Portugal Trave Show - Podcast Episode 1

Read the transcript of our podcast – the Portugal Travel Show Episode 1 – covering several destinations in Portugal, including Lisbon, Madeira, Douro and the Algarve.

Susi: This is your Captain speaking and your next destination is Portugal, so put on your sandals and sunglasses, sit back, relax, and enjoy this episode of the Portugal Travel Show.

MW: Hi, you’re listening to the Portugal Travel Show, the podcast for people planning a trip to Portugal. I’m your host, Mark William, thanks a lot for tuning in. In this episode we’ll be in central Portugal visiting the ancient city of Coimbra, birthplace of six kings and home to one of the world’s oldest universities. Then we’ll be telling you about the world’s first air balloon flight which took place in downtown Lisbon over three hundred years ago. After that we’ll be in northern Portugal taking a leisurely cruise along the beautiful River Douro, passing through Port wine country on the way. In Lisbon, we’ll be visiting the church that lost its roof during the great earthquake of 1755 and is still standing today. And from there we’ll be travelling south to the sunny Algarve to visit Ilha Deserta, Portugal’s very own desert island. And our final destination in this episode of the Portugal Travel Show is Cabo Girão, one of the world’s highest sea cliffs, on the beautiful Atlantic island of Madeira. All that and a whole lot more’s coming right up, including all the latest travel news and LuvyaLisboa, our regular look at Portugal’s vibrant capital city through the eyes of a local resident. So stay tuned, we’ll be right back after the break…

The University City of Coimbra
One of the most celebrated cities in southern Europe is Coimbra, the birthplace of six of Portugal’s kings and a place where tradition runs very deep, particularly during term time when hordes of black-caped university students can be seen (and heard) scurrying through the streets. Occupied by the Moors for over 300 years, Coimbra was captured by the Christians in 1064 and later proclaimed the capital of Portugal before power was transferred to Lisbon in 1256. House in a former royal palace, Coimbra University was founded in 1307 by King Dinis, not long after Oxford and Cambridge, making it one of the oldest educational institutions in the world. With its exquisite interior and one of the richest book collections of any university, its library was built to rival that of Vienna’s Imperial Palace. If you’re visiting Coimbra in the month of May, you’re bound to get swept along by the Burning of the Ribbons, a festival known in Portuguese as the Queima das Fitas, a lively week of music and merry-making when the students let their hair down at the end of a hectic academic year. Not to be missed is Coimbra’s ancient cathedral, one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Portugal. Built in the 12th century on the site of an old Moorish mosque, it features a grand interior with a fine Cistercian cloister. Founded in 1131, the church of Santa Cruz is historically one of the most interesting buildings in Portugal. It has some very rare paintings in the sacristy and history-lovers will be thrilled to know that the first two kings of Portugal, Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, are buried in the chancel. Named after a local sculptor, Coimbra’s top art collection can be found at the Machado de Castro Museum in a charming Renaissance building that was once the Bishop’s Palace. Over here on the other side of the Mondego River, the Gothic ruins of the Old Convent of Santa Clara are where the holy queen, Saint Isabel, spent her days mourning the death of her beloved husband, King Dinis, in 1325. And upriver lies the evocatively-named Spring of Tears, in Portuguese Fonte das Lágrimas, the site of the tragic love story between Inês de Castro and Prince Pedro, Portugal’s very own Romeo and Juliet. It’s a tale we’ll certainly be telling in a future episode of the Portugal Travel Show. South of the city and definitely not to be missed is the excavated site of Conímbriga where evidence of Roman habitation dates right back to the 2nd century BC. Comprising villas, tessellated pavements, walls and baths, it became a substantial town under Augustus around 25 BC and its excavated remains are among the best preserved in the Iberian Peninsula. So that’s it from Coimbra, a city you definitely won’t want to miss the next time you’re visiting central Portugal. From Coimbra we’re travelling south to downtown Lisbon where a monumental moment in aviation history took place in 1709.

