Monday, May 16, 2011

Northern Portugal

Cloister of Porto Cathedral

Bridge in Porto

Street (stairs) in Coimbra

Castle and Town in Leiria

Batalha Abbey

Cathedral at Alcobacas

Cloister at Alcobacas
I travelled in the overnight train from Paris to Lisbon. Had to change from the very fast French train at the Spanish border and onto what they call a train hotel . It was very nice but expensive but I was served a 3 course meal (limited choice) with sherry to start and a small bottle of wine. Only problem, it was after 10 pm, way past my usual eating time. Next morning I was given breakfast and I left the train in the north just after 8 am. Fortunately Portugal is on the same time as UK so I had gained an hour. I then changed to a fast train for an hour to the city of Porto. 

This is the 2nd city of Portugal and I loved it. Nicer than Lisbon. The steep streets are far worse than most in Dunedin. Of course Baldwin street must be steeper but then most Dunedinites only use it to show tourists. Porto is situated along a gorge through which the Douro river flows. Luckily there is a funicular to take you back up from the riverside area to the main town and it is included in the metro pass so I mainly only walked down. But even that is risky as in all towns in Portugal with the uneven cobble stones.  I began what has become a very regular visit of churches. I have met some Australians who are trying to limit themselves to one church per day. Very hard. There are some lovely gold and silver altars but they do become a little bit the same after a while. The cloister (Photo 1) of the cathedral had some lovely hand painted tiles which I have also discovered are very common in Portugal.  I had a change in activity by taking a river cruise called the 6 Bridges Cruise up and down the river.  The bridges over the gorge are quite massive. I made the mistake of walking across one of them (Photo 2). But the railing was quite open so I was very glad to reach the other side and caught the metro/tram back again. A trip in a vintage tram to the river mouth gave a different perspective, then it was lunch and yet another church. Lunches in cafes on the river front called the Ribeiria were also very pleasant.

After two nights in Porto, I travelled back by the train to Coimbra where I had left the overnight train. Coimbra has the oldest university in Europe. The students apparently still wear gowns but most were carrying them through the streets. I guess they just wear them in lectures. Ok in winter but it is definitely late spring here now and temperatures are around 28-32’C. The buildings were quite impressive but this time on top of a hill and most of the streets were stairs, the main route is called backbreaker(Photo 3). It was graduation time and a band played in the stadium until 6 am on Saturday morning. I was glad my hotel was over a kilometre away. The main scenic church was under repair and the cathedral was very simple so I just looked in the door rather than pay to enter. I was to visit enough churches later on anyway.

While I prefer travelling by train to bus, the next few days were only possible by bus. I went to Leiria which I used as a base and climbed yet another hill to the ruined castle after visiting its cathedral and later climbed another hill near my hotel for a scenic view of town and castle (photo 4).  Then the next day I used buses to visit Batalha and Alcobacas. Each had a very impressive abbey and monastery. The abbey in Batalha, built in the 15th Century  is astounding (photo 5). The stone work seems to be edged in lace and there are lots of pinnacles, parapets and flying buttresses. Inside the ceiling is very high with beautiful stained glass.  Being Sunday the visit to the attached monastery was free but also the buses were few and far between and I spent 4 hours in a fairly small town. There was a flea market and I had lunch and looked at a dozen souvenir shops but also spent quite a while sitting in the town square and finally went back for a return visit to the abbey.

Fortunately the bus timetable meant I only needed to spend 2 hours in Alcobacas where the cathedral (Photo 6) was less ornate but very impressive in length and height. The monastery refectory and kitchens were also huge. Both monasteries had some pleasant green cloisters (photo 7 Alcobacas).

On the Monday I took the bus south to Lisbon.

1 comment:

"Sir" said...

Hey, Globetrotter. Still heading this way in June?