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A weekend in Dresden…for Rafi…June 2018

I knew of Dresden because of the bombing.

In the last months of World War 2 the Allies bombed this city to a pile of rubble…. 15 square miles of a 800 year old grand city were wiped out and 25,000 people killed.

The bombing remains controversial because it seems to have been nothing more than a threatening show of strength to demonstrate to Germany the might of the English. How could it have taken so many civilian lives to make the point? Numbers of the injured are unknown.

But the indomitable spirit of a defeated nation rose again and Dresden has been in the process of full restoration for the past 70 years.

Some History

My first sight of Dresden on hot blue day was that it was too overwhelmingly dark and Gothic but on the second albeit overcast day I loved it for its architecture and its vast complexity

If I go on about this it is because the sight of the original  old city visible now in its restoration, is remarkable. While this photo does it no justice, light up at night, the skyline is stunningly majestic.




This grand rococo and baroque city emerged under the Ruler of Saxony Frederick Augustus I who converted to Catholicism to became King Augustus the Strong of Poland in 1697. He gathered many of the best musicians, architects and painters from all over Europe to the newly named Royal-Polish Residential City of Dresden. During the reigns of Kings Augustus 2 the Strong and Augustus 3 of Poland i.e. in the first half of the eighteenth century most of the city’s baroque landmarks were built. Augustus 1 takes pride of place at the riverside entrance to the Old City.


But it wasn’t all duty for Augustus. This Bridge of Love, history has it, was built for him to leave the castle and enter the quarters of his mistress:


Old Dresden was an imposing city with its grand distinctive silhouette extending along the River Elbe. It was a centre of art and culture.


The Old City was awarded world Heritage status but lost it (one of two to do so) when they decided to demolish the old bridge over the River Elbe and replace it with a modern one. here’s an old bridge that wasn’t demolished:


Napoleon made it a base of operation winning the famous Battle of Dresden in 1813. In 1831 many Poles, including Chopin, fled here.

Following the Potsdam Conference that divided the spoils of World War 2, Dresden was located in the Russian zone known as the German Democratic Republic (the former communist East Germany).

The restoration begins

For me, who had been subjected to an English based view of history, I saw only the horrors of the Cold War… the Wall, the Stasi etc. So what a surprise it has been in my recent visits to Germany to discover that the GDR was an assiduous builder not only of residential housing but in the case of Dresden, the initiator of restoration of the grand buildings.

Many of the city’s important historic buildings were reconstructed during the time of the communists, including the Semper House and the Zwinger Palace (now a museum  complex) with its faux Versailles Pleasure Gardens. (Some of the ruins were also razed in the 50s and 60s rather than being repaired.)




Some of the statues and details were delightful:


Since unification restoration of the Lutheran Cathedral was completed in 2005, a year before Dresden’s 800th anniversary, notably by privately raised funds. Restoration of Neumarkt Square where the Cathedral is situated will continue for decades. One of the standouts for me was the vast gilt ornamentation in this (I had presumed ‘austere’) Cathedral while the Catholic Dom where I expected the ornate statuary etc. was surprisingly stark, white and elegant with few Gothic touches.


Outside the historic centre

A short bus ride away, unsuccessfully attempting to visit the Museum of the Human Body, we fell across the delightful Grand Garden Palace in the Grosser Gardens;



While it is the old city centre that captures the historical imagination, the aspect of Dresden that struck me was the quite disparate quarters in the wider city, each representing a different time. Dresden seemed many villages in one.

There are the blocks of well laid out low-rise apartment buildings built by the communists; then there are areas with Art Nouveau housing and other ones of grand villas. Across the river from the centre are precincts of elegant 18th century townhouses.The photos below are indicative of the diversity:





We stayed in this last precinct in a fine Relais and Chateaux number a few hundred metres from the bridge. Pictures of the splendid breakfast are below:



Luxury car enthusiasts also liked the hotel:


Across the small square in front to the hotel was the excellent Epiphany Church:


While formerly Dresden was known for porcelain and has a museum to attest that fame, it is now well known for its technology and research clusters; the modern glass VW factory was a sign of that:


