Portugal – Day 1 – Porto

Today I embarked on a 12 day trip to Portugal. On my trip I’ll be visiting Porto, Lisbon, Sintra, and Cascais. Usually when I fly to Europe I fly via Amsterdam with KLM, or Frankfurt with Air Canada, however this time the best route was via the Azores with Azores Airlines. My first flight was on a a Westjet Boeing 737-700 to Toronto. My second flight was on a brand new Azores Airlines Airbus A321neo LR to Puerto Delgada, Azores. It was only delivered a few days ago, and still have plastic wrap on some items. This was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on in my entire life. Quite a few people got ill, and someone had some cardiac issues from stress, however we didn’t divert due to being so close to the Azores when it occurred. My third and final flight was on an Azores Airlines A321neo (non LR). I was upgraded to business class for both the Azores Airlines flights, which was a nice bonus. The food provided onboard was pretty good too!

After arriving in Porto, I took the Metro, which really was not a metro but rather a light rail vehicle, to my hotel called Miragaia Riverside Suites. The front desk gentleman took the time to show me all the great spots I should visit, and recommended a few restaurants that I should try. After checking in I slept for about two hours to get a bit of sleep before I ventured out to explore.

After waking up I headed out for the evening to do some exploring. Before I dive into what I explored, lets go over Portugal’s history, and Porto’s history.

Portugal History

Let’s take a look at the history of Portugal in brief. People have been living in Portugal since about 30000 BC. The first Portuguese were hunters and fishermen. In 5000 BC farming was introduced. Portugal entered the bronze age in 2000 BC. Around 700 BC Celtic tribes entered Portugal from the North, and introduced them to the Iron age. Around the same time Phoenicians (now Lebanon) was also trading with Portugal for tin to make bronze. In 600 BC the Greeks began trading with the Portuguese.

In 210 BC the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula and began conquering the area. The Roman empire began to decline by the middle of the 3rd century, and by the 5th century the Roman Empire in Portugal collapsed. In 409 AD the Suevi (Germanic people) invaded Portugal, and in 585 the Visigoths (Spanish people) conquered the Suevi.

In 711 AD the Moors from North Africa began to invade the peninsula, taking the south. Portugal received it’s official name in the 11th century. In 1095 the King of Leon granted Portugal to his daughter Dona Teresa and her husband. When her husband died she married a Galician noble, which caused the Portuguese nobles to overthrow her during the Battle of Sao Mamede, which was led by her son Don Alfonso Henrique, who then became ruler of Portugal. Talk about being stabbed in the back by your own family!

After becoming King of Portugal, Alfonso set about recapturing territory from the Moors, and eventually defeated them in Ourique in 1139. In 1147 he captured Lisbon, which eventually became the capital in the mid-13th century. Portugal continue to grow until 1348-1949 when the Black Death wiped out about 30% of the population.

By the late 14th century Portugal was drawn into war when King Fernando died because his daughter Beatriz, who became queen, married Juan of Castile. The Portuguese feared that Portugal would become united with Castile and cease to be independent, so they rose in rebellion. Naturally the King of Castile invaded Portugal to support his wife. This war went on for two years, until the Portuguese army won at the Battle of Aljubarrota. Dom Joao became the King of Portugal, and Portugal remained independent.

In 1386 Portugal made an alliance with England. In the 15th century Portugal’s naval fleet grew significantly, and they ended up capturing Cueta in Morocco in 1415, Madeira in 1419, the Azores in 1427, Tangier in 1471, and Bartolomeu Dias in 1488.

Ever heard of Christopher Columbus from Spain? I’m sure you have; well he set sail and discovered the West Indies in 1492. Because the new lands were south of the Canaries he claimed they were his. This argument was ended with the Treaty of Tordesillas being signed in 1494; with Portugal and Spain agreeing that all new land west of a line 370 degrees west of the Cape Verse Islands would belong to Spain, and anything east belonged to Portugal.

Portugal continued its expansion around the globe establishing colonies in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and even some parts of India. The expansion continued until 1578, when King Sebastian I died in a war in Africa, without leaving a heir. This lead to a steady decline of the Portuguese empire. From 1640-1668 Portugal fought the Restoration War, which restored the King of Portugal, and fended off the Spanish trying to take over Portugal. They also had to fight off Napoleon, which the British helped with.

