Jul 182012
 


Split, Croatia

 

Soon after entering the warren of narrow streets and tiny alleys comprising the ancient, walled, old section of the Croatian town of Split, the glorious harmonies of a men’s chorus beckons us. Seeking the source, we mount a stairway adjacent to the elegant facade of the Cathedral of St. Duje leading to a high, bullet-shaped pantheon, open to the sky at its apex.

 

  Split, Croatia Damatian Chorus Cathedral of St. Duje

 

Split, Croatia

 

A chorus of eight, black-clad men stand in the small, acoustically profound space, serenading the gathered tourists with traditional, dalmatian music–a tight blend of magnificent, a cappella harmonies. Happening upon these wonderful voices in such ancient surrounding sends chills up my spine and tears to my eyes–so unexpected, so profoundly beautiful; buskers of the highest order. Who could begrudge them a generous donation while also purchasing their DVD to enjoy at home.

 

Split, Croatia Damatian Chorus

 

This is a miraculous introduction to the clean, bright, Adriatic town of Split, Croatia’s second-largest city.

Recent archaeological research indicates the Greeks founded a trading settlement here sometime in the 6th century BCE. Later, the Romans, the dominant power of the region, established control during the Illyrian Wars of 229-219 BCE.

At the beginning of the 3rd century CE, the emperor Diocletian had an enormous and opulent palace built to serve as his home after his retirement from politics. Becoming the first Roman emperor to voluntarily step down, Diocletian retired to then Spalatum in 305 CE. The palace now constitutes the old section and inner core of Split.

Following the slow decline of the Western Roman Empire, Spalatum became part of the Byzantine empire ruled from Constantinople, now Istanbul.

During Medieval times, the Venetian Republic, the Kingdom of Croatia, and the Kingdom of Hungary vied for control. In the 10th century, the influence of the slowly rising trading power of the Venetian Republic over the islands and coastal towns of the Adriatic gradually spread. It wasn’t until 1420, following a twenty-year civil war, when the Kingdom of Hungary lost control to Naples of what was then called by its Croat population, Spalatro. Venice subsequently took control of the town, buying it from the Neapolitans.

Venice ruled what they called Spalato for 377 years, losing control in 1797. Napoleon ruled it from 1806-1812 after which now Split, became part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Dalmatia until the empire’s dissolution following World War I.

It was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia until the Nazis invaded in 1941. Fascist Italy annexed Split a month later. The Fascists met heavy opposition from the Croat population and following the capitulation of Italy in September, 1943, the partisan brigades of Marshal Tito temporarily liberated the city only to be forced to retreat by the Nazis a few weeks later.

Split was finally liberated in October of 1944. It became the Socialist Republic of Croatia, a sovereign republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This was a boom time. Split became the largest passenger and military port in Yugoslavia. Investment poured in and industry, particularly shipbuilding, flourished.

In 1991, with the collapse of Yugoslavia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc, Croatia declared its independence and with Splits old section, the long-since urbanized interior of Diocletian’s palace, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city remains a major link to numerous Adriatic islands, the Apennine peninsula and Croatia’s interior.

 

Split, Croatia Harbor

 

Split, Croatia Harbor Cafe

 

Cafes set along the harbor and against the walls of Diocletian’s Palace

 

Split, Croatia Harbor

 

Split Old Town

 

A clock tower dominates the entrance to the ancient town.

 

Split, Croatia

 

Split, Croatia Graffiti Abstract

 

Split, Croatia

 

Split, Croatia Ethnographic Museum 18th Century Clothing

 

Traditional dress inside the Ethnographic Museum.

 

Split, Croatia Ethnographic Museum

 

Split, Croatia Cafe

 

Split, Croatia

 

The Cathedral of St. Duje and its adjacent square.

Split, Croatia Roman Artifacts

 

Split, Croatia

 

The Basement Halls Museum of Diocletian’s Palace.

