Travel: City of Oporto

Oporto, is one of the oldest european centers known. It originated many centuries ago as an outpost of the Roman Empire, Today, it is best known for it’s port wine. When wine first emerged in Oporto, there was no method to ensure the quality of wine, as a result the flavor suffered at the hands of the english. The Marquis of Pombal counteracted this by demarcating the region to ensure the wine’s quality and set a standard for production. It was the first attempt within europe to control wine quality and production.

Interesting Fact: Only wines made in Oporto can bear the adage of being named a “Port.”

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On the way to one of the wine caves, we stopped by to visit the Sao Bento Railway Station. It was inaugurated in 1916 and is best known for its azulejo walls that depict moments in portuguese history. They are the work of Jorge Colaço and date from 1905 to 1916. The building itself is French Beaux-Arts architecture, which uses elements such as conservative sculptural decoration, noble spaces, and symmetry. It is still in regular use today.



We then stopped by the Calem Winery to savor some Port in Oporto!

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On our way to the last stop, we paused to enjoy a view of the Casa do Infante, a 14th century house, in which Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394.


Casa do Infante

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Palacio da Bolsa








We also passed by the Palacio Da Bolsa, an old stock exchange built-in the 19th century.

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Livraria Lello

Our final destination was to admire the staircase of the Lello & Irmão bookshop. It is speculated that inspiration for the staircases and caped uniforms of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels stemmed from her time living in Oporto, Portugal.  The art-nouveau of the staircase and the bookstore do indeed give me a sense that I stepped into the world of Hogwarts, but it can also be seen as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. However, there is no denying the similarities between the Hogwarts uniforms as depicted in the movies, and the traditional school dress for university students.


Travel: Dom Luis Bridge, Oporto

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve managed to haul my ass out of bed this early in the morning. Oporto is a 2-hour drive from my prior location of Fatima, and I wanted to get the sites in before retiring early for the night due to an early AM flight. Yes, Alas, the time has come for me to bid adieu to my short time in Portugal and move on to the next destination on my European Adventure.

Once again, the weather is not being agreeable, in the sunlight you could no doubt see the old world charm of this century old city. However, amidst the gray skies, damp air, and churning brown waters, the city itself seemed to be sighing in sorrow. Fortunately, for the most part, the skies were generous enough to withhold a downpour of rain, and we merely had to deal with the pitter-patter of irregular drizzling.

2013-04-10 05.32.04My first official view of Porto happened while I was still in a dreary state, our bus was crossing a bridge parallel to a well-known sign of the city. It was in this fuzzy mindset that I first witnessed the historic Dom Luis Bridge.

You’ll understand my fascination with this span when you consider my background (see About Me). I was just enthralled by the structure, and it was difficult to withhold the continuous stream of design considerations and analysis methods required from zip-lining through my head.

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The arched form of the bridge results in a degree of non-linearity when considering how the structural elements resist the applied loads. This is difficult to describe in a non-technical sense, but it simply means that as the structure deforms  (changes shape) the strength and capacity of the bridge actually increases, as opposed to the logical assumption that it’s carrying capacity would decrease.

For a brief historic background: The government held a competition for the design of this land connection between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia that would span the Douro river. Téophile Seyrig claimed this honor, and construction began in 1881, and the bridge officially opened in 1886. At the time, it was the longest bridge of its type at a span of 172 m.


Travel: Leiria

Once again, woke up late, this is becoming a pretty nasty habit since I, as a traveler, obviously want to jam-pack my days with the culture and heritage of the region. 😦 Nonetheless, it was relaxing to take a leisurely day to explore a nearby town, hike up to a castle, and just breathe in the atmosphere of Portugal as I reach my final days in this nation.

We didn’t really get a good head-start until around 3 PM this afternoon, despite the fact that I woke up earlier than I have any other day this week (excluding the day trip to Sintra since travel time was a much larger consideration). My friend has just as much affection for sleep as I do. Zzzzzzzzz!! However, my aunt would argue the following “You are on vacation. You aren’t allowed to wear a watch, you are just supposed to relax and care about nothing.” This statute would be much easier to follow if we tourists did not have to conform our schedules around attraction hours.

We started off by stopping at the “Funmarcia” an interesting twist on the classic Candy Store.You select your pill container  stock it with an assortment of candy, and are written a prescription for it!

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‘Medicines’ can range from being antidotes to lovesick woes, stimulators to improve your sense of humor, or Activators to increase your memory (all in jest of course). It was pretty comic to see all the prescription tag-lines the franchise had come up with; definitely not an innovation yet seen in the states. I almost want to open up a franchise myself! Of course, parents would hate how excited their children get over it. The company is trying to transition to include english prescriptions at this moment.


