May 25. Having driven across the Minho River to Valença, I headed back to Tui, a charming village with narrow cobbled streets only a stone’s throw away across the river. Tui and Valença, separated only by the Minhho River (and a national boundary), had been been rivals for centuries. At the highest point in Tui sits the cathedral, dating back from the 11th century. The architecture preserves Romanesque elements in its main vestibule, and Gothic ones in the western vestibule. The tiny town has two museums, one dedicated to archaeology and sacred art, and the other to the ecclesiastical diocese. I was in search of a cappuccino and happily found the cafe Ideas Peregrinas, started by pilgrims who had hiked the Camino de Santiago. They wanted to create a comfortable hangout for fellow travelers and had outdone themselves. Their specialty coffees and baked goods were out of this world, with modern hiking gear icing on the cake!
Upon hearing that I knew nothing about Portugal, the very friendly barista informed me that Anton, a Portuguese tour guide sitting at the bar, was an expert. He and I ended up spending hours talking about everything under the sun (he in Portuguese, I in Castillian). I found out later that he spoke impeccable English. Given that I only had a week and were especially interested in historical places, he recommended Ponte de Lima, Braga, Guimarães, Porto, Coimbra, Aveiro, Lisbon, and Sintra. I decided to also visit Viana do Castelo, Condeixa-a-Nova (Roman ruins), the Monastery of the Dominicans of Batalha, the site of the battle of Aljubarrota, the Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, and Évora. It was so rare to have an engaging connection with a friendly human. As it was I tried visiting him when I was in Porto, but he was hip deep planning a tour for 120 tourists visiting Santiago de Compostela. Reluctantly I left the cafe and continued walking around the pretty walled town. My favorite part of Tui was the porto (gate) leading out of town. It was half way down the hill towards the Minho (or Miño in Spanish) River, and very picturesque. Sadly, my phone slipped and shattered on the paving stones. I cut my fingers using the touch screen, and decided to have the screen replaced in Lisbon.
It had been raining for days. I was surprised that I still had cool weather since starting my trip in Toulouse a few weeks earlier. I’d thought Portugal would be fiercely hot, as my only knowledge of the country was from English friends who had summer places in the Algarve. Instead, I spent much of my time dodging rain drops. I drove down the road along the Minho River where I’d hidden my car, and drove back to Valença, then continued to Ponte De Lima, one of the oldest towns in Portugal (founded in 1125). The town is bifurcated by a massive medieval stone bridge which spans the Lima River. Ponte was historically significant as a Roman settlement on the road from Braga to Santiago de Compostela and Lugo, and the first place in Portugal to get a municipal charter. Every second Monday, it holds one of the largest country markets in Portugal, and every September since 1826, Ponte de Lima holds the Feiras Novas (the new fairs), originally granted by King Peter IV of Portugal. The area around has the largest concentration of baroque manors in the country, and the most famous of these (ironically, each are named) include Aurora, Bertiandos, Brandara, Calheiros, and Pomarchão. Some even provide tourist accommodation. Too bad I was traveling on the cheap.The town was quaint, and I enjoyed the medieval tower which housed tourist information and the iconically narrow cobbled streets.
From there I headed to Braga. Under the Roman Empire, Braga, or Bracara Augusta, was the capital of the province of Gallaecia. As a result of its long and colorful history, Braga’s old town is full of medieval buildings and Roman ruins. I loved the historical old town and spent a few hours peeking into churches, including the cathedral and a ruined gothic medieval church with a few walls and no roof. Within the old walled city is a castle which hosts the oldest Portuguese archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately that was out of bounds.
As usual I was trying to cram too much into too few days. I wanted to see as much as I could of the country, like trying a little of everything at a buffet with the hope of coming back for a deeper diver. I drove to the historic town of Guimarães. Founded in the 4th century, Guimarães was the feudal territory of the Portuguese dukes who declared the independence of Portugal in the mid-12th century, and it is here that Portuguese national identity and language emerged. The town maintains its medieval urban layout, and showcases Portuguese architecture from the 15th to 19th century. Examples from the period from 950 to 1498 include the castle in the north and the monastic complex in the south. The period from 1498 to 1693 was characterized by noble houses and the development of civic facilities and city squares. A particular type of construction developed here in the Middle Ages (granite floor, half timbered structure above) and was used widely exported to Portuguese colonies in Africa and the New World. Wandering through ancient streets, gawking at architectural wonders, and trying to stay dry, I walked through the old town, especially enjoying the gourmands who sat in Tapas cafes full of ambience. The rain-soaked night inspired me to seek lodging, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a place for less than 120 Euros. I decided to try to find a camping spot in the mountains surrounding the town.
