Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Buildings of Braga

The main entrance of
Se Cathedral


For some time I have been wanting to write about the wonderful buildings we see each time we go to Braga. The Sé Cathedral is probably good to start with for two reasons: The personal reason is that my husband, who loves black and white photography, is entranced with the stone churches of Spain and Portugal, and this building is a knock-out. The more serious reason is that it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga and one of the oldest cathedrals in Portugal; some say the oldest. As such, it shows the many architectural features seen all over the city: The entrance facade is Romanesque (notice the arches);  the bell towers are Baroque, (intricately ornamental). And inside, many areas are tiled with the distinctive Azulejo blue and white tiles one sees on walls, both exterior and interior, all over Portugal.

Braga is a city of churches, given its long history as the the religious capital of Portugal. But you see the interweaving of Roman and Baroque in many of the churches, and also many of the mansions and museums. One example is the old Archbishop's Palace, where the Jardim de Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara Garden) is nestled in a back square of the former palace.
You can see how the word "Palace"
applies here. 
Add caption
The new Archbishop's palace is located elsewhere and this crenelated building now houses archived material for the University of Minho. But step inside the entrance and you can see the true beauty of Azulejos:


   






 So many insides of churches had scenes in Azulejos, too. And many an exterior is decorated in blue and white tiles. While ceramic tiles were used all over Europe and were inspired by Moorish and Egyptian, the way Azulejos are used in Portugal have become an art form. In addition, many walls in Braga often display solid or geometrically patterned tiles as well: 
                                                                   







 All the beautiful colors and textures add to the distinctive quality to each building. No two buildings are exactly alike. Some have arched arched windows; others arched doorways. Some have painted walls, others have tiled walls. Sometimes the grill work of balconies is black; other times it's painted in bright colors. I could have taken endless pictures. You've actually been spared an extensive photo album of shots! :-)

Back to the churches: You could call Braga a city of churches. As the religious capital of Portugal, there are over thirty-to-thirty-five churches, in addition to the Sé Cathedral, and all quite distinctive. There is Igreja dos Congregados on the one side of Avenida Central bordering  Praça República (Republican Square (two views below).
Seen from the Arcada, which fronts
one end of Republican Square. 
Seen from across the triangular park
 that starts at the Arcade and ends in
Largo Senhora Branca.
There was also Igreja a Senhora Branca (Church of Our Lady in White) just across from our hotel (Hotel Senhora a Branca). A sign forbade picture taking inside, but the chapel was lovely, tiled in two shades of yellow with the main altar ceiling painted blue. The tiled facade could be photographed, and above the entrance, a statue of "Our Lady" in an alcove was lit by night: Here are some pictures by both day and night:




 On this particular trip (June, 2015), we were there during the full moon, which added a veil of mystery at night.

There were other churches of note: Bon Jesus, four miles out of town, up in the hills, which we did see last fall while attending a photography exhibit. (Our pictures were mainly of the exhibit, but here is a plaque on one wall.) A small, baroque church  on a street behind the Arcade, Igreja da Terceira Ordem Regular de São Francisco (Church of the Third Regular Order of Saint Francis). And inside the arcade is a small churchIgreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora da Lapa (Our Lady of Lapa). 



If you look closely, you'll
see more beautiful Azulejos.















Then there were the museums. I'll concentrate on two that captured our attention. On our first trip, we went to the Museu da Imagem - The Image Museum, that specializes in photography exhibits. I had read of this museum in a travel article posted in the Huffington Post and was particularly interested, because my husband does black-and-white photography. Online, we made friends with the director, Rui Prata, and when we visited, we got acquainted with him and this beautiful museum. It's partly housed in an old tower of the original castle and an adjoining building that looks out on the street. Inside are current exhibits and historical photographs of Braga, and Rui Prata was generous with his time, telling us much about the history of Braga. He himself is a photographer, a curator of exhibits, and has recently retired from director of the museum to move to Finland from where he still curates exhibits all over Europe.
Museum entrance - the red building.
Street view from inside the door.
My husband debating what
to look at first. You can see
the complexity of the layout.

Just one of the sections of photos. 

This particular exhibit was
about the 1974
Carnation Revolution














Later Rui treated us to dinner
and introduced us to some fine
Portuguese wines.













We'd often heard about the Museu dos Biscainhos, a historical mansion, originally built in the early 17th century by a noble family. Inside its many rooms are collections of 17th and 18th century European and Asian furniture, ceramics, porcelain, glass, paintings, etc. The baroque palace or manor had its own chapel, servant quarters, carriage house. But it was the 18th century baroque garden with statues, fountains, pathways between hedges and flower beds, and trees that blew me away, and I focus my pictures on its beauty. 9One tree is a giant tulip poplar, sent from Virginia to the nobleman's family 2 centuries ago.)                                                                                                                            






A 200-year-old tulip poplar and me.
   Did I mention it was huge?
   Moments like this give you a sense of your size in the scheme of things.



Last, but not lease, I'd like to mention our good fortune to meet Inȇs Barbosa on our first and subsequent visits. Inȇs is getting her Masters at University of Minho and was interning at the hotel where we stay (Hotel Senhora a Branca) until just recently, when she went to work for Lufthansa in Porto. She patiently answered innumerable questions about Braga, about Portugal, about Fado, etc. On our last visit she told us about some of the Folklorico groups in Braga. The group she belongs to were to perform in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, the day after we left Braga.
In Folklorico costume. 
 She kindly sent me a video of the group performing in Braga, and I'm passing it on for you to enjoy: Just click HERE.

How about you? Do you belong to a heritage or historical interest group of some kind? Do you love historical buildings and gardens?



