September 16, 2012

A Brief History of Portugal: The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for thousands of years by the pre- Celts and the Celts. The Romans moved in around the year 0, when the Romans were pretty much taking over all of Europe (the whole venividivici thing). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths started running the Iberian Peninsula, but then the Moors kicked everyone’s asses starting in the 8th century, and were around for five hundred years. Eventually the Portuguese started to rebel, rallying around this guy named Alfonso Henrique, who declared Portugal a country and named himself king. It took a couple hundred years, but eventually the Moors were pushed out of Portugal. After a while, (what is now) Spain tried to take Portugal, and there was fighting and Portugal won. And THEN Portugal made buckets of money, because this guy named Henry the Navigator taught everyone how to steer boats around and PORTUGAL FOUND INDIA and was pretty much dominating the whole Age of Discovery thing. Lots of trading and colonizing. But then Spain got its knickers in a twist and the two countries were fighting and the Pope stepped in and said PORTUGAL, YOU CAN HAVE HALF OF THE WORLD AND SPAIN, YOU CAN HAVE THE OTHER HALF. NOW SHUT UP. So Portugal colonized a bunch of countries (including Brazil!) and made shit tons more money. A couple hundred years later, Napoleon started knocking at the door (REMEMBER NAPOLEON?!) and the Brits helped the Portuguese keep him out long enough to get the royal family to Brazil. (The Brits and the Portuguese are best buds.) NOTHING CAN STOP NAPOLEON, however, (EXCEPT FOR RUSSIA), so Portugal eventually lost and was occupied by the French. But then the whole Napoleon/Russia thing happened and Portugal got its country back and the king came back from Brazil. BUT! As soon as he did, his son was all SCREW YOU, DAD and declared Brazil an independent nation under his leadership. This was kind of the straw that broke the colonization’s back, and Portugal lost most of its countries. In 1910, Republicans killed the current king and the son, ending the monarchy and establishing a republic.

We started the day with a walk through Óbidos, a small walled village with a castle. A real castle! Only residents are allowed to bring their cars through the gates, so the rest of the village is thronged with people buying things like ceramic tiles, embroidered fabric, and things with roosters on them. We made quick work of this area, stopping only to try the local treat, ginja e chocolate (cherry liquor poured into tiny chocolate cups), and then we walked the high wall around the village. My dad and I pretended to be guarding the ramparts from the Moors, enjoying the scenery both inside and outside the walls (inside: whitewashed houses with tile rooftops, winding cobblestone streets, and a CASTLE; outside: green and rolling farmland as far as the eye could see).

You know, I’ve got a big thing for doorways in foreign countries. I had never really understood those posters (featuring twenty-five doorways of some island or city or whatever) until this trip. I effing love these doorways, with their colorful wooded doors of chipped paint, and their frames of stone or plaster or timber. Arriving in Portugal, I added alleyways to the list of random things I love. Seriously, every single little alleyway IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. Potted plants, steep inclines, brightly colored doors, the sunlight cutting in at an angle. Gaaaah.

While walking the town’s walls, my dad regaled me with the history of Portugal, and also of the Crusades (when Catholics “reclaimed” the holy land of Jerusalem, which they had to do three times, because the people who lived there kind of resented it and fought back).

Upon leaving Óbidos, we bough figs and Portuguese sweet bread and drove off to explore the Alcobaça Monastery, which Alfonso Henriques built in 1153. It was HUGE and unadorned and spare and beautiful. The Lots of Portuguese monarchs are buried in the church, including Pedro I and his mistress Inęs de Castro. (The story of Pedro and Inęs’ forbidden love is as well known on the Iberian Peninsula as the story of Romeo and Juliet.)

We then went to Nazaré, a gorgeous beach with turbulent water, where we lingered for just a little while before moving on to Óurem, where we are staying the night. Óurem is a village on a hilltop, with roads ringing the hill in concentric circles and a castle at the very top of the hill. (Nerd Alert: I could not stop thinking of Minas Tirith as I walked around before dinner.)

Dinner was ridiculous and silly, as my mother got yet another meal which she couldn’t eat BECAUSE SHE HAS A PALATE THAT IS MORE IMMATURE THAN MINE. (Edit: My mother read this entry, and wants everyone to know that she's not complaining.)

I haven’t had nearly the same time to write since I’ve been with my parents, as my meal times (when I usually take out my notebook) are instead filled with conversation. So these Portugal posts may be a bit briefer than the rest. But one more thing before I go to bed:

Parent quote of the day…

Mom: My favorite thing in the whole world is to have a hotel room all to myself… so could you two leave?