Wednesday, November 7, 2007


In Part One, we covered some of the sights and activities around Lisbon prior to the Tauck tour and some of the personalities on the tour. Let's cover some more of the personalities and highlights of the tour.


Our first evening on the tour, we took in a fado restaurant. Fado is a uniquely Portuguese form of music. The best analogy is to that of American blues music. Accompanied by guitar music, women (and men, but mostly women) sing mournfully about lost love and guilt. This is the Portuguese form of "blue collar" music and is the favorite of common working people.

Most of the people from our tour went to a group meal in a small restaurant in a working class neighborhood of Lisbon, walking down narrow streets that the tour bus could not navigate. The first course of the meal consisted of charcoal broiled sardines. We posed for a photo with the guy grilling the sardines. These are not your mother's King Oscar sardines in that little tin that you open with a key. These sardines are about a foot long, seasoned with sea salt, and very tasty. You have to de-bone the fish yourself, but after the first one, you can get the hang of it.

After that we feasted on boiled chicken, chunks of pork, lots of wine. At every restaurant, the wine costs less than bottled water, so we drank a lot of wine. Dessert consisted of flan or rice pudding (arroz con leche) or almond cake.

The entertainers came out for several sets. There was a guitar player, a mandolin player, and a male and female singer. We enjoyed the music, but since the lyrics were in Portuguese, our tour guide, Joe, had to narrate what they were singing.


No connection to Frank (Junior or Senior), the Sintra Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site, built in the 14th century. This castle is up in the hills, about 30 miles north of Lisbon, and it was used by the Portuguese royal family for a summer home because the weather was somewhat cooler than in the city. Like many of the castles we would see on the entire trip, there was much Moorish influence in the architecture and the decorating. Many of the rooms here were used to entertain foreign dignitaries.

After our tour, we drove down to the beach resort town of Cascais with its beautiful harbor and medieval fort. This is the last stop for the Lisbon commuter train, and we were free to stay there for lunch and take the train back. Nobody from the tour chose to do so.


This is a Lisbon museum devoted to the ornate and well preserved, mostly horse drawn coaches used by the nobles and the royal family in the 14th to the 19th centuries. Nowadays we show our wealth in other ways, but these coaches were the 18th century version of our fancy cars.


We had a short visit and photo op at the riverfront monument dedicated to Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Prince Henry the Navigator, and the whole gang who ushered in Portugal's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries.


We checked out of our Lisbon hotel for a long bus ride. We crossed the 8 mile long Vasco da Gama Bridge across the Tagus River and headed toward Evora, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a walled city dating back to Roman times. It features the ruins of the Temple of Diana, and also a cathedral. Evora was conquered from the Moors in 1166 by the Christian knight, Gerald the Fearless, and it was a leading city in Portugal in the Middle Ages. The main square is named after him.

Incidentally, the difference between a cathedral and a mere church is that if a bishop resides there, it's a cathedral.

The Church of St. Francis is unique in that the walls in the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) were covered and filled in with the carefully arranged human bones of approximately 5,000 monks which were obtained from the overflowing ceneteries inside the local churches. This church was built in the 1500's by a Franciscan monk who wanted to show his colleagues that life is only transitory, on the way to heaven. The inscription reads (in English translation), "We bones that are here, for your bones we wait." While I realize that many people are not into that kind of thing, its a cultural difference that the Portuguese are apparently proud of.

After that,we had a fine lunch at the monestery.

Frank & April. Frank was a New York cop who retired after 9/11 when he lost several friends. He married April, who still works at the NYPD, about 11 years ago. April, in her early 40's, the youngest person on our tour, has battled cancer and other health problems, and Frank has devoted his life to caring for her. He is one of the few truly compassionate cops I have ever met.

We headed south, through the Portuguese countryside past vineyards, olive groves and sheep herds toward the seashore, which is the area called the Algarve. This is the Portuguese Riviera. The destination was Almancil, on the coast, a short drive from the exit at Faro, a relatively large city with the major airport. No word on whether or not the 19th century card game was related to the city of Faro.

We stayed at the Quinta do Lago resort hotel, a first class hotel. This hotel was built by Saudis about 30 years ago and, after several changes in ownership, is now owned by Portuguese interests. This area is a playground for the rich, but then, we must be rich also. Close by are large estate houses and expensive condominiums.

