Portugal to Spain 05/03-09/2023

We began the first of the three days on a tour of the Sanctuary of Fatima, a holy place. This is the place where three young shepherd girls saw the apparition of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. We went first to the fountain that is filled with holy water and we dipped our hands under the running water. Next we visited the church built on the site and paid our respects and said our prayers. The next stop was a visit to a local store where Kathy bought a rosary that had a small vial of holy water nestled in the string of mother of pearl beads.

The tour group next headed off to a world heritage site, the Batalha Monastery, where we learned the history surrounding the building of the church and the architectural history that made it so special. Our next stop was Obidos, a charming medieval village with an historic castle. The narrow streets inside the castle walls reminded us of old world villages with shops on both sides of the crowded streets and vendors hawking their goods. Unfortunately, there was a gaming convention going on inside the castle walls at the same time, so we were also surrounded by gaming geeks everywhere we went! We then got back into the van where we traveled along the ocean road that gave us spectacular views of the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped at one of the most famous surfing areas where only the bravest of brave dare the waves, the town of Nazarȇ. Several records have been set for surfing in Nazarȇ, including the current record of surfing an 86 foot wave!! Last little bit was a disappointing lunch that left much to be desired, but one in which Dave again got to utilize his EMT skills to help a tourist who was choking. Finally back to our hotel, we settled in for the night in order to get ready for our 04:30 am wake up call to fly to Spain the next day.

The morning soon came and we were off. The flight went off without a hitch and we were in Spain working on getting our rental car and we were off before we knew it. Our next stop was the hotel where we dropped off our luggage to be held for the day while we set off in the car. A new rental car, in a foreign city, with no idea of how the GPS worked was a test of our patience. Luckily, we figured out the GPS and we were soon off to find the location where Christopher Columbus set sail from and “discovered” the New World. The place, called Palos de la Fronterre, was anticlimactic and the trip did not live up to the hype of the area. A small area dedicated to the ship was more like a “pit-stop” along the road. So, we quickly set off to discover our next adventure. Soon we arrived at our next stop, one more to our liking, Doñana National Park. We walked the trails and kept our eyes out for birds. The most amazing birds we got to see on our adventure were some white storks nesting on almost every high place available. Occasionally we saw the chicks poking their heads out of the nests in curiosity of what lays below. Tired, but happy, we headed back to the hotel where we relaxed and soon slept the night away…..and part of the next morning.
We would say the morning dawned early, but that would not be exactly truthful. Breakfast included not just the standard European items of lunch meat, cheese, cucumbers, and tomatoes but also included oranges that were right off the trees that lined the boulevard by our hotel. Finally after some more down time in the room we decided to head off and find our meeting place for the next tour set to start at 1 pm. Deciding to walk the three miles to downtown, we loaded the map on our phone and set off to find the meeting point. The journey was quite an adventure as today is the Copa Del Rey Championship soccer match between Osasuna and Real Madrid, and while the match does not start until before dinnertime, 10 pm (yes, you read both right!) the narrow streets were packed with revelers. We determined that the red jerseys of Osasuna outnumbered the white jerseys of Real Madrid probably 100 to 1. Occasionally a rousing song for the team would break out and the masses would join in the singing. It made for quite an adventure and we enjoyed watching the people rally around their teams, even if Dave had to plow his way through the crowds at times. Finally, we started out on our tour, which was a walking tour of both the Cathedral of Seville and the Royal Palace. The church was amazing and we felt truly blessed to be able to see the largest Catholic Church in the world (even bigger than St. Peter’s in Vatican City!) Of course, like many buildings in Spain, it started off as a mosque before the Muslims were pushed out of the area by the Catholics. Around each corner was something new and beautiful to be seen. We climbed to the top of the bell tower (originally a minaret) which provided us with panoramic views of the city of Seville. This again highlighted the sea of red jerseys flooding the streets below. We next visited the palace, which is the world’s oldest palace still in use, and learned about the influences of Moorish and Spanish cultures that helped shape the design of the palace. Feeling thankful that the tour was done, we decided to gobble down some dinner at the very early hour of 5 pm local Seville time. Dave almost had fish lasagna, luckily the wait staff questioned his choice and he grimaced in disgust and decided on the lasagna bolognaise. Finally, similar to how we began our first three days, we ended this day in holy reflection. We attended mass at the Seville Cathedral that we had toured earlier in the day. It was amazing to attend mass in a church 500 years old! It was a beautiful way to end the day. We hoofed it back to the hotel where we remarked that we had walked 10 miles that day from start to finish. We tried to stop at the local McDonald’s to whet our throats along of journey, but apparently Spain does not know the pleasure of milkshakes!! Now it’s time to relax and take some “vitamin I”, aka, ibuprofen.

