Scenery From Penela Da Beira

Penela da Beira, Viseu, Portugal (1)

A selection of landscapes and scenery from last weekend’s Easter excursion to the family home village of Penela da Beira.

The photos are from Saturday and Sunday, the full album is here: Easter in Penela da Beira

I’ve completely skimped on commentary this time, but my rationale is that if I don’t post this now it’ll be Easter 2015…

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April 19/20, 2014
Album: Easter in Penela da Beira

Porto: Waves At Foz do Douro

Foz do Douro (Porto, Portugal) (2)

Taking a break from the ‘away’ photos to post some ‘home’ photos, this time a batch from earlier this month when we were showing our couchsurfers, Noha and Peter, around Porto.

That day we lucked out with a parking spot near our tasca in Foz do Douro (literally, “mouth” of the Douro River but locally shortened to Foz) and after lunch strolled along the seawall to the pier and lighthouse, the ever-popular spot for wave-watching. Even on less windy days, this particular location guarantees large swells pounding against the concrete buffers (surely there are proper names for these, but I’m floundering for the terms), spraying curtains of salty mist high into the air. It’s an impressive sight and somewhat terrifying if close to the edge — you can see in these photos how easily a wave can sneak up on the unsuspecting. There’s a false sense of security when the sky is clear and the waves are mostly predictable. All it takes is one rogue wave…

When the four of us were on the pier for a while and finally decided to push on towards the city centre, Noha remarked that she could watch the sea all day, and I agree. While its power is intimidating, the roll of the waves is simply mesmerizing. The sea is like a painting that changes every moment; in its patterns we each notice different things, its poetic motion and sounds spark different thoughts for its observers.

The ocean holds such strong associations and memories, too. When I was staying with my friend Eric and his family at the beach house on Fire Island, New York, in 2009 and 2010, it was blissful to fall asleep every night to the sound of waves breaking on the shore and wake up to the same every morning.

If you make a trip to Porto and you’re short on time, do yourself a favour and take an eléctrico – heritage tram 1 Passeio Alegre-Infante to the beach in Foz for some waves.

Foz do Douro (Porto, Portugal) (3)

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April 6, 2014
Album: Portugal (Spring 2014)

A Stop In The Douro Valley

Douro Valley, Portugal (1)

The trip between our house and the family’s home village of Penela da Beira takes around two and a half hours if you drive at the speed of Paulo. My husband has taken this journey countless times in his life and can probably navigate it with his eyes closed.

We typically choose the tolled highways from Porto which are less scenic but shorten the travel time. One of my favourite stretches comes up after the town of Régua, which marks the point along the Douro River where we cross over and low-gear it up the mountains. After the bridge at Régua we follow the river for a bit, pass the dam, and if I’m lucky we’ll catch a train going by before making the sharp turn up the mountain road shared by some quintas (estates) of the port wine companies. If you take a boat trip along the Douro you will see the names of these companies emblazoned in huge letters across their vineyards, advertising the stake they claimed centuries ago on the fertile land beside the river. Much later, in 2001, the Alto Douro region was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Last Friday morning I put in a stop request so I could take some photos from this picturesque turn. It’s one of the few roomy vantage points along the drive which doesn’t put anyone or the car in danger of slipping down the mountainside, and one can take in the scenery from under the cool shade of wisteria. It’s a lovely spot, isn’t it? The only thing missing I can think of is a gelato cart, but maybe one will magically appear this summer.

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April 18, 2014
Album: Easter in Penela da Beira

Northeastern Portugal: Pink In Penedono

Penedono, Viseu, Portugal (1)

The family’s home village of Penela da Beira has no grocery store (Paulo says there is one, but I challenge the non-local to recognize it as such). In fact, it has no convenience stores either, which means the villagers — mostly seniors without vehicles — often rely on the bread or fish delivery trucks which drive around every few days, honking their way through Penela. The locals seem to know which horn is which, but to the untrained ear the sounds all run together in a cacophony. As is the case with mountain villages around the world (including my dad’s), most of the inhabitants are related or have known each other for generations. The horns may very well be a sonic “hello!” mixed in with “bread for sale!” and “see you later!”

The other option for people to obtain their staples is to make their way to the closest town, Penedono. (Penedono is registered as my husband’s birthplace, but where he was born was actually a convent in Lamego, over 70kms away.) These “milk runs” from Penela to Penedono are just under 10 kilometres each way on paved roads, but in pre-industrial times this journey was longer and likely took all day. Paulo says he remembers not so long ago, before the pavement was laid and roads were widened for two full lanes. Welcome to rural Portugal, where I can still photograph donkeys pulling carts in 2014.

Our milk run to Penedono last Saturday was in a mountain fog. It never actually rained over the weekend, but that morning was like driving from one cloud to the next, and when we arrived in Penedono it had wrapped the pink trees in a light mist. I’ve said it before, I’m not a fan of pink except in nature, where explosions of pink are perfectly welcome, in my view. After a few months of rain the trees are well-watered and bursting with colour.

But spring can also be a cruel season for the allergy sufferers, you have my utmost sympathy!

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April 19, 2014
Album: Easter 2014 in Penela da Beira

We’re Baaaaaaa-ck

noisy neighbour sheep in Penela da Beira

You could see that caption coming from a mile away, right?

Offline for a few days but it feels like much more than that, what with all the reading and email and general catching up stuff which requires an internet connection. A real contrast from a sheep’s life which consists mostly of roaming leisurely from pasture to pasture, nose to grass, either chewing or bleating.

These freshly-shorn creatures were conveniently ensconced in a higher meadow across from the family house, grazing to their hearts’ content along with a few competitive goats who were more interested in tasty tree leaves. I’d just missed a golden opportunity to photograph them moving en masse up the village’s cobblestone street, directly under the bathroom window while I was brushing my teeth. I heard the herd (heh) coming, but underestimated the efficiency of the sheep dogs: by the time I grabbed my camera and got out the front door, the street was completely empty, except for the last dog staring at me as if to say, “What do you take me for, a lazy cat?”

April 19, 2014
Album: Easter 2014 in Penela da Beira