To get to the ocean, we had to walk down a boardwalk about a quarter mile through a salt water estuary and over a sand dune to find the beach. Its a beautiful beach, and we frolicked in the sand where Dianne found some nice seashells. We hung around to enjoy the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

We returned to the hotel for dinner which was served buffet style--but what a buffet! Cracked crab legs, oysters, lamb, salmon, sea bass, several types of salad, many desserts. You didn't know when to stop eating. The breakfast buffet the next morning had most of the same selections as well as normal breakfast food.

We would have been happy to stay there for the whole trip.

Ed & Hazel are an unmarried seventy something couple from New York. Ed, a structural engineer who heads his own firm, has worked on many of New York's most prominent landmarks. Hazel is a prominent architect. Ed gave us the structural analysis of the various 800 year old castles we visited on the trip--the NY building department tour. "Look at those joists up there--that won't pass Code." Hazel, the architect, suffered from an edifice complex. An hour after I told her that, she caught the joke and came running up to me, laughing. I told her the same joke several times more, on the trip.


We arrived in Seville, Spain's fourth largest city, in the late afternoon and pulled up to the King Alfonso XIII (Alfonso Trece) Hotel a magnificent Moorish style structure built in 1929. King Alfonso didn't enjoy it for long; he was deposed in 1931.

Seville is a city of 750,000 population which has been the site of two World's Fairs, in 1929 and again in 1992. Many of the beautiful buildings in town were built for those expositions. Now they mainly house the foreign embassies. The architecture is a mixture of Moorish and modern.

Seville was the launching point for Columbus' ships to discover America (which was called "the Indies"). Incidentally, October 12th is a national holiday in Spain, honoring Columbus, although he wasn't honored much during his lifetime. We all assume Columbus was Italian, but in reality, little is known about his early life. Many of the Spanish people think Columbus was actually raised Jewish. Also, nobody knows what he actually looked like--the pictures you've seen of him are from the artist's imagination.

His remains are interred in the cathedral, but it was a long Odyssey. They have been brought there fairly recently. Columbus died in 1506 and asked to be buried
in America, but no church of sufficient stature existed there at the time. Finally, in 1537, his remains were moved to Santo Domingo, but when the French took over Hispanola in the 1700's, Columbus' remains were moved to Havana, Cuba. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the ashes were moved to Seville. The Santo Domingo folks still believe they have him, but recent DNA testing of the Seville remains show they have the right guy, at least for the most part. But some of his ashes may still be in Santo Domingo also. The next project is to determine Columbus' true nationality by comparing his DNA with that of the Colon families of Catalan in Spain and also with the DNA of Italians named Columbo. That is a work in progress, and is obviously important to the Spaniards.


We attended a flamenco dancing concert. Flamenco is the Spanish national dance. I had always assumed that "flamenco" had something to do with "flamingo" as in the tall bird or the Las Vegas hotel. But no! The real story is that Charles I, the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, assumed the Spanish throne in the 1500's. He was from Ghent, in Belgium, and he spoke no Spanish--only Flemish. He brought his Flemish advisers with him to Spain, and they proved to be unpopular with the people. Flemish (or Flamenco) became a derogatory term at that time. The dancing style--the stomping of feet--was brought from the Middle East by Gypsies, and the Spanish people derogatorily referred to it as "flamenco". Now, of course, it's mainstream. In any case, I wouldn't want to live downstairs of a flamenco dancer. It would be comparable to the guy next to you at the traffic light blasting his woofers; you can feel it even with the windows shut.

Dinner in Spain begins after 8:30 in the evening and lasts until Midnight. In fact, most restaurants do not even open until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. People take 3 hour siestas in the afternoon, so they stay up late.

The first night in Spain, we had a feast of paella, a traditional Spanish dish of saffron rice, vegetables and assorted seafood. Traditionally, fish markets would gather up the fish parts that weren't sold and put them into s stew and mix it with whatever vegetables were available, and thus make paella. It's still pretty much made that way, except that the fish is the expensive kind--along with shrimps, clams, and even lobster. The dish is very delicious.

The City Tour, or where do you find a good barber in Seville; a trip to the Rock; and help me Ronda. Stay tuned.



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