 

Split, Croatia

 

Croatia’s greatest sculpture, Ivan Mestrovic’s statue of the Croatia Bishop Gregorius of Nin, Grgur Ninski in Croatian.

 

Split, Croatia Adriatic Coast Panorama

 

Panorama of the Croatian Adriatic coast south of Split.

 

Split, Croatia Adriatic Coast Panorama Dusk

 

Dusk along the mountainous, Croatian, Adriatic Coast between Split and Dubrovnik.

 

Copyright 2012 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

Jun 102012
 

 

 

Along the northeast coast of the Adriatic, wedged tightly between Italy’s elegant Trieste and the mountainous coast and islands of Croatia, lies a tiny sliver of Slovenia. The ancient town of Koper occupies this narrow shard providing otherwise land-locked Slovenia with its only access to the sea.

As Yolanda and I wander Koper’s walled old quarter, its ancient streets echo to the hoof-on-stone sounds of a team of horses clopping and sliding down the gentle incline of age-polished cobbles. Seeking protection within a doorway gives the colorful cart of tourists space to pass.

 

 

The town is clean and bright. Shuttered, lightly pastel houses and buildings rise only occasionally higher than two stories. Being a Sunday, few people other than tourists are about.

 

 

 

 

Finding ourselves quickly outside the walls of the old section, we encounter the modern side of Koper, again, low sleak buildings sloping gently to an azure harbor filled with boats. Only a very few boats belie the apparent modest incomes of this newly-formed country cloven from the former, communist Yugoslavia.

Wandering along the harbor on this gorgeous, clear, fall morning, a hive of activity surrounds several large tents. We’ve stumbled upon a local harvest fair. Booths inside the tents display local cheeses, olive oils, honeys, vinegars, vegetables and wines.

 

 

 

Proud farmers eagerly hand out samples hoping to entice purchases or simply to share their land’s bounty. A local mushroom-gatherers club displays numerous varieties as a fragrant batch is sautéed for sampling.

 

 

 

Emerging from this festival for the taste buds, the distant snow-covered mountains of Italy and Austria rise to the west of the deep blue Adriatic. A long, white line, miles away, appears very strange. Using my telephoto, the line resolves into a massive volumn of sails, thousands as it turns out. Trieste, Koper’s Italian neighbor, is holding their annual yacht race, the largest in the world. Over two thousand yachts participate each year!

 

 

More to follow on the amazing, ancient Croatian cities of Split and Dubrovnic.

Copyright 2012 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

 

 

Feb 242012
 

 

Leaving Lago Maggiore by train from Stresa, we headed to Verona via a change of trains in Milan’s sprawling central station. Located about midway between Milan and Venice, the history and architecture of Verona provided an intriguing reason to explore its ancient streets. Its city center has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have yet to be disappointed by spending time in UNESCO sites and will seek them out whenever possible.

Verona’s origins are as obscure as the origin of its name. It became a Roman colony in 89 BCE and later a full Roman city. From what I read, the foundations of the current city stand upon the virtually intact Roman city with the cellars of many houses and palazzos accessing Roman ruins.

Verona’s history through medieval and early renaissance times is the usual convolution of wars, ambition, plague and shifting alliances. Cangrande I gained power in 1308 and brought under his control Padua, Treviso and Vicenza. Being a patron of the arts, he gave protection to the great Italian poets Dante and Petrarch and the painter and architect Giotto.

Shakespeare used it as a setting in two of his plays, Two Gentlemen From Verona and of course, Romeo and Juliette.

The city came under Austrian power in 1508, was decimated by plague in the early 1600’s when 2/3’s of its population died. Verona was occupied by Napoleon in 1797 and bounced back and forth between Napoleon, Austria and other kingdoms, finally becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

Fascism brought a dark chapter to Verona’s history during World War II when many of its Jews were shipped off to Nazi concentration camps. Allied troops and anti-fascist elements were tortured and incarcerated within the city.

