It's never too late …"to become young fools again"!
Author: Theresa & Bob
We love to wander, aimlessly at times it seems, and will keep moving as far and as long as we can. Serendipity has provided many wonders along the way, when least expected, and we love the anticipation of the 'next great find' just around the corner.
Feature photo by Kevin Spreitz, Huatulco Photo Walks
We are back in beautiful Oaxaca, Mexico currently in Huatulco idling away the days while escaping the cold, dark days of our Canadian winter.
This is our third time in the area; we are neophytes enjoying this piece of paradise compared to the many other Canadians who visit annually, some making it their permanent residence. It’s hard not to fall in love, the weather is the same day in and day out, bright sunshine, vivid blue skies, warm ocean breezes, 32C by day and evening temperatures of 23C, sigh… one never has to wonder what the next day will bring, it’s a guarantee.
The area has a great infrastructure, lovely boulevards leading to the port of Santa Cruz where large cruise ships stop a few times a month or in the other direction to the little town of La Crucecita. Walking is easy and I love getting out early each morning as the neighbourhoods awaken. People are hustling off to work, scooters whiz by, parents are taking their little ones to school, the fruit/vegetable trucks are parked on street corners and hot, fresh buns in the panaderías tempt.
While visiting Cruciceta last year Bob and I were drawn into a photo studio one evening where we met the very talented young photographer, Kevin Spreitz. We enjoyed chatting, swapping travel adventures, and viewing some of his photos from around the world. We also learned about his business “Huatulco Photo Walks”. These walks are designed for photo enthusiasts, regardless of level, who want to learn or improve their skills. Kevin is hands on and gives great tips to capture the moment, use light to your advantage, frame a subject while gently encouraging how to see the world through the camera or phone lens to best tell a story.
Wind storm damage 2019
Flowers & blue sky
Mama & little cutie
Oblivious playing away on the sidewalk
Corner fruit market
Not sure why I waited, but finally decided to book a session with Kevin on our last full day here. The vacationers had pretty much thinned out so by pure luck I had Kevin to myself. Walking around town, a history lesson was combined with observing previously seen sights, but at a different angle and perspective, while he provided great hints on using several previously unknown features of my iPhone.
As with any business word of mouth is usually pretty good advertising. I promised Kevin a review would be forthcoming, but alas once home procrastination and life got in the way. However, a promise is a promise so with time currently a luxury I decided it was time to deliver!
Here are a few pictures taken that day as well as some other pics of our Mexico living. Oh and if you happen to ever be in the area, I highly recommend Kevin and the Huatulco Photo Walks.
2019 January 31 – February 4 (better late than never)
Who knew the annual celebration of “Cinco de Mayo” (5th of May), and the thousands of streets throughout Mexico named the same, originated in Puebla. As recorded by the historians, the Mexicans defeated French invaders in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a rare Mexican military success. Unfortunately the French took back Puebla the following year and occupied it unti 1867. This is also the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution-history abounds here! Puebla is sometimes referred to as the “City of Street Lights” due to the numerous decorative street lamps crafted by the French. The French legacy can also be seen in the city’s elaborate wrought iron balconies, azulejos (painted ceramic tiles) on many buildings, and the fine crystal chandeliers adorning historic buildings. Very colonial with a wonderful historic center, we were actually quite taken with the city and loved wandering the streets and exploring not only Puebla but also nearby Cholula with its ancient pyramid and still active Popocatepel volcano.
It seems we are always surrounded by churches, some more ornate than others and often wonder how the upkeep can be afforded. There is no lack of several notable ones in this city.
We started off with the huge and impressive Puebla Cathedral which takes up the entire block on the south side of the zocalo. The cathedral is actually featured on the blue M$500 bill.
Templo de Santo Domingo is famous for its stunning Capilla Del Rosario (Rosary Chapel) and known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. One of the most glorious examples of Baroque architecture, the gold appearance is actually gold foiled plaster and carved stone. We had to make a second visit to see the chapel since a wedding was about to take place the day of our first visit.
The “Virgen del Carmen” church was just just around the corner from our Airbnb. Beautiful ceramic tiles adorned the exterior.
