December 8, 2022
On our last day, our flight home was not until nearly midnight, Israeli time, so we had the day to make stops on the way to the airport. It was an awesome day. We visited two cave areas. The Dove Caves were caves carved underground in limestone that housed thousands of doves. Little dove houses were carved into caves where the temperature was conducive as a dove habitat. The area was on a major road into Jerusalem where pilgrims to the Temple would stop to buy their dove offerings for worship purposes. It is highly possible that Mary and Joseph stopped here when Jesus was twelve, and they were on the way to the Temple with Jesus.
The Bell Caves were hollowed out from above to excavate the limestone for building purposes. The process caused the caves to be shaped like a bell in the interior. They were connected to each other and were a beautiful sight with their unique shape and coloration.
From the caves, we proceeded to the Khirbet Quiyafa National Park, famed because it was the site of the battle between young David (who would become King) and the Philistine giant called Goliath, ending with David’s sling shot victory. The park overlooks the Ela Valley where the opposing armies of Israel and Philistine gathered. Just amazing.
Jaffa, ancient Joppa, is a seaside port and old city not far from Tel Aviv. Here, Old Testament Jonah tried to escape from God, being swallowed by a large fish when he was thrown overboard into the Mediterranean Sea. It was here that Jesus healed Tabitha (Dorcas), a revered woman of extraordinary good works. It was also here that Peter, in the still present home of Simon the Tanner, saw a heavenly vision of unclean animals and heard God say he was to eat. Peter realized that God was telling him to open the church to Gentiles, who were considered unclean, thus setting the church on a missionary path into the world. Today, the old city has been preserved and is quite trendy with artist shops along its narrow cobbled streets and sailing vessels filling its long pedestrianized harbor area. One particularly unusual artist piece was above us as we walked along one area. Hundreds of white plastic lawn chairs were stacked together and snaked over and around buildings. Fun!
We had a farewell dinner in Joffa and headed off to the airport. We flew overnight and arrived home in the dark earlier in the day than we departed (flying against 8 time zones) only to go to bed at the time we normally would have been “up and at ’em” in Israel. We treasure the memories we made in the Holy Land!
December 7, 2022
Our hotel in Jerusalem has been wonderful, with excellent food and lots of buffet choices. For breakfast, shawarma was a favorite of many. It has pickled vegetables in a tahini/hummus/tomato sauce covered with cracked eggs and baked in an oven.
Later, we descended into the rock which housed the Jebusite irrigation canal. Many of our group walked, or inched and squeezed, through it. Others in the group descended further down to Hezekiah’s water-filled tunnel which he engineered to bring water into the city and cleverly disguised to hide it from enemies, all hand-chiseled out of dense stone. All of us ended up at the same place, the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed the man born blind.
After breakfast we visited the old Jerusalem in the morning, known as the City of David. It had been a stronghold of the ancient Jebusites, but David sent some troops to secretly find their way through an underground irrigation canal that he theorized would lead into the the heart of the city. He was right! Later, Jerusalem (City of Peace) extended outward beyond the walls into the city it is today. David’s palace has been discovered and excavations are continuing. It felt surreal to walk through the palace, not large, but an important part of the Old Testament history (think David and Bathsheba).
A highlight of the day, if not the trip, was having communion at the Garden Tomb, the second contested site (the Temple Mount being the other and the one most scholars believe to be the correct one) of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. It was a very meaningful moment in time.
The day ended at the Machane Yehuda Food Market. It was huge and colorful with spices and food vendors making foods we do not really have available in the States, but very tasty. We got to sample many along the way. I so wanted to eat a piece of poppy seed rolled loaf. However, one had to buy the entire loaf, not just a piece, and I knew I would eat the whole thing if I bought it, so I refrained. It was back to the hotel and a night of sweet dreams.
