Local Heart, Global Soul

December 16, 2010

Leaving the Fort, and Getting “Done” …but Not by Strangers.

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

We are preparing to leave the large star-fort inside the town of  Valença, northern Portugal. Many of the buildings are in the traditional grey stone and white paint, other then when they are decorated with tiles.

We explore the last ” sides” of the fort that we have not yet seen and as we pass though a tunnel to get the the outer ramparts I am again reminded at just what an amazing feat of engineering this place is.

Even when you get to the outer walls there is still the massive drop to the ground below, so I’m sure that just the sheer scale of the fortification was off-putting enough to deter some invaders of centuries past.

Spain is just across the river but these days traffic moves smoothly from one country to the other over the nearby bridges as Portuguese pop over the border finding some consumer goods cheaper in Spain, and visa versa as some things are cheaper in Portugal for the Spanish.

For Family Kiwidutch it’s time to head back to our Convivio Campsite and for the kids… the swimming pool.

As we pass by some traders on our way to one of the ramped tunnels that will lead us out of the Fort, the kids spy some garden ornaments ( well I assume they are garden ornaments and they fall in love)  Ye goodness it’s cutesy and tacky to the extreme, not my cup of tea at all… nooooo I really really don’t want a cutesy lamb, donkey, duck, frog…or horror of horrors,  agh !!! the gnomes.

Himself and I plead the breakable nature of the goods ( actually I think Himself would have been willing to help some these objects along towards this possible destiny) and manage to march reluctant children out of the Fort sans Tat after the topic of ice-cream amazingly came to light a few moments later.

Actually think that that means Parents “lost” anyway, as the little blighter’s still scored an object of their desire and we of course predictably picked the lesser of two evils. Humph… outwitted by a nine and five year old, and we hadn’t even seen it coming.

We admire everything on the way out and reflect on an excellent family fun day out here that I would recommend in a heartbeat to any family venturing this way.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

…running down the middle of the street… I think this  is a man hole cover…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

We leave in search of ice-cream for our mini and pint sized muggers…

December 15, 2010

Lèche-vitrines(or not), and the Very Fine Art of Lugging it Home…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

During our exploration of the star-fort situated in the centre of the northern Portuguese town of Valença, we are once again amazed by the variety of stone carvings and tiles on display.

Valença, like most places in Portugal, have tiles and decorations galore if you care to look for them.

Often the faces of entire buildings are decorated with them, but sometimes too they are additional decorations in stone frames, nooks and in feature panels.

The blood of stonemasons that must surely run though my veins if only I could dig deep enough somewhere in my family history of generations past, demands that I point my camera lens at  as many new finds as I can…

…and there must surely be at least one tile artist in my deep and distant past too if my obsession passion for tiles is to be any way explained in a sane or logical manner.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Heck, If I ever found any Portuguese blood in bloodlines of centuries past then that might explain a LOT of my passions and vices ( Yes, we did bring  some extra special quality Port back in our bags as well as some amazing Portuguese olive oils…)

Confession: actually it’s amazing how many bottles you can stash into your check-in luggage if you use every scrap of of your (and your kids) holiday clothing to pad them in (Ok, not the clothes we stood up in… obviously!) … and if you need to know just crazy a Foodie I am… the answer is a total of eleven bottles distributed between three check-in suitcases.

Sigh… I know, I know. But  Ha! we still haven’t beaten our personal record when B.C. (Before Children), Himself and I youth hosteled around Ireland and took two and a half changes of clothes each (extra underwear = the half) Constant laundry and inventive drying techniques were understandably also a major feature of this trip.

…but there was method in our madness because after  a two week holiday touring around the country trawling second hand bookshops we triumphantly  managed to arrive back in the Netherlands with a grand total of no less than 53 second hand books…

…AND we flew there… AND half of them were hardbacks… AND we avoided excess baggage tariffs (partly because Himself is a very tall, very strong man, who put the very heaviest of the books in a small rucksack and swung it nonchalantly in one hand whilst we were checking in and they were weighing the main stuff)

That small rucksack weighed about the same as a sack of bricks and  it’s a wonder that the seams of the rucksack didn’t break. It went under the seat in front of us as soon as we got on the plane because we knew even lifting it towards the overhead locker was pushing our luck.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

But I digress…  Himself counts himself lucky these days that at least it is bottles of olive oil and drinkables in the luggage and not an insanely large collection of Portuguese tiles and pottery stashed into the check-in bags.

