Day 1 in Madrid: Naps & Vermouth & Tapas, Oh My!

On Sunday night we left Toronto, and arrived in Madrid on Monday morning. Unfortunately, we managed to sleep just two hours on the flight, so we were exhausted. We checked into our AirBnB and then proceeded to nap for the next few hours.

Zoya and her partner, Shrip, worked late while we were visiting, so dinner was often late in the evening. This worked out perfectly because it gave us extra time to explore the city, which is precisely what we did upon waking up from our nap.

When we arrive somewhere new, we like to hit the pavement ASAP, and get a sense of the city’s layout and walkability. We stayed in a really cool neighbourhood (according to Zoya) called Ibiza, just east of Buen Retiro Park. Also called El Retiro, this incredible park can be described as Madrid’s version of Central Park in New York City.

According to Wikipedia

The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. The Buen Retiro Park is a large and popular 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park at the edge of the city centre, very close to the Puerta de Alcalá and not far from the Prado Museum. A magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake and host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid’s premier attractions. The park is entirely surrounded by the present-day city … For children there are multiple playground areas as well as ponds throughout the park with ducks you can feed.[8] The inside of the Palacio de Cristal has been modified to include the edition of a stone slide in the interior.[10] The major paths and walkways are used by families, runners, bikers and rollerbladers.

We kicked off our city exploration with a walk through the park. Eventually we stepped out into a neighbourhood west of the park, near the Museo Del Prado. We walked the streets, saw many shops and interesting sites, and then met up with Zoya.

Zoya took us back to the street we were staying on. Two of their favourite tapas restaurants were located just steps away from our AirBnB apartment. A quick note on tapas, since I’ll be writing about it a lot, coutersy of Wikipedia

A tapa (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtapa]), in Spanish cuisine, is an appetizer, or snack. It may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, sophisticated cuisine. In Spain, patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. In some Central American countries, such snacks are known as bocas. In Mexico, similar dishes are called botanas. According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry (see below for more explanations). The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.[1] The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.

Needless to say, tapas is a big thing in Spain, and we ate quite a lot of it while we were there.

On Monday, after a delightful reunion with Zoya, we started our night at a placed called La Castela. They serve vermouth on tap, which was both interesting and excellent. We drank a lot of vermouth in both Madrid and Cordoba because it’s a common, and often homemade, beverage.

For tapas, we had a variety of “pincho” or “pintxo” dishes … aka small things that you eat with a giant toothpick. We had a beef cheeks, and some really intense/amazing cheeses. Once Shrip met up with us, we had one more round and headed out to another tapas place.

Down the street was Taberna Laredo, one of Shrip’s favourite tapas restaurants. Again we had some really delicious dishes, including a beef tartare. We were a bit too tired to be taking many photos of dinner, but I do remember it all being top notch.

See below for the many photos Kevin took on day one!

We Went to Spain!

We were gone and now we’re back!

Kevin and I spent all of last week in Spain. We were in Madrid during the week, and then spent the weekend in Cordoba.

We chose Madrid because Zoya, one of my best friends and also my honorary baby sister, lives there. She had tons of great recommendations, and curated a great trip for us.

In the course of 8 days, we slept approximately 30 hours, we walked approximately 200km, and Kevin took at least 400 photos. We saw tons of museums, plazas, churches, old timey buildings, and parks, and we ate at tons of great restaurants.

As a result, I’ve got a lot of writing to do in order to share the details of an incredible trip. I’m starting to work on those today, but in the meantime, here are a couple of photos of the two of us enjoying Spain!

Exploring DC – Day 1 of Adventures

We went to Washington, DC to watch my friend Komal’s documentary, Dream, Girl, at the White House, but we also took the opportunity to spend a few days on holidays in DC. My mom and I had been before, but Kevin and my dad had never seen any of the Washington, DC attractions, so we got to work quickly on our tourist experience.

Morning Adventures

We stayed at a hotel within walking distance to Capitol Hill, which also put us within a short distance of the Washington Mall.

