What I Learned About Some Places In Southern Europe (A Few "Lesser Known and Obscure" Facts)
Bottom line: Travel provides opportunity to open one's eyes to new and different ways of life.
When I travel, I always learn new things, some surprising. That's why I relish it, even when confronted with travel delays, exposure to disease, and theft of property. But I won't dwell on the negatives my wife and I encountered during our travel to parts of southern Europe recently.
Instead, I'll share a few things I didn't know before our trip, just to wet your wanderlust whistle, if nothing else.
1) Porto, Portugal - Located near the confluence of the Douro River and the Atlantic Ocean, Porto occupies the northern bank of the river, while Vila Nova de Gaia, or Porto Gaia, occupies the southern bank. And, as the Douro River Valley has been a major wine producing area for some centuries, Porto Gaia has been the hub for Portuguguese wine production and distribution.
After the British signed the Treaty of Windsor with Portugal in 1386, they imported Portuguese wine with enthusiasm, particularly as their wine source from the France had been stymied by hostilities. In addition, per the advantageous treaty terms, the British invested heavily in Portugal's vinification industry, such as the vineyards and processing facilities in Porto Gaia.
In the late 1600s CE, port wine was invented by adding a "grape brandy" to the wine, which helped preserve the product during shipping. Guess where it's name came from.
FYI, port wine isn't a favorite of mine.
No, that’s not a silhouette of Zorro! I'm posing next to the Sandeman wine logo.
2) Portugal - The combination of the two names Porto and Gaia provided Portugal it's name (Porto + Gaia). Pronounce those quickly and you may see how that happened, particularly when foreigners got involved.
A panoramic view at sunset of Porto (center), flanked by portions Porto Gaia on each side.
3) Lisbon, Portugal - The Portuguese language is difficult to learn, particularly for school children. In Portuguese, Lisbon is spelled Lisboa, and the "i" is pronounced more like a long "e," while the "s" is pronounced as "sh." Try pronouncing Cascais using those two rules!
The Portuguese love small custard tarts or cream pastries, which they call pasteis de nata. Delicious, their cream pastries are consumed in huge quantities by the population. First made about three hundred years ago in a monastery west of Lisbon, egg yolks are a prime ingredient. Be advised, sugar, in a copious amount, is another.
Portuguese pasteis de nata.
Photo Credit: pexels-Magda Ehlers
But, what to do with all that leftover albumen? Egg whites have been used as a binding agent in a variety of ways, including in artists' paints and as a starch to stiffen collars and cuffs.
The Portuguese refer to the conquest of the Americas as "the Age of Discovery." I'll say no more about that.
A Lisbon monument to the explorers during the Age of Discovery.
5) Barcelona, Spain - Antoni Gaudi, an architect, designed numerous buildings in Barcelona in the late 19th century and early 20th. His artist architectural designs demonstrate considerable innovation, even by today standards. However, his name did not generate the term "gaudy," though is commonly associated with the term as a result of his creations.
In 1884 Gaudi worked on redesigning the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona's giant basilica, which is still under construction!
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain. Note the signs of construction.
6) Madrid, Spain - Restaurant Botin, founded 1725 CE, holds the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest established restaurant in the world. The restaurant's forte is suckling pig.
Janet anticipates eating suckling pig.
Janet and I pose in front of Restaurant Botin.
Not the original building, I suspect!
Janet and I preferred the impressionist works at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum to the historic religious-oriented works in the Prado Museum.
Claude Monet, The Thaw at Vetbeuil, 1880.
7) Marseilles, France - The oldest city in France has retained relative independence since founded over twenty-five hundred years ago, including during Roman and Nazi German occupations.
Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, atop the hill, overlooks Marseille.
8) Monaco - This principality constitutes the second smallest country in Europe, and covers 499 acres or .75 square miles.
Citizens of Monaco, Monegasques, are forbidden to gamble in the casinos, though can enter one, if they work there.
Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco, made more
famous by the James Bond movie, Casino Royale.
9) Pisa, Italy - The Campanile, aka bell tower or Leaning Tower of Pisa, has companion buildings. One, known as the Baptistery, also leans. There appears no danger of either toppling anytime soon, however.
The Baptistery (foreground) and Campanile (background).
10) Pompeii, Italy - The inhabitants, who hadn't already left when the heavy blanket of ash fell during the Vesuvius eruption of 79 CE, were suffocated and burned by a pyroclastic flow, a cloud of hot, noxious gas. Once the pyroclastic flow approached from Vesuvius, those remaining in Pompeii had insufficient time to outrun it, even if they’d seen it coming. What we see today of the victims--parts of Pompeii remain unexcavated for future archeologists--are the shapes of plaster casts of the hollows created by their bodies in the ash layer that covered them.
This victim has been identified as a pregnant female of about twenty years old.
11) Rome, Italy - Ancient Romans consumed parrots and flamingos, among other things, and ate while reclining. Perhaps, that's why they purged so much?
It's virtually impossible to look around the city of Rome without seeing a religious structure, such as a Roman temple or Catholic basilica.
Look closely, you’re bound to see a church or temple somewhere.
Vatican City, confined within the city of Rome, comprises the smallest country in Europe at 109 acres or .19 square miles.
Long lines dissuaded us from entering the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basillica.
12) The Straight of Messina, Italy – A swimmer could easily cross this gap if not for the strong currents, as it is only 1.9 miles wide. Would you guess that by examining a map?
Italian mainland (left) and Sardinia (right) separated by the Strait of Messina.
13) Corfu, Greece - The Byzantine Paleokastritsa Monastery, established in the 1220's CE and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, sits aside cliffs along a rugged coastline and overlooking clear, azure waters.
A view of the Mediterranean Sea, only steps away from the Paleokastritsa Monastery.
14) Korcula, Croatia - Some believe Marco Polo was born here, though others believe he was born in Venice. Note that Venice ruled Korcula at that time, and Marco Polo lived in Venice for a while, and so those two facts likely have confounded the issue.
Korcula, Croatia, a small, yet beautiful Adriatic Sea town.
The Adriatic Sea for all practical purposes is an extension of the Mediterranean Sea, but who’s quibbling?
15) Dubrovnik, Croatia - The city's history dates back about fourteen hundred years. The relatively unspoiled and rugged Dalmatian coastline near Dubrovnik meets pristine waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Dubrovnik, Croatia, with its old walled city (left) dating back to the Middle Ages.
16) Venice, Italy - The waters surrounding Venice are quite murky, partly due, I suspect, to the Venetian toilets that flush directly into it! So, I don't recommend swimming there.
The iconic view of St. Mark's Square, Venice, from the water.
Tourists swarmed the streets and popular sites of Venice like ants at a picnic. Venice is implementing a tourist surcharge starting January, 2023, as a result of the increased number of visitors.
Tourists on an adjacent bridge as seen from the Bridge of Sighs near St. Mark's Square.
A last view of Venice from the air.
My wife and I had a worthwhile adventure, to say the least.
The world awaits. Go forth on your own adventures and walk in beauty.