Porto Ribeiro

July 28, 2013

On the second day of our visit to Porto, we walked down from the top of the hill through a maze of steep paved streets leading to the  Ribeiro district.

7.30 am in Ribeiro, one of the oldest and liveliest parts of Porto. The Douro river flows slowly in the misty morning. The city looks still sleepy and the air is pleasantly  cool.  It will get very hot later on as we will visit this lovely area that is sometimes called  the true soul of Porto.

Porto, Ribeiro, boats

Tall, narrow houses line the side of the river. The day had brightened up and the wave of heat around midday was almost palpable. A hazy kind of light. Not really the best time for taking pictures but we were hungry and the smell of fried food, roasted sardines, lead us to a restaurant along the quay.

Ribeiro 1

A long and wide promenade  runs along the river. There were few tourists at this time of the year but I can imagine how crowded  this  would look right now. I took this picture  from  a bridge we are going to cross later on. Houses, shops, market stalls and restaurants blend in colorfully. A luminous sight indeed.Ribeiro, jetée

A closer view of the terraces along the Douro river. I had promised myself to take a “food” picture of the dish I ordered : “sardinas asadas”, the absolute must when you visit Portugal. Roasted sardines. When the waiter brought a large plate  where four delicious looking sardines lay side by side on a bed of salads, I forgot all about my promise 😦 The inviting scent,  the cool white fruity and fragrant  wine, the first bite into the sardines’ delicate flesh… and  when I thought about the picture, my plate was empty ! But I can assure you it tasted very good.Ribeiro, terrasses

A few boats were anchored  as we walked towards the bridge crossing the river. This old boat  is one of those Rabelos – ancient barges with a flat bottom –  the type that used to transport barrels of the famous Port  from the Douro Valley to Porto.Ribeiro, barcos rabelos

Dom Luis I Bridge, constructed in 1886 on the lines of Gustave Eiffel’s Dona Maria Pia railroad bridge. Each level has two-way traffic and two sidewalks.  It was fascinating and challenging to walk across the bridge with cars and buses racing by all around. On the other bank of the Douro river lies Vila Nova de Gaia, the  well-known place of wine and wine lodges. Some  of them are open for visitors and wine tasting.Porto, Dom Luis Bridge

The large cool cellars  in the wine lodge we visited  were a real reward after the  walk in the blazing sun. My husband and  I sat happily on one of those long black benches where a large group of Japanese tourists joined us later on. Behind dark glass doors, a lot of wooden barrels were neatly piled up. The golden lights in the ceiling gave the room and the barrels an air of an Ali Baba’s cave. We tasted a glass of two different vintage Port. Exquisite ! Do you believe me if I tell you that after the long walk since early morning, the hot sun and the wine my legs felt kind of tired ?Sandeman's

Never mind. The following day was going to be a relaxing one : a one day cruise on the Douro river, along  vineyards, forests, small villages. We joined about 60 other people on a boat such as the one of the right, the smaller one.Ribeiro, barcadouroAre you ready to follow me for an enjoyable journey ? Then don’t forget your sunglasses, a hat and your favourite sun cream: the day is hot on the deck !

Can you guess

July 14, 2013

where I stayed during the last week of May  ? During the two hours flight from Geneva to this ancient and picturesque town, I had a look at this map and thought I would share it with you. The many flight lines all seem to converge to one particular spot in the South of Europe. A small country on the Atlantic coast from where several navigators left for maritime discoveries : Africa, America, Brazil, India, Macao (China). Great explorers  like Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Zarco amongst many others.Portugal, mapOur destination was Porto – or Oporto – in the Northern part of Portugal, an old city we had been planning to visit for a long time. Spring was much more advanced than in Switzerland, the touristic  Season had not fully started yet, temperatures were pleasant. Our timing was good, it truly was the most enjoyable vacation.

