30 March 2012

Afonso Henriques
Guimarães is an important historical city of Portugal.  Its history traces back the 9th century, the formation of Portugal, the birthplace of Portugal nationality.  Probably it's because the first Portugese Alfonso was borne here.  The town centre is Unesco historical site. This year, 2012, Guimarães is chosen as the European Capital of Culture.  It explains the tourist crowds.

Our first unplanned spot is Guimarães Vila Flor Palace and Cultural Centre.  The palace was constructured in mid-17th century.  It is decorated with granite statues of the first kings of Portugal and surrounded by a 3-terraced garden.  It was refurbished in 2005 when a Cultural Centre of the same name as built.

The second spot waiting to welcome us is the Church of S. Francisco. Inside the decoration is rich.  Gathering or mass was in place when we entered.  We were picked by a man working there, led to the front left hand corner when an old man was talking about the church to a tiny group of French.  Well, it's not a paid tour but the man working there conducting the tour costless, from a passion of loving the church and country to showcase the beauty.  Further inside is a beautiful courtyard.  The building also serves as an elderly home.  Old people moving, resting...... It looks like a place of antiquity.

We then took a detour to appreciate the beautiful Church of S. Gualter with two spires.  The construction began in 18th century but the spires were added in 19th century.  We did not visit the inside but headed to the historical centre due to short of time.  The morning light put the church facade in a shadow.  Photo shoot is best in the afternoon.

Slowly we arrived at the Square of Santiago.  It is believed as the earliest settlement in Guimarães, founded by Frankish knights who came with Count Dom Henrique, the father of Portugal’s first king. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Guimarães.  A cosy pleasure to have lunch sitting in the open square.  Well, don't have high expectation of the food.

Next to the square stands the Church of N. Sra. de Oliveira, Romanesque style, construction dated towards the end of 14th century.  Inside the church decoration is minimal.  I like the raw form.

Heading north from the square of Santiago took us to the Palace of the Dukes of Brangança.  It was built in early 15th century by Afonso, Count of Barcelos, the illegitimate son of John I of Portugal.  16th century marked the decay of the palace.  In 19th century local people turned it to a personal quarry.  Until 1910 it was classified as national momument and became the official residence for the presidency.

Around the palace are the Chapel of S. Miguel, the first king was baptised according to legend, and Guimarães Castle.  It is dated back to 10th century, constructed to defend against Muslims and Norman attacks.

Guimarães is not only the few tourist spots but has its charm with the medieval atmosphere.  A few shots of the architecture around to leave you a final impression. 

Our last stop is a cafe in a very beautiful building.  Once into the opened-door venue, the sight was elderly people chatting to spend the afternoon together.  Even the waiter was aged. The hot chocolate and coffee were sweet.  A feel of going through a time tunnel.......  Next to the coffee house is the wall showing 'Aqui Nasceu Portugal', Portugal was born here.



29 March 2012

Braga will be the first city in Portugal going to heaven as once every other building in Braga was a church or seminary.  Today, churches are still abundant in this relatively small city. Once entered into the city centre, you will feel the intensive religious atomsphere around.  First, Easter Semana Santa banners hung everywhere prior to the festival.  Church is more frequently seen than in other cities.

The city is clean and bright.  Buildings have been restored. Flowers were everywhere.  Well, it's lots of money to make the city beautiful.  Not all European cities are lavishly decorated with flowers. 

Braga can be reached from Porto by suburbano.  The journey lasts about 1 hours 10 minutes, costs 3 Euro.  A quicker suburbano runs some time, 15-20 minutes less.  Or you can take IC train which cost 10 Euro.  My experience, take the suburbano from Sao Bento.  Taking out the travelling time, you can still enjoy a good full day in Braga and the nearby Bom Jesus.

Before leaving the city to visit Bom Jesus, take a trip to visit the Palacio do Raio (or Casa do Mexicano) with a beautiful unique blue tile facade.

Time to take care of the stomach, a decent lunch.  We walked around and bumped into Ferreira Capa.  It is a nice bakery.  You can order your customised sandwich. Their multi-grain bread was gorgeous, comparable to the quality in Germany. Or order any choice of their daily special.  We paid 10 Euro for a dish of pork with potatoes, customised sandwich, a coke, a tart. Good value!  Braga is a living town.  Restaurants and bakeries are every where.  Full meal seems too much.  Ferreira Capa is modern.  The other bakeries are rather traditional and serve mostly sweet.