February 2nd may be Groundhog Day in the Canada, and also our son Michael’s birthday, but in Mexico there is a completely different celebration on this date. This is the religious holiday known as Día de la Candelaria (or Candlemas in English). The tradition recalls that forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took the child to the Temple to present to the priests.
Throughout Mexico on this date, people dress up figures of “Nino Dias” or the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to the church to be blessed, followed by celebrations with family and friends.
As chance would have it we were in Puebla on this feast day and were curious seeing so many people carrying dolls into a church, so we followed them. Seeing our curiosity a kindly man approached us after mass to explain what was going on and the tradition behind it. He then told us to head to the zocalo as we weren’t in a particularly safe part of town!
Women with their nino dias
Posing for family pictures outside the church
The Centro Historico, a UNESCO site, has many colourful streets. Although not its official name, Candy Street is lined with pastel storefronts with traditional sweets and cookies displayed in glass cases. Many shops also sell the handmade and painted Talavera pottery crafted exclusively in the region. Authentic Talavera is distinguished from imitations by the raised design and gloss of the finish. And yes, I am now the proud owner of one such piece!
The Barrio del Artists or Artist Quarter with its tree lined pedestrian walkway is dotted with quaint cafes and studios. Works of art and open galleries are intertwined with small market stalls. Just around the corner we found a small plaza with several musical groups mulling about and practicing for an annual competition.
We couldn’t miss a visit to Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the first and oldest public library in the Americas. The library’s original ornate shelving holds the intact collection of books from the Spanish Colonial period.
A day trip to Cholula to see Piramide Tepanapa, the widest pyramid ever built, yes wider than any in Egypt, couldn’t be passed up. Unfortunately this pyramid, dating back to 600 AD, has been badly neglected over the centuries and one would be hard pressed to recognize it as such. The south side of the pyramid has been excavated and there is a network of tunnels inside. Today, only about 800 meters of these tunnels are open to the public.
What is amazing though and the towns biggest drawing card is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remédios. This church tops the pyramid and provides a great panoramic view.
We were the only visitors creeping through the tunnels at the time of our visit, kind of creepy especially when our cab driver told us there were several small earthquakes the day previous.
Serendipity was again at play during our Puebla visit. Bob’s sister Martha sent us an invitation for a vernissage she received from fellow artists/friends from Montreal. She suggested we drop by to say hello on opening night. We represented Canada that evening, met some lovely, very talented artists and of course enjoyed the wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Invite to Daniela & Peter’s opening
One of Peters
Ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the opening
We had planned to head further south towards Chiapas and San Chrisobel but a nasty cold I couldn’t seem to shake was slowing me down so we decided to head to the coast. Nothing like warm ocean breezes, endless sunshine, and heat to cure what ails you. Back to Mexico City and only a short flight away – Hola Hualtuco!
Every Monday the market in San Pedro Pochutla offers locals, foreigners and all those folks in-between a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, fruits, various goods and experiences. We were looking for an authentic Mexican market and this traditional, non-gringo market delivered in spades, none of that kitschy touristy ‘stuff’ was to be seen.
A comfortable 1-hour, 29 peso (~$2.00 CDN) bus ride with AC (bonus) will get you from the coastal town of La Crucecita in Santa Maria Hualtuco (Nuevo Huatulco) to Pochutla.
Originally called San Pedro Huehuetán Laguna, the town was established in the 8th century on what was once a lake bed. The lake was drained to prevent illnesses such as malaria and yellow fever. The town‘s name was eventually changed to what it is presently know as, Potchutla, which means “place of kapok trees”.
This city is a commercial and transportation hub for the central part of Oaxaco and the coast, connecting the nearby beach spots of Puerto Escondito to Puerto Ángel, Zipolite, San Agustinillo and Mazunte. It is bustling, dusty, sweaty and definitely not a tourist attraction, except for the wonderful Monday market. We actually passed through Pochutla on our way to Mazunte both last year and again a couple of weeks ago (more on that later) but unfortunately those brief stopovers weren’t on a Monday when the entire ‘Central’ becomes a massive hub of activity. Having previously read and heard about this market I was definitely intrigued and what better way to spend a day?
