A weekend in Lisbon, Portugal

With a move to Switzerland at the end of the month, we decided to squeeze in a few more trips from Spain. This previous weekend we went to Lisbon, Portugal.

We arrived pretty early in the day so Jenn found us some storage lockers to put our luggage in so we could join a walking tour. We brought walnut with us and he loved walking through a new town. The tour gave a glimpse into Portugal’s past. Portugal was the world’s first global power. They learned and put to good use navigation and other seafaring techniques to find trading routes around the world.

In the 1700’s there was a massive earthquake that nearly flattened Lisbon. It was on all saints day, and most people were in church- old, high ceilinged buildings made of stone. Further, because of the holiday, many had candles burning at home. Lisbon was ablaze, and the survivors gathered in the main square which is near the taiga river. The tidal wave that followed the quake wiped out many of the would be survivors.

Lisbon was rebuilt nearly from scratch afterwards. Many of the buildings we currently see in Lisbon are from that era, having been built to new, higher standards. Some buildings remained from the earthquake as monuments to those who were lost.

We joined a knights of the Templar tour that took us to several sites important to that order. We started at Castelo de Almoural. It was a defensive position on an island in the middle of a river. The water level was much higher when this castle was in use, but even today it required a boat for access.

In Tomar, we visited the Convent of Christ.  Founded by the Templar Knights, it was huge!  It was added to and and decorated many times over the years.  Much of the ornamentation is very nautical, in the Manueline style.

On our last day in Portugal, we took a train to Sintra.  At the station, we hired a private car/guide and went to a few incredible sites.  Montserrat, the National Palace in Sintra, and Quinta da Regaleira.  Carvalo Monteiro built an incredible estate here at Quinta da Regaleira, truly amazing.

Lisbon was fantastic and I can’t wait to go back.

JnR’s Merry Mallorca

Walnut, Jenn and I went to Mallorca, Spain for the new year.  We’ll be moving to Switzerland in a month and are trying to squeeze in a few little trips in Spain before we leave.  The flight from Barcelona took about 50 minutes.  We stayed in Palma, a beautiful city on the coast.

We wandered around our neighborhood, visiting a small Christmas market and a fancy market street.  Cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, and ancient stone walls and cathedrals make the city feel like another world.  Castell de Bellver, found high upon a hill overlooking the port, cemented this feeling.

In the evening, the holiday lights formed tunnels down streets while stars and orbs floated overhead.  The cathedral and other ancient walls glowed in the mellow evening light.

The Palma Aquarium was pretty good.  Apparently, they have the deepest shark tank in the EU.  The sharks they had in there were huge!  They also had quite a few other aquariums, and I found their smaller tanks to be very good.

We went to a cave, cuevas drachs, on the other side of the island.  The public bus was easy to use and drove us the 60 miles or so directly to the site.  The cave was very large, with a pretty sizable lake (for a cave, that is).  At one point, they even boated in orchestra players to play a few songs for us.  After the visit, we had some time to kill and hiked to the nearby coast and sat in the sun for a while.

A quick visit to Arc de Triompf and christmas markets

We had not yet been to Arc de Triompf so we decided to see it Saturday.  Since it’s outside and a nice day we brought Walnut with us- I’ve already posted his pictures from that day.  We took the Metro red line just a few stops and discovered a market at the square.  We’re not sure if it’s a small Christmas market or if it’s an occasional market that we just happened across.  We also passed the Central Catalana de Electricidad building, which originally housed steam generators for the production of electricity.

After the Arc, we walked to the Cathedral to visit the main Christmas markets.  On the way, we past through some neighborhoods new to us.  We passed an ‘experimental xocolatier’ but they didn’t seem to have any in stock.

Here in Catalonia, there are a few Christmas traditions that are new to me.  There is the Caganer figurine (caganer means “the crapper”) which is a figurine of someone taking a dump.  These figurines are hidden in the nativity scene.  Another tradition is the Tio de Nadal or Christmas log.  Beginning in early December, the christmas log is ‘fed’ every night and well cared for by the household’s children.  On Christmas day, the log is placed in the fireplace and told to poop out presents.  To facilitate this, children sing songs (ordering the log to poop) and strike the log with sticks.