Today, Verona is a vibrant, colorful city, with beautifully preserved streets and architecture. It is nestled along the wide banks of the Adige river and lies close to lovely Lago Garda and the foothills of the Alps to the north.

The ancient Roman Arena built in 30 CE dominates the main piazza. We just missed the summer season of operas held when the arena becomes the beautiful settings for Verona’s major operatic festival. Still, there is much to see, do and experience. Because it is such and interesting and beautiful city, our two days in Verona were totally insufficient.

Wandering the streets of the old city, I found many interesting images. These photographs are some of the best I did on our trip.

 

Riding to work in the Piazza Bra at dawn.

A mix of architectural periods illustrates Verona’s over 2,000 year history.

Along the Adige.

The narrow, ancient streets of Verona old city are very pedestrian friendly. The shopping rivals Milan for luxurious and very expensive fashion.

Don’t you think this armoir would make a lovely addition to any bedroom room?

I’ve been playing with a technique that could convey some of the ancient feel within Verona. This one and the one below capture something more iconic.

Climbing the hill to Castell San Pietro.

Overlooking a part of Verona from the Castell San Pietro. A night-time, dusk or dawn view on a clear day would be beautiful.

Juliette’s balcony. Okay, it’s not the one they call her balcony. Then again, neither is the fraudulent balcony they perpetrate on the tourists. Not only was she a figment of Shakespeare’s brilliant imagination, but the eponymous balcony was added to the house in 1936, hundreds of years after she would have lived had she been real. You can also visit “Juliette’s Tomb”.

And finally, a Black and White HDR image of the Torre Lomberti just off the Piazza della Erbe, another of Verona’s icons.

Copyright 2012 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

Jan 132012
 

Nothing can be more iconic of Milan than her gorgeous Duomo especially seen just after dusk on a lovely Autumn evening.

 

I was very fortunate that one of my clients, the Consumer Electronics Association, CEA for short, brought me along to photograph their 2011 CEO Summit held this year in Stressa, Italy on the shore of Lago Maggiore in northwestern Italy. I’ve photographed the CEO Summits for a number of years but this was the first time outside the U.S..

 

The Northern Italian city of Milan is the natural arrival point for travel to the lakes along the Swiss border. Lake Maggiore, a half hour train ride from the city is the westernmost and lies somewhat parallel to perhaps more famous Lake Cumo. Having always wanted to visit Milan and it’s most famous of all Italian opera houses, La Scala, a few days there before my job were imperative. Milan has the reputation for being an industrial city. That might be true, but its credentials as a center and arbiter of fashion are unquestioned.

While strolling the streets of the fashionable city center, store windows of Italy’s most famous labels compete for the eye. And better, at least for me, is checking out the many beautiful women stylishly walking outside the restaurant while I partake of an early supper.

Art too, holds its claim. The architectural masterpieces of the Duomo and its 19th century neighbor, the Galleria Phillip Emanuel? are astounding side by side. The museums of the Sforza Palace contain treasures and masterworks from Milan’s history along with a trove of unique and beautiful musical instruments. An entire afternoon can be spent wandering among the poignant and majestic tombs of the Cementerio Maggiore. In my experience, only the monuments of Buenos Aires’ Recoleta can compete on this world-class stage of after-worldly opulence.

And then, there is one of the most famous paintings in the long, accomplished and magnificent history of Italian art, painted by perhaps Milan’s most famous adopted son on the wall of an un-prepossessing refectory attached to the luscious Chiesa Santa Maria delle Grazie, Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper.

Plus, there seems to be music every night. Major music. If the current offering at La Scala doesn’t appeal or if a decent seat can’t be had, concerts by Europe’s finest musicians and symphony orchestras abound.

And everywhere, Gellaterias entice with their delicious and imaginative Italian ice creams.

Time, very well spent.

 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

 

 

Diversity in the Piazza Duomo.

 

Lovely late afternoon light on the front facade of the Duomo.

 

Door panel detail-Milan's Duomo.

 

A chapel in one of the transcepts in the Duomo.

 

 

And why the obsession for showing off their dead Archbishops?

 

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

 

 

Words fail me.

 

Sforza Palace fortification and typical 19th century apartment building.

 

In the Sforza Palace.

 

The hall of armory.

 

A beautifully, crafted lute thingamajig in the musical instrument collection-Don't ask me how you play it.

 

Only three panels of the massive, electronic tone generator/computer used by Luciano Berio and others to create their experimental electronic music in the 1950′s. My Macbook Pro at maybe a thousandth the size of this behemoth does everything this baby could and infinitely more.

 

An Aussie performing in the courtyard of the Sforza Palace on a Hang, an instrument with an amazing, hypnotic sound very similar to a Jamaican steel drum.

 

Santa Maria delle Grazia.

 

In the Santa Maria dell Grazie we stumbled upon this visiting Russian orchestra and chorus rehearsing for that night's performance. Exceptional music making!

 

The streets of Milan are rife with the scourge of graffiti. Dogs pissing on fire hydrants as I like to say. Occasionally, something interesting can be found amidst the scrawls.

 

In the Cementerio Maggiore.

 

 

Melodrama is omnipresent.

 

 

From the "Great War".

 

Stacked niches 20-30 feet high in mauseleums both above and below ground went on for miles.

 

As the sun goes down on our final night along the streets of the Piazza Duomo.

 

 

Finally, leaving Milan through its iconic central train station.

 

Copyright 2011 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

 

 

Jul 032011
 

Descending the medieval lanes of Saint-Emilion, France.

 

The brilliant sunshine of a southern France spring plays across vast, rolling fields of venerable grape vines. Row upon row march up and over the undulating landscape of the Dordogne Valley with military precision. Where the land is flat, their perfectly straight files disappear into distant trees or perhaps one of the many, age-old Châteaus dotting the horizon and hilltops. In the distance, an ancient steeple among a cluster of stone buildings rises out of the vineyards denoting a village.

A typical village in the Dordogne Valley near Saint-Emilion.

Driving the two lane, back roads of northeastern Bordeaux is a journey into 18th century France. The landscape has changed little over the centuries-a few, widely dispersed towns, tiny villages set among vast battalions of bright, green vines, here and there islands of trees, and of course, the ubiquitous, elegant Châteaus.Market day in the town of Libourne on the way to Saint-Emilion.

A baker in his mobile boulangerie selling scrumptious breads on market day in Libourne.

Blossoming rose bushes adorn the ends of many rows. Besides providing a contrasting touch of color, they act as sentinels for disease and fungus, an early warning system telling the farmer of possible problems in his vineyard.

Occasional signs along the road announce various Châteaus, inviting the traveler to taste their wines, have dinner or spend the night. It is impressive to see signs for some of the most famous wines in the world. Narrow lanes between the vines lead to the elegant facades of Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac, Château Magdelaine, and Clos Fourtet, all members of the elite classification, Premiers Grands Crus Classés.

The ruins of an ancient church greets visitors as they approach Saint-Emilion.

The town of Saint-Émilion, the center of the world famous Appellation Saint-Émilion Controlee and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies now only a few kilometers away. The Bell Tower of its ancient, monolithic church and the buildings surrounding it give no indication as to the scope and beauty of the town. For that, you must stop and explore it on foot.

Entering a church through its age-worn portal unknowingly gives entry to the town. The cool, dark interior is lit by tall, stained-glass windows in the rear apse surrounding the chancel. Gregorian chant plays softly through hidden speakers. The effect is so beautiful and appropriate that it is a wonder more historic churches don’t take advantage of this simple method for dramatically enhancing their atmosphere.

A delicately columned cloister is accessed through a side door. From there, another door leads to the Saint-Émilion tourism office and through it to a small plaza surrounding the bell tower. Umbrellas shade the tables of two cafes and beyond them is a low wall. Spread beneath the wall is a panorama of tile-roofed, stone houses and cobbled lanes, a wonderful surprise.