If you’re not familiar with Washington, DC, here’s how Wikipedia describes the National Mall:

The National Mall is a national park in downtownWashington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) administers the National Mall, which is part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks unit.[2] The term National Mall commonly includes areas that are officially part of West Potomac Park and Constitution Gardensto the west, and often is taken to refer to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, with the Washington Monument dividing the area slightly west of its midpoint.[3] The National Mall receives approximately 24 million visitors each year.[4]

Here’s a photo of the National Mall, and some notes on different landmarks, relative to our hotel.

dcnationalmall

We started early in the morning with a quick breakfast and a walk around the Capitol Building. The heat was pretty intense, so my parents opted for a relaxed, air-conditioned morning at the hotel while Kevin and I rented some Capital Bixi bikes, and biked down the Washington Mall to see the Lincoln Memorial.

With Tony & Judy relaxing, Kevin and I bike in the sun along the Mall, past the Smithsonian museums. We stopped for a photo op at the Washington Monument, and then carried on to the WWII memorial. I’d seen all of this before, but it was great to see it again. The size and beauty of the National Mall is always impressive, and even Kevin agreed with that, so it was fun to see him enjoying himself so much.

The WWII Memorial in particular includes such great attention to detail. Between the carvings, and the sounds of the fountains, it’s truly a work of art.

The weather was nice and hot, but it was too early in the year for DC’s infamous humidity, so we enjoyed the sun as we biked along the reflecting pool and then climbed the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.

Because we were in DC for Memorial Day weekend, it was an especially busy spot. At every memorial and landmark, we saw different veterans and veteran groups, which added a bit of extra meaning and context to all that we were seeing. As a Canadian, American politics can sometimes be a bit bewildering, so it was interesting to see Americans expressing their meaningful politics on this set of national landmarks.

After the Lincoln Memorial we saw the Vietnam War Memorial. It’s one of my favourite things to see in DC because it’s so different from typical war memorials. Rather than celebrating achievements or supposedly high minded ideals, this memorial is a wall of stone, cut into a hill, with all the names of the American soldiers lost in Vietnam carved into it. Rather than celebrating the state, it recognizes the American soldiers who were lost in the war. It’s rather emotional to walk along, even more so when you’re walking behind and in front of Vietnam war veterans.

On our way back to the other end of the mall, we stopped for a photo op near the White House, then headed to the Museum of Native American History for lunch (which was excellent).

Afternoon Adventures

After lunch we met up with my parents at the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian has a really impressive collection of things in general, and this museum was no different. We saw exhibits covering the first attempts at flight, the first launches into space, and real pieces of modern spaces stations and technology. It was a great way to see and understand the progress of travel over the last few generations.

Kevin was pretty bummed to not see Cape Canaveral when we went to Florida, so he was quite thrilled to see some spaces ships, rovers, etc at the Smithsonian.

Next up we went to the National Gallery of Art. We only had time to see the basement floor, but we stumbled upon some Mark Rothko paintings, so we were quite excited. All in all, we had a great time on our first day exploring DC!

Evening Adventures

After the museums closed, we headed back to the hotel to shower off all the sweat and sunscreen of our day. After changing, I headed out with Kevin and my Dad. Unfortunately, my mom wasn’t feeling well so she stayed back in the room to sleep.

Before going to dinner, we went to the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. It was “Jazz in the Garden” night, which I thought meant that it would be full of stuffy rich people doing the polite golf clap while listening to jazz. I could not have been more wrong. By the time we got there, the garden was completely full. We found a line up, bought pitchers of beer and sangria, and stood in the garden to listen to the music and enjoy the energy of the crowd. It was a great crowd of people of all ages, gathering for what was clearly a very popular Friday night social event. It also helped that we were at the season debut. If you’re in DC on a Friday night, I highly suggest you check out this awesome free event!

Next up we headed to a wine bar for dinner. I did some heavy research on WikiTravel for this trip, as I’d been advised that good restaurants were hard to find in DC due to the high amount of touristy/business-y nonsense restaurants. Fortunately, I found a great list of places, and we didn’t have a single bad meal.

On Friday night we ate at Proof. The food was excellent, and the wine was also great. The wine list wasn’t as varied as I’d been hoping, but everything we ate and drank was delicious. Unfortunately, the aesthetic of the restaurant includes lighting so lacking that you can’t even read the menu. I found this to be completely pointless, and annoying. Otherwise, it’s a top notch experience, but eating in the dark is just plain weird. That said, we ate some of the most delicious charcuterie of all time there, so it was worth going to. Still, it was the weak point of meals over our weekend, which likely says more about how well we ate in DC.