As you have no doubt figured out I absolutely love markets! For some strange reason mi esposa doesn’t share this enthusiasm, 😫 but always a trooper and willing to indulge, we set out for a mini-adventure earlier this week. From the moment we exited the bus station we were immersed in the chaos, sights and sounds as we navigated the sidewalks and streets. My phone camera was clicking away much of the time and when asked, most vendors gladly agreed to have their photo or photos of their goods taken.
As with all Mexican towns and cities, the church is the central point.
Paintings of various churches in the arra
Fresco inside city hall
Fresco inside the cultural center
We trust you will enjoy the colours, imagine the aromas, feel the heat, and see the warmth of the people as you tour the market and a bit of the city with us.
Ice cream vendor
Fresh ground coffee
Truckload of pineapple
Fresh fish & seafood
Marlita the fish lady
The beauty section
The hibiscus drink is delicious
Crickets 🦗 anyone?
Hand made furniture-would not meet CSA standards!
Deep fried pork fat! 🤢
Tacos for the bar drinkers
Our market scores for a fraction of the cost back home – fresh fruit, vegetables, freshly ground coffee, home baked cookies, and that tasty Oaxaca cheese 😋.
You have no doubt noticed that there is a common colour theme in San Miguel’s buildings. The mandated colour scheme for painting the outside of homes and businesses in El Centro range between nine distinct, vibrant earth tone colours As mentioned previously, the effect this has on the cityscape, as the light changes throughout the day, is amazing.
This wasn’t quite as prevalent in the area we chose to stay. It is always a crap-shoot when booking a place, but this time we scored big. Our beautiful Airbnb was about a 10-minute walk to Centro in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of SMA, Colonia Guadelupe. Not only were our accommodations absolutely beautiful and one of the best in all our Airbnb stays, vibrant Mexican colours washed the walls making the space cozy, homey, and very comfortable. Here the facades are cobalt blue, lime green, mauve, pink or lemon yellow and how appropriate it all seems.
Our neighbourhood had some other hidden gems as we soon discovered. The area is full of street art so of course with our long-standing love affair of this art form we were game for the hunt. With fond memories of our street art excursion in Georgetown Penang in Malaysia we hit the streets one day and certainly were not disappointed.
Another interesting story here that definitely needs sharing. In 2012, Colleen Sorenson, an American expat living in SMA, saw an explosion of illegal ‘tagging’ on the walls of homes and businesses in SMA. Wanting to deter local youth from vandalizing the town’s unadorned walls with graffiti she lobbied for a project to channel youthful energy and talent, from graffiti to vibrant art that both artists and the community could take pride in. She saw the walls as an opportunity for art rather than defacement; her vision was to legalize graffiti. After more than a year of deliberation with the various authorities, and local residents, the first street art festival was held in Guadelupe in 2013. The urban street art project showcases over 100 works of young artists from around Mexico and from other countries, (Chile, Argentina, Canada, Germany and the United States), who participated in conjunction with local artists to promote the new art district. Guadalupe has since been named a Districto de Arte, and the Festival, is now known as Muros en Blanco or The Festival of White (or blank). The festival is held twice a year, spring and winter, and with other visiting artists painting in-between, the art is continuously changing.
As we stroll along the streets we see hummingbirds, butterflies, cars, people, saints, dragons, flying fish, flowers, ducks, bulls, skeletons, seahorses, trees, musicians, a school bus, and much more. At every turn there is something different to see. Different styles, colours, content; some beautiful, some surprising, some puzzling, but all fascinating. Here is a small selection of our discoveries (look closely, people just blend into the art).
The other area we were very close to was Fabrica La Aurora Art and Design Centre. In the early 20th century this building housed a textile factory where mana (cotton) was produced. For over 90-years it was the main source of work in the city. There is a great photo gallery showing the glory days of the factory and a huge weaving machine remains on-site.
This fascinating art space with more than 50-art studios and galleries is ideal if you want to purchase art, browse the artwork or simply enjoy a drink and some light lunch in a creative ambience.
Apart from paintings and sculpture, there are also works by Mexican photographers, glasswork, ceramics, woven goods, and antique furniture for sale. On the day we visited we were fortunate to see some talented artists at work. Martha you would love it here!
One of the shops inside La Aurora
Always on the move our next stop is Queretaro, about a 2-hour bus ride away.
