Monday, May 2, 2016

Guarda, Portugal: Along the Monastery Trail

From Lisbon it took us twelve days to reach the Portugal-Spain border.  We went a bit north, followed the coast for a day, and then made a right turn, and since the country is not all that wide, were out of Portugal way too soon.  In this time were several layover days to string together, like pearls on a necklace, visits to palaces and monasteries and Roman ruins and picturesque cities.  Such grandeur and history and beauty, it almost made my head explode.

Warning...there are lots of pictures in this post.  So maybe settle back with a cup of tea.  And don't let your head explode.

Not far north of Lisbon is the town of Sintra, strung out on a steep ridge.  The royals hung out here at the National Palace since the 12th century. 

An addition to my continuing collection of interesting window photos.

The interior of the Palace had lots of period furniture.

At the very top of the hill is the Moorish Castle, a strategic location occupied since the 8th century.

We spent just one windy day along the Portuguese coast.  It was enough -- there was lots of cars on the road and we were a bit frazzled by the time we turned inland.

As we traveled over the inland ridges, old windmills were scattered about, in varying states of repair.  This one was surrounded by a little park and nicely refurbished.  The fence around the space was made of old millstones.

We saw lots of miniature windmills, too.

We ended up in the town of Alcobaca to visit the monastery.  We intended to camp in the municipal campground, but it was closed due to recent austerity measures.  So we found a very inexpensive but wonderful hostel, with a lovely view from the window of our room.

The tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress, Inês de Castro are located in the church.  The story of their relationship is the stuff of legend.  These guys holding up the tomb of King Pedro seem to be resigned to their duty.

Loving those cloisters.

The party always ends up in the kitchen.

Once we left Alcobaca we rode through an area with numerous factories producing roof and building tiles.  An azulejo mural on the side of the road celebrates the tradition.

Our second monastery in Batalha, in all its Gothic glory.

Another nice window for the collection, don't you think?

A detail of the most impressive feature of the monastery, the octagonal Unfinshed Chapel.
En route to our third monastery in as many days, another aqueduct!  This one supplied water to the monks living in Tomar.

Approaching the Convent of Christ in Tomar.

More cloister love, this with Moorish arches.

Followed by some azulejo love.

Most impressive was the round church, the center being octagonal in shape.

I can imagine mnks padding up and down this staircase.

The Manueline style is everywhere, including this whimsical cinch on a column.

Hey! Look at me! I'm a gargoyle!

Of all the monasteries we visited, the one in Tomar gave the best impression of what it felt to be a monk there.  Here John is practicing eating in silence.

The evening view from a stealth camp overlooking the village of Penela.

We spent a morning wandering the dug up ruins of Conimbriga,which is said to be the site of the largest Roman settlement in Portugal. It was located on a busy Roman road and was a center of trade. 

There were several large villas.  What blew us away were the mosaics, nearly completely in tact and in the open air.

The foundations that have been excavated make it easy to imagine the layout of the villas. It is estimated only 10 percent of the city has been excavated.

The Romans sure were clean.  This complex of subterranean water works was one of three bath structures at the site.
We spent a day exploring the university town of Coimbra.

For a small fee you can climb up a tiny spiral staircase for expansive views of the city.
And the second  tier of the covered market provided good views of the day's catch, too.  We went out for lunch and had one of the best fish meals of my life, undoubtedly sourced from one of market's vendors.
We were blessed with stellar weather as we left Coimbra, following Mondego River.

We crossed through an extensive forest area, with warning signs different only in language from the ones at home.
The landscape became gentler as we headed east, but every once in a while there would be a ridge of granite that we would have to climb, offering views of the plains beyond.

Our last few kilometers cycling in Portugal followed an old road that passed beneath the major highway to Spain.  Much quieter and with its rewards.

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