Fatima, Portugal and a few Monasteries


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal.

Today Boris and I are taking a private tour out of Portugal to see Fatima and a few recommended sites within two hours of Lisbon.  There are all kinds of tour itineraries and group sizes (at a wide range of prices) to see these popular destinations.  Since we are before the high season we were able to get the private tour at a good price.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fatima, Portugal.

As a Catholic, I have heard of Fatima my whole life.  This is the location where the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children on multiple occasions over the course of six months.  It is one of several pilgrimage sites in deeply Catholic Portugal.   Ironically, the name of the city is from the name of a Muslim woman who married a Christian ruler.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shrine at Fatima, Portugal.

We started our day with the hotel buffet breakfast once again running into a couple we had met on the cruise ship.  Like us, they are taking a variety of tours in and around Lisbon after completing the transatlantic crossing.  M’Liss Gee Hinshaw, also a travel blogger, had just done a food tour of the city.  You can find her postings at Mlisstravels.com.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A traditional Portuguese pastry.

There was some confusion with the driver.  We were waiting in the lobby 5 minutes before our pick-up time, but he had arrived earlier and spoke to the front desk.  The room reservation was in Boris’ name, but I had booked the tour in my name so the driver was told that there was no one under that name staying at the hotel.  (I use my maiden name.)  Luckily the driver waited outside and after a call or two we met up with him.  Our first stop will be Fatima.  The countryside was quite beautiful, but with an early morning start I admit to being somewhat tired and closing my eyes a few times.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Monastery at Saint Mary of the Victories in Batalha, Portugal as seen from the cloister.

I was under the impression that our driver was also a guide, but he said very little in the hour plus drive to Fatima.  The first place he took us was a gift shop under the pretense of a toilet stop.  Ah, let the kickbacks begin.  Actually, they had some lovely rosaries so I purchased several for family members.  This small community has swelled to 50,000.  There is some industry in the area, but at least 40% of the population is there to support the tourism associated with the shrine.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stable at the home of Lucia Santos near Fatima, Portugal.

As travel writer Rick Steves put it, “[w]andering through the religious and commercial zones, you see the 21st-century equivalent of a medieval pilgrimage center: lots of beds, cheap eateries, fields of picnic tables and parking lots, and countless religious souvenir stands — all ready for the mobs of people who inundate the place each 12th and 13th day of the month from May through October.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the stable at Lucia Santo’s home in Aljustrel, Portugal.

Our next stop was the village home of the three shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto.  The children reported visions of a luminous lady believed to be the Virgin Mary on the 13th of the month between May and October of 1917.   No vision occurred in August as authorities detained and jailed the children for two days.  The Virgin Mary appeared to the children in the Cova da Iria fields outside the hamlet of Aljustrel near Fatima, Portugal.  Noteworthy is the fact that  the visions took place during World War I and brought a feeling of hope to war-torn citizens.  The children were grilled relentlessly about the truth of their story; they never wavered.  The miracle was recognized by the Catholic Church in 1930.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Home of Francisco Marto near Fatima, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lucia Santo’s aunt welcomes visitors near Fatima, Portugal.

You are able to go inside the homes of the children, interesting as a depiction of village life during that time more than anything else.  Lucia’s great niece has also set up a spot where you can visit her.  I suspect she lives off of the generosity of her visitors.  The two cousins only lived to 1919 when they died of Spanish Flu.  There was a group in the home handing out religious cards noting the centennial of the death of Francisco. Lucia spent the rest of her life in a convent.  She died in 2005.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stained Glass in the Basilica at the Shrine in Fatima Portugal.

We appear to be just ahead of the big crowds.  The buses were rolling in as we were leaving.  Leaving the small community, we drove back to the religious pilgrimage site.  By now we had figured out that our driver was just that.  He actually repeatedly said he was a driver and not a guide.  Without conviction, he would give us a canned speech, about a paragraph or two, and then point us in a particular direction.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking out from the Basilica, past the outdoor altar, you see the site of the apparitions on the right, the new church in the distance, and the museum on the left. The white stripe on the ground (center, right) is the smooth space for people to approach the chapel on their knees. Shrine at Fatima Portugal.

The shrine covers a large area.  Rick Steves provides the following excellent discretion of the grounds:  “The esplanade, a huge assembly ground facing the basilica, is impressive even without the fanfare of a festival day. The fountain in the middle provides holy water for pilgrims to take home. You’ll see the oak tree and Chapel of the Apparitions marking the spot where Mary appeared; a place for lighting and leaving candles; and a long smooth route on the pavement for pilgrims to approach the chapel on their knees.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica at the Shrine at Fatima, Portugal.

The large Basilica was completed in 1953.  The tombs of the shepherd children are inside.  The Basilica has huge colonnades on either sides and reminded me of St. Peter’s in Rome.  At the other end of the grounds is the newer church completed in 2007.  It holds 9,000 worshipers.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lighting candles at the shrine in Fatima, Portugal.

We started our visit by purchasing candles to dedicate to family members.  Unlike lighting a candle in a church, these candles are thrown into a raging fire.  They came in various sizes and were not expensive.  Some families chose candles so large they towered over their head while holding them.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Visitors stand in line to light candles at the shrine at Fatima. Note the tall candles.

We stopped next for silent prayer at the Chapel of the Apparitions and shared the time with other visitors.  At times during our visit the site, young pilgrims spoke or a priest led the congregation in a rosary in the Chapel.  From the new church to the Chapel, I saw devotees coming forward on their knees.  The very large oak tree sits next to the Chapel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The chapel at the site of the apparitions in Fatima, Portugal. Pilgrims approach the shrine on their knees.

Boris didn’t want to make the climb to the Basilica, so he sat on the wall surrounding the oak while I went up and in.  The church is not particularly ornate and the stained glass very modern, but I loved the grave markers for the shepherd children.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the graves of the shepherd girls at the shrine at Fatima.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the grave of Francisco Manto at the shrine at Fatima.

When I came out, Boris was nowhere to be found, so I walked the park grounds to the new church.  Our driver gave us the wrong time for Mass, but I did get a peak inside.  I also got a picture at the statute of John Paul II, the Polish Pope my mother shares her heritage with.  Pope John Paul II  visited Fatima three times, initiated the construction of the new church, and offered a relic from the Vatican for the church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The new church at the Shrine at Fatima Portugal.

There is also a large museum on the grounds, but our driver did not recommend a visit there.   I returned to find Boris at the tree and we completed our visit before crossing the street to grab a quick drink before meeting our driver.  From Fatima we drove to Batalha to see the impressive monastery.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Portal at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories in Batalha, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal.

A visitor is immediately struck by the exterior of the monastery.  Our driver told us he always gets a “Wow”.  There is a “shopping mall” next door designed to capture the tourist euros.   We had chosen to include a lunch with our tour, so we went first to a restaurant in this shopping area where our driver was well known and had made a reservation.  Once again he pointed us in and left us.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lunch of Salted Cod, a traditional Portuguese favorite.

We were given bread, olives, butter, which we have found is the standard in seated restaurants.  It comes with a small cover charge.  We noted the table next to us wanted to save a euro and waved it away when offered.  Next we got fried pastries one with a filling of meet, one with seafood, and a third with cheese.  I got the salted cod with chips (think thin round potatoes but not the salty ultra thin American variety).  Boris had the pork.  We ended with traditional desserts.  Mine was a pastry with an egg filling; wonderful!  Boris had the local beer, while I enjoyed sparkling water.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories in Batalha, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior of the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior of the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal

After our driver’s next canned speech, Boris and I toured the monastery.  You can enter the church at no charge, but if you want to visit the rest of the buildings you pay a small fee.  Upon arrival, I was immediately struck by the exterior of the unfinished chapels and wanted to include those in my visit so Boris and I chose to pay the fee and see the rest.  He probably regretted it later, because I took the time to take a lot of the pictures of this beautiful monastery.  I also enjoyed the diminished crowds after the morning and early afternoon in Fatma.


Tickets are required to enter the Founders Chapel just to the right after the entrance. Inside are the tombs of King John I of Portugal (d.1433) and his wife Philippa of Lancaster (d.1415). Also in the chapel are the tombs of four of John’s younger sons, including Henry the Navigator.

