Europe


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The church of Bom Jesus do Monte (the good Jesus of the mountain?) a few hours from Porto.

One of northern Portugal’s highlights. The actual church is ho-hum but the magnificent landscaping is something to remember by! Its actually a mini-Calvary or sorts as there are little chapels dotted along the stairs encouraging people to do the Way of the Cross-literally by climbing the hill.

Such a dreamy church…as the say, its all about location,location, location!

You know that old saying that good things come in little packages? Well, we might as well be talking about the city of Porto in northern Portugal.

Admittedly not in the roster of the great and fashionable European capitals, Portugal’s second city is nonetheless a class of its own. Arriving at night with nary an idea of where to stay, our first experience with this city was memorable – creepy to say the least- when we had to stay at hostel that could have been straight out of the movie ‘The Others’.

Thankfully,the city proved otherwise, in fact every twist, every turn, every huff and puff of this hillside city was a delight to explore. Spanning the Duoro River, Porto is a city of hidden magnificent vistas.

Loved that double platformed bridge, a baby from the Industrial Revolution…
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The city’s Se (Cathedral) perched atop one of the city’s hill. Not really a ‘wow’ building but nonetheless charming for its baroque simplicity. Loved that column too!

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One of Porto’s relgious jewel: the Church of Sao Francisco. Nothing memorbale outside…
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But wait…
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as you step in, you are suddenly greeted by a ‘WOW-this-is-outrageous’ sight to behold! Truly, Baroque excess to the extreme…and these are just the side altrars! No photos inside so these were stolen shots….

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Another shot of the altars. Truth be told, never ave I seen so much gilded wood in my life, I wonder how much trees they used up to carve all of these?

Worth every log if you ask me!

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The Portuguese are masters in creating stunning vistas. Small streets, like this one where my hostel was, leads one eyes to this prettly little tile-painted church.

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And here’s another magnificent vista, this time, towards one of Porto’s most famous landmark, the Clericos church tower.

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Something to remember Porto by…a bird’s-eye view from one the city’s hills.

Oh, I love the underdogs!

Probablly every Catholic’s dream is to visit this little town where in 1917, the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to three little shepherd kids: Jacinta, Marta and Francisco.

We hadnt orginally planned to visit Fatima but I guess Fate intervened and after we were done oohing and ahh ing in Batalha, we soon found ourselved packed off to this holy of holy Catholic shrine.

But first, a requisite stop at this veritable SM of religious iconography. Our guide assured us that this place has the best price of them all.

Not sure with the price but can’t beat the variety here.

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Ahh…the business of selling faith, Catholicism and commerce at its best!

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The basilica, which looms above the town, is the main draw to this little town. We arrived during spring (and a rainy day at that) so there wasnt much happening. I read somewhere that the plaza across the cathedral is the size of several football fields and can easily filled by a milion(?) people on the peak summer months.

Im not surprised at all.

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The basilica’s austere interior, really, IMHO, the best place to be in Fatima.
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All said, Fatima was an interesting –uhm– two hours in my week long stay in Portugal.

After getting slightly ‘cathedraled-out’ in Spain, Portugal was a welcome break. Well, not so much because there was less of these structures but visiting Portguese chruches made for a really interesting and refreshing experience.

Consider the church in Alcobaca, the fact that this sleepy, little town-which is not even a regional capital- contains Portgual’s largest church complex is something really worth pondering about.

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Now, unlike those in Spain, Portuguese cathedrals dont overwhelm. The Portuguese seem to possess a less flambouyant attitude than their Castillian neighbors when it comes to building churches, somehow, I think this is one of their strengths and is why I found this church particulary attractive.

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The church facade. Sometimes, the simplest designs are the best. This is so true with Alcobaca.

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The guys who ran the show, a monastic religious group called the Cisterians, are particulary known for the devotion and the simplicity of their cathderals. This is the nave of the church, another welcome break from the excesses of Spanish cathedrals. No gilded altars, towering organs and overpowering statues to lead your thoughts away while you pray. It’s all columns as long as the eyes can see.

