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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 12th/15....

 Still in Lisbon, I had the usual breakfast buffet, excluding hot items, at the Turim Hotel.

I was on my own again, and decided to take in another major museum in Lisbon - the National Museum of Ancient Art.  The MNAA has the largest collection of paintings in Portugal and is particularly strong on early religious works by Portuguese artists. 

I took a taxi from the hotel to MNAA - the fare was €8 each way.  The seniors' entrance to the Museum was €3.  I spent about five hours at the Museum. 

Although the Museum is somewhat heavy on religion, there are many significant and important art works which are worth seeing.   Again, I skipped lunch today.

For dinner, I ate again at the hotel.  There were breadsticks with a creamy garlic cheese dip, a cream of vegetable soup and a large salad with shredded chicken, various types of lettuces, carrots, red cabbage, olives and tomatoes, and I had a coke.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco  

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 11th/15....

In Lisbon, at the Turim hotel, I had the usual buffet breakfast.

Since this was a post-extension day, I was on my own for the entire day and I slept later than usual.  About 9:30, I began walking to the Museum Calouste Gulbenkian which opens at 10 - it was about a half hour walk.  The Museum is located within the pleasant setting of a large park.


I spent about five hours at the Museum, and probably could have stayed another hour or so.  It is a huge, impressive collection which is well worth seeing.

This Museum ranks with the Museum of Art (tomorrow’s visit) as the finest in Lisbon.  The exhibits, which span over 4000 years from ancient Egyptian statuettes, through Oriental and Islamic art, to European paintings and furniture to Art Nouveau brooches, are displayed in spacious and well-lit galleries.  

The admission fee for seniors was €2.50 and today, I skipped lunch.

For dinner, I ate at the Hotel Turim.  I had a thin crust pizza which was larger than most individual-sized pizzas that I have had previously.  The toppings were Bolognese spicy beef, pepperoni, peppers, onions, and olives - it was very good.  I also had a few local beers, called Sagres, which I liked.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 10th/15....

The buffet breakfast at the Fatima Hotel was just mediocre at best.

The Dominican abbey of Santa Maria da Vitoria at Batalha is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture - it is one of the most fascinating pieces of such architecture within Portugal. 

Beside a glorious beach in a sweeping bay backed by steep cliffs, the fishing village of Nazare is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Portugal.  We stop here for lunch on our own.  This is a popular bus stop for tourists, many of whom like to enjoy a lunch of sardines.  

I walked around the town and found a small bakery which sold small individual pizzas to-go.  The pizza had a generous sprinkling of small bits of ham and the crust was more like a potato or egg bread.  It also had some type of Portuguese cheese - it was tasty.  After the pizza, I found a gelato ice cream shop where I got a delicious multi-berry flavor.

This enchanting hill town of Obidos with pretty white-washed houses is enclosed within 14th century castellated walls.  The town has been restored and preserved as a picture-postcard town, and a popular tourist stop. 

We received the last tour guide’s treat of cherry liqueur in a chocolate cup - this is a local favorite.

Dominating the town is the castle, rebuilt by Alfonso Henriques after he took the town from the Moors in 1148.  Today it is a charming hotel.....

After visiting Obidos, we drove back to Lisbon and checked in to the same hotel at which we originally started the trip - the Turim Avenida Liberdade.  I extended my stay at Trafalgar’s hotel for two extra nights so that I could connect with the AMA Waterways Tour on July 13th.  I was on my own for the two extra days/nights.  The AMA Tour was staying at another hotel just a few blocks away.

Before going to dinner, the Trafalgar tour guide distributed a gift to all those who had been on a prior trip with Trafalgar.  It was a bottle of tawny port -  a nice gesture.  I packed it in my suitcase and it arrived home safely with me.

The farewell dinner was included in the Trafalgar tour.  It was held at the Brasserie Flo Lisbon which was a very nice restaurant, and we were greeted at the front door with a glass of Champaign.  At the tables, we received the usual olives and hard rolls.  For the appetizer, I selected the carpaccio of beef with shavings of parmesan cheese; the beef was raw and sliced paper thin.  It was excellent, especially with the bread roll and wine.  I had the fillets of bream fish, which was also excellent.  The dessert was apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, and they included petit fours and espresso coffee.  It was one of the best meals that we had on the trip.  

This was the end of the guided tour.  I will write a review and criticism of the Trafalgar trip on the last day of this trip.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (late March/16))....

Pelicans on the roof of the fishmarket.  They do not look quite the same as the ones in Southern California.....

It never gets really hot here, like for example in Tassie or northern New Zealand.   But the sunshine is pretty much non-stop....

Most of the tourists have gone home  - much quieter here now.  Last week was return to school for the kids at the local university, so I guess the parents went back to Santiago. 
Days are getting noticeably shorter now, but still sunny and warm.