After a look at the church, we went inside the Founder’s Chapel just to the right after you enter the monastery church.  Entrance is part of the paid ticket (although no one was checking when we were there).  Under the rotunda are the graves of King Joao (John) and his wife Philippa of Lancaster.  Four of John’s sons are also buried in the chapel, including Henry, known widely as Henry the Navigator.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Royal Cloister at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking into the gardens of the Royal Cloister at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal.

At the other end of the church to the left side is the entrance to the cloisters of the monastery and also the pathway to the unfinished chapels.  They were more diligent at checking our tickets here.  They asked if we had already visited the Founders’ Chapel and stamped our ticket for both areas.  This area included a special exhibit and the wonderful arched pathways around peaceful gardens.  There was also a gift shop and museum.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The star faulted ceiling of the Chaterhouse at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha Portugal. Home of the Portuguese Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Portuguese Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the Chapterhouse and was guarded by military personnel.  The space features a star vaulted ceiling.  It is said that the ceiling was constructed at great risk and that as a result only condemned prisoners were allowed to work on it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Approaching the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior of the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal from the inside.

By far, my favorite part of the monastery was the Unfinished Chapels, built by King Joao’s son Dom Duarte as another mausoleum.  The chapels are quite elegant; even the ravages of centuries and the open exposure do not diminish the beauty.  In fact, I suggests that it adds to it.  The chapels are tall structures with beautiful detail work and lovely stained glass.  The afternoon light created colored patterns on the floor as it came through the windows.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stain Glass reflection in the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. From inside the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal

The chapels sit near the rear of the main building and are only accessible through a separate door. The main chapel structure is a tall octagonal rotunda with seven smaller, hexagonal chapels branching off it.  Most of the chapels are empty except for the pigeon nests: only Dom Duarte and his wife Eleanor of Aragon are interred here.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Interior ceiling of one of the small side chapels, part of the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Tomb of Dom Duarte and his wife Eleanor of Aragon in the Unfinished Chapels at the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories, Batalha, Portugal

We rejoined our driver and left Batalha enjoying more of the countryside on our way to Alcobaca.  Both the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victories at Batalha and the Monastery of Alcobaca are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  According to UNESCO, “[t]he Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, north of Lisbon, was founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I. Its size, the purity of its architectural style, the beauty of the materials and the care with which it was built make this a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaca, Alcobaca, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Alcobaca Monastery, Alcobaca, Portugal.

The driver recommended a bakery across the street for a snack after our visit and told us we wouldn’t need as much time to tour the Alcobaca Monastery.  He mentioned that it was not ornate and that we would not be able to enter the cloisters.  What he actually should have said was that the cloisters were open for visitors (and feature lovely tile work that I could see through the door) but that we didn’t have time for a visit to any area other than the church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tomb of Ines de Castro, Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaca, Alcobaca, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tomb of King Pedro I of Portugal in the Alcobaca Monastery, Alcobaca, Portugal.

The monastery is most often visited as a pilgrimage site to see the twin tombs of Pedro I and Ines de Castro.  Young Pedro, son of King Alfonso, fell in love with his wife’s lady in waiting.  Ines was exiled by the King, but returned upon the death of Pedro’s wife and Ines and Pedro resumed their relationship and had four children.  Worried about the relationship between Portugal and Spain, the King ordered the death of Ines.  She was murdered in front of one of her children in 1355.  The event resulted in a civil war.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Alcobaca Monastery, Portugal

Upon the death of King Alfonso in 1357, Pedro ascended to the throne.  His first act was to order the recovery and death of Ines’s murders.  “[Pedro also] exhumed Ines from her grave in the church of Santa Clara and set her up on the throne and then forced the noblemen, the clergy, and the peasants to bow before his dead queen and kiss her hand.”  The story of the couple has inspired poets, painters, authors, and filmmakers.  Although damaged by Napoleon’s troops, the tombs remain a visitor’s favorite.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Alcobaca Monastery, Alcobaca, Portugal



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Land Ho: Lisbon, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lisbon, Portugal.

After a twelve-day crossing we arrived in Lisbon in the evening.  Those who were flying out in the morning took advantage of the opportunity to disembark for an evening out.  There is also an excursion for a twilight tour, Fado, and dinner.  We are going to stay on board, pack, and enjoy dinner and local entertainers who are coming on board for the evening.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fado music and dancing aboard the Azamara Journey at berth in Lisbon.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Evening sky of Lisbon from our balcony on the Azamara Journey.

We got off the ship in the morning and like many of our fellow cruisers are staying on in Lisbon for a few days.  We took a cab to our hotel and were fortunate that we could get a room right away.  We unpacked a little and then headed out with our Hop On/Hop Off tickets to explore the city.  We usually make a circuit and then go back around getting off where we have interest.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lisbon, Portugal

A bit of history about the natural disaster that hit Lisbon in 1755 is in order before we take off, as it effects everything we will see today.  On the morning of All Saints Day, November 1, 1755, a 9.0 earthquake rocked the city for three and a half minutes.  Three tsunamis also hit the city.  November 1 is a significant feast day in the Catholic church and most of city’s population were attending the Latin mass at the time.  Fires stuck out across the city, many believed to have originated from the candles in the churches igniting the feast day flowers.  Many people died in the churches as they collapsed.  In all, over 75,000 people died as a direct result of the earthquake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. You have to love a purple hotel. Lisbon, Portugal

The king and his family were away from the city at the time the earthquake hit.  “King Joseph I became excessively paranoid after the quake and refused to live in walled buildings. The entire royal court was transferred to a giant tented complex outside of Lisbon where [the king] remained until his death.”  It was the prime minister Sebastião de Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, who saw to the safety of the city and its reconstruction.  It is said, he “overruled the church and prevented an epidemic of diseases by load[ing] the dead onto damaged ships and burning the bodies out [at] sea.”   He oversaw the new city design and the type of construction utilized to prevent the future vulnerability of the city.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statute of the Marquês de Pombal who led the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake. Behind the statute is the main departure point for local tour buses in Lisbon, Portugal.

Our hotel is about a 15 minute walk from Marques de Pombal Square (known as the Rotunda until 1998), the main departure point for the various bus company services.  I wanted to say up front that we usually have a wonderful experience with Hop On/Hop Off tours.  Unfortunately, our Lisbon experience was the worse.  First of all, the various companies are hard to distinguish, the buses and employees are poorly marked/identified if at all.  The hotel had actually sold us vouchers (not tickets).  This is not an unusual practice, but the hotel should have mentioned that they are vouchers.  We could not find he stated company named on the tickets and it took us quite a while to determine who to redeem our vouchers with.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the historic district of Lisbon, the buildings are often covered in beautiful tiles. Antique tiles can be worth 1,000 euros each.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Titled building facade in Lisbon, Portugal.

When we finally got tickets, we had to stand in the sun in line waiting for the bus.  The distinct lines only intersect at this point, so you have to make the full circuit before you tackle another route (after having stood in another line)  Our plan had been to start about 10 am and it was 11:05 when our first bus finally left.  Greyline tours the castle route in a large van which was more maneuverable on the narrow streets, but did not provide as good a view.  I love the top of a two-level bus for great views and pictures.  I had to take pictures through glass which is never my preference.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lisbon, Portugal.

Because of the limited seating no one was getting off, so if you tried to get on the bus at any other stop there was no room.  Half the headphone inputs weren’t working either.  Boris had to move seats three times (when people finally got off) to find one that worked.  He was not the only one with this problem.  Actually the commentary was pretty limited anyway.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. You can now navigate Lisbon in a tuk-tuk.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Heading up Lisbon hills on tram line 28.

The castle route is probably the one with the most up and down hill turns.  I would condition yourself before heading off to Lisbon.  Walking means seeing the most, but you need to be physically fit to manage the hills and cobblestones.  There are lots of forms of transportation to help you navigate the city, especially the steep hills.  The Asian tut-tuk, in a refined form, had made its way to Lisbon and you see them everywhere.  Electric trams which look just like San Francisco cable cars cross the city.  The infamous line 28 car takes you up near the castle.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Since 1901 the Santa Justa Elevator has transported visitors to new heights in Lisbon, Portugal.  It was designed by an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel.  Its original purpose was to lift citizens to the Barrio Alto neighborhood.  The cars are wood-paneled and still feature their original brass controls.  There are also stairs to an upper viewing terrace.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This might be my favorite picture from Lisbon. It is not the best “photo” but it captures the hilly nature of the city. Note the stairs and the escalator.

