I traveled  to Portugal in June of 2010 with a group of friends we made at a photography workshop a couple of years earlier, a group we named The Oaxaca Wonders, or TOW, as it was in Oaxaca that we met.  It was the third or fourth time we had gotten together to travel and take pictures, and this was the first time that we arranged for our own teachers and tour.

Unique Photo Tours, run by David and Kim Walker, was the outfit we used. As I write this in 2017, they are no longer in the business, but we did have a lot of fun, learned a lot and they did a wonderful job.

I did not keep a journal at the time.  Our schedule was hectic, with shooting and classes, and socializing.  I did produce a book of the collective work of the group during the trip, and that ended up being so much work, that blogging about that trip then, was really not possible, especially because I had other travel and trips to write about also.

Now (May 2017) I am getting ready to return to Portugal, with Cindy and Greg Berg, who were also on the original trip (and of course, my trusty spouse, too!).  This trip will be a couple of nights in Lisbon, a river cruise on the Douro River and a couple of nights in Porto.  You’ll be able to link from here to that trip once I take it!

Belém District

Here, instead of my usual blather, you’re going to get some brief comments (memories of specifics are a little dim…) and mostly pictures.

The tour started on June 10th, a Thursday, in Lisbon.  Our hotel, Jeronimos 8, billed as “ultra trendy” was located in the historic Belém district of west Lisbon. It is situated directly across from the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery on one side and the tropical botanical gardens on the other.

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The first order of the itinerary was a photo sharing session and a class in the hotel, and then at 4 pm, we met our local guide and headed out to see our surroundings.

Our very first stop was to try the famous “pastel de nata” also called “pastéis de Belém” at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. The place was a mad-house! Everybody running here and there – an almost overwhelming sense of rush, hurry, rush, hurry.  It was hard for me to appreciate how beautiful the store is – with all its old details, all meticulously maintained.  A pastel de nata is a baked custard.  It’s a very traditional Portuguese pastry and well worth trying if you like sweets.

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We then walked through the Praça do Império . Looking back towards the monastery and the adjacent Archeological Museum, the buildings were quite imposing. It was here, along the waterfront, that we also visited the Belém Tower, a 1515 fortress with Moorish watchtowers and battlements, and a vaulted dungeon. This ship-shaped monument was built to commemorate the spot from where Portuguese explorers launched to discover new worlds. We also visited the nearby Monument to the Discoveries, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, located right on the Tagus riverfront.

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That night we all had dinner together in the hotel, our first real opportunity to toast our reunion!

June 11 (Friday), we met after breakfast in the hotel conference room at 8 am for our first group critique and a class in “Creating Dramatic Images.” We had some free time in the morning to rest, edit images and have lunch.  Many of us went next door to photograph the Jeronimos Monastery, Portugal’s crowning achievement of Manueline architecture, which combines Renaissance, Moorish and Gothic styles. This UNESCO World Heritage site is dedicated to the Portuguese navigators who brought wealth to the country. The church and cloisters are decorated with elaborate sculptures and nautical embellishments, and it contains the stone tomb of famed discoverer Vasco da Gama.

Later in the afternoon, we met our local guide and traveled by tram to Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest Moorish district. Tightly packed houses crowd steep alleys in this working class neighborhood. We were just in time for the June festival called “Festas de Lisboa.”  The streets were decorated with colorful streamers and tissue paper fringe. Everywhere we went, as we followed one another through a maze of narrow cobblestone streets, we found color and excitement, and lots of locals to “shoot.”

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Our destination on this walk was the dramatic hilltop castle of São Jorge protectively overlooking the neighborhood below and looking out across the water, vigilant for enemy ships.  The city is safely snuggled into a huge bay of the Tagus River, but just beyond, the Atlantic Ocean looms with both opportunity and danger. A Moorish castle, São Jorge is lovely inside with stone walkways and beautiful views from the ramparts.

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Dinner was in a restaurant with a folkloric dancing and fado show.  Fado was “born” in the Alfama district, and there is even a museum dedicated to this music.  (Another great museum in the area is the Museo de Azulejos, which we did not visit but I would guess is very interesting, since the evidence of their importance is hard to miss!) I cannot say I am a convert to fado, but I did buy a CD, once I returned, of the famous Amália Rodrigues.

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Eventually there will be other links here – both to the rest of this 2010 trip (which took us all over the central part of Portugal) and to our 2017 trip (which will start in Lisbon, too).