December 6, 2022
After breakfast, we took the very short ride to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. We first visited an artisan woodwork factory run by a Christian family. The Christian community is under duress in the Palestinian-controlled area. We watched artisans taking blocks of olive wood and turning them into beautiful objects, often religious in nature. We were able to visit the traditionally-accepted place of Jesus’s birth, a cave. One can crawl on hands and knees to touch the accepted place of the birth. Only a short distance away are the shepherds’ fields where the temple shepherds were watching their flocks at night when the army of angels appeared to them announcing the Savior’s birth. Up the hill is a church with phenomenal acoustics. Our rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High” sounded beautiful.
From Bethlehem, we returned to Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus went to pray with His disciples. Over 2,000 year old olive trees witnessed Jesus’s visit. We had one section of the garden to ourselves where we spent time in personal reflection and prayer. This was a powerful time, and our view of Jerusalem across the valley was glorious. We walked all the way down to Jerusalem on the Palm Sunday Road immediately outside the gates of the Mount of Olives, the same road on which Jesus rode a donkey to the applause of the people of Jerusalem. After the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives. Here He was betrayed by Judas, handed over to the soldiers, and the Passion Story began to unfold ending in the Crucifixion of Jesus. We visited the stunning Church of All Nations at Gethsemane filled with intricate mosaics.
Our day concluded at the Western Wailing Wall, which is a remnant of the Great Temple that at one time stood there. People approach the wall to pray and to stuff small pieces of paper with written prayer requests into the crevices of the wall. It was a long day and a very rewarding day. Evening meal, shower and sleep!
Road Trip to Amazing
December 4 and 5, 2022
We boarded our bus to travel to Magdala, the home of the Biblical Mary Magdalene, the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection. A thriving community on a major trade route, Magdala was home to a beautiful synagogue, now being excavated. Here was discovered the oldest engraving of a menorah ever found. The engraving is like a post card from the past in that it shows the pillars of the Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed in the first century.
It is the only image of those pillars that has ever been found.
From Magdala we drove to Dan, a journey that few tourists take. It was the home of the tribe of Dan, one of the twelve tribes of the Jewish people. However, Dan’s history goes back much farther, possibly to the year 7,500 B.C. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, had been kidnapped; Abraham pursued the captors all the way to Dan. We saw Abraham’s Gate, the ancient city’s mud brick entry. Recently uncovered, it is the oldest such gate in existence, since most mud brick disintegrates over time due to water. The gate dates to approximately 2,000 B.C. When King Solomon, who built Jerusalem’s Temple, died, Israel divided into two separate nations. The two southern tribes became Judea, and the ten northern tribes became Israel. Israel’s new King Jeroboam decided to build new Temples for his nation, and he chose Dan for one of them. The problem was that the new Temple in Dan combined false worship with truth, and even had a golden calf. We saw where the golden calf would have been placed. Archeological conservers were hard at work the day we visited, yet we were privileged to see the 1,300 B.C. gate of the city. The city never recovered from the idolatry of King Jeroboam and eventually the ten tribes were carted off into slavery, basically disappearing from history.
Our journey then took us to the pagan city of Caesarea Philippi, a city that Jesus and His disciples visited in the far north of Israel. The worship of the god Pan is on display here, and our words pandaemonium and panic are derived from this worship centered on debauchery and even human sacrifice. We saw the sacrifice cave and the false god’s niches carved into the rock walls. Jesus took His disciples here because he wanted to make it clear that worshiping Him was distinctly different from the secular and twisted worship on display in Caesarea.
We finished the day by visiting the “Alamo” of Israel, the “Roaring Lion” memorial to the first Jews killed in battle who lived in the area that would later become Israel. We ended our day in our comfortable Jerusalem hotel for a wonderful meal and good night’s sleep.
Early morning breakfast–let’s stop there–breakfasts here in Israel are very good and very different! Tuna fish, pickled herring, creamed hyssop, salads, eggs baked in spicy meat sauce, tabula and at least 25 other food choices on a buffet beacon every morning. We loaded the bus and headed off to Beit Shean, a marvelously preserved Decapolis (ten major) city–mentioned in the Bible numerous times– in the Jezreel Valley. Columned streets with decorative tile side walks lead to the preserved theatre. The baths here are very interesting and served as a center of entertainment; spa treatments were a part of daily life. We learned that the large public toilets that had continuous running water under the seats were also a place of entertainment.
