Passage to Portugal

by Bob Sparrow


We leave the magnificent city of Seville and the beautiful country of Spain for Portugal.  I have come to learn that Spain and Portugal are like sibling rivals but without the brotherly love.  The fact is, they really don’t like each other much, but it doesn’t matter, we like them both.  Shortly after crossing the Portuguese border, we stop at a tile museum and tour through it; at the end of the tour is a glass of Portugal port wine waiting for us – so far Portugal is looking just like Spain – lots of wine!

We are staying three nights at a beach resort in the coastal town of Cascais (pronounced CASH–KAI-SH), our hotel is an old fortress right on the water, with a marina right next to us.  It is a short walk to town along the beach as we take in the sites, which include a ‘no-hands’ beach volleyball game, just like regular volleyball, but you can only contact the ball with your feet, your chest, or your head – very interesting; and the guys we were watching were very good.  We go to an out-of-the-way place (meaning it’s not in the middle of all the touristy area) for a chicken dinner – maybe the best tasting chicken I’ve ever had.  The next day we tour Lisbon, which is about an hour bus ride away.

No, not the Golden Gate

The parallels between Lisbon and San Francisco are amazing; both built on a hill, both have a ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ (see photo), both have cable cars and both had devastating earthquakes that reconfigured the city.  As we toured, we learn the extensive history of the many Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan – they literally ruled the world in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. After a streetcar tour of the city, we go to dinner and experience a Fado exhibition.  Fado?  I didn’t know either, but it is a form of Portuguese folk music that is typically mournful and melancholy.  The show we saw featured a singer, a stand-up bass player, a rhythm guitar player and the virtuoso of the group, a 12-string Spanish guitar player, who picked with a thumb pick and one finger pick and made the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard come out of a guitar – he was amazing!!  A very fun evening.

Fado musicians

The next day we head to the little town of Sintra, in a wooded area that has been a favorite summer residence of Portuguese kings for the past six centuries.  We explore a Disney-like castle, Quinta da Regaleira, with a Gothic facade and beautiful gardens.  We are back in Cascais in time to enjoy our ‘farewell dinner’, where we will say goodbye to our tour guide, Daniel and the ten ‘other’ travelers in our group.

Quinta da Regaleira

The ten ‘hood members stay an extra day for an excursion to Fatima, Nazare and Obidos.  We are now in a Sprinter van with a local tour guide for our first stop, Fatima.  Next to the Vatican, Fatima is probably the most revered place for those of the Catholic religion, as it’s the place where, in 1917, three Shepard children saw the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  One of the three children’s final resting place is in the church at Fatima – a pretty impressive place.  Our next stop is Nazare, a popular seaside resort known for its 100-foot waves – yes, one hundred feet high!!!   It is a surfers’ Mecca, although some have lost their lives to the huge waves.  The big waves come in November and December, so we have a great lunch and see a beautiful coast line.  Our final stop is at the ancient walled-city of Obidos, which was originally a Roman settlement (This is why you travel, we don’t have any Roman settlements in the US).  Interesting side note, the Church of Santa Maria in Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra in 1441, when they were both still children aged 9 and 10, respectively.  You don’t see that much in the US either!


The next morning we are on our way to the airport and the bitter-sweet journey home – bitter for the end of our amazing adventure, but always good to get to home sweet home.


Thursday: Epiloge of Spain & Portugal Journey and perhaps a ‘Photo Finish’

Spain, Portugal and Topless Bars

by Bob Sparrow

Spain & Portugal

In my next missive, I’ll be coming to you from somewhere in Spain or Portugal and as I’ve prepared for this six-couple, 16-day trip, I have, of course, researched the major cities we will be visiting – Madrid, Malaga, Ronda (Help me!!), Seville, Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra and Fatima.  You’ll be hearing highlights from each of these burgs as we visit them.  But what has really kept me busy these last few weeks is learning the amazing history of the ‘Iberian Peninsula’.  To wit:

  • Spain was once THE most powerful country in the world; it had spread its influence to North, Central and South America as well as taking over the Philippines for over 300 years. It has left a whole lot of people, all over the world, speaking Spanish.  While this phrase is more commonly attributed to the English, the Spanish Empire was the first where the sun never set.
  • The modern world’s first novel, Don Quixote, was written by Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes
  • The Moors (Muslims), from northern Africa, invaded what is now Spain and Portugal and ruled the area for 800 years, from the early 8th century to the late 15th century, when they were ultimately defeated by Christian invaders.
  • Spain has over 600 ‘Blue Flag’ beaches (meets environmental standards), more than another other country in the

    Friendly & Fuzzy Franco

    Northern Hemisphere.

  • Although they met only days before their ‘arranged’ marriage in 1467, the wedding of Ferdinand of Aragon, who was 19, and Isabella of Castile, who was 18, unified Spain as they ruled for the next 30 years.
  • The Spanish Inquisition was intended primarily to identify heretics among those who converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism. According to modern estimates, around 150,000 people were prosecuted for various offences during its three-century duration
  • Spain has more bars than any other European country. However, I’m sure you can appreciate my disappointment when I finally realized they were talking about ‘tapas bars’, not topless bars!
  • The famous or infamous, Generalissimo Franco, was a dictator of Spain from 1938 – 1973. Yes, Spain was under a dictatorship in the ‘70s!!  During World War II, Spain remained neutral, but supported Hitler, because he supported Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  Franco’s use of forced labor, concentration camps, executions and wartime killings created a death toll in the range of 420,000!

    “It’s a tapas bar, NOT a topless bar, you idiot!”

  • Portugal was the first country to practice ‘colonialism’; from the 15th century on for the next 600 years, they started creating colonies in Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, and South Asia.
  • Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan was the first to find a route to East Asia through the Americas in 1519.
  • Vasco da Gama, another Portuguese explorer, was the first European to reach India by sea, thus linking Europe to Asia.
  • Fatima is the Portugal city where, as the story goes, three shepherds allegedly spotted the Virgin Mary in their fields in 1917. Since then, the number of pilgrims to Fatima run from about six to eight million every year.
  • Porto, Portugal houses the world’s most stunningly beautiful MacDonald’s restaurant  complete  with  an  elegant  chandelier.

    Portugal McDonald’s

  • There is at least one of our travel companions who wants to take a serious look at Portugal real estate – its climate is very similar to Southern California, it has great people, great beaches and great food – lots of ex-Pats there! So, if I’m not back by June 1st, you’ll know where to look for me.

OK, it’s difficult to try and summarize the historical highlights of these two ancient and amazing countries in a 600-word blog, so just plan to come along with us and see for yourself, without the hassle of delayed flights, luggage being lost or trying to figure out what not to wear to a topless bar.