May 26. After breaking camp, I explored my surroundings and discovered a verdant trail that wound its way between large boulders. I wondered whether these were glacial erratics like the giant VW size boulders that sometimes appear in Yosemite Valley. By mid morning there were already families and couples who had joined me to ramble through nature. After I had my fill, I headed back to town. I found a good parking place and happily explored the recesses of the town that had seemed off limits the night before, including the newer part of town, exploring side streets and more run-down areas. I went to the castle and took an audio tour. Then I wandered into as many churches as I could. There was a wedding in the main church, but I was able to explore before the ceremony. The bride dramatically arrived in a white Cadillac driven by what looked like her father. Her hair was expertly coiffed, and her raiments looked like those of a queen, with a huge train that took three women to manage. Apparently some Portuguese have a lot of money. Or they spend years paying for a wedding.
I headed to Porto, arriving around 5pm. Trying to navigate around a parking area, I backed up and hit the plastic grill of a young woman’s car. She was one of the nicest people I had ever met. It took me an hour to fill out the accident report. By the time I was done, I’d lost some of my desire to see the pretty city. Determined to see what I could before sunset, I soldiered on, walking up the hill to the great cathedral overlooking the great Douro River. Porto is a very picturesque city. No wonder it is overrun with tourists. I walked along the old town toward the sea, staying on the right bank of the river. At nightfall, I decided to head up the coast in search of a place. It seemed that all was industrial, but I finally found a patch of eucalyptus and a narrow dirt road with steep sides. My car barely fit between the berm, but I drove in and pitched my tent.
The Douro historically divided Spain and Portugal, and traditional landholders have produced wine in the Alto Douro for over 2,000 years. Since the 18th century, their main export, port wine, has been world famous for its quality. The long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution. The Douro Valley is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. I’d planned to spend a day or two driving inland along the Douro, but would have to save it for the another time. The continuous growth of Porto (Oporto in Portuguese) was linked to the sea for both cultural and commercial links (Porto comes from the Roman name Portus for port). The city is bejeweled with many monuments, including the cathedral with its Romanesque choir, the Luiz I Bridge, the Monastery of Serra do Pilar, the Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara, the neoclassical Stock Exchange, the São João theatre (1796-1798; 1911-1918) the former prison “Cadeia da Relação” (1765-1796), Palácio da Bolsa (1842-1910), and São Bento railway station (1900-1916). This rich and varied architecture eloquently expresses the cultural values of succeeding periods – Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassical, and modern.
Archaeological excavations have revealed human occupation at the mouth of the Douro River since the 8th century BC, when there was a Phoenician trading settlement there. By the 5th century the town had become a very important administrative and trading center. In the succeeding centuries it was subjected to attacks and pillage by successive groups, including Swabians, Visigoths, Normans, and Moors. By the early 11th century, however, it was firmly established as part of the Castilian realm. Expansion came in the 14th century with the construction of massive stone town walls to protect its two urban nuclei: the original medieval town and the extramural harbor area. The historic center is located within the line of these Fernandine walls (named after Dom Fernando, in whose reign they were completed in 1376), together with some smaller areas that retain their medieval characteristics. This area conserves to a large extent Porto’s medieval town plan and urban fabric, along with some later monumental insertions as well as the two remaining sections of the Fernandine walls.
May 27. In the morning a man walked down the track and swore at me in Portuguese. I explained in Castilian why I was camping there. He kept asking why. The joys of guerrilla camping and traveling on a shoestring. I headed back to Porto and walked to a lovely museum close to the Crystal Palace which addressed how people lived in the 1800s. I found out that museums are free on Sundays. The curator was very helpful and suggested that I visit Viana do Castelo, which I decided to do that night. He also recommended the house museum and birth place of Henry the Navigator, which I managed to find an hour or so before closing. I had just enough time to check out the displays on the role of Portuguese in navigation and the importance of Henry in Portuguese exploration. From there I crossed the river and walked along the left bank, where I bought some Portuguese linens (I liked the colourful patterns and thought I’d give a few to friends). I stopped at the cathedral on the way back, then headed to my car in the dark. There was a strange droning over loud speakers in the town, and I finally figured out that a priest was saying mass over the loud speakers as a procession of people walked in the Main Street. I decided to pull out ahead of them in fear that I’d get stuck for a long time. I wasn’t in a particularly reverent mood. I headed to Viana do Castelo, where I found a place to camp near the ruins of an old fortress along the coast.