Saint-Émilion is set within an enormous, natural amphitheater. Rows of grape vines mark the edge of town, disappearing into the distant horizon. At the foot of the sheer cliff lies a small, cafe-lined plaza. From this limestone cliff, the underground, Monolithic Church, the largest of its kind in France, was carved by generations of devoted Benedictine monks. Over 15,000 cubic yards of rock were quarried to create the huge interior spaces.

Narrow lanes, one so steep and slick a handrail is necessary, wind around and down, past stylish wine shops, to the plaza below. It seems as if the only businesses are wine shops, restaurants or macaroon stores, crunchy, multi-colored macaroons being another Saint-Émilion specialty.Establishment Martin is one of Saint-Emilion's premier wine shops. It sells over 90 different wines and will happily provide tastings.

The portal to the Monolithic Church with its iconic bell tower.

The massive doors to the Monolithic Church lie at the bottom of the cliff just off the plaza. Frequent tours explore the vast interior. Past the church, more wine stores provide tastings of the local vintages. Cocktail tables with bottles and glasses sit just outside the doors of the shops, allowing casual tastings of the regions full-bodied reds as you stroll.

A leisurely 10-15 minute walk brings you to the vines of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes abutting the town. From here, you can wander in all directions to your heart’s delight, toward wineries, châteaus and beyond.

The hills around Saint-Emilion.

A typical grave in the cemetery of village 1 km from Saint-Emilion.

Saint-Émilion is an architectural gem. Its timeless, medieval atmosphere transports you to a previous era. Here, you will find not only marvelous, southern French cuisine and exceptional wines, but also, a sense of quiet elegance and understated self-confidence that comes from centuries of culture and a world class reputation for excellence.

Copyright 2011 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

 

 

Jun 102011
 

Straight out of the past, a couple and their dog paddle past the ancient town of Guitres.

Ancient and pastoral, two words that provide context for this idyllic, gently rolling, forested, countryside of old vineyards, older farms and even older, tiny villages. This is the south of France. Ornate steeples of 11th and 12th century churches tower over the cramped, cobblestone streets and stone houses as they have, seemingly unchanged for a millennium.

A stone bridge spans a river, dense forest lining its banks, as young boys fish for the big ones we see swimming below. A couple in a small, wooden bateau passes under the bridge. The longhaired man stands at the stern, propelling the boat with its single oar. But for the tee shirts and shorts, it could be a scene from any time in the past 500 years.

L'Isle and the countryside around Guitres'.

Entering the town on foot, it appears dormant, the houses shuttered, the streets empty but for three, old men at an outdoor table down the block. Fortunately, the small, modern patisserie on the tiny square is open, allowing us to appease our appetites with fabulous French pastries and chocolates.

This is Guitres, an ancient town on the Isle River. The 11th century abbey, Notre Dame de Guitres, is world famous for its acoustics. Unfortunately, the concert season, with an a capella vocal ensemble, doesn’t begin for another two weeks. To hear unaccompanied voices singing Gregorian chant and Renaissance vocal music in the sparse darkness and vaulted setting of Guitres’ church would be close to heaven.

The Abbey of Notre Dame in Guitres

A typical village cemetary with its ancient church in a tiny village near Guitres'.

Our rented car gives us flexibility to explore. With a sudden change to blustery weather, a day in the city of Bordeaux seems appropriate. The old city center is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our hosts at the farm/b&b recommend a park and ride north of the city that, for three Euros, provides parking and tram tickets. Such a deal!

The wide, muddy Garonne River splits the city and provides easy access to the sea. Bordeaux has been an important port for centuries-France’s primary debarkation point for early trade with the America’s. Vast quantities of wine were shipped from here. Enormous fortunes were made, not just from wine, but sadly slaves as well.

One of Bordeaux's stylish and efficient trams.

Along the Quai de la Douane and the Garonne River.