Porto and surroundings offer so much to a new visitor that it would be  impossible to tell you about all its various aspects. Let me just show you in a few posts the pictures of some of the places that touched me for a reason or another. This is the first post of a few others showing you different glimpses of Porto, the Douro river and Coimbra, a town in the South of Porto.


After landing in Porto and leaving our luggage in a small hotel in the center of the city, my husband and I walked  to the upper town. The view was stunning. A labyrinth of houses of all sizes and colours, huddled together and decorated with the famous Portuguese “azulejos” (painted blue tiles). The red tiled roofs added a touch of colour in those dark and narrow alleys as they glistened in the sunset.Porto, old townSeagulls were everywhere, “A winged squadron flying over us, happy pigeons travelling all over the world, messengers of memory, going over the washing lines in the alleys, huts, grocery shops, sleeping dogs in the sun, red flowers growing in the rust…” (Alberto Nessi)Porto, mouettesPorto  is a harbour city. Sometimes here and there an ancient building in Art Nouveau style looked to me like a towering ship from other times coming out of the haze of history.Porto, Art NouveauContrasting  styles of architecture add to this city’s charm. Richly decorated mansions, shops or cafés have grown side by side with other houses, more simple, that line narrow paved alleys. There were not too many visitors at this time of the year but these lanes can be quite crowded when all shops and  restaurants are open, especially in the evening or early morning. This is where Porto’s life is felt at best.Porto, paved alleyThis most unusual and beautiful hall is part of the central railway station of Porto, Sao Bento. Impressive “azulejos” and sculptures cover the walls and ceilings. This beautiful  building dating from 1916  is well worth visiting even if one does not travel by train. Which we actually did when going  for a visit to another city, Coimbra. More about that later !Porto, railway stationFor now as the sun goes down over the city, let’s just stop for a while on the top of a hill overlooking the Barreido district and others, less luxurious, which lead to the river. Will we meet there later ?Porto, skyline

Easter cascarones

March 29, 2013

Wishing you all a Very Happy Easter  Weekend !

cascarones 2

Last week, I received those “cascarones” decorated for me by Mariana, a dear friend in Texas. What a surprise and a pleasure to open a long box of 12 colourful eggshells ! Only one of them had not coped with the long travel over the pond. You can see it in the basket : half broken and filled with paper confetti. More information about this Latin American, Mexican tradition here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascar%C3%B3n

I wish I could have sent you  Springful images of my surroundings. No way. As I write to you, it is snowing again and the rare flowers that I spotted a few days ago like snowdrops, crocuses, primroses, are now covered by a  layer of snow that keeps growing. So, why not stay in tune with  the “cascarones” and share pictures of a beautiful trip I did in May/June 2008 in South Texas. The vegetation was in full bloom and my friends’ gardens were enchanting. And cool to sit in.

TX, Fina's garden, bougainvilliers

Fina’s bougainvillea right outside my window.

TX, Dora's garden, art tree

Dora’s artistic tree in her magic garden.

TX, CC Carmen's garden, birdhousesBlue birdhouses and Sweet Dreams in Carmen’s lovely  garden. There was so much to look at!

TX, CC, Carmen's garden, bed

TX, CC pastries 2

The Canelas Bakery is “Serving Crystal City for three generations“. I imagine those tasty pastries are on my friends’ table on Easter Day, with a lot more delicious homemade food.

TX, CC Juan's painting

This is a painting created by Juan for his sister Mariana. For me it symbolizes  the warm welcome I received in my friends’ home. The generosity of their kind heart.  The creativity and variety of their tasty cuisine. The strong family links between all generations. Their luxuriant and inviting gardens. The unbelievable heat around midday when only a foreigner could be on the streets taking pictures…

church Crystal City

Can you feel the heat under this clear and blue sky ?

TX, end of the road

This is probably one of my favourite pictures taken during my Texas journey. A wide, straight and endless road. A flat landscape (particularly in this area) and a big, huge sky. And, last but not least for a Swiss person, no mountains on the horizon. Thank you Juan, thank you to your dear family for making me feel at home in your hometown.

