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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Portugal: Guimaraes, Braga

We left San Miguel this morning for Porto but we didn't actually see any of Porto as our schedule indicated. We went to Guimar√£es which is considered "The Cradle of Portugal" and had a quick lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes. There was quite a beautiful church (as there are in almost every corner of Portugal) with an equally beautiful park in front of it that was several blocks long.  

After my quick salted codfish cake lunch, we visited the castle where the first king of Portugal was born. While walking to get there, I saw some cute home with lots of flower baskets decorating the balconies; no laundry only flowers.  





There were many university students celebrating the end of their studies but they have an interesting tradition where they celebrate their success in May and write their exams in June; so technically, they have not yet passed their courses. In the picture below, the students are dressed in outfits reminiscent of Harry Potter - for those Potter fans. Apparently that's no coincidence because JK Rowlings who is the author of the books was married to a Portuguese man and spent some time in Portugal so she took her inspiration for the outfits from the students there. If you look closely, you'll see a ribbon on the girl's arm. The colour of the ribbon represents the faculty that the student is in. Quite interesting. The whole place could have been Hogsmeade Village for all I knew.

Later in the afternoon we headed for our final destination of the day - Braga. Except for Fatima perhaps, Braga is known for its religious significance and with all the baroque churhces. We arrived at our hotel which was a converted monastery called Bom Jesus do Monte. We had to go up a winding mountain road to get to it but once there, it was an amazing site. Set high in the mountains, my room had a lovely view of the valley and the church across the courtyard (pictures below).
 
 




There was a church service at 6pm but I chose to use the time to walk down the 600 steps of a stunning zigzag baroque staircase to the bottom of the hill we drove earlier in the afternoon to get to the top. Just in case no one believed that I walked down and up the 600 steps, I took pictures along the way of stations that represent the Passion of Christ. Traditionally, pilgrims used to climb the stairs on their knees and would arrive at the church at the top. They would stop to pray at the stations so that's what I took pictures of. There are about 15 of them - just to say that I did it. If you look carefully, you'll see that although some of them look the same, they are different.
 


















 
  About half way up, the beauty of the zigzag baroque staircases is breathtaking. See for yourself.
 
We had dinner at the restaurant across the courtyard and as usual, I had fish. The fish and seafood is quite good here and mostly fresh (not frozen). During dinner, a heavy fog rolled in so that by the time we walked across the courtyard back to the hotel, the church was shrouded in an etherial fog that made me feel like something divine was about to happen. I am going to bed feeling tired but happy for no particular reason.
 

  
sandra

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