There are also funiculars to take you up the steep hills.  I also saw some outside escalators.  Of course you can also do the stairs.  The local buses were also recommended to us.  In some cases, the queues for the buses and trams were exceptionally long.  We were surprised at how crowded the city was this early in the season.  Lisbon has truly been rediscovered.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. You’ll have to walk up a bit from the various forms of public transportation, but yes there is a castle in Lisbon.  St. George’s Castle, Lisbon, Portugal

Make the climb to the castle district to browse around, take in the incredible views, get some exercise and vitamin D, and soak up the feel of the city.  The medieval cathedral is also in this area.  Both a day and night tour might be worth it to experience the different feel of the city at various times of day.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Praça do Comércio, capital square in Lisbon Portugal, from our cruise ship, the Azamara Journey.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The view looking out to sea from the Praça do Comércio featuring a statute of King Jose I on horseback.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colonnade along the north side of the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon, Portugal.

One of the best parts of the tour was getting a new perspective on places I had seen from the the cruise ship.  The large rectangular riverfront square, the Praça do Comércio, caught my eye on the sail in.  It features wonderful colonnaded and colored buildings, a center statute of King Jose I, and an impressive arch.  Before the earthquake of 1755, the Ribeira Place sat on this site.  The palace was totally destroyed by one of the tsunamis that proceeded the earthquake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Arco da Rua Augusta sits on the north side of the Praça do Comércio.  This is the view through the arch looking inland.  The arch was build to commemorate the rebuilding of Portugal’s capital city after the 1755 earthquake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View through the Arco da Rua Augusta looking to the riverfront square.

The Arco da Rua Augusta, completed in 1875, sits on the north side of the square. The side of the arch facing the square features a figure representing Glory crowning figures representing Bravery and Genius with wreaths.  Below are statutes of national heroes Vasco da Gama and the Marquês de Pombal.  The reverse side of the arch features a clock added in 1941.  The arch is the southern end of the main pedestrian street of the city.  Visitors can now take an elevator up and then climb stairs to a viewing terrance.  In additional to wonderful views, the clock’s mechanisms can be seen.  The arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of the capital city after the 1755 earthquake which destroyed most of the city.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance portal to the Igreja Conceiçao Velha in Lisbon, Portugal, the only portion of the church to survive the 1755 earthquake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Detail on the facade of the Igreja Conceiçao Velha in Lisbon, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Detail on the facade of the Igreja Conceiçao Velha in Lisbon, Portugal.

Just north of the square we passed by the Igreja Conceiçao Velha. The facade is incredibly beautiful.  It is the only portion of the church that survived the 1755 earthquake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The 16th-century Jerónimos monastery in Lisbon, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Jerónimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal.

I wanted to stop and have lunch after returning to the Marquis de Pombal Square,  but Boris wanted to keep going since there was a short queue for the next tour route we planned to take.  We switched to the Belem Route which covers more distance.  The stops on this route include some impressive landmarks.  The city is full of tourists, but the spaces in-between the stops on the Belem route were not congested like in the castle district. Near the waterfront, we stopped at the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery commissioned  by King Manuel I in 1501 to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s historic 1498 trip to India.  Da Gama’s tomb is inside the monastery church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The 16th century Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal as seen from our cruise ship balcony.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joining the crowds at the Belem Tower, Lisbon, Portugal.

We got even closer to the waterfront at our next stop at the Belem Tower, which we had also seen from the cruise ship.  It sits on the river’s edge now due to shifting of the watercourse, but it originally sat in the middle of the river.  It was built in between 1515 and 1521 as a fortress.  Like the monastery, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  While the views are reported to be wonderful, Boris and I did not climb the steep spiral staircase to the terrace on top.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Monument to the Discoveries in Lisbon Portugal with the Jerónimos Monastery in the background as seen from the balcony of our cruise ship.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Side view of the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal.

Another waterfront landmark along the River Tagus is the Monument to the Discoveries.  It is designed to look like the prow of the type of ship used by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century.  The monument was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.  While Henry is at the front, other prominent discoverers are also featured.  An elevator takes you to the top.  The pavement compass and map of the world shows the extent of early Portuguese exploration.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  The Ponte 25 de Abril Suspension Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal

This was also the part of our tour when it was we got our land perspective of the iconic bridge that spans the Tagus.  We crossed under the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge as the cruise ship sailed into Lisbon.  At first glance, you might think you are in San Francisco.  The bridge was designed and constructed by the same group that built the Golden Gate Bridge in California.  It was originally named the Salazar Bridge in 1966 when construction was completed five months ahead of schedule.  The name was later changed to celebrate the bloodless Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974.  The Ponte 25 de Abril Suspension Bridge carries heavy traffic each day and was expanded from 4 to 6 lines in 1995.  A rail line underneath the vehicular traffic was added in 1999.  There is a toll for northbound traffic headed into Lisbon.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Donna Maria II National Theater, Lisbon, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lisbon, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopping/Office Building with an historic facade in Lisbon, Portugal nominated for several design awards.

After our stops along the waterfront, we headed back into the city and a return to the Marques de Pombal Square and the end of the tour route.  We once again passed the National Theater and the fountains on the adjoining plaza.  We passed a unique shopping mall/office building that had incorporated the historic facade.  The structure enjoyed high placement in award competitions for its clever design.  We also passed the beautiful Basilica da Estrela, also known as the Star Basilica, and the popular family park next to it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A Musician. Lisbon, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lisbon, Portugal

After our tour completed, we stopped for a light lunch during our walk back to the hotel.  It was mid afternoon and we had a special dinner planned so we didn’t want to eat too much.  Along the way I saw more individual transportation options utilized by the people of Lisbon.  It is fairly common now to find individual bicycles for rent along the streets in major cities in Europe and North American.  In Lisbon, you can also rent motorized skateboards (also particularly popular on large college campus in the USA).


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Uber rental bicycle in Lisbon, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Returning to work after a business lunch in Lisbon, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the oldest Portuguese restaurant.

There was time for a short nap before our dinner at Tavares, the oldest Portuguese restaurant still in service.  It opened its doors in 1784.  Since we were the first to arrive (Boris likes to eat early and we were standing outside when the restaurant opened at 7 pm), I was able to get a few pictures of the opulent interior without disturbing other patrons and looking like a tourist.  The prices were very reasonable for a special evening out.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The opulent interior of Tavares, the oldest Portuguese restaurant. It opened its doors in Lisbon in 1784.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lets start with a white port. This is Portugal after all.

We started with a white port as an aperitif.  We chose the tasting menu (70 euros) with four courses and a complementing wine with each course (40 euros).  The salted cod and suckling pig, traditional favorites, were wonderful.  So too were the prawns and pork.  We ended with the appealingly plated assorted desserts.  It was a fabulous meal and a wonderful end to our first full day in Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our beautifully presented dessert at Tavares in Lisbon, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lisbon, Portugal.


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The Azores: The Island of Sao Miguel


Showing the typical architecture of the Azores, the Church of Sao Jose sits on the campo of San Francisco near the port entrance in Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores.

Our second island stop in the Azores is Sao Miguel. São Miguel is the biggest island of the archipelago.  Together with Santa Maria, São Miguel is part of the Eastern Group of the Azores Archipelago.   The capital city of the Azores, Ponta Delgada, is found on the island of Sao Miguel.  This is our destination.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beautiful tile work dating from the eighteenth century inside the Church of Sao Jose, Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores

The industrial port where we made berth was very busy.  There was lots of loading and unloading of containers.  Visitors are not allowed to walk along the within the port, so the cruise line is providing a shuttle to the edge of the city.  There are three ships in port today, all from the Royal Caribbean Company-a Celebrity ship, a Royal ship, and our Azamara ship.  It seems that everyone in the company is repositioning to Europe and the Mediterranean this week.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the waterfront in Ponta Delgada, San Miguel Island, in the Azores.

Boris and I had breakfast in the room today, enjoying our balcony.  We have not booked a tour through the ship.  With all three ships in port and the limited number of buses and guides on the island, options are limited.  Once out of the port and at the edge of the harbor, we found ourselves at the Fort of Sao Bras.  This is a small fortress open for visitors.  Just along the boardwalk, we found locals ready to give you a tour in a car, in a horse-drawn carriage, or on an open-air bus.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Thats the fun bus in the safety mirror. Natasha is wearing a gold jacket and white hat and has a camera in front of her face.

