Thursday, October 27, 2022

Spectacular Porto bridge climb yields uphill climb, stunning views

Christene "Cookie" Meyers, Bruce Keller, and new friends from Paris, at the top of Arrabida Bridge.


The weather was windy but the spirits were
sunny on yet another bridge climb.

WE CAN'T CLIMB every mountain, but we can and will climb every bridge that allows us!

Only five bridges in the world allow climbers to legally ascend them. A dozen other beautiful bridges allow walkers to stroll, walk or run across them -- some on designated days only.  But that's quite different than climbing.

Bruce Keller suits up with help from
one of our two lovely guides.
Joana and Mariana were cheerful
and helpful during the climb.  

The few bridges that sanction climbers have strict guidelines and pay high insurance.  One (Sydney's Harbour Bridge Climb) even insists on a breath test to make certain you've not any alcohol in your system.

OUR MOST recent bridge climbing adventure was on a windy, rainy day in Porto, Portugal. We ventured to the Arrabida Bridge, for a user-friendly, rewarding climb with stunning views of Porto, and a nip at the summit of Portugal's famous port to send us back down. The rain even stopped as we climbed, assisted by our limber and helpful guides Joana and Mariana!

Suiting up Cookie for the climb.
Completed in 1963, Arrábida Bridge spans Portugal’s Douro River to connect Porto and the smaller Vila Nova de Gaia. Measuring 890 feet (270 meters), it was the largest concrete-arch bridge at the time of its completion. Journalists came to record its predicted collapse, but it held fast and is a big draw today for tourists like the two of us who climbed the arch.
Cookie slides her
lanyard attachment
up the cable.

AFTER BEING "harnessed in" to secure us should we stumble, we began our climb.  We really couldn't have fallen in the river but there are precautions and we're grateful for them. So slowly, we climbed the bridge's impressive arch by walking up its steep granite staircase.
The bridge's architectural excellence makes it worth a visit in its own right, but the climb adds another layer of excitement. It's 213 feet (65 meters) to the top of the bridge, where we caught our breath while studying an exhibit on Portuguese bridges. The main attraction, though, were the gorgeous city views. We gazed below, where the day before we'd taken one of the many boat trips and cruises offered.

Climbers at midway, on their way to the top, where the views
are spectacular, and the sun is most often shining.
WE ARRIVED in a drizzle, common for this time of year in Portugal. We'd connected easily from our central Porto hotel on the "Hop on and Hop Off" bus feature, part of the city pass. My husband predicted a "fairly easy climb and great view" and indeed both were true, although I had a bit of trouble with my lanyard. I couldn't get it at first to slide easily past the regularly spaced cable supports.  The stanchion brackets allow for the individual to slip his lanyard around, so one can continue up the bridge. It took some practice, but I mastered it and the cheerful guide and other climbers were patient with me. 

At the summit:  a taste of port wine to salute the endeavor.
WITH JUST under 250,000 inhabitants, Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. Only Lisbon, the country’s capital city, has more inhabitants. Porto is located in the northwest of the country and is, naturally, a significant port.
 Tourists visit Porto for its abundant sights and attractions but for port wine tasting parties: a must-do activity during any trip to Porto. Port wine is made of the grapes from the Duoro Valley close to Porto. This strong, sweet, fortified wine is intrinsically connected with the city of Porto and famous all over the world. U.S. presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, favored port as an apertif.

Cookie makes a mostly graceful descent down the beautiful bridge.
The Arrábida Bridge is well known in Porto and anyone can guide you there.
WE FOUND the bridge climbing tour on the northern side of the bridge, from which it generally departs.
We used our useful and very handy Porto city cards and hopped off the bus right near the Ponte Arrábida light rail station.
If you take the tram, it's line 1. The Casa da Música metro station is a 10-minute drive away.
That beautiful building -- the Casa da Música -- is one of Europe's newest and most striking concert halls. It was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and opened in 2005. Worth a look; there are daily guided tours. Concerts range from classical to urban, with groups in residence: Porto Symphony Orchestra, Remix Ensemble, Baroque Orchestra and Choir.


Fado -- Latin for fate -- in Portugal it's an artform. Always sung with
emotion and two guitars. Here,  a veteran fado singer with the traditional
pair of guitars entrances a full house at a Porto club with emotional songs.