Departing the tram at the Stalingrad stop allows us to walk across the Pont de Pierre, the bridge spanning the river, for the full impact of Bordeaux’s elegant, centuries-old riverfront. Grand, 18th century, four-story buildings line the river for miles. Only the steeples of churches and cathedrals punctuate this magnificent façade as they rise above the warren of streets and alleys behind the riverfront.

One of the gates into the old city in Bordeaux.

The Cathédrale St André at the end of the Rue Vital-Carles in Bordeaux old city.

The interior of Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeau

Wandering the busy, stately streets, we find the elegant flying buttresses of the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux and turn left to visit the Musée d’Aquitaine to learn something of the history of the region. The museum is a wealth of historical information. With evidence of ancestral human occupation reaching back as far as a staggering 700,000 years, the archeological record is rich. Several caves in the region yielded Neanderthal artifacts dating back 30,000 years while other caves, including the famous one at Lascaux, contain Paleolithic paintings estimated at over 17,000 years old.

Paleo-lithic tools at least 30,000 year old.

Here again, Rome left its impressive mark. The museum’s collection reflects this past with much Roman sculpture, glass and mosaics. Turbulent centuries followed the slow collapse of the empire.

A bronze, Roman Hercules.

Bordeaux didn’t begin to come into its own until the middle ages when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henri Plantagenet who shortly thereafter became King Henry II of England. The many Romanesque churches of the city are clear evidence of this growth. Bordeaux’s golden age though, came with the 18th century when it became the focus of commerce with the New World.

A beautiful, marble bust of some 18th century archbishop. Such elegant craftsmanship.

Sadly, Bordeaux profited greatly from the slave trade. It was a hub of the triangular trade with the new world. This African carving is festooned with actual chains used in the despicable trade.

Leaving the museum, we find the old city center and stroll through the alleys and pedestrian streets checking out the enticing patisseries and chocolateries. In one, you could get high just breathing the chocolate fumes!

Another of the gates to the old city which is now entirely a pedestrian area.

I hear clapping and cheering coming from an extremely, crowded, corner store and go to investigate. It’s the opening day of Bordeaux’s first Apple Store!

Apple's grand opening in Bordeaux.

Outside the Musee' de Beaux Arts.

Lord knows why they were dressed like this.

The altar area of the Notre Dame de Bordeaux.

Continuing our stroll, we find broad, tree-lined avenues with luxurious homes built by 18th century wine merchants. The avenues open to the riverfront quay-a grand, stately promenade of reflecting pools, gardens and elegant buildings.

 

Homes of the wealthy leading to the Grand Theater of Bordeaux.

Toward late afternoon, the streets got really busy!

The wonderful reflection pool in front of the Place de la Bourse along the Garonne.

Ending our day, the quay leads us back to the tram and eventually our car for the forty-minute drive through the ancient villages, vineyards and quiet country roads to the farm/b&b where we are staying.

Copyright 2011 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

 

 

May 262011
 

Lisbon's Moorish inspired Campo Pequeno bullring,

Admittedly, six nights is dismally inadequate to explore Portugal. Here you have a country whose archeological history goes back some 30,000 years, a lush, varied, sun-drenched land settled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors-long-ago ancestors of the current Portuguese people. A month, really, should be a minimum, but for various reasons, Yolanda and I were limited to this short time before traveling in southern France.

There is an entire western and southern Atlantic coastline to explore, replete with isolated beaches, magnificent cliffs and ancient, languid towns. There are mountain ranges rising to the east with the Spanish border only 175 miles from the western coast. More than anything though, there is the Portuguese cultural heritage, a unique and sometimes fantastic conglomeration of Roman, Moorish, Spanish, English and Catholic influences that has survived and at times, thrived since the expulsion of Islam in the 13th century.

The Alfama

Lisbon is a bustling, cosmopolitan, capitol city. From its broad, tree-lined avenues, punctuated by monumental monuments to Portugal’s heroes and history, to the tiny, twisting, cobbled lanes of hilly Alfama, Lisbon is a delight to explore. Buy a four Euro day pass for its metro, busses and anachronistically, iconic trams and explore to your heart’s content.