Feliz Pascua !

Since I did not take a lot of  pictures during the past months, I thought I might as well dig into my archives and especially my travel shots. Today I would like to share with you a few moments spent some years ago in Bendigo’s Conservatory; a major regional city in the state of Victoria,  Australia. Bendigo is notable for its Victorian architectural heritage and mining industry.It was midday on a  hot day at the end of austral Summer. There were not many visitors in Rosalind Park  which surrounds the Conservatory but a few tourists like me attracted by its pleasant architecture and setting. As far as I was concerned,  there was a definite hope for some freshness.  The sun shone fiercely. I spotted an ancient bench leaning against the brick wall of the Conservatory;  I sat  there for a while enjoying the green and summerly landscape.  Still, it was too hot for someone who had just left a snowy and cold month of March in the Northern hemisphere.

The door of the Conservatory was open and inviting. The contrast of light was visible through the windows and it immediately suggested coolness. Without hesitation I went in.

The large hall was not as cool as I imagined but somehow it brought a sense of freshness and humidity. I was struck by this strange green shade diffused in the whole glasshouse. Trees and plants seemed to reflect in the glass windows and roof.  Shade, silence, peace,  the perfect moment to make a pause and sit on another bench surrounded by exuberant vegetation.

I was mesmerized by the delicate sound of these few drops of water falling gently into a little pool, like a well.  I had stepped into a green world, a vegetation of a great diversity and mystery, an environment not exactly familiar but cosy. It felt good.

A large and heavy urn,  as round as  a globe, was set in another pool. Ripples of water  softly touched the stone shore. Through the glass roof, the blue austral sky reflected on the urn patterns that looked like tracks ? ocean ? bush?  A kind of local  geography.  All new to me as I just landed in this vast and fascinating country and was more than happy to discover parts of it.

Time to leave and drive further. Back into the  hot sun on a  square surrounded by colourful Victorian houses. And another bench sitting under  a huge tree, so  generous with its welcoming shade. There was a lot more to see in Bendigo.  Will we leave it for a next visit ?

A tulip as a symbol…

October 21, 2010

A large, very large city (15 mio inhabitants) spread over two continents, Europe and Asia, linked together by two bridges and whose symbol is the tulip. A city whose name varied over time  and  civilisations : Byzantium under the Greek settlers,  and Constantinople  as the new Eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Did you guess where I had the great pleasure of spending four short days recently ? Yes, right 🙂 In Istanbul, Turkey, just 3 1/2 hours away from Geneva (by plane). But what a change of scenery and way of life !

One of the bridges linking the Eastern shore of the Bosphorus to the Western part of Istanbul.

Describing and picturing all I saw in this  short time is not really easy. I took many photos of the main touristic  sites we visited. A morning cruise on the Bosphorus,   gardens and palaces visited during a rainstorm that looked and felt more like a deluge,   a Byzantine underground Cistern,  the famous  Bazars, the seagulls that were everywhere and as big as ducks,  ancient Ottoman quartiers and their wooden houses,  small sesame breads sold in the streets which never tasted as good as when eaten under the pouring rain, the bridges and their busy lanes (day and night) that we crossed by bus, and  so much more… There are a lot of blogs and sites about this prestigious historical city – named “European Capital of Culture for 2010” – that will inform you much better than I would about the incredible  and precious treasures of Istanbul. Personaly, I chose to share with you some images that may tell you how I felt about Istanbul,  its contrasts, the traces of its historical past and its ever-present beauty.

A mosaic in blue shades  like the magnificent  domes of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet I mosque) and the Hagia Sophia Museum (formerly a Basilica, then a Mosque and now and museum.

The breathtaking shades of  Hagia Sophia’s stained glass windows, a soft inner light that no words can tell. I felt an  indescribable   feeling of  serenity (in spite of the crowd); I could well imagine the  fervour shared inside the same basilica/mosque  over the centuries by so many believers.