May 28. The next morning I heard people chatting and realised I’d camped right next to a walking trail that hikers on the Camino de Santiago take heading north up the coast. I drove to the center of the idyllic town of Viana do Castelo and walked along the pretty streets, window shopping and enjoying shop displays and street art, including a colorful display of parasols hanging from between two buildings. I found a shop that sold blue cloth naturally dyed with indigo, and was intrigued by the artisanal crafts displayed there. I wandered over to some Roman ruins, and met a nice couple who were very chill and reminded me of some friends in Santa Cruz. It seems that this town attracts a Bohemian crowd. From here I headed to Coimbra on the recommendation of an esteemed friend who had delivered a paper there and raved about the town and university library. Little did I know the fate that awaited me there.
I arrived in the old town in the later afternoon to begin my exploration of the old town and ancient university perched above the town. On my way down the steep, winding streets, I heard the strains of Fado emanating from a cafe and sat near the door, feeling too cheap to pay for entry. I let the music penetrate my soul as I listened to the melancholic strains of vocals and guitar. A note to readers: the next few days are hard to remember because I lost detailed notes when my laptop was stolen in Sintra a few days later. These next few entries represent my attempt to reconstruct my memories almost 2 years later. Situated on a hill overlooking the city, the University of Coimbra-Alta and Sofia grew and evolved over more than seven centuries within the old town of Coimbra. Created initially as an academy in the late 13th century on the hill above the town (Alta), it was established in the Royal Palace of Alcáçova in 1537 before developing as a series of colleges. The University of Coimbra-Alta is an exceptional example of a university city, illustrating the interdependence between city and university in which the city’s architectural language reflects the university’s institutional functions. As the center for training the elite of all the territories under Portuguese administration, the University played a key role in the institutional and architectural development of universities in the Portuguese colonies. Key components of the university’s pedagogical institutions are the 17th century buildings including the Royal Palace of Alcáçova, St Michael’s Chapel, the Joanine Library, the Colleges of Jesus, Holy Trinity, St. Jerome, St. Benedict, St. Anthony of the Quarry and St. Rita; the colleges along Sofia Street including St Michael (Inquisition – old Royal College of the Arts), Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Carmel, Our Lady of Grace, St Peter of the Third Order, St. Thomas, New St Augustine, and St Bonaventure; the 18th century facilities in the Alta area including the Chemistry and other laboratories, Botanical Garden and the University Press, and the large ‘University City’ created during the 1940s.
I searched for a place to eat and found a hole in the wall cafe where I could take sustenance. My goal when traveling is eating to live, not vice versa, and instead I prioritize learning (in a manner peripatetic and/or via museums and other centers of learning) over enjoyment of more hedonistic pleasures. This style of travel certainly has its downfalls, and I often find myself frazzled as weeks turn into months of what sometimes feels like a forced march. By the end of most trips I crave the comfort of my bed, cooked food, luxuries like reading, hiking, or listening to progressive radio, as well as seeing friends. I often sacrifice these needs when I travel, and want to figure out how to address them when away.
I got back to my car at nightfall, or where I thought my car had been. Having had a car towed at least 4 times in my life, I still remember the sinking feeling I have had each time. Was I misremembering? Off a street? When abroad I will sometimes write down the nearest address with the hopes of not misplacing the car, though that strategy backfired on me in Vienna when my phone died before I could access what I’d written. I ended up having to borrow a charger to see what I’d written. Tonight was another story. I hadn’t mislaid the car, I had parked in a spot that indicated that parking was allowed (but only for government employees). Sadly my Spanish did not aid me in the translation of this important detail written in Portuguese. As soon as I realized my error, I rushed across the street and found a police officer, spoke in a panic (luckily they understand Spanish and my Spanish was quite good), and described the car, license plate number, and other details. They made some calls and found the car already impounded in a lot. They gave me a ride to the lot, indicating that it would cost me 600 Euros to get it back. So much for trying to live on a shoestring budget! To add insult to injury, I had to wait for 2 hours for someone to finally arrive at the lot and let me get my car. Then I had to drive to a small police headquarter and give additional money and fill out some forms. Four hours and 600 Euros later, I was exhausted and angry at myself for making such an expensive mistake. I had a similar lesson months later when I parked in a handicapped spot in Copenhagen. I’d been unable to find a spot and knew that most European countries honored disabled placards from the US. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it was for a particular car (ie, license number), not any car with disabled plates. Another expensive lesson, which I appealed, but to no avail. I had been interested in the ancient Roman settlement of Conímbriga located near Condeixa-a-Nova about 10 miles south of Coimbra, which had been the Roman town of Aeminium. I decided to sleep in my car near the site and investigate in the morning.