05/01-03/2023 Lisbon, Portugal Knights who say Ni!!!!!

Our latest trip began like always.  No “knight in shining armor” could save us from the long flights ahead of us. Leaving at 3 pm on Monday, we arrived in Lisbon Portugal at 10:30 am on Tuesday! While this does include the time difference, it still felt painful knowing we could not check into our hotel for several hours. Tired but excited, we hotfooted out the door marching along like knights on a quest for the holy grail, or in this case something to eat! We were not disappointed as we sat at a beautiful bar and had some tapas and a local cheese and meat platter. The locally made goat cheese was excellent, but the meat was a tad bit salty for the two of us. The tapas we tried were deep fried barbeque pork with an excellent dipping sauce. It would have almost been at home in NC, yet was distinct enough to have someone say “this isn’t from around here.” Walking around, we explored the seaside area and just enjoyed the time out and being able to stretch our legs.  Thankfully we were soon able to check into our room and just chill for a bit but then the “let’s go exploring” bug bit us!! Deciding the next knight’s errand was to “find” our meeting point for the next day’s tour, we headed out to find the Hard Rock Café in Lisbon, just a short 15 minute walk away. The quest fulfilled when we arrived at our appointed destination, we felt we were now deserving of a “treat”. That “treat” being a special pastry from Pasteis de Belem, considered the best pastry in the world. Now, how to get there……Soon we were in the back of a tuk tuk with a local guide who took us to the city of Belem to show us some local sights.  Along the way we stopped and we tried the local pastry which lived up to its reputation.  Yum!!  We also visited the Monastary of St. Jerome (built in the year 1501), the Belem Tower, the Wall of Discovery, and an overlook that had great views of Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean.  Soon we were back to the meeting point and decided it was time for dinner.  We dined at a restaurant called Pinóquio (sounds like Pinocchio) where we ate some local dishes and Kathy enjoyed a glass (okay, actually a small pitcher) of Sangria. We then back to our hotel where we crashed for the night since we hadn’t really slept in over 30 hours!

The next day dawned bright and early as we were out the door by 07:30 to meet up with our tour guide to head to the town of Sintra. The day was amazing, and our guide Ophelia was very knowledgeable about the local area.  We arrived at Sintra and toured of the castle of King Ferdinand. The castle was intact with much of the original furnishings from the last kings. The monarchy was abolished in 1910 and at that time the new republic turned it into a museum with the original furnishing still in place. Included inside the castle was much of the art work from the ruling monarch King Ferdinand. The walk up to the castle meandered through the royal gardens which was artwork in itself. Included were some flowing rhododendrons that rivaled many of the bushes that grow in the wilds of NC. After the castle we headed down to the town of Sintra where we wandered around, tried another local pastry shop, and then did some shopping.  Next stop on the tour was the highest point in the Lisbon area and Cabo da Roca which forms the westernmost point of continental Europe. Last stop was the oceanside town of Cascais where we had a lunch which was amazing!! Kathy had her favorite linguini with garlic and olive oil that was revved up with some local peppers to give it some pep!! The meandering drive along the coast back to our meeting point capped the tour off perfectly!!

Last part of the day was chilling for a bit in the hotel room for a couple of hours and then we were off on our next quest.  This quest was a visit to St George’s Castle where we got to reenact some scenes from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Dave climbed the parapets and hurled insults down at Kathy.  (e.g. “Your father was a hamster, and your mother smelt of elderberries!”)  Good thing there were no cows around as he might have started hurling things over the castle wall to keep the invading tourists out!! Wandering the castle grounds was amazing and afforded us with some beautiful views of the city of Lisbon and the coast. Soon a trek back to the hotel with a quick stop for dinner and dessert.  Feeling like we had found our holy grail we settled into the room for the night!