New bike path in Valdivia - only a block from where I live, closer to downtown.  The bike path is brand new, and I think it is a great effort by the city to encourage safe cycling.  But in this one spot, it just didn't quite work out.....

Photos belong to Jaro Franta

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 9th/15....

Again, we had a nice buffet breakfast at the AC Hotel Porto.  Today was a full day in which we covered a lot - I thought it was one of the most interesting days, although all the days were interesting to one extent or the other.  The first site that we visited was the Bucaco Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel located in the National Forest of Bucaco - it is now one of the great hotels of Portugal.

We did not have a lot of time, and there was no guided tour, however walking around the hotel and the gardens was very pleasant.   I regret not walking into the hotel and taking a few photos - I guess that I became mesmerized with the outside. 

The tour director had another treat for us - I do not know the Portuguese name but it was like an apple turnover -  it was fresh out of the oven and very tasty.  I skipped lunch today.

Coimbra University was the next stop.  It is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and the oldest university in Portugal.  We received a guided tour of two areas in the old part of the University - the chapel and the library - photos were not allowed inside either area. 

When J. K. Rowling was putting together ideas about Hogwarts and its students’ dress for the Harry Potter books, she supposedly used the robes used by the students at Coimbra University.  Rowling lived and wrote some of the Potter books in Oporto.

Conimbriga is the largest and most extensively excavated Roman site in Portugal.  We got to the ruins by first entering the Monographic Museum.  The Museum explained the history and layout of the site and had exhibits of Roman busts, mosaics, and coins.

The Casa das Fortes, dating from the first half of the 2nd century, is under a protective cover but walkways provide a good view.  Its pictorial mosaics and fountains, rare survivals, which give the house its name, form a strong image of the Roman taste for good living. 

Tomar was especially important in the 15th century when it was the center of Portuguese overseas expansion under Henry the Navigator.   Our tour guide gave us a guided tour of the Convent. 

Fatima was the last stop today.  This shrine was established to commemorate the appearances of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children.  This complex is huge - at one end of the plaza is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and at the other end is the new church, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, which is the fourth largest Catholic Church in the world.  The capacity of the new church is 8,000 to 9,000 persons. 

This shrine draws Catholics, many in large groups, from all over the world.  There was an Italian group of well over a hundred persons staying at the same hotel that we did.  There are nightly candle-light processions around the plaza.  

We stayed at the Fatima Hotel which was a nice, large hotel directly across the street from the shrine.

We had an included dinner at the Fatima Hotel.  It was a simple but good meal.  We started with a mixed green salad and bread, the main course was roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables and the dessert was a peach-half with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Wine was included as usual, but I had a few cokes.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Friday, 25 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 8th/15....

We had a nice buffet breakfast at the AC Hotel Porto.   The first stop in Oporto was the Stock Exchange (Palacio da Bolsa) -  for those interested in architecture, the Stock Exchange is well worth a visit. 
Gustave Eiffel ( Eiffel Tower in Paris) worked in Oporto for a time, and had offices in the palace.

The highlight of the palace is the Arab Room, built between 1862 and 1880 by Goncalves e Sousa.  The room is decorated in the Moorish Revival style, and is used as a reception hall for personalities and heads of state. 

We then walked through the city toward the Ponte de Dom Luis I Bridge, which crosses the Douro River.  Next, we viewed the Tower of the Clerics, and then we walked along the exclusive Aveneda dos Aliados.

We stopped at the Sandeman Winery for a tour and wine tasting.  Our tour guide gave us another treat, a piece of heart-shaped chocolate which went well with the port wine.  I skipped lunch today.

A boat ride and dinner was an optional excursion for €49.   We received an aperitif of port wine on the boat.  The boat ride afforded us the opportunity to take photos of Oporto from the river and also of the famous six bridges.

Immediately after the boat ride, we walked to the restaurant, Chez Lapin, for the dinner.  We started with a fancy, large salad with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, a crab/tuna dip.  There was a long, sliced choric (spicy) sausage on a skewer in a long dish with some alcohol - the alcohol was alighted, and after several minutes, the flame was extinguished.  We then slid the slices off the skewer - it was something different.  We had a choice for the main course - roast loin of pork or rabbit.  I had the pork with roasted potatoes, onion rings, and slices of pineapple.  It was excellent, and those who had the rabbit said it was also excellent.  For dessert, there was chocolate cake and the wine was excellent.  Everyone enjoyed the meal - this was one of the best meals that we had on the trip.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco 

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 7th/15....

At the Hotel Grao Vasco, we had a buffet breakfast which was alright but not exceptional. 

