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Posts from the ‘Portugal’ Category

MY JOURNEY SO FAR – A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
– Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa

I loved learning about the history of Cape Town during my time in South Africa. I was grateful for the time I had to reflect on my journey thus far. I especially enjoyed fitting the pieces of the historical “world puzzle” together in a new way while I was here.

Learning about the age of exploration while in Spain and Portugal just a few months ago had a great influence on my understanding of world history while I was in South Africa.

Now, I was able to hear the other side of the story. Now I had a chance to hear the side of the story from a country that was explored. I was able to gain new insights of the effects of the explorers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on these other lands. The lands where the riches and gold were taken. The people were taken.

One thing I finally realized during my time here is that in every country I have ever traveled, there was a people who were injured, wronged and even wrongfully put to death. Sometimes the victor becomes the loser, and sometimes the wronged become the oppressor. I also realize at some point, for the cycle to stop there must be forgiveness. The countries where I have seen an end to cycle of revenge proceeded through a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Unfortunately, all over the world we are reminded of peoples that have not forgiven the past and do not seek peace. Demond Tutu also said that “Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.”

Countries must forgive to get past hurts and move forward. And, likewise, individuals must have forgiveness to move on from the past. I think this is something we all should consider as we move into a fresh new year and do our part to spread peace.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
― Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa

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Lisbon and Other Thoughts

In 1755 Lisbon was all but destroyed by an earthquake, fire and Tsunami. We were able to see glimpses of the old city but our tour of Lisbon became more of a history lesson. To better understand the city we hired a guide who walked us through her city and revealed its secrets. This was a very good choice because points of interest in Lisbon are not clearly posted, therefore on our first attempt we found things, but we were not exactly sure of what we were actually seeing. Claudia walked us through the neighborhoods of her city using public transportation which made the city of seven hills seem like a walk in the park.

The first square had a fountain that was a replica of the fountain in Place de la Concord (Place of Peace). This was an important square of remembrance as it was here that many people had lost their lives during the Inquisition. It was also here that a demonstration was held the last Saturday and another demonstration would be held here this Saturday. It was here in the first square that Claudia raised the economic concerns which is at the forefront of people’s minds today. The day before our tour the president of Portugal has intervened on the Prime Minster’s plan to raise the taxes from 11 to 18 percent. That was not acceptable to the president so the leadership was meeting to try to find another way to solve its economic crisis. Our guide was very concerned for what the solutions would become to resolve the high unemployment and cost of living in Portugal. The unemployment in Portugal was at 14 percent. Much lower that the 25 percent unemployment rate of Spain and 50 percent unemployment rate among the youth in Spain. However, it was clear that the answers to prevent the same type of situation was not apparent. People were leaving the country to find work and the ones that were still employed were taking on more and more of the expenses of the country.

Another main square we came to was where the Carnation Revolution occurred outside of the former dictator’s residence. It was here, in 1974, that the people with the military staged a peaceful revolution and not a bullet was shot which changed the government in Portugal. This was the end of the longest held dictatorship among the European countries. Since that time the dictator’s house has become a military building. The military had been in long campaigns to keep their “holdings” such as the country of Angola. When Portugal won its independence during the Carnation Revolution the other countries under Portugal’s control also won their freedom. Portugal has a president, Prime minister and representatives who have different roles in government. The government in Portugal has three main partries: the social democrats, the socialists and the communist parties.

We walked through an old monastery which is now a pub and considered the tile paintings used on the outside of buildings in Portugal. We walked through the a very touristic section of town that houses many shops and banks on the first floor but whose other floors are primarily vacant on the other floors. In this area people can not afford to live there so the apartments remain vacant. I also enjoyed the walking through the castle of St. Jorge even though most of the castle was torn down and rebuilt by the former dictator Salazar .

It was interesting to use the variety of public transportation in Portugal; The trolley, cable car, bus, elevator, metro. It is very easy to get around Portugal using this public transportation and it was actually a highlight of our trip.

