Day 20 – Salamanca (University)

The morning started out on the right foot with churros con chocolate.  Churros are deep fried dough, almost donut-like, that one dips in a mug of chocolate…mmmm.  With a full stomach and higher cholesterol, we were off to tour Salamanca University.  The room that stands out to me the most is the library.  We could only peek in the doorway, but it was still amazing and beautiful.  Books & globes were at eye level and a beautifully painted ceiling above. I doubt that I would get any studying done in that library.  I would just spend my time daydreaming and looking around. Also worth noting were the hallway ceilings decorated with Moorish designs.  As a geometry teacher, this style is an absolute delight!  Their style was focused on repetitive shapes and designs with gorgeous colors, which will be so much more interesting for my students to study.

Our evening paseo proved to be a long walk on the look-out for more geometric shapes.  We started in the University garden then continued to walk around the city.  We found fountains, parks and churches along the way.  Ultimately we ended back at Plaza Mayor as we needed to document this space in the daylight.  I’m really excited for my students to work with the photos, videos, and model in the 2D and 3D units!

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Day 19 – Salamanca (Estaban and Roman Bridge)

The Monastery Estaban, another beautiful building!  This has another gorgeous cloister, with great geometric shapes, gentle breezes and birds chirping – a few of my favorite things!  The church in this monastery was massive and had a glimmering gold altar. I continue to be taken aback by the size of these buildings! And not only one, there are several.  It’s unreal.  There was a large collection of maps drawn in the 1500’s and 1600’s.  The maps are intricate and beautifully decorated.  Similar to Sevilla, we were not allowed to photograph in that area and they didn’t have any books that contained these images. I really enjoyed looking at these maps, but left a bit disappointed that I would have nothing to share with my students.

In the evening we hiked down the hillside to the Roman Bridge.  It is a pedestrian-only bridge so we had could wander without worrying.  We crossed the bridge then went down below to take a closer look.  It is strange walking on a bridge that is so old and so many feet have passed over.  This simple bridge will be a great contrast for my students to the bridges in Porto.

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Day 18 – Salamanca (Old &New Cathedral)

With a few days to spend in Salamanca we slowed our pace and stopped to smell more of the roses. We spent the morning at the new cathedral and gardens, then the evening at the old cathedral and a train ride. Both cathedrals are massive and beautiful. I’m still taken aback each time I walk up to one of these cathedrals – so big and so much detail!  Wow!  We stumbled upon a lovely garden with grape vines, a wishing well, fragrant trees, trickling fountains, a view of the city, and a gentle breeze to cool us. It was perfect place to wander outside in the shade (the sun in brutal). Post siesta we made our way back to the cathedrals, which are attached. This time we entered the old cathedral, also massive and beautiful.  This cathedral had a gorgeous and elaborate altar piece with 52 paintings telling the story of Jesus’ life.

At this point we had viewed three of the major sites in Salamanca but didn’t have a feel for the city yet.  To take care of this we boarded a motorized mini-train that gave a guided tour of the city.  Due to the combination of super bumpy roads and Spanish only explanations, the train ride received mixed reviews.  It did help us prioritize what else we wanted to see and helped orient us a little more.

Our day had started with a run along the river and ended on a chair in Plaza Mayor.  We tried a restaurant down a side street for tapas then went back into the plaza for ice cream and to watch the world go by.

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Day 17 – Salamanca (Plaza Mayor)

Planes, trains, and automobiles – we were off to Salamanca.  We arrived on an extremely hot day when everyone in their right mind was hiding away.  We rolled our suitcases and dripped with sweat as we made our way to our hotel.  The importance of a siesta was again reinforced.  We rested and studied our maps until the heat broke around 7.  Then we were out the door to get a feel of the city.

A main sight in Salamanca is its Plaza Mayor.  I have made it around to a number of plazas at this point, and Plaza Mayor quickly became my favorite.  We slowly walked around the Plaza appreciating the statues of famous Castilians, the town hall, the grand clock, the square niches and colonnades. With a large open space in the middle, it was easy to imagine when bullfights were held in the square (through 1893).  The plaza has always been, and is still, a place for the people to chat, eat, and watch the world go by.  As the sun began to set people poured into the plaza, the tables began to fill and a feeling of delight came over me. Being a part of this nightly ritual was one of the highlights of my trip so far.  There were two lovely surprises. Since it was a Wednesday night, I did not expect to hear any music in the plaza. I was very happy to be mistaken. There was a group of men singing, playing stringed instruments, and dressed in velvet pants, black capes and leggings. ‘Tuna music’ was a tradition from the 1400s – 1700s for the poor students to play and sing in the plaza to earn money for their education.  The music is a little hard to describe…there were songs that reminded me of waltzes and jigs and others folk songs to which all the Spaniards sang along.  I sat with a smile on my face, enjoying the gentle breeze and the lively music, when the second surprise occurred.  When it became dusk they turned on the lights around the plaza and everyone cheered!  You may think I’m overreacting, but it was beautiful!  The whole plaza glowed in a golden-tone adding magic to the air.  I already love Salamanca!