May 29. I awoke to a few tourists strolling through the tree-strewn parking area toward the museum. It was already a hot day and I donned my sun hat and made my way to the museum, then out to the well-preserved ruins of one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal. Conímbriga is a walled urban settlement, encircled by a curtain of stone structures approximately 5000 feet long. One enters the settlement from vaulted structures consisting of two doors, defended by two towers. Remains of various structures include a forum, basilica and commercial shops, thermal spas, aqueducts, insulae, homes of various heights (including interior patios) and domus (including the Casa dos Repuxos and Casa de Cantaber), as well as a paleo-Christian basilica.
A brief history of Roman occupation of the site: Around 139 BC, Romans began arriving in the area, as a consequence of the expeditionary campaigns. At the time, Conímbriga was already a built-up settlement. The Romans introduced the formal organization of space to the settlement. Owing to the peaceful nature of rural Lusitania, Romanisation of the indigenous population was quick, and Conímbriga became a prosperous town. Between 69 and 79 AD, Conímbriga was elevated to the status of municipium. At that time, new urban programs were initiated. Judging by the capacity of the amphitheatre, by this time, the city had an estimated population of approximately 10,600. Many of the new colonists (such as the Lucanus, Murrius, Vitellius and Aponia families) came from the Italian peninsula and intermarried with local inhabitants (such as the Turrania, Valeria, Alios and Maelo families). Construction of the Casa dos Repuxos began in the 2nd century, likely over a pre-existing structure. At the end of the 3rd century, the Augustian walls were replaced by the existing structures. In addition there was a remodelling of the baths and construction of a majority of the larger homes of the town, culminating in the construction of the paleo-Christian basilica in the 4th century. Between 465 and 468, invasions by Sueves caused the destruction of the city, and its inhabitants dispersed, including some taken into slavery.
My educational quotient filled, I returned to Coimbra and booked a tour of Biblioteca Joanina, or the Johannine Library, a Baroque library situated in the heights of the historic center of the University. Built in the 18th century during the reign of the Portuguese King John V, it is part of the University of Coimbra General Library and is a National Monument. The Casa da Livraria (House of the Library), the previous name it was known by, received its first books in 1750, while its construction was completed between 1717 and 1728. I was dazzled by the spectacle of such gorgeous architecture. It is made up of three great rooms divided by decorated arches, each with the national coat of arms over the doorway and executed entirely by Portuguese artists. The walls are covered by two storied shelves, in gilded or painted exotic woods, while the painted ceilings, by the Lisbon artists Simões Ribeiro and Vicente Nunes, blend harmoniously with the rest of the decoration. The building has three floors and shelters about 200,000 volumes, of which 40,000 are located on the first floor. These bibliographic collections can be consulted, by request, with justification and motives for the need to consultation. Upon approval, the referenced work is taken to the Biblioteca Geral by functionary, where the document can be examined. The care taken in this respect is a direct consequence of the rarity and age of the documents in the library; the collection date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, whose majority represent the best works from Europe at the time. The library contains about 250 thousand volumes, namely works of medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy and theology.
The building represents a perfect vault, and maintains a stable throughout the year thanks in large part to the 7 foot thick exterior walls and teak door. As a result the interior maintains a constant temperature of 64–68 °F. The stacks are afflicted by papirófagos, insects that survive on paper, but because the shelves are made of dense oak which issues a repellant odor, and are protected by a colony of bats live who in the belfry and consume the pesky insects nightly. Every evening, workers cover the credenzas with sheets of leather which are cleaned the next morning of bat guano. The only other library whose books are known to be protected by bats is that of the Mafra palace.
