Monday, April 27, 2015
We carried on a little further to the renovated former Bom Sucesso market to see an exhibition of modern wool Portalegre tapestries. For many years the best woollen tapestries were exclusively French or Belgian. But beginning in the 1950s the Portuguese established their own tradition, now world famous. We saw some beautiful examples, some telling the story of Porto. Although the museum was quite small, I don't think that I will ever forget these wonderful tapestries.
The interior of the Palace, only finished in 1910, was magnificently decorated by several artists. The huge, impressive central courtyard is covered by a metallic, octagonal dome with glass panels, built after 1880. The lower part of the dome is decorated with the painted coats-of-arms of Portugal and the countries with which Portugal had commercial relations in the 19th century. To the back of the courtyard, a sumptuous stairway, built in 1868 leads to the upper storeys.
Several rooms of the Palace - Tribunal Room, Assembly Room, Golden Room - display original furniture and allegorical paintings. We saw the office of Gustave Eiffel who designed one of the famous bridges over the Douro.
The highlight of the Palace is the Arab Room, built between 1862 and 1880. Inside it could be mistaken for a royal palace, and in fact is modelled after Granada's Alhambra Palace. It is now "the grand reception room" of the city where heads of state and other luminaries are received. The decorations include sayings and blessings from the Koran, a little strange perhaps as the room was built for the Portuguese queen at the time, a devout catholic! However, the room was stunning.
The Chamber of Commerce still has its meetings here, and most of the rooms, including the Arab Room can be rented for special events.
We took our final walk along the front at Ribiera before once again boarding the funicular to avoid the long climb back up to the old town. Porto is a lovely city that many people are discovering. I hope that it doesn't get spoiled by tourism.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
This was once home to Portugal’s very own version of Britain’s construction of the same name. Like the original Crystal Palace, the Porto version did not survive, although it lasted longer than its counterpart. In 1956 it was replaced by the current construction, a huge, run down domed pavilion, surrounded by the leafy vegetation of the expansive Crystal Palace gardens. It was hard to believe that it is a leading entertainment venue. The gardens are a melting pot of exotic trees and plants, fountains, ponds, statues, animals such as strutting peacocks, walkways, mirrors, chapels, viewpoints, and tree-lined avenues. We saw lots of rhododendrons in bloom, camellias, pines, ginkgos, and lime trees.
There was an art gallery on the site with an exhibition about racism that included quite a bit of modern art. My favourite was the golliwog tree, which may not be politically correct but it was lovely, made up of all kinds of gollies.
After more wandering around more narrow streets with little galleries and local craft shops, we headed back down to the Douro waterfront, where we caught one of the old trams for a ride out to the waterfront promenade at Foz. I ended up standing behind the tram driver since the tram was jam packed. It was quite a ride. This woman took no prisoners: old ladies, cars and vans shot out of the way at her approach and the ding ding of the bell. I had forgotten how jarring a tram ride can be. It is fine on the straight but as it shifts ever so slightly it sends major jolts through your body.
However, we arrived intact and after a drink in one of the seaside cafes we started our walk along the promenade by the river. It was very interesting with fisherman sitting by their boathouse playing cards, while others were mending nets. We were at the mouth of the river and watched as some fishing boats went by the breakwater and out into the Atlantic. After a very long walk we arrived back at the tram museum just in time to take another tram ride up the long hill. I was glad to avoid that walk.
Dinner took us to a local, family run restaurant. Immediately, some lovely bread and a rondelle of local cheese were placed on the table. It is only afterwards when you get the bill that you notice that this cost €6. I didn't mind as I thought the creamy cheese was excellent. Once again I ordered the lovely, fresh dorado. After our meal we were offered a liqueur. It always seems churlish to refuse so I always ask for a small one. An antique glass container with a spigot was placed on the table and the drinks poured. Of course the glasses were both full. I took a little sip.....homemade grappa. Sometimes I can drink it but this wasn't one of those times. Seamus drank his. There were no plant pots, nowhere to get rid of my drink. The owner asked if there was something wrong with it. As I was quickly trying to explain something, Seamus downed the lot. What a player. I was so thankful. This led us to having an even longer after-dinner walk tonight. It had been another twenty-kilometer day.
When we got off the funicular and were waiting for an old fashioned tram, there was a group of first-year students being put through their drill by a fourth-year student dressed in his Harry Potter black outfit complete with cape. The students were having to lie on the ground and stand up and sing and clap. Of course I took pictures and suddenly I was surrounded by the students, who had been told to sing a song to me. I don't know what the song was but it was all in good fun even if a bit alarming to begin with.
