Category Archives: Portugal

I’m Trying To Draw Cartoons

I’m trying to draw cartoons.  I was inspired by Canadian author Carrie Snyder who has been sketching a four frame cartoon every day in 2018.  She is a professional writer, not a professional artist but is exploring her creativity by doing quick daily cartoons.  In one of them she reminds us we don’t have to be technically skilled to be an artist. 

My writers’ group has been reading the book The Artists’ Way and it encourages us to explore our creativity in new ways, by stretching ourselves.  If you have been following my blog you know that during our two months in Portugal I’ve been trying to do eight things everyday to improve myself as a writer. I’ve written about five of those things – the sixth is drawing.  I’ve done a sketch or a drawing everyday, but the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to do those drawings in the form of cartoons.  Some of them tell about experiences I’ve had. Here’s one. 

Some of them summarize things I’m learning.  My writers group listened to a Ted Talk by Brene Brown. This is how I summarized it in a cartoon. 

I think drawing cartoons can help me become a better writer because it makes me  think about experiences and ideas in new ways and forces me to summarize them in just a couple phrases. 

Note: I have written about six of the daily things I did to work on my writing skills during my time in Portugal. The seventh is to write these blog posts everyday and the eighth is working on the books I make for my grandsons.  On this holiday I’ve been creating a songbook for my younger grandson’s upcoming birthday. 

Other posts………

When Did You Stop Drawing?

Don’t Be Scared To Be Creative

Meet You at the Folio

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A Perfect Way to End Our Portugal Adventure

Dave was getting tired of  touring by the end of our stay in Portugal, so for our last days there he booked us into a small hotel in the town of Maiorca which is near the ocean between Porto and Lisbon.  The place used to be  home to a rice plantation owner and is called Quinta d’Anta- Hotel Rural.

The gate to our hotel

It certainly was rural and quite lovely.  

The building where the hotel rooms are located

The rooms were very nice, the grounds gorgeous and since it was the off-season and during the week we were one of only two couples at the place.  It advertises itself as a resort where you can learn how to surf and this glassed in surf board art deco piece just outside our bedroom door gave evidence of that.  But the place isn’t just for surfers.  There was a beautiful Jackson Pollack print over the comfortable chairs in our own little lobby where I could sit in the morning to do my writing while I waited for Dave to wake up.  It was too chilly to use the nice looking pool but we did take out a pair of bicycles one morning and went out for a long ride in the surrounding countryside and around a lake. 

Dave stopped to arm himself with a big stick after a yappy dog ran after his bicycle and tried to bite him.

Dave drives off armed with his bamboo stick

People seemed eager to stop us for a chat and practice their English


Dave Driedger Nature Photographer hadn’t been very active on this holiday but on our bike ride he swung into action and got some beautiful shots.

In one tree we passed there were three nests with a stork sitting in each one

The afternoon we arrived we went for a long walk, stopping for coffee at a little shop and meandering through the narrow cobblestone streets snapping photos.

View of Maiorca

This abandoned mansion was obviously home to a rich family at one time. There is still a family crest over the door.

Church in Maiorca

One of the village squares

Abandoned and used apartments right beside each other

We ate breakfast and supper in the hotel restaurant.   We decided to treat ourselves to massages and they were wonderful. It was the perfect way to end our Portugal adventure. 

Link to all my Portugal Posts



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Hallelujah! A Hot Sunny Day! But I Almost Broke My Arm Again!

We woke up one morning in Porto and realized it was a beautiful day!  No rain. The sun was shining and it was lovely and warm. We had planned to hang out at our hotel till we took the bus into the city for the afternoon tour we had booked, but we weren’t about to waste this wonderful bit of sunshine.  Who knew how long it would last? 

So we set off for the centre of Porto. Just across from our hotel an enterprising elderly woman and her family had created a clothesline by tethering wooden sticks and ropes to street signs. They were taking advantage of the nice weather to dry their clothes.  There are very few clothes dryers in Portugal. Everyone hangs their wash outside – in apartments they hang it off their balconies- just like in Hong Kong when we lived there. I took this photo in Lisbon.