: Two art forms in southern Europe have stood the test of time.  One is in Portugal and the other in Spain, and this moving pair of traditions has become intrinsically linked to the cultures in these two fascinating countries.  Fado is Portugal's famous emotional song style, while flamenco is Spain's showy, emotional dance form.  We explored a dozen fado and flamenco clubs on a recent visit and share photos and commentary.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more:


Thursday, October 20, 2022

Eating a scrumptious trail through Porto with history lesson on the side

Our lively "Taste Porto" food tour guide, Ines, walks us through a colorful market, pointing out a bounty of fruits grown near the city, and offering bits of history, architecture and favorite dishes. 

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
explore the streets of Porto in a pleasant food
 and walking tour with top-ranked "Taste Porto."



A GOOD FOOD tour includes small bites and tasty samples of the city's culinary offerings. It also stimulates conversation about local customs and culture, and answers foodie questions.

Cookie purchases a bag of warm,
freshly roasted peanuts at a market. 
Food tours are a fun, tasty way to glean bits of history and color about the place you're visiting. You'll glean tips on where to dine and shop and your guide will recommend favorite hang-outs frequented by locals. He or she will even make you a reservation for dinner during your stay.

OUR FOOD TOUR in Porto, Portugal, delved into the country's connection to its former colony, Brazil, and its use of fish, pork and beans -- staples in northern Portugal. We learned why Taste Porto is top-ranked by Lonely Planet guides, and has hosted both Rick Steves and the late Anthony Bourdain. The tastings were well chosen and the commentary was delivered by a smart, well informed, friendly guide.

Portuguese pastries are many
and varied. One is filled with
 savory minced veal, the other
with  warm chocolate.
We've tried a dozen food tours around the world -- from Tokyo to Victoria, Rio to Key West -- and are sold on this enjoyable way to spend a few hours, visit historic areas and stop five or six times for refreshments.
Food tours are less hectic than strictly walking tours. We often partake of these, too, because they provide a wonderful, two or three-hour immersion. But they can be exhausting if you're into a slower approach to touring. 
Bruce Keller tucks into a Portuguese draft beer.

FOOD TOURS offer welcome breaks where you visit with fellow foodies, taste the country's offerings, use the facilities and revive for the next foray to a new cafe, market, bakery or bar. 
Our Taste Porto tour began with pastels -- pastries -- at A Loja dos Pasteis de Chaves. We sampled both sweet and savory varieties of this favorite flaky treat. On to Bolhao Wine House, in a colorful market, for samples of fish and vinho verde branco -- the country's delicious dry white wine.
Portugal is famous for its delectable stews and dried, salted cod -- bacalhau -- as well as smoked ham and tender, slow-cooked pork, which we sampled in a small sandwich, in Flor dos Congregados.

TASTE PORTO promises its participants feel like they're taking a walking-talking-tasting tour with a local friend. We agree.  Our lively, well informed guide even found a piano for me to play in one of the city's oldest eateries, while guiding us through her artfully designed tour.

Cookie entertains at Flor dos Congregados:
 roasted pork, ham, sparkling red wine and piano

She shared history, architecture, culture, and cuisine with our group of 10 from Paris, Belfast, San Francisco, Munich, Idaho and Montana. Ines also  kindly made a reservation for us at a fado club the next night. We really "tasted" Porto, capping the tour with cod fritters and "naughty rice," espresso and chocolate. The pauses were nicely choreographed as Ines pointed out monuments, parks and historic buildings.
For food and wine aficionados, we recommend Taste Porto for its mini master class of classic Portuguese food and drink. Its three kilometers of history, culture and food filled stops.

Portuguese bean and meat stew is served in many
variations. Cooks can add meats and veggies,
but pork, sausage, beans and carrots are a must. 

Here's a tasty recipe for
 Portuguese Bean Stew

This traditional, hearty stew of red beans with pork and sausage is popular in both Portugal and its largest former colony, Brazil. In rural areas, the meat is slow-cooked pig’s feet and pig’s ears. A Porto friend adapted this recipe in his home in the mountainous region in Northeastern Portugal where the Douro flows in from Spain.