The scenery in Douro Valley surpassed what I expected to see.  The photos were taken from a bus -  there was a haze and some reflection on the windows.   They give a taste of what is to come on the second half of the trip, with the AMA river cruise down the Douro. What one sees in these photos are unending vineyards and olive (and various fruit) trees planted on rolling hills. 

The Trafalgar Tour of the Mateus Palace Gardens did not include the inside of the Palace.  However, the AMA Waterways Tour on July 19th did include the inside.  The manor house was conceived to present carefully created vistas and series of mirror images.  The first thing visitors see is a formal pool reflecting the manor house, and in the pool is the intriguing statute of a woman lying on her side.

For most visitors, the lasting memory is of the vast cedar tunnel, which was formed from cedars planted in 1941.  It is 115 feet long and 25 feet high, the tight-knit greenery providing an aromatic walk in summer.  To keep it in shape, gardeners have to scale specially fashioned outside ladders.

Port comes only from a demarcated region of the upper Douro valley, stretching 62 miles to the Spanish border. There are essentially two categories of port - red and wood-aged.  The former are deeper in color and will develop after bottling; the latter, including tawny ports, are ready to drink when they are bottled, and white port is in a category of its own.   If I remember correctly, we received a small glass of port after every dinner during the entire trip (both Trafalgar and AMA).  One time we received white port as an aperitif.  Port is usually an after-dinner drink, is sweeter than normal wine, and can complement desserts, chocolate, nuts, cheeses.   Personally, I am not that fond of port but many people, especially the British, like it very much.

We received just a short guided tour of Guimaraes; then we were left to our own to sightsee, take photos and have lunch.   A short walk from the Largo da Oliveira, there is a very nice photo opportunity of the church, Our Lady of Consolations and St. Passos.   For lunch,Gelato ice cream.

We were scheduled to stay two nights in Oporto, which is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, and one of the major highlights of the trip.  Oporto, unlike Lisbon, did not suffer from the earthquake of 1755, therefore, Oporto’s buildings are older than most of Lisbon’s.

We arrived later in the day and immediately checked into the AC Hotel Oporto.  In the evening, we went to Oporto’s western suburbs, which face the Atlantic Ocean.  We had dinner at a local restaurant and had time afterwards to walk along the sea shore and take some photos.

We had a very nice, included dinner at a local restaurant which overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.  There was the usual olives and bread, and we started with a crab dip with small slices of toast.  As an appetizer, we had fish fritters, cheese fritters, non-pork meat balls and then pumpkin soup.  For the main dish, there was sliced roast beef, roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach.  For dessert, key lime pie with bits of pineapple and there was the usual unlimited wine served.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (mid March/16))....

The latest arrival in Valdivia - missed the big event last Saturday.
Looks to be some sort of world tour boat - notice the world map just aft of the front mast.

Seems they have their itinerary marked out on it...
Noticed it was moored in the harbor today, as I biked by on my daily training ride, but I did not stop.  Maybe tomorrow, I will drop by with the camera for a closer look.
Next morning, went to take a look at that new boat. Very nice.....

Photos belong to Jaro Franta

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 6th/15....

The Mar de Ar Muralhas hotel offered a buffet breakfast  - the hot selections did not interest me.

The first activity of the day was to drive to Castelo de Vide.  There seems to be a lot of hilltop castles and towns in Portugal, which is more scenic and picturesque than I thought it would be.  Castelo de Vide is a small town where we stopped for coffee and a snack.  Our tour guide had another treat for us -  a pastry using unleavened dough.  It was topped with apples and cinnamon and baked, cut into squares, and was very tasty.

For lunch, we stopped at a modern shopping mall in Castelo Branco.  At one of the food booths, I ordered a chicken soup with orzo type pasta; it tasted like home-made soup. I also had a vegetable crepe and a coke.

Viseu’s history spans millennia and has been a major crossroads since the time of the Romans - during the Middle Ages, the city often served as the court for various Visigoth nobles. The city and region are famous for its Dao Wine - fruity reds for younger drinking; and fresh, dry whites and deeper, richer reds which retain their fruit with age.

We did not get a guided tour, but we had time to walk around on our own.  There is a nice, rather large central park area with two fountains.  There is also an impressive ajulejos, painted ceramic tiles, presenting a history of Viseu.

We stayed at another nice hotel, the Hotel Grao Vasco, named after one of Portugal’s great 16th century artists. 

In the evening, we had an Optional Excursion for a visit to the Casa do Insua Palace for dinner at a price of €45.   It is presently a hotel, which is famous for its gardens and gourmet dinners.   We received a guided tour of the gardens - very impressive.  We entered the manor house for a tour and then we entered a courtyard where we had sparkling wine. Then we were seated in a dining room for one of their famous gourmet meals.  Based on my memory, the dinner was excellent and included Red and white Dao wines, which were among the best that we had on the trip.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco