While in Porto we decided to take a day trip to Braga which was an hour by train from the historic central train station. We knew nothing of Braga, only that Thomas, my roommate’s family was from this city. But as I have learned if you start at the Cathedral you almost generally have found yourself in the historic distric of the city. This was the case in Braga. The Cathedral which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site was begun in 12th century. According to Wiki, the diocese of Braga dates to the 3rd century AD. It lost some of its power during the reign of the Visigoths and upon the arrival of the Arabs. It was the perfect starting point to see the city.
Once outside Andrew and I asked a local concierge for a map of the city and we were fortunate enough to not only receive one, but one with photos of the main monuments along the side to help us navigate. Below are a few photos as we strolled through the streets of Braga.
We stopped at El Melhor Cafe a La Brasilena, a coffee shop begun in the 19th century. As you can see the drinks were fancy and absolutely delicious. I had the house coffee, which was more like sweets with a hint of cafe, being made of whipped cream, condensed milk and one shot of espresso. While drinking our coffees we consulted the map to make a quick plan of the things that we could not miss in Braga.
We decided upon a particular palace, the name of which I cannot recall, and set out. Here are the pictures of our jounrey though the main streets. As you may note there is no picture of a palace, due to the fact that we never found such palace.
Trekking around the city in search of our palace worked up quite the appetite and we decided to take a break in our quest and eat a good lunch. We stopped outside of this square depicted below, which holds the original 16th century hospital of the city. There is no better way to spend an afternoon, than sitting on the patio, eating good food, and watching people go about their business.
With our energy restored, we decided to embark again for the palace. This time we were merely meters away, we believed it was just a matter of finding the right side street. Alas! We were mistaken. Not for fault of our own, but after asking some portuguese women we learned that to their knowledge no such building existed. Slightly crushed and mystified, we asked for a recommendation of what we should visit that afternoon. They recommended Bom Jesus do Monte, a religious pilgrimage site on top of the mountain next to the city.
We were not exactly sure how to get to the top of the mountain via public transportation and so we indulged and took a cab to the top. From on top of the mountain you can see the far stretches of Braga, while stepping into Nature. Currently, it is a local tourist attraction; however, the complex was built as a religious pilgrimage site dating from the 14th century. In the 18th century, the religious community headed by Arch Bishop Rodrigo de Moura Telles, decided to enlarge the previous chapel, laying the foundation of the present complex (He extended both the main church, chapels around the complex, and helped to build the 116 meter stairway). The park grounds were enlarged and enhanced in the 19th century reinforcing the presence of nature at the site. While reading the wikipedia article I am finally learning about the history of this space. I promised my family that when I wrote this article I would do some background research so that we could finally know the history of Bom Jesus do Monte.
Sometimes the best way to truly experience something, is to know nothing about it and to explore and use your senses and intuition. This was how we experienced Bom Jesus do Monte. Instead of knowing the history of this complex, we explored the grounds trying to piece it together based on what we were seeing.
Above are the first views we had of the complex. We immediately stepped out over the hill to look at the expansive view and then started to explore the church. The church is the highest building, but as our later explorations of the nature park revealed not the highest point o in general. Below is a cave built in the 19th century which evokes stalagma found in natural caves although it is built through iron rods. Andrew and I broke off from our parents and continued to climb through the natural park. It was very refreshing to leave the city behind and step into nature; however, it was a nature that was influenced heavily by man to create the “quintessential” natural retreat instead of letting nature grow unencumbered.
We then met back up with our parents who were examining some chapels off to one side that were boarded up. It was difficult to tell what their purpose was because we could not see their attributes inside. This got us wondering what was behind these boards. Andrew and I started sleuthing and found many more such chapels, but most of these chapels were not boarded. Instead they seemed to show the different stages of the cross. The only problem with our hypothesis was that we did not have enough chapels.The following is an interior of one such chapel.
We took a minor break from our task to explore the monastery/convent to the far side of the church, which has now been modernized to hold functions. I assume weddings, parties and other such meetings can be held here.
After which we began examining the staircase that led from the the church down to what appeared to be the bottom of the summit. I volunteered to test out our theory and see if the missing chapels were located along this staircase, forcing the pilgrim into a physical and religious journey. I descended the zig zagging staircase to the bottom of the structure (there are more stairs but not in the same fashion that I did not descend). Although taxing on the legs, well worth the climb because we were indeed correct. Victory for the Mills! And These fountains, one that is below, were a wonderful visual treat. Each one is different to reflect the five senses that you should be using while on Bom Jesus do Monte. I climbed back up all of the stairs to reveal our good news!
We were not exactly sure how to get back to the center, but we did not want to take a taxi. Instead we took this old cable car mechanism that took us to the summit of the mountain. It was a quick enjoyable ride, but it was only on this ride that I realized truly how close I had come to finishing the walk.
Later we found the bus that took us all directly to the city center, where we began our journey to see the rest of the buildings of Braga. Andrew and Dad tried an ice cream bar, the new Magnum Vanilla flavor along the way. We did not necessarily stop in any of our sites, but rather enjoyed figuring out how the city fit together.
We then walked back to the train station, which was extremely close to the city center and headed back to Porto.
Once in Porto we looked for a restaurant to have our last meal. We bought some little chocolate cups to have our family Port out of later that night and received a recommendation for a site along the river. We decided to give it a shot, and it was absolutely fabulous. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but we were seated on the second floor right next to the window, which over looked the river. At the time, we were the only ones in our little corner. We all ordered many different treats, such as green wine (I am a huge fan, the best description I can think of is a cross between white wine and cava, it has the flavor and fruity dryness of a white wine mixed with the sparkling effect of cava; however, it is not quite as bubbly.) Alentejana and a full fish. It was the perfect end Last Supper in Porto allowing us to enjoy the water, good food and amazing company.
After this we headed back to our hotel to share our bottle of Port in our little chocolate cups. We sat around in the lobby enjoying our delicious dessert and reminiscing about our trip thus far. As my mother put it, she was very thankful to have had the experience to see another side of Portugal because now it was not just limited to her experiences in Porto. A very insightful comment and something that we should all remember. It is a running thread in this TED talk which is one of my all time favorites:
On Wednesday, we were to head home. Our flight left in the late afternoon, around 3, which meant that we still had time to do a little sight seeing. Our last outing was to the Museum of Wine and Port, where we learned how wine and port production affected the growth of the city of Porto. Also we discovered the means by which it was transported and some of the famous growers. One of which was a woman named Dona Antonia Ferreira, who was a local mogul and one of the best port producers in her era. Her family has continued her legacy and you can still find Ferreira Port. Since it was a dismal day accompanied by a slight drizzle we headed back to the hotel after the visit, rather than explore the square one last time. Then we headed to the airport to board our RyanAir flight home. We also bought some Port in the airport (A nice bottle of Ferreira) since we wanted to bring some of our trip to Porto back home.
We wanted to go to a flamenco show, but utterly exhausted from our trip we grabbed a quick bite to eat around my neighborhood, where I promptly learned that I do not know very many good restaurants, clearly the lesson is that I need to eat out more often.