The Little Town we Needed & the History of its Country
A Week in Ferragudo, the Highlights
> Our thirst for a small city
Our entire family was tired of the big city. We had been to the largest cities in Portugal; Porto, Braga, Coimbra, and Lisbon. We needed a break, and Ferragudo gave us just that. Ferragudo is a tiny town across the river from a big city. The entire town consists of country farms and a small main street with a playground and creek in the middle. This place was about a quarter the size of Morro Bay but had the same feel; very local. Overall, we loved it.
> Our flat
The flat is one of our favorites, it was up there with the Porto apartment. The farmhouse is centered in the thirty acres of land surrounding us and is made up of two buildings, the house and the barn. The three rentals are all part of one two story farmhouse, where across the way, a pool and yard accompanied by a barn lie.
Inside, the place is furnished with a modern styled furniture and cement floors, and the upstairs consists of only the two bedrooms and the one bathroom. The enormous stretch of land used to be a fig and almond orchard and even though it had been 100 years since the farm had been active, a few of the almond trees were still around. This gave Edie and me a fun activity. Throughout the entire week, we collected, shelled, and roasted the almonds, and let me tell you, they were delicious! Anyways, The thirty acres of land was connected to the city by a half mile dirt road leading to the town, and, as I learned, make fantastic running trails.
> The beaches
Twice on our trip have we frolicked in the Portuguese waves, but the waves are not the only highlight of the beaches here. The beaches are beautiful colors of gold and turquoise with cliffs twenty meters high looming above us.
In our second visit though, I don’t know that I should have been frolicking, because when my sister, my dad and I had been playing tag, a huge wave had taken me by surprise and had swept me off of my feet. Before I knew it, I was face planted in the sand and I was soaked with unwanted water.
There are many delicious restaurants in ferragudo, but two I would like to point out; the first, a small creperie to the direct right of the playground and creek on the main drag, and the second, a uniquely flavored world café called Tempo Bistro. The creperie is owned by a very friendly man who makes the flat pancakes right in front of your eyes on the crepe griddle. Tempo Bistro, a café right at the end of our dirt road, has a unique flavor that my family thought was delicious. The chicken satay was especially good, and goes well with a seven layer cake (I forget the name, something like spekuk).
This little town has been our favorite stay throughout our trip so far, but we still have a long way to go.
A Brief History of Portugal
Humans have been living in Portugal since before 30,000 B.C.E. but calling all the locals who thrived here Portuguese would be incorrect. Many different tribes, kingdoms, and empires have ruled over this coastal area throughout its history.
The Roman empire was the first rule to reach Portuguese ground. They invaded the southern peninsula in 310 B.C.E. and ruled over the first natives. This rule lasted until the early 5th century.
The first well civilized communities came from northern Africa in 710. The Moors conquered Southern Portugal and ruled it for centuries. Northern Portugal was often rebellious and the Moors never fully conquered it permanently. Eventually, in 1139, the rebels defeated the Moors and established a Monarchy with Dom Alfonso Henriques as king. From this time, over the next half century, Portugal became an extremely wealthy and powerful country because of their location of the prime ports of Lisbon and Porto. Their wealth allowed them to sail and conquer parts of western Africa, portions of western India, and parts South America (which would soon become Brazil).
In the mid 18th century, Lisbon suffered from an enormous earthquake that killed thousands of citizens and decimated half the city. This earthquake also destroyed many documents confirming voyages and conquests. Some theories suggest that the Portuguese may have discovered America before Columbus.
In the 19th century, the Industrial Age hit Portugal, causing them to quickly become a much poorer country. This is because Portugal’s prime income was of the oceanic trade. The switch from Ocean trade to countries making their own previously internationally traded products caused an enormous drop in income to the Portuguese government. Since then, Portugal has continued to stay as one of the poorest countries in Europe until this day.
The train ride to Sintra was dirty and loud, but after the day was over, it was worth it. The small town of Sintra is twenty miles northwest of Lisbon and is home to, in my opinion, the two most amazing castles I have ever seen. After we got off the train we headed in the general direction of the huge hills capped by the magnificent castles. The first and highest perched one; the Palacio Pena, was originally a monastery, but later it was turned into a palace for the royal family. When first viewed from the outside, it looks like a disney castle, but inside, the rooms are themed much like any other Portuguese palace. The second historical monument; the Moors Castle, is a watch tower built in the eleventh century, and also houses ancient silos (ancient houses made simply by digging into the ground) that date back to about 3,000 B.C.E.
