Monsanto

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In case you didn't realize it, you can click on the pictures for a bigger images.

Wow, what a busy day! I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, probably because I was a little hyped about the trip. Luis showed up to pick Professor Doty and I at 8:30am and we got on the road pretty quickly. After about two and a half hours on the road we were able to see the Penela Castle.

We stopped at Ponte Sobre o Ria Zézere (Bridge over the Zézere River). Here are two pictures, the first looking downriver, and the second looking upriver. In the picture on the right, you can see a dam that provides hydro power to nearby parts of Portugal. Most of the developed areas in Portugal are along the coast, so we didn't see too many populated areas. This would be a nice place to build a home. Fruits and vegetables from all climates seem to grow here, from cold weather to tropical varieties.
On the right you can see the old bridge, which actually looks like it might have originally been built by the Romans, then repaired and maintained since then. You can get a bit of an idea of the long path needed to get down into the valley, then back up. Trust me, it's a long trip.

We decided to stop and smell the flowers, and guess who decided to pick some for that special someone back home? After some explanation and promises of better flowers later, we got him back in the car and continued on our way.
Soon after our break we caught our first glimpse of the castle at Monsanto. It's not a great image, but we were eager to get started on our explorations so I just took the picture through the car window. It turns out that Luis had never been here either so this was bound to be a new adventure for all three of us.


We arrived in Monsanto about 20 minutes later. By the way, Monsanto is a small town built on the mountain, mostly out of granite. It was voted Portugal's most typical village in 1938. The fort was built in the 13th century to defend against invasion from the east. I can honestly say I wouldn't want to attempt to attack this fort.
We drove up into the village as far as we could before we realized that if we kept going we may not be able to get back out. As it was, the streets were too small for us to get out of the car easily. In the picture to the left, you can see the part of the street that finally stopped us. There's a little room to the left (off the edge of the picture) where we backed the car into a small opening. We got our water and started the trek up to the castle.

Alright, so we didn't go straight to the top. I kept sneaking into the little crevices along the path and finding some amazing views. We stopped at one point to let Luis take a picture of us. You can see some of the village in the background, and the rocks on the right side of the picture are the same ones as the picture with the house built into it.

A few times along the path I had to move some rocks out of the way so that we could get through. As you can see, I didn't get much help. My two 'friends' sat back and took pictures while I did all the hard work.

A couple of the rock formations were pretty cool. I imagine that these could have been areas where invading armies could be stopped by some of these as they 'accidentally' fell from their precarious positions.


The picture on the upper left is pretty cool (much cooler in person though). That rock in the background doesn't look too stable, and when I got closer it looked like it was propped up there by smaller rocks. Pull those out, and . . . . bye bye invaders.

You can see for a miles, I mean kilometers, from up there. On the left is a good picture of the view back into Portugal from one of the inner walls. If you look really carefully at the center of the image, there's a little chapel down there.

I'm standing on the innermost wall of the fortress and looking roughly to the south in this image. As you can see, these guys were no slackers. They cut parts of the walls out of the solid granite, and built the rest to fill in the gaps. The round thing in the middle looks a little like a well from here, but apparently they are common in these old fortresses. There is a connecting tunnel at the bottom that goes outside under the walls.
Here's a great shot looking east into Spain, or at least that's what Luis tells me. I never did see the signs saying "THIS IS SPAIN" but he assured me that Spain was just over those mountains. At the bottom right of the image, there's another little chapel.

The entrance to this inner part of the fort was pretty interesting. Not only is there the winding path leading to it, but it's a pretty confining space. The walls around the entrance are lined with archer slits, so just getting there would be hard. You just barely see the large stone in the upper left corner of the image. Essentially all of this combines to make this one tough fort to take by force.

Here's the king of the mountain getting ready for his closeup. The white marker is a geodesic marker. It marks an absolute referencs coordinate on the planet. We didn't see the actual longitude and latitude of the marker, even though we looked for a little while. I guess if you've come looking for this one you should already know which one it is.

On the way back I sighted on Professor Doty through one of the archer slits. I actually tried to get Luis in the picture too, but I guess he was out of range. I'm still impressed with the number of people living up here in and on the mountain. This is olive country, though, and in several of the previous pictures you can see the olive groves.
To the right is one of the local homes. You can see how they just put in some stone and mortar to fill the gaps between the rocks. As hot as it was outside, the insides of these places stayed cool.
We made it back down to the car and were faced with a new dilemma: How do we get the car out? I only had a chance to take this one picture. After that I was too busy telling Luis how little room he had between the car and the wall. He impressed me with how well he knew the limits of his car. When he was close, we almost broke down and just pushed the tail-end around, but
he insisted he could make it. He got out with about an inch on my side, and not much more on the other side.

By the time we made it down to the center of town we were famished, so while I hung out at the local post office (left), Professor Doty took my picture and Luis went to find out what type of food they had at the only restaurant in the area. There's a picture of the restaurant on the right, complete with one of the locals giving us that 'silly tourists' laugh. They had two specials, Arroz de Polvo (Octopus with Rice) and Caldera Cavritto (Goat Stew), which didn't sound bad so we went in. Professor Doty and I ordered the Goat Stew
because we were pretty far inland and weren't conviced the octos would be fresh. The food
was quite good. We also tried some of the local cheese made from goat milk, which was the strongest cheese I've had here. Most of the cheeses here are too mild for my tastes, but this one was just right. Luis and I ate the cheese with some of the local wine which made for a perfect combination. The two of us agreed that wine and cheese were made for each other. The bread they served was also great with the cheese (and just by itself!).

Since we were in olive country, we also were treated to some of the best olives I've had. I generally prefer the black olives, but here both the green and black ones were delicious. Between the three of us we polished those off real fast.

All in all, a wonderful lunch, although it turned out to be my most expensive meal to date, costing each of us 2000$00PTE, which works out to about $8.75US. I think I've been spoiled by all the locals hangouts I've been going to. They're all required to have posted prices, but once I've been to a place a few times and they get to know me, they always charge just a little less for everything. Philipe just charges us the same price every time we eat at his place, and so does Fransisco at the Frango Place. I can't complain.



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