We traveled on to Gideon Springs, a place where a powerful bubbling spring served as the place where God winnowed 35,000 Hebrew soldiers down to 300. Those who lapped water at the springs with their tongue like a dog were the soldiers selected to fight the Midianites under the leadership of Gideon. The Hebrews won a major victory as they attacked at night and routed the confused Midianite army. The area is a beautiful garden where the colorful bougainvillea and the unusual bulbous silk floss tree call for attention.
The day concluded around the Dead Sea. Qumran was a community of the Essenes, a reclusive Jewish sect who spent their energy focused on copying the Bible and writing religious philosophy. A young boy throwing rocks into caves discovered the scrolls in clay pots carefully preserved. The discovery was an international sensation. The scrolls do much to verify the wording accuracy of the Old Testament of the Bible since the Qumran scrolls of Scripture were copied over centuries independently of the Jewish scribes’ scrolls, yet comparisons show amazing agreement of the text.
Several of our friends floated on the Dead Sea and reported that they automatically floated. The Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on planet earth, and it also has the highest salt content of any body of water. Mud baths are also popular. Our ride from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem was smooth, although we arrived well after dark at our hotel. It was a wonderful day!
Experiencing Where Jesus Walked
December 3, 2022
We started our day with an early morning trip to the Jordan River where important stories of Jesus’s ministry took place; most importantly, the inauguration of His public ministry when he was baptized by John the Baptizer. It was here that His Father in Heaven and the Holy Spirit gave public witness that Jesus was the Son of God and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were in union as the Trinity. We took time on the banks of the Jordan to remember our own baptisms as we reenacted that part of our personal spiritual journeys with water from the Jordan. It was a priceless moment in time. Interestingly, the water was warm on this beautiful winter day.
Nearby, we arrived on a hill overlooking the Sea Of Galilee into which the River Jordan flows. Atop the hill is a church covering the spot where Jesus preached the famous “Sermon on the Mount.” We read part of the sermon from the Bible and sang the old hymn, “Just as I Am,” to recall that the sermon was in part a call to follow Jesus throughout life. Surrounding the church was a beautiful garden which had awesome views of the Sea of Galilee below.
Just a short drive away is Capernaum where the Apostle Peter lived. Located here is a portion of Peter’s preserved home where Jesus would have been a guest. Steps away is the synagogue ruins where the Bible records that Jesus read from the Old Testament. It is also here that Jesus healed the daughter of Jairus, a leader in the community.
After just a short drive was the place along the Sea of Galilee where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes feeding thousands of people. It was first marked with a stone upon which later a beautiful church was built. Under the altar is the ancient stone marker. It was fitting that we drove to a nearby local restaurant where we ate fried fish, called “Peter’s Fish,” and had bread. The fish was wonderful!
After lunch, we drove to a shore line rocky beach where the resurrected Jesus noticed that the fishermen were not catching fish and told them to cast their nets on the other side on the boat. When they did so, they hauled in an oversupply of fish. Upon reaching shore, they noticed that Jesus was the man who had called out to them. Shortly thereafter, the disciple Peter, who had denied Jesus three times in public was restored to ministry by Jesus Himself as He asked Peter to “Feed my sheep.” A church and beautiful gardens surround this beach.
Then, as the light began to fade, we arrived at our fishermen’s boat for a ride on the tranquil Sea of Galilee. It was another awe-inspiring time as we viewed one Biblical site after another as we sailed the middle of the lake. Praise music played and we often burst into singing. The high hills that surround the Sea of Galilee provided a majestic backdrop to the deep blue waters, and the setting sun and flocks of birds that surrounded the boat couldn’t have been prettier. We danced and sang and meditated along the way.
Departing the boat, we walked to a museum which houses an over 2,000 year old Sea of Galilee fishing boat. It had been preserved in the mud of the lake. Because it was made of cedar, it is the only such ancient boat in existence. It dates to the time of Jesus. A question on the museum wall asks if Jesus would have seen this boat or maybe even sailed in it? We will never know.