As you may or may not recall, we had planned to visit this city in the north central highlands of Mexico last year until a chance meeting with a fellow Canadian convinced us otherwise. We were told there were many more interesting places to visit than, what she described as, a “Mexican Disneyland” for mainly American, Canadian and European retirees as well as Chilangos (people from Mexico City).
We loved our travels last year and probably would never have visited the areas or saw the marvels we did, fate has a habit of doing that!! But curiosity was still nibbling so we decided to go with the previous years plan while wandering this year, great move on our part.
Our friend wasn’t far off the mark about the number of expats; we were amazed to see so many septuagenarian/octogenarians, (hey wait a minute, got one of those with me), garnering canes and walkers. I thought we had time-warped back to my parents retirement facility!!
Joking aside it is difficult not to be instantly taken with beautiful San Miguel with its compact Centro historico, cobblestone streets, and beautiful colonial architecture. Colour is everywhere, this is Mexico after all, and it really is a photographers playground, so much inspiration especially with the changing light throughout the day.
While the foreign influence is strong, approximately 12,000 expats live here, the area is blessed with a wonderful climate year round – dry, no humidity, warm during the day and cooling off nicely in the evening. SMA been drawing foreigners here since shortly after World War II and boasts countless contemporary attractions — many art galleries, chic cafés, elegant restaurants, and quaint colonial hotels. Being a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Pueblo Magico (Magical Town), it really is the “corazón de Mexico” (the heart of Mexico).
The centerpiece and focal point and one of the best things to see in SMA is the La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel or the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, it is as impressive as it is massive. This is arguably the most photogenic spot in the city inside and out. You are able to stroll inside the church as long as a mass isn’t going on, and while pictures aren’t really allowed I did sneak one photo inside (my old adage’ ‘better to beg forgiveness than ask permission’, was at work here).
One side of the square
Inside the church
Beautifully illuminated at night
The neo-gothic 17th-century structure is one of most photographed churches in the country and once you cast your eyes on it you can understand why. We enjoyed the view from the well-manicured Plaza Allende, popularly known as Jardin Principle, (main garden), in the plaza directly in front of the church. It was designed in French style, with wrought iron benches and filled with lush laurel trees.
The other three sides of the plaza are surrounded by restaurants, vendors, and various businesses with a lovely shaded walkways.
One of the best parts of this city is that around every corner there is a new adventure and behind every door there is a secret courtyard. We let ourselves get lost while exploring always using the massive central cathedral as our guide to get back to the square.
A good set of legs and healthy lungs certainly helps once you leave the city core. Did I mention how hilly SMA is? One day we decided to head to the mirador to get that perfect birds-eye view of the city. Snaking through the back streets and alleyways we tested our stamina and finally made it. Beside getting a little extra exercise climbing up the hills, we also got to see some of the most beautiful and finest properties in the city.
One thing we didn’t expect to see in SMA were botanical gardens. The Jardin Botanico El Charco del Ingenio is northeast from the main part of town. This 170 acre area is not only a garden, but also a recreational and ceremonial space with a wildlife sanctuary. This environmental conservation project was established in 1991 and is privately funded. Why even the Dalai Lama has visited here and declared it a ‘Peace Zone’.
Cacti, many huge, and other succulent plants make up the botanical collection, many are rare, threatened or in danger of extinction. The area is very tranquil and perfect for an afternoon hike in nature.
Taking the local bus as far as we could, we hike the remaining 1.5 kms and spent the afternoon exploring the various paths that surround a very deep canyon. Depending on the path you take, there are some gorgeous views of SMA.
There is a bit more of San Miguel we want to share with you, stay tuned for part two.
Charming Guanajuato, (pronounced gwah-nah-hwah-toe), officially the most beautiful city in Mexico, is as you can see also one of the most colourful. The city is built on very hilly ground, so virtually every point in the city in on a slant.
With subterranean tunnels leading into the city, brightly coloured houses, winding cobbled streets, callajoneadas or narrow alleyways, quaint cafés, and hundreds of bakeries, Guanajuato is known for its traditional Mexican markets, the towering El Pípila statue, which offers and bird’s eye view over the city, and the unusual attraction of the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato.
A big silver vein was discover in Guanajuato in the mid-1500s and that eventually lead to a larger settlement. In it’s hay day the area produced nearly a third of all silver in the world. Mining brought wealth to the town that spread to its architecture and lifestyle. Some mines are still active.