The Flying Man
Now picture this, if you can. It’s the summer of 1709, on the 8th of August to be precise, and a very special moment in air travel is about to take place right here in Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio at the very spot I’m standing now. An inventor by the name of Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, a Brazilian-born genius and without doubt one of the most inventive characters of the 18th century, had created the earliest-known flying machine he called the Passarola (which means ‘bird’ in his language). He’d been granted permission to fly it before Portugal’s King and Queen and the rest of the royal court, so it would have to be something really special. This ground-breaking event in the history of aviation happened at the Casa da Índia, which was part of the royal palace, but the entire building was destroyed during the great earthquake of 1755. The Passarola was in essence a fire-powered air balloon that on previous test flights had burst into flames, but on this royal occasion was a huge success. It rose very slowly off the ground right in front of the King and Queen and then, after a few minutes, having exhausted the flame, it fell abruptly to the ground. Loud was the acclaim and Gusmão was hailed a hero and became affectionately known as O Voador, the Flying Man. An eyewitness described Gusmão’s amazing invention as nothing less than a miracle, writing how (use Audition effect to change voice) ‘one day, in the presence of Their Majesties, and an immense crowd of spectators, Gusmão raised himself by means of a fire lighted in the machine, as high as the cornice of the building’. It was an incredible achievement considering that the year was 1709 and almost two hundred years before the Wright Brothers officially invented the aeroplane. Gusmão belongs to that very rare group of brilliant individuals who stand out in history for their ingenious inventions, most notably in the field of air travel. But who was this talented individual? Who was this courageous man who managed to astound Portugal’s King and Queen all those years ago. Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão was born in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in 1685. He registered his first invention at just 20 years old, a device that could draw water from a stream to a height of about 100 metres, meaning that large quantities of water no longer needed to be carried uphill either by man or beast. I mean, that in itself was some achievement! He then joined the priesthood to pursue his quest for knowledge, which brought him here to Lisbon, capital of the Portuguese Empire and at that time one of the world’s most influential cities. Gusmão later studied at Coimbra University, the place we visited earlier in this episode, and it was there that he had an idea as he watched a soap bubble rising in hot air around the flame of a candle. This small floating bubble made him consider the different densities of air close to a flame and brought him to the conclusion that an object lighter than air should, in theory, be able to fly. It was a huge eureeka moment that would eventually shape the world we live in today. But Gusmão lived in very dangerous times and despite his success there were those who accused him of being a sourcerer, a wizard, and he became terrified of the Inquisition who were very active in Lisbon at that time. So after taking advice from his closest friends, he burnt his manuscripts, put on a disguise and fled to Toledo in Spain where he died in 1724. It was a very sad ending for such a brilliant man, but the legacy of his achievements came to light when some foreign noblemen who witnessed the first flight of Gusmão’s amazing Passarola made enquiries at a Carmelite monastery where his brother was living. They discovered that his brother had preserved some of the inventor’s manuscripts, which proved that Gusmão’s early 18th-century airship was the first step towards the aeroplane we know today, preceding the Montgolfier Brothers’ hot-air balloon by 74 years. So that’s the amazing story of Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão and the incredible first flight of the Passarola. Coming up next, we’re staying right here in downtown Lisbon for LuvyaLisboa, so stay tuned.

Miguel: Welcome to LuvyaLisboa. I’m your host Miguel and I’m going to be sharing some of the things I most love about my wonderful city…the place where I was born…the place I call home sweet home. In this episode I’ll be taking you to one of the little bars in the centre of town to drink a glass of ginjinha, Lisbon’s favourite tipple. Then I’ll be telling you about the Festas de Lisboa when the city bursts into life during the month of June. After that, we’ll be taking a trip on the Santa Justa Elevator (indicated on the Google map below) which has been carrying people up and down between Lisbon’s Baixa and Chiado districts for over a hundred years. Lisbon’s old trams are another popular way of getting around town, so I’ll be taking you on my favourite, the world-famous number 28. And to finish this episode of LuvyaLisboa, we’ll be visiting the tourist centre of Belém, Lisbon’s historic square-mile and the place that launched a thousand ships back in the 14th and 15th centuries. So let’s go!