What an amazingly refreshing day filled with spiritual enrichment and encouragement!
Our stops nearly always include Bible reading about the place we are encountering and often some Biblical commentary or prayers. Donna is a great Bible scholar and Ori, our guide, “knows his stuff!” I add the pastoral touch. We are in Bibleland! God be praised!
A Spiritual Pilgrimage
November 30-December 2, 2022
Our flight from Houston to Tel Aviv was uneventful. Upon arrival in the afternoon (8 hour time zone differential from home), we were met outside the gate by a representative of the Imagine tour company who guided us effortlessly and quickly through the entry processes of Israel. We soon met our guide, Ori, and Serah, our driver, at our beautiful bus. Ori is well known in Israel since he was an evening newscaster and later top official of the prime minister of the nation. A Bible scholar, he is an ideal guide. Our hotel in Netanya was awesome, and the food, served buffet style, was very tasty. We went to sleep for the night as quickly as possible since the 8 hour time differential (plus 20 hour flight times) from home had our bodies out of whack.
The next morning–December 2–was to turn out to be meaningful and spiritual and beautiful experience.
Caesarea Maritima–King Herod the Great, who ruled just prior to the time of Jesus, built a magnificent palace complex from the ground up. Its harbor was safe from storms, since he built a mile long protective barrier into the Mediterranean. It brought in huge sums of money as a major Mediterranean port. Now mostly a ruin, the complex contained a large Hippodrome for 20,000 spectators for horse and chariot races and an amphitheater that seated 3,500. Arched aqueducts brought water to the complex. Many New Testament events took place in this seat of government power. Of great importance was Jesus’ disciple Peter’s encounter with the pagan centurion Cornelius, which opened the Christian church to the influx on non-Jews. It was also here that the missionary Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament Bible, defended himself against accusations of treason before the Roman leadership. He was eventually to die a martyr’s death in Rome. We were able to stand on the very spot where Paul made his defense as he shared his faith in Jesus.
Mount Carmel is a high hill with commanding views to the hills and valleys below. From here, Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet, challenged the pagan priests, who were being introduced into the nation by increasingly pagan Kings and Queens, to produce fire from heaven on a pile of wood. They could not do so, yet Elijah’s wood offering was immediately consumed by fire. The pagans were driven out from the land. This was a momentous event in the life of the Old Testament church.
Mount Tabor is another important hill where Jesus took some of His disciples to witness His transfiguration, proving Himself to be the Son of God as His body beamed with light as He visited with Moses and Elijah. A beautiful church stands on this space on the hill.
We drove on Route 66–this time in Israel. This road connects Africa and Europe and Asia close to the Mediterranean. Another major ancient road crosses this route near Megiddo and connects the Mediterranean to the Middle East. Here armies marched in ancient times to control this strategic trade route. The last book of the Bible, Revelations, speaks of this place now known as Armageddon.
Nazareth is the boyhood home of Jesus until his public three-year ministry commenced. Only about 200 people lived here in Jesus’s day. Today, Nazareth has a population of 90,000, yet the infrastructure has not kept pace, and it is a crowded noisy city. A magnificent church sits over the ruins of Joseph and Mary’s home where Jesus grew up. Pilgrims flock by the touching site.
Upon arrival at our Sea of Galilee hotel, we spoke of the overwhelming sites we had seen and the impact of the Biblical knowledge we had gained. Putting Bible stories to Bible sites and connecting the dots is a moving experience. As we stood on the commanding height of Mount Carmel and viewed the hills and valleys that stretch far into the distance and our guide spoke of numerous major Bible events or stories that took place within our eyesight, we were overwhelmed. Huge amounts of the Old Testament and the New Testament were lived out before us. It was rare air to breathe.
LAGOS–The Ocean Paradise No One’s Heard About
October 28 and 29, 2022
In coastal southern Portugal is an area known as the Algarve; Lagos is the star of the region. Blessed with wonderful weather year round, beautiful beaches and a charming old city, it is a delight. While Europeans know about the city, very few Americans have discovered it; however, that is changing.
