We left Nazaré yesterday to drive to Sintra. Since we had some time between checking out in Nazaré and being able to check in at Sintra, we decided to stop at Fátima. Fátima is a famous pilgrimage city, especially on May 13th of every year. The story goes that three young children were visited 6 times by the Virgin Mary on May 13, 1917 and the 13th of the next five months. They were told three things that would happen and it is believed that each of these items has happened. It was an interesting stop and I can imagine how full the square and all of the chapels would be full on the 13th.
We flew from Germany to Portugal yesterday. We flew into Lisbon and picked up a rental car and drove a little over an hour north to Nazaré. The town is located on the Atlantic Ocean and is most known for the giant surfing waves. The town is located on a beautiful beach with some of the cleanest sand I have seen. I don’t think they have seaweed here. The beach is very wide and pretty long. I hear in the summer time, the beach is packed with umbrellas and people laying everywhere. On the north side of the rock is where the worlds largest waves are. The waves are big around October – February so today just looked like a normal day at the beach. If you do a search on Nazaré, you will see some pretty cool videos of the big waves that people have surfed.
We stayed on the much calmer side of the ocean as that is where the town is. We started by being some of the first people down on the beach this morning. I decided to have my photo taken and of course one of the larger waves came in and got me soaked. It took some time for my shorts to dry but it was refreshing. There was a girls beach soccer tournament going on that was interesting to watch. We then went to the local market to see the locals shop. I was successful in ordering a pastry but I didn’t try much more than that.
We spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood on top of the hill. We took the funicular up and the stairs back down. There were beautiful views of the town and ocean on top as well as a fort turned into a surfing museum. It was very windy up there but it sounds like a lot of people go up there to watch surfing competitions.
The town was packed full of people by the time we came back down. The road was lined with cars and the sidewalk was full. There were a lot more people on the beach. I liked the morning hours a lot better when everyone was still sleeping. Dinner here doesn’t usually start until around 7 and they stay up a lot later.
With only two nights here, we are off to the next town tomorrow. I have enjoyed this town so much that we actually considered canceling our next hotel to stay here another 2 nights. We didn’t end up doing this but I would easily recommend this town to anyone coming to Portugal outside of the crowded summer months.
We spent today driving in the Mosel valley. I have never seen so many vineyards as I did today. Around 95% of the grapes are for Riesling wines. I can’t imagine how busy it is in this region the first week of September which is when it is harvest time. I still don’t understand how they pick all of the grapes and one of the wineries has the steepest vineyard in the world. Most of the work they are doing now is just cutting the grass down.
We stopped in a couple of cute towns. One of my favorite sights was in a town called Trier. There is a lot of history in this town including that it used to be the head of the Roman Empire. They have a gate there called the Porta Nigra which is the largest gate remaining north of the alps.
At the very end, we drove to a castle that was pretty far off of the river and the highway. The castle is still privately owned and the family currently lives near Frankfurt. The Eltz Castle is in great condition and is still open for tours. You can’t take pictures inside but we did enjoy a tour in German. We got there at the end of the day so there were hardly any people at the castle which made it very pleasant.
We spent the entire day driving along the Rhine yesterday. At some point, I will learn that a quick stop in a town isn’t a quick stop because I really enjoy walking the quaint little streets. We drove down one side, took a ferry to the other side and drove back. They have a nice road right next to the Rhine for cars. Every town we stopped in was very quiet and sleepy. Not sure if we beat all of the tourists to the area or what, but parking was never an issue.
We took a cable car ride over vineyards to the top of a hill for a view point. We saw so many castles throughout the day that I lost count. We then ended in Koblenz where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet. It was a good day of driving but it was very long.
We started the day thinking we would drive along the Mosel Valley which is a wine route along the Mosel River. As we started driving and seeing signs for Luxembourg, we thought maybe we should go there first. We originally thought we might go there if we had time at the end of the drive but then it sounded nice to drive to the furthest point first and then make our way back. It was a good thought until we didn’t leave the city until after 3.
So we spent a good majority of our day walking around the city. I may have spent a couple of minutes making wrong turns or ending up in a bus lane but I eventually made it back out of the city. I’m very happy we found a parking spot at the train station and walked the 20 minutes into the city. I wouldn’t have been very happy to park in the center.