We walked to the bus stop past this old abandoned house right beside our Porto hotel. We actually had a little bit of excitement with the bus. Dave got on and was paying his fare. I waited for him to finish before I got on. But the bus driver must not have seen me. He closed the doors. Instinctively and probably stupidly I stuck my arm in the door thinking it would open. It didn’t and the driver put the bus in gear to take off with my arm still securely stuck in the door. I pounded on the door with my other fist and shouted and Dave alerted the driver to my presence. So he stopped and opened the door freeing my arm. Sheesh!  I could have broken my wrist again and it’s just healed from its December break. But all was well and several people on the bus were concerned and ever so nice and asked if my arm was okay. Once we got into the city lots of  people were out enjoying the sunshine. The street musicians were taking advantage of the nice weather too. 

We took a little time to check out the Sao Bento Train Station. It is just lovely and inside high on the ceiling are painted the names of the two main rivers in northern Portugal

The station also houses many huge tiled blue and white murals. This one depicts rural life in Portugal. See the mother taking a break from the harvest to nurse her child?This one shows the wedding of Henry the Navigator’s parents Phillipa of Lancaster and King John I of Portugal. Speaking of Henry the Navigator that’s him beside the globe at the top of the monument and that’s Dave sitting on the park bench furthest to the right. While I checked out an urban market for souvenirs Dave enjoyed the sun in the park. It was still an hour till our tour started when we found this lovely little place with chairs in the sun offering a glass of wine from the Douro Valley at a bargain price. We couldn’t pass up that deal! So we just sat and enjoyed the beautiful day and did some serious people watching. 

We haven’t had lots of great weather in Portugal but maybe that’s good because it certainly made us appreciate the lovely days we did have.

Other posts……

The T-4s Welcome Spring

Sunday Morning at the Olive Mill

Sun Dogs and Steam

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Putting the Port Into Porto

Since my husband Dave has a glass of port every night before he goes to bed taking a port tour in Porto was a MUST on our visit to the city. 

The river front is lined with signs for all of the different port houses located there

Porto is world-renowned for its port wine. In fact port wine originated here and gets its name from the city. Other places in the world produce fortified wines too but only those from the Douro Valley in Portugal are legally allowed to be labeled as port. David our tour guide started by asking each of the participants in our tour group to say where we were from.  There were folks from different parts of the United States- Washington, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois,New York and people from Romania, Ireland, England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and five of us from Canada.  We walked across the Luiz Bridge to the Gaia side of the beautiful Douro River where there are dozens of port houses along the quay. Up a narrow alley we found our first port house Quinta de Santa Eufemia. In this port house we tasted a ruby port and learned all about the oak barrels the port is stored in and the cork used to stopper the bottles. 

On the way to our second port house we saw this amazing piece of street art called Half Rabbit. It is by an artist named Bordalo II. Porto is famous for its street artists many of whom have gained international recognition. This piece was made from trash and discarded items found around the city of Porto. One half has not been painted so you can see what those items are. Next up was the Ramos Pinto gallery. The original owner of this gallery used all kinds of lewd posters to sell his wine around the world in the 1800s.  We saw the posters as well as the original owner’s opulent office that included a throne for customers to sit on.  But were not allowed to photograph the posters or the office. I tried to get a good picture of our tour guide at this winery because both Dave and I were just blown away by how much she looked and sounded like our friend and former Steinbach neighbour Ingrid. We tasted two ports at Ramos Pinto a white and ruby.  Dave and I had such a wonderful time visiting with the young people who shared our table. One couple was from Toronto where the fellow was a graduate student in medicine and his wife a speech pathologist.  They both had parents who immigrated to Canada from India to make a better life for their kids. Their families had traveled back to India many times so we compared notes on our India travels.

The young man had played soccer in his earlier university days and had participated in an international tournament in Shenzhen China.  We visited Shenzhen at least once a month when we lived in Hong Kong. So we had lots of shared experiences about Shenzhen to discuss.  The young woman had just been to Winnipeg to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. So we talked about The Forks and Winnipeg restaurants.

The other twenty something guy at our table was from New Zealand. He had just returned from a year of back packing through Latin America and now had a job in London.  I become so heartened about the future when I meet young people like this. Articulate, bright, well-educated, well read, hard working, interested in seeing the world, helping others and broadening their horizons. Our last port house visit was to Porto Cruz. First we went up on the rooftop terrace of the port house.  It was packed with people all enjoying the absolutely stunning views of Porto it provided. While Dave chatted with a woman who owned a gourment food company in Ottawa, I took some shots of the city from the roof top. 

We tasted four kinds of port here, white, roseau, tawny and vintage. I had a great time visiting with the couple across from me. He was from Germany and she was from Australia. They fell in love when his work took him to Australia for a year. She is  visiting him in Europe now and they are trying to decide if they can make a long distance relationship work.

