15
Nov
13

Europe Trip – Portugal – The far north

NORTHERN PORTUGAL PICASA PHOTO ALBUM (73 photos)

We entered Portugal through the northeastern corner and immediately headed out to the capital of Trás-os-Montes province, Bragança. The walled Cidadela or 12th century citadel is beautifully preserved, and was a treat for the kids as well as for us. Kyle pushed himself to climb as many stairs as he could (with some help), and Kyra is now ‘a big girl’ and doesn’t need a stroller all the time, even on serious walks and climbs. This of course makes our life a bit easier.

After this nice first introduction to Portugal, we wanted to explore some nature and headed into the mountains to visit the town of Montesino and its nature park; but the heavy rain, cold and wind made us turn around. The steep and slippery roads however made us get acquainted not only with the typical Portuguese steep and cobblestoned slippery streets, but also with the strength of our heavily loaded  (more than 4000 kilo) camper.

We headed straight west to the Minho province, where we visited the beautiful town of Guimaraes, where the medieval center is a labyrinth of little cobblestoned streets. We got stuck trying to get a parking space in tiny streets, but got help from super friendly Portuguese ambulance drivers (they drove in front of us doing a tour of the town and showing us a great parking lot). Afterwards, we wandered around, going from plaza to plaza, each time pleasantly surprised by the beautiful churches and historic buildings with azulejos. The seven-towered castle, more than 1000 years old, and the palace of the first duke of Bragança however were cherries on the cake of this fantastic surprise of a town. Despite the overcast weather, it was still quite warm out, and the kids loved clambering on the rocks of the castle and looking at all the medieval extravaganza in the palace. This city deserves its status of Unesco World Heritage Site.

We then headed to Braga, where the main attraction is the pilgrimage site of Bom Jesus do Monte. The neoclassical church on top of the mountain is quite attractive, but the baroque tiered staircase is truly extraordinary and worth every effort of the climb. The views from the top, the middle and bottom are equally great and we all had a great time. The kids were exhausted and slept while we made our way to the bridge of Ponte de Lima. The bridge as well as the Parque do Arnado, a park with styles from all over the world and a nice playground, were nice and worth the stop.

We ended our introduction to Portugal with the northern harbor and beach town Viana do Castelo, where we spent a windswept day at the beach, followed by a trip into the historic center of town as well as the hilltop church on the Monte de Santa Luzia.

We all liked this northern part of Portugal, and were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the Portuguese people, especially if you try to speak their language (or Spanish with a Portuguese twist to it). However, we could feel this is still one of the parts in Europe where there is a lot of poverty and the general standard of living is low. People don’t have a lot of money, the banking and PIIGS crisis hasn’t helped, so you can see the deterioration of houses, streets and public services.

Next we are heading a little ways south to Porto and the Douro region.

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