Ingredients: 2 to 4 garlic cloves, 2 medium sweet onions, 2 tbsp olive oil, a pound of boneless pork shoulder or butt cut into one-inch cubes, 2 carrots cut into thick "coins," one large sausage, sliced into thick rounds. (Chouriço and linguiça sausages make an authentic version, but smoked sausage or Polish sausage are fine.)

Cod fritters with "naughty rice" (tomato rice) at Popina,
where boiled eggs and red onion complement the flavors.

4 oz bacon, cut or torn into shreds,2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped, or one One14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup red wine, water, as needed
salt and pepper, to taste 
1/2 lb cabbage, chopped  
1 - 14.5-oz can kidney or red beans
Peel and mince garlic cloves and onion, and cook over medium-high heat in olive oil in deep iron skillet or Dutch oven until they brown. Add cubed pork. stir, brown.
Porto's winding streets
 and classic buildings
are described in the
fun food tour stroll.
Add carrot, sausage rounds and shredded bacon. Cook until bacon begins to brown and render its fat.
Mix in chopped tomatoes, pour in red wine, stirring to blend.
Increase heat. When stew is bubbling again, add enough water to cover. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower heat. Cook 10 more minutes.
Stir in chopped cabbage, cover pot, cook another 15 minutes. Add red beans, bring back to a boil; cook to heat through and blend flavors.
Check seasoning. Serve with crusty bread or rice and favorite wine.

Porto's Arrabida Bridge Climb is world famous and we did it!

We're climbing another bridge.  Only five bridges in the world allow climbing and we'll ascend the fifth soon, in Brisbane, Australia.  Now, though, we climb our fourth bridge, in Porto, Portugal. The Porto Bridge Climb on the beautiful Ponte da Arrabida is a challenging  adventure for the two of us sightseers and amateur bridge climbers. On the trail of exploration, we climb in a small group to view Porto's historic sights from on high. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, family, nature and more:
Please share the links.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Lisbon's Tagus Cruises showcases spectacular coastline, monuments

Tagus Cruises offers an appealing variety of sailings off Lisbon's lovely shores. Here, new friends
from three continents enjoy a morning sail around Lisbon's iconic monuments and bridges. 



The striking, monumental Padrão dos Descobrimentos -- Monument to the
 stands 170 feet tall and is a major attraction by land or sea.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers at the
marina ready to board Tagus Cruises for a "double header."

IF YOU want a few hours away from it all, and love being on the water, you'll find no more relaxing outing than a sail with Tagus Cruises in Lisbon, Portugal.
Tagus uses a variety of sailing vessels -- from graceful sailing yachts, to sailing and power catamarans. Your choice.
There are also appealing  options for small and middle-sized groups looking for a peaceful time on the water with someone else in the "driver's seat." 
We booked a sightseeing cruise, then were so happy we signed on for  a second cruise to enjoy the spectacular Lisbon sunset.

 PRIVATE CHARTERS are also available, and booked regularly by locals.  We sailed on our first Tagus outing with a working couple from Lisbon, and a tourist couple from Australia.  The locals were celebrating a quiet day in their home town by taking a sail.

Tagus Cruises is easy to find on the marina near Altis Hotel. 
The gentleman said his high-tech business uses Tagus for company holiday parties as well as business meetings.  Hard to imagine concentrating on work with beautiful statues and bridges competing for attention. But Tagus Cruises has a popular following among businesses, as well as the tourist trade, and with faithful locals who love being on the water and sharing their city's architecture and variety with guests.

OUR CAPTAIN honored the Tagus promise to show off Lisbon's famous bridges and monuments.  First, he made certain we had a close-up view of Lisbon's Christ statue, patterned after the famous, larger Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He spent a good 15 minutes giving us a splendid view of "Cristo Rei," one of the most iconic monuments in Lisbon. The statue of Christ stands high above the southern banks of the Tejo Estuary, which we also viewed.  It is teeming with protected bird life and ranks as the largest wetland in the country and one of the most important in Europe.  Our nature loving crew explained that it is also a sanctuary for fish, mollusks and crustaceans.

WHILE GETTING unique views of the bridges, beaches, even the industrial area, we learned a bit about Lisbon's colorful history.