Our lovely B&B was about a 10-minute walk through these narrow streets to the central historic region. I counted 13 churches in and around the city center, (apparently there are a total of 23), one of the first was the pink Templo de San Francisco built by the Franciscans in the 17th century.
It is beautiful illuminated at night and a central place for the locals to hang out.
Our landmark during our first couple of nights was the Plaza del Quixote, created to honour the 400th anniversary of the first edition of Don Quixote of La Mancha.
Next up was the Teatro Juarez, situated across from the Jardine de la Union, with it’s very impressive exterior and is another spot to do some serious people watching.
Beside the theatre there is a church that is a popular spot in the evening for student performances and across the street, at the Jardin, Mariachi bands stroll around the several restaurants lining the plaza creating a vibrant fun-filled atmosphere.
Nightly performance in front of Iglesias de San Diego.
Click on the video below.
Behind the theatre is a funicular that takes you up to the El Pipila monument on San Miguel hill. This monument honours a local miner for his act of heroism at the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. The area provides an excellent birds-eye view of the city. We took the funicular up and made our way back into the centre while exploring several alleyways. Walking was a bit tricky at times with the steep incline.
Continuing on the tour, the next stop is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora with its vibrant yellow facade and red domed roof – the inside is just as impressive to say the least. The Basilica is in the heart of the city and dedicated to Our Lady of Guanajuato who is the patron saint and protector of the city.
The Basilica is positioned on a slight hill in the Plaza de la Paz (Plaza of Peace) making it look higher than the surrounding buildings.
A little bit further down this street is the famous El Callejon del Besa or Alley of the Kiss. Guanajuato has so many little alleys or callejons, leading every which way from the centre, however this particular one has a tragic love story attached to it. The alley itself is very short and up some steep steps with houses on both sides, the uppermost balconies almost touching and windows looking into each other.
As the story goes, two young lovers from very different backgrounds, the girl came from a rich family and the boy from a poor miners family, fell in love. The boy rented a small room which faced a rear balcony of the girl house. Each night they would sneak out for romantic encounters, hence the nickname Alley of the Kiss. The girl’s father found out about these nocturnal encounters, was furious and eventually one night caught the young lovers. Fearing for his safety the young miner jumped from the girls balcony back to his but fell to the steps below dying instantly. The father’s rage was also directed at his daughter; he grabbed a piece of wood and bludgeoned her to death. The father felt instant grief for his actions but it was too late, the lovers were both dead on the steps below the balcony.
Folkore has it the ghosts of the two lovers haunt the steps where they died but bless couples with a life of happiness if they kiss on the third step, the location of the miner’s death.
On our way to, believe it or not one of Guanajuato’s main sights, El Museo De Las Momias or the Mummy Museum, (more on that in a bit), we pass by the Mercado Hildalgo, a classic iron structure with a beautiful facade. This structure was originally constructed to be a major train station, and the project so grand Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was enticed to work on it. But the envisioned economic boom to Guanajuato never happened. Once this grand project was dropped it was transformed into a market.
Given all the hype of the Mummy Museum and with mildly morbid curiosity, we took the local bus up the steep hills to view this horrific, disturbing sight. This is probably one of the more bizarre things we have seen in our travels and despite the fact it is isn’t what we would call a ‘family oriented’ attraction, we saw several young children being guided along by their parents. For a mere 20 pesos each, (senior rate), we were treated to yet another interesting story.
Three rooms contain over 100 mummies, most a little over 100 years old. The majority were adults, there were also some babies and young children. They were lined up in their climate controlled crypts, with a description or name of each mummy attached.
The mummies originate from two sources – during a major disease outbreak mass graves were dug and the bodies thrown in without the burial salts to help with decomposition. When the bodies were exhumed, perhaps to be put into proper graves, the gravediggers were shocked to find the bodies mummified. The other source of the mummies were a by-product of a tax. The families of the deceased had to pay a rental fee of the grave for four years. If the relatives were unable to pay the tax the body was exhumed and cremated. Some of the bodies exhumed were found to be mummified, and since they were considered property of the government they were stored in what is now the museum.