These are various patterns seen during the visits. The tulip (symbol of Istanbul) on a prayer carpet, an intricate mosaic in the Topkapi Palace and a rich embroidery sewed on a Sultan’s kaftan.

The magnificent Topkapi Palace and its gardens were visited under a heavy rain. The sky had darkened considerably but the area was not without any colours…

Deserted benches in a luxuriant vegetation.Group in blue…It was a great day for street vendors 🙂 We were offered blue plastic raincoats and umbrellas. ‘brellas,’ brellas ! was the rather joyous cry people heard all day long in the saturated streets. And of course,  we were only too happy to buy an umbrella on such a wet day !

When rain was just too much to put up with, the Grand Bazar and the Spice Bazar (also called Egyptian Bazar) would welcome you. A feast for the eyes and, in some shops,  a delight for your sense of smell.  Imagine carpets, shawls, embroidered boots,  jewels, spices, soaps, leather goods, glasses, ceramics, coffee,  those very special herbal teas and the sweet Turkish delights 🙂 Just anything you can think of.Walking in Istanbul’s ancient Ottoman areas is a totally different experience and well worth it.

Away from the crowds and the most visited sites, small wooden houses huddle together along  uneven streets where people live and work. Another vision of old Istanbul, its craftmen and shopkeepers, small stores and cafés where tourists are rare.

Fruits, veges  or other food are often sold in the streets. Tempting, delicious.

As the evening comes, a muezzin calls  for another prayer. The sky darkens before rain starts falling again. Will the remaining golden patches of sun between the clouds announce a sunny day in the morning ?

Yes, indeed ! The sky has cleared up and a sunrise over the Bosphorus was one of my favourite moments in Istanbul. Pastel shades over the straight for  boats  which are coming back slowly to the fishing market early morning. A view I never tired of.

Thank you for accompanying me for this short visit through  the ancient part of the city. I thought I would focus on the historical part of Istanbul although the modern area is quite another story and well worth seeing too.

Below are a few links of interest for those of you who would like knowing more about Istanbul.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istanbul

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Bridges_in_Istanbul

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topkap%C4%B1_Palace

Piemonte

October 1, 2010

Back from a visit to Italy, in the Piemonte area which is not far away from the South of Switzerland;  it was a long drive though, the winding and steep roads went through mountain passes and narrow valleys. Photos will follow when I will be back from another trip to a completely different and unexpected destination 😉Until later and enjoy these first weeks of October which I hope will be mild and colourful. Fall is definitely on its way…

Slowing down

August 16, 2010

This post is my contribution to  the new photography  challenge assigned by Scott Thomas, http://stphoto.wordpress.com; its theme is related  to Travel Photography. On the following link you will find  the necessary information if you want to join us. Everyone is welcome ! Photos are to be posted until September 8, 2010.

http://stphoto.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/assignment-8-travel-photography/

For me, Hauterive is not  a faraway place to travel to, 15kms at the most from my home near Fribourg, Switzerland (South of Berne). More than a travel in the usual sense of the word, I would call it an “inner journey”. As soon as you leave the main road leading to the Abbey of Hauterive, you enter a small domain where peace, silence and nature help you slowing down. You don´t even realize it but the way you walk down the path leading to the Abbey is definitely more slow.

I did not meet many people as I strolled under the forest archway. It was a weekday; on Sundays the monastery welcomes many visitors coming to the 10am mass celebrated by the Cistercian monks  in the Abbey founded in 1138.The community of Hauterive is a haven of peace. Whenever I  need some quietness or just a little time for myself , I love to go and sit in the garden in front of the Abbey. Parts of this garden are closed to the public and reserved to the monks. Pilgrims on their long way to St- Jacques de Compostelle in Spain may stop there for the night.Between light and shade, some benches welcome people who come there for a pause in their day. Some – for their own particular reasons at a period of their life – can stay for a longer time at the Abbey and live with the monks according to their rhythm and spirit.  I cannot speak for them but personally I always feel a great inner peace as I stay there, outside or inside the church, also when walking along the river.

