthquake-proof”) grid style here.*

Alfama

I know I’m just romanticizing, but when I see houses like this, it always seems to me that if you lived here it would be quite hard to come home every day and be unhappy.

Alfama is full of little lanes and alleyways, steep hills and (when you’re lucky) stone stairs to help you scale them. And there are places within the district where you can stand and all you hear are the birds and the voices, laughter and music coming from the residents’ homes (or the streets, where they do much of their socializing and sometimes even their cooking, apparently). It was truly amazing to be in the middle of a city unable to hear any traffic sounds.*

Alfama

I actually prefer the imperfect, weathered facades to the pristine, freshly painted ones.

At one point I turned onto a street so narrow that one man was sitting in his doorway chatting with his friend “across the street” as if he were across a dinner table. (Actually, I’m fairly sure my family dinner table growing up was wider than this street.) Which led to the highlight of my afternoon: petting the homeowner’s big, happy, lumbering mutt of a dog named Di (“Because it’s Di everything,” said his weathered owner. “Di Rosa, Di Silva . . . De Nero,” he grinned winningly at me, flashing his charmingly awful teeth.), who almost immediately got up, leaned heavily into my legs, then proceeded to heave his massive girth (He was almost as wide as the street. No exaggeration.) onto the cobblestones, rolling over to gleefully demand his belly-rub. As was his right.

 

*Shout-out to my Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour guide, Pedro, who taught me everything I know about Lisbon (which, granted, still isn’t much, but it’s a hell of a lot more than it was yesterday).

September 13, 2016

These are a few shots from my second day in Lisbon, which started with a 3.5-hour walking tour* and ended (with wine tasting . . . yay!) after I’d walked about 5 more hours.

I mentioned how I wanted ALL the azulejos, right? (Those would be Portuguese ceramic tiles like the ones covering this building.) Lisbon is full of places like this. Amazing.

Still life with scooter

*Shout out to Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour and my excellent guide, Pedro, for all the interesting history and great present-day tips.

September 11, 2016

Sunrise over Paris. Way, way over Paris.

Oh, yes, my friends. Believe your eyes. Photos of the day are BACK. I’m in Lisbon (via Paris, as you can see in this photo) and finally decided to bite the bullet.

Why re-start my blog (or at least this part of it) now and not, despite having either contemplated or planned on doing so on one of the other trips (read: vacations) I’ve taken since returning to New York from my Southeast Asian travels more than six years ago, you ask?

Oh, hell, I don’t know.

Don’t ask me questions I can’t even answer myself, please. Just sit back and enjoy the return of some brand-spankin’-new miandering photos! (Or at least, I hope you will . . . )