Portugal

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    Spain-Portugal Road Trip Map & Highlights

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    It was the second week of May, just ahead of the Spanish summer, when we touched down in Madrid to embark on a road trip, a kind of pear-shaped circle, around Spain and Portugal. It was our first time in this part of the world (although it had been a long-standing place-marker on our wish list), we were armed with only a cryptic guidebook or two, with no expectations.

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    Porto, Portugal

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    It’s the funniest thing … the towns I got the least excited about are the ones that have turned out the best (and the longest) as photo essays. What gives? Perhaps in Porto’s case, it was the miz grey skies that got me down — but when I look at the pictures, the city didn’t hold back from offering up offbeat photo opportunities in every corner.

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    Coimbra Portugal photo essay

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    Coimbra has had a long complex history. Celts lived here. And the Romans. So did the Barbarians (those non-Greek-speaking invaders of abroad). Then came the Moors, and later the Spanish. But most guidebooks focus on Coimbra as a university town; tour buses consider it worthy of half a day, disgorging their travel troupes there for just a morning or an afternoon.

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    Palatial Lisbon

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    Because the Portuguese were such a seafaring (and colonising) nation, they came into contact with many different cultures and societies, absorbing and assimilating their tastes and styles. And of course, the conquering Moors from North Africa left a very rich architectural heritage throughout Portugal and Spain. And so … Lisbon has its French-inspired Versailles in the Queluz palace.

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    Monumental Lisbon

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    It’s a bit like a seesaw … some of the most appealing attractions lie at opposite ends of the city, with Lisbon the central pivot. Witness wonderful Belém all the way to the west and the captivating Azulejo (Tile) museum all the way to the east. And yet both these destinations were highlights of our stay in Lisbon. Belém, particularly, snuck into our hearts.

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    Street Lisbon

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    Lisbon is difficult to define. It has grunge, elegance; shabby neighbourhoods, exquisitely sculpted cathedrals; grand plazas and mouldy time-worn squares. According to one of Lisbon’s many legends, the city was built on seven hills (these actually exist and interestingly enough, each one is topped by a church) and it’s often spoken of as “a cidade das sete colinas”.

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    Evora Portugal photo essay

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    What does Obelix from the French comic books have to do with Évora? He's a menhir sculptor, that's what, and just outside the Portuguese town is a megalithic ceremonial site with 95 of these giant stone pillars. As Asterix fans know, Obelix's superhuman strength had him habitually carrying a menhir around on his back. But Old Town Évora is so much more than cromlechs and menhirs…

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