Beautiful and Ancient Portugal – Aldeia Histórica de Castelo Rodrigo (Historic Village of the Castle Rodrigo)


Courtesy of Maravilhas de Portugal
Courtesy of Maravilhas de Portugal

This Medieval village, built on top of an isolated hill, 820 meters above sea level, offers a splendid view over the fields and hills around. This ancient walled town, fully recovered under the Historical Villages Recovery Program, shows signs of human occupation dating back to the Paleolithic age. Although the county seat has passed to Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, the village still has many places of interest, such as the mother church, founded by the Hospitaller Brothers in 1192 and dedicated to Our Lady of Rocamador; the tank, served by two gates, a Gothic and Moorish another; the pillory and the clock installed on an old tower. You can see how the castle ruins reveals the anger of the population when, at the end of the reign of Philip II, burned the old palace of Cristóvão de Moura, one of the defenders of Spanish legitimacy lusitania land.

Feliz Natal!

Feliz Natal

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Some of the sights and sounds of a Portuguese Christmas. For those of you who celebrate other holidays around this time of the year, I wish you the best you’ve ever enjoyed.

Conimbriga – Roman Ruins

The restored city of Conimbriga lies about 16 kilometers south of Coimbra. It harbors ancient tiled mosaics, Roman homes, the baths and other items of interest. It’s a good idea to take a sack lunch and spend the day.

When the Romans trekked into the area around 1 A.D., they discovered Celts already ensconced in the area. The barbarians then showed up to take the Romans down. In spite of the defensive wall the Romans threw up in the middle of town, the Swabian barbarians were kings of the mountain by 468.

We loved to visit Conimbriga when we lived in Portugal. It was magical walking on those beautiful mosaics that were so carefully crafted all of those years ago. We seldom passed Coimbra (site of near Portugal’s oldest university) without looking for what progress the archaeologists had made since the last visit.

The archaeologists have continued to uncover the secrets of Conimbriga, and due to modern technology, you can see the progress they have made yourself. You will find a 360 degree surround look at the excavation site. When you see the depth and width of it, remember that it is only about 10 to 20 percent of what the archaeologists believe is underground.

Click here to see Conimbriga. You can start, stop and adjust the size of the photos. Tell me what you think!

The Portugal Years: Year Four – Oops!


Bethy on the veranda with her baby doll.
Bethy on the veranda with her baby doll.

Toddlers! They are endearing, aggravating, interesting and busy small people. It is so important to say what you mean and mean what you say to them; they tend to be pretty literal creatures. One day I was walking down the hallway and she held out her doll for me to hug. I mentioned to her that her doll looked like she needed a bath.  I went on my way to put clothes away. On the return trip down the hall, I heard water running in the bathtub. Bethy was leaning over the edge of the tub preparing to give her doll (a soft stuffed one) a bath. In fact, she had several dolls in there waiting for a baths. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, “You told me the baby needed a bath.” Oops!

Bethy loved to play “Catching Bethy” with her daddy. Harry always sat next to the door to catch her when she ran by.  He usually caught her, but a couple of times she overshot her mark and landed on her face. Oops! [See photo above.] It never slowed her down, though.

The door on our flat locked automatically when it closed. It was a great safety feature, but woe to you if you got locked out. One morning around the time I had become visibly pregnant for the second time around, Bethy and I went to the grocery store. She still needed some help climbing the stairway to our home, so left my groceries at the bottom of the stairwell and shepherded Bethy up and into the house. I put her little bag on the counter, and set the keys by it. I told Bethy I would be right back and headed down the steps.

As I climbed up the second time, I heard the door slam shut and Bethy giggling. After I gave her instructions, I confirmed that she was too short to pull the latch. When she realized that I could not get in and she could not get out, she started to cry. Oops!

Fortunately, I had left the shuttered windows off the veranda just slightly open. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to climb up there. Just then, the landlady’s maid came downstairs. She took in the situation and went and borrowed a ladder, climbed up and over the railing, and opened the door for me.

The Portugal Years: The Fourth Year – The Car

Our Renault 4 - photo taken from the varanda of our apartment.
Our Renault 4 – photo taken from the varanda of our apartment.