Portugal began its independence in 1812. A fun fact that many of you may not know is that the ruler of Brazil became the King of Portugal during the 19th century, and the capital city was moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 1808 to 1821. In 1910, the First Portuguese Republic was established after a Republican revolution that also brought on the King’s resignation. It was ended in 1926, in a coup d’état that resulted in a military dictatorship.

In 1933, the Second Republic, also known as Estado Novo (New State), was established by António Oliveira de Salazar. Salazar’s dictatorship was notable for nationalism and isolation, which saved Portugal from being a part World War 1 & 2. He always tried to keep Portugal’s colonies under his rule and many Portuguese had to fight Portugal’s Colonial Wars. This led to the end of Salazar’s dictatorship on April 25, 1974, when the peaceful Carnation Revolution, a military coup d’état, took place. Portugal became a democracy in 1975, and joined the European Union in 1986. Today Portugal has a population of 10.3 million people.

Porto History

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, with a population of 1.7 million. The city center has only 230,000 people, but the metropolis is quite large. Porto is situated along the Douro River, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Porto gets its named from “Oporto”, which translates to “the port”. Pretty self explanatory.

Porto was originally settled in 275 BC by Celtic people. The Roman’s, Moors, and Napoleonic’s then came and occupied the Iberian Peninsula, which we learned about in my writing of the Portuguese history. During the Roman occupation the city was developed as an important commercial port, with trade routes all over the world.

During the 19th Century Porto became known as the city of bridges, with its first permanent bridge being built in 1806. Sadly that bridge didn’t last very long, collapsing only three years later under the weight of thousands of fugitives from the French invasions during the Peninsular War. That bridge was replaced by a suspension bridge called Ponte Pensil in 1843, however only the support pylons still remain today. The Ponte Dom Luis I, designed by Teophile Seyrig, who was a former partner to Gustave Eiffel, eventually replaced this bridge. The final bridge, the Ponte D. Maria railway bridge was opened in November 1843, and was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who created the Eiffel Tower.

Today you can explore some beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in Porto, such as the historic city center, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar. Porto is also home to Port Wine, which a red wine that is fortified with Brandy.

Exploring Porto – Day 1

Bolsa Palace, also known as the Stock Exchange Palace, was built between 1842 and 1910. The palace is located beside St. Francis Church of Porto, which was once part of the St Francis Convent, which was founded in the 13th century. In 1832, during the Liberal Wars, a fire destroyed the cloisters of the convent, but spared the church. In 1841, Queen Mary II donated the convent ruins to the city merchants, who then used the spot to build the seat of the Commercial Association. The project, designed by Porto architect Joaquim da Costa Lima Junior, began construction in 1842. The Neoclassical palace was inspired by the designs of other structures that had recently been built in the city. Most of the palace was finished by 1850, however the interior took until 1910 to complete.

Across from Bolsa Palace is Mercado Ferreira Borges. This large red iron building was built in 1885 and named after a famous politician from Porto that supported the liberal troops during the civil war during the 19th century. It was originally intended to be a market, but was never used as one. It was originally built to replace an older market in Ribeira, however didn’t quite fit its purpose. Instead, it was utilized as a warehouse for military equipment, a community kitchen, and in 2010 it was turned into a nightclub and a restaurant.

There’s a very special McDonald’s on Aliados Avenue housed in a beautiful 1930’s era Art Deco building. The previous tenant was the Imperial Cafe, which had a large copper eagle at the entrance to the building. This eagle is still there, and now proudly showcases the McDonald’s name below. McDonald’s moved into this location in 1995. Of course I had to get myself a double cheeseburger while I was here.

Garagem Do Comercio Do Porto was originally the home of the newspaper “O Comércio do Porto”, but is now used as a parking garage, offices, and housing. The building, designed by Rogerio de Azevedo, was built between 1928 and 1932. This Beaux Arts (Art Deco) style building is quite unique, as the lower floors are used as a parking garage, and due to the shape of the building a helical parking ramp was used.

Edificio do Comércio do Porto is a Beaux Arts (Art Deco) styled condominium complex next door to the parking garage. The building, also designed by Rogerio de Azevedo, was built in 1930.

Culturgest Porto is an Art Gallery is a beautiful Beaux Arts (Art Deco) style building not too far away from the previous two buildings. It was designed by architect Porfirio Pardal Monteiro, and was built between 1924 and 1931. The building even features some neo-classical design features.

Banco Montepio is across the street from Culturgest Porto, and is another stunning Beaux Arts (Art Deco) building.