We arrived from Lisbon into the modern train station at Lagos—about a 2 1/2 hour journey. It was immediately obvious that this was a well-kept, clean and inviting place. White cobblestone streets with black cobblestone designs graced the streets. The buildings were primarily of white plaster, and we soon saw the Atlantic Ocean shimmering in the near distance. A yacht harbor lying inland was filled with masted boats and sleek cruisers. It was lined with little shops selling all sorts of items. We arrived at our condominium and right before us was one of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen! High craggy cliffs and numerous sea stacks (big rocks in the water) surrounded a large sandy beach where blue waves rushed toward the shore. We walked down the winding stairs to the sand and got a drink in the ocean side bar as we took in the refreshing breezes and beautiful sights. After we had quickly settled into the condo, we headed to the old town a short distance away. Once again, it was an amazing adventure with the beautiful white and black cobblestoned streets and upscale shops and restaurants. Music filled the air. Delightful! We ate a grand meal; Kathy and I had a fish soup filled with shell fish and monkfish with some vegetables. It was delicious and we could not eat it all, but Randy came to the rescue and finished it off.
We were not in a rush in the morning and walked along the harbor and did some shopping and then ate a late lunch—once again, very good. Later, we got on a small tourist train that took us along the ocean front. We got off at one stop and walked on the myriad of trails and boardwalks that took us along the edge of the high cliffs above the ocean. The cliffs stretch for miles! We were agog with the sights of deep cliffs with crashing waves and sea caves and stone arches and giant sea stacks in the water. Many caves and arches! Some beaches intersperse the canyons below. It was nature at its best.
We ate a light dinner and are packing up since Kathy and I leave tomorrow for Lisbon and then home. Randy and Melisa continue their journey through Spain and then take a Mediterranean cruise through Greece and Croatia before heading to the Holy Land where Kathy and I will rejoin them in December.
Lagos, Portugal, is situated on the beautiful Western Algarve.
Photos are from the Ponta da Piedade headland in Lagos, Portugal, a series of highly weathered cliffs regarded as the finest natural feature of the Algarve.
A focal point of Lagos is the marina complex.
Drawbridge in the marina complex of Lagos, Portugal
Ancient Moorish city wall in Lagos, Portugal
Kathy could not resist experiencing one of the beautiful beaches that grace the coastline of Lagos.
October 25-27, 2022
Settling into our city hotel near Avenue Liberty in the late afternoon, we went out for a walk. We started at Pombal Circle (Marquis of Pombal Square) which lies at the top of the Avenue Liberty. The walk down the tree-lined avenue was delightful. The white small cobblestones inlaid with black cobblestones made decorative designs all along the way. High end stores, shops and restaurants beckoned as we walked along. We were not buying today. As it grew dark, Kathy and I decided to get back to the hotel and sit in the lounge and eat a small meal, while Randy and Melisa opted for a nice restaurant along the avenue. We all slept well.
In the morning we ate breakfast in the hotel and headed to the nearby metro to spend the day in Sintra, a suburban area north of Lisbon. Unfortunately, we did not buy the tickets in the machine properly and instead of four tickets for the day for four people, we purchased one ticket for one person for four days. One and a half hours later, after standing in line to get the proper tickets, we were on our way. The allures and sites of Sintra soon made us forget our ticket problem. What a day!
We hired a tuk-tuk for a tour and were glad we did. Not only was Miguel, our driver, fun and informative, he was kind and helpful. We saw Penã, a colorful royal palace from the medieval times. We saw beautiful homes overlooking verdant valleys. Our narrow roadways were lined with moss-covered stone fencing with ferns and ivies protruding. We saw the walled fortress guarding a high hill and the quaint old town of Sintra. Miguel let us off near a restaurant he recommended in the old town—it was delicious as we ate area seafood specialities. Our cod/potato cakes were tasty. After lunch we walked to the Quinta da Regaleira, the Knights Templar training site. Here is the famous training/initiating well where Knight recruits were initiated while wearing blindfolds and with swords drawn, forced to march quickly down the stair-lined deep circular well. We walked it with eyes wide open, and it was still a feat to accomplish. Melisa opted to not descend the well and walk back down instead, but Randy had her phone. No meeting spot in the very large grounds was chosen, and we were lost/separated from each other for some time. However, the beautiful grounds and gardens kept all of us soothed until we reunited. We enjoyed shopping and strolling in the old town before taking the train back to Lisbon.