While we were in the states, we got permission to raise money for a car. At this point, we lived some distance from team members who had vehicles, and some places Harry needed to go did not have a convenient bus stop nearby. So, he looked around, talked to people and we ended up with a Renault 4. It is bigger on the inside than you might imagine, and it was economical to drive. It had, as did most cars in Portugal, a manual transmission.

I had some experience driving stick shift, but I’d never seen the likes of the Renault 4. The gear shift was on the dashboard! I tried to learn how to shift it, but never really succeeded.

Harry customarily parked on the sidewalk as you see here. It kept the car safer. Across the street was a farm where they grew the best potatoes I have ever in my life eaten. A small river helped with irrigation. It was a wonderful neighborhood, and a great place to live. I loved it.

Bethy loved to help Harry wash the car.
Bethy loved to help Harry wash the car.

The Portugal Years: An Old-Fashioned Love Song

June 30, 1979
June 30, 1979

Today is the 35th anniversary of our wedding day. If you could hear me say it out loud, you would hear a bit of amazement in my voice that we’ve come this far. The smile on our faces is the relief we felt with the belief that we had arrived at a goal that Harry had hoped for when he was a freshman at Drexel University some six years earlier. Some of you are laughing at those youngsters as I am today. It was a long journey to get to this point, a journey that I began to blog about  in 2011.

No, we had not reached the goal; we had only begun the race. If you take two strong, stubborn and hard-headed people, put them in close proximity for 35 years, you can pretty well read their history in their faces, and in the way that they look at one another. Those youngsters in that photo were 26 years old when they got married. They thought they were mature. Yes, I hear you laughing again. We are still working on that. 😀

Really though, living together  in holy matrimony has its good days and its rugged days; days when we are both ornery and obnoxious all at the same time. Then there are the incredibly wonderful days that remind us why we got married. As a friend of mine said to me, life is so daily. It takes Divine Intervention to get through it in one piece.

So, if I could, would I go back in time to tell that young woman what lay ahead for her? No. She would probably cut and run. In so doing, she would miss the sweetest moments that life would afford her.

So here is to Harry, the man who loves me no matter what page I’m on. Here is to being on different pages, because when we add up the information that way we don’t miss anything important. Here is to learning each other’s language and creating one of our own. And here is to hammering out our differences – as long as the hammer doesn’t land on someone’s head. 😀

[You will need to click through to YouTube listen to this version of the song.]

The Portugal Years – Year One: Samantha Cat

Siamese CatAfter the holidays, life settled into a routine. I thought I would take another semester at the University, but when they tested me they wanted to put me in the advanced class. I was worried that it would be too much too quickly. When I tried to get into the intermediate class, it was already full. So, we decided that I would continue with my private tutoring once a week.

About that time a lot of friends were looking at me speculatively and others were coming right out and asking if I was pregnant yet. I wasn’t, though. Not yet. I did have my baby Seal Point Siamese kitty, Samantha, though. Sammi was fun. She followed me around the house and played with me. I had wanted a Siamese cat since I had visited a college friend’s home where her family had a stable full of cats and at least three of them were Siamese.

If you’ve had little contact with Siamese cats, please put away your copy of Lady and the Tramp and cut Siamese cats a break. They are mischievous and intelligent creatures, and most of them are quite vocal. Harry did not grow up with four-legged family members, and he wasn’t entirely on board with the whole thing, but he humored me. It was still our first year of marriage.

One evening, another couple from our organization (also newlyweds) came over to visit. The husband was not a fan of cats (a condition that frankly, I do not understand). When they came into the house, he did a visual sweep of the perimeter of the living room and looked for Sammi. Then, he settled down in a comfortable chair. Thirty minutes later, after he had let down his guard, Sammi casually walked around from the back of the chair, gave a sudden leap and landed on the arm of the chair next to the husband’s arm. I am positive that Sammi tipped me a wink with a twinkle in her bright, blue eyes.