We left Brussels, Belgium yesterday and drove to Andernach, Germany. Andernach is a small town on the Rhine River. We are using this town as a base to explore the areas around Andernach.
Since we would have some time before being able to check in, we decided to stop at an American cemetery that has over 5,000 Americans buried from WWII. Ardennes American Cemetery is an unique cemetery as it served as the central identification point for the entire European Theater of Operations from the last days of the war until 1960. Over half of fallen war hero’s are from the US Army Air Force.
Probably one of the reasons I have enjoyed Brussels so much is the street art and food. They have over 1,400 different beers in Belgium but that wouldn’t make me want to come here. But the chocolate and waffles are some of my favorite so it is hard to not try them all. They also have some nice murals on the buildings that make it more colorful. I like the colorful buildings especially since we have had to gray skies.
We spent the day walking around Brussels. This is my first visit to Brussels and I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of people ask me before coming here on why I was visiting Brussels. It gave me the impression that it wasn’t a very nice city to visit. But I found a lot of charm to the city. It feels more like a city to live in than just a tourist stop. Of course there are a lot of tourists and this is the capital of the European Union but it is very walkable and clean city.
They have one of the most beautiful squares I have ever been to. The buildings are very large and renaissance architecture. I could spend a lot of time in the square just looking at the buildings and all of the people. We visited their famous statue of a little boy peeing on the way to the square. It amazes me how many people take a picture of a little statue. They actually dress the little boy in different costumes and today, he was wearing the soccer jersey from Barcelona. Yesterday, he was wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey. They are very excited here because the Tour starts in Brussels this year.
The first day in Belgium was spent by taking a train an hour to Bruges. We were going to drive there but since it was so hard to park in Brussels we decided to just take the train and not bother getting the car out.
Bruges is a very cute city. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. It was a little rainy but not too bad. We took a boat trip on the canal which was very interesting. Our driver was very good at explaining his city and the history. They built the city before the canal was there and then they let the water in. Bruges also didn’t have any damage from the wars so the town is very old but everything is in very good shape. As with a lot of European cities, the houses used to be taxed based on the number of windows. Some of the houses still have the windows bricked over even though they don’t tax on windows anymore. Also, some of the houses will have a very small window at the top. Those windows were for pigeons to bring messages during the war.
Bruges is a great day trip option. The boat canal trip was fun and short. It was pretty impressive that they take the boat under some of the bridges. Some of the people had to duck to not hit their head. I don’t think I ever get bored walking by all the chocolate and waffle shops. I have never seen so many chocolate shops in one day!
I have split my sabbatical into two different trips. Now it is time for the four week Europe trip which will cover a little bit of Germany, Belgium and Portugal. We flew from Portland to Frankfurt through Iceland. We left Portland an hour late and eventually we missed our connection in Iceland. Lucky for us, the airline already booked us on other flights before we even landed. We would have to fly to London and then on to Frankfurt. The trip would take an additional 4 hours but it was no big deal.
Once we landed in Frankfurt, I got a text message that our luggage didn’t make it. We went to the service desk to report our luggage didn’t arrive but the person said they had information that it did. We were told that before we could file a report, we would have to go wait for all the luggage to be delivered before we could report our missing luggage. So we had to wait an additional 30 minutes for the board to say they were done unloading and then we filed our report. They said our luggage was still in Iceland but we could have it the next day. We arranged for our luggage to be delivered to our next hotel in Brussels, Belgium.
After a good night sleep at the hotel by the airport, we picked up our car and started driving west towards Brussels. Halfway between Frankfurt and Brussels is Cologne, Germany. I have some family friends that live near there and arranged to meet them at their son’s soccer game. We watched the soccer game and then headed into the city to see the cathedral and have some lunch at a typical German pub. We then drove to their house and watched the final Bundesliga match of the season and ate homemade cake. It was great to visit even if it was such a short time. It is hard to believe that I haven’t seen them since 2002.
We got back in the car for the second part of the drive which took a little longer than expected due to a freeway closure and then roads closed in Brussels. We made it here a bit before 10 PM so it was a very long day. Luckily our luggage arrived shortly after us so everything was good.