Back in the land of the living we headed to the Universidad De Guanajuato. The university was originally built by the Jesuits in the 18th century for the people of Guanajuato, however the original building fell into disrepair and was abandoned for many years when the Jesuits were expelled by the Spaniards.
The main campus building, built in 1940 on the original site, boasts 133 steps leading up to the entrance. It now houses the dean’s office, administration and a couple of undergraduate departments. The building is also incorporated with the Templo de las Hospitales, a 16th century church built by the Jesuits.
Diego Rivera’s birthplace and now a museum couldn’t be passed up, especially since we visited his significant other’s in Mexico City. Rivera was born in Guanajuato and spent his first 6-years here. The ground floor of the house has been remodelled to recreate the house as it was at the time of his birth. Several early works are displayed throughout the house, (no photos allowed), and show his wide selection of artistic styles and stages.
Diego Rivera bronze statue just around the corner from the museum.
Colourful houses line the hills and streets.
We feel we did this city justice and really enjoyed its vibe, despite the fact I was out of commission for a day and a half. It seems the delicious enchiladas mineras, a local dish we had for dinner one evening, and I didn’t see eye to eye and had to part company. Oh well, always good for waist line!
Next stop is San Miguel de Allende, a couple of hours to the west.
Mexico City, never thought we would be back but here we are once again using this huge metropolis as our jump off point for our 2019 travels.
We plan to ‘wander’ for the first half checking out areas we didn’t get to last year and then settle down and ‘chillax’ in Hualtuco for the remainder – sun, sand, and surf beckon, as does that little piece of paradise.
Navigating CDMX was much easier this time around, we understood the metro and my purse was in full lock-down mode as we headed to the historical centre!! First up was a visit to the Presidential Palace to view the marvellous murals of Diego Rivera, one of Mexicos most prominent artists. His large frescoes helped establish the Mexican mural movement in Mexican art. The detail in these murals is phenomenal and really do give a pictorial history of the political development of Mexico.
We also visited Plaza Garibaldi, known as Mexico City’s home of mariachi music. At all hours of the day and night, mariachi bands can be found roaming the square playing or soliciting gigs from visitors and restaurant patrons. The area is quite seedy, so we watched a couple of groups and headed out, best not to linger! Only after our visit did we find out that there was a gang war shoot out this past September!
The Frida Kahlo Museum or Casa Azul was also on the list. This is the birthplace and ultimately final resting place of Frida Kahlo, another famous Mexican artist. For those who aren’t familiar with Frida’s history, she was a self-taught artist who was sickly, suffered polio as a child and was involved in a serious, debilitating bus accident at age 18 which ultimately affected her entire life. She took up painting during her many months of convalescing from multiple fractures includinga broken back , and lived in pain for the remainder of her life. Many of her folkloric paintings represent a diary of her life depicting the physical and emotional pain she endured.
She is also well know for her turbulent marriage to artist Diego Rivera and her unconventional, bohemian life style.
Although Kahlo achieved success as an artist in her lifetime, and is best know for her many self-portraits, her posthumous reputation steadily grew and she is perhaps one of the best-known artists of the 20th century. She died in 1954 at age 47 from a pulmonary infection/embolism, although many speculate her death was caused by an overdose.
Enjoy your own tour of Frida’s home with a few pictures below.
Our next stop is Guanajuato, north of Mexico City in the central highlands. This town is supposed to be the prettiest in Mexico, stay tuned.
Welcome to beautiful Porto! Sitting in northeast Portugal along the Douro River it is one of the oldest European centers with its historical core proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site. Think Romanesque and Gothic architecture, winding cobbled streets, thigh-challenging hills. Now I can appreciate all those squats done at the gym.
The main sights are all very walkable and yes we exceeded our 10,000, steps and many, many more daily!!
View of Porto from Gaia
First up was a visit to Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, across the river from the Ribeira district. We walked across the upper and lower levels of the Don Luís I bridge which connects the two area and provides fantastic views regardless of the time of day. The bridge was built by a student of Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, and is similar in style and design.
Dom Luis I bridge heading to Gaia
Gaia has many cellars, (locally known as ‘caves’), where the port wine is stored and aged. Hello, this is Porto after all! In bygone days the rabelo boats transported barrels of port from the vineyards in the Douro Valley upstream. Here we marveled at the multi-coloured facades of houses dating from the Middle Ages.