Mind you… I did see some stone statues and a gorgeous stone bread-oven (or two) that made my fingers twitch on my wallet and my brain go into overdrive with reckless plans on how to get them home, (before the reality check smacked sense into me)…

…sigh,  I need to do my Family Tree, there’s has to be some Portuguese blood in there somewhere stirring these mad passions.

Digressing further and even further unrelated note, I will add that no language describes “window-shopping” better than the French, who’s expression “lèche-vitrines” (delightfully describes literally=  that you are going to “lick the windows”) and sums up the exact feeling that I feel about window shopping when tiles and plates etc are the items before my eyes..

I guess for a Foodie it’s an appropriate expression too.

In the meantime, I “window-shop” tiles and drool over all the stonework that rightly demands  adoration.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Yes, shame on me,  I even coveted the monolith marker statue that we stumbled upon in one of the small side streets… it’s dated 43 D.C  (and was moved to it’s present location in 1680) and the quality of the stone-masonry is still amazing!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Drool… divine loveliness in stone. I prised myself away with difficulty.

 

December 14, 2010

Textiles, Linens, Embroideries and Draperies of all Sorts…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Still in the Fort that stands within the northern Portuguese city of Valença, I am discovering more in some of  the shops than just the tourist knick knacks.

For some reason linens and towels feature in a predominantly large proportion of the shops, but within that, there is a distinct difference between the large piles of cheap dish towels and the hand embroidered cloths, many of which are stunning in their design and workmanship.

Lacking sunshades and standing in the full force of the early afternoon sun, several shops have installed large sheets of fabric draped outside as a shade.

They give the impression of a bazaar with treasures lurking within.

There is also an abundance of pottery but most of it is white and blue unlike the red based hues we have seen earlier in our travels when visiting Our Lady of the Snows.

Once again I keep wishing that I have extra bags for the flight home… sadly not, and there is are weight restrictions that our delicious bottles of olive oils etc are already getting perilously close to.

So many wonderful things to see…

 

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I’d linger for an age at the shops with tiles and pots, but the kids are eagerly surging forwards down the street so I keep falling behind.

Plenty still to see.. lead on Children…

December 13, 2010

Tourist Joints and a Fortress Lunch…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Family Kiwidutch have been busy exploring the Fort that stands inside the northern Portuguese town of Valença. Inside the historic Fort walls is what might almost be called a “sub-town” since it is separated from, but still within Valença.

Of course parts of it cater to tourists, but other parts, local houses and businesses are just like in any suburb of any town.

It would be easy to forget that if ever the great doors and entranceways to the outside world were slammed shut,  you would be barricaded for better or worse  instantly within the thick walls. It’s both a weird and magical idea when you think about it.

Our walking has given us an appetite so we are keen to stop for a bite to eat.

Our family face a culinary obstacle at this point in our lives…  it’s a familiar one for many parents of small(er) children. If this was just Himself and I, then the options are simple, steer clear of the tourist joints, ask around to see where the locals eat and hopefully find a little family run local business and discover some local culinary gems.

At the other end of the scale are people who go abroad and spend their entire dining experience in International Fast Food chains… only because the familiar burger and fries in the photos are well within their comfort zone. But for us, who (a) despise these chains and (b) love getting to grips with the excellence of  different local cuisines and taste experiences, this option is truly the option of last resort.

The obstacle is that our kids are not yet discerning culinary giants, they have very simple tastes and a limited palette which we are steadily working on extending but which is far from our final goal.

Therefore middle ground is to try and find a local place that serves both local and kid friendly food. This usually ends up in practice being a place that caters for tourists and well to be blunt, these place can often have what  I call a ” passing through” attitude.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

So many tourist places serve exceptionally mediocre food and don’t care because the tourist is passing this way today, in all likelihood will never come back, their word of mouth doesn’t matter so much as their friends live far away and so these establishments grin, take their money tuck it into the till and wave goodbye as the tourists file en masse back to the tour bus/mini van/rental car.

These places do food to please the masses, it’s guaranteed to be fairly quick, recognisable and it fits into the schedule of an hour for lunch and then off to the next place. It’s a quick turn-around of tables for the eatery too.. win win. No?

