Portugal Road Trip – Part Two


Thanks MonsantoMonsanto is a name that, for some, conjures up the horrors of genetic engineering, bullying corporate practices, and poisons that can melt your skin clean off. That company is now owned by Bayer, which means they can sell you a pain reliever to take care of the pain they just caused. Aren’t huge corporations wonderful?

However, in Portugal, Monsanto is a small village, and it’s so cute it’s known as “the most Portuguese village of Portugal.” There are less than 1,000 inhabitants in the entire parish.

Traces of mankind date back to the early Stone Age. Later, the Romans came along, and then the Visigoths, and then the Arabs, and then whoever qualifies as the most Portuguese of the Portuguese, because of course that’s who must live in the most Portuguese village in all of Portugal.

ExplosionIn the 12th century, King Afonso I of Portugal took Monsanto back from the Moors. Unfortunately, the medieval castle was largely destroyed in the nineteenth century because of an explosion in the ammunition depot of the castle. Fortunately there’s enough left to make the steep hike above the village plenty rewarding, including of course some awesome views of the countryside.

A. Rock HouseGranite abounds in the area, and some of the rocks are absolutely gigantic. They are so prevalent that some of the houses were built right around large boulders, as you can see here. Clearly, this house rocks!

A. Shit liquorThe Portuguese are honest to a fault, even when it comes to their marketing. In this case, this was the sign on the outside of a little bar in the village. I decided not to try it because, well, I just don’t like the taste of shit, even if there’s alcohol involved. Unless I’ve already had a bunch of alcohol, then of course I’ll try anything and even think it tastes good, even if it’s that shit, or anything shitty. Except for actual shit. That’s always gross.

But the little village was anything but gross. It features narrow cobblestone alleys bordered by medieval homes, with the imposing walls of the castle above still keeping watch over 1,000 years later.

We took a ton of pictures but culled them down to only the ones that would be award-winning… if I was the judge and our pictures were the only ones in the contest anyway. It is a cool place, this slide show is as worthwhile as any of our slide shows.

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1. Main shotBelmonte is a castle we stopped by after we were somewhere else and saw on a map it was only about 20 minutes away. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the inside was closed. Still, it didn’t look like we missed much compared to some of the other castles we saw, so we settled for a few photos and made our way back to our hotel.

The first historical information about Belmonte dates once again back to King Afonso I (1112-1185). He got around! Belmonte is also the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the navigator who discovered Brazil. So I guess he’s like the Christopher Columbus of Brazil. I wonder if he was a big jerk too?

Anyway, the few pics we thought worthy:



We really liked the Castle of Montemor-o-Velho. It predates the very existence of Portugal –which has the world’s oldest set of borders– but it is well-preserved with nice grounds… and virtually no one there but us.

IMG_0391“Where is everybody?”

IMG_0420It’s a little known fact that the ancient Portuguese invented recycling, and here’s the proof. I promise I didn’t Photoshop those in. They literally had recycling bins in an ancient castle. Who knew?

They were even kind enough to put English translations on them, because Portugal is literally England’s oldest ally. The friendship between England and Portugal goes back to 1147 when English crusaders helped King Alfonso I capture Lisbon from the Muslims. In gratitude, the Portuguese addicted the English to tea. Today, the Portuguese don’t drink it much anymore because it’s, you know, kind of wimpy. Although not nearly as wimpy as ordering a “Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended, One Sweet’N Low and One Nutrasweet, and Ice” from Starbucks.

IMG_0431The picture of a little kid with glasses was installed in 1350 to instill fear in potential attackers that they might be going up against nerds. Even then, barbarians knew the nerds were the ones who invented all the coolest stuff, especially when it came to armaments.

IMG_0429This exhibit demonstrates why the Neanderthals went extinct: they tried building things with bricks made out of paper. Stupid Neanderthals.

This castle’s uniqueness was not only how well cared for it was, but it was one of the few we saw where it wasn’t the focal point of a small village. It stands apart and alone, with the municipality of Montemor-o-Velho and its 30,000-ish inhabitants off in the distance, as if in acknowledgement that the time of the castle’s protection was long over.

Okay, so now we’re to the slide show! Enjoy!

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WellOh, well.

Portugal Road Trip- Part One

Close up of Area of Exploration
Our area of exploration

One of the main purposes of our move to Europe was to use Portugal/Lisbon as a launchpad for exploring the rest of Europe. But what we have discovered in the meantime is that Portugal is a place full of wondrous things to see all by itself.

Northern Portugal features scenic beauty, historic villages, the highest point in Portugal, and castles galore. We came to see as much as we could, and we certainly did that. Seven days of driving put over 1,000 miles (1,600 km, or .0041866 of the distance to the moon) on our little trooper of a Area of Explorationcar, Marco the Polo.