We chose the “Fun Bus” easily spotted with the cow decoration on the side.  It looks like the hop-on/hop up buses that anyone who reads this blog knows I regularly recommend.  However, this was a single visit, no stop, and single language bus with speakers rather than plug in headphones providing the tour in a variety of languages.  Our tour was in English.  It clocked in right at an hour and cost 15 euros.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The city gates of Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island, the Azores, with the plaza in front.

Leaving the fort, we drove along the waterfront.  We saw more of the Azorean architecture, or what I have come to think of as such-whitewashed buildings with trim or other detailed work in the dark gray volcanic rock.  We passed the city gates, now set farther from the water with a large plaza in front of it.  This was the magnetic point for people taking pictures, going into the nearby Cathedral, and enjoying the sidewalk cafes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Another church in Ponta Delgada made in the style of the Azores.

We would pass many more churches, within and outside the main city of Porta Delagato, all with a similar look.  It was only when we saw the modern churches, often built to replace ones that were destroyed in hurricanes, that we saw a departure from the traditional designs.  I am sure they take the beauty of these old churches for granted and are ready for a change (not to mention the cost of replacing in the old style and the fact that it won’t withstand a hurricane), but none of the new structures appealed to me.  We did however see new buildings continuing to adopt the traditional façade look.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Religious tiles are often found on the outside of homes in the Azores.

We passed several beaches.  There was resurfacing going on at “Big Beach” probably getting ready for the season which begins right after Easter and hits it stride in July.  The dark sandy beaches can be rough.  The gray volcanic sand can get very hot in the sun and you are unable to sit or walk on it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Typical suburban home outside of Ponta Delgado, San Miguel, Azores. Note the lovely tile block near the front door and the tile fountain in the front yard with the water hose attached.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This house was completely covered in blue and white titles. Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores.

Immediately out of the city were small villages with homes packed tightly together.  This gave way to what I would call the suburbs, with larger home sites spaced farther apart and grass and garden areas.  In both the villages and “suburban” communities, any open space was green with cows grazing on it.  I also saw quite a few homes with the traditional ceramic tile numbers, religious tiles, and decorative tile fountains.  In the outlining communities on both islands were community fountains where residents could come to draw water.  We saw similar fountains on Faial.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A bit of fun. Painted chairs line the hillside in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores.

Of course we drove by the soccer fields.  We also saw ruins of the old walls made of the volcanic rock that could not withstand the hurricane winds. There are also several lovely gardens and parks that would be worth venturing out to see if we had more time in the city.  We only got a peek from the Fun Bus.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A Tree lined street in Ponta Delgada. Note the wonderful cobblestone sidewalks.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. …And a wonderful tile sign to tell us the name of the street.

After going through the posh neighborhoods and driving down some beautiful tree-lined streets, we made our way back to the fort. The Azoreans prune their trees to within an inch of their life, but a few were starting to get their spring foliage.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On San Miguel in the Azores.

I was reminded about the debate on Bermuda when we passed by the Home of the Whopper, Burger King.  It was the only fast food American restaurant I saw on the island.  That said, if you asked what fast food chain I have seen more of in my travels across the world you might be surprised that it is not McDonald’s.  The most common is Burger King, with KFC being a close second.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Photo honoring the nine islands that make up the Azores, Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores.

As Ponta Delgada is the capital city of the Azores, they designed and erected a fountain honoring each of the nine islands that make up the archipelago.  A circular road allowed us to see the fountain from several angles.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the Campo de Sao Francisco, Porta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the Campo de Sao Francisco, Porta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores.

After getting off the bus we crossed the street to the Campo de Sao Francisco lined with pruned trees and benches.  A gazebo sits in the center and off to one side was an amazing tree and a children’s carnival ride.  The fort sits on the North side of the square.  On the south side is the convent and chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca (Lady of Hope).   This religious order is still active.  The Convent is home to the Lord Santo Cristo dos Milagres, also known as Lord Santo Cristo or Santo Cristo dos Milagres.  The image carved in wood is a sacred art piece. The convent’s chapel is currently under renovation.  Construction on the church and convent began in 1535.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gilded Altar at Church of Sao Jose, Porto Delgato, Sao Miguel, Azores. Note the blue and white tile walls to the sides.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ceiling of Church of Sao Jose, Ponta Delaga, Sao Miguel, Azores

To the west on the square are the old hospital of St. Joseph and the Church of San Jose.  In the sixteenth century this was the site of the monastery of the Order of St. Francis.  The present church dates from 1709 and was open to visitors.  It is exceptionally beautiful.  The lovely blue and white tile work dates from the 18thcentury.  Equally impressive to the gilded main altar, were the gorgeous side altars and the church’s statuary.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Church of Sao Jose, Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Church of Sao Jose, Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores.

Boris and I next walked into the shopping district of the city toward Sao Sebastian and the city gates.  The streets of the historic town center were like works of art themselves.  We found lovely parks and Boris rested while I roamed around taking pictures.  His foot is really bothering him today so he headed back to ship while I continued on my mission to see the city gates, main church, find an ATM (Bancomat, Money Machine), and maybe find the linen shop that was recommended to me.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The cobblestone streets of Ponta Delgada are works of art in an of themselves.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Streets as art in Ponta Delaga.

I had success all around.  The area was packed, but I stepped into the Church of Sao Sebastian.  While lovely, I preferred the Church of Sao Jose.  I found the linen shop; it was packed full of tourists.  I didn’t have room to look around much, but I did get a tablecloth with blue hydrangeas on it.  There were lots of sidewalk tables set up outside cafes and guests were enjoying a coffee and the beautiful weather.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Church of Sao Sebastian, Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Church of Sao Sebastian, Ponta Delgada, Azores

Before heading back to the bus pickup point, I stopped in the square with the old city gates.  There were so many photographers it was hard to get a clean shot. Afterwards, I walked back along the waterfront to reach the fort and our bus stop.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. City Gates of Ponta Delago, San Miguel, Azores. Tower of San Sebastian on the right.

There are other things to do on the island. You can visit a pineapple plantation or head out to village of Sete Cidades where you can ascend to the rim of the volcanic crater.  This is also the site of a natural phenomenon, twin lakes-one blue, one green. There are vineyard tours on the island.   With all those cows, as you can image there are lots of special cheeses to go with the wine produced here.  Tonight Azamara is hosting a special cheese tasting from the Azores.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Church of Sao Jose in Ponta Delago, San Miguel, Azores.

San Miguel is definitely more developed as showcased by the modern highways.  I enjoyed my visit, but preferred the charm of Faial.  These two island stops offered a nice taste of the Azores.  I would recommend them for a longer visit.




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The Azores: The Island of Faial


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The island of Faial in the Azores.

After five days at Sea, we are docked in the Azores in the Atlantic.  The volcanic islands of the Azores are considered part of Portugal, although 950 miles (1525 km) off the continental coast.  They independently run their country as long as it is not in conflict with the Portuguese constitution.  We are visiting two of the nine islands that make the archipelago, Faial and Sao Miguel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The city of Horta on the island of Faial in the Azores.

Our first stop is Horta on the island of Faial.  With a population just over 15,000, Faial is the third most populous island of the Archipelago.  The nine islands of the Azores are divided into three groups and Faial is part of the Central Group.  Within that group, it is in the westernmost corner of the so-called ‘Triangle Islands’, which also include São Jorge and Pico.  Within all of the Azores, Faial and Pico are the closest islands to each other. The canal between the two near the harbor at Horta is a migration route for whales.  Lots of sightseeing tours leave from Horta.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ponta do Pico, on the island of Pico in the Azores as seen from the Fort of Santa Cruz in Horta on Faial, Azores.

We saw the tall volcano peak on Pico, the highest point in Portugal, much of the time we drove around the island. Pico is less than 4 miles (6 km) away from Faial.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The street and dock along the harbor in Horta, Faial, Azores.

The Marina of Horta is our docking destination. It is the main recreational harbor in the Azores and the marina, a popular linking point for international regattas, is one of the busiest in the world.  In Horta, you find the Sao Salvador Church built by the Jesuits. The buildings surrounding it became the government offices for the settlement.  Located in the middle of the island, the Caldeira is a deep volcanic cone. It is a nature preserve and home to rare flora species.  There is also a volcano visitors’ center.  In addition to the water activities, hiking is very popular on Faial.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The crater created by the volcano on the island of Faial in the Azores.