After the three mile road up to the Palacio Pena, our first stop, we were greeted with a palace that resembled a disney castle, with fantastic colors of red and yellow, and enormous arches with crazy looking trolls on the top. The Palacio Pena was a home to the kings and queens of Portugal from the 1830’s to 1910. Originally a monastery, when the civil war ended in in 1834, the church no longer had so much power, hence the building was vacated and was available to the royal family. Prince Ferdinand was the one who decided to build the magnificent castle.
Our next stop was the Moors Castle, an 11th century fortress made completely out of stone. We were actually able to walk everywhere on the entire fortress, even on the edge of the watchtower. The ancient silos here are much older, dating back to 3,000. These holes were homes and storage places for the prehistoric settlers.
Overall, this fantastic and historical buildings are an amazing example of the old and magnificent architecture in Europe.
Santa Clara Convent and Conimbríga Ruins
Our apartment is in the walled city, on a large hill, and across the river, but getting over to the other side of the river is not actually that hard. What’s on the the other side of the river? Well, there’s a park and the other half of Coimbra, but our main interest was of the 1000 year old convent, and after that, thousands of acres of roman ruins, 30 miles away.
The first things you notice when you step into view of the convent is; thats an old building, and that building is really low in the ground. What happened to this amazing building is that is was built on frequently flooded, sinking ground. this doused the building to, over one thousand years, sink about thirty feet into the ground!
Our next stop was the Roman ruins in Conimbríga these amazing ruins date back to 100 B.C.E. Near the end of this amazing civilisation, the Romans thought that they were going to be invaded, and quickly built a 13 foot thick, approximately 15 foot high wall surrounding their city. This wall is beautiful to us, but definitely does not meet up to the standards of the rest of the ruins. this is because the locals built this wall as quickly as possible to protect themselves. The invaders never came. The rest of the ruins are incredible and stretch on for miles (i’ve really got to start using kilometres). You could wander off into unrestricted ruins for hours… …. … ………..
Susie’s musings on Porto
I must be forthright in admitting that this is the first real experience that I have had in a foreign city, and I am in awe. This does beg the question; Is it my naiveté, or is Porto really that beautiful of a city? I think the latter, and argue my case here:
Our arrival included a very fast taxi drive with a driver who spoke only a little Spanish (which helped) but did not know where our street was located! So, we weaved through these TINY cobbled streets into a sketchy part of town trying to find our flat. We finally found our spot and were relieved to see that it was a lovely location behind the Cathedral with many local residents surrounding us. You’ve seen our apartment in Isaac’s video, so you know what a delightful place this is to be- and at a fraction of what we paid in NYC and Austin!
We’ve relished the fact that we have not taken a train or taxi for four days. Each day we walk in a different direction and discover more treasures that this city has to offer. We’ve shopped for shoes (there are a plethora of stores, as many fine shoes are made in Portugal), gone to a huge farmers’ market, bought new cell phones and sim cards, and consumed more pastries and espresso than I’d like to admit. The kids learned the word Pastelaria very quickly! While the coffee and pastries are delightful, we have had a little trouble embracing the heavy meat, lamb, pork and seafood that make up the main dishes here. We actually found an Italian restaurant one night, an Indian food place another night, and gorged on a fresh salad and bread from the market another!
The age of this city is certainly evident in the buildings and streets. The charm and beauty can be found in both the grand avenues with extravagant buildings and carved façades, as well as the tiny stair stepped streets with tiny cafes and curious shops up every slope. Some doors are only four feet tall along the stair stepped streets as a normal sized door just wouldn’t fit! We can hear older couples chatting or arguing behind the doors as we pass by, so we know locals live in there!
We’ve spent a few hours in the famous Livraria Lello that was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. We took a boat up the river and saw old monasteries, walls that are 1000 years old, and 6 bridges of different designs and eras connecting the two river banks along the way. We visited a famous palace today, El Palacio de Bolsa, with a room covered with 18k gold leaf. We have gotten all over the city using our own power, up and down and up and down every Rúa and Praça with awe and delight.
Tomorrow we are taking the train up to the Historic city of Braga, which Ben has read about. We will just go for the day, as it is only a one hour train ride each way. Perhaps after visiting a few more cities, Porto won’t seem that special, but then again…
Our First Few Days in Porto, Portugal.
This little city is so amazing! The people are so nice and the cobblestone streets are absolutely amazing. By the way when Susie said that this house was built in the 1700s she was wrong, it was built in the 1670s!