We slept well and long and arose with determination to take the tourist-friendly Tram 28 which winds its way to most tourist spots in the city. We showed our cab driver our location at the beginning of the tram line. He said something in Portuguese and then disappeared. He returned with another hotel guest he had found who could speak English. This guest told us the taxi driver wanted us to know that the site we had chosen had long lines to get tickets and he wanted to take us to the end of the line where there would be no lines and, at the conclusion of our ride, we would be much closer to our hotel; however, he stated the taxi fare would cost two Euros more. We were thrilled and thankful that he would do this for us. As advertised, there was a minimal line where he dropped us off. These old tram cars creek and jiggle as they trudge up steep hills and through narrow streets. We had fun and saw many Lisbon sites during the 45 minute ride. When we got off we saw very long queues of people waiting to buy tickets, and we were once again thankful for such a thoughtful taxi driver. We immediately hailed another taxi to take us to the Belém neighborhood where we found a great restaurant—Randy had the “best pizza I’ve had on this trip’” and Kathy had delicious sea bass in a thin potato crust over shredded mixed vegetables. Our restaurant was in the majestic Praca do Comércio (Commerce Plaza), a large harbor facing the River Tagus that flows into the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Lined with beautiful government buildings and a large equestrian statue of King Joseph I framed by a victory arch, we enjoyed the time spent there. We hailed another taxi to take us to the Belém neighborhood, specifically to the Pasteis de Belém, the confectionery that produces the famous Pastel de Nata. This puff pastry is stuffed with a creamy custard, a secret recipe. We briefly walked the area and through a park to the ocean front where we strolled a short distance to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) with the great Portuguese sailers on one side (Henry the Navigator, etc.) and government leaders and missionaries on the other, all who played a big part in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries looking out seaward on the monument representing a ship’s prow. From there we strolled toward the lighthouse and Belèm Tower, a 16th century fortification built during the Portuguese Renaissance, before returning to the hotel for a leisurely evening.
The Castelo dos Mouros, a Moorish castle in Sintra
The Palacio Nacional de Sintra, the original medieval palace of Sintra used by the early Portuguese rulers
The “haunted” mansion in Sintra, Portugal, used as the setting in the Netflix movie, “Ninth Gate”
The cork oak tree (quercus suber) is one of the most common tree species in Portugal. The process of removing the outer bark is done once every nine years.
We took a tuk-tuk tour to reach the Palacio Nacional da Pena (Pena Castle) with its vividly painted exterior.
The colorful Pena Castle in the hills of the Serra de Sintra
Sintra’s Quinta da Regaleira
The ceremonial Initiation Well on the historic estate of the Quinta da Regaleira
Part of the tunnel system at the base of the spiral staircase of the Initiation Well on the estate of Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal
We rode the vintage Remodelado Tram, Tram 28, in Lisbon, Portugal, inaugurated in 1914, which passes through popular tourist districts on its 4 1/2 mile route.
Lisbon street scene while riding Tram 28
Another Lisbon street scene from Tram 28
Sao Vicente de Fora Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal
Belem Tower and Lighthouse on the waterfront in Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) is a steel suspension bridge across the Tagus River, a motorway bridge, freeway bridge, and railroad bridge reminiscent in design and even coloring to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
We could not leave Lisbon without sampling the famous cream cakes at the Pasteis de Belem bakery with its secret recipe that has not changed since the bakery opened in 1837.
A chef at Pasteis de Belem removes its famous custard tart, the Pastel de Nata, from the oven.