We were lucky to get off the wait list for a circular tour of the island.  By the structure of our tour, it was pretty clear that Faial is not yet set up for large group tourism.  The main two-lane road that circulates the island offers picturesque views of the water, beaches, and the island hills. Unfortunately, our driver couldn’t stop for any of these.  There were few places to park and for safety reasons a large bus wasn’t allowed to stop at the cutaways in the road.  (So maybe not so lucky we came off the wait list.)  I don’t know the cost, but I recommend hiring a guide to take you around the island if you want to be able to stop and take some incredible pictures. I did what I could out of the window of the moving bus.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Abandoned lighthouses dot the landscape on Faial, Azores.

Less than 45 minutes into our tour, we made a 20-minute stop at a grocery store that also offered a coffee shop and toilets. While guides like to call these “necessary” stops, I felt it unwarranted.  The next stop (complete with toilets) was only about 30 minutes away. Would have much rather stopped to take a few pictures.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The island of Faial in the Azores.

While the island currently has just over 15,000 inhabitants, there are more than 30,000 cows on the island.  Cattle are everywhere.  The mild climate means that they enjoy beautiful weather and green fields most of the year.  Grassland for feeding is everywhere.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ceramic tile sign as we entered one of the villages on Faial island in the Azores.

While the houses sported wonderful red tile roofs, I also spotted lots of ceramic markers on the houses and in the town, mostly of a religious orientation.  We drove through many small villages, all very picturesque.  Children go to school in these small villages through the 4thgrade and then go on to upper schools in Horta.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. New land created by the Capelinhos Volcano in 1958-59, on Faial in the Azores. The lighthouse which was mostly covered is roughly the original land’s edge

The main stop on our tour was the now dormant volcano that erupted on Faial in 1957.  The eruption began underwater creating a new outcropping.  We stopped here first before going to the lighthouse and museum.  Our water’s edge view gave us a look at the land mass created by the volcano.  You could see where the original harbor was and some of the original houses are beginning to come uncovered after years of erosion.  At the time of the eruptions between 1957 and 1958, all the buildings were completed covered. Everyone was able to evacuate unharmed.


Photo @Jean Janssen. This is the exposed portion of the lighthouse at the Capelinhos Volcano, now a interpretive center. Faial, Azores. When the eruptions ended, only the top two windows of the lighthouse tower were visible. Since 1958, some of he ash and volcanic sand has eroded away.


Photo @Jean Janssen. This model in the Capelinhos Volcano Interpretive Center shows how the lighthouse looked in 1957 before the eruptions. The large structure also house up to two lighthouse keepers and their families.

We spent an hour at the lighthouse museum, the Capelinhos Volcano Interpretive Center. At the conclusion of the eruption, only the top two windows of the lighthouse tower remained uncovered. The structure was two stories high with the tower above that.  Often two lighthouse keepers and their families lived within.  With erosion, the first story of the structure is now uncovered. The lower level remains covered. Rather than dig it out, it is all now part of the interpretive center.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Interior of the modern Capelinhos Volcano Interpretive Center on Faial, Azores.

The islanders are justly proud of this modern museum.  If you are interested in geology or volcanic eruptions, this is an excellent stop. The museum is set up for an uneducated audience and you will be quickly be brought up to speed by displays, holograms, and videos.  The hologram showing the progression of the eruptions and the slides from the 50s from amateur photographers were particularly interesting.  I wasn’t the only one who was initially unhappy that we were spending an hour of our tour here, but we easily filled up our time at this well-done museum.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We saw several abandoned churches on Faial, all victims of hurricanes.

The Azores sit at an intersection of the earth’s tectonic plates so it is unlikely the area has seen the last of this type of activity.  At least the islanders made use of the material; the volcanic rock is used in construction all over the island.  Volcanic eruptions are not the only natural disaster the Azoreans live with.  The island is also racked with hurricanes. We saw the destruction left by previous storms, mostly in the remains of destroyed churches.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Island of Faial in the Azores.

The Azores are famous for the beautiful flowers that grow wild on the island.  We saw lovely Easter lilies and calla lilies along the highway.  It is too early for the vibrant blue hydrangeas that give Faial the nickname of the blue island.  They bloom during the summer months and peak between mid July and mid August.  Not surprisingly, this is the when the island is the busiest.  Tourism is a major industry for the island.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Azamara Journey at dock in Horta, Faial, the Azores. As seen from the marina with Fort Santa Cruz on the feft.

We concluded our circular drive of the island, ending up back in Horta at the Fort of Santa Cruz.  The fort is now a hotel and this was a stop for tea.  We could see our ship less than 5 minutes away. When we found out we were there for an hour, some people walked back to the ship.  Boris and I enjoyed the sandwiches and cookies and the incredible views of the Marina and Ponta de Pico from the fort’s old parade yard, now a lovely lawn and swimming pool, complete with remaining cannons.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Peter’s Cafe Sport in Horta, Faial, the Azores.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The bar in Peter’s Cafe Sport in Horta, Faial, the Azores.

Then we walked around the marina area.  Boris headed into Peter’s Café Sport. According to Yachting World, this is one of the most famous yachting pubs in the world. The grandfather of the current owner, Jose Azevedo, started it in 1918.  He called it Café Sport because his hobbies were football, tennis, and water polo. The first patrons were traders, then whalers, then the crews who worked on the transatlantic communication cables based in the Azores.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Peter’s Cafe Sport, one of the world’s most famous sailors’ bar in Horta, Faial, The Azores.

The current owner’s father worked on the RMS Lusitania and one of the officers started to call him Peter because he reminded him of his son back at home.  The name stuck and became associated with the bar.  Even the distinctive blue paint on the outside has a story.  It came from some blue paint given to “Peter” by the workers on the Smit Tech tugs.  The company was based on Faial and the color was that of the company’s flag and livery.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A church depicting the typical architecture of the Azores using the volcanic stone in Horta, Faial.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Horta, Faial Island, the Azores.

We left Horta and the island in the evening headed to our second stop in the Azores, Sao Miguel.  After getting out the gray sand and ash blown into our hair at the volcano, we went to dinner and enjoyed the lovely sail away view from the dining room windows. While I was disappointed with some aspects of the tour, I found Faial utterly charming with its red tile roofs, patterned stone sidewalks, volcanic construction materials, scenic vistas, green fields, ceramic touches, and beach fronts.  And you gotta love those cows!  I recommend a visit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Capelinhos Volcano, Faial, Azores.

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A Short Stop in Bermuda before continuing our Crossing


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted painted on the side of building in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Midway through our second day of the cruise we stopped in Bermuda.  We will overnight here before heading out to 4+ full days at sea.  Boris and I have been to Bermuda several times.  It is a colder, cleaner, and more expensive version of many islands in the Caribbean.  It is also very British.  This is the home of the famous Bermuda shorts.  In their linen version with socks, Bermuda shorts are the island’s formal wear for men.  I made a few sightings, just none I could photograph (successfully).


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along Front Street in Hamilton Bermuda.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A big plus of our size ship is that we were able to pull up right next to Front Street in Bermuda’s capital city of Hamilton.

Unlike the large ships which have to dock at the more remote western side of the island at the Royal Dock Yard, our smaller ship (approximately 650 passengers) can pull right up to the dock along Front Street in the centrally-located capital city of Hamilton.  We were a block or so away from the city’s historic and political attractions.  Shopping was across the street.  As return visitors, the only thing we bought were some shorts for Boris.  Sometimes you need to make a size adjustment.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Bermuda’s Cabinet Building along Front Street in Hamilton, Bermuda

Given a mid afternoon arrival, we took our time leaving the ship and wandered around nearby.  Boris wasn’t too keen on me getting close to the Cabinet Building.  But hey, the gate was open so I walked in to get a photo.  “The Cabinet Building was designed in 1837, by an officer of the Royal Engineers then serving in Bermuda.  When it was first opened in 1884, it was known as The Public Building and housed the Customs and Treasury Departments and the Bermuda Library on the ground floor with the Council Room and the Secretariat on the upper.  [With the exception of nine years between 1969 and 1977,] [i]t has remained the home of the Council and the Secretariat ever since.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Sessions Building in Hamilton Bermuda. The Supreme Court hears cases on the ground floor, while the Parliament meets on the upper floor.

We walked uphill along Parliament Street and passed the Sessions House, a beautiful Italianite-style building “home to Bermuda’s Supreme Court and one of the world’s oldest parliaments. The two political parties face each other across the floor, with the bewigged Speaker overseeing the proceedings. Spectators are welcome to observe political debates from the public gallery.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Somehow KFC got around the fast food prohibition and have an outlet in downtown Hamilton, Bermuda.

