Thursday, September 29, 2016

Trip to Portugal (September 2016),,,

Kristin and I had a trip to Spain and Portugal in September together with the Songs (Phil and Mindy) and the Lims (Paul Sungjin and Young Kim). I posted a separate blog for the trip to Spain. Please click here to go to the blogpost. Also, I posted a separate blog that dealt with the foods and drinks of Spain and Portugal. Please click here to go to this blog post.

Portugal has a population of 10.5 million and is part of the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The Iberian peninsular has three major rivers and they divide Portugal into three regions.

It once was a strong country reaching out to colonize several countries in Africa, Latin America and even Asia. There are several countries that speak Portuguese as their official language, including Brazil, Mozambique, Angola and East Timor.

In recent years, Portugal was included in troubled PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) nations in Europe, which required bailout. But, Portugal adopted a strict austerity policies and has been able to pay off all the debt borrowed from IMF.

Algarve:  Out first stop in Portugal was Algarve. Algarve is the southernmost region of continental Portugal. It has a 5,000 sq. km with 450 thousand permanent inhabitants living in 16 municipalities. This region's administrative center is Faro where both the region's international airport and University of Algarve are located.

Tourism and related activities are extensive and make up the bulk of  the Algarve's summer economy. Algarve is the most popular tourist destination in Portugal and one of the most popular in Europe, particularly U.K. Its population swells to nearly 1.5 million in the peak holiday season. Algarve receives an average of 7 million foreign tourists every year and almost 10 million tourist including national visitors. It is also considered one of the attractive places for overseas retirees.

It was a charming beach town. Many white-colored houses built on the hills shone like glasses reflecting the sunlight. The sand beach shore was clean and quiet. It must be out of the peak season. Many merchants were lined up in the alleys and on the streets from town to the beach. You could kill good amount of time with window shopping alone if you enjoy it.

We had lunch at a beachfront restaurant enjoying the ocean view and sea breeze.

One thing that I learned about Portugal is that it is the largest producer and exporter of cork products. When I heard of cork products, I was automatically thinking of corks for wine bottles. But amazingly, corks are used for all purposes, such as bags, shoes, clothes, umbrellas, hats etc. Cork is produced from cork oak tree barks. These barks are peeled and treated extensively to turn into a material that looks like fabric. Cork is known to have characteristics of being elastic, light, hypoallergenic, durable, waterproof, and easily cleaned. Wow... Did you know? I stopped by a few stores and they were full of cork products. Here are some photos. Yeap! They all are cork products.

Lisbon:  Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal. Approximately 650 thousand people call this city their home but the greater Lisbon has 2.5 million inhabitants. It is claimed to be the least expensive capital city in the Western Europe. In 1755, Lisbon had a major earthquake that had a magnitude of 8.5-9 and it destroyed the city almost completely, further devastated by a tsunami that followed. The earthquake produced an estimated 60,000 casualties and is considered one of the worst earthquakes in human history. The current city has since been rebuilt.

Lisbon has an aqueduct that was built by King John V primarily to supply fresh water to the city that lacked fresh water because the River Taugus was salty, too close to the ocean. Its length in Lisbon alone stretches 14 km and it is part of a 58 km network.

Currently the aqueduct is not in use. The aqueduct has a pedestrian walk on top of it and was widely used by all citizens. Farmers used it as a bridge to carry their produce to the city to sell and the nobility used it as a strolling place for the city and ocean view.

One thing to note is that this aqueduct structure stood up during the devastating 1755 major earthquake that flattened the city.

The sidewalks of Lisbon and many other cities that we visited are paved with art works made primarily of black basalt and white limestone. These pavements are made in a variety of designs, such as waves, leaves, people, flowers, geometric shapes. Whatever they may be, they all were just beautiful.

Rossio is Lisbon's downtown square. It has several landmarks including a fountain and monuments. It is connected to the famous pedestrian street, Avenida da Liberdade that reaches Baixa, a plaza by the beach. We did not have enough time to explore this street and plaza.

Belem is a district within in Lisbon at the mouth of River Taugus. Belem came from Bethlehem. It includes Jeronimos Monastery, a cathedral and Belem Tower, a military tower and Monument to Discoveries. Also famous about Belem is Postre de Belem, a custard-looking sweet. Please see a separate post on foods and drinks of Spain and Portugal.

Jeronimous Cathedral and Monastery
Belem Tower
Monument to Discoveries
Fado is a type of music that belongs to Portugal. It is an urban folk music and called the soul of Portugal. Fado means fate in Latin. It does not include any dancing, but the way Fado singers sing penetrates into the souls of the listeners, but it could also be quite boring unless you understand what it means. Fado has been designated as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

Image result for fado portugal

Bullfighting: - Portugal has its own version of bullfighting. Portuguese people claim that they do not kill the bulls in public, but the wounded bulls from the fight with human beings are killed in private behind the walls. Well... I am not sure what the difference may be.