One of the city’s first ports of call doesn’t involve Port at all, we’re talking about ginjinha, Lisbon’s very own cherry brandy. The wonderful thing about ginjinha is that it’s served straight from the decanter in tiny little bars around Rossio square in the heart of the city centre. Ginjinha is made by soaking morello cherries in sugar and aguardente, a type of Portuguese brandy. The resulting deep-red liqueur varies from 23 to 25 per cent alcohol and the tradition of dropping in on a hole-in-the-wall ginjinha bar goes right back to 1840 when the first one opened next to the National Theatre. Now when you order a glass or ginjinha you have a vital decision to make, whether to have it com (with cherries) or sem (without). Either way, you’ll always find that one glass of ginjinha is never enough. Ginjinha is the perfect digestif after a relaxing meal in downtown Lisbon, or even as an appetising aperitif before dinner.

As a local boy born and bred in Lisbon, I could never properly express my love for this city without telling you about the Marchas Populares, which are part of the Festas de Lisboa party season every June. So if you’re planning a visit to Lisbon and you’re not sure about the best time to come, then allow me to suggest the 12th of June as a suitable date to put in your diary. This is the day (and night) that us Lisboetas (as we like to call ourselves) really let our hair down and take to the streets with friends and family. The main focus of the Marchas Populares is the lively carnival-style parade down Lisbon’s Avenida da Liberdade starting at 9pm, after which the real party begins. It’s not unusual to see whole families of three or even four generations sitting around large outdoor dinner tables eating sardines and drinking wine in one of the most festive atmospheres imaginable. I’m particularly proud of my city on this night because the whole happy event revolves around one single man, Santo António, Lisbon’s most popular saint. Santo António was born in the shadow of Lisbon Cathedral in 1191 and went on to dedicate his life to helping the poor and needy until his death in Italy in 1231. It’s a wonderful example of how good deeds are never forgotten, and until this day Santo António is a role model for us all and fondly remembered by every Lisboeta for all the good he did in his lifetime. He really was a remarkable man.

Now let me show you something else that makes me proud to be a Lisboeta. I’m gonna take you on the Elevador de Santa Justa, one of the world’s most original and attractive elevators. Located right here in the heart of downtown Lisbon, this elaborate filigree-style elevator was built at the beginning of the 20th century and has been operating ever since from early morning until late at night. But who designed it? Many people think it was Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was an apprentice of his, Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a Portuguese engineer of French ancestry who also built the funicular railways at Nazaré, Portugal’s big wave capital on the west coast, and Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga in northern Portugal. This unique form of public transportation carries passengers to a height of 30 metres (just under 100 feet) in two solid wooden cabins between the city’s Baixa and Bairro Alto quarters. Initially, it was powered by a steam engine located at the top of the tower before being electrified in 1907. Its design allows for high resistance to fluctuations of temperature, very strong winds and medium-strength earthquakes. But my favourite thing about the Elevador de Santa Justa is the view from the gallery at the top across downtown Lisbon and the River Tejo as far as the Arrábida Mountains some forty kilometres away.

Still on the subject of public transport, I’m also a great lover of Lisbon’s old trams, some of which have been rattling and screeching their way around the city for over a hundred years. With their lovely wood-panelled interiors, Lisbon’s trams are as iconic as the 25 April suspension bridge and Cristo Rei statue of Christ. Lisbon’s first tram started operating in 1901 between Cais do Sodré and Algés in the city’s western suburbs. Today, there are five tram routes travelling over 50 kilometres, so they’re still a very common sight in the capital and definitely one of the best ways to soak up Lisbon’s old-world atmosphere. My favourite tram of all is the number 28 which crosses the capital from east to west and back. A ride on the number 28 takes you through some of the oldest and most fascinating parts of the city, such as the Bairro Alto (Lisbon’s famous night-life district) and the Alfama, both of which survived the great earthquake of 1755. Easing itself gently around corners, and squeezing through some of the city’s narrowest streets, the number 28 passes many important sights, such as Portugal’s parliament building and the magnificent Sé cathedral which dates back to the 12th century. The journey takes about an hour and tickets cost around three euros, which these days is a bargain for a European capital city. If you’d like to see more of Lisbon’s trams, a fine collection of them and other types of vintage public transportation can be seen at the Carris Museum in Lisbon’s Alcântara district. Next, we’ll be travelling west to visit the popular tourist centre of Belém, so have your tickets ready!

