Thursday, June 18, 2009


I know that we're traveling at a very rapid hope that you're keeping up with us on our travels thru Spain and Portugal! We'll slow down after July 4th when the 2009 Tour de France begins and we are in Dinan where we pick up the 2004 race for the first time!

Saturday, June 19, 2004 Seville, Spain

We slept in this morning and about 9:30 am we loaded the tour bus for a morning tour of Seville or as the Spanish call it: Sevilla. Many of the structures built for the Spanish Expo in 1929 and the worldwide Expo of 1992 are still here. There were also seven new bridges built in 1992. One looks like a Harp with a single suspension column on one end.

We visited several of the local sites and ended with a walk through the Jewish Section before entering the Cathedral. A massive structure built around an Arab Moorish Mosque, it covers 23,500 square meters and was constructed between 1248 and 1517 with several major additions later. It is the third largest Christian Church in the world. Right now they are in the process of replacing two huge pillars that are falling apart. The problem seems to stem from moisture from a cesspool under the church for the latrines that were used for hundreds of years by the priests….per the guide the problem was caused by: Holy S……(you fill in the blanks) . There are several main altars. One of the most important features of this Cathedral is Christopher Columbus’s remains are kept here in this church. His body has been moved several times over the past five hundred years but he is finally back here in Spain. Seville was the main port for trade with the New World.

After the tour ended most of us took the time to climb up to the top of the bell tower of the Cathedral. Instead of steps, there were a series of 34 brick ramps. Jim says they were used for horses at one time???? But, we found them easier to use than steps. The views from the top were well worth the climb.

Walked through the shopping areas of downtown Seville; stopped along the way for our lunch; and then caught City Bus 13 for a ride back to the hotel. Well worth the price of two Euros as it was mid day (about 2 pm) and getting very hot. Maybe that’s why they sleep in the afternoon and then turn their nights into days.

Mass started at 8 pm and also dinner was at 8 pm. We elected to go to dinner; then after dinner we walked over to church. Someone was watching out for our souls as there was a 9 pm wedding just starting. We “crashed” the wedding by standing at the rear of the church and completed our Sunday obligations. Plus we were lucky to see the inside of the church, as it is the one that Seville bullfighters visit for prayers before their events. It has a magnificent Madonna on the main altar and the entire sanctuary is worth seeing. The Madonna has human hair and is very lifelike.

We returned to the hotel to pack the bags for an early morning bus time for our trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

Sunday, June 20th: Father’s Day Driving to Lisbon

At breakfast someone announced that they’d been reading their Seville book last night and indeed, Jim was correct. The King rode his horse up the bell tower and that is why it was built with a ramp. We toasted all the fathers with juice and coffee and had a discussion on the various ways that soccer/football/futbol/futebol is spelled over the world.

On the road by 8:30 am we were headed for Portugal. Weather is cooler today and somewhat overcast. We passed field after field of sunflowers in full bloom. Manual, the tour director, gave us another history lesson on the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Valencia was the last major city conquered by Franco. He ruled until his death in 1975 when he reinstated the Monarchy. The King then ruled that there would be a democracy and elections were held. The King’s family had lived in exile in Portugal for many years prior to regaining control in 1975. About that time we entered an area that produces cork. He explained about the bark being cut off the trees every nine years and showed us how they laser cut the wine corks from the bark with a sample he’d obtained from a factory.

After about two and half hours we were at the border. Due to the additional security for the European Soccer games we actually were stopped at the border and had to show our passports. This is a rare occurrence today. Clocks are turned back an hour while we’re in Portugal. We’ve found that our cell phone is not working here….I didn’t get a chip as we’re only here for a few days. Also, no Internet connection at the hotel so will have to wait until I get back into Spain to connect. Jim is enjoying reading his new book by Peter Mayle, “A Good Year”. It was his father’s day gift that I’d brought with me from home as a surprise.

The group tour was an optional dinner tonight. We decided to stay in town and the bus dropped us, and a few others, off on their way to the ferry as they passed through the main square. The others were headed to the “Hard Rock Café” for dinner at the special request of the three teenage girls. The parents were great sports and took them there for dinner. We decided to do our own thing. The center was a mass of tourists getting ready for the big soccer game (quarter finals) between Portugal and Spain. Our goal was to enjoy the old part of the city, eat dinner and return before 8 pm.