I found it amusing that Bermuda Attractions notes that the two of the most important issues to be decided there include “a strong debate on whether to allow motor vehicles in the island [which] was finally voted “yes” in 1946 [and a] move to get McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises in the island was voted “no” in 1995.  To that end, I did spot a KFC along Queen Street in Hamilton.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. You know there are a lot of scooters around when this is the only notice on the glass doors when you enter a building.

As we walked around the capital city of Bermuda, it was clear that the primary mode of transportation was the scooter.  They were parked everywhere and many door fronts noted that helmets had to be removed to enter.  I wondered if this was a security measure so you could see (or a camera could catch) the face of the person who entered.  Plenty of times, we had to step around helmets that persons had plopped on the ground next to them.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Hamilton, Bermuda


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Easter decorations on each pew in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Hamilton Bermuda.

A fair number of the city’s places of worship are indeed found along Church Street, the Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity dominating the landscape.  The Cathedral was still sporting its Easter decorations with bouquets of flowers and palm leaves adorning each pew.  The Cathedral features some beautiful stained glass and wood carvings near the altar.  The wonderful tiled floors were also a special feature.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Altar in the Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Hamilton, Bermuda.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, Hamilton, Bermuda.

While many visitors enjoyed the inside, locals and tourists alike enjoyed the grounds and steps as a place to take a rest in the cool breeze.  The temperature was only about 71 degrees Fahrenheit, but it felt very warm outside.  We didn’t notice a lot of air conditioning.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The tower of the large whitewashed City Hall and Arts Center has a compass and a weathervane with a ship on top depicting the city’s rich maritime history.

Just past the bus depot was the whitewashed City Hall and Arts Center.  I loved the tower compass and the ship on top of the weathervane acknowledging Bermuda’s rich maritime history.  This city is exceptionally clean, even in areas where lots of people congregate.  There are also beautiful parks where locals took advantage of the benches under the shade trees.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Par-la-Ville Park, Hamilton, Bermuda

Back on Front Street, we admired the tile art that lined the sidewalk.  Boris spotted the store where he and Rocky had gotten Bermuda shorts on a previous visit.  Inside he went.  I walked away from the counter and there he was with a pair of white shorts while various shades of colored ones lined the walls.  After he confirmed his size, I convinced him that some others were in order.  He added some shirts too.  We headed back to the ship before tonight’s onboard entertainment, the White Night.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bermuda shorts in almost every color you can think of and Boris goes for the white ones. What? I encouraged him in a different direction.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tile art on the sidewalk on Front Street in Hamilton, Bermuda.

This evening was Azamara’s traditional White Night party.  The pool deck and the one above are transformed with dining tables set for a dinner under the stars.  It doesn’t always work out.  We have been on cruises were it was cancelled due to rain or it was just too cold to be out.  We learned early that you need to go when the event begins (or a half hour before that) to get seating.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. White Night dining on the pool deck of the Azamara Journey.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. White Night aboard the Azamara Journey while docked in Hamilton, Bermuda.

The guests also dress in white and although you are not really told ahead of packing, most of the guests were indeed dressed for the occasion.  The dinner was exceptional with lovely steaks, grilled lobster, and other wonderful seafood, salad, and side items.  The dessert buffet is lavish and the ship’s officers made crepes suzette on deck.  There is local entertainment and then music and dancing with the entertainment staff before the party moves inside with the DJ sometime after 10 pm.


Photo©Jean Janssen. White Night sunset aboard the Azamara Journey.

Since we have been to the island several times and Boris is coming back in June, he wasn’t up for further adventures in Bermuda on this trip.  Bermuda is actually a series of small islands.  Even though we didn’t view them on this trip, I wanted to mention that there are beautiful beaches on Bermuda, some with sand and beach facilities.  It is worth taking both a land tour of the islands and a boat tour around if you are not arriving by cruise ship.


Photo@Jean Janssen. Bermuda tile art.

Bermuda is not known for scuba diving, although diving is available.  Snorkeling is a better bet.  There are some shipwrecks to see.  To get your aquatic fix, you might prefer to rent from the variety of watercraft available.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. It is hard to choice what real estate I am most interested in in Bermuda. I could choose a home on a private island…

I do enjoy a visit to St. George, the original capital of the island.  This well-preserved historic town dating from the 1600s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  You can visit St. Peter’s which claims to be the oldest Anglican church in the western hemisphere to be in continuous use.   You can also visit the Unfinished Church (unfinished due to infighting among the parishioners) in St. George.  The town also serves as a launch point for many water activities.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Or a home on its own peninsula…


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Or maybe a home with its own lagoon…

Another popular attraction in this area is St. Catherine’s Fort, built originally in the 1600s by the British. There is a wonderful ocean view from the fort and beaches on either side.  The fort is surprisingly large and found on the northeast end of the island.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hamilton, Bermuda

Our second half-day in Bermuda was on and off again rain, but the skies cleared and our sail away from Hamilton was lovely.  While listening to the music of The Fancy Triplets, a three girl band from the Ukraine, I played “find your favorite real estate” and had to chose between a house on a hill, one on its own island, one with its own lagoon, and one with its own dock.  I think it will require another viewing to make my selection.


Photo @Jean Janssen.  The Fancy Triplets playing at our sail away from Bermuda. The all-girl band is from the Ukraine.

The weather was beautiful. The band was fun.  You have got to love a band that starts its set with La Cucaracha.   The view was fantastic.  This will be our last land sighting for almost five days.  And here we go…


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Our last sunset looking west as we begin our transatlantic crossing.


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Leaving New York City on a Transatlantic Cruise


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Statute of Liberty as seen from our cruise ship as we leave Manhattan on our transatlantic voyage.

Today we sail from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal in New York City aboard the Azamara Journey.  We are doing a transatlantic crossing, a fourth crossing for Boris and I.  If you don’t like sea days and fear rough waters, this option might not be your best bet.  However, these repositioning cruises often offer a cheaper option for a long cruise-like 12 or 14 days for the price of a week cruise.  I used to think this was due to less entertainment, but it has to due with the fact that there are fewer port fees, a major expense for the cruise line.


Photo ©Jean Janssen On the Easter Buffet aboard the Azamara Journey.

Our day started a bit rough.  Since it was Easter weekend, we decided to spend as much time at home with family as possible and to just fly into New York on departure day.  We have had problems and often fly in early.  Sometimes luggage doesn’t make it-one trip are luggage was late but luckily made it the next day before the ship departed.  Another time, while Rocky and Boris got their bags, mine didn’t show up until 5 days into the cruise and several ports later.  (After that we started packing some of each of our things into all the bags).  Emma actually missed a ship due to a delayed flight and only caught up with it several days and several flights later.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The terminal next to ours at the Manhattan Cruise terminal, the skyline view, and our tugboat at the bottom right.

We called early for an UBER, but after waiting 20 minutes and noting the car hadn’t moved.  I called.  Said he would be there in 12 minutes.  8 minutes later he called me to say he was having car trouble and I need to cancel the ride and rebook with another driver.  Boris began to panic.  We did two things-tried to get another driver and woke up Rocky and told him we needed a ride.  Luckily a the second driver made it.  We got to the departure gate one minute after the time it was scheduled to close.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ellis Island as seen from our cruise ship.

Fortunately for us the flight had been delayed, so we didn’t have to beg to be let on the plane.  Unfortunately that also meant a later arrival into New York.  We landed in Newark an hour late.  Boris was unhappy again.  My original plan was to take the train from the airport to Penn Station in NYC and then take a cab to the cruise terminal.  Between the heavy bags and the delay, Boris nixed that idea.  I wasn’t sure about UBER in the city and whether that cruise terminal with its specific entry was familiar to most UBER drivers, so we elected to go with a cab.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This was the terminal next to use at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. Looks abandoned to me. Either way, I am not sure I would want to get on that rusty boarding ramp. Almost looks like sides of the building have fallen off into the water.

At $90, it was still cheaper and faster that the cruise ship transfers for both of us.  The cabbie knew just what to do at the Manhattan Cruise terminal, so we were quickly inside and checking in.  This terminal has seen better days.  I am not sure how often it is used.  One terminal over was an NCL ship that leaves from this port weekly.  Our terminal is at pier 90, berth 4; it looked pretty worn.  The terminal on the opposite side appeared to be abandoned.


