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Portugal Day 15: Insane

all seasons in one day 69 °F

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The first thing we did was drive up to the Caldeira do Faial, the giant volcanic caldera in the center of the island (the island is fairly round, or slightly pentagonal). There is a hike around the entire Caldeira, which most of the group did. Catherine and some others stayed at the vista point and walked a little bit onto the trail.
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At first, there was a great deal of fog. It was a very nice hike, but it was impossible to see anything particularly interesting besides the trail. Nonetheless, it was very pretty and the weather was pleasant.
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A sign showing the distances to the various places from here.
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Then, it cleared up beautifully. We could see all the way down to the Caldeira and all the way to the ocean, including a view of São Jorge.
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The hydrangeas are abundant around the Caldeira.
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To quote Fr. Michael “if I had to pick one phrase to describe this view, it would be ‘insane in the membrane.’”
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A small chapel at the end of the hike.
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Faial at its most tropical-looking.
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I don’t have many pictures of this, but we went to Varadouro, which is a beautiful swimming spot among volcanic rocks that seems to be pronounced the same as Barad-dûr , Sauron’s evil fortresss in Lord of the Rings. While the dark volcanic rocks and jagged crags do look a bit like Mordor, it was a very pleasant place to swim. There are large coves in the ocean equipped with ladders, diving boards, etc. Most of us jumped into the ocean, first from the ledge and then from the diving board. The waves make it a sort of wave pool, and the water is cold but rather pleasant in the heat. We had a great time swimming there.
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After this we went to the home of Jose Antonio, who is Catherine’s third cousin. His mother is Natalia, who’s mother was Maria. Catherine’s grandfather Tony visited Maria in the Azores shortly before Maria died. Maria’s mother was Ana, whose brother Francisco was Catherine’s great grandfather. There are more pictures from this dinner, but they were taken on other people’s cameras so we will post them later. We had a wonderful dinner, and enjoyed visiting with the family. Our lack of Portuguese skills was a bit of a problem, as they spoke limited English and the older generations did not seem to speak it at all (although we learned that videos of cows dancing are the universal language. Which, if we had to describe in one phrase...). Also, we must learn to make arroz doce.
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After this, we walked down to the waterfront. While Semana do Mar has not yet officially started, there are already many stands with food, concerts going on, and people out late. It was a lot of fun to walk around and look at everything.
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Usually in California, Portuguese festas are held at halls called “I.D.E.S. halls.” This stands for Irmandade do Divino Espírito Santo, or Brotherhood of the Divine Holy Spirit. It was interesting to see that they have the same society here in the Azores.

Posted by danielcatherine 07:08 Archived in Portugal Tagged shrines rice family faial insane_in_the_memebrane caldeira hydrangeas jose_antonio dancing_cows Comments (0)

Portugal Day 4: A Marvãolous Adventure

sunny 80 °F

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We started our day by taking a taxi to the airport. We saw the somewhat less fashionable side of Lisbon on our drive, but also got nice views of the river. When we arrived at the Europcar office, they appeared to be closed. There was a sign saying that we should go to the office in the main terminal, so we did. Once we were there, they were very helpful. They didn’t have a car with WiFi like we had ordered, but they did find us one with a built-in navigation system that was a little larger than we had originally booked. We set out from Lisbon towards the east, heading first for the former Templar castle of Almourol.

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Before we arrived in Almourol we stopped in the little town of Tancos, where there is a restaurant called Restaurante Almourol. We strolled around the grassy area by the River Tagus, then went to the restaurant. This was an adventure all its own.the restaurant was very nice, but no one seemed to speak English. I told the waitress “Não falo Português” to which she replied “Mas percebes bem” and continued in Portuguese. The menu also was entirely in Portuguese. We ended up using Google Translate, which yielded that one of the menu items was “bunny” and that another was “potato punch.” So that was unhelpful. We ended up just ordering. We got fried river fish with rice and beans. Neither of us usually eat a lot of fish,but it was a good meal.
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Some views across the river to the towns on the other side. There was a beautiful view from our restaurant.
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The castle was a fortress used by the Knights Templar during the crusades. It formed part of a defensive line along the Tagus during the Portuguese Reconquista. It is a beautiful castle, and it’s fascinating to see how it would have been when the Tagus was the dividing line between the Christians and the Muslims.
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Some amazing views around the castle. We were able to climb the staircases and look out from the walls. The river is much narrower on the northern side of the island. It seems like a very defensible position since it is surrounded by water, but it is obviously better protected from the south, which of course is where the Moors were.
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The castle as we left in the boat. We missed the boat we were supposed to take, but thankfully it came back a few minutes later.
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After that, we went further East to the walled hilltop city of Marvão. It is near the border with Spain and had been used to defend against invasion. It is beautiful, and reminded us quite a bit of San Gimignano in Italy. There are narrow streets, hills, ancient fortresses and churches, and a cafe that sells gelato.
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The curious kittens of Marvão.
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There is a beautiful garden near the castle made up mostly of hydrangeas, Catherine’s favorite flowers. The garden has a beautiful view of the surrounding area, and you can see the surrounding valleys in Spain and Portugal.
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More of Marvão.
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A tactile model of the city.
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Gelato from the cafe.
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Given how close we were to Spain, we decided to go in. There was a former border checkpoint that was entirely unmanned, and the only signal that we had left Portugal and entered Spain was this sign. We went in to a gas station and got some snacks, and it was intriguing that all of the packaging was in Spanish. The linguistic nature of the border is fascinating: the cashier at the gas station spoke something that sounded like Portuguese to locals at she knew, but perfect Spanish to strangers.
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We then followed the GPS to Coimbra. Our AirBnB host, João, was waiting at a cafe. We met him and found a parking spot, then got everything set up in the room. We then met João at the tapas restaurant across the street from our flat. He gave us advice about what to do in Coimbra: he was a wealth of information about the city and the various things we could see. He left us to have a late dinner and listen to the singing of the Hungarian university officials in the next room (there is a sports competition between European universities going on in Coimbra).
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Our dinner, including a bottle of wine from our waiter’s hometown in the Douro valley.
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Our dessert: lime pie and a 1985 port.
We spent a long time visiting with our waiter, the Hungarians (who bought us a round of a Portuguese liqueur), and a few others who stayed in the restaurant late. We learned some Hungarian drinking songs and chatted with the waiter about the town, life in Portugal, and numerous other topics. It was a wonderful night. We went back across the street to our room at around 4 in the morning. We feel so lucky to be able to have these adventures and talk to such interesting people!

Posted by danielcatherine 03:56 Archived in Portugal Tagged castles fish adventure rice port wine kittens tapas coimbra lime beans talk marvão almourol Comments (3)

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