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A few kilometers away is another Portuguese masterpiece: the Batalha Monastery. Another superb example of the Manueline architecture- a style which celebrated Portugal’s golden Age of Discoveries- this cathedral is actually one over-size thropy.

“Batalha” mean ‘battle’ and this church commmorates the time when Portugal won a war against its love-to-hate neighbors, the Castillians (today’s Spaniards).

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Well, the Castillians may been lost but some of their hard-to-die habits may have rubbed off their Portguese neighbor, you see this complex isnt finished yet. Somewhere along the way when it was started in the 1300’s, the builder-to-be decided to abandon it and build an even more impressive Manueline monument in Lisbon, the Monastery of Jeronimos.

Too much siesta perhaps? Or was it the maƱana habit?

In any case, it’s still an impressive sight, even for the so called Unfinished Chapels (above).

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Now, tucked away in a corner of all these gothic splendors, this unassuming little tomb actually holds one of Portugal’s greats- King Henry the Navigator- the guy whom Macao,Timor and Brazil actually would have to thank for their existence because hadnt it been for Mr. Henry, then Portugal wouldnt have sent her caravels to conquer new lands.

Macao would just be another Chinese city, Brazil would not bore Ronaldinho and we wouldnt be eating Portuguese egg tarts(!).

Big things do come in small packages, thank you Mr. Henry for giving me those yummy egg tarts.

Time for break from Lisbon’s hills. We thought we’d check out what the outskirts of Lisbon had to offer and so we signed up for one those instant day-tours which was offered in our hostel.
After all the walking, a coach tour was a welcome respite and made for a good decision since we covered more ground. We chose the so-called Lisbon Coast route that took us to the nearby towns and villages which, coincidentally, is packed with Portugal’s most famous signature sights.

I liken it to the Quezon province Viajes del Sol experience which I took not too long ago- but on a less intimate scale.

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Our first stop, the picturesque walled town of Obidos (note the walls on the top portion of the picture)

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Entrance via this stunning azulejos (painted tiles) doorway…

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And on the main, actually, the only big street in Obidos! Like so many medieval European towns, Obidos one big disneyfied historical complex with, in this case, rows and rows of tourist shops catering to the likes of us.

After all that hilly huffing and puffing, time to have a break…

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where else but in your oh-so-everday-European cafe. No coffees for me though but a foot-long baloney sandwhich with a hard crust. Quite forgettable really.

In any case, I thought I'd soak up the atmosphere of street life in Lisbon,a treat really, comming from Manila where people's idea of a cafe is most probablly in one of those spiffed-up, over-priced R & R theme parks in the city.
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More poking around and….what's this???

The Portuguese capital's most iconic architectural caprice- the Elevador Santa Justa. Built in 1902 during the last years of the Industrial Revolution, this all-steel elevator connected the lower, working-class district of Baixa (pronounced Ba-Hia) to the more fashionable Chiado upper district.

Talk about going high society.

Well, this sturcture really made me wax-sentimental over my city's own San Sebastian Church – an edifice so closely related in terms of design origins yet so far in terms of structural preservation.
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1.50 Euro and a few seconds later, we are whoooshed for this dramatic view of Lisbon's old downtown. The Castle of Saint George looking towards the hill.

That's where we came from(!).

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Now, another view of downtown and the river Tagus- where it all began.

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Looking west(?) towards the city's Praca de Rossio, one of the several intimate squares dotted around the city.

In retrospect, I found Lisbon to be one of the most likaeable Iberian cities because unlike Rome, Paris or London where a visitor would always have a pre-conceived notion of their celebrated beautiy (god knows how Paris is being loved to death!) Lisbon's charm lies in her small hidden corners, past obscure, hidden alleys which lead to grand, spectacular vistas.

Oh, I love the underdogs! ;o)

A break now from the Spanish fiesta and off to her smaller and equally fascinating neighbor – Portugal.