Ask the Tourist Information (with lunch break) on where to get a local bus to Bom Jesus.  It runs every 20 minutes.  Upon arrival, you can choose to walk up or take a tram climbing the slope for you.  We walked. It's not difficult.  Believe me.  The bonus is to see the art of chapel dotted along the way.  A scene in each chapel recalls the way Jesus to death.  It reminded me on the visit in Varese.

Once you have the view of the Bom Jesus, turn around and enjoy a panoramic view of Braga.  Of course, admire the marvelous architecture of the great church.  The style is rare, though not unique.  The church in Lamego is similar but Bom Jesus is more famous.  Statues stand proudly on the staircase. 

Hop inside the church for an appreciation of the art.


Vila Real

2 April 2012

Vila Real is the 'must stop' for Casa de Mateus if tourist is taking a bus from somewhere.  Say, one way trip to Porto over an hour and cost 9 Euro. From there one can take a connecting bus.  The first impression of Vila Real is neat and tidy, organised and everything refurbished.  It is a small town (less then 25,000 population) but affords to beautify to impress.  Houses are very nice and in a good state.  I can't remember seeing any decadent houses.

Walking down to the end of the main street (Avendia Carvalho Araujo) will lead you to a panoramic view of a valley.  You will see a few houses scattering, in progress highway construction, part of a river and terreaced fields.  Very green and charming!


Igreja S.Paulo
We visited a few churches. Two are Igreja S.Paulo and the cathedral. The first embedded in the shopping area with tile panels inside. The Cathedral is Romanesque style, raw and appealing. The rose window is very modern, however.


Vila Real Se/Cathedral

Before we headed to Casa de Mateus, we looked for a lunch venue. It is written that Nova Pompeia frequented by locals during lunch. A good hint! We found the right street and number but the name was different, sort of a cafe. Then we asked a man sitting outside the restaurant and reading newspaper. He said here it was the restaurant to clear my doubt. Then I asked further if the food was good. Here is his answer: 'I have to say it is good as I am the owner.' We all burst into laughter and we headed to the upper floor, brighter, airy and more inviting for a long sitting.

Our lunch is delicious and very good value.  Seafood risotto, mixed grill meat with potatoes and vegetable, nice bread with butter and 2 other condiments, a glass of white wine, a coke and an expresso.  Yummy!  The owner was very attentive and assured we enjoyed everything.  It is another endorsement that Portuguese are very nice people and helpful.  Like!!!

Nova Pompeia
Avendia Carvalho Araujo 82


Casa de Mateus

2 April 2012

Casa de Mateus best represents the flamboyance of Baroque architecture in Portugal.  It was not known for two centuries until it was depicted on the label of Sogrape's Mateus Rosé. The construction started in early 18th century and completed in 1743, probably by Niccolo Nasoni, who also built the Cathedral and Clerigos Tower in Porto.  The owner was Jose Botelho Mourao.  Its descendants are living in the house.  Parts of it and the garden are open to the public to admire the exquisite and symmetry of the architecture.  A pool was added in 1930, reflects the main facade and the two harmonious wings.  In it lies a half naked drown woman by Joao Cutilerio.  
Visiting the garden alone cost 6 Euro.  A joint ticket including the house will have 9 Euro out of your pocket.  The tour starts with the Entrance Hall, a symetric wooden hall with antique furniture, clock and paintings on the wall.  The visit also includes the Four Season Room, Library and the Family Chapel.  A nice taste of the old days.

Visit the garden is a pleasure.  3 gardeners were working industriously.  The luxe green is pleasing.  Most people like the dark cedar tunnel.  But I prefer the green, beautiful flowers and friendly dogs. 
They did not bark fiercely but were lay back and welcome your approach.

Nice time went quick.  We needed to say sweet goodbye. One last glimpse of the elegant mansion.

Casa de Mateus is connected to Vila Real by a regular bus.  Refer to the time table as of spring 2012 to plan for your visit and departure.  It costs one Euro one way.  The journey around 10 minutes.  After getting off the bus, expect still walking 100 to 200 metres to be at the entrance.