By now the city was beginning to make sense to us and we could see how close things were. We walked down a street that may have been a bit like Diagon Alley with its twisting cobblestones, little shops and strange mixture of fine and derelict buildings. It was here we spotted the dingy looking Voldemart store. We were headed for the ornate thirteenth-century Sao Francisco church. Outside were lovely views over the city.
Our day ended with more nighttime exploring on foot. In fact we walked just over 20 kilometers today. And it was all very interesting.
Friday, April 24, 2015
We picked a spot right on the water to have our lunch. Looking back on Porto it can only be described as picture perfect. This time I had dorado — sea bream — served once again with cabbage, potatoes and rock salt. Not to complain as the fish was very good, although I don't like crunching on rock salt.
Now it was time to head back to the guest house for a much needed nap.
rely on, especially with all the walking we were
Now it was time for lunch.The Francesinha is a cardiologist-unapproved local sandwich of ham, mortadella, beef, sausage and cheese topped with an egg and a warm tomato-beer sauce. All this is served with chips. Our host had told us where to find the best Francesinha in town. The working man’s snack was in much demand but after a short wait we were sitting at a table waiting to be served. The Francesinha is a huge meal and I managed to eat less than half of it. My dining partner polished his off with gusto.
We continued walking along the main street before heading downhill to a vast square, where we picked up a yellow tour bus. This was a good way to get to know the area. We saw houses with red-tiled roofs tumbling down the hills to the riverbank, prickly church towers dotting the skyline, mosaic-patterned stones lined the streets, and flat-bottomed boats called rabelos plied the lazy Douro. We passed many historic sights that we would visit later. The drive along the Douro River through Foz, a big seaside area, right out to where the Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean was quite beautiful. There were many wide, golden beaches and a few hardy souls had even had a swim.
Fish is on every menu in Porto. For dinner I had grouper, something we don't see on our Spanish menus. It was served with boiled potatoes and watery cabbage doused in rock salt. The fish itself was lovely. The rock salt was something we were going to encounter a few times even when you asked for no salt.
We finished our day off with a walk down to the Sao Bento train station built in 1916. The concourse is quite magnificent with various scenes from Portugal's history depicted in beautiful azulejo (blue) tiles.
Monday, April 13, 2015
There were other stalls with local wines and beer, soaps and lotions, natural remedies, nautical things and clothes. We wandered around a little more and compared notes about the winter with our Canadian friend who owns a shop on the front. We agreed that winter months are to be avoided because it is so quiet.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
We followed a trail that wound through some 6,000 metres of remarkable multimedia exhibits displayed in what is essentially an archaeological site. Relying heavily on touch-screens and holograms, highlights include a fascinating look into life before Kraków received its charter and the market square was laid out, and the remains of an 11th-century cemetery replete with 'vampire prevention burials' — Tip: “chop off the head off the corpse”. There are plenty of artefacts among the virtual exhibits, including coins, clothing and other earthly remains. The part I liked the best was the short, subtitled documentaries covering different ages of Krakow's history. We sat in little stone chamber-like rooms for each one. A lovely, old Polish gentleman chatted to the characters and narrated the tales of the time. One thing we noticed here and in other museums was that very little is said about the post war communist period. It was almost as if it didn't exist, although we could have visited a soviet era industrial town.
Inside the basilica was very impressive with the altarpiece, stained glass windows of the nave, and the blue, starred ceiling. The magnificent wooden altarpiece with pivoting panels actually opens and closes. It depicts the death of the Virgin.
The Poles are very religious, and as it was Easter the church was crowded with people praying, kissing the head and torso of Jesus on a cross that was lying on the floor. There were also many like us just visiting. We had seen people in the Square with little baskets covered with white linen cloths with sprigs of boxwood sticking out. We knew that they were an Easter tradition. Here in the church was a huge table covered in a white cloth where locals were leaving these baskets for the poor. Nuns were taking some away but the table was soon covered again.
In Poland, blessing of the baskets is known as święcenie, a practice dating to the 15th century or earlier, and one which is still maintained by most families in Poland on Holy Saturday. The baskets can be filled with bacon, Easter bread, butter, a candle, cheese and ham. We did go into another smaller church right behind St. Mary's where another table was also piled high with these baskets.
After another not very good meal, we wandered over to the Jagiellonian University, where Copernicus once studied. Unfortunately, we didn't see the inside as it closed early but we were able to walk around a balcony and admire the beautiful courtyard.
For us there was just time for a final coffee and tasty crepe Suzette in the Wentzl, our favourite coffee shop on the square, before saying good-bye to Krakow and heading for the airport.
Friday, April 10, 2015
When the Nazis created the Jewish ghetto in Podgórze, this pharmacy was at the very heart of it. Deciding to stay, Pankiewicz and his staff were the only Poles allowed to live and work in the ghetto and over the two years of the ghetto's existence it became an important centre of social life as well as aid in acquiring food and medicine, falsified documents and avoiding deportations. Pankiewicz and his staff risked their lives in many clandestine operations while bearing witness to tragedy through the windows of the pharmacy as the ghetto and its 15,000 inhabitants were ultimately 'liquidated.'
Back in the cold once again with glimmers of snow, we started walking back to town with a brief stop for lunch in a little local restaurant. For the equivalent of $7 CAD we had a bowl of minestrone filled with vegetables. Our next dish wasn't quite how we expected it but it was fine with a side of cooked cold red cabbage like coleslaw accompanied by macaroni with mushrooms and a mild mushroom sauce. There was a cherry drink and a crepe filled with jam for dessert. I couldn't eat it all. Generally, we have found food very inexpensive even in better restaurants. Outside once more it was too cold to walk and we took a tram back close to the Main Square for less than $1.
Once again we went to an art house movie in the evening. This time in a 16th century building located on the Main Square. I suspect the building was probably flats at one time. We walked up the four flights of stairs that were worn with use over the years. This time the movie was in a large room with about sixteen rows but it just looked like a movie theatre not a drawing room.
At our evening meal we noticed a group of business people at the next table. The boss handed out pieces of egg to the guests, which they ate before even seeing the menus. The eggs were accompanied by a speech. This is part of an Easter ceremony that usually happens on Easter morning when the egg is blessed at church. It is the symbol of life and eating it is believed to guarantee good health. Everyone exchanged wishes and they ate a big meal. Twice we sat beside fairly large groups in restaurants and hardly knew they were there as they ate and spoke so quietly, very different from Spain.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
The story popularized by the film Schindler's List becomes the framework for narrating the story of Krakow under the German occupation. All that remain of the original factory are the entrance gate, the original lobby's arrangement, various bits of machinery, and Oscar Schindler's original office with a plaster map of Europe with German geographical names.
The museum was laid out starting with life in Cracow in the prewar years. Through the use of original photos and film of family and street life as well as sound and light effects we experienced the life of the city. We listened to the sounds, walked down cobbled streets, commuted in an historic tram, peeped into a period apartment, visited a photographer's shop, cafe and hair salon. It gave the city an element of realism. The video recordings in which Krakow's residents recount their personal life stories and the multimedia presentation left you in no doubt as to the terror of life at that time. It showed how the Jews were moved first to a ghetto and then to the even worse Plaszow Concentration Camp.
In late 1944, in the face of the Soviet Red Army's advances Schindler convinced the German authorities to let him locate his munitions business and its workforce to a branch of Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Bohemia’s Brunnlitz. About 1,200 Jewish prisoners from Krakow survived there to be liberated by the Soviets on May 8, 1945.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
The guided tours took in three upper levels of the mine, from 64m to 135m below the ground, an eerie landscape of pits and chambers. Some have been made into chapels, with altarpieces and figures while others are adorned with statues and monuments. The miners prayed at the chapels before and after their shifts. The mine closed in the 1990s when less expensive means of obtaining salt became available.
Feeling quite good with breathing all the pure air we decided to go to a movie near our hotel. The theatre was housed in what was formerly two mansions. We paid the equivalent of $6 and climbed up a majestic staircase to our little four-row theatre, in what was probably a bedroom at one time. The room was hundreds of years old with antique bookcases and an old lamp at the front of the room. Luckily, the seats were proper cinema seats. A perfect environment to see a New Zealand vampire movie!
Walking back around the square we stopped in to a jazz concert held in a basement bar. It was fun with people of all ages from many countries as well as local university students in attendance. Tired of some of the stodgy food we had had, I ordered a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I didn't think I could go too far wrong with that. The astonished server said that in her two years working there, I was the first to order that sandwich. All I can say is, it was pretty good.