Well not for us it isn’t. In fact these are probably the single biggest reasons I would never be found on an organised tour, (actually tours and cruises are so not our style for many reasons), give us instead: at least ten words of a foreign language, a place far away from the crowds and let us take our chances with the highlights and pitfalls of going solo any day.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The problem of adding kids into the equation is simply that compromise is an inevitable fact until they are capable of mastering what I call “joined-up-food“. Fortunately this place, whilst clearly catering for tourists at least offers half decent fare, friendly staff and is better than many establishments of it’s type.

I forgot to get the exact names of the dishes we ate, but they were more “tourist” fare than real Portuguese and  I had the Portuguese version of a Tuna sandwich, the kids wanted the perennial kid favourite of toasted sandwiches and that Himself had a  paella style main dish.

Additionally, Himself and I shared a single  appetizer and an entrée between us…

It’s baking hot and the shade umbrellas are massively appreciated.

I have no clue what this appetizer of oblong balls are called but contained bacalhau (salt cod) and was the best we have had anywhere so far this trip… seriously good.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The fish entrée was good in an “ok’ kind of way, very edible but nothing mega special. That’s probably how I would sum up most of the meal… simple, sufficient, … nice.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I wouldn’t mind to have the tuna sandwich again, but with 20/20 vision would skip the entrée and ask for a double portion of the appetizer as it was definitely the best thing on the menu.

Himself enjoyed his paella without raving about it and well, for a tourist outfit they actually did better than I expected.

There is a cafe element to the restaurant too so naturally I was drawn to photograph the selection of sweeter options , but today we were too full and too hot to indulge.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Note to self: looks divine….gotta search for a recipe in my Portuguese cookbooks for these…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

plus old favourites, naturally…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

December 12, 2010

Discovering Lost Souls …

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

In continuation of my post of yesterday, we have been walking the  small streets of the “village” that lies within the walls of the Fort, that in turn lies within the northern Portuguese town of Valença.

At the Northern end of the fort, the shops well run out and with now only spasmodic traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, all is suddenly considerably quieter than a few streets earlier.

We notice a church spire at the end of this little road and begin to walk towards it.

I’m instantly captivated by the architecture… there two building alongside each other,  and whilst it looks like the two are from different centuries but connected, I couldn’t actually be sure.

One part is clearly the Church… simple, beautiful main stone archway above the door and clean lines in the gray and white color scheme prevalent of northern Portugal, that culminate in the bell tower where wrought iron and a stone top take over as the decorative elements.

Himself and the children were intently studying something, something that I had first dismissed with a glance to be roadworks and then a local fix to a plumbing problem.

Little Mr. broke me out of my admiration for the local stonemasons by running breathlessly to my side and blurting out that the men were digging bodies out of the ground and that he, Kiwi Daughter and Himself had been busy watching.

An exhumation?  This really didn’t look like any modern burial site, the side of the church was after all directly on the side of the cobbled street.

A closer look revealed all… archeology, and yes there were bodies, several in fact.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The adult was facing being unearthed in the deeper trench to the right, and at right angles to it on the left there lay a smaller body.

A very small body indeed… the large skull and small skeleton of an infant.

Himself is exercising his Portuguese language skills and chatting to one of several men carrying out the excavation work.

Yes, workmen had originally just come to make repairs here,  but  as is now commonplace in most of Europe, care is taken so that any potential archaeological site is documented, and when the digger got beneath the cobbles, these remains quickly came to light, so an archaeological team took over from the maintenance one.

They apparently have very limited time in which to do the excavation so the chat between them continued as the archaeologists worked, but they were also clearly delighted to find people taking an interest in what they were doing.

I was rather amazed that the depth of interest that our kids took in the proceedings, gravy and intently looking on, and taking pride in “showing”  me once I joined them, the infant bones,  explaining where the head of each of the bodies were and how the torsos lay etc. (the evidence obvious already, naturally)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Our children were confronted with the harsh reality of child mortality of some century past, but also stood in awe of the skill of the men in recording the existence of these souls long departed and who knows?,  this event may have sparked some interest in archeology or forensic science years down the road.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

These bones would be documented before being moved somewhere where they could rest in more comfort possible than under a cobbled street. I wondered who they had been, how they had died and when. Maybe one day someone will know. In the meantime I silently wished them a Peaceful resting place.