The city itself has around 550,000 residents and a large number are skilled workers. Dresden is approximately 143ks from Berlin and 143ks from the nearest Polish city, Wroclaw

Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war here; he survived the bombing in a slaughterhouse meat locker hence the book Slaughter House Five. I have a note that said Rilke, Hess and Kafka all came to the sanatorium here while just last night I saw the film Don’t Look Back about the artist, Gerhard Richter who was born in Dresden. In the movie, the old stone underpass collapsed onto a bus during the bombing:


No matter how grand, and no matter the architectural and heritage vales, a little whimsy in a side street never goes astray:





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Two sides of the Portuguese coin…religion and resorts…June 2018


I was a convent school girl educated from age 4 to 16 by the Irish Mercy nuns still robed in long black dresses, veils and white face-framing wimples … as all=cloaking as the average strict Moslem woman is today. Lives of the saints were glorified and there was a special place in that roll call for the children of Fatima. Would that we could be so blessed, chosen as they were to have Our Lady appear to us and us alone to tell secrets about the future of the world.

The children are remembered in statue looking down on the Fatima complex.


The “apparition” is said to have appeared in 1917 each month for 6 months but only to the children, not to the increasing curious crowds. On the last occasion 70,000 people attended and claimed to have witnessed the “miracle of the sun” when different people saw the sun variously dancing or exploding or behaving in other fanciful fashions.

These 3 shepherd children, Lucia and her 2 younger cousins, in this remote and mysterious place were iconic. We used to pray to Our lady of Fatima who had appeared to them not once but a number of times, always tantalised by what the secrets might have been. Such was the miracle that the children were all later consecrated as Saints.

Well I finally made it to Fatima and clearly it remains a honey trap for believers and even, in my case, for non-believers. This non-believers was compelled to light a candle:


The older Basilica of Our Lady has been partnered with a 2007 modern Church of the Holy Trinity way up the hill. The hill is a sight itself with dedicated pilgrims moving down it on knees until they reach the spot where the actual apparition is said to have occurred.

The Basilica was reminiscent of the Vatican with its curved colonnades:


The photo below taken from the Basilica, gives some idea of the Fatima complex. Up the hill and opposite is the new church while the structure in between is where the apparition is said to have occurred, The white path rolling down the hill has seen many a pilgrims’ knee:


Priest prepare to process into the new church to celebrate a mass that seemed to have many naval personnel in attendance:


Below is the altar in the new church:


People still do Pilgrimages to what is regarded as a holy place. Our driver said his grandmother was a regular. This spot remains a national as well as an international magnet for the holy.

The woman below is travelling down the hill on her knees as a sign of devotion. we saw a couple doing this during our visit both wearing kneepads:


While in the Basilica there was some kind of national youth competition going on:


We made three other stops on the well-worn path to Fatima. First there was the World Heritage listed Gothic Batalha Monastery, a 14th-century Dominican convent built to commemorate a fierce battle between Portuguese and Castilian troops in 1385.


There is an imposing sculpture of a Portuguese general who had a decisive role in the 1383-1385 Crises that assured Portugal’s independence from Castile. He later became a mystic and was canonised in 2009.


Then we stopped for lunch at the rather drab seaside town of Nazare…. but the sardines were good. The pictures below are the view of the town from a lookout and the inevitable souvenir stalls there:



Finally the day ended at the tourist medieval walled town of Óbidos with its maze of cobblestone streets, historic castle, shops and perfectly preserved homes.


Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors have lived in the area which is now famous for bookshops and the tourist drink served in chocolate cups filled with Ginja liquor.



A coastal weekend

We spent the weekend 30ks from Lisbon at the most westerly point of Europe on the Atlantic coast. We stayed at the Fortaleza Do Guincho, a Relais & Chateau hotel which is a restored 17thcentury fort. The forbidding fort walls overlook a beach far below and behind that a coastal national park with low vegetation crossed by wooden boardwalks stretches into the distance.



In the unlikely event that one forgets the history of the building there are two cannons at the entrance pointing to sea to remind you. While it may be authentic, there are touches of décor that seem a little ‘Disney – makes- a- swashbuckling- saga’. The leather doors to the bedroom were matched by the furnishings inside.