A ride on the number 15 tram brings you to Belém, (meaning Bethlehem in English), the place where Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery commenced. This historic square mile is a large tourist centre with several major attractions, such as the Coach Museum, President’s Palace, Jerónimos Monastery and the Maritime and Archaeological Museums. Visiting Belém is like taking a stroll down Lisbon’s memory lane. It’s the place where fearless adventurers like Vasco da Gama set sail for unknown lands in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s where Portugal’s iron men clambered aboard wooden caravels to navigate their way down the mysterious, unexplored coast of West Africa and beyond. They braved seas no European had sailed before to reach the Indies, Spice Islands, China, Japan and dozens of exotic places in-between to amass a huge empire…and it all started here in Belém. They brought back much more than spices, gold, precious stones and silk though – they interacted with ancient cultures and provided a vision of the global village we all inhabit today. Here inside Jerónimos Monastery lies the body of the most intrepid explorer of them all, Vasco da Gama, who travelled tens of thousands of kilometres to India and back in the late 15th-century, and in doing so carved out a new sea passage to the East. Da Gama lies opposite Portugal’s national poet, Luís de Camões, who chronicled much of the great explorer’s journey in his epic poem, The Lusiadas. For me, Lisbon’s most loveable landmark is the Tower of Belém, a beautiful limestone fortress built in the early 16th-century. This gleaming-white building once stood on a sandbank in the middle of the River Tejo and was a very welcome sight for sailors returning home after long periods at sea. Today, the Tower of Belém is a poignant reminder of the Age of Discovery, a time when Portugal ruled the waves. And there’s only one way to finish this edition of LuvyaLisboa, with a visit to the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, home to the tasty custard tarts known as pasteis de Belém. These tarts have become so famous they’re made all over the world, but this one here is the original based on a secret recipe invented by the monks next door at Jerónimos Monastery. They come straight out of the oven and are certainly the crunchiest and most delicious custard tarts you’ll ever taste!

That’s it for now. Many thanks for tuning in. I’m Miguel and I look forward to telling you about more places to explore in my wonderful city in future episodes of LuvyaLisboa. Now back to Mark who I believe is enjoying some spectacular scenery on the beautiful River Douro in northern Portugal.

MW: Thanks Miguel. Yes, I’m up here in the heart of Port wine country on the Douro, one of Europe’s most majestic rivers that’s right up there with the Rhine, Seine and the Danube. The Douro is Iberia’s third longest river and gathers its waters from over fifty tributaries to form the peninsula’s largest river basin. It rises at more than 1,500 metres in northern Spain before winding its way through 900 kilometres of strikingly beautiful scenery before spilling out into the ocean at the Atlantic city of Porto. Harnessed by several dams on both sides of the border between Portugal and Spain, the Douro’s once wild and uncontrollable currents are now a major source of hydroelectric power and more recently the river has metamorphosed into a popular cruise destination. Hotel ships like the one I’m travelling on now are a regular part of the Douro landscape and nowadays it’s possible to travel as far upriver as Vega de Terrón on the Spanish border. In 2001, UNESCO classified part of the Douro region as a World Heritage site, describing it is an ‘outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region that reflects the evolution of this human activity over time’. UNESCO was right. You can’t talk about the River Douro without mentioning wine, the two are synonymous, and a dominant feature of the Douro landscape is the terraced vineyards that blanket much of the surrounding countryside. Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Douro Valley for over 2,000 years and the uniqueness of Port wine, which is known locally as vinho do Porto, comes from natural factors such as soil and climate. But the key to Port wine production is fortification involving the addition of a high-strength grape spirit, or brandy, to halt the fermentation process, which in turn increases the alcohol content and preserves some of the sweetness. So, the next time you’re visiting the ancient city of Porto in northern Portugal, spare a thought for the lovely River Douro, now at its journey’s end, as you savour a glass of vintage Port wine in the famous wine lodges stretched out along the south bank of Vila Nova de Gaia. Cheers! That’s all from the River Douro for now. Next we’ll be heading back to the centre of Lisbon to visit the church that lost its roof in the middle of the 18th century.