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Day 16 – Porto

On my last morning in Porto I was off to a boat tour of the six Porto bridges. I searched for an in depth tour and this boat tour was the best to be found.  We cruised up the Douro River, then back down towards the ocean.  Of the six bridges in Porto, two bear striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  It was not surprising to find that one of the bridges was designed by Eiffel himself, and the other by his protégé.  I was able to take wonderful photographs and video from numerous vantage points to use with the students.  Both of these bridges have triangles, rectangles, trapezoids, and rectangular prisms that we will be able to pick apart for calculations.  Unfortunately the informational piece of the tour was very general and not interactive.  A positive point is that the tour was given in several languages and will be great for my students to listen to as we view the recordings of the bridges.

The rest of the day was spent in the more mundane aspects of traveling as we were will be back in Spain tomorrow.

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Day 15 – Porto

Today’s exploration of Porto focused on the Se Cathedral.  It is a formidable structure overlooking the city.  The outside and main cathedral area provided more examples of columns that will work well in my curriculum.  Yet what made this cathedral stand out from others were the lovely cloisters.  Along the walls of the cloister are beautiful blue and white painted tiles.  This type of tile is common in Portugal and this cloister houses some of the highest quality of tiles – gorgeous! Within the cloister was a square surrounded by arches and columns and other geometric shapes. A great geometric example, plus a peaceful atmosphere…wonderful!

The Se Cathedral took most of our time today, yet there were a couple other highlights. We visited the Carmelitas Church, which is a beautiful example of Baroque design.  We also came upon a bookstore with an amazing staircase and woodwork, the Livaria Lello.  I love, love, love bookstores, so this was a wonderful treat!

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Day 14 – Coimbra & Porto

It was a quick morning in Coimbra.  A run by the river, breakfast and pastries and we were off to the train station.  Coimbra was a delightful little city with such welcoming people.  I was taken aback by how open, friendly and helpful people were during our stay.  If I ever return to Portugal, I will make a stop here again.  I think it would be a perfect environment to learn the language.

My first impression of Porto – hills, very steep hills.  I guess this has been the case in the other Portuguese cities, but the moment we stepped out of the train station we were going up. And up. And up.  We arrived in the early afternoon, regrouped, and we were out the door.  We first walked up to the Torre dos Clegico, a church and tower, just in time for a tour before it closed.  We climbed to the top of the tower for a breath-taking view of the city.  In the church was a unique altar with a series of steps in the center.  Rick Steves’ described it as a tiered wedding cake.  Geometrically speaking it was like a stack of rectangular prisms with each one about 2/3 the size of the one below.  This type of altar piece was first used in Portugal and is now strongly represented in Brazil. I will be able to work this into the 3D unit with a strong connection to my Brazilian students.

Our second stop was at the Palacio da Bolsa just in time for the last tour of the day.  It used to act as the location of the Portugal stock exchange but now is used as the ministry of culture (I need to double check that).  It was built to impress investors from other countries, so it is grandiose and elaborately decorated. We went on a guided tour there, but unfortunately were not allowed to take any photos. Our evening ended with a leisurely walk along the Douro River in an area called the Riberia. It was a lovely way to end a lovely day.

Side note – These photos are on my other camera, which I can’t connect to the computer at this time.  Check in later.

Day 13 – Coimbra

I found out quickly that Coimbra is an easy city to enjoy.  It is small and manageable, plus the people are friendly and helpful. My main objective was to visit Coimbra University, the oldest and most prestigious university in Portugal.  On the way I found a hidden geometric treasure. On the map it was merely labeled as a fountain. Since I’m a fan of fountains, I made sure I walked by.  The structure was small, hidden between other buildings. I instantly knew this would be perfect for the students to work with during the 3-D unit.  It had pure forms of cylinders, prisms and cones, lovely for surface area formulas.  Plus with the fountains in the middle and along the sides it would be great for calculating volume. Don and I spent a long time in this area taking measurements, videos and photos. Another great find that I stumbled upon!

We then hiked up a very large hill to search for the university. We first found an enormous cathedral with a constant flow of brides and grooms.  We continued on to look for a view of the city but instead found a museum that looked interesting. It was a two story structure the Roman’s had built in this extremely steep area to provide a flat area for a meeting place.  It was really amazing to walk through it and imagine how it had been used so long ago.

From here we finally made it to the Coimbra University, the oldest and most prestigious in Portugal.  We toured the chapel, library, and other meeting rooms.  I was especially impressed by the library.  It was beautifully decorated and the books were so old!  They only open the doors every 10 minutes, which keeps the humidity level low and protects the aging books.