Monday, July 6, 2015

Some Special Eateries in Braga

                                                                                                                                                             Well this post is mainly about some of our favorite eateries, but a later one will hit the highlights of some special places to see. (And then we'll move on to our nephew's wedding last week.)

One of our favorite hangouts when we go to Braga is Café Vianna, a café overlooking Praça da República (Republican Square). There are tables inside and out, but we sit at an outside table under one of their giant umbrellas sipping wine and people-watching.
Café Vianna used to be a
hub of political activity in
the years before Salazar.

Now it's just a popular place
for tourists to enjoy.


It's almost always busy.











The square is dominated by an immense circular fountain, and on a hot day it's refreshing just to watch the streams of water shoot up and splash down. (It was hot in early June!) The square was being decorated while we were there (as was the city) for the coming Festa de São João (St. John the Baptist), a very popular festival that occurs mid-June.

I was surprised by a rainbow!
The arches are part of the decoration
for the coming Festa de São João 
Two gracious women at
the tourist office, Márcia
and Cristina, have helped
me a lot with my research.











The eating places in Braga are quite interesting. Each of them has a unique flair. And I don't mean just what kind of food they serve. They combine ideas about eating. For instance, on our last trip, we discovered a wine bar called Copo. But Copo isn't just a wine bar. or a tapa bar, although that, too.
It's several things rolled into one. Here we are enjoying our favorite small table by the corner window. But this building -- which is really two -- is full of nooks and split levels. The room next door is a wine and gin bar (with an actual horseshoe bar.) Up a flight from that is a cocktail lounge. A stairwell off of that leads to a small restaurant area. From where we are sitting in this picture, stairs lead down to a little champagne nook, which leads up to another restaurant area, and also down to yet another restaurant area. Surprises abound everywhere. And Copo does serve great tapas.

A little dining hall.
Unless you prefer the garden.
Art on the wall, food on
the table, books to read.
What's not to like?






A favorite lunch place of ours is Centésima Página, The Hundredth Page, a unique bookstore and café housed in a Baroque building on Avenida Central. I can't begin to tell you how inviting it is. These pictures may help. There are numerous little side rooms, small indoor tables, a garden patio. And books, books, books, everywhere! They also offer art exhibits and guest speakers, and special kid programs at various dates and times. But the books and snacks are irresistible.


Exterior: The bookstore/cafe is on
Avenida Central, not
far from Praça República.
Books, books, books! What's not to like?

















Not far from Centésima Página is a remarkable place called Casa do Professor, a home for retired teachers -- at any level: elementary to university level. It houses a library and a restaurant and bar, among other features. The goal is to make the teachers feel at home. But the restaurant is also open to outside guests and parties. We didn't take any picture of it, but here is a website that can tell you more about it . There is a buffet dining room at street level, and both a cafeteria and a menu restaurant down a few stairs to the next level. The food was delicious and so reasonably priced. Being vegetarians, we had a vegetable-filled pastry for lunch that was so good I could swoon over it. And a party of teachers were at a group of tables near the far window, having a wonderful time.

Last spring, visiting the Museu Imagem for research, (Image Museum), a unique photography gallery, we were privileged to meet the director, Rui Prata, who introduced us to both the fabulous three day photography exhibit last fall, and also Casa do Professor, as well as two other noteworthy restaurants. The names of those two wonderful restaurants elude me, but we found two more in a little square (Largo da Praça Velhanear the museum: Taverna do Felix, and Anjo Verde.

Anjo Verde means Green Angel, and it's all vegetarian food that must be cooked by angels! Last fall we enjoyed a memorable lunch of eggplant parmigiana cooked just right. We split an order, and their portions are so generous we still were quite stuffed. I only have one picture to share, but this website can show your more of the interior, as well has samples of their wonderful food :

Right next door, in the same largo was a restaurant I'd been intrigued by online while doing research -  Taverna do Felix (Felix's Tavern). I want to place a scene in my book there. These pictures should give some idea of it's distinct ambience, which is both elegant and cosy.
A great selection of wines. 

Gray lace on white linen.
Combined with Marilyn!
There was a homey quality to this restaurant, established by all the antiques placed here and there, I suppose, and the soft lighting.

Little tables were also in clusters, here and there. We were among the early guests, but were welcomed in, and "Nina" the owner, explained the wonders of Port to me as she and a warm and friendly waitress named Sandra set things in place: White Port is an appetizer, and red Port is for dessert. (I knew about the red, but not the white, did you?) In the course of the evening, she gave us a sample of each. Here's a video that gives you more information about the restaurant and owner, and you'll encounter the beautiful Portuguese language as well. And here are some photos of the food: as well as more pics of the restaurant. Our meal was lovely. We do eat fish, and we had broiled sea bass beautifully presented.
Meanwhile, the restaurant had started filling up, and there were couples at various tables from all parts: Netherlands, Belgium . . .

The man from Belgium recommended a hotel to us, and it turned out to be where we were staying: Hotel Senhora a Branca, reflecting the name of the church - Igreja Senhora a Branca - and the name of the square  - Largo Senhora a Branca, where the hotel is located. We have stayed there all three trips and will again. It's a comfortable hotel, reasonably priced, with beautiful rooms and a friendly staff. And we made friends with a young intern who has received her Masters in cultural tourism and who took us on a tour of her Braga the last evening we were there. (Thank you, Ines!)

And then there is the mysterious young woman who is always playing her violin on one street or another: 

who is she? 

Her playing is haunting. 



Next blog will be about the Churches, Gardens, and Museums of Braga. Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, what is the best restaurant meal you've ever had? Do you like to read while you eat? Are you a vegetarian? If so, what kind? (I have learned that there are quite a few.)