Photos are below, in reverse order for some reason:

Exploring your backyard when you live in Wine Country

For the majority of my life, I grew up in Grimsby, a town in the municipality of “Niagara”. This particular municipality is home to the rather famous Niagara Falls, and it’s now also home to a flourishing wine industry.

The Niagara Wine Industry has grown significantly in the past 30 years. I don’t remember much about wine country growing up in this area, aside from driving past the occasional vineyard. Now that we’re back living in Grimsby (with my parents – hey Tony and Judy!), we’ve had the immense pleasure of exploring and enjoying all that this wine region has to offer.

The Niagara Peninsula wine growing region divides itself into two areas: Niagara Escarpment/20 Valley, and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake are closer to Niagara Falls and to the beautiful, historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake. In our experience, it gets pretty busy as a tourist hotspot, so we try to visit the more local (for us) wineries in the Niagara Escarpment/20 Valley area.

The main benefits of that choice? Closer to home, fewer crowds, and the tastings are usually free.

To give you an idea of how the region is spread out, here’s a map. The 20 Valley/Niagara Escarpment is clustered towards the centre/left, while the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries are clustered towards the right.

Keep in mind the map is a bit outdated, showing far fewer wineries that exist. There are currently 92 wineries in the Niagara Peninsula.

Niagara Wine Route Map (Outdated)

Of those 92 wineries in the region, we’ve only been to 30. While we’ve seen a lot, we have a long way to go!

But why exactly do we go to these wineries? To taste wine, to explore the beauty of the Niagara region, to buy wine, and to get to know the people and industry driving the economy in our neighbourhood.

Drinking wine, and really liking it, requires a lot of practice. That means trying a lot of different wines, and there’s no better way to do that than wine tastings. And when you combine in the beautiful weather and landscape of the Niagara Escarpment, satisfaction is guaranteed.

As for buying wine, one thing we’ve learned from living in Portugal is that the best wines don’t always get out of the country they’re made in. Think about it: if a wine is really good, then it’s probably going to be consumed at home. So even if you’re buying good wine from Australia, it still might not be the best version of what that wine producer makes. However, if you buy wine in your own backyard, you can taste everything they’ve made that year, you can choose to definitely get the best crop of what they’re producing. And bonus: you often do get to meet some of the wine producers.

With the decline of manufacturing, the Niagara Wine Region’s tourist industry has really positioned itself to be an economic driver of this region. Part of this includes the wide variety of events that they organize and curate each year. This past fall we attended the “Niagara Grape and Wine Festival” and “Wrapped Up in the Valley”. The events are well run and easy to understand as a participant. They provide you with clear maps, checklists, etc, and even their websites are easy to explore!

The two sites I use most when researching and booking tours are VQA OntarioNiagara Wine FestivalWine Country Ontario, and Twenty Valley Tourism.

This weekend kicks off the Winter Winefest, with a weekend of events in historic/beautiful Jordan Village. I can’t go, but I really suggest that you go! And the Icewine Festival will continue for the next 3 weekends – for $40, a Discovery Pass will allow you to try a food and wine pairing at 8 different wineries across the last 3 weekends in January. Give it a try! (don’t worry, there’s another festival coming up in the spring!)

I went to a party over the holidays, and was both surprised and impressed to hear how many people our age are out there exploring wineries, choosing favourites, and making recommendations.

In that spirit, here are our recommendations for must-see wineries on your next visit to the Niagara Peninsula. It’s a varied list, but is a great beginners list for understanding all that the Niagara Peninsula Wine Region brings to the table:

  • Red Stone Winery
  • Calamus Estate Winery
  • Cave Springs Cellar
  • Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
  • Ridgepoint Wines
  • Vineland Estates Winery
  • 13th Street Winery

And of course, take a look at the photos we’ve taken on our winery adventures over the past few months:

tbt: Summer of 2015 and learning how to ‘beach’

Going to the beach is a sport in the Algarve. In the Algarve, people stay in between January and April, as it’s cold, most things are closed, and seasonal employees are out of work.

Come late April, early May, the Algarvieu (Algarvians) come out to play. And that means hitting up the beach with a level of deep seriousness.