Just When You Thought the Party Was Over

In my family, Christmas ended when December 26th arrived. We always sang about the twelve days of Christmas, but we didn’t know that the song held a wealth of uncharted tradition. In Portugal, Christmas Day was only the beginning of celebration. It ended on January 6th, when we celebrated King Day to remember the Wise Men who traveled long and far to see the Christ child. In American liturgical churches, we call it Epiphany.

The King Cake – Bolo Rei – is ubiquitous all during the holiday season. Bolo Rei attended every party and every get together during December and into January. It is a beautiful and delicious cake made from a rich yeast dough laced with spirits. The cake had dried fruits, candied fruits and nuts in the batter.

The cake had two hidden secrets inside that were wrapped in parchment paper: a coin, and a fava bean. There are different customs around the country, but what I was told was that the person who had the coin (or toy) in his slice would have good fortune for the next year. The person who got the fava would have to bring the Bolo Rei next time. The cake was always good fresh and even better toasted and buttered the day after.

On January first, I was done with Christmas and ready to take the tree down and get back to whatever would be closest to normal. Then Harry asked me, “Why are you taking the tree down already? My mom always left the tree up until after my birthday on the seventh. And she always made me a Red Velvet Cake.” Birthday? Ooops!!

bolo rei
Bolo Rei

The Lisbon Zoo !

1989, Lisbon Zoo in Front of the white peacocks.

1989, Lisbon Zoo in Front of the white peacocks.

One of the family things we loved to do, especially after we had children, was to visit the zoo in Lisbon. We visited the monkeys, the giraffes, lions and tigers and bears! Oh my! One year when we went, they had added a pool with dolphins,  billed as “The Miami Dolphins”. We liked to sit close to the pool so we could catch some of the splashes! Well, not all the “kids” liked the splashing, but I thought it was fun. Sometimes the trainers invited some of the children to participate. Not all of the children liked that, either.

The star of the zoo, at least for us, was an elephant. The elephant’s name has been lost in the mists of time, but his talent has not been. You had to have a token, which you purchased at the kiosk. Then you held it out to the elephant. He plucked the token from your hand with his trunk. Next he deposited the token in the designated container and rang a bell.

One of the features of the zoo was the pet cemetery. Nothing like one you may have read about elsewhere, it fascinated us. There were some chairs nearby and we often stopped to rest there. It would be difficult to describe, so I found a short YouTube video featuring the cemetery.

Would you want to bury your pets there? What do you think of the names of the pets?

What Susan Learned In the Woods Behind the University

Waiting for the connecting bus
Waiting for the connecting bus

As I began to have confidence in my ability to find my way around Lisbon, I decided to explore. One day I deviated from my habitual bus route to the University for Portuguese language class. It was broad daylight and the campus was crawling with students and faculty. What could possibly go wrong, right?

At the place where I transferred from one bus to another there was another bus with “University” on the marquee. I looked at it day after day, and wondered why there were two different routes to the school. After long deliberation, I decided one morning  to woman up and satisfy my curiosity.

I may or may not have had a few qualms once I was on board. We were driving in a different direction than my usual bus, of course. As I rode through unfamiliar territory I found myself moving into high alert. I wasn’t sure from where I would be exiting along this route. It was taking longer than my normal transportation, and I nearly missed the exit stop for fear of missing the exit stop.

This bus stopped in back of the University building. Between the bus stop and the University there was a beautiful passage through some woods, and I was the only person walking through it. Due to the longer bus ride, I was moving along with what was for me a brisk clip through the rustling leaves.

Past the halfway point, I felt someone touch me on the shoulder. I jumped, turned around and saw a man who looked like he was “challenged.” He  beckoned me to follow him, and followed up the invitation with some gestures that needed no translation. I moved away quickly and repeatedly yelled in both English and Portuguese, “No!!! Não!!!”

I am more of a meanderer than a sprinter, but on that day I might have come in first in a 5K run. I ran straight to the café in the University and got a “bica” (espresso) to calm my nerves that worked so well I nearly fell asleep in class. Looking back, I think that my admirer probably had gotten loose from The Punchy Lands population.

What kind of close calls have you survived? Do you have any advice about exploring? What is the lesson that Susan learned?