Thursday, 27 February 2020

Welford Park

Welford Park

We visited Welford Park with friends ostensibly to see the celebrated display of Snowdrops. It was the first decent day of weather for a while and so we were all looking forward to it very much. Sadly however the Snowdrops had largely passed their peak. We still had a nice outing though.

From the car park a path leads into the grounds of Welford Park and along the bank of the rather lovely river to the wooded area where the Snowdrops are normally found. As the picture shows, none were in view, but the view itself was very nice.

Happily, we did find a small clump in the corner of the wood, so our mission wasn't in vain.

We crossed the river bridge (see the photo at the head of this post) and walked towards the House, passing this lovely row of trees.

Further on, on the left by the water was this lovely withy clump.

I must admit that for me seeing the house and church were probably more important than the Snowdrops. We had some glimopses of it when were walking from Lambourn to Welford on the Lambourn Valley Way . The house dates from the late 17th century and, unusually, has been in the same family for all that time.

The church, which is just behind the house, has an interesting history. It was built in 1852-55 to replace a Norman church which had a 13th century stone spire with eight dormers. The new church's tower and spire are an exact replica of the previous one, although everything beneath them is new. One can't help but wonder why they did it.

Conditions: a beautiful sunny day, if cold.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars. 

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Portugal: Lisbon - Belem

 The Belem Tower

We are trying something different again today – a mixed bus and walking tour focusing on the Belem district, down by the River Tagus. We pick up the Yellow Bus at the Liberadores stop in Praca Dom Pedro IV and make one intermediate stop at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The Foundation was built to house Gulbenkian's collection after his death in 1955 and opened in 1969. It offers a wonderful journey through art history from Egyptian and Roman artifacts, through medieval and Renaissance painting up to the Impressionists, with tiles, furniture and items by Lalique as well. 

Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the gallery, but this fantastic piece in the foyer could be. It is a called La Primavera: A homage to Jean Goujon and was sculpted by Alfred-Auguste Janniot between 1920 and 1924. Janniot does not seem to be well known, but we thought it was a wonderful price of work.

We got back on the bus and followed quite an interesting route down to Belem, which included an aqueduct and the gaol. We learned that Portugal was the first country to end capital punishment.We enjoyed this view over the Tagus.

 The first main sight of course is the Belem Tower. Here is a detailed view.

It was built in 1519 as a defence for Lisbon. A matching fort was built on the other side of the Tagus, but there is no trace of it now. The Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We took advantage of a wonderfully entrepreneurial venture: Wine a view. It was a sort of mobile wine bar with a wide selection of wines served in plastic glasses which you keep. A small number of chairs were placed by the retaining wall of the river, or you could sit on the wall if they were full. We enjoyed a delightful interlude sipping wine and enjoying the warm sunshine (!). This is one aspect of the view.

After a while we strolled along the riverside promenade towards the magnificent Monument to the Discoverers. On the way we passed this curious brick lighthouse, seemingly derelict.

Soon after we reached the magnificent Monument to the Discoveries …

The monument was conceived in 1939 by  architect José Ângelo Cottinelli Telmo, and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, as a temporary feature of the Portugese World Exhibition opening in June 1940. The building you see today was completed in 1960 and formed part of the of the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. He is the leading figure, more easily seen in the close up below. Vasco de Gama, the only other Portugese discoverer I can think of, is behind Henry on the other side of the monument.

Beyond it was the splendid 25th of April Bridge which we had driven across on our way into Lisbon the previous day. We discovered later that a railway line runs underneath the roadway.

On the far bank was the statue of Christ the King – in the style of the more famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio di Janeiro – towered impressively. It was consecrated in 1958 and was built in thanks for Portugal avoiding the horrors of World War 2, although this possibly owed more to the policies of the Portugese dictator, Salazar.

Now we headed away from the river to take the underpass beneath the road and railway which leads to St Jeronimo's Monastery, which is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. This enormous structure consists of two parts, the Monastery on the left hand side which now seems only to host exhibitions (and the ticket machines for the cloister) …

… and the church and cloister on the right (the cloister is behind the church).

The complex was built to fulfill a promise made by the King of Portugal to do so if Vasco de Gama returned from his inaugural voyage of 1498 to India. Happily he did. Construction began in 1502 in the Manueline style. Vasco's tomb lies inside the church.

The ceiling of the church has beautiful vaulting.

You leave the church and enter the Cloister by its separate entrance (where your machine-produced ticket is validated by a man with a pen). The first sight of the two storey cloister was extremely impressive, especially with the late afternoon sun illuminating the far side. (We had been here before, 26 years ago, but it is still capable of making a tremendous impression.)

The whole thing is on a grand scale: this is one side of the downstairs section.

A staircase leads to the upper section which also offers a view towards the church highlighting its dome.  

Finally, we enjoyed the former refectory with its tiled walls and vaulted ceiling.

It remained only to catch the Yellow Bus back to Rossio square. 

Conditions: mainly warm and sunny.