But the real difficult part of the whole trip was cataloging and organizing all the pictures. While the castles became something of a blur to our memories, each one had its own unique characteristics that made it worth viewing. After figuring out which of the over 1,000 pictures we had was what, I then had to organize, label, cull, and somehow put them in the blog while still being entertaining.

O meu Deus!

So I organized, labeled, culled, and put a bunch of them in the blog. I’m not sure about the entertainment part, but if you’re interested in scenery you probably have never seen before, at least there’s that!

We used the city of Viseu, with a population of about 100,000 (100,000 in metric), as our launchpad for visiting the surrounding area. While we didn’t find Viseu all that interesting on its own (it did have a ginormous seven-story mall with a skating rink on the top floor and an indoor fountain that spouted all the way to the top), it did serve as an excellent point from which to see everything we saw up there.

The hotel we stayed at, The Pousada De Viseu, was interesting in that it was a converted hospital, and quite beautiful inside.


We had a few hiccups upon check in: they wanted to charge extra because I had the audacity to bring my wife. A good old fashioned American-style pitching of a fit cured them of that notion. Also, the electronic room keys only worked after ten or twenty attempts, but otherwise it was a very nice place.

Above are some photos as we traveled in and around Viseu. They had a nice little stream running through town, part of which had hot springs, but the only access to the hot springs was in a hotel/spa.

Of course, being on the road for a week means eating out a lot. However, a breakfast buffet was included with the hotel (and it was pretty good!) and we tend not to eat out very fancily as we travel. We’d rather spend time driving and seeing more sites than sit down for a typical three-hour Portuguese meal.

IMG_0533As a result, our lunches often looked like this… a bunch of flotsam and jetsam purchased at a grocery store.

IMG_0540Which is fine except that sometimes you end up with a really crumby wife.

IMG_9413I did have a tasty turkey burger in White Castle. What? White Castle you say?

For those who know that chain of American hamburger restaurants, you might not have known their reach extended all the way to Portugal. The reason you wouldn’t have known that is because it’s not true. White Castle

Actually, the whole town is named White Castle. And it has nothing to do with the hamburger chain. But, when in White Castle, one must eat a burger I guess.

One would of course expect Castelo Branco (which literally translates to White Castle, in case your Portuguese is rusty) to have a castle, right? Well, it does, but after seeing about a dozen of them throughout that area, we have to place Castelo Branco’s castle pretty much last on the list.

IMG_0293This is about as good as it got in terms of Castle-ish scenery.

Castelo brancoThe above photo makes it look interesting from the outside, but in truth it was pretty barren and didn’t offer much to see, other that the typically great views of the countryside from the castle walls.

But now that we have the least interesting castle out of the way, we can get to the other ones, which ranged from “cool” to “this is freakin’ awesome.”

We’ll start with marvelous Marialva.

Marialva dates back to Roman times, being reconstructed during the time of Trajan and Hadrian. According to the 2011 census, the village itself boasted a population of 255, making it quite the bustling metropolis. It isn’t often we get to visit a town and thereby increase its population by almost a full percent.

Construction of the castle is dated back to around 1179. I wonder how many things we build today will be around almost 1,000 years later?

1. Main pic

A. Welcome to MarialvaThey have a suggested trail of the most important historic towns and castles, and while we didn’t follow those instructions, our route throughout the area looked an awful lot like that Family Circus-esque trip as well.

Below is a slide show of some of the pictures we took. It’s a cute little town with a cute little castle. And of course… we love castles!

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PanoUsually you get a great view from atop the castle walls. But it can be even better when you climb up above the castle itself!

WellOh, well.

Carnaval in Sesimbra

IMG_0269Carnaval is a festive season that occurs before Lent, and the festa-loving Portuguese go all out in their celebrations.

Our home town of Sesimbra is one of the notable areas of celebration in Portugal, so we made the 10 minute drive to the area…  and then spent another 45 minutes trying to find a parking space. The little town was packed!

On Sunday they had a parade filled with colorful participants. Monday was clown day, almost everyone was dressed up as an authentic clown. I think they had a parade of clowns later, but we didn’t stay for that.

Tuesday they had yet another parade. Three full days of light-hearted fun and partying! You gotta love the Portuguese!

Being one of the rare Americans who live in Sesimbra, we were anointed King and Queen of the 2019 Sesimbra Carnaval. We couldn’t let them down so we bought the most elaborate costumes we could find.

Here below is a picture of us leading the parade.

As you can tell, our Aquasize class is really paying dividends for Carolyn, isn’t it?

K&C BrazillingOkay, so maybe Photoshop is the only thing that made us King and Queen. But we enjoyed ourselves anyway, even if we’re just the peasants.

IMG_0252Moving back to reality, the crowds were plentiful as the parade made its way down the Sesimbra boardwalk, which fronts the ocean.

IMG_0263They even lined the balconies above, like in New Orleans. No one’s throwing beads here though!