From Coimbra I headed to the Monastery of the Dominicans of Batalha, erected to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King John I. It is one of the most impressive monumental complexes (not to mention the Soviet-size square outside) that I’ve ever seen. The monastery served as the burial church of the 15th-century Aviz dynasty of Portuguese royalty and is one of the best examples of Late Flamboyant Gothic architecture, intermingled with the Manueline style (the Royal Cloister being the masterpiece), in Portugal. The greater part of the monumental complex dates from the reign of João I (1385-1433), when the church (finished in 1416), the royal cloister, the chapter-house, and the funeral chapel of the founder were constructed.
The nave was raised to its monumental height by the second architect, Huguet, and presents an austere countenance due to a lack of ornaments and statues. The ribbed vaults, supported by compound piers, are closed by ornamented keystones. Light enters the church through ten stained-glass windows of the clerestory and the tall, traceried windows in the side walls and the transept and through the two rows of lanciform windows in the choir. The choir extends into two-bay transepts and consists of five apsidal chapels, with the central one projecting. Batalha probably had the first workshop for stained-glass windows in Portugal. The art was introduced to Portugal by German artists from the regions of Franconia and Nuremberg. The oldest windows date back to the end of the 1430s. But the Manueline, ogival stained-glass windows in the choir date from the 1520s and 1530s and were produced by Portuguese masters, among them Francisco Henriques. They represent scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary: the Visitation, the Epiphany, the Flight into Egypt and the Resurrection of Christ.
The joint tomb of King John I of Portugal (d.1433) and his wife Philippa of Lancaster (d.1415) lies under the star vault of the octagon. Their statues lie in full regalia, with clasped hands (expressing the good relations between Portugal and England) and heads resting on a pillow, under elaborately ornamented baldachins. The coats of arms of the houses of Aviz and Lancaster are on top of these baldachins, together with the insignia of the Order of the Garter. On the cover plate of the tomb are inscribed in repetition the mottos of the king Por bem (“for the better”) and of the queen Yl me plet (“I am pleased”). The Royal Cloister (Claustro Real) was not part of the original project. It was built under the architect Fernão de Évora between 1448 and 1477. Its sober outward appearance is in stark contrast with the Flamboyant Gothic style of the church. The carved tracery decoration in Gothic style (including quatrefoils, fleurs-de-lis and rosettes) by Huguet in the ambulatory forms a successful combination with the Manueline style in the arcade screens, added later by Mateus Fernandes. Two different patterns alternate, one with the cross of the Order of Christ, the other with armillaries. The colonettes, supporting these intricate arcade screens, are decorated with spiral motives, armillaries, lotus blossoms, briar branches, pearls and shells and exotic vegetation. Situated in the northwestern corner of the Claustro Real, the lavabo, work of Mateus Fernandes consists of a fountain and two smaller basins above, illuminated by light seeping through the intricate tracery of the arches around it.
From here I pushed on to yet another UNESCO world heritage site monastery complex, the Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I and closely associated with the beginning of the Portuguese monarchy. Its size, the purity of its architectural style, the beauty of the materials and the care with which it was built make this a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art. When Afonso Henriques was proclaimed King Alfonso I in 1139, he based his political reconquest on the Crusaders and on religious orders. Alcobaça was given to the Cistercians in recognition of their support to the conquest of Santarem (1152) with the understanding that they would colonise and work the surrounding lands.
Weary from so much monasterial wonder, I found a spot to fairly rural spot to pitch my tent a few miles from the monastery and laid down my head for the night.
May 30. I headed to Lisbon to repair my iPhone screen for 70 Euros, not knowing that doing so would void the warranty on the phone and greatly slow down the touch screen, as most screen repair places use a non-OEM screen. While waiting, I had a nice walk around the historical city, and hoped to have time to walk along the Tagus River and admire the iconic tiles (azulejos) created in this part of the world to beautify facades. I was in a bit of a rush as I had a dental appointment with Dr Windisch in Budapest on June 4. Part of Lisbon’s appeal is the fact that it is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the second-oldest European capital city (after Athens), predating other modern European capitals by centuries. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo. After the fall of the Roman Empire it was ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century; later it was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. In 1147 Afonso Henriques conquered the city and since then it has been the political, economic and cultural center of Portugal. After a nice walk around Lisbon, I picked up my repaired phone and drove to Sintra, which I hoped to explore in full the next day. Several friends had recommended Sintra, the summer play ground of the Portuguese aristocracy, as a must see. After driving around for more than an hour, I found the only place to sleep near a cemetery. A barking dog intent on warning its master almost blew my cover. Luckily nobody came out.