This is a view of the Abbey (at the back) and the farm (in front). The monks´s monastic life is essential  (“ora et labora” – pray, work and also fraternal life). The monks also cultivate a certain form of relationship with the exterior world.  Over the centuries they have valorised agricultural land  so  that they can sell their various products which bring the necessary revenues for their subsistence.Silence is appreciated in the areas where the monks are praying, meditating.

Hauterive Abbey (which means “high banks”) is located near a river, the Sarine. It flows quietly; people like to come and spend the day at the edge of the water.  I saw fishermen trying to catch  trouts. Cistercian monasteries  were often built near a river in rather secluded areas. Maybe they used rivers as a way of transportation for their goods to be sold in the towns nearby ? It was often done so in the Middle Age when roads were  unsafe.

To reach the Abbey you can either walk down a peaceful forest path or use  those  old wooden stairs. They have been restored of course and if they could talk, they would tell of all the people and the countless  steps up and down over the centuries. The walls are original with an occasional patch of new cement and paint here and there. No  straight lines for them but slight curves,  a sort of imbalance as if they carried the weight of time and events.Let´s  enter the Abbey itself through the  main porch decorated by a fresco.  I visited Hauterive several times over the years; for this photo assignement I came on a sunny morning which soon turned out to be a rainy one. The colours would have normally been much brighter.

I never took any pictures inside the Abbey but the monk I asked about it said it was all right. Those  are the stained glass windows on the South side of the church, their bright colours subdued under the cloudy sky.  The “rosace” (rose window) is very striking.

Rose windows are particularly characteristic of Gothic architecture and may be seen in all the major Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France. Their origins are much earlier and rose windows may be seen in various forms throughout the Medieval period (Wikipedia).

There were very few people inside the Abbey. I sat for while on the chair on the left. On Sundays and special  celebrations the nave and the lateral aisles are all taken up. The monks are reunited behind the choir-screen for the celebration. Their Gregorian chant fills the  Abbey. Moments of spirituality and sharing. I feel like saying a sharing beyond all religions,  a sheer spirituality that the site inspires and transcends.  The monks´chant is bringing life to the ancient walls.Leaving the Abbey by the quiet forest path, I was surprised by a bird flying right in front of me ! I still don´t know how I managed to take a picture. But here it is, a graceful bird dashing to the purple flower bush. A lovely ending of my travel with you.  I hope you enjoyed this quiet journey near Fribourg, Switzerland. Thanks to Scott for another interesting photography challenge.

For more information on the Abbey of Hauterive, here is a link to its  site. An English translation is available too.

http://www.abbaye-hauterive.ch/index.php#bas1

Mothers

May 9, 2010

The mother was standing at the side of a country road on the highlands of Madagascar, her baby snuggled on her back. She was selling wild flowers and a few oranges, tomatoes, rice and this special kind of spinach they grow there, “brèdes” (a French name I found no translation for).I stopped and asked to buy the flowers and some tomatoes. I never tasted again such sweet tomatoes. The lady was shy, her baby curious and serious. They both looked so  beautiful and in harmony, I asked her could I take a picture, please. The taxidriver translated this for me, she agreed with a half smile. Then a rapid conversation went on between the mother and the driver. I was to give the picture to her later. She never had had a picture of her and her baby. I did drive to this area again some weeks later,  stopped in the curve and climbed a steep earth track to a hamlet of red houses. They were  of the same colour of the soil, as if they had grown out of it. By the time I arrived,  I was surrounded with children who screamed of excitement and brought mothers out of their homes. The shy lady was there, she embraced me gently and looked,  and looked again at the picture, hardly believing it was her and her baby ! Emotion and laughter and… more demands for pictures 😉

I took more pictures (with my precious Nikkormat!) and for some unfortunate reason, they were lost at the photographer’s in town. The mother and her child is the only one I still have of this episode. The village I went to looked very much like this one. This tapestry (cross-stitching with local wool on the lining of a well-worn carpet I was going to throw away !)  is a unique gift I received from a dear friend as I left Madagascar.