At this port house our guide David gave us lots of tips for how to smell port, swirl our port glass and hold it properly. drink port so we can really enjoy the flavor, and what kinds of foods go best with each type of port. The white port was my personal favorite. At this last port house Dave was deep in conversation about golf, baseball, hockey and the March Madness basketball tournament with a recently retired businessman from Wisconsin. He and his wife have just started tackling their travel bucket list.

We loved our port tour in Porto. Although drinking the port and learning about how it was made was great, visiting with the other people on the tour was definitely the highlight. The world is a much smaller place than we realize and we have so many things in common with our fellow human beings.  

Other posts……..

Roll Out the Barrel

Three Wines for Three People

Remembering Yalta


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Porto with Pedro

A man from Augsburg Germany and two university students from Valencia, Spain joined Dave and me and our guide Pedro on a fabulous walking tour of Porto, Portugal. Pedro works for the same tour company that we used for a walking tour of Lisbon and like that tour this one was stellar.  

Pedro was an excellent communicator, his knowledge of the city and Portuguese history encyclopedic, and to top it off he is a native son of Porto. He grew up there and has recently returned to his home city.  His childhood memories of Porto added a neat flavor to the tour. Pedro is a marine biologist who worked as an educator at an aquarium before becoming a city tour guide.

Dave liked Pedro right away because he said we would not be visiting any churches in Porto, which all charge entry fees to tourists.  Pedro commented that in his mind that was the antithesis of what church should be about.

Pedro was happy to answer all our questions. 

I had no idea Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling once lived in Porto and was an English teacher there. She was married to a Portuguese television journalist and after suffering a miscarriage gave birth to her first daughter in Porto. Later the marriage ended acrimoniously and Rowling moved back to Scotland.  There are all kinds of stories, none confirmed by Rowling herself, that various sites in Porto influenced her books. There were people lined up outside this bookshop in Porto whose staircase is said to have inspired the one at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

There are apparently numerous other connections to Rowling and Portugal. Is it just a coincidence for example that her evil character Salazar Slytherin shares a name with Portugal’s long time dictator Oliveira Salazar?Did you know Porto has what is widely considered the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world?  It is located in a heritage building and the food franchise did a great job of maintaining the exterior and interior historical integrity of the building. 

This elderly woman passed by as Pedro was telling us about an old family home in Porto and she made a correction to his description which he accepted with good humour.

I was surprised to learn from Pedro what a forward thinking country Portugal is.  Same sex marriage has been legal there since 2010 and abortion on demand since 2007.  Portugal decriminalized the possession and use of drugs in 2001 and began devoting huge resources to harm reduction programs, public health campaigns and addiction treatment services.

Portugal was the first country in the world to abolish the death penalty and a debate on legalizing euthanasia has begun in Parliament. Last year Portugal volunteered to accept 10,000 refugees. A more conservative Portugal is reflected in this statue of embracing lovers outside an old Porto prison. Two writers Ana Plácido and Camilo Branco were incarcerated in the prison in 1861 for committing adultery. They were having an extra marital affair and that was grounds for arrest. Pedro told us Ana was thrown in a cell in the basement of this jailhouse with all kinds of criminals but Camilo got his own room on the upper floor and was able to write a best-selling book during his time of imprisonment.Although many houses in the Douro Valley are covered with tiles the ones in Porto are unique because most of them are textured. 

The Luiz bridge is the main pedestrian pathway across the Douro River. Pedro told us young boys from Porto routinely dive off the bridge. It is very dangerous because the water is only deep enough in certain places and the currents are very strong, so you have to know the exact spots to jump. Last year an American tourist saw the Porto kids jumping so he jumped too but not in the right place. His body was not found for many days. 
I most enjoyed our walk through the oldest parts of Porto, which until recently was home to brothels, drug dealers, gamblers and the criminal elements of the city but it is in the process of being ‘cleaned up’  for the tourists and is now safe to walk through. Pedro said he would have been terrified to walk these streets as a child. The stairs leading down to this area used to be called  The Stairs of Lies because men lied to their wives about visiting this section of the city to gamble or visit prostitutes. Some church or government official thought giving the stairs the name 
Escadas Das Verdades or The Stairs of Truth might change the area’s reputation but it didn’t help. 