Thus we reluctantly left these meticulous men to their quiet unearthing of the secrets of the adult and child, and continued our exploration of this historic Fort.

December 11, 2010

Down Narrow Streets and a Grisly Discovery…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Regular readers of my blog know that I like nothing more than a good explore of somewhere new…

…not just the main drag where everyone who visits usually goes but also the back ways and small streets that less people go.

OK, I’m not meaning that we venture into the less reputable areas of big cities that might not be particularly safe, or anywhere that we see it would l0ok like an impolite and obvious intrusion, or where there is clear deprivation or where we feel we might make people uncomfortable by our presence.

Getting off the beaten track has often, over the years given us some excellent (if unusual) dining experiences and some funny moments. Picking up hitch hikers whilst in São Tomé and Principe years ago turned out to be more to our benefit than theirs in the end… but, I digress, that’s a whole new blog post… (or several), for in the future.

Even if you are a tourist, you can usually go off the beaten track a lot if you are careful and especially if you are not flashy and if you take care of the situation around you and are flexible enough to remove yourself if  things start to look like something you didn’t bargain on.

Portugal doesn’t pose these safety problems, but the principle of leaving the main tourist thoroughfares behind us in order to explore further does lead us to some new experiences.

First a small tour… from the variation of the stalls set up just inside the walls by the main entrances, the tunnel-like connection between the two main sections of the town within the Fort, to the narrow streets crowded with people and shops, the cobbled streets and the empty, peaceful back-streets.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

After all, That’s how after we wonder the outer areas of the  fort,  and meander the streets within it…  that we stumbled upon the excavation of a body…

December 10, 2010

Valença: Beauty, Big Gal Style…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Driving back towards where we are camping we pass close to the northern Portuguese town of Valença.

This Roman town stands right on the edge of the river that borders it with Spain and there has been friction aplenty between the two over the past millennia.

Because of this, a fort was constructed and it’s a truly impressive feat of engineering.

In fact it’s so big and so impressive that photos that I have taken whilst exploring it cannot hope to do it justice… you are simply too up-close to see all of it in it complete magnificence.

Hopefully the size of the cars in some of the photos and the sentry posts on top of the walls will give you a small idea of just how massive these walls are…

We spent the best part of an entire day looking around the Fort, the whole family had a most excellent time and agreed it to be one of the high points of the trip.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

So clearly there is plenty to see. In order to show you better:  I  bought a local postcard that shows an aerial view.

In this postcard you can see the scale of the place, the star-shaped battlements, embankments, the amazing depth and breadth of the walls, the two distinct parts of the town inside the Fort, separated by walls so thick that effectively you walk though tunnels between them.

First I want to explore the outer area of the fort… Wow, wow, wow, it’s impressive. Especially when you think that none of this was excavated with  modern technology, no diggers or earth movers here.

No computer generated  graphics to guide them either AND the whole lot stands on a very lumpy hill… so I am mega-impressed by how amazingly symmetrical it all is, no wobbly lines or bits that they misaligned during construction.

Given that flying overhead to check it out from above was also not an option at the time of building, the geometry is even more breathtaking.

Wikipedia provides some interesting facts:

Valença origins date back from Roman times. The two existent roman roads are the proof (the Via IV of Antonine Itinerary XIX, of military use, and the designated per loca marítimaItinerary XX -, of commercial use).

Also inside the fortified walls a Roman milestone marks the XLII mile of the road connecting Braga to Tui.. This stronghold was populated by order of King Sancho I during the 12th century.

It was called Contrasta which means “village opposed to another”, Tui (Spain) in this case. King Afonso III changed its name to Valença in the 13th century. Its historical importance is mainly due to military constraints.

It had a decisive role for the defense and integrity of Portugal from the neighbouring Spain.

Today the town is peacefully invaded by the Spanish that visits it with commercial and touristic purposes, the Portuguese still use the fortress.

So, Thank-You Wiki…  Now let’s look around…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

It reminds me a little of an eagles nest, rocky outcrop, large protective nest, little clutch of precious eggs (buildings) inside… or the large skirts of a Victorian lady, big enough for children to take refuge beneath.

So, now that we can see just how small and puny we are against this massive  and imposing structure, let’s venture  inside…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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