Riding Tram 28 along the narrow street of the Alfama.

Traditionally tiled building are common place in Lisbon. Here, an elderly couple keep an eye watch the comings and goings of their Alfama neighborhood.

Hop aboard Tram 28 for several hours of rattling up and down the hills of Alfama and the Barrio Alto. In the narrow street the tram misses by inches parked cars, people and the corners of houses. You can hop on and off to take in the magnificent viewpoints, eat at a street side café, experience the calm of exquisite centuries-old churches or explore the ancient castle sitting atop Alfama. Here, miradouros amidst a park-like setting of stone walls and parapets offer panoramic vistas of the city below.

 

The Tejos estuary from one of the miradouros in the Alfama.

From Lisbon’s vast Tejos River estuary, Portuguese 15th and 16th century explorers like Vasco de Gama embarked on their journeys of discovery. Facing what for them was the complete unknown, they opened the west and east coasts of Africa, the Straits of Hormuz, India, Ceylon, the spice islands of Indonesia and Malaysia as well as China and Japan. This brought European commerce and sometimes Portuguese domination to the regions.

The gateway to Lisbon's waterfront.

The plato do dia is an excellent value for dinner at the sidewalk cafes of Rossio.

At the same time, other Portuguese sailors happened upon the east coast of South America. They determined it was actually a vast continent rather than just islands as Columbus thought and established the huge holding that would eventually become Brazil.

The unique portal to the Rossio train station.

The ornate tower of Sintra's town hall.

For Yolanda and I though, the attraction of big cities pales to that of small towns, especially towns with an architectural heritage so interesting and fantastic as that of Sintra. Sintra is a short half-hour train ride from Lisbon’s centrally located Rossio train station. At less than 4 Euros round trip, the train is a bargain and makes an easy day trip. But with so much to experience an overnight, even two nights, is a must.

A sculpture exhibition adorns the road from the train station to the historic center of Sintra. The chimneys of the royal palace are in the background.

In the historic center of Sintra.

The small, historical center of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a romance of hills, narrow, cobbled lanes, lush vegetation and art. Tiny cafes serving the freshest seafood are tucked into its many corners. The ancient, stone, walls and towers of a Moorish castle and the fantastic palace of Portugal’s 19th century monarchs, Palacio de Pena, loom on hilltops high above the town. Parks, trails and roads rise into the verdant hills above the village. The forest reminds me very much of coastal Oregon.

The Quinta da Regaliera.

For centuries, Sintra has been a summer retreat for Royalty and the wealthy. Incredible palaces and mansions, some now hotels, peak through the dense foliage of the hillsides. Yolanda and I spend one amazing afternoon exploring perhaps the most fantastical, the Quinta da  Regaliera. Luigi Manini, a well-known Italian architect and opera set designer for his wealthy patron, Carvalho Monteiro, designed it around the turn of the 19th century. Manini devoted fourteen years to creating a mythical landscape out of the many acres of wooded hillside.

The Entry.

The entry to Leda's Cave.

Paths wander throughout forest. Surprises lurk around every; fountains, caves, waterfalls, and towered, stone fortresses. We descend the circular stair set into the wall of the Initiatic Well eighty-eight feet to a mosaic floor. Dark caverns lead in various directions that eventually open onto other incredible scenes. I can imagine the pseudo-mystical ceremonies played out by torchlight operatically staged for the guest’s benefit.

The eighty-eight foot deep Initiatic Well.

One exit from the tunnels leading from the Initiatic Well.

Another exit from the Initiatic Well.

Ponds, aquariums and elegant fountains are set amidst an arboretum type landscape. Statued terraces and a lovely chapel are staged among the greenery. Labyrinthine grottos twist their way through the rocks.

The Quinta da Regaleira is a masterwork of fantastic landscape and architectural design.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com