To say the weather here is perfect is a complete understatement. As the spring and summer progress, and the weather gets hotter, you see the entire landscape becoming busy. More traffic, more people, more restaurants, and more sun!

Growing up, I’d only been to the beach a handful of times. The Page kids were not into beach life; no sand in our toes, no seaweed on our feet, no sunburns on our skin, thank you very much.

The Silva kids were the complete opposite. Spending most summers in the Algarve, with all their local friends in Alte, Kevin and his brother were total beach kids who spent many, many hours playing on the beach, swimming in the ocean, enjoying the sun.

I had a lot to learn, but luckily for me I was learning how to “beach” with the help of an expert.

In June, and July, we went to the beach almost everyday. And there were A LOT of beaches to choose from. Beautiful white sand beaches with crystal-blue water aren’t just for the Carribbean, people! Algarve beaches are famously beautiful, and we were spoiled enough to have multiple amazing beaches within just a 20 minute drive. In doing a bit of pre-writing research, I realized that some of the most “well reviewed” beaches are places we never went to, but it’s hard to justify driving an hour to a perfect beach when you have 6 almost-perfect beaches to choose from in your backyard!

So, how does one beach?

There are only a few things required:

  • water, and lots of it. My beach bag contained at least 8 water bottles at all times.
  • towels, 1.5 per person. I always had 3 towels for Kevin and I, so we could lay them out in a way that would keep ourselves and the towels sand-free
  • hats. With the Algarve sun, a hat is essential
  • euros – there’s a restaurant/bar at almost every beach, and the best way to end your day is with a bottle of wine at sunset (bars with a good wine selection are preferred).
  • paddle-ball equipment – surprisingly fun, and good exercise
  • tanning oil (for Kevin and all our Portuguese friends)
  • immense amounts of sunscreen for me (I also had a pre-departure routine that included sunscreening my entire body, head toe)
  • tanning technique – not as easy as one might think. You need to keep regular movement throughout the day to get an even tan all over your body. And pay attention to the sun, so you can angle yourself appropriately. Whether standing or laying down, you need to tack with the movement of the sun in order to get maximum rays.
  • sunglasses. duh.
  • e-readers. essential activity when you’re growing that tan on the sand
  • beer in a cooler – not required every time, but you need both together whenever required.
  • Google Maps – a required assistant when scanning the coast in search of a hidden beach!

It’s hard to get a proper list of the beaches we went to, because all our friends referred to the beaches based on local history and/or the name of the restaurant at the beach. And some of the beaches were “hidden”, aka only limited walking access, which means the only way you can find them is by carefully scanning Google Maps’ Satellite View. In any case, we did take a lot photos, which you can peruse below!

Canadian Thanksgiving traditions in Grimsby

It’s American Thanksgiving, so it’s as good a time as any to write about our adventures during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

A couple of years ago, I went to Ottawa and spent Thanksgiving weekend with Kevin. While there, I ate the most delicious Thanksgiving dinner that I’d ever had. Since we’re back in Grimsby, room-mating it up with my parents, we cried “dibs” pretty immediately on preparing Thanksgiving dinner. My mom was away for a wedding that weekend, so we had free reign over the kitchen. Of course, there were some other antics afoot before we got the oven running.

We were making our Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday, so on Friday I set out to buy a turkey. I’d attempted to purchase a turkey on Thursday, to no avail. Apparently everyone buys their turkey at least 2 weeks early, and I had missed the memo. On Friday morning, Kevin told me “go to Lococo’s, they’ll have a 10kg Butterball for sure”. With Thursday’s empty turkey freezers in mind, I drove my parents to the airport on Friday, and proceeded to spend 3 hours driving all around Mississauga and Oakville in search of a 10kg+ Butterball turkey. I could barely find a 7kg turkey, let alone a butterball, so I began to panic. I bought the first 10kg turkey I could find, Butterball be damned.

Then, to stock up on veggies and stuffing and all that other Thanksgiving goodness, I went to Lococo’s. As Kevin had promised, they had multiple Butterballs over 10kg. So what did I do? I bought one. As of today, we still have an extra turkey just waiting it out in our basement freezer.