Lisbon’s Monument to the Discoveries
The other side of Lisbon’s Monument to the Discoveries
October 24 & 25, 2022
We rented a car in Porto to take a two day drive to Lisbon (only four hours away). We wanted to visit the interior of this small country. Upon arrival at the car rental, we discovered that our car could not hold our luggage, and all that was available that could hold everything was a BMW station wagon-like (not sold in the U.S.) vehicle. We gritted our teeth as we paid the hefty upgrade charge! Lovely forested areas grace the interior. We headed first to Coimbra, the home of one of the oldest universities in the world and of the library that inspired the writing of the Harry Potter series. We used Waze to navigate and it was excellent. The library was amazing. Holding 60,000 ancient volumes, it is a masterpiece of design.The room was dark with heavy curtains and soft lighting–all for the purpose of protecting the interior and its contents. The interior had three connected rooms–black/forest green and gold on each end and burnt red and gold in the middle. The library stacks were two stories high with a balcony running the entire circumference of the second tier. The balcony was supported with heavily adorned pillars. The walls and ceiling were beautifully painted with scroll work patterns. Very beautiful!
From Coimbra we drove to Tomar with its wonderful castle built by the Knights Templar in the early middle ages. We were able to drive up the narrow lane that wound up the high hill on which the fortress sat and park in front of the gateway into the castle. It was from this fortress that the Portuguese were able to drive out the Moors from Africa who had invaded seven centuries earlier. Besides the walls and battlements of the castle, there is a beautiful garden and chapel in the interior. We made our way down the steep hill and drove on to Fatima where it was asserted that the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children and gave them three important messages. We were impressed with the immense size of the site. A center plaza was several football fields in expanse, and we saw people shuffling on knees in prayer from the chapel on one end to the shrine church on the other end. Back in the car we headed to Nazaré, an Atlantic coastal city north of Lisbon. It was dark when we arrived at our hotel and we were hungry. Our parking in the underground hotel garage was an adventure. It took all of us and the BMW’s excellent surround cameras to get the parking accomplished. Back and forth in inches Randy moved the car on every extremely narrow curve. It took a long time to make the turn into the parking space, so narrow was the area. Our efforts were rewarded with no scratches on the car! Our meal was at a seaside restaurant specializing in fish, and it was one of the best meals we have eaten on this trip. The servers were exceptional as they elegantly deboned fish and presented our plates. Kathy ate a shell fish meal served in a wooden boat. Cool. It was an amazing day.
We arose the next morning to visit the beaches of Nararé which are famous in the surfing world since the largest waves on record hit the beaches there. This is because right off the shore the ocean drops 5,000 feet into a canyon that causes the swells in the right winter weather conditions to produce 100+foot waves. Randy walked into the water and found it cold. We drove along the coast and realized that development is coming to that area and probably soon. The sand dunes and ocean with wide expanses of beach are inviting. Our approach to Obidos was jaw-dropping with pure white buildings and homes with terra-cotta roofs and an expansive medieval wall surrounding the city. We were excited to explore. Once again we drove up very narrow roads and parked near the entry of the castle. We walked inside and were impressed with the battlements and towers in multitudes. Families were walking the ramparts high above with no rails! Along the way we saw a large arched gate that we walked through. To our amazement we believed we had walked into a movie set! The white village inside the walls spread out before us and narrow cobblestoned streets with cascading bougainvilleas of red or purple were beautiful. The streets were lined with wonderful small shops and restaurants. Cherry liqueur served with chocolate is a “thing” here and it was good. We so enjoyed our browsing time. After several hours, we drove onward to Lisbon to return our car which was an ordeal in itself as we kept missing the rental car return garage entry and visited the same round about a dozen times. It was all fun!
Historic University of Coimbra built on the grounds of a former palace in central Portugal in 1537 is among the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
St. Michael’s University Chapel of Coimbra built upon an ancient chapel of the 12th century in the Manueline style
Coimbra University Baroque Chapel Organ is decorated with Chinese motifs similar to those in the Baroque Library shelves of the university.
Coimbra University Baroque Library, the Biblioteca Joanina, holds 60,000 books dating from the 16th century that are still consulted today. The portrait of King John V dominates the Noble Floor.
