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Driving around Portugal

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We did more traveling around in Portugal in the past days, driving all the way up to Porto and even a bit further north. The things to see are mostly similar – old buildings, mostly churches, many of them highly decorated and topped with gold. Those catholics surely were (are?) serious about their decorations. While some of the churches overdid the decorating thing, some of them were more modest and rather nice. Also, a couple of them had an en suite monastery to look at which could be nicer than the church itself.

Unfortunately I've seen to many churches in the past days to be able to properly distinguish them. The one near the market in Porto was over-decorated and over-guilded. The cathedral in Porto was surprisingly small, whilst the cathedral in Coimbra had the best cloister with very interesting patterned decorations in its arches featuring the numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8.

The church Bom Jesus (with the latter word being pronounced with each consonant as some 'sch' sound in Portuguese and thus barely recognisable when heard) which apparently is popular for pilgrimages was quite pretty as well – the building being modestly decorated with a good feeling about it and being situated beautifully on a hill with staircases leading up to it. It also has a clever train going up there for more than 100 years that is driven by water power: The upper car is filled with water, letting gravity do all the work.

Having just mentioned a hill, I must say that there are many hills in this country and the Portuguese seem to be rather fond of building their towns on hills, which can probably fun for people driving little cars all over the place but makes you equally exhausted when wanting to walk places. This was particularly evident in Porto where the distance between some places we wanted to visit was tiny on the map (i.e. horizontal distance), but getting there took us ages as there was a great difference in height to be overcome.

Did I mention the weather is rather fine here? So far we've had sun all the time. And while the air is a bit chilly in the mornings and in the shadow, walking in the sun almost feels like a German summer day. Nice one. Which makes me start thinking about my next destinations, England and Norway (rain/14°C max and 1°C max today respectively according to CNN.

And then there's the dreadful topic of travel guides. We've got this travel guide listing many places and giving extensive descriptions of them, making even the tiniest places sound exciting. Everything tends to be 'one of the most beautiful...' with the caveat being what replaces the dots, say, 'romanic castle churches in Portugal'. So, yeah, great, there are probably four of those and it's one of the most beautiful. Frankly, I tend to find those descriptions a bit disappointing (though probably not as disappointing as doing two weeks of visiting ruins in the middle of nowhere in Ireland and really longing to go to some of the proper towns instead of reading yet another enthusiastic report about one of those places). Visiting small things is fine – but please don't make them sound more exciting than they'll turn out to be.

Also, when writing a travel guide, please include maps of everything. Descriptions in terms of 'North', 'East', etc. or relative to other places which you may or may not have found in the first place can turn out to be both confusing and disappointing.

March 10, 2003, 21:15

Tagged as country:pt, portugal, travel.

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