Double turkey purchases aside, Thanksgiving weekend in Grimsby involves just one tradition: Attending the Balls Falls Craft Show. So before we got to cooking, Kevin agreed to indulge me and attend the craft show. Balls Falls is a conservation area in Vineland, ON, that also happens to be the home of several old/historic buildings. It’s a wedding hotspot these days, which makes sense because it’s quite lovely.

Fortunately, the craft show is not just about crafts. There are several historical displays that showcase 20th century technologies. There was also a “raptor” display, where we saw some really cool birds, most importantly, a Bald Eagle!!!! The next best thing to a Bald Eagle was seeing a genuine Military Band Organ from 1911. Still in full working order, this was a pretty cool site to see. It was restored and maintained by a gentleman named Captain John Leonard, who toured it all around the great lakes regions, in the United States and Canada. Though Captain John has since passed away, his wife and and his friend continue this great tradition, bringing a taste of early 20th century musical technology to the masses.

Here’s a quick video of what the inner workings of the machine, as seen through the back, looks like:

Surprisingly, we got quite into the whole craft scene, and went through to see every vendor there. While I’d planned to check out the festival for 30 minutes, once we saw the food tent, we got sucked in, and ended up spending more than 2 hours crafting about. I’ve been to this festival in some terrible weather, so the bright sunny day was a real treat.

The next day, guided by some tips from Gordon Ramsay, we embarked on our Thanksgiving cooking extravaganza. With Kevin leading, me sous-chefing, and my brothers assisting, it was a pretty big production. I can honestly say that we could not have pulled this off without the help of Tyler and Kristopher, who helped with all the preparation, and made dessert. Tyler also ran point on serving the wine, which is essential for family holidays. We kicked off dinner by toasting with a glass of sparkling wine for everyone at the table, then proceeded to dig in.

The menu included:

  • A 10 kg turkey, perfectly prepared
  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green beans with bacon
  • 3 types of gravy
  • Stovetop Stuffing (yes, from the box – don’t mess with a classic!)
  • Gwyneth’s roasted cauliflower and chickpeas
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Homemade Gingerbread Cookies
  • Homemade Lemon Meringue Pie (courtesy of Nana Ev)
  • Wine, wine, and more wine (all from Niagara’s 20 Valley Region, of course)

And that’s it. The secret to a great Thanksgiving weekend? Wine and teamwork. Hopefully Christmas will be similar entertaining! Check out the various photos of our Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, below:

Visiting Sagres

Throughout the duration of Tyler’s trip to Portugal, I was incredibly ill. I slept most of the time and felt terribly shivery and gross for most of the time that I wasn’t sleeping. As a result, I didn’t get out for too many excursions, and Tyler’s blog posts have covered the majority of his second week with us in Portugal, where we relaxed in the Algarve.

There was one trip for which I did manage to drag myself out of bed: a day trip to the Fort at Sagres.

Sagres is the most south-west point of Portugal, with a large landmass that juts out into the ocean. The Fort of Sagres occupies this space, a place connected to Portugal’s history of exploration. The Fort may or may not have been connected to the work for Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator:

It is traditionally suggested that Henry gathered at his villa on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. However modern historians hold this to be a misconception. He did employ some cartographers to chart the coast of Mauritania after the voyages he sent there, but there was no center of navigation science or observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center.[7]

Referring to Sagres, sixteenth century Portuguese mathematician and cosmographer, Pedro Nunes, remarked, “”from it our sailors went out well taught and provided with instruments and rules which all map makers and navigators should know.”[8]

The view that Henry’s court rapidly grew into the technological base for exploration, with a naval arsenal and an observatory, etc., although repeated in popular culture, has never been established.[9][10][11] Henry did possess geographical curiosity, and employed cartographers. Jehuda Cresques, a noted cartographer, has been said to have accepted an invitation to come to Portugal to make maps for the infante. This last incident probably accounts for the legend of the School of Sagres, which is now discredited. (Wikipedia)

The location was stunning. Walking along the cliffs, watching birds fly above the waves, and looking back at the rather flat, open space of the fort, it was a beautiful scene. As far as museums go, it was fairly unimpressive. Very little information was offered about what we were looking at, though Wikipedia has suggested that the Fort’s importance is up for debate, which may explain the lack of concrete information at the site.