One drawcard for the hotel was its Michelin starred restaurant. While the names of the dishes have slipped into the Atlantic mist, they remain memorable for the use of local produce and seafood as well as the fantastic crafting of deserts to mirror the unique landscape.

A short can ride away lies Cascais, a coastal resort town. Known for its sandy beaches and busy marina, the old town is home to the medieval Nossa Senhora da Luz Fort and the Citadel Palace, a former royal retreat now an art and commercial centre.


Cascais is a traditional Portuguese fishing town once the summer retreat of Portuguese nobility. Now the town is Lisbon’s major holiday destination and a major tourist attraction. Its charm lies in part in the retention of much of its 19th-century architecture and cobbled street.





The charming gentleman on his balcony was clearly enjoying life with a wine. I like to think he had retired to this peaceful town, possibly from somewhere not so nice.



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Lisbon…. June 2018

Lisbon was a delightful surprise.
Anecdotally the oldest city in Europe, it is claimed the Ulysses once visited. The Phoenicians settled here 3000 years ago, then the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, various fighting tribes and then the Moors. They called it Lissabona and held it for 400 years until the Crusaders took over. With the spices and other treasures Vasco de Gama brought back from Asia it became a rich city, more so when the 18th century Portuguese navigators found gold in Brazil.

The city of half a million people (with a greater metropolitan population of nearly 3 million in a country of 10+ million) is spread across 7 steep hills with the business/retail/formal centre, the Baixa, sitting in the riverside valley. It is a vibrant city of rich and poor, old and new, locals and visitors, nostalgia, romance and cutting edge.

To avoid travellers’ fatigue, the trick we discovered after a few days is that there are escalators scaling the hills … known to insiders but so integrated in the fabric newcomers can miss them. Inside one railway station there are escalators down to the station then up the other side to a totally new neighbourhood. Similarly from the core of the city at the sea level, there is an elevator beside a supermarket that takes you to yet another quarter where the castle stands.


The steep double storey escalators  go down and up at opposite entrances to our railway station. From midway up one hill, underneath the centre, to midway up another.

The famous Elevador de Santa Justa is 45 metres tall and was built by one of his admirers in the style of Gustav Eiffel of Paris fame. It takes you up from the Baixa to the hip party Barrio Alto neighbourhood.


Lisbon is divided into distinct districts. We stayed in the Chiado district.

Chiado neighbourhood


The view from my balcony

Again my travelling companion outdid herself in selecting accommodation, an old baron’s house now run as a boutique hotel by family. The Casa do Barao in the Chiado district was a few hundred metres off a lively square, the Praca Luis de Camoes. In the square was the subway with the magic elevators that saved hours of walking, a tram stop, a wonderful church, an alfresco café, a Portuguese tart bakery, and a change machine. What more could any traveller want?


Dining alfresco

In the square are two churches. One with a plain exterior and first built in 1670 on the site of the old city wall is the Igreja do Loreto, a  church built primarily to welcome many Italians in the city (hence its nickname “Church of the Italians”). It was severely damaged in the earthquake and rebuilt in 1785. It consists of a central nave and twelve chapels representing the twelve apostles. despite the plain exterior, the interior is quite splendid in the baroque fashion.


Introductory walk

To orient ourselves we took a walk that luckily began in our square where we met at the base of a grand bronze statue of the poet Luis after whom the square is named. While I included a history timeline in my Porto blog, I did not dwell on any particular period. However, two things stood out for me from the walk, both disastrous events but both reaping a silver lining:

The Dictatorship

Portugal was under control of a dictatorship from 1932 to 1974. This is the longest continuous dictatorship of modern history. Antonio Salazar was Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968. He died in 1970 and four years later, the Carnation Revolution occurred to end the dictatorship.

Under Salazar Portugal was officially neutral in World War II, but in practice Salazar collaborated with the British and sold them rubber and tungsten. In late 1943, he allowed the Allies to establish air bases in the Azores to fight German U-boats. However, as tungsten was a major product of Portugal, it was also sold to Germany until June 1944, It was a surprise to read Salazar admitted several thousand Jewish refugees during the war. But …. for a price.