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All this candy provided energy for our short, but steep hike up from old Leira to the Leiria Castle.  It’s location atop the mountain was strategic since it provided military support to the region.




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The town itself was founded by D. Afonso Henriques circa 1135. It was a prosperous economical trade center which marketws major products such as olive oil, wheat, wine and timber, as well as ore, and handicrafts. It is believed that Leiria is the first known Portuguese town to produce paper (1411).

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Despite its origins, which included both Moorish and Jewish districts in the town around the year 1211, it was ultimately chosen by Pope Paul III as headquarters for the Bishop in 1547. The city itself holds a large medley of monuments from the 16th century, the landscape served as a backdrop to a large array of convents.

View from Top

View from Top

Medieval Early Gothic

Medieval Early Gothic










The original plan was to drive to the gorgeous beach town of Nazare, but Portugal’s weather has been uncooperative as of late, and the gloomy sky ended up not boding well for us.

Travel: Mosteiro Batalha

As we continued our day, we went to visit the famed Battle Monastary (Mosteiro Batalha), so named due to a vow given to the Virgin Mary, that should the outcome of a dire-looking battle be victorious, the king would erect a monastery devoted to her. Today, we know this battle as the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota and the ruler as King John I of Portugal who won a Portuguese victory over the Castilians.

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The monastery itself, took over a century to build and was continuously in construct during the reign of seven kings. Officially, fifteen architects participated in its design. The employed artistic style and complexity of the structural stability were ahead of its time.    The majority of the structure is done in the Gothic Style, but gave way to the Manueline style in its final years of construction.

I have used these expressions quite a few times in recent days, and even I don’t clearly understand the subtle differences between both. The following will be my attempt to illustrate the main features of each.

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The gothic style is an evolution of the older Romanesque style and emphasizes the use of verticality and light. So classic buildings vie away from solid walls and embrace stone skeletons that involve clustered columns, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.

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A defining characteristic is a ogival arch. Structurally a pointed arch helped vault spaces that had irregular plans, or brought transverse vaults to the same height as diagonal vaults. Additionally, gothic vaults tend to employ irregularly shaped polygons. This is advantageous because rather than being circular, orthogonal shapes provide clear load paths for the weight to distribute amongst the bearing pears and columns.

Gothic churches also tend to be extremely tall; this verticality suggests an aspiration to heaven. This is emphasizes through the use of towers and spires projecting to the sky as seen on the exterior.

The Unfinished Chapel

The Unfinished Chapel

The Manueline style is also known as a Portugese late-gothic style is evident in many late medieval buildings. Classic elements include intricate stonework with incorporates ship elements such as spheres, anchors, and chains. It also embraces use of items from the sea such as sea shells, pearls, and strands of seaweed.


2013-04-08 11.22.292013-04-08 11.26.03Additionally, symbols of Christianity such as the cross of the Order of Christ are prominently features. botanical motifs also play a role. The discoveries of newly discovered lands can subtly seen as well.

Travel: Fatima NightLife

I LOVE BEER - Collection Bar
My friend insisted that I get the opportunity to experience some of the local nightlife, So at 11 PM I found myself at a bar called “I ❤ Beer” with a handful of her friends. Since being in europe, I have made an effort to drink beers that are less accessible back in America, thus, I found myself enjoying a large bottle of Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse. After enjoying a diverse range of conversation topics ranging from life, to death, to current troubles, it was already 2 AM! I truly applaud her friends for using English (their second language) and making an effort to more effectively communicate with me.

To my surprise, the night was not over! We headed over to a Disco Club called Lerias Bar (things apparently don’t kick off here until around 2 AM). It was an 80’s night, and I enjoyed some old american throwbacks, and also got exposed to popular Portuguese artists from back in the day. They also have present-day record artists, but saturday 80’s nights tend to have the best crowd.

Back home, I’m used to bars & clubs closing around 2 AM; In Portugal, the average is around 5 AM. Fortunately, the group called it a night around 4 AM, so I was back in the house and in bed by 4:30 AM.

What a night! It was an alternative glimpse of the youth party-culture in Portugal.

What exotic places have you partied in? In Mexico, we witnessed a Tequila Fire Tower, unfortunately we couldn’t get any good pictures.

Travel: Exploring Sintra

Since it was a gorgeous day on Saturday, We explored the gorgeous landscape of Sintra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with royal residences scattered along the mountain top. Its historical buildings date from the 8th to 9th centuries.

Political Situation of Portugal Circa 1065

Portugal Circa 1065

The Castle of the Moors is one of the oldest structures, it was designed as a military outpost by the Arabs to protect the territory’s population. Despite the Moor Badajoz King’s transfer of these territories to secure an alliance with the Christian king (Alfonso VIin 1031, and the castle ultimately surrendered in the Conquest of Lisbon (1147) to the forces of Alfonso Henriques.