Sintra is a major tourist destination in Portugal, famed for its picturesqueness and for its historic palaces and castles. The area includes the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park through which the Sintra Mountains run. The historic center of the Vila de Sintra is famous for its 19th-century Romanticist architecture, historic estates and villas, gardens, and royal palaces and castles, which resulted in the classification of the town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sintra’s landmarks include the medieval Castle of the Moors, the romanticist Pena National Palace and the Portuguese Renaissance Sintra National Palace. High on a peak in the Serra, the Pena Palace is a work of pure Romanticism, designed by the Portuguese architect Possidónio da Silva. In 1840, Ferdinand II converted the medieval monastery, which was abandoned after the 1755 earthquake reduced it to ruins, is eclectic in its use of Egyptian, Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance elements to produce an ensemble that is a pure expression of the Romantic Movement. The Palace retains the church, cloister, and refectory of the 16th century monastery, and is richly decorated with azulejos. Surrounding the palace, a vast Romantic park was developed, unparalleled and planted with rare and exotic trees, decorated with fountains, watercourses and series of ponds, cottages, chapels and mock ruins, and traversed by sinuous paths. Many tree species were brought from North America, Asia and New Zealand. The whole park covers 520 acres, including the Tapada do Mocho and the Moorish castle, and is enclosed by a stone wall. The higher ground is covered with oak, cypress, and pine woodland, but nearer the castle there are more classical gardens, with parterres and some remarkable specimens of Taxus baccata and Sequoia sempervirens. Among the most notable features of these gardens are the Garden of the Camellias and the English Garden with its unique specimens of cycas, and the Garden of the Feitoria da Condessa with its remarkable dendrological variety. Ferdinand also restored the forests of the Serra, planting thousands of trees to supplement the native oak and umbrella pine forest.
This unique combination of parks and gardens in Sintra influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe. The Royal Palace is the dominant architectural feature of Sintra, situated in the town center. The palace’s buildings date from the early 15th and early 16th centuries. One of the most important features of the Palace is the facing with tiles (azulejos), the finest example of this Mudéjar technique on the lberian Peninsula. The interior contains painted and tiled decoration and other features characteristic of the Mudéjar and late Gothic Manueline styles. The Palace of Monserrate was designed for Sir Francis Cook by the distinguished British architect James Knowles Junior. It is another example of mid-19th century eclecticism, adapted to the remains of the earlier building, also ruined in the 1755 earthquake, and combines neo-Gothicism with substantial elements derived from the architecture of lndia. The Parque de Monserrate covers 124 acres on the northern slopes of the Serra. William Beckford’s remodelling of the existing palace in the late 18th century involved the creation of a landscape garden. When he took over, Sir Francis Cook employed James Burt to design various sites for exotic gardens. The planned gardens are surrounded by a semi-natural oak forest. The gardens were largely the work of Thomas Gargill: careful analysis of the microclimatic zones of the land made it possible to plant over 3000 exotic species, collected from all parts of the world.
Another complex in Sintra was built by the 16th century Portuguese captain and viceroy João de Castro and enlarged by his heirs and successors. The structures on the site of the Quinta da Penha Verde ensemble are somewhat austere but have a harmony of its own, with a series of chapels dating from the 16th-18th centuries. The Palace of Ribafrias, with its chapel, is in the center of the town and was built in 1514 by the Royal Great Chamberlain, Gaspar Gonçalves. lts original rather severe lines have been softened by subsequent alterations, such as the insertion of Manueline and Pombaline windows into the facade. The Moorish Castle, high on a peak of the Serra, might be of Visigothic origin; it was certainly used in the 9th century, during the Moorish occupation. lt was finally abandoned with the successful Reconquista of Portugal from the Moors. Now in ruins, the remains of its barbican, keep and walls vividly illustrate the problems of constructing a fortress on a rocky outcrop of this kind. Other buildings in this group are the Palace of Seteais (late 18th/early 19th century), the Quinta de Regaleira (late 17th century), and the Town Hall (early 20th century). The Trinity Convent of the Arrabalde was founded by a group of monks from the Trinity Convent in Lisbon in 1374 in a quiet valley of the Serra. Their primitive hermitage was replaced by the first monastery in 1400 and reconstructed a century later. Following severe damage in the 1755 earthquake, much of it had to be rebuilt. The present small cloister dates from 1570 and the church largely from the late 18th century. lt has retained the tranquillity that attracted the first monastic community to this site. The Church of Santa Maria, with its three naves, represents the transition between Romanesque and Gothic of the mid-12th century. The facade and tower are from 1757. Other churches in the town are the Sao Martinho and Sao Miguel parish churches (mainly post-1755), the former Sao Pedro de Canaferrim parish church inside the Moorish castle (12th century) and the Church of Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia (17th-18th centuries).