After a hike back down to the rest of the town and eating a local specialty for lunch, goat stew (yum!), it was time for a break.  Later that evening we went out to see a Fado performance. Fado is the traditional music of Portugal. As our singer that night put it, ‘Fado is sad music, sung by happy people.’ It usually consists of a few string instruments including the Portuguese guitar, and one or two singers.  We lucked out because our singer not only had an amazing voice, but he also explained the style of music and meaning of each song.  He sat with us during the intermission and we chatted for quite a while.  He talked about his love for Portugal and his deep sadness about their economic difficulties.  He was so warm and open, a joy to talk to.

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Day 12 – Lisbon (National Pantheon)

After yesterday’s loooong day of hiking up and down a mountain, my legs were very sore.   However there were still things on our Lisbon to do list and we would be heading out this afternoon.  I couldn’t handle another steep climb, so we hailed a taxi for a short but very steep route up to the Alfama neighborhood.  We briefly checked out the Sao Jorge castle and the lovely views of Lisbon.  In the distance we saw a giant dome and tried to find it on our map.  It was not part of our walking tour, but we made our way towards it out of curiosity.  We came up the hill and it towered over us – Portugal’s National Pantheon. Walking inside I was taken aback by a wonderful geometric surprise! All of the details along the floor, walls and ceilings were geometric shapes.  I was able to collect photos and videos from 4 different levels as I climbed the stairs to the top of the dome.  In comparison to many of the elaborate buildings I have visited over the last couple weeks, this was a nice contrast.  It was a very peaceful place to visit with simple but beautiful designs and decorations.  It will be a wonderful resource for the units on lines, two-dimensional shapes, and composite figures.

Our time in Lisbon drew to a close with a walk to the Commercial Plaza by the water and a quick view of the Elevador of San Justa, a very tall and beautiful structure.  Lisbon was a great beginning to my exploration of Lisbon.  The next two cities are going to add a smaller city perspective with old universities and interesting bridges.  To Coimbra I go!

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Day 11 – Sintra (outside of Lisbon)

If there is a place of magic and wonder, I would say it’s Sintra.  Today was a day of nail biting heights and enchanting forests.  I have experienced similar sensations at other places yet this was without rollercoasters or fabricated princesses.  We climbed through Liberadade Park, up ladder-like alleyways, along cobblestone streets, on stone switchbacks up the side of a mountain until we reached the walls of the Moorish Castle.  We continued to climb to the top and along the castle walls into lookouts.  I’ll admit I was a nervous wreck.  The combination of intense winds, ancient boulders, cliff walls and the children running around made my heart race and hands tremble.  Nonetheless, I hiked the entire perimeter of the walls, identified other castles in the distance and occasionally nagged Don to be more careful.

The Moorish Castle ruins were an intense hike, yet we looked further up in to the distance and saw our next destination.  We backtracked down the mountain to change paths and hiked to the Pena Palace.  Chloe had said that the Plaza de Espana (Sevilla) was just like Disneyworld, yet I think this palace may give it a run for its money.  A strange and elaborate combination of styles reminded me of a child’s crayon drawing of their ideal palace.  Be sure to look at the pictures below.  I was in disbelief for most of the tour.  In the guide-book it was described as a casserole of styles, with a different combination around each corner…agreed!

Tired legs, yes.  Sun burn, a bit. Stubborn, always.  We bypassed the bus heading down the mountain and returned the way we came.  When we were in a round tower on the Moorish Castle Don pointed out a building below that he wanted to visit.  Quinta da Regaleira was our last stop in Sintra, and by far the most magical.  Everything on the grounds (main house, interior carvings, furniture, gardens, hidden caves) were designed by the architect and artist Luigi Manini had worked tirelessly to create a pure example of this style.  Don and I both have come to love Manueline architecture and design so I felt like a kid in a candy shop!  There was a main house, a chapel, a greenhouse, gardens, pools, fountains, sculptures, waterfalls, wells, and caves.  The caves are not advertised upon entry and not easy to find.  We entered by jumping stone to stone across a basin below a waterfall.  From there we walked behind the waterfall and Don used his iPhone flashlight to allow us to move through the tunnels.  There was a labyrinth below ground that we explored.  We came upon the base of 2 different wells…yes just like Goonies.

Inside the main house was an exhibition featuring the architectural plans, floor and ceiling layouts and detailed drawings used to design this magical place. The giddiness that I felt in the caves was surpassed by teacher giddiness.  This is exactly what I’ve been searching for without avail in the bookstores and gift shops after each place.  One of the workers told us that they sold a book in their shop with all of these sketches and photos of the grounds.  We made our way to the shop, which had closed for the day.  I probably resembled a dog that was kicked.  Don asked the workers for other ways we could find the book.  Is it sold elsewhere? No. Is it online? No. Do you ship? No. Since we were leaving the next morning for Coimbra, this was our only chance.  Another worker overheard and opened the store for us.  I am so excited about the book!  It has all the sketches and blueprints for the grounds, as well as other places he designed.  A big score for lesson planning!

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