Due to limited time, and the expenses associated with visiting each of these castles, we opted to visit the most well-known, the Pena National Palace. It is one of the best examples of 19th century Romanticism in the world.

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It originated as a Chapel  to “Our Lady of Pena” which was built as homage to the virgin mary after an apparition. In 1493, when King John II made a pilgrimage to the site, and his successor,  King Manuel I, constructed a monastery there dedicated to the Order of Saint Jerome. The area was devastated by the Great Lisbon Earthquake, and left largely untouched until the fascinated Fernando II acquired the monastery and it’s surrounding area, and commissioned Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege for the design. The last Queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, was the last royal family member to stay at this palace before her exile.

When you first emerge from the palace steps, a dramatic and dark bay window greets you. It is a clear representation of the Neo-Gothic style, and presents an allegory for the creation of the world, utilizing the depiction of a newt.

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As you progress through the castle, you can see the Islamic roots, this is particularly evident in the Arab Room which depicts domed ceilings decorated with intricate Arabesque detailing.

The palace does not uniformly draw its aesthetics from one style, rather it is an intentional eclectic merging of of Neo-GothicNeo-ManuelineIslamic and Neo-Renaissance architecture. Since I stem from a design background, it is awe-inspiring to note the time spent on such delicate details. It’s a shame that although we recognize architectural history as an art form, it is not practiced in the modern day. Yes, we continue to study the progression and origins of these classic styles, but it is becoming a lost art, much like the extinction of traditional crafts.

What are your thoughts on lost heritage? What can we do as a society to prevent the death of such vital history?

Travel: Understanding Portugal

Portugal’s economy has also never quite recovered from the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The seismic activity of the  Azores-Gibraltar Transform Fault was estimated to be 8.5 to 9.0 in magnitude; this subsequently resulted in fires a tsunami that decimated the Lisbon along with the surrounding areas. Due to the prevalent political tension within its borders at the time, emotions were aggravated and profoundly disrupted the colonial ambitions of the country. The constant struggle for royal power and favor amongst the nobles culminated in the attempted assignation of the King, the elimination of the Duke of Aveiro and the public execution of the Távora family.

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames...

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames and a tsunami overwhelming the ships in the harbor.

Even now, the economy suffers. Although education is readily attainable regardless of means (for the most part), there is not nearly enough jobs, or opportunities for career growth. Unemployment has been steadily increasing each quarter and is expected to reach a record of 18%; It is in its 3rd year of recession. The youth have continued migrating out of the country, and working as expatriates. If a job can be found within the borders, it often lacks promotional opportunities, and does not pay well. As a result, many have been forced to emigrate to other european nations in order to locate sufficient employment.

See: Portugal court strikes down portion of austerity measures


Travel: Arriving in Portugal

Since I flew from California to bide a mere 4 days in New Jersey, and then flew from there to Lisbon, Portugal, my jet-lag is at an all-time high. I averaged a bedtime ove about 2 AM in NJ (Carry over from the 3-hour difference), and as a result, even though my plane landed at 8 AM, because it is 5 hours ahead of home, I successfully acquired a mere 3-hours of sleep. Needless to say, I am pretty exhausted. Clearly, I overestimated how energetic I would be, and assumed I’d be able to site-see immediately after I got off the plane. YAWN.

I took the metro (clean and efficient) to hop on a Redo Expresso bus bound for Fatima. When my parents and sister visited Portugal over a year ago, they met a young lady, who participated in an exchange program in Philadelphia, and was brave enough to accept my mother’s invitation to spend the weekend with us in our home. We became friends within this time, and she invited me to visit her back in her home country. I am now spending time with her and her family in their home. Hopefully, I will learn some Portuguese within this time, and paired with my Spanish, I can communicate more effectively.  😀

Portugal Cove, NL, 1908

I have a deep admiration for the rich culture and heritage that european countries are founded upon.

Portugal has diverse origins. It is the oldest european nation-state, and was the impetus behind pioneering the age of discovery. Famed explorers such as Prince Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Pedro Álvares Cabral trace their bloodlines from here. Treaties such as the Treaty of Tordesillas and the Treaty of Zaragoza helped establish Portugal’s seat as an economic, military, and political power from the 15th to early 16th centuries.

Yet, it has been in decline in the 21st century in the aftermath of Napoleon’s Occupation. Although many products, such as Calvin Klein, Guess, and the Leica Cameras, are produced here, there is still a negative stigma associated with it. Leica Camera’s still carry the “Made in Germany” title, because when production was shifted to Portugal, statistics demonstrated that “Made in Portugal” resulted in a 30% loss in sales.