Oldest house in Porto from the 14th century

I could write much more about all the interesting things we learned about Porto from Pedro. It is a simply fascinating city I would love to spend more time in. Pedro recommended we try a uniquely Porto dish called the francesinha. It is made with bread,  pork sausage, roast pork, ham, a fried egg and covered in melted cheese and a rich beer and tomato sauce and served with French Fries. So after the tour we went to a restaurant Pedro recommended and ordered one to share. The waiter however must have purposely or genuinely misunderstood us and brought us each our own. It was a ridiculous amount of food. Neither of us could even think about having supper later. That francesinha might last us for several days!

Other posts……

Top Chef- Driedger Style

Food Rules

Cooking For Picasso


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An Evening Stroll Along the Douro

When we arrived in Porto- wonder of wonders it wasn’t raining.  We decided to take advantage of the clear skies with a walk along the Douro River. We are staying in Gaia just across  from Porto so we had great views of the city of Porto from our side of the river. This driver had found the perfect little parking spot for her car. People were out on their front porches having an evening cigarette. Gaia has been a city since the Roman occupation of Portugal in the 3rd and 4th century. There were lots of fishing boats along the river. In the Algarve region many of the houses were covered with white plaster. Here in the Douro Valley many are covered with tiles. We saw ship builders at work along the river.  There were a half dozen or so cruise ships anchored along the river, getting  ready to start the cruise season which begins this coming week. The city of Porto looked intriguing from the other side of the river and made us excited about the city tour we had booked for the following day.  

There were so many restaurants along the river.  How would Dave pick where to have supper? He finally chose a place and we ordered a tapas board of cheese and olives and nuts and bread along with Sangria and a flaming chorizo sausage.  The flame from the sausage helped keep us warm on a very chilly night.

We didn’t walk home but took the train and bus, since one of the things Dave really enjoys doing in a new city is figuring out the transportation system and mastering it.

Other posts………

River Boat Tour

Snake Wine Travel Memory

A Perfect Afternoon in Gambo Newfoundland


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No More Churches!

The main cathedral in Evora

“NO MORE CHURCHES!”  My husband Dave expressed his opinion fairly strongly. After we took a tour of Evora, Portugal I had to promise my husband Dave we wouldn’t visit any more churches. He is so tired of them.  I am getting tired of them too.

Dave and our guide outside St. Francis Cathedral in Evora

 I felt sick after we visited the church of St. Francis which had just undergone a MASSIVE renovation that must have cost tens of millions of dollars.  

The newly restored nave showing the baptism of Jesus in the Church of St. Francis

Everything is gilded with gold and made of marble. Artists, engineers, historians and religious experts from all over the world were brought to Evora to help with the restoration. The church is a UNESCO heritage site and as such perhaps needs to be preserved, but I kept thinking about how the money used for the restoration might have been used to help struggling folks in Portugal and other places around the world.  And what would St. Francis say? He turned his back on his family’s fortune to pursue a life of poverty and service.  He is probably rolling in his grave at the extravagence displayed in the church named after him.   

The Church of our Lady of Grace in Evora 

I grew up in a town called Steinbach that has almost thirty churches.  Evora has thirty churches too.   But here’s the thing…… hardly anyone attends the Evora churches anymore.

The Igreja de Santo Antao in Evora

To deal with this dilemma  the 30 churches in Evora have come up with a very common sense solution.  Maria told us they each hold mass one day of the month.  Church goers know the schedule and go to whatever church happens to be celebrating mass that day.  Since most churches are close together in the city’s heart this works well. 

This organ built in 1542 is in the Cathedral of Évora. It still works and is played on special occasions.

The churches also share an organist. A young man adept at playing heritage musical instruments moves from church to church as well.

Walk down any street in central Evora and you are bound to see a church.

Our tour guide told us people don’t even have weddings in churches anymore.  It is cheaper and more convenient to get married elsewhere. Most of the churches in Portugal are really more like museums and serve as tourist attractions and sources of income rather than houses of worship. Almost every church in Evora charges an admission price to enter. 

At any rate we won’t be seeing any more of them.  I have made a promise to my husband. 

Other posts……….

Picking a Church Out of A Cereal Bowl

A Church and A Bar on Every Corner

A Tiny Church

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A Pregnant Mary and A Mary With Knives in Her Heart

How often have you seen an artwork where Mary, Jesus’ mother is visibly pregnant? We saw two such images of a pregnant Mary in the Cathedral of Évora . Our tour guide Maria told us representations of Mary where she is visibly pregnant are rare.  So it is significant the biggest cathedral in Evora, Portugal has two. The one in the main part of the Cathedral of Évora  dates back to the 1400s.  The gothic statue of a visibly pregnant Mary is the only example found within Portugal. Couples wanting to have a child, and grandparents wanting to have grandchildren often come to pray at this image of Mary. 