After a stressful morning (yes it shows), Natasha arrived at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, pier 90 berth 4 in New York City, to head out on a transatlantic crossing.

The Azamara Journey has been updated since we were last on board, but the cabin was familiar, as was the ship’s layout.  At our muster drill, where we were seated in the dining room and not standing on the deck in the sun, the captain informed us that we had rough seas ahead.  After we cleared the Harbor, he anticipated the next 18 hours would challenge us a bit as we headed straight into the tall waves.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This Easter Buddy “head” was carved from a watermelon with the addition of palms, toothpicks, and an apple. It made its appearance at the Easter Brunch aboard the Azamara Journey.

Just before dinner, we were able to participate in Easter Mass aboard ship.  Father Scott will be saying mass most days of our voyage.  He told us that sister lines Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara usually have a priest on board for the religious holidays, lent, and advent.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A closer view of the immigration terminal on Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Transatlantic crossings often offer lectures by 1-3 experts.  I was disappointed to learn that we only had one lecturer on board, a specialist in music.  I went to his first presentation on the music of Bermuda our first day at sea, the day after our departure.  We will arrive in Bermuda tomorrow.  Although I slept well, the day hours proved a little more challenging in the rough water.  It was hard to walk around the room or stand in the shower without using the walls for balance.  At the lecture in the Cabaret at the front of the ship, I worried that the lecturer would not be able to remain standing; it was distracting.  He did tell us that a destination lecturer had been booked, but didn’t make the ship.  We can only speculate as to why.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Manhattan skyline from our cruise ship in New York Harbor.

Cabin selection is always an option when booking a cruise.  If you are prone to sea sickness, are doing a crossing, or going through known rough waters (like when we went around Cape Horn (southern end of South America) or the Cape of Good Hope (southern end of Africa), I recommend selecting a cabin in the center of the ship  which means less movement.  If you don’t want to spring for these more expensive rooms, opt for the back rather than the front of the ship.  This might also be the time to save some money and not book that room at the upper level.  Lower rooms also are generally less rocky.


Photo©Jean Janssen. On the dessert table at the Easter Brunch Buffet aboard the Azamara Journey.

We met a couple who were actually disappointed that they got upgraded from a window room on level 4 to a balcony on level 6 due to the rough weather.  Hopefully they will enjoy the room the latter part of the cruise.  The captain told us that we should have good weather the rest of the crossing.  I retreated to the cabin to sleep where the rocking was an advantage.  I never got sick, just hated the out of control feeling related to balance.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Just one of the tables that made up the Easter buffet aboard the Azamara Journey. Note the cute rabbit faces made from melons.

Azamara did a special buffet for Easter Monday, complete with decorations.  The food has been wonderful and the brunch with huge boiled shrimp and crab legs did not disappoint a seafood lover like myself.  The Jazz Band played throughout, even getting into the Easter spirit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Azamara Journey Jazz Band got into the Easter spirit at Easter Brunch.

After this day at sea, we will be on board the ship in the morning before docking in Hamilton, Bermuda in the afternoon.  We will overnight in Hamilton, before continuing our crossing.  After four staight days at sea we will reach the Azores, considered part of Portugal.  Our final cruise designation is Lisbon.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A view of Liberty Island in New York Harbor from our cruise ship.

Natasha is heading out across the Atlantic…

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The Painted Churches of Texas


Traveling Tri Deltas from the Houston Alumnae Chapter with our guide Sharon outside St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, Texas.

This special edition post of travelbynatasha.com is dedicated to the sisters of Delta Delta Delta.  They are the ones who made this trip special.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful painted ceilings and archways of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill, Texas.

Shortly before 9 am on a spring Friday morning we left Houston to visit the historical Painted Churches of Texas near Schulenburg.  This small central Texas town on the Old Spanish Trail is approximately halfway from Houston to San Antonio, Texas.  It is also about an hour and a half from Austin.  This area was settled primarily by German and Czech-speaking immigrants.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, “[t]he largest ethnic group in Texas derived directly from Europe was persons of German birth or descent. As early as 1850, they constituted more than 5 percent of the total Texas population, a proportion that remained constant through the remainder of the nineteenth century.”  Even as late as the 1990 census, “Germans rank[ed] behind Hispanics [to] form the third-largest national-origin group in the state.”  Schulenburg sits in the heart of this German Belt.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Both my paternal grandparents grew up in Moulton, Texas, just 21 miles from Schulenburg (and only 12 miles from Praha where the final church we will visit is located).  I grew up going to the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in this area.  I still attend the annual fall festival at St. Joseph’s in Moulton; 28-year-old Rocky has attended more than 20 times.  Yes, this is a family tradition and this area feels like home.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

I grew up worshiping in Catholic churches like the ones we visited never thinking they were different or special.  Maybe they were older than the Cathedral parish that was my home in Victoria (a little farther south), but the Roman altars I thought looked like castles as a child were part of my religious and cultural identity.

Maybe that is why I am drawn to visiting churches when in Europe,  particularly the painted ones in places like Krakow, Munich, and Budapest.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas. Pulpits like these were removed from most churches after Vatican II when electric wiring and sound systems allowed the priests to be heard throughout the church. Fortunately this beautiful example remains in High Hill.

This year our Houston sorority alumnae group wanted to offer a range of social gatherings that appealed to Tri Delta alumnae of all ages.  Our membership includes recent college graduates to 90+year old members who have celebrated their diamond circle degree (75 years of membership).  These events would go beyond our traditional annual events and vary from year to year.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

Natasha got tapped to lead this new Sisters Connect concept.  Along with a committee, I planned six events.  The tour of the Painted Churches was our first choice and the only one among this inaugural year’s offerings to be a day-long event.  My event chair Connie and I made a test run in July to visit the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce and check out a few dining options.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Our group traveled by chartered bus from a church in west central Houston.   We left just after the morning rush hour and made the trip in about an hour and a half, enjoying the beautiful Texas wildflowers along the highway.  That said, I not sure most people were looking out the windows.  The conversation was lively and the volume on the bus pretty high.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Historic Downtown building in Schulenburg, Texas.

We enjoyed coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls made by one of our chapter members, Madelyn before arriving at the Chamber of Commerce office next to the railroad tracks and across from the city’s historic downtown buildings.  Our local guide joined the group here.  I highly recommend engaging one of the local guides.  The cost is only $10/person and she gives travel instruction and church and social commentary.  We learned a great deal from Sharon.  She is a volunteer.  The $10 is divided equally between the four churches and the chamber ($2 per visitor to each) to help with the restoration efforts.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in High Hill, Texas.

Our first stop was St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in High Hill, Texas referred to as the “Queen of the Painted Churches”.  This facade of the church is made entirely of handmade red bricks.  This church lies among the tree-less fields cleared for the planting of cotton.  The name High Hill was chosen by the community to remind them of the hills in Germany and Austria that they left behind.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The stained glass from Munich, Germany in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill, Texas.

This is the third church to be built on this site.  The land was deeded to the parish in 1868 and the first church constructed in 1869. A second larger church was built in 1876 and the original church became the parish school.  The irreplaceable stained glass from Munich was stored in a local barn when a hurricane came through the area.  It was incorporated into the third church built in 1906.  The beautiful interior painting was added in 1912.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

The church is a classic example of the Gothic Revival style.  Like all the churches we are visiting this day, it is reflective of the materials and style reminiscent of the settlers’ homeland.  It is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stained glass in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas. The shape of the center figure represents good luck, the white edelweiss flowers the Austrian heritage, and the red beets their shared heritage with Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A marker representing the original settlers’ heritage at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

Next to the church is a small home, charming in and of itself, which offers a gift shop run by volunteers.  We made a stop before departing just to offer support for their church and the restoration efforts.  There are crafts, religious items, and memorabilia.  The shop did offer for sale a pamphlet covering the history of the church ($10) and another detailing the interior decoration of the church ($5).  During my first visit to the Chamber of Commerce I picked up the “Schulenburg ‘Offical home of the Painted Churches’ Historic & Scenic Driving Tours” ($5).  They are also available at the High Hill gift shop.  This was the only church on our tour that offered a gift shop.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas. As you enter the church, words in Old German adorn the walls. Notice the bell ropes; they are still use today to operate the church bells.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the sidewalk as you enter the church at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

High Hill is only 3 miles north of Interstate 10 and Schulenburg, Texas.  Current restoration efforts were completed in 2011 and St. Mary’s now appears in all its’ glory.  As you enter the church you find old German on the wall.  On the north side is psalm 47:10 and translates to “We have received O Lord Your divine mercy within Your temple.”  The church’s fall festival is held each year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Our second stop was St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammansville, Texas.  During the short drive over, we enjoyed more of the plentiful Texas wildflowers and drove past the charming KJT Hall just north of the church.  The Hall once served as a church, a school, a meeting place, and a library.  Today it is used for reunions, wedding receptions, and the parish picnic on Fathers’ Day weekend.  Unfortunately, the Hall is not air conditioned.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

My favorite part of St. John’s was the beautiful white wood exterior.  I did not find the interior particularly attractive, but I am not a big fan of mauve or overhead florescent lights.  Like the High Hill church, St. John’s featured the three Roman Altars made in San Antonio, Texas by a craftsman who copied the Italian style popular during this time.  In St. John’s the altars were painted white, reflective of a slightly different cultural preference of the group that started the church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas. The stained glass features the name of the donor in a panel near the bottom. A common practice during this time.