Back across the river we took in all the sights, enjoyed the cafes, alleyways, gardens, flowers, sculptures, fountains, plaza, etc., etc.
Made some new friends!
Never know what’s around the corner!
It would be impossible to walk around and not notice all of the intricate tile work that covers almost every building, church, train station. Like Port wine, Azulejos tiles are important part of Portuguese culture. In northern Portugal, the tiles are typically blue and white.
The walls of the Porto Sao Bento train station is a great example and decorated with approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles.
Sao Bento train station
Clérigos Tower, a major landmark in Porto, was once the highest bell tower in Portugal, (over 75m), and is said to offer wonderful panoramic views at the cost of climbing 230 steps. We opted out of this challenge!
Livraria Lello Porto, is considered one of the most beautiful and oldest bookstores in the world and rumoured was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts Library in Harry Potter. The building itself is a piece of art with the red staircase and intricate carvings.
Inside the Livraria Lello bookstore
Majestic Cafe, is where Rowling also spent a lot of time and is said to have penned early book notes on napkins.
Iconic Majestic Cafe
Bob enjoying Francesinha, a Porto speciality sandwich containing cheese and a number of different meats in a tomato and beer sauce. He opted to forego the french fries that usually accompany it otherwise it would have resembled poutine on steroids!!
Bob’s dinner – Francesinha sandwich!
And dessert. So many delicious pastries! ￼
Porto at night is a beautiful sight – the view from Cais de Gaia is best, where you can see the whole city lit up. Cafes and bars are packed and street performers add a certain ambiance while strolling along the river.
A must see for everyone is a tour of the Douro Valley. Having a car made it so easy to tour this area with the entire Valley declares a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The microclimate here allows for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially grapes, which are important for making the famous Port wine. Numerous Quintas look out over vast tiers of vineyards making the entire area a magical place. We wandered through the vineyards and finished off the day with a wine tasting of the white, ruby, and tawny port. And yes, we have developed yet another guilty pleasure in life!
Great tour & Port tasting at the Quinta
There are several villages in the hillsides, the views are marvellous but the driving is not for the faint of heart, right Joanne? Switchback roads, with no or questionable guard rails make ascents/descents butt puckering. Oh how memories of Chile came flooding back.
Mateus Palace on the way to the Douro was an unplanned but serendipitous stop as were several other small towns along the way.
Mateus Palace & Quinta
We stayed at a lovely old refurbished hotel in Tabuaço, great base for heading out on the wine trail visiting the various spots in the Valley.
Pinhão is a small town is where we did the Rabelo boat tour on the Doura.
A small, lovely, still finctioning train station has azulejos tiles covering the outside depicting the valley and harvest.
Pinhão Train station
Shop across from Pinhao train station
Pinhão & Douro River
Barcos, was another beautiful medieval town steeped in history with friendly folks offering up tips on the village in Portuguese. Unfortunately all that good info was lost in translation! Portuguese is a very difficult language.
Driving throughout Portugal has been relatively easy. Toll highways are pristine, have little traffic, a speed limit of 120km/hr., (although many exceed this and have a tendency to tailgate), and makes Hwy401 pale in comparison. Fertile farmland with red soil, fields of eucalyptus, olive, and cork trees, depending on the region, not to mention the huge number of vineyards that seemingly covers the whole mid to northern region
The Portuguese are the masters of roundabouts, they are absolutely everywhere! Navigation is tricky at the best of times, especially in smaller villages (more roundabouts!). Bob has definitely met the challenge driving the VERY narrow cobblestone streets of the cities/towns/villages we have visited, nothing to do with the excellent navigator, I might add!!🤣
Heading out of Obidos to Coimbra, we stopped to check out the popular fishing and beach town of Nazaré. The town is split into three main districts – Praia (beach), Pederneira (main lower town), and Sitio (upper town ). Located on a rocky outcropping over 100m above the main part of the town, Sitio provides wonderful views over the bay and beach. Parking down near the beach we took the funicular to Sitio and walked the promenade enjoying the spectacular views below. This area also attracts some of the world’s best and bravest surfers and has recently put itself firmly on the global map with the biggest recorded breaking waves ever being ridden here.