Lisbon and Portugal were liberated from the Moorish ruling in the 12th century, a lot sooner than Spain where the Moors continued to rule until the 15th century.

Christ the King statue (Cristo Rei in Portuguese) is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ overlooking the city of Lisbon. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited that monument. The project was initiated in 1941, but the actual construction began almost 18 years later in 1959 and completed in 1969. The height and the width of the statue is equally 28 meters, and it stands at the height of 79 m from the ground. This was built to express gratitude to Christ the King for sparing Portugal from the World War II.

The statue of Christ the King is overlooking the April 25 Bridge that connects the Belem and Almada in Lisbon with His arms wide open. April 25th is celebrated as Freedom Day, freedom gained in 1974 through the bloodless "Carnation Revolution" from a decade long dictatorship.

While we were visiting the statue, a tragic incident occurred. A young man jumped down from the height to the concrete ground to commit a suicide. He died on site. It was unfortunate and tragic.

On a free day in Lisbon, we took a look around the surrounding areas of Lisbon, including Sintra, Cascais and Estoril.

Sintra: Sintra came from the name of a mountain, 750m high. This town, located 25 km from Lisbon, is a cute village. The Moors built a castle at the top (11th century) and the Portuguese King ?Alfonso built a palace in the 14th century. Subsequently, the nobility built their homes close to the palace, thus accelerating the development of the area.

Castle Wall at the mountain top

The palace showed the evolution of technology used for producing tiles from the Moorish legacy in the 11th century to the Chinese porcelain in the 16-17th century. It also has many rooms each of which has a story. Among them were the Swan Room and the Magpie Room.

Sintra has been designated as the UNESCO cultural landscape heritage site.

Cascais: This town used to be a fishing village, but now is bustling with luxurious houses for the celebrities, politicians, sports stars and the rich people. We walked over to the Bay of Fishermen passing through streets full of shops and street merchants. At the Bay of Fishermen, there was a small plaza. Two groups of young people were beating their drums like there were about to embark a war. They were sweating heavily and the drum sounds were making our ears numb.

We also passed by Guinsho Beach famous for surfing thanks to wonderful sea waves.

Cascais is equivalent to Malibu in California.

Estoril: This town is located only 3 km from Cascais. It is famous for Casino Estoril, believed to be the largest in Europe. Estoril is called the city of the spies, providing a gathering place for spies from many countries.

Nearby, there is Hotel Placio, a luxurious hotel. Among the guests at Hotel Placio was Ian Flemings. His first 007 James Bond book was "Casino Royale", referring to Casino Estoril. It was later filmed and remade a few times, including the most recent one with Craig Daniel as the Bond in 2006. Thus, Estoril is considered the birthplace of 007 James Bond.

It was noteworthy that Spanish King Juan Carlos spent his last years here.

Unfortunately, the Lims had to return to Los Angeles from Lisbon via Madrid because of the Reverend Dongsun Lim's critical health condition. Paul Lim is a nephew of Rev. Lim. Approximately 10 days later, Rev. Lim passed to be with the Lord. Rest in peace, Rev. Lim.

Obidos: We had a comfort stop at Obidos, a small medieval town surrounded by the city wall that is well preserved. Unfortunately, the day we visited was quite foggy with very low visibility. To reach the Santa Maria Church, you need to pass through an alley that is full of shops.

Obidos is a producer of Ginja, a Portuguese brandy with ginja berries injected and served in small chocolate cups.  See more in a separate blog. Click here.

Porto: Porto is the second largest city in Portugal with its population of 350 thousands. The greater Porto has a population of 1.5 to 1.8 million people. It has the River Douro flowing by the city. The River Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, flowing from its source near Duruelo de la Sierra in Soria Province across northern-central Spain and Portugal to its outlet at Porto.

We walked around the city visiting the bell tower, the main square, train station and the cathedral. The street going down from the Bell Tower to the main square was quite hilly reminding us of San Francisco's hilly streets. The train station was covered with tile artworks and street sidewalks were paved with mosaic arts made of black basalt and white limestone pieces. Porto is considered one of the oldest European cities because Portugal was able to avoid the destruction associated with the World War II.

After a port wine tasting at Sandeman, we took a boat cruise on the River and the scenery was gorgeous with colorful buildings, outstanding city landmarks and the surrounding natural beauty. The river had 6 bridges 2 of which were designed by Mr. Eiffel who designed the Paris Eiffel Tower.

Porto and its neighboring city Gaia are considered the largest producer and exporter of port wine. See more details in a separate blog. Click here.

Guarda: We had a comfort stop in Guarda close to the board with Spain. It did not have much, except a cathedral at the top of the hill. I walked up to the roof, but indeed there was nothing much to see. With flowers, however, the cathedral photo came out pretty.

Soon after we left Guarda, we returned to Spain to finish up our trip via Salamanca and Avila.

It was a journey full of rich history, beautiful scenery, delicious food and drinks, and friendly people. I cannot be thankful enough that we had this opportunity to travel to Portugal. - Jeffrey

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