The other pregnant Mary statue is in the cloister area of the Evora Cathedral

The cathedral was built on the site of a mosque from the time of the Moorish occupation and it may be the early priests hungry for converts from the local pagans thought they might appeal to their ritual worship of fertility goddesses by focusing on a fertile Mary.  Our guide Maria told us Mary is a very important religious figure here in the Alentejo area of Portugal.

I pose with our guide Maria in front of the Evora Cathedral-both of our names have their origin in the name Mary. 

Maria said it seems every girl born in the Alentejo area of Portugal has some form of  Mary as one of her given names.  Maria is the most popular one and even boys are frequently given the name Maria as a second name. 

In St. Francis Church in Evora we saw a statue of Mary with seven knives stuck into her chest four on the right and three on the left. This depiction of Mary illustrates the seven times Mary experienced deep sorrow because of Jesus.  The first is recorded in Luke 2:35 when Jesus is a baby and the old man Simeon in the temple tells Mary the grief she will experience because of her son will pierce her like a sword. Mary will also be terrified for her child’s safety when she and Joseph must flee to Egypt and again when she loses Jesus in Jerusalem when he is twelve.

A statue of Jesus carrying his cross is right beside Mary in the St. Francis Church

The next three sorrows all have to do with Jesus’ crucifixion -seeing him walk to Calvary, hung on the cross and having his side pierced. The final sorrow is witnessing his burial. 

Right near one of the pregnant statues of Mary in the Cathedral of Évora  is this marble depiction of Mary at the cross with John

Both the statues of the pregnant and sorrowing Mary reminded me of something I read long ago in Michele Landsberg’s book Women and Children First.  She says you don’t know real fear till you begin to fear what might happen to your child. She writes…..“it is at the very moment we give birth, that we first begin to truly understand and fear death.”  I think that fear for your child never leaves a mother’s heart.

Other posts………

God of Eve and God of Mary

The Family of Jesus Portrayed in a Controversial Way

The Magi Got Me Into Trouble

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Maria’s Story More Than Half a Million Times

We took a walking tour of Evora Portugal with a woman named Maria.  We happened to be the only people on her tour so during our time together we learned quite a bit about her. She had been a school teacher but then decided to go back to university to study to be a tour guide.  Maria speaks six languages fluently. I asked her if she had been born in Portugal and she said, “No.”  She told us she had been  born in Cape Verde, Africa and lived there till she was seven.  Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony and her family had a lovely home there. In 1975 when Cape Verde gained independence it was no longer safe for Maria’s family to stay in Cape Verde so they repatriated to Portugal.  Maria said this was a huge change for her.  Her family had to leave everything behind when they fled back to Portugal and the country seemed cold and conservative to them.  They eventually learned to adjust to their new home. 

Dave and Maria Outside the Evora Cathedral

Maria’s story is the same as that of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese citizens who lived in Portuguese colonies in Africa.   In 1974 when the dictatorship begun by Oliver Salazar ended, the decolonization of Portugal’s African territories began. Over a period of some five years places like Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome gained independence and some 800,000 Portuguese citizens who made their homes there returned to Portugal.  At the time the population of Portugal was only ten million so this was a huge influx of new residents. Maria is like most of the other returnees who have done well and contributed in many areas of Portuguese society. 

Maria is not the first Portuguese person we have met whose family had lived, sometimes for generations, in Portuguese colonies and returned to Portugal in the 1970s.  It was a unique period in the country’s history and significantly impacted its development. Of course the Portuguese occupation of those colonies also significantly impacted their development. The Portuguese government had been waging wars against insurrections in several of them and their hurried and sometimes violent exit had long-term consequences. 

Maria shows dave roman temple

Dave and Maria outside the remains of a Roman temple that honored Caesar Augustus

One of the things I have found most interesting about our stay here in Portugal is the opportunity it has given me to learn so much about Portuguese history and culture. 

Other posts……

Conversation in a Wine Shop in Lisbon

Spending the Day with Jose and Antonio


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Blooming Portugal

Other posts……..


Flowers of Costa Rica

Flowers of Jamaica

Wild Flower Inspiration

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