A quick stop at the huge gothic monastery in Batalha was impressive and provided a great photo op.
We passed several groups of pilgrims walking to Fatima for the 101st anniversary, (October 13, 1917), of the last apparition of Virgin Mary to three local Shepard children. More on Fatima in an upcoming blog.
Coimbra, a well-preserved medieval center and the historic University of Coimbra was the next stop for a couple of nights. This is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, the oldest university of Portugal, and one of the country’s largest higher education and research institutions. Impressive!! The campus is beautiful and the historic centre full of narrow winding streets to get lost in.
This city along with Porto were the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. Everywhere you look upper year students are dressed in the same Hogwarts garb-black suits and cape.
We happened upon the town during Recepção ao Caloiro (The Freshman’s Reception) or what is known as ‘homecoming’ back home. Lots of festivities were happening the weekend we visited with freshmen wearing interesting costumes, displaying each faculty’s colours. The garb was made up according to the creativity and imagination of their ‘godmothers’ or ‘godfathers’ who are upper class men.
We also witnessed the special parade known as the Latada. After marching through the streets of the city, the new students are baptized in the Mondego River thus entering into the Coimbra academic fraternity. Sounds similar to like the kind of indoctrination at Queens U. but much more traditional.
Aveiro, aka the ‘Venice of Portugal’ was another short stop to see the colourful gondola style boats gliding tourists through the canals that crisscross the city. The boats, (barcos moliceiros), were traditionally used to harvest seaweed in the lagoon that feeds the canal which was then used to fertile the surrounding farm fields.
On to Porto my friends, AND the 🚗 is still intact (as well as my nerves).
It seemed only fitting to begin our 40th wedding anniversary tour to Portugal in romantic Óbidos, also known as ‘The Wedding Present Town’. This medieval town was a gift from King Dinis in 1282 to Queen Isabel on their wedding day. Every Portuguese queen after Isabel, up until the 1800s, was given Óbidos as a wedding present.
After landing in Portugal my ‘Polish Prince’, (aka the ‘heart of my life’), and I headed out of the Lisbon airport to the beautiful walled town of Óbidos, just over 1-hour away. We figured we would be a wee bit tired after our overnight flight and decided not to bite off too much on day 1. Good planning plus it gave us the day to explore the town and wander the twisting streets.
Before picking up our rental car we got a SIM card with data plan for my phone, relatively inexpensive compared to those at home and definitely a needed plus…gotta love modern technology not sure how we did it “in the old days”!
Óbidos radiates Portuguese charm, from the narrow cobbled streets, to wisteria/bougainvillea covered quaint white-washed, red-tiled roofed houses, through to the imposing medieval castle, which once guarded the region. Most houses have the traditional bright yellow and brilliant blue colour accents that are deliberate choices and seen throughout Portugal. Folklore has it that yellow repels evil spirits while blue serves an equally important role by repelling flies and mosquitoes.
The name Óbidos dates back to ancient Roman times and means “walled town.” Perched on a hilltop, the medieval castle walls are 45 feet high. The town is completely contained within the high city walls and it recommended to see the town through a birds-eye view by walking the wall. Initially I was a bit apprehensive as some parts are very narrow, the stones slippery and there are no railing on one side, BUT the amazing views of the town and surrounding countryside made it so worthwhile.
The main gate into Obidos contains a beautiful tiled chapel that overlooks the main thoroughfare. The blue and white 18th century glazed tiles, seen throughout Portugal, called ‘Azulejo’, depict the passion of Christ while the ceiling represents the crown of thorns.
Obidos is known for ‘Ginja’, a cherry flavoured liqueur. Ginja is a favourite spirit in Portugal and apparently few places make it better than Óbidos (which is why this specific brand can be found throughout the country). Many vendors were selling shots of it on the main street so of course we had to try it served in a chocolate cup which is eaten after. Delicious!!
Our small B&B, Casa Picva, was just outside the wall. It is a 400 year old home full of many wonderful antiques and continues to be in the same family. Our hosts were wonderful and gave us some good travel tips and directions.
We were steps away from a portal entering the town, convenient and picturesque, especially after sunset when the day tourists/buses vacated the town, leaving it almost to ourselves.
Next up, travelling the coast before a stop Coimbra.