Whenever I’m standing here in Rossio Square in the centre of Lisbon, I’m constantly aware of a ghostly-looking building gazing down at me from its lofty perch next to the iconic Santa Justa Elevator. Its grey roofless edifice is all that remains of the once magnificent Gothic-style Carmo Church, or Convento do Carmo as the locals call it. But on a peaceful Sunday morning back in 1755, something catastrophic happened. The nave of the church suddenly cracked open like an eggshell when a great earthquake shook Lisbon like it had never been shaken before, bringing the roof crashing down on its congregation. It was the 1st of November, All Saints’ Day, a very special occasion in the religious calendar. All the city’s churches were full of people and burning candles which caused many of the destructive fires that followed the quake. The great Lisbon earthquake went down in history as one of the most violent natural events the world had ever seen, all but destroying the Portuguese capital and a large percentage of its population. Today’s visitors to Carmo Church find an eerie silence inside the open-topped nave as people solemnly ponder the horrifying moment the roof crashed down on hundreds of worshippers all those years ago. Still one of Lisbon’s most impressive buildings, the church was originally founded in the last quarter of the 14th-century by Nuno Álvares Pereira, the great military leader who defeated Juan, King of Castile, in the decisive Battle of Aljubarrota. He later became a monk and died right here inside the church in 1431. Today, the church houses a fascinating archaeological museum with a fine collection of prehistoric remains, mosaics, ancient tombs, early coins and a very rare vase from the Neolithic period. That’s it from Carmo Church, one of Lisbon’s most…(Susi interrupts…)…one of Lisbon’s most remarkable buildings…
Susi: Hey, did you know?
MW: Did I know what?
Susi: Did you know that had the Richter Scale been invented in those days, the earthquake that struck Lisbon on that fateful day would have registered a massive 8.9)
MW: Yes, I did, with the first of the three major shocks happening at 9.40am when Carmo Church was full to the rafters. The terrifying tremor lasted between 6 and 7 minutes, and the most conservative estimates suggest that around 40,000 people perished during the quake and subsequent fires and tsunamis. In fact, it was so fierce that there were reports of it disturbing the lochs of Scotland and the fjörds of Norway. An anonymous Englishman living in Lisbon at the time wrote about the severity of the tremor, describing (in his words) how ‘the buildings tumbled down and the streets of the city became flooded. On her knees, the entire city could only utter one word – mercy’. Moving stuff indeed! Well, after all that talk about earthquakes, perhaps it’s a good idea to head south to the sunny Algarve to chill out in one of Portugal’s most peaceful and relaxing spots. Let’s do it!