In the world scheme of things, Portugal is a tiny country with a BIG history. Long overshadowed by her bigger Iberian neighbor, the Portuguese are wont to make sure you dont forget their contributions to mankind: the Age of Maritime Exploration, the great Portuguese conquistadors, the Portuguese language and of course, that wickedly calorific and yummy desert called Portuguese egg tarts.

This is my second trip to Portugal, well, technically at least. The first time was back in 1999 when I visited the then Portuguese territory of Macao about 10,000(?) kilometers from the mainland!

I have been fascinated since with their stories of swashbuckling explorers who set out to the unknown seas – all to spread the Faith, get rich and add some spice in their cookery.

And so I decided to do some explorations of my own. We hopped on a 2 AM train-ride, a bunch of bananas, a craned neck and nine-hours later, we reach the capital from Salamanca.

Ahhh, Lisbon at last!

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Here with the Portuguese national colors fluttering proudly…mighty high!
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Lisbon is a city that is neither imperial nor grand, surprising considering it was once the center of a world empire. Upon the stepping out of the train station, what greeted me was shabby (by European standards), slightly unkempt and extremely hilly city. A welcome respite, really, from the spiffed-up Spanish cities that I have visited over the last few weeks.

But the city does have a trace its imperial grandeur and is best seen at the aptly named "Praca de Imperio" (Imperial Square) – home Lisbon's most illustious monument to the Age of Discovery- the Jeronimos Monastery.

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I won't scrimp with praise and will honnestly say that this is my favorite monument in Lisbon. A masterpiece of the so-called Manueline form of architecture, this is the ultimate expression of Portugal's golden age in the 15th century. I love the fact the building is big but not overwhelmingly BIG…just enough for someone to ooh and ahh at the details…

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such as this palm-inspired columns at the monatery's main chapel. Exquisite!

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On this little corner by its lonesome rests one of Portugal's greats…the explorer Vasco de Gama.
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About a kilometer away from the Jeronimos Monastery is the Belem tower- another Lisbon landmark- quite a walk, yes, but it's gotta be done!

Interesting view of the Tagus river but wasnt sure if it was worth the walk. If anything, maybe for the kodak moment…


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Now, huffing and puffing through the old town. Like Rome and Macao, Lisbon is made up of higglety-pigglety hills. This is the Alfama quarter and its (unmemorable) Romanesque cathedral.

You think the Lisboetans could have had built something more impressive with all the gold they found in Brazil and the slaves they shipped from Africa.

Guess not.

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More huffing and puffing, this time to one of the highest points int he city, the castle of Saint George. A few twists and turns around the cobbles…

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And you get this killer view of old Lisbon!

Worth the climb!

Time was when be the term 'Filipinos' meant those Spaniards born in the Philippines.

Well, guess what? a century and half later, the word has mutated so today, it means someone who's a citizen of the Philippines or, depending who you talk too, could mean anything from a 'house servant' (for the Greeks) or in this case, a cookie in the Iberian Peninsula.

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I stil remember the ruckus these wickedly-sweet, chocolate-covered biscuits caused a few years ago when some politicians(?) raised the diplomatic alarm and threatened to flush out our three-century link with our old boss- Spain.

And all because of a cookie.

Today, these things are everywhere and not just in Spain but neighoring Portugal as well.

Spain's greatest culinary legacy?

Not quite. But I couldnt resist this photo of me and my (cookie) compatriot.

Must have been that yummy Paella.

Or was it the lamb chops?

Whatever, Salamanca was truly a memorable experience from the culinary to the architecture. The whole city is a masterpiece.

We'll let the photos do the justification.

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First impressions last. The view from our hostel.

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On to the city's crowning glory, the 12th century Universidad. Spain's oldest and her version of Oxford and Harvard.

Loved the courtyard and the Plateresco facade!

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The Catedral Nueva. One of my favorites in Spain. Check out the stunning Plateresco facade! Best of all, entrance to the church was free!

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Looking up the dome.