IMG_0271This clever float had these poor souls hanging on for dear life.

IMG_0272Okay, so it was the clever use of a mirror. Kind of like real-live Photoshop!

IMG_0279At the beginning of the parade route.

IMG_0267The eyes have it!

Brazil CarnavalWhen people hear the word “Carnaval,” they often think of racy outfits like these.

IMG_0275-2But in Portugal, this is what you get. Ha!

IMG_0259People dress up just as colorfully, but generally it’s a lot more PG than R-rated.

IMG_0289It’s party time everywhere you look!

IMG_0254They even had mimes. Mimes! Who does mimes anymore? The Portuguese, that’s who!




IMG_0287Pipocas means popcorn. We think it’s a cute word.









IMG_9382The thing I love most about Carnaval here, especially on Clown Day, is that almost everyone participates, From one to ninety-one, people are dressed up as clowns. It’s especially nice that even teenagers participate and have the same kind of playful fun.

IMG_9394On top of the hill you can make out the outline of “Our Castelo.” The Portuguese don’t think much about their castles and the like, because they’re so used to them. But we still love our castles!

IMG_9357The March weather was kind, in the sixties (upper teens celsius). Just a lot of beautiful blue like it is so often in Sesimbra!

PHOTO-2019-03-06-10-34-06Even in our Aquasize class everyone got into the spirit of things. In the above picture we’re the ones in back, me with the big red nose. Below, we’re on the left hand side. We always occupy the deepest in the pool on account of our differences in height. 🙂


In the poolThere we are with our instructor, Patricia. She’s an awesome teacher. She makes it easy to enjoy exercise!

The owly birds catch the Mafra

IMG_0189Did you know that “mafra” means “worm” in Portuguese? No?

Well, you still don’t, because it doesn’t. Mafra is the name of a town in Portugal we visited recently.

For the heck of it I entered “worm” into Google Translate and it returned eleven possibilities. I’m not sure which one would be the most commonly used, especially since we haven’t found the occasion to use the word “worm” since we’ve been here (actually, we’re kinda grateful for that). I couldn’t even find the origin of the word (and they say the internet has everything!), but I do know that human beings walked around the area all the way back to at least 7,000 BC, making it one of the oldest known areas of human habitation in Europe, the oldest being Windsor Palace, I think.

So much for your Portuguese history and language lessons. Now it’s time for recess!

Traveling with our newfound American expat friends Sandy and Angella, we took a little trip up to Mafra, which is about a half hour drive from the center of Lisbon. The visit reminded us that while we’re constantly considering various places to visit around Europe, there is still plenty to see right here in Portugal.

IMG_0107Mafra’s headliner is the cleverly named Palace of Mafra, construction of which began in 1717. It wasn’t fully completed until 1755, which was just in time to allow the Portuguese to watch the beginnings of the American revolution on TV.  It was used as a secondary residence for the royal family, which tells you something about the enormous resources they used to spend back then just to pamper royalty. The thing is huge. The whole complex covers over 400,000 square feet (for you Europeans: 37,790 m²) with about 1,200 rooms (1,200), more than 4,700 (4,700) doors and windows, and 156 (holy hell there are a lot of stairs in this house!) stairways.

But because 1,200 rooms may not provide enough excitement to entertain all visitors, they also throw in a cool feature to keep the place from going to the birds, by allowing you to get very close to some very cool birds.

IMG_0149Since it was Carolyn’s birthday, she got to have the solo pic with Fiona the owl, who kindly donned that particular coat of feathers in order to match Carolyn’s scarf.

IMG_E9328We paid eight euros for this picture, but we wouldn’t have gotten the other snapshots without the investment. She looks like a natural with a wild creature, doesn’t she? And I think Carolyn does too! Fiona is a European Eagle Owl, one of the largest breeds in the world. Carolyn is an American– wait, I better not make a joke here or I could get into trouble.

IMG_0154As soon as they let me in the picture Fiona turned her head in a fit of jealousy. In all seriousness, multiple breeds of birds, including owls, have exhibited homosexual behavior. We now know Fiona is one of them. There goes the neighborhood!

IMG_0113They had five separate birds on display, three of which were owls. This bird clearly isn’t an owl because its head is on straight. It’s a falcon. While it’s not a Peregrine falcon, a little piece of trivia about the Peregrines is that they have been recorded diving at speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), making them the fastest-moving creatures on Earth. So the next time some punk first grader tries to tell you cheetahs are the fastest animal, correct the little know-it-all brat and let him know that only refers to running speeds.

IMG_0130The handler goes in for a kiss. He’s been on the job since he replaced the previous handler, Carlos “No Lips” Johnson.

IMG_0114Owls are the third coolest birds ever invented, just after the hummingbird and the one that’s always being flipped but is otherwise invisible. This is a Pretty Good Horned Owl. In the wild they’re called Great Horned Owls.