A few photos of Walnut in Spain

We’ve been in Spain for about 9 weeks now.  I haven’t been very good about keeping friends and family up to date with Walnut.  He had been diagnosed with a portosystemic shunt the third week of August and had lost about 4 pounds.  He’s been on a new diet and medicine regimen that has helped him a lot.  He has regained his weight (actually I have to cut back on his kibble!) and energy.  He’s doing great!  We live close to a very active dog park and on our evening walk it is common for him to greet 20 dogs.  He loves it here.

Day trip to Tarragona

Jenn and I joined up with a meetup group for a trip to Tarragona.  It’s an hour train ride south from Barcelona.  The organizer of the meetup took us to several sites and explained a bit about each place like a tour guide.  After picking up a few more people at the square, we we went to the Amphitheater.

The amphitheater was built in the 2nd century BC.  Later, a basilica was built in the amphitheater after it had lost it’s original use.  In the 12th century another church was built over the ruins of the prior visigoth church.  It later became a prison and was later abandoned again.

Next, we saw the Roman circus.  Tunnels under the circus were still partially intact and we toured through some of them.  We also saw one of the remaining pools.  The circus was huge!  It could seat 30,000 spectators.  The nearby museums have pretty cool models of the town.

Finally, we walked along the ancient roman city wall ruins.  The walls were built between 3rd and 2nd century BC.  Three towers remain, along with a section of wall.  The wall and towers were very impressive.  The wall was added to over time, and you can see different layers representing different eras.

It was a great trip and we would definitely like to go back and spend more time at the ruins.

Girona Day Trip

For €13 each way we rode a high speed train 38 minutes to Girona.  I really like travelling by train in Europe, they are fast and hassle free.  I lament the lack of efficient trains in the states.

We walked from the train station to the cathedral.  The inside is dark and very gothic.  The inner portion of the basilica is sparse with all of the gold and art contained in the transepts.  The church had few pews and stained glass windows, but the scarcity of opulence made the windows that much more colorful.

The streets of Girona are very narrow near the cathedral.  Several episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed here.  The twisting, dark, stony streets provide the backdrop for Arya’s battles with the faceless men.  After wandering the streets a bit, we climbed around and overlooked the city from the outer walls.

The Arab baths nearby were also featured in GoT- also dealing with the faceless men.  The baths themselves were built Romanesque in the 12th century.  They were later acquired in 1618 by the Capuchin monks.

After all that climbing, we were hungry for lunch.  We walked down to a square across the river.  The square had a Christmas market set up.  We browsed the shops for a few minutes before picking a place to get some food.  We sat down outside and enjoyed some patatas bravas and sobrasada.

Then we headed to the Sant Pere de Galligants Monastery which is also the history museum.  The museum had a few roman pieces that were in fair shape.  The inner courtyard was beautiful.  One of the columns featured the original Starbuck’s mermaid.  In the monastery, a GoT tour was finishing up and they had an iron throne with a sword and cloak for pictures.  Of course, we weren’t part of the tour so we couldn’t get the cloak but we snuck up for a pic on the throne.

Girona was a beautiful city.  I think it would be great place to spend a few days and really explore.  I think one of the GoT tours might be a nice touch in such a historic city.

Day trip to Montserrat

We went up to Montserrat today (from Barcelona) and it was fantastic!  The weather was a little cool but clear, and it got a bit cooler as we went up the mountain but it was pretty nice in the sun.  We didn’t bring Walnut mostly because we didn’t know where he’d be accepted, but I think the next time we go we’ll bring him.

We left from La Sagrera L1 early and picked up the R5 from Pl. Espanya.  It took about two hours total to get to Montserrat Aeri, which is where we picked up the cable car and rode up the mountain.  Aeri was built in 1930 and has a bit of old school charm to it.  It was heartening to see the workers climb up into the works with a grease gun, lubing the works before the first trip into the sky.  They also sent their crew up before opening for passengers.

The ride up was very tranquil.  The car didn’t sway much and climbed at an even pace.  Once at the top we went into Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.  The basilica is beautiful.  It’s a little dark, with a gothic feel.  In the afternoon, we had a chance to listen to the boy’s choir sing- they were really good!

We rode the Funicular up to Sant Joan and hiked a little bit.  The views from that vantage were astounding!  We looked out over the clouds between the peaks.  We brought a picnic lunch with and sat and had sandwiches.

It was a great little day trip.  We could have spent more time on the mountain hiking if we’d brought Walnut.  We took the rack train back to the FGC and headed back home.