Castle Walls of the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Portugal
Castle of Tomar – The Convent of Christ, originally a 12th century Templar stronghold, now a UNESCO World Heritage site
The Sanctuary of Fatima, a Catholic pilgrimage site in Portugal
Pilgrims proceed on their knees in penitential reverence in the Sanctuary of Fatima.
The sacred Sanctuary of Fatima where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared in 1917
Randy experiences the waves at Nazare, Portugal, the largest underwater canyon in Europe that allows the formation of giant waves.
Randy and Melisa take a “selfie” at the Castle of Obidos, a well-preserved medieval castle in Portugal.
Castle walls in Obidos
Library in Obidos, Portugal
Chapel in Obidos, Portugal
Obidos is famed for its sour cherry liqueur called Ginjinha d’Obidos often served in a little edible chocolate cup.
One of the many beautiful, romantic street scenes in Obidos, Portugal
Francesinha; Port Wine; Cork
October 22, 23, 2022
We added to our transportation venues by taking a bus from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to Porto, Portugal. It was really our only travel option and it was comfortable and safe as we rode through the forested hills in sometimes heavy rain. Upon arrival at our awesome Porto apartment in a palace built in the late 1600’s, we set out to explore the city. Directly across the square from our apartment was the Santa Clara church. We were not prepared for the beauty we were about to experience. Really, the complete gold baroque interior took our breath away. Awesome to the max! Fortunately, the docent inside spoke English and told us that the church was in complete ruins after years of neglect; however, corporations and various organizations banded together to completely restore it to its former glory. He was one of the rebuilders/restorers himself and glowed with pride as he spoke of the precious history of the church.
We walked a short distance to a pedestrian area filled with shops and restaurants and picked a restaurant already packed with people. It was a delicious choice! We ordered a Porto specialty—Francesinha—Portuguese bread stuffed with beef, sausage, mortadella and goat cheese and covered with a mozzarella shell with a fried egg on top and covered with a beer sauce all heated on a grill. That’s a mouth full, right? We enjoyed the “sandwich.” With fries, of course!
The next morning, after the rain had subsided, we headed out to the nearby famous bridge over the river Douro, designed by Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. Unfortunately, as we approached the bridge, the rain returned in spades! Here we were, on the top of a multi-tiered bridge, hundreds of feet in the air in a driving rain. My plastic rain tunic ripped in the blasts of wind that propelled the rain sideways. There was no way to stay dry and no place to find refuge. I started to laugh, because as soon as I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did! Melisa was behind me and said she could only watch my feet as she could look no where else but down. Once safely on the other side in a building housing the sky tram, Randy, Melisa, Kathy and I looked at each other in disbelief. We waited for the rain to pass to head back to the apartment to change clothes, take showers and reassess our plans for the day. As we approached the bridge we realized that the streets were flooded and all the transportation had come to a halt. So we waited some more for the flooding to recede. By early afternoon the sun was out and the weather was pleasantly refreshing. We ordered a cab to take us to the Taylor bodega on the other side of the river. Port wine takes its name from Porto and port vineyards line the Douro River outside the city. Taylor is the oldest of the port wineries. We really enjoyed the tour past multitudes of vats and barrels (one holding 140,000 bottles of wine) and relished the port tasting at the end. From there we walked down to the riverside and to the sky tram that transported us back up the hill to the bridge. This time we enjoyed the views from the long bridge on this beautiful afternoon. Once across the bridge we walked to the old train station, noted for its Portuguese tile interior, depicting historic scenes from Portugal’s past. From there we walked to the funicular that took us down to the riverside where there are many pastel-colored buildings lining the river, with historic port wine boats bobbing in the water. We ate in a wonderful restaurant specializing in Portuguese fare. We drank more port wine! We took the funicular back up the hill and got out right by our apartment. Porto is quite hilly, but with a funicular, a street elevator, and a sky tram, you don’t necessarily have to walk up many hills. We were very blessed in that our apartment was in the center of it all and a few minutes walk got us to most of the sites.