IMG_0159Carolyn carefully holds her owl while the handler keeps it from eating off her nose by slipping a fiver under his feathers.

IMG_0145Here he provides instructions on how to abort the mission if the owl begins chewing on her face. But I don’t think Mr. Owl would do that to someone who looks as smart as him!

IMG_0124Owl I want for Christmas is an owl in my yard, an owl in my yard, an owl in my yard.

There’d be no more mice in the pool with this guy providing rodent security!

IMG_0119The falcon is preparing for lift off. He wouldn’t have gotten far, since he’s tethered. They do let them fly around without the tether after the tourists are gone… the falcons are particularly notorious for frequenting tetherless bars.

IMG_0121In the foreground is a red-tailed hawk. In the background is the photobombing falcon.

IMG_0170This little Tawny Owl cutie was my favorite. Can a meat-eating stone-cold killer of a raptor get any cuter than this?

IMG_0112It’s not a great job, but hey, it pays the bills.

IMG_0139Once in a while I take a photo that almost makes it look like I know what I’m doing.

IMG_0163The group hug with an owl. Actually, we eschewed the group hug precisely because we didn’t want to get chewed.

IMG_0110This is the garden where the birds are kept. I tried walking through the maze but got lost.

IMG_0190Once inside the palace, we quickly found out why the royals were in such good physical shape. It takes twenty minutes to walk from the bedroom to the bathroom!

This is where the relatives of the king and queen hung out when visiting, you know, the unclers and auntlers. But seriously, this room featured chairs, sofas, tables, mirrors, and more, all made out of or decorated with antlers. The funny thing is that the room was right next to the nursery. Dunno if the royal babies ever suffered from nightmares.

IMG_0208Apparently they did.

IMG_0207This is a row of statues that are smaller versions of larger statues on the property. Conversely, the big statues are larger versions of these.


IMG_0212I took a picture of this informational plaque because the library was so impressive and it contains more thorough information than I could otherwise provide (plus of course a welcome lack of bad jokes). If you read all the way to the bottom, you can see why I didn’t steal any of the books from the place. Going to hell for stealing a book seems like pretty harsh punishment, but this was before anyone thought of the three strikes rule.

I wonder if future generations will have rooms full of cell phones to show how we used to read everything?

IMG_0210In this library, if you’re too noisy and someone shushes you, the “sssshhh!” reverberates around the room for fifteen minutes.

IMG_0176Sandy is either taking a picture of the ceiling or protecting himself from owl droppings.

IMG_9316Okay, maybe it was the ceiling.

IMG_9320From ceiling to floor, there was artful decor.

IMG_0211I couldn’t stop stairing at this tree. Get it? Stairing? Oh, jeez, quit rolling your eyes (they may stick like that!) and just go on to the next picture.

IMG_0194This billiard table is so large you need a bazooka to shoot a ball from one end to the other.

IMG_9325As you can tell this grandfather is huge, er, grandfather clock that is. Between that, the billiard table, and the mile-high ceilings, either the royals were giants or the architect was in the process of switching to metric.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Although, did anyone ever weigh someone’s head back then? I know I’ve never had my head weighed. I wonder if insurance would cover that…

IMG_0215This is the infirmary, which might seem bleak to our modern eyes, but in the context of the times, wasn’t too bad of a place. Every cot had its own little room, and there is a chapel up front in case you need to communicate with heaven real quick like.

IMG_0173As we’ve seen before around Europe, they were awfully good at creating pictures that look like real sculptures. But to prove how slowly humanity sometimes progresses, it took hundreds of years to go from this to Jaws 3D.

IMG_0192They were also very good at making large paintings of tourists looking at other large paintings.

IMG_0216Her carriage awaits.

IMG_0205This is a model of the palace complex, which features a big ol’ basilica front and center. Because it’s all attached, the royals could just walk down the hall and watch a service without ever leaving the palace. You could also huck some gnarly spitballs onto the crowd below because, you know, you were a royal and everything.

IMG_0106Here’s our happy group expressing their delight after a visit to what is one of the largest palaces we’ve ever seen. It was well worth the visit. If you come visit us, we’ll put it on the agenda. We’ll go owly to beat the crowds, unless you come in the winter, because there ain’t no crowds. There were times we had all 3,000 meters of a hallways all to ourselves. We lamented forgetting our bowling balls.

IMG_0217The Palace of Mafra.

IMG_0218During lunch, Angella kindly provided the answer to my question as to what the difference was between ordering squid with or without ink.

IMG_0221At the beach in nearby Ericeira.

IMG_0245We finished up our trek by stopping to some of the great nearby sea views (as if we don’t live five minute’s walk from very similar views. But somehow, they never get old). It was a wonderful and relaxing way to wrap up a delightful visit to the town of Mafra.