Rating: five stars.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Portugal: A walk around Lisbon

The Fado Museum

We've just arrived in Lisbon and we weren't quite sure what to do when Ange came up with the inspired idea of walking from our hotel to the Fado Museum. It struck me that I could just take photos of whatever we stumbled across. (I am always on the look out, but usually I have some definite targets as well.) So off we went from our hotel heading south along Avenida da Liberdade towards the centre.

The first notable sight was this tram, adapted to operate as a funicular.

A little further along we were taken in by two men doing some work – presumably laying the cobbles that are such a feature of Lisbon's pavements - in bronze .

Next was the marvelous façade of the Rossio Station, built in the Manueline style in 1886-7.

We crossed Praça Dom Pedro IV (also popularly known as Rossio) with its tiled ground that made feel as though you were walking over waves.

The lower end of the square offered our first glimpse of the Castle of St George – where we started our first exploration of Lisbon 26 years ago. I read that it was much restored towards the end of the 20th century.

We climbed up and followed a winding road passing beneath the castle. There were some very attractive house with tiled facades in the Portugese style. I especially liked this one.

We reached a viewpoint and enjoyed our first view over the enormously wide river Tagus …

… and descended to reach the Fado Museum. It was an interesting experience, starting with film clips of (presumably famous) Fado singers and guitarists trying to answer the question "What is Fado". They were generally inclined to mystification – head scratching, you can't be taught, you just sort of pick it up, and so on. We listened to several songs which we enjoyed and we learned that as well as a normal guitar, a round, deep 12 string model is in wide use.

Leaving the Museum we headed west a bit inland from the river. I was very taken by the upper storeys of this building, which had an art nouveau feeling. (I realised that there were probably other art nouveau buildings in the city and wished I had had the wit to do some research. Most unlike me!)

A little further along was the intriguing Casa dos Bicos (the House of Points).

It dates from the 16th century and was one of the few buildings not to be completely destroyed by the notorious earthquake of 1755. It is thought to have been inspired by the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara. The building is now a cultural centre.

We headed uphill now to reach Lisbon's cathedral (or Sé), which we remembered well from our previous visit. It is very awkwardly located with tram lines going right up to the entrance and round the left side of the building. We didn't go in, remembering it as rather plain.

We dipped back down to reach the large Praca do Comercio, or Palace Square, right on the waterfront. It is enclosed on three sides by colonnaded buildings in a uniform style. It was rebuilt after the 11755 earthquake. In the centre is an equestrian statue of King José I, inaugurated in 1775.

We left the square through the Triumphal Arch which was not completed until 1873. This is the view from Rua Augusta.

Further along the street in a turning on the left is the rather wonderful Santa Justa Elevator. It was opened in 1902 and links the lower and upper parts of the city.

We continued along Rua Augusta and at the top went to the left to re-enter Rossio square. These nymphs were my final shot of the day.

Conditions: bright and mild, becoming cloudy.

Distance: somewhere between four and five miles.

Rating: four stars. A wonderful open-ended ramble.

Portugal: Évora - city centre

The Roman Temple

Having walked around the walls of Évora yesterday, today we are seeing some of the main sights of the city, starting with the most astonishing, the Roman Temple. It used to be known as the Temple of Diana, but this is now seen as incorrect. It has fourteen columns in the Corinthian style and dates from the first century AD. It is the only such building in Portugal.

To the left is the Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval. The grand doorway leads into the Palace's Church of St John the Evangelist, a rather lovely building whose walls were all covered in azulejos.

The museum next door had quite an interesting medley of contents. We especially liked these Chinese figures.

Next we had a brief look at the University of Evora, the second oldest in Portugal after Coimbra. It was founded in 1559 by the Jesuit order and closed in 1779 when the Jesuits were suppressed. It was only reopened as a university almost 200 years later in 1973. (It seems that the buildings were used for educational purposes in the interim.) The main building has a rather severe look from the outside ...

... but the main entrance at the far end is rather lovely and inside is a beautiful Renaissance cloister.

From here we headed towards the Cathedral or Sé. It was begun 20 years after the Christians defeated the Moors in 1165. The facade is similar in appearance to the Sé of Coimbra.

The great surprise is that you can climb a steep staircase and walk on the roof.

It was a bit hazy for views of the city, but there was an interesting view of the cloister - we thiought it rather heavy-handed.

On the way down there was this fantastic view of a a series of finials.

From the Cathedral we wandered through the narrow streets to reach the 16th century Square of the Moura Gate. It was difficult to appreciate it properly because the central fountain was under restoration and part of the square was cordoned off to store materials. The central fountain was intriguing.

To conclude our exploration found our way through more narrow streets to the Praca de Giraldo, the city's main square. It is a large a spacious area surrounded by pale coloured buildings.

At the far end is the attractive 16th century church of Santa Antao with its fountain. The square is effectively a monument to Fearless Geraldo Geraldes, the man who conquered Evora from the Moors in 1165.

We had by no means exhausted Évora's charms at this point, but we felt that we had gained a good sense of the city. It was time to head to Lisbon to see how it compared to our visit of 1993.

Conditions: sunny at first, but quickly clouding over.

Rating: five stars.