Lisbon, maintaining air connections with Britain and the U.S., became a hotbed of spies from several countries and was the base for the International Red Cross in its distribution of relief supplies to POWs.

The silver lining of those times and the subsequent disaster of the Global Financial Crisis might well be the current growing economy and seemingly contented population in contrast with much of Europe (see end musings).

The Earthquake

On All Saints Day 1755 three earthquakes hit Lisbon in rapid succession. They are among the largest ever recorded at between 8.5 and 9.0 on the measurement scale. Much of old Lisbon was devastated by both the quakes and the subsequent fires and tsunami.

The king commissioned the Marquis de Pombal to rebuild the city. He redesigned the city in a simple grid fashion to ensure its safety in future earthquakes. The resulting neoclassical streetscape of Biaxa is the silver lining.

Later Pombal when Prime Minister also abolished slavery in Portugal and its colonies.


The heart of Lisbon, redesigned by Pombal, begins with the grand Praça do Comércio. Seen as the entrance to the city this square was the scene of the assassination of the last King and Prince Royal in 1908. While we were there, a great TV screen playing World Cup fixtures entertained the crowds of a different era.

The square is framed by two curving monumental colonnades which meet at the Triumphal Arch. Leading from the arch into the city proper is the pedestrianized Rua Augusta thronged with shoppers, tourist and of course, their accompanying buskers.


The Arch and restorations, a sign of a thriving city


Wonder what a faux American Indian busker did for his supper


A whole classical ensemble busking


On another pedestrian street, Rua Garrett, there’s the oldest continuously operating bookshop in the world, Bertrand, which dates to 1732. A few doors down, the art nouveau A Brasileira, is the first coffee shop in the city, opening in 1905

Past the end of the Rua Augusta is the very large Praca Dom Pedro IV where one can watch the world go by sipping a cocktail at an elegant outdoor café or even visit a shop that sells overpriced tins of sardines stamped with the year of one’s birth.


The Alfama neighbourhood

Some commentator wrote that Lisboetas carry around with them a sense of saudad or profound melancholy and nostalgia. It may well be that the old people who lived under the dictatorship and subsequent hardship do emanate this feeling but I saw little to support that in the modern city.

However great melancholy is expressed in the music Lisbon is famous for, the Fado. The home of the Fado is Alfama, the steep neighbourhood of red-tiled houses and narrow lanes that was established by the Moors in the 8th century. Here are real neighbourhoods of the city where washing is strung out in tiny squares and older people chat from window to window as if the wandering tourists did not exist.





We strolled through during a festival where bunting in the national colours was strung out across the streets and coal fires ignited to grill sardines.


On some of the houses there are photographs of the residents. Apparently there was an art project to capture the faces of the Alfama and the residents were so pleased they are proud to have their photos placed on permanent display.


The castle, the church of the Knights of Malta and the tram ride down

Above Alfama is the Castle. This hill has been a defensive fortification since the Phoenicians. While the castle walls are impressive I found the interior, except for an archaeological museum and a roaming peacock, quite uninspiring. The view however was fantastic.




In a city which tumbles down hillsides there are of course many Miradouro. From one (below)  you can see the castle on the hill as well as the city in the distance.


Wandering down the hill from the castle we came across Santa Luzia Church. The origins of this Church date back to the first years of Portuguese nationality (12th century) during the reign of the first Portuguese king, Dom Afonso Henriques. It was built by the Knights of Malta. The Crusaders of course played a major role in ridding the city of the Moors.

The present building, built over the previous temple, dates from the 18th century, with many alterations after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami.


Exhausted after the climb up to the castle we then waited at Stop 12 and took the famous old rattling tram back to our own neighbourhood. The tram experience is amazing. There are streets where if you leant out you would be able to touch the houses on either side and sometimes these are street so steep you could be on a mini roller-coaster.






I could have touched this car’s headlights from the tram


In the ‘hood

Tired on our first day, we fell into a small workers café on the corner of our street and had the best sardines ever. They came complete with a very grumpy proprietor but still an indicator of the culinary treats in store.
Food In our neighbourhood, the food was so good we didn’t stray. In the parallel street, on the Rua das Flores is a small (7 tables of two) unpretentious restaurant where the food was so fantastic we ate there whenever we could be early enough to beat the queue. The menu tempted with duck livers with port and cherries, mackerel ceviche, seasonal vegetables, sautéed baby squid to name a few. All with excellent house wines.