Our guide definitely challenged us to think and was very open about our questions. For me it was difficult to write about our last stop in Europe on this part of our journey. When we were in Lisbon the new cuts in the French budget were announced and the demonstrations in Spain and the meetings with officials from the EU Bank and opinions on Germany’s next steps were highlighted in the news. At this point it does not look like there are the solutions to stop the fall in this economic situation. Many europeans are open and talking about the economic problems, even our taxi driver. As I travel through Europe, I am at an understanding that I do not believe things are solved in Europe and since we are living in such a global financial network I wonder how this situation will continue to affect our country. Economics and politics were never topic that I expected to appear in a travel blog but upon leaving Europe and understanding their crisis better I wonder, how can I not?

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Belem

Outside of the main city of Lisbon, Portugal is a suburb called Belem. Here a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary is located on the site where priests and sailors prayed before a voyage. It has detailed Manueline architecture throughout the monastery. We saw a wonderful exhibit of royal carriages, viewed the Monument to the Discoveries and Tower of Belem. The house of the president, which is pink, is also in Belem but the most important stop is at Pastréis de Belém. The famous pastries of Belem, a recipe given to the bakery by the monks before they left the monastery, have been made here since 1837. The pastries are eaten with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Yum! What a treat.

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Nazare

We stopped in a small town on the coast of Portugal on the way back to Lisbon. Nazare is a wonderful little place where you are calmed by the crashing waves rolling in on the shore. The water became a beam of light in the reflection of the full moon. We walked along the boardwalk taking in the salty air. Every once in a while we would catch a old woman in the traditional dress which included seven layers of skirts which all came to their knees and a head scarf. The seafood was amazing here. It was apparent that the locals tried very hard to communicate with their visitors. What a welcoming community.

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Our Douro Valley Experience

We left from Porto early in the morning for the Douro Valley on a river cruise. It would take five to six hours to pass though three locks and get to our final destination for the night. The hills beside the river were lush with all types of vegetation. We enjoyed the view while visiting with other tourists headed in the same direction. By the afternoon the hills reminded me of the semi-arid desert landscape from my home. However, this landscape was terraced every ten to fifteen feet. On the terraces there were vines everywhere. The lined hillsides were simply breathtaking and I could not take enough pictures. After debarking the ship we and two other couples were directed to leave with the taxi. It was a ride I will not soon forget as we curved our way up, up, up the the hillsides on the switchback roads.

The next morning we waited with the couple from Paris and San Palo, Brazil with our bags. At 10:05 a.m. the Brazilian man finally spoke to the hotel staff in Portuguese about our transport. I could not understand everything, but I did understand the the guide would be there “mas o menos”, more or less; then she looked toward the rest of us and in English said, “It’s okay…this is Portugal.” …And as we found a way to visit with the other couples our guide did find his way to us.
This transport around the Douro was as exciting as the night before, however today it included the hairpin turns at fifty miles an hour. Each time we approached a turn with no visibility the driver would honk his horn twice and push on the accelerator. I learned not to watch as I could hear the gasps of Rita from Brazil. I figured that this guy had lived about thirty years in this place, driving this way; I did not suppose this would be his unlucky day.

We were told that five hundred families in the area sell their wine as part of a cooperative. We would spend the rest of the afternoon on one of those family vineyard learning about the history of the wine, taking part in the processing of wine and having a great fall celebration that included a several traditional course meal, music and dancing.

We learned that when you cut the grapes you must cut from the top as you cradle the grapes with the other hand. In this region they still cut the grapes using traditional methods; to care for the grape and prevent waste. We were to yell out a word the sounded like “Bunco” but I am really not sure as we had already been given several “aperitifs”; Anyway, someone always came running and dumped my bucket when I yelled out. I personally cut five buckets of grapes. It was enough to know that I was not going to change my profession.

At dinner we had our first introduction to a vegetable soup that is made from a potato puree with small bits of carrots and grape leaves. This first course came with a wonderful story about how a woman feed this community, with this particular soup, twice a day during a time when the vines were not producing. She promised the people that if they did not sell their farms she would feed them and in the end the land would be profitable again. I don’t know if the story is true or legend but I do know that there was a time when a pest in the region devastated the vines. The families in this cooperative held on for better days and their vines did produce again. Anyway, many places in Portugal have different variations of this soup and I am eager to perfect my own recipe when I return home.

The courses continued and the wine flowed. As soon as a bottle of wine was empty another appeared. Dinner was also interesting as there were people speaking many languages. We would work hard and use our second languages or others would interpret so we could communicate. When the dancing started the language barrier was completely eliminated.

After dinner we toke our dancing to the large granite tub were the grapes had been placed. The music continued. The landscape, well the entire experience really, reminded me of the movie “A Walk in the Clouds”. It was truly an amazing day.

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Porto

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. We enjoyed our leisurely stay here; walking along the riverfront and tasting the drink of the region. Portugal is makes many very good varieties of wine but they are most famous for Port wine. True Port only comes from this region in Portugal and was originally produced to so that the wine could make the journey to England. England had been in a war with France and they needed another place to get wine; they added bandy in the wine to halt the fermentation process. The British grew fond of this type of wine and the market was born. Every other shop on the riverfront seemed to be selling Port. Our favorite were the shops selling port in thimble size chocolate cups.

We also toured the old stock exchange palace with elaborately decorated rooms which highlighted the resources acquired from countries Portugal had explored. Directly beside the palace, the San Francisco church was overwhelming and dripping with gold. I have been to Assisi, Italy were St. Francis called home; In Assisi the monastery and his belongings demonstrated a humble, unmaterialistic way of living. I could not help but think that St. Francis would not have been very happy about the gold added to this monastery. However, when visiting the church it was easy to see that Portugal, as well as Spain, became exceeding rich in their explorations of the sea.

Porto would be the starting point for our trip up the Douro Valley which provided one of our most memorable experiences. However, first I need to let you know of a wine called Vino Verde or green wine. This type of wine is only found in Portugal. It is a very refreshing wine and has some type of carbonation or bubbles. It is a very crisp wine and if you have a chance to try this wine I would recommend it. Next up, the Douro Valley.

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Salema, Portugal

Morning starts and a tractor pulls the fishing boats on shore with their catch. The fishermen spend hours sorting through their nets and placing the good fish in plastic bins and the bad fish are thrown to the seagulls waiting eagerly nearby. The tourists slowly make their way to their side of the beach with their umbrellas. It is September so the beach is quiet; the summer holiday is over and there are few people left on the beach. The lifeguards sit in the background and visit: “This is the best time to visit the Algarve”. “The sea is warm and the wind stops blowing in September.” The lifeguards work a six month season in Portugal. “We are hired by the restaurant.” In Portugal, the government requires that “if you have a business on the beach you must employ lifeguards. So we watch the beach and sell the beach beds too. July and August is hot and we have to stand out front watching. Now the current is easy. We can relax a bit; Every August I wonder if I want to do this again, then September comes. It’s perfect.”

This is a relaxing town which is easier to get to by taxi than by a bus. It is where fishing and people coming to the beach are the top two industries. The fishermen stay on the east side of the beach and the tourists stay on the sand to the west. The beach is surrounded by layered white, gold and red cliffs. The sea is crystal clear aqua. All morning it is calm and the waves are smooth coming in to shore. Swim out one hundred meters and there is a sand bar on which you can stand. This bar keeps this beach from being to rocky as the waves roll in. In the morning it seems like the sea is a long way from the permanent umbrellas set up by the lifeguards. However, by three in the afternoon the waves roll further in on the shore. Tourists bringing their own umbrellas are surprised by the waves rolling on top of them. They scurry away from the encroaching sea. The lifeguards smile. “It’s the same every afternoon.” We tell them they are camping out to close to the water.

We absolutely loved Salema. After spending a couple extra days we realized that we needed to leave this little piece of heaven or we never would.

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