Wednesday, February 1, 2023


  July 1-2, 2022

After a long day of sightseeing, we were ready to dump our stuff at our hotel, grab a bite to eat, and go to bed. The only problem was that we couldn't find our hotel, the SDivine Fatima Hotel. Our GPS placed in in the center of a roundabout. We had to call the hotel twice for directions. We finally found it just off the roundabout on one of the many exits, but set back from the road with no visible signage.

We were still in the city of Fátima, and it was fun to see this azulejo depiction of the Visitation of Our Lady of the Rosary to the three shepherd children.

After unloading our luggage, we set out on foot to find something to eat. The only thing we found open was a butcher shop that made sandwiches and "toasts," or grilled sandwiches (kind of like paninis). The guy behind the counter spoke as much English as I spoke Portuguese, so we had a pretty funny pantomime exchange. He gave us some meat and cheese samples to try, and we pointed at what we wanted. When Bob asked for mayonnaise for his sandwich, the butcher was horrififed, basically refusing. The sandwiches were good, at least my toastsed one with melted cheese oozing out the sides was!

We also shared some very good sausage and olives.

The next day we got off to an early start because we planned to cover a significant distance.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


 July 1, 2022

Our final destination of the day was our third pilgrimage site of the trip (the first two being Santiago de Compostela and Bom Jesus Cathedral), The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.

The story is that in 1917, Mary the Mother of Jesus appeared to three shepherd children--Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Lúcia--in a field in Fátima, Portugal. Over a period of five months, the children experienced six visitations. They told others that they were asked by the Virgin to say the rosary and were told three "secrets" regarding events that were to occur. In 1930, the Catholic Church recognized the visions as "worthy of belief" and granted a papal indulgence to pilgrims to the site. The site quickly became an important pilgrimage destination, and it now receives as many as six million pilgrims a year. 

The huge open courtyard of the shrine is twice as large as St. Peter's in Rome, and it reminded us a lot of the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City that we visited in 2018. The Shrine of Fátima, built near the place where the children saw Mary, is one of the largest Marian shrines in the world.

There are two minor basilicas on the property, and we began our visit in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, which has a 213-foot-tall tower topped with a 15,000-pound bronze crown and a cross.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


 July 1, 2022

Our next stop was Guimaraes, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent several hours on the grounds of Guimaraes Castle, the place where the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques (1109-1185) was born. Construction began in the mid-10th century. Obviously, it has had a few renovations since then.

We walked past it on the right side . . . 

. . . admiring its square, crenellated tower and the way it is literally built into the rocks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023


July 1, 2022

Our Braga accommodations, the Hotel Vila Galé, was about a five-mile drive from the Bom Jesus Basilica. At first we couldn't find it. The address led us to this building, which was clearly (we thought), a church and not a hotel:

Eventually, however, we noticed the hotel signs on the right end of the building.

We learned that our hotel was occupying a site that was originally the Hospital de São Marcos, established in the 1500s--similar in some ways to our hotel in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The Iberian people built incredible hospitals! The original building was expanded a few times over the centuries, and the building as it now appears served as a public hospital with a capacity of 521 active beds in 2007. It was vacated in 2011 in favor of a new, modern structure. In 2016 the Via Galé hotel group purchased the building, and in 2018 it opened as a four-star hotel. 

The hotel is enormous. Once we checked in at the front desk, we walked through a series of corridors for almost five minutes before reaching our room.

Friday, January 6, 2023


 June 30, 2022

We got on the road around noon for our two-hour drive back to Portugal and our next destination outside Braga, another pilgrimage site, Bom Jesus do Monte, or "Good Jesus of the Mountain." (We kept irreverently calling the place "Bomb Jesus" and giggling.)

We had eaten an extensive and delicious breakfast buffet in our hotel, so we weren't ready for lunch, but we did pick up some nutritious snacks for the drive. I didn't know Magnum made anything but ice cream bars! What a wonderful surprise! And the Sumol Laranja drink on the right tastes just like one of my favorites: Orangina.

We had zero interference crossing the border into Portugal. Everything we had read online about tight Covid restrictions in Portugal were either out-of-date or overblown.

Bom Jesus do Monte turned out to be one of my favorite churches in Portugal, in spite of the fact that the road to the church is a series of hairpin turns up a very steep mountain.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, the extensive property (64 acres) is stunning. The UNESCO document notes that "the landscape evokes Christian Jerusalem, recreating a sacred mount crowned with a church. . . . [It] illustrates a European tradition of creating Sacri Monti (sacred mountains), promoted by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 16th century." The rest of the UNESCO description is one of the most lavish documents of praise I have read on their site, and I wonder what took them so long to name Bom Jesus a World Heritage Site. 

Many churches have existed here, beginning in the 14th century, but the current  one was started in 1784 and consecrated in 1834. A zig-zagging series of 577 steps leading from the town of Braga up the mountain to the basilica were built between 1723 and 1837, and it is these stairs and accompanying artwork and landscaping that make the basilica such a special and unique place, which is why over 1.2 million people visit it every year.

Sunday, January 1, 2023


 June 29-30, 2022


We typically book hotels with high-ish ratings but avoid the five-star hotels that are generally beyond our budget. However, we splurged in Santiago de Compostela and booked a room for two nights in the  five-star Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos, one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in the world and supposedly one of the most luxurious hotels in Spain. The big draw for us was not the luxury, but its location on the Obradoiro Plaza and next to the Cathedral.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (yes, the monarchs who financed Columbus's voyages) made their own pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1486, and once there, recognized the need for a hospital and hostel for pilgrims. They funded the building project, which was completed in 1511. Pilgrims could recover in the rooms (three days in summer, five days in winter), and medical care was provided as needed, all at no cost to the pilgrims. It continued as a hostel/hospital for over 400 years. 

In 1953, the hospital, which by now was serving members of the community as well, was moved to another location, and in 1954 the building opened as a hotel. It became part of the Paradores hotel network it in 1986.

The hotel still provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day to the first ten pilgrims who prove they have completed the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

The front façade is the original from the early 16th century. Think about that. This dates back to the within a decade or two after Columbus made his first voyage.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022


 June 29-30, 2022

As noted in the previous post, the current Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was built in Romanesque style in the 13th century, with Gothic and Baroque additions in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. It is a massive structure, and no doubt gets its notoriety from being the reputed burial spot of St. James (aka Santiago) the Greater, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. However, it is a magnificent edifice of its own accord.

By the way, the only other churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle are St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica in Chennai, India, and the Basilica of St. John in Izmir, Turkey.

A sign of the importance of this cathedral is that it was visited THREE TIMES in a span of 28 years by two different popes--Pope John Paul II in 1982 and 1989 and Pope Benedict in 2010.

The interior of this cathedral is about 310 feet long, has a transept that measures 206 feet, and stands 72 feet high, making it the tallest building in Europe when it was built. Today it is still the largest Romanesque cathedral in Spain. At first glance it looks rather austere.

But then you see the main altar, and the closer you get, the more opulent it is.