We walked to the waterfront and then back to the center of the old town. Found a restaurant with outdoor tables and enjoyed a great fish dinner. The excitement of the tournaments was everywhere with flags, painted faces, team shirts and more. The majority of the tourist will never be able to purchase tickets and so will be watching televisions and large screens all over the city. After dinner we walked to the funicular called the Elevator da Gloria that took us up the hill for views of St. Jorge’s Castle from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro Alcantara Park. Walking back down the hill towards the waterfront we enjoyed the beautifully tiled buildings. Glazed tiles are a favorite decorative art in Portugal. Sometimes it’s just colored tiles and other times there are tiles that are used to create pictures. Reaching the bottom we found the Metro at Chiado. After some small errors we managed to purchase tickets and find the blue line that would take us back to the hotel. A delightful lady, probably about eighty years old, talked to us in Portuguese all the way. Jim thought that she was using several different languages but we found out later that the pronunciation sometimes has a Germanic sound. We’d seen a live snail crawling on the outside of her grocery cart and that started the conversation. She quickly tucked it back inside when I pointed it out to her. She then started talking about how she was going to cook them and never stopped talking until she got off one stop before we did. We didn’t understand everything she said but sign and body language can translate information almost as good as the verbal form. We were off at the next stop and from there it was about a mile walk to the hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel just as our tour bus returned from the dinner. Still daylight and almost time for the soccer game to begin. A very exciting game…the Portuguese team won by one point. The Spanish never scored a goal. From the end of the game the car horns never stopped blowing all night long! But, once we got to sleep, it was like a constant melody of celebration songs. The last time I remember hearing the song was about 4 am when I got up for a minute. The talk at breakfast was all about the game. Two of our thirty-some girls joined the bus driver in his private car (he and the tour director both live in Lisbon) and experienced the thrill of being in the center of town to celebrate. He purchased a Portugal flag and Kathleen held it out the window all the way back to the hotel. They were the last to arrive at breakfast!

Monday, June 21st: Touring the city of Lisbon and nearby cities

Today was a sleep in day…the bus didn’t start until 9 am. We drove through the city to see several of the sights here in Lisbon. The birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua, his name before he entered the Monastic life was Fernando. His feast day is a very important celebration in Lisbon from June 9th to 12th. The sardine season also begins at the same time and that is part of the celebration. Everyone eats sardines. After visiting the very oldest part of the city we headed along the Tagus River….the very same one we crossed back in Toledo Spain by walking across the Bridge of St. Martin…but here it is so wide that you can not see the other side at some points just before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. There is a large suspension bridge that looks like the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge…it was built by the same company. They added a lower level several years ago for the trains. Very much like San Francisco, Lisbon is built on seven hills.

The old Belem Tower built in 1515 to protect the harbor was very impressive. Nearby is a replica of the plane used in 1922 to fly from Portugal to Brazil, the first flight across the South Atlantic. From there we went to see the huge monument to the Discoveries built in 1960 to celebrate the 500th year after the beginning of the famous discoverers that sail from this port including Magellan and Vasco da Gama. Then across the street to the Monastery of St. Jeronimos (St. Jerome) that was built by the King from the five percent tax that was levied on the merchants’ profits from the spices and goods from India. Since today is Monday and like most everything in Europe they are all closed; we were only able to view them from the outside! But, our city tour guide did an excellent job of telling us all the history of each site.

From this area we continued west along the coast of the Tagus River until we reached the area where it merged with the Atlantic Ocean. You can actually see the line of foam where it merges. Beautiful sandy beaches are located all along this area. When we reached the fishing village of Cascais we stopped for lunch. More like Laguna Beach in California than a sleepy fishing village as it was described. Enjoyed our lunch and walked the waterfront before boarding the bus. From there we continued up the coast until we arrived at the beach famous for hosting a major surfing contest every year. The winds in this area are similar to those on the Monterey Coast and their pine trees are even more bent if you can believe it! One difference is the large expanse of sand and sand dunes. For those in the know it is called Guincho Beach. This is the western most piece of land in Europe; the end of the world for centuries when they believed that the world was flat.

We then started up the Sintra Mountains to the village at the top called Sintra. For centuries, Sintra was the summer escape for Portugal Kings. Lord Byron called this area an aristocratic dream of glorious Eden. The area enjoys a great deal of moisture and is extremely lush in vegetation due to the micro climate. We were able to tour the inside of the first royal palace built in the fifteenth century. It is still in use for royal functions and has the original furnishings and décor that various kings have used over the years. This is one of the few sites open on Mondays for touring. As it was only used in September of each year, the kitchen had a very unique design. There is no ceiling. The cooking went on twenty fours a day and the ceiling goes up into two cones with an opening at the top for the smoke to escape. If it did rain, the heat from the cooking would cause the small amount of rain that could enter into the vents to evaporate. There are two other summer palaces that have been built on the mountain by two other Queens who didn’t like the existing palaces, but this was the first.

A fast trip down the mountain brought us back to the hotel about 5 pm. Elected to bypass the dinner tonight and stay at the hotel to watch the English and Croatian Soccer match on TV. The winner will play the Portugal team in the semi-finals.

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