In either case, it was a lovely day, made even better by a really fantastic seafood lunch. We dined at A Sagres, the closest restaurant to the Fort. While those around us were eating spaghetti and other such nonsense, we requested the daily specials, and were treated to an amazing seafood stew and freshly caught fish.

On the way home we took a scenic route along the coast. We stopped at a beautiful beach, and took a detour for a supposed ‘archaeological site of interest’ that was actually just a field.

Check out our photos to enjoy the view:

Road Trip Day 3: Evora & Illness & the Algarve

After waking up in Marvao and spending our morning exploring, we set off to Evora. Of course, Tyler rolled his ankle on those beautiful cobblestone streets the night before, and I woke up feeling the beginning of a fever. Still, we had 2 more stops on our road trip, beginning with the city of Evora, followed by the nearby Monsaraz, then the city of Beja. By the time we had lunch, Kevin realized his couple of Pages were too ill, and he promptly drove us the last 3 hours home to the Algarve.

Before our trip was cut short, we did get to explore Evora. We also had an incredible lunch at a restaurant that only serves 9 people at a time. “Botequim da Mouraria” is run by a welcoming Portuguese couple. In their small restaurant, there’s bar seating only, which means that we were incredibly lucky to arrive in time for lunch and find 3 empty chairs waiting for us. The service and the food were excellent. This was one of those places Kevin had found in the course of his detailed research, and it was very much worth the hype.

After lunch, we explored Evora and its incredible history. A very old city, Evora still has Roman ruins and an incredible variety of historic architecture. On all our other stops, I read aloud to the guys various historical fun facts. Being sick in Evora meant that I didn’t really do this, and so we learned a bit less there than everywhere else. The city is more than 2000 years old, and was occupied by the Celts and the Moors before becoming the #2 city in Portugal for a time, becoming the site of much lavish spending on the behalf of Portuguese rulers.

Here are a couple of other fun facts about Evora:

Évora has a history dating back more than two millennia.

It was known as Ebora by the Celts, a tribal confederacy, south of the Lusitanians (and of Tagus river), who made the town their regional capital.

The etymological origin of the name Ebora is from the ancient Celtic word ebora/ebura, plural genitive of the word eburos (yew), name of a species of tree, so its name means “of yew tree.” The city of York, in northern England, at the time of the Roman Empire, was called Eboracum/Eburacum, named after the ancient Celtic place name Ebora Kon (Place of Yew Trees), so the old name of York is etymologically related to the city of Évora.[6]

(Wikipedia)

Évora is also remarkable for reasons other than its monumental heritage related to significant historic events. The 16th century was a time of major urban planning and great intellectual and religious influence. While Évora also has many noteworthy 16th-century patrician houses (Cordovil house, the house of Garcia de Resende), the unique quality of the city arises from the coherence of the minor architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This unity finds its overall expression in the form of numerous low whitewashed houses, decorated with Dutch tiles and wrought-iron balconies and covered with tile roofs or terraces which line narrow streets of medieval configuration and which in other areas bears witness to the concentric growth of the town until the 17th century. It also served to strengthen the fundamental unity of a type of architecture that is perfectly adapted to the climate and the location.

Évora remained mainly undamaged by the great earthquake of 1755 that destroyed many towns in Portugal, including Lisbon. The monuments of the Historic Centre of Évora bear witness to their profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.

(UNESCO)

In retrospect, while we recognized how beautiful Evora was, I was a bit too sick to recognize and appreciate the signs of its long storied history. It was also clearly packed with tourists from all of the world, which became a bit of a distraction itself. All the same, we managed to take a few photos. Enjoy!

 

Road Trip Days 2 & 3: Visiting Marvao

Ok, so the last few posts have detailed some fairly magical sights. But to be honest, there’s more to come here. This trip was pretty surreal, and we saw many memorable places.

The driving on the trip may also have been a bit much, but in this case it turned out to be worth it. After driving 2.5 hours to Piodao, we spent a couple of hours exploring this small yet remarkable village. And then we got back in the truck and Kevin drove us another 3 hours to Marvao, a city on a hill right on the border of Portugal and Spain. About an hour into this trip, I was really questioning this decision, but when we drove up to this walled-city on a foggy night, all doubts were forgotten.