Municipal Theater Rivoli opened its doors in 1913 as a National Theatre. In 1923, just ten years later, it was updated and became a movie theatre, and could also house opera, dance, theatre, and other concerts. It was designed by Julio Brito. In 1994 the theatre was closed to undergo an extensive restoration, and was reopened again in 1997.

Liberdade Square (Praca Nova) dates back to 1718, when an urbanization project began, which resulted in the creation of some new streets and a new square. The square was limited in size due to he medieval walls of the city, which are no longer there. In 1788 a neo-classical styled convent on the south side of the square was built where the medieval wall once stood. This building is the oldest building that faces the square. During the 1800’s the square became increasingly important, with the municipality moving to the north side of the square in 1819, the D. Luis Bridge being built in 1887, and the Sao Bento Station opened in 1896. It quickly became a political, economic, and social centre for Porto. In 1866 a monument dedicated to King Peter IV was placed inaugured in the middle of the square. The monument was designed by French sculptor Anatole Calmels. In 1916 the municipality building was demolished, and a large boulevard and new municipal building (Porto City Council) was built on the north side of the square.

The Porto City Council building was built between 1920 and 1955. It was designed by architect Antonio Correla da Silva. In the centre of the building is a 70 metre tall clock tower. In front of the building is a statue of a poet named Almeida Garrett.

The Sao Bento Railway station is a beautiful French architecture style railway station that was opened in 1916. It was designed by José Marques da Silva. Inside the building is a beautifully decorated ceiling, and large panels of Azulejo tile that were designed and painted by Jorge Colaço. The murals represent moments in the country’s history and the multicolored panels depict rural scenes showing the people of various regions.

Rue 31 de Janeiro is a street located in downtown Porto that features stunning view of Clerigos Tower, and the history Porto downtown buildings. I will visit Clerigos Tower on another day.

I finished off my day at Colossus Craft Brewery by having a flight of beers; an American Pale Ale, an American IPA, a local double IPA, and a south. The brewery was opened in 2005.

Be sure to check back soon, when I explore more of Porto tomorrow.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

Luxembourg

Today I had to wake up fairly early to catch a 5:00am train to Luxembourg via Brussels, and Arlon. In Brussels I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee at the train station before switching trains. I arrived in Luxembourg at 10:00am and dropped off my bag at the hotel I was staying at; Empire Hotel, which was conveniently located right across from the train station. I then proceeded to walk into the old city, with a quick stop for another sandwich at the supermarket.

First stop was Luxemburgo-Passerelle, a gorgeous viaduct spanning 290 metres long and is 45 metres above the valley below. The viaduct has a total of 24 arches, and is also known as the “Old Bridge”. The viaduct was finished in 1861 to connect the city center with Luxembourg’s new railways station (the one I just arrived on). The railway station was built away from the city center so it wouldn’t detract from the defensive capabilities of the city’s fortress.

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I then proceeded to walk down a narrow road to the valley floor below. In the valley you can see some incredible views of the old town above, as well as Neumünster Abbey. Neumünster Abbey was built in 1688 after the previous two abbey’s were destroyed by fire. After the French Revolution it served as a police station, prison, and as a barracks. Since 1997 it has been home to the European Institute of Cultural Routes.

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Next stop was a lot of stairs to climb back out of the valley and to explore the beautiful views of Neumünster Abbey, and the surrounding valley below, as well as walk through Casemates du Bock, the site of a former fortified castle from 963 AD that has an intricate maze of casemates underneath of it that were used the shelter soldiers, workshops, kitchens, bakeries, etc. The original fortress was destroyed in 1875 after the declaration of neutrality in 1867. The casemates proved to be impossible to destroy, so they were left. 17 km of the original 23 km still remain.

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I then continued to walk around Old Luxembourg overlooking the valley below as well as stopping at Cathedral Notre-Dame, and the Monument of Remembrance. The Monument of Remembrance, a 21 metre tall granite obelisk with a gilded bronze statue representing Nike (Goddess of Victory) was dedicated to the thousands of Luxembourgers who volunteered their service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during both World Wars and the Korean War.

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It was then time to head back for a nap as I was getting tired. I ended up napping from 3:00pm to almost 5:00pm.

I ended up grabbing a salad from the supermarket for dinner and chatting on the phone for a few hours before getting ready for bed. Be sure to check back tomorrow when I visit Prague, Czech Republic!

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

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