May 31. I awoke in Sintra. It was six years to the day since my ankle was shattered in a bad car accident. Looking back, I think May 31 had become my personal ides of March. No matter that I had slept outside the cemetery gates to the sound of incessant barking. I followed signs towards the Pena Palace. On the way I saw Natalie’s Café, a small, idyllic place, and made up for my austere camping experience with two pieces of cake and a wonderful latte. I ended up working on the computer for two hours. They had no Wi-Fi so I saved all my work to my local drive. After a nice respite, I headed up toward the castle, parking near a fountain. From there I hiked up the steep incline to the stunning park and grounds of Pena Palace. I spent many hours walking on the grounds and through the eclectic castle. On the way back I skirted the walls of the ruins of the Moorish castle and finally found my way back to the car. Upon opening the door, my heart sank. Something wasn’t right. Everything was topsy turvy and scattered hither and yon. With trepidation I opened the trunk, and my worst fears were confirmed. The car had been broken into and money, computer cables and other accessories (including my expensive MacBook Pro with retina screen), credit cards, warm clothes and down jacket, and other important items including a daypack, earplugs, cables and plugs, and the main car key had been taken. I was devastated. I sat down and cried, and I remember a young American tourist walking by and empathizing with my loss. He suggested that I file a police report which I did, though of no use. The officer did not appear in the least case concerned. He said this happened all the time. Later, I learned that many tourists visiting Portugal have had valuable equipment stolen. A German tourist said it had happened within 10 minutes, and that he lost thousands of dollars of camera gear. After calling Shawn and hoping for empathy, I drove to a mall outside of Lisbon and replaced my down jacket and purchased a keyboard for my iPhone, which I would have to use for the remainder of my 4 month trip. I barely made it in time before the store closed. What a drag! I felt horrible, and with sinking heart I left at 9pm and drove to an olive grove outside of Evora, where I camped to loud music that played all night. How neighbors find peace I will never know.
June 1. I awoke to sheep surrounding my tent, grazing. I headed into Evora, walking the narrow streets and exploring the main monastery complex, where I headed up to the roof, still really upset about my laptop being stolen. I called my friend Kanga and he was very empathetic about the trauma that I’d experienced, not only with the theft but having my car towed and a tire blown a few days before. Evora is much hotter than more northern parts of the country, and the sun was already cooking my brain by 9am. Its roots go back to Roman times, and it reached its golden age in the 15th century, when it became the residence of the Portuguese kings. I especially liked the portals, old walls, and whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 16th to 18th century. Apparently, its monuments had a profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil. At 11:30am I left, knowing that I had to average 550 miles per day for the next 3 days to get to my dentist appointment in time. I drove non-stop until 10pm, when I was waylaid by a storm that hit while crossing the Cinca River. I parked in the downpour, listening to the rain hitting the metal roof and enjoying the patter. Despite the cramped conditions (my car was the size of a Mini Cooper), I slept well for the first time in days.
June 2. I continued driving through Spain and into southern France. Along the coast of Italy, west of Genoa, I drove through a gauntlet of metal guard rails so close I was sure I would hit them. Italians were driving like crazy people. I arrived at a gas station at 9:45pm just before station closed and slept in a corn field near factory. I awoke to the sound of a tractor and began driving again. I had hoped to stop in eastern Italy but had no time. I finally stopped in Ljublijana where I spent 3 hours walking through the old town and exploring the beautiful park. For some reason my father was on my mind, and though he had died in January 2007, I felt like he was with me. I cried, missing him, despite the fact that we often had disagreements. On I drove, to just outside of Maribor where I was deluged by rain and slept in the car.
June 3. I continued my drive through Austria and into Slovakia and finally Hungary, where I camped in a field and psychologically readied myself for my dental appointment the next day.