Here’s what you need to know about Marvao (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Commanding spectacular views across the Tagus basin (the same river to connects Lisbon to the Atlantic) and Serra de Estrela (highest point in Portugal) to the north, the fortified rock of Marvão has been a site of significant strategic importance since the earliest human settlements. Today lying on the ‘raia’ that divides Portugal and Spain, Marvão has consistently stood on a frontier zone between peoples: Celtici, Vettones and Lusitani (4th-2nd century BCE); Lusitanians and the Romans ofHispania Ulterior (2nd-1st century BCE); migratory Suevi, Alans, Vandals and Visigoths (5th-7th century CE); conquering moors and Visigoths (8th century); muwallad rebels and the Cordoban emirate (9th-10th century); Portuguese nation-builders and Moors (12th-13th century); Templars and Hospitallers (12th-14th century); Portuguese and Castilians (12th century-present day); Liberals and Absolutists (19th century); the fascist regimes of Salazar and Franco (20th century).

Marvão’s natural assets have contributed to the ‘uniqueness’ of this remote village as perceived by visitors today: (i) as nigh-impregnable ‘eagle’s nest’ fortress – perched high on a granite crag, and bordered on the south and west by the Sever river; (ii) as vital lookout-point towards the Alcántara Bridge (70 km (43 mi) away), a wide stretch of the Tagus basin and the Serra de Estrela; (iii) as a gateway to Portugal from Spain via the Porta da Espada (‘Sword Gate’) mountain pass of the Serra de São Mamede. These assets have ensured its status as the ‘Mui Nobre e Sempre Leal Vila de Marvão’ (Very Noble and Ever-Loyal Town) into the present day.

As with other 11th-13th-century castles, the early medieval improvements and development of Marvão castle reflect the innovations brought back by crusading orders from the near east (notably the highly influential Hospitaller castle in Syria, the Krak des Chevaliers). The medieval castle seen in Marvão today mostly post-dates the year 1299, and features numerous characteristic features of a crusader-era castle: a tall central keep with raised entrance on the first floor; a series of lower, outlying turrets (some semi-circular); high-placed arrow-slits; open spaces to aid the sheltering and assembly of villagers and troops; a well, and huge rain-collecting cistern to supply water to both keep and the wider castle in the event of siege; bent entrances (both on the village and castle gates) to slow down invaders in the event of breached gates; a series of narrow killing zones (notably, in the triple gate on the village-side of the castle); extensive crenellated battlements and curtain walls that enhanced the natural defences provided by the escarpments of Marvão’s rock.[22]

That’s only a smattering of interesting information about Marvao, as this place is filled with historical significance. When we arrived at night fog filled the town, we had to park the truck just outside of the gates in order to walk to our hotel (we stayed and ate at the the Casa do Alentejo, where we were welcomed with the traditional and impressive Alentejo hospitality). With the characteristic preservation of the buildings’ historical style, it felt like we were walking back in time. After a lengthy dinner, we got some sleep, then woke up early for breakfast and further touring. We explored all through the town and the castle, and were constantly in awe of the view and the spirit of the region. Similar to Sintra, looking across the hills you could easily imagine what it was like to look across that view 1000 years ago. A very cool feeling that won’t soon be forgotten.

Check out our photos below!

Roadtrip Day 2: An Aqueduct “just around the corner”

While we were visiting the Convent of Christ in Tomar, the map of the site said that there was an aqueduct attached. Tyler was pretty excited about this, never having seen a real aqueduct. Kevin and I had seen some in Lisbon, but agreed that it was pretty cool.

While Tyler and I searched for the aqueduct ruins (which we found outside, attached to the Castle of Tomar), Kevin searched on Google. When we were done at the Castle/Convent, Kevin said he had one more stop he wanted to make. He handed me the phone with a seemingly random spot marked on the map nearby. He told me what we were up to but hadn’t said anything yet to Tyler.

5 minutes of driving later, we came to the Pegoes Aqueduct, to which the aqueduct ruins at the castle were attached.

But rather than just a couple of arches, what we saw was a full aqueduct crossing a valley. And the best part? It was open and also empty! From where we parked, we walked just a few steps to climb up onto the aqueduct through an old water inspection station. In the silent countryside, we walked along an ancient aqueduct, just the 3 of us.

A quick little surprise, and one of the highlights of our trip. Enjoy the photos below!