At the Taberna I could not resist photographing the couple below. Their silence said so much:

When we couldn’t get into the Taberna da Rua das Flores, we moved 70 metres down the street to By the Wine, a large cosmopolitan wine bar that served great wine and equally delicious food – a quesadilla, spicy sardines and ceviche teriyaki (salmon), a charcuterie selection and lime pie.


Tram 28 tour

The Tram 28 Food Tour began when we were met at the final tram stop on the route. It happened to be by the cemetery gates.


We wandered through a gentrifying trendy neighbourhood on a guided tour of markets and restaurants and the home of the best chocolate cake ever. True. We ate cake and mussels and pork and came to understand how important food is in Portuguese culture.

Some trivia from the tour:
• 93% of Portugal is sea
• May through October is the only time to fish for sardines
• All cod is imported



Then in the midst of all this walking and food, this girl appeared on the street.



Lisbon is now such a stop on the hip travellers tour that Time Out has opened a huge food market with both market stalls and delicious casual eating.






In hindsight there are many contemporary art galleries in Lisbon and alas, I failed to put them high on my itinerary but we did manage to trek for miles along the sometimes very unattractive waterfront to the LX factory.


This urban renewal project under the bridge close to river and harbour is a redesign of an abandoned industrial space which started life as an industrial fabric plant in

An investor had the idea of revitalising the area and now the space is home to more than 200 businesses ranging from cafés, restaurants, design houses, show-rooms, shops, offices, and projects all of which trade on cultural and artistic aspirations. Whether or not it was the twilight timing of our visit, the excitement of the project eluded me, as primarily it was the craft shops that were open.


When we looked into this bookshop the LX Factory there was a very earnest play reading in rehearsal.

General Musing

Lisbon is an appealing city and I know we scratched only the surface. I see it as the Major or the Minors in terms of great cities only because it lacks the High Culture of other centres. There is no obvious collection of great art, no gallery to compare to say, the Uffizi or the Prado; no orchestra to compare to the Berlin Philharmonic; no standout architecture or international symbol such as the Eiffel tower of St Peter’s in Rome; no accessible archaeology like the Parthenon.

Yet is a city of vitality and unique offerings, the Fado, the streetscape of the Baixa, probably the contemporary art I missed, and the delightful cobblestone streets. There is certainly something here acting as a magnet; the 300 busy bars in the Barrio Alto district with their crowds of young internationals are a testament to that.

For me, one marker of the great energy around is the progress Portugal is making as a nation and Lisbon is emblematic of that. Recent history saw Portugal lagging behind the rest of Europe. As recently as 1989 literacy was so poor that there were still newsreaders wandering the cities informing people of events. Then during the 1908 Global Financial Crisis Portugal was dealt another blow with the consequences more serve here than anywhere else except perhaps Greece.

Ironically this may have provided one plank in Portugal’s recovery as I have read some argue that disaffected Europeans, the French in particular, seek to relocate to more affordable cities, ones with strong a cultural history and an inventory of beautiful buildings ripe for restoration.
Lisbon’s position on the Tagus River near where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, close to unspoiled beaches, the popular holiday destination of the Algarve, the vineyards of the Douro Valley, and landscapes rich with magnificent old castles and villas, have made it (some have argued) irresistible for many.
Another plank may be that the constitution, after the long dictatorship was written as late as 1976 after the Carnation Revolution.

Much more significantly though the current socialist government with its anti austerity measures appears to be working. Portugal’s 2016 budget deficit of 2.1 % of gross domestic product will be the lowest since democracy was restored in 1974. Unemployment, which topped 17 % in 2013, was 6.8% in January 2019. The left government  has also introduced significant reform policies in a number of areas including corrections and drug law.

So life for the people of Lisbon is much improved. Any wonder there is a new lightness in the air, a lightness charming the visitor. Even some of the signage was no deterrent.




This more seemed more appropriate:DSC08238

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