So, these are my thoughts and good wishes for all mothers today, we celebrate their special day. Happy Mother’s Day to each and everyone of you ! A loving thought also for all mothers who will not celebrate with us but who stay in our heart forever.

Des mots d’enfants, kids sayingsand others’ who were kids too 🙂

“When mom is tired, why do I have to go to bed “?

“For the others, my mom may not be the most beautiful, but when one looks at her with My eyes, she is the prettiest”.

“A mother who tucks you in bed leaves behind a scent of sleep”
(Jean Gastaldi)

“Mothers always forgive; this is why they were born”.
(Alexandre Dumas)

“A mother’s love is like air : so obvious that one does not even notice it. Until one misses it”.
(Pam Brown)

Oil

March 3, 2010

Those are the last drops, or bubbles rather, of an olive oil from Portugal given  by a friend. A particularly tasty, fruity, mellow kind of oil. When I turned the bottle upside down to get the last drop of it,  honeycombed bubbles formed and gave the bottle an antique and precious look !

About a year ago I visited some parts of Andalusia in Spain and especially a museum of olive; visitors were led  from a garden of olive trees through the various ancient rooms of an hacienda where  the famous oil was produced. The visit ended in a shop ( very olive-minded 😉 and in a restaurant which offered numerous dishes where the delicious oil played an exquisite role !

“The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven” (Thomas Jefferson).  This is one of the 80 sorts of olive trees growing in this hacienda.

Those are the old  jars that had contained the precious oil years ago.

Words that express the respect and care people had for their olive trees’ plantations.

A wonderful book for the “aficionados” of olive oil (I am one of them). It will tell you all about the origins of the olive from Africa to the Middle East, from Europe to the Americas and even some parts in Australia. And last but not least,  some recipes  are shown whose pictures only make you hungry. Here is a special treat for you : Bruschetta.

It is prepared by rubbing garlic (if you like it) on toasted bread that is then covered with fresh tomatoes and basil and smothered with oil. Olive, of course 😉

In 1889, Vincent van Gogh staying in the Provence/France wrote to his brother Theo : ” If you could see the olives at this moment… The old silver foliage and the silver-green against the blue… The murmur of an olive grove has something very intimate, immensely old. It is too beautiful for me to try to conceive of it or dare to paint it”.

Going South

February 21, 2010

More snow fell yesterday, a Siberian North wind blows over the landscape today and although the sun is trying to shine, its rays are still too weak to warm up the atmosphere. So I thought why not going South ? in my memories at least. When I mean South, I mean one of the most Southern parts of the world if you live in Europe. That is Australia. About three years ago I went there for a while, I left Winter behind  and found Summer in Victoria, beautifully warm and green in many places.

Walking in the bush was quite a discovery for me. Eucalypts and  plants unheard of over here. Forests that seemed to have grown in a kind of disorder  but once you walk through them, you notice a natural harmony in those twisted tree trunks and wild plants covering a rather dry soil.  The woods  were either silent or very noisy with the cockatoes’ calls.

An amazing entanglement of trees, bushes, high ferns. Sometimes a beautiful confusion, at other times a forest as imposing as a cathedral.

The beautiful canopy of a eucalypt, its silvery leaves barely moving in the heat of the day.

Here and there the Australian forests reminded me of a poem of Baudelaire :

La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles ;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Nature is a temple where live pillars
Sometimes whisper confused words
Man walks across it through forests of symbols
Which observe him with familiar looks.

Charles Baudelaire
Extract from the poem  “Correspondances”

Here is a site about Australian nature that I love to visit :

http://robertburcul.wordpress.com/

Robert Burcul’s  amazing and artistic pictures of Queensland are well worth seeing.