It is one of the oldest cities in western Europe. Like many other European cities, it has been home to many and varied peoples and has seen its share of war and conquest. After the region was settled by the Celts, it was founded by those well traveled Phoenicians around 1200 BC, making it 400 years older than Rome.
Passing under Lisbon's beautiful bridges.
These highly educated people established a settlement called Ulissipo, becoming successful merchants, traders and colonizers until they were conquered by the Greeks and Carthaginians. 
As a thriving capital city of Portugal, today's Lisbon maintains its strategic geographical position at the mouth of the Tagus, the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula and the river from which the cruise company takes its name.

TAGUS CRUISES earns its reputation for excellence. Besides being well maintained, its boats are new, shiny and small enough that we never felt cramped or crowded.  We had the run of the vessels on two separate outings with spectacular, smooth, sight-filled experiences on the water.  Best part:  we actually sailed on both outings, a pleasure since the winds were just right and we motored only briefly.

SAILING HAS become one of my favorite  hobbies, since my lifelong sailor partner introduced me to it 16 years ago. Here are some of the reasons we love to sail: Being on a boat slows down time and helps one ponder. On a sailboat, we truly feel we're "getting away from it all."

 Lisbon's sights are muted and lovely on a sunset cruise.

Sailing also offers the opportunity to learn.  It's fun to watch the crew man -- "and woman" the ropes and sails. Just watching, I've learned much about the technical skill and expertise necessary to be a good sailor.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers on
a sunset cruise, framed by Lisbon architecture. 

As mentioned, we liked our morning sail so much that we booked a sunset sail for the next day.  Again, we tied it in with the excellent Lisbon City Card and convenient "hop on, hop off" bus connection.

 A Tagus cruise also includes a beverage and the crew offered beer, iced tea or soft drinks. Don't forget: you'll want to tip the crew. A reasonable tip is 10 or 15 per cent of what you paid. Prices range from a reasonable 25 Euros for the one-hour tour on up to several hundred Euros for private  charters, if you're feeling flush or want to treat 15 or so of your favorite people.

Remember the Lisbon city card will save you Euros, wear and tear and help with myriad museum admissions. We recommend the 3-day card.

We can't wait to return to one of our favorite cities -- in a favorite part of a country we've come to know and love.

More information on Lisbon, or to book:


Cookie eyes the camera with a still warm bag of freshly roasted peanuts
from Lisbon's delightful market. Fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses,
meats and a large offering of Portugal's famous port wine are sold.

UP NEXT: "Taste Porto." While we're in Portugal, we move north to Porto, where we sample local a tasty variety of local dishes -- including the country's famous cod.  We also take you shopping in a beautiful market and learn about Porto's rich history, architecture and culture. We play a piano in a centuries old restaurant, and buy a bag of freshly roasted peanuts. We'll even share a recipe for a delectable Portuguese sausage and bean stew.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more: www.
Please share the links.  

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Porto's Casa Sao Roque offers art, architecture, an intriguing oasis

Entrepreneur Pedro Ribeiro, right, gives Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
a private tour of his unique art museum, a converted manor house and hunting lodge in Portugal.



Plants enhance Casa Sao Roque Centro de Arte, inspired by French and
Belgian architecture with a nod to Porto decorative arts.


BOLD SPIRITS and colorful personalities of both past and present greet visitors at Casa Sao Roque Centro de Arte.
The long gone owners of the splendid home in Porto, Portugal, left their mark. But the man who salvaged and renovated the building as it slid into neglect is the primary influence on the elegant home that greets the contemporary visitor.
Art connoisseur Pedro Alvares Ribeiro fell in love with the one-time hunting lodge, built in 1759 by a wealthy Porto merchant.
A former banker turned art collector and philanthropist, Ribeiro had a vision of what the home could become. "Besides, I wanted to give something back," he said. "I've had a lucky life."
A SUCCESSFUL banking career augmented an inheritance from his entrepreneurial professor father and a wealthy grandfather
Ribeiro talks about his restoration project in
the building's beautiful glass winter garden.