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Looking down from a loft. Division in the middle is the choir space.
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Side-by-side. Salamanca prides itself as a city of two cathedrals: the Gothic, domed Nueva (new) at the background and the Romanesque Vieja (old) in the foreground.

Both exquisite!

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Climbing the old tower gives you this killer view of the city. And I did something really, really naughty on top of that…if you must know, drop me an email… ;op

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Casa de la Conchas or the House of Conchs. Didnt quite figure out the architecture of this one…

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My favorite shot of the city. And that Jesuit church's facade made my jaw drop… too bad it was closed. Dang!

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Another Plateresco masterpiece (in a city that's almost this entire style!)- the Dominican convent of San Esteban.

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The splendid baroque altarpiece inside San Esteban. It towered about 20 feet above me!

Galit sa Kahoy.

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And of course, how can we one visit Salmanca without loosing yourself around the Plaza Mayor, according to the Salamancans themselves, the most beautiful square in Spain.

I don't think I'll disagree.

Couldnt get a decent shot of it so had to borrow this one.

Thank you www.worldheritagesite.org for enriching my blog.

truly SOMETHING else. That's Salamanca!

Back to the original.

So, having been to place called Nueva Segovia years before, I thought I'd finally go full circle and check out the real thing.

The city of Segovia is famous for three things: its Alcazar (or fortress castle), its 2,000 year old Roman Aqueduct and – as expected- it's soaring gothic cathedral.

It's charming hill-top city, with most of what you would expect to see in a a place of such medieval vintage. We took a two-in-one day tour and combined it with yet another of Spain's iconic gems: the city of Avila.

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So let's take a stroll around around the cobbles…

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From a street-level point of view- the gothic cathedral of Segovia. Great location!

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A closer inspection of the main facade reveals it to be uhhhmmm…..drab.

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A shot from the side. Now, this is where all the lovely details come out- finials, gargoyles, arched windows, flying buttresses…the whole gothic shebang.

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Segovia streetscape. Like Toledo, the old city is one oversized museum piece. Not much activity except for the usual suspects: restaurants and souvenir shops, all to cater for the likes of us- tourists.

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Ah yes… another of Segovia's gems: the Alcazar. This is a shot of its handsome facade and it was taken almost lying down. The things you do for a shot…

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This 13th century millitary-castle is pure fairy-tail fantasy. So much so, in fact, that none other than Mr. Walt Disney himself thought it would be worthy enough to replicate when he opened Disneyland kistch in Southern California.

Never quite got it as perfectly.

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And the last of Segovia's highlights: its 2,000 year old Roman Aqueduct. Now this is masterpiece, imagine building an over-sized water-tube using stones with no mortar to hold them together! Now, that's ingeniuity!
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Now, funny thing is, for all its claim-to-fame this 2,950 meter long structure isn't even dated according to Roman sources at the time…hmmm,that's like the Chinese never mentioning the Great Wall in their record books(!)

Anyway, it is a magnificent pile of stone.

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Of course, for a city of 2,000 years, there is more to Segovia than these three structures. In between all that history and this 11th-century Romanesque church is a touch of the familiar…

If you think you need a break from everyday food fare- as I later found out after eating tapas, paella and patatas fritas for week- the closest thing to Pinoy comfort food is good old Comida China (Chinese cuisine).

No arroz caldo on the menu though. ;o)
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On to Avila and to it's most famous draw: its fortified 12th-century walls. Really, they look amazing from this view point but a closer inspection reveals how low (small?) they really are…

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Entering the city walls through the main city gate….

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a few twists and turns and on to Avila's granite-gothic cathedral.

Well, it is a gothic cathedral thats actually a part (glued?) to the city walls…

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Our final stop, the church of Santa Teresa de Avila. Built on the site of Santa Teresa's birthplace, this pretty baroque church houses a finger of this feisty 15th-century lady known for reforming the Carmelite order.

Charming places- these two cities. But more spectacular things to come…. ;o)

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