We had a week off school in February so Randy and I decided to visit Spain and Portugal. In the past we have spent one or two nights in a few different cities in an effort to see as much of each country as possible. This time we decided to pick one city in each country and stay put for a bit longer. We spent four nights in Barcelona, Spain and three nights in Porto, Portugal. It worked out well and was not nearly as exhausting to stay in one city for a longer period of time. We chose to visit Barcelona because it is on the coast and we had heard so much about the architect Gaudi and wanted to see his work. Also, several teacher friends had recommended Barcelona plus when our daughter, Elizabeth, spent a semester abroad in Luxembourg, she said her favorite European city to visit was Barcelona. As you will see by our pictures, we were not disappointed with our choice.
Photos from an early morning run.
Park Guell is a 40 acre private green space which features the designs of Gaudi.
We took a half day trip out of Barcelona to visit Montserrat which includes a Benedictine monastery in a gorgeous setting. There are currently 80 monks living within the monastery. The photo on the far right are two angels carving the “teeth” of the surrounding mountain which is one of the legends of how the mountain was formed.
If you zoom up and look carefully at the photo on the top right, you will see a cross. After touring the church, we took a hike up to the cross, beautiful!
Look at the gorgeous inside of the church. Earlier in the blog I said that Gaudi had three passions in life: architecture, nature and religion. I can see how clearly these three passions come together in these pictures. By the way, Gaudi attended Mass daily. He died at the age of 72 when he was hit by a tram on the way to church.
After spending four nights in Barcelona, we flew to Porto, Portugal. I originally thought we would take the train because the train system in Spain is excellent but then I learned that it was an 18 hour train ride. We debated as to whether to visit Lisbon or Porto for three nights. We settled on Porto because we had just spent time in the large city of Barcelona and we wanted to spend time in a smaller city. Porto is more walkable and is full of Old World charm. We loved our time there and hope to go back some day.
Porto is all about blue and white tile. In the 17th century the Portuguese imported massive amounts of tile from the Netherlands because they liked the look of it so much. Much of the tile work tells the history of Portugal with pictures. In the case of the church tiles, Biblical stories are told.
The Livaria Lello is known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and after visiting, it is easy to understand why. After the death of her mother in 1991, J.K. Rowling moved to Porto where she taught English, got married and had her daughter. Porto is also where she wrote the first three chapters of the book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I am not a big Harry Potter fan but Randy is and he said this bookstore was like the Hogwarts Library.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of reflections in these pictures so it is hard to see but outside of the Livaria Lello there is a vending machine that sells coffee and books!
We took a day long tour outside of Porto to visit the Douro Valley which is known for it’s beautiful landscapes, wines and history. The Douro Valley is listed as a World Heritage Site.
A couple other interesting bits of info we found out about Portugal during our visit is that during World War II, Portugal was neutral and actually supplied canned sardines to both sides of the conflict. Lastly, another random fact about Portugal is that the three most prevalent religions in Portugal are Catholicism, Church of England and Judasim. We were not surprised that Catholicism is the most popular. There seems to be several close connections between Portugal and the UK but I do not yet understand the history of why that is true. The Portuguese people hid hundreds of Jews during WWII so that is why the Jewish population is so high in the country. We loved our three night stay in Porto and would readily return if the opportunity presents itself. As usual, we felt like we did not have enough time to explore all that we wanted to see.
In mid-March Peter and Julia came to visit in Albania. You may remember from previous blog posts that Peter stayed with our family in Fairport for a year when he was 17 years old. We have stayed well connected since that time. While Peter and Julia were here we went for coffee (at one of the many coffee shops in Tirana), took a walking tour and they visited my class at ACT.
We took an overnight trip to Berat, visited a winery and spent the night in the castle. Julia is an artist and took many of these beautiful pictures. Also, Peter and Julia are looking forward to the arrival of their baby daughter in early June.
Later this week my cousin Chris and his wife, Cathy, will be arriving in Albania. It will be good to share this beautiful country with them. Next week is our spring break when we will be heading to Turkiye for a week. Chris and Cathy have visited Istanbul before so it will be good to be introduced to a new part of the world through them.
As you read this blog I hope all is well with each of you. Thanks for taking the time to follow along on this adventure.