The Warhol show includes the artist's creations as well as
personal film, and other significant material from his art career.

who  presided over a flourishing port wine company.  This good fortune helped Ribeiro purchase the home and lovingly restore it.
"I have done well and been fortunate in life," he reflects, "so I had in mind a place to share beauty with others from around the world, a museum if you will, but with excitement -- with components to engage the senses." 
 Besides booking impressive international changing exhibitions, he integrated items from his private art collection. "For years, I've collected pieces. When I first saw the place, I envisioned them fitting perfectly here."
And so they do -- including 16th Century African chairs, eye-catching ceramics and paintings from his private archives. 
THE HOME has a stately feel, with beautifully crafted windows and elegant detail at every turn. Viewers admire elaborate metal work, polished wooden finishes and new stucco with an "old" look to perfectly match the original.
Said my engineer-contractor-photographer partner, Bruce Keller,  "It's a show piece for meticulous detail. Every room is unique."

Every detail in the house
is exquisitely designed.

The elegance of the home has survived. Here the former
 dining room, now exhibition space, is painstakingly restored

In 1759 when the home was constructed, it was on the outskirts of Porto, a charming northern Portuguese town which vies with larger Lisbon for tourism.  A four-acre park where gentry once hunted now attracts families.
São Roque was also Casa Ramos Pinto, and before that, was part of Quinta da Lameira, where the lord of the manor hunted. "It was typical of those owned by bourgeoisie and noble families from Porto," says Ribeira, explaining its various incarnations. Several more wealthy, noble names inhabited the place. In the 19th
Immaculately restored
and polished banister.
Century, it belonged to the family of Maria Virginia de Castro. In 1888, she married António Ramos Pinto, a well-known exporter of Portugal's famous port wine. They put their two fortunes together to improve the mansion, commissioning an intricate remodeling and expansion project supervised by distinguished architect José Marques da Silva. It took 11 years -- between 1900 and 1911 -- and included design of an elaborate garden, under the watchful eye of another well known figure, Jacinto de Matos.
That remains today, with carefully groomed camellia trees now over a century old. They are prized and cared for by Ribeiro and his staff.
RIBEIRO IMAGINES life of the gentry in the day -- a small group of friends gathered at the manor house for dinner and a glass of port, to discuss art and politics, gaze at the rich valley below, watch wildlife and enjoy conversation as a pleasant breeze refreshed them. 
Perhaps they'd stroll the gardens, admiring the camellias,
The extensive Warhol exhibition
borrowed from New York City
galleries and museums.

stooping to inhale the scent of herbs in the vegetable gardens, harvested by servants for meal preparation.
Now, fast forward to 2023. Art lovers from around the world come to see the fruits of Ribeiro renovation.  He's traveled the world to connect with fellow art aficionados, gallery owners and museum directors. As president and CEO of Casa Sao Roque, he books exhibitions to complement the building's unique architecture, art and history.
On view now through Jan. 31 is an exhibit by Andy Warhol, famed American visual artist, film director, and producer. Americans know him as a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art.
 "Warhol, People and Things" is reason enough to visit the Casa, with an affordable admission under $10. The extensive exhibition focuses on Warhol and his influence across several generations of photographers, filmmakers, musicians and multi-media artists.
We watched fascinating films with Ribeiro -- and admired  works by Warhol, close friends and other contemporary artists from New York, Porto and Lisbon. The collaboration reached across the Atlantic to New York's Mishkin Gallery and Baruch College of the
After a tour of La Casa Sao Roque, a Porto
family enjoys beverages and dessert in a
charming cafe and art book library.

City University of New York. Ribeiro uses his international art connections to the museum's advantage.
Also on view is the inaugural exhibition of one of his favorite artists.  Ana Jotta's "Inventoria," is chapter one in a series of exhibitions devoted to the notion of Casa Sao Roque.
A well stocked art library and pleasant cafe attract visitors for refreshment and reflection after they've toured the museum.
THE CASA alone is worth a trip to the exciting city of Porto. You'll find endless opportunities, diversions, and amusements in this northern Portuguese town which has been quietly garnering attention and attracting visitors from the southern Portuguese city of Lisbon.
More info on the museum or to plan a trip to Porto:

UP NEXT: Sailing the waters off the coast of Lisbon is an exciting way to spend a few hours.  In a city famous for its bridges, Tagus Cruises offers unique sailing tours designed to show off the city's historic sights and famous bridges.  We take you under the bridges and across the waters to the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and the historic Belem Tower. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more, at: Please share the link.