Tag Archives: Portugal

Ponta Delgada

I’m not a city person, but one city stays in my mind.  Ponta Delgada, capital of Saõ Ponta Delgada city centreMiguel in the Azores: a tiny perfect city.

Having flown in to another island, I didn’t see Ponta Delgada until it was time for my flight home.  I fell in love with a beautiful old southern European city – in miniature.  It was April, the weather was perfect.  I had been doing research and thought I might find some “talking heads” to give analytic background.  So I asked around.  Yes, there was a university in the city and a Portuguese national radio studio.  Yes, there were people on staff of both who knew about my subject, the Portuguese cod fishery, and would be happy to meet with me.

I was staying in the city centre.  A nice and inexpensive hotel, just what I’d asked my University of the Azores Ponta Delgadaairport taxi driver to take me to.  The university was on the outskirts of town, but it didn’t look that far on my map.  I walked out of the downtown and through residential areas to a beautifully laid out campus.  A very pleasant walk of less than an hour.  There, and later at the radio studio downtown, I met with two informed and informative men who told me about Portugal and the Azores vis a vis the EU, Canada and Newfoundland.

Between working forays, I explored the city and nearby countryside.  Having realized it Public beach near Ponta Delgadawas possible to walk to the university in interview dress, I put on running shoes and roamed further afield.  One spectacular day was spent at the beach near the city.  I was the only person swimming, still too cold for Azoreans, but to me magnificent.

Cantino dos Anjos on the harbour

glass from Cantinho dos Anjos, Ponta DelgadaThat evening I walked the short distance from my hotel to the harbourfront.  Near the yacht marina I went in the Cantino dos Anjos, a bar flying signal flags outside and in.  Busy and comfortable, with several languages discernible in the overheard chatter.  The bartender came over and asked my name and where I was from.  I handed him a business card.  Shortly after, he returned with a glass in his hand.  We make these for new visitors, he said handing me a tumbler with the bar’s name and mine etched on it.  Yes, that’s it in the photo, I’ve taken good care of it all these years.

Four young French sailors, one of whom spoke some Sailboats at Ponta Delgada marinaEnglish, began talking to me.  Nice guys.  They invited me to their sailboat the next day.  We sailed just outside the harbour at sunset, then docked and the cook whipped up a fabulous seafood meal.  They were leaving the next day, as was I, so they walked me back to my hotel and in smatterings of English, French and Portuguese we said what a lovely time we’d had.  No, I don’t recommend girls or women going off alone with unknown sailors, but this time it worked out safely and just fine and gave me a memory of ocean water on a warm Atlantic evening and lights twinkling on the silhouette of an ideal Lilliputian skyline.

City Hall at night, Ponta DelgadaSophisticated clothing and design shops, well-stocked bookstores, good discount stores selling everything, museums and galleries, lovely cafés and restaurants with outdoor patios.   Very few vacant storefronts.  A bustling downtown with beautiful old architecture well maintained, no skyscrapers, easy to navigate, Ponta Delgada is welcoming to tourists but not slathering for their custom.  I hope it hasn’t changed, it felt like an easy place to call home.

Portugal and Eco: The Knights Templar Castle, Tomar

Archways at Knights Templar Castle, Tomar PortugalVacationing in the Azores, my reading was Humberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It was my introduction to the Knights Templar and I fell in love. I was going on to Portugal, and Tomar with its Templar Castle was on my itinerary, come hell or high water. I met a friend in Oporto, and after a few days in that amazingly beautiful city, we headed south, with a stop in Tomar planned.

Driving fast because we’d got away late and wanted to get to Tomar before nightfall. Driving through the city of Coimbra, with its ancient university – no time to stop, gotta get to Tomar. On the highway through the city, looking at the map and out the window, I could see rooftops – “there it is, that’s the university over there”. My partner, driving, took a glance over. And that was our tour of Coimbra.

Roman Ruins

Just out of Coimbra, we saw a sign for Roman ruins ahead. We’d made Conimbriga Roman ruins, Portugalgood time, so decided to stop for a look. There was no one there, and we just walked in. It was astounding. Beautiful, peaceful, eerie almost. We spent quite a long time there because it demanded time and attention. Not attention to explanatory signage, although it was useful. Just looking at the mosaics and their beauty and the engineering and its beauty.

Feeling glad for having seen this true pearl of history, we continued to Tomar. I was a bit anxious; I feared it would be dark when we got there. We had to find a place to stay, had to find the Castle, I had to psych myself up for this pilgrimage to the holy land of the Knights Templar. Still, I didn’t regret our stop to see the Roman ruins.

View of Tomar, with castle on skylineDrove like hell to Tomar, got there almost at dusk. I’d been looking at the maps, so knew where the Castle was (plus it’s a castle, how can you miss it?). “Quick, let’s go there first, just to see it.” We drove through the town and headed up the winding lane that leads up the hill to the Castle. All the way through town, you see the Castle looming above you. The hillside is wooded. Darkness was falling. We park and jump out. Quiet, nobody around, just the trees and the massive dark wooden doors. I’m crying, I’d started on the way up the hill.

Tomar at Easter

There’s a sign beside the doors. It gives the hours for the Castle and its very few closed days.  Easter Sunday is one of them. This was Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The castle had closed an hour before we got there. We had to leave Sunday evening; we had only blocked out the one night and day for Tomar. There was no choice; this was a working holiday and the holiday part was ending, with work starting Monday.

Easter Sunday Procession, TomarWe found a hotel and I read pamphlets about the Castle. Sunday morning, I went to Easter Mass and the procession through the streets. It was beautiful, the old church in the town square, the service, the old women in their black shawls, the little kids spit-polished in their best clothes.

Afterwards, I walked around the square and went to a park along the river that went through the centre of town. I sat on the grass and looked up at the Castle, stone battlements against the tree green and black and sky blue. I watched people strolling in the park with scampering kids, all dressed in their best clothes. All, like me, just out of Mass. Picnic hampers were unpacked, grannies called kids to come and eat. I wandered across the square again, quiet now, and went back to the hotel. We went to a restaurant, had a fabulous meal of seafood and drove around the castle grounds again and then out of Tomar.

One miss, two hits

View from Knights Templar Castle in TomarSo one big miss on the bucket list in this trip, and two unexpected hits: the Roman ruins and Easter in Tomar. And I never hear of Coimbra or its university without remembering yelling “there it is, look over there” and waving my arm toward a tower and rooftops way in the distance from a highway while the driver negotiates through high-speed city traffic reading road signs in a language he doesn’t speak.

I gathered these photos from several sources. The photo of the procession in Tomar I took that Easter Sunday. The panoramic photo of Tomar and the photo of the Conimbriga ruins I found online. American women took the photos from inside the Templar Castle, of the archways and the view from the top. I met them in the Algarve and we talked about where we’d been and what we’d seen. When I told them about my trip to Tomar, they said “You poor thing! We’ll send you our pictures when we get home.”  And bless their hearts, they did. In their letter, they noted that they “hope these are Tomar, so many cities, so many castles…” But I am happy to look at them, and imagine myself in the Castle keep.