I’m on Ilha Deserta, a long strip of cream-coloured sand just off Portugal’s south coast near Faro in the Algarve, one of Europe’s top holiday hotspots. Ilha Deserta, which simply means Desert Island, is without doubt one of Portugal’s enchanting and singularly beautiful beach destinations. This lovely spot is situated in the most projecting part of the south-west European coastline, right on the route preferred by migrant birds, and extraordinary numbers of them can often be seen passing along the shoreline in spring and autumn. Ilha Deserta comprises the southernmost section of the Ria Formosa wetlands, which is a protected wildlife area covering almost 20,000 hectares of the eastern Algarve. It’s a true holiday hideaway and one of the more accessible parts of an eleven-kilometre stretch of fine, sandy beach where total privacy is guaranteed, even during the high season. Ilha Deserta also flies the coveted Blue Flag, meaning that it’s completely unpolluted with the cleanest sand and most crystalline waters imaginable. And getting here is easier than you might think because boats arrive here from Faro several times a day during the bathing season, passing many sandy islets en route where many species of rare bird such as the sacred ibis, brant goose and flamingo are often be spotted. I simply cannot imagine a more relaxing place in one of the calmest and sunniest places in the whole of Europe. So the next time you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet, not to mention plenty of sunshine, come and visit Ilha Deserta in the glorious Algarve, southern Portugal’s dream holiday destination. That’s it from the Algarve for the time-being. Next up, we’ll be visiting one of the world’s highest sea cliffs on the Atlantic island of Madeira. But before that, we’re going back to the studio in Lisbon for a chat with our roving travel reporter, Mr Paul Bernhardt, coming right up after the break.

I’ve managed to catch up with the renowned travel writer and photographer, Paul Bernhardt, who’s going to be sharing with our listeners some of his experiences and tips about where to go and what to see when visiting Portugal.

Interview with Paul (no transcript)…

MW: When Portuguese navigators first approached the volcanic island of Madeira in the early 15th century, one of the first things that came into their view was Cabo Girão, a rugged headland much higher than any they would previously have seen. One of the great natural wonders of the world, Cabo Girão is an absolutely formidable sight and those early explorers were simply overwhelmed by what slowly appeared through the sea mist some six hundred years ago. ‘It’s an obscure and imposing object…a place of demons and bad spirits,’ scribbled one of those nervous sailors in his travel journal. Rising menacingly over Madeira’s southern shoreline, just 15 km west of the island’s capital, Funchal, it’s easy to understand the fear of those pioneering navigators. Cabo Girão peaks at a dramatic 589 metres, almost 2,000 feet above sea level, and today’s visitors have access to a lofty sky-walk to enjoy head-spinning views of one of the world’s most breathtaking sea and mountain scapes. On a clear day, the views east from the top of Cabo Girão extend well beyond Funchal, stretching all the way to the eastern corner of the island. But sufferers of vertigo be warned, don’t whatever you do look down, it’ll make your head spin because it’s a sheer drop to the crashing Atlantic waves below. Whenever I visit this very special place, I always marvel at the sure-footedness of the local farmers tilling the land on their tiny terraces, which seem almost glued to the side of the cliff. It’s amazing they don’t fall off but they’ve been doing it for centuries and their precious pieces of land get passed down from generation to generation. Fertile soil is a rare commodity on Madeira because of how the island was originally formed. According to geologists, it burst from the dark blue depths of the Atlantic Ocean in giant gushes of volcanic flame some 20 million years ago and nowadays even remote parcels of land such as these small ones on Cabo Girão need to be farmed to the very best effect. After experiencing the dizzying heights of Cabo Girão, I would urge you to visit the quaint little seaside village of Câmara de Lobos a short distance to the west. This charming and very peaceful place was once a favoured spot of the great statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, who would often come here to paint the island’s magnificent shoreline.

Well, we’ve come to the end of this episode of the Portugal Travel Show. Thanks a lot for tuning in. It’s been a great pleasure telling you about some of the many wonderful things to see and do the next time you’re visiting Portugal. If you want more information about the places we talked about in the show, make sure you visit our website, the Portugal Travel Guide, at www.portugaltravelguide.com. I’d like to thank the two Miguels, Paul for being our roving travel reporter and Susi for her wonderful introduction and interruptions. If you have any news, feedback, advertising requests or would like to appear on future episodes of the Portugal Travel Show, then drop us a line to show@portugaltravelguide.com, that’s show@portugaltravelguide.com. That’s all for now and looking forward to seeing you soon in sunny Portugal!

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