Like the High Hill church, the current church is the third iteration.  The first church from 1909 was destroyed by a storm; the second church was destroyed by fire, although some of the statutes were saved by parishioners that rushed inside the burning church to save them.  The present church was started in 1917.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas. The stained glass panels of the left side of the church (with one exception) feature female saints.

I was very surprised to learn that the interior painting, like that at St. Mary’s in High Hill, was done on canvas.  The canvas was then transferred and attached to the walls and ceilings.  The interior of St. John’s features stenciling and marbling techniques.  Noteworthy is the fact that the stained glass on the left side of the church features all female saints (except for one panel featuring Jesus) while the right side is male saints.  Female parishioners sat on the left side (like today’s wedding guests of the bride sit on the left side) while males sat on the right.  Small hat clips are featured on the pews on the left side.  Similarly, often statutes of angels found on the left side of the church are in pink robes, while those on the right are in blue robes.

IMG-8537 2

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas. Note the placement of the angel holy water fonts in blue and pink robes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Right side altar at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Left side altar at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Oddly, both side altars feature large statutes of the Virgin Mary.  Usually Mary is just featured on one of the side altars.  The Madonna to the left has the unique features of a different Czech minority group.  A female patron with this heritage paid to have the statute added as a tribute to her heritage and to gain a sense of the familiar.  Note Jesus’ dangling sandal.  There are stories of the child Jesus escaping his parents which are associated with this depiction of Mary and the infant Jesus.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Outside was a wonderful cemetery beside a lake featuring beautiful statuary.  I hope to have time to walk through and take pictures on my next visit.  Yes, I am already planning a next time.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Our final stop before lunch was Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas built in 1912.  The community’s name came from the Czech word Dub, meaning a grove of oak trees.  The first settlers came in 1856 from the northeastern area of Moravia.  An earlier church on this site was destroyed in a tropical storm in July of 1909, but the iron cross on the steeple was salvaged from that structure.  The original church was constructed in 1877 after the Civil War.  That church was topped with the same iron cross made by freed slave and blacksmith, Tom Lee.  Alan Oakes, C.S.P., Dubina:  Giant Oaks from Acorns Grow.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

In 1952 the church was “modernized” and much of the beautiful painted artwork was covered in a gray-green paint.  Fortunately, the upper portions of the wall were left uncovered.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful stations of the cross in Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Later restoration in the 1980s removed the paint and the parishioners themselves-not trained artists-added the stencil work that is seen today on the lower portion of the walls.  Although some liberties were taken, some of the original stencils were found and some of the original artwork uncovered.  “Judge Ed Janecka recalled as an altar boy seeing the faint traces of the earlier designs when the sunlight hit the walls of the church.”  Alan Oakes, C.S.P., from a retelling by Judge Ed Janecka who led the restoration efforts on the church, Dubina:  Giant Oaks from Acorns Grow.



Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

The parish later paid a trained artist to add the the stars on the ceiling.  The work was done in the style of Michangelo, with scaffolding and the artist lying on his back.  If you look closely, you can see that the stars are of various sizes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Today the community at Dubina numbers only about 200.  Their parish feast is on the first Sunday of July.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe, Schulenburg, Texas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe, Schulenburg, Texas.

From Dubina, we made our way back to Schulenburg for lunch at a charming old home that had been renovated to accommodate a restaurant.  There was wonderful outdoor seating which some of us enjoyed on this beautiful day.  In the July, Connie and I had had our lunch in the cool, air conditioned interior.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe, Schulenburg, Texas.

The Garden Company also has a wonderful gift shop and garden center behind the restaurant and many of our sisters enjoyed a little shopping after lunch.  At the restaurant’s request, we had a late lunch at 1:30 pm to avoid the Friday lunch crowd.  As soon as we sat down, they took our drink orders and served us beverages.  We had pre-ordered our food selections and it came out very quickly.  I recommend the pre-order option if you are traveling in a large group.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

Our final church visit was to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, Texas eight miles west of Schulenburg.  The community was first settled by Czech-Moravian families in 1854.  St. Mary’s Parish was established in 1855.  The stone church we visited today was built in 1895.  The stone used in the church’s construction is from a nearby quarry.  It was hauled by oxen to the church site.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas


As with many of the churches built during this time, much of the labor used in the construction of the church was provided by the parishioners themselves.  I am proud to say that my own paternal family, mostly carpenters, help build both the Catholic church, St. Joseph’s (paternal grandmother’s family, the Broschs) and the the Lutheran church (paternal grandfather’s family, the Janssens) in Moulton, just 12 miles from Praha.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

In this church the shape of the vaulted ceiling to resemble an overturned boat is quite pronounced.  Unlike the canvas-painted ceilings in the churches we saw early in the tour,  it is obvious that this painting is done directly on the wood.  The ceiling painting done by a Swiss-born artist Gottfried Flury from Moulton is original.  The depictions are meant to be reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome.  It is amazing that the beautiful color is still vibrant even though the work has never been repainted.  Preservation is most likely the reason that we were not allowed to turn the lights on in the church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The restored Ambo or pulpit in Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

Although the ceiling is original, the church has undergone extensive renovation to maintain this structure originally built in 1895; renovation work is detailed on the church’s website.  Pictures of the work are also online.  The church’s Ambo or pulpit, removed in 1965 post Vatican II, has been lovingly returned and restored.  The canopy had been lost, but a replacement was crafted by an artist from nearby Moulton.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

The interior boasts some beautiful painted wood door panels and confessionals.  On the main altar there are also two wood statutes carved from wood from the Black Forest in Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.  These two statutes are made of wood from Germany’s Black Forest.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas. Stained Glass featuring the image of the pelican.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas. Stained Glass featuring the image of the pelican.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The image of the pelican mother is painted above a doorway in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in High Hill, Texas.

Also within the church is a stained glass panel depicting a mother pelican piercing her own breast to feed her young.  The image was found in several of the churches we visited.  “The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation…Given this tradition, one can easily see why the early Christians adapted it to symbolize our Lord, Jesus Christ…The pelican symbolizes Jesus our Redeemer who gave His life for our redemption…Moreover, Jesus continues to feed us with His body and blood in the holy Eucharist.”  Fr. William P. Sanders, “The Symbolism of the Pelican”, The Catholic Herald.  The image also appears on the Louisiana state flag.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas. In older churches you can find the traditional baptismal font in the back of the church, sometimes in a gated area. After Vatican II, baptisms now take place in the front of church to be witnessed by the entire congregation.


Mary’s Grotto on the grounds ofSt. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.


Memorial to WWII veterans on the grounds of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

Outside you will find the traditional grotto with a statute of Mary.  Additionally, there are three small covered monuments to commemorate the death of the nine members of the community who left to fight in World War II.  None of them returned.  An annual remembrance service featuring a flyover and flower drop is held each year.  The community feast held in August is called the Prazka Pout which means homecoming.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sengelmann Hall, Schulenburg, Texas


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Upstairs in Sengelmann Hall, Schulenburg, Texas

Our touring complete, we returned to Schulenburg to drop our guide Sharon off at the Visitors Center.  On our way out of town, we drove by Senglemann Hall.  One of our chapter members is married to a member of the Senglemann family.  Connie read an account from her father-in-law about the building, a dance hall that was hit hard by prohibition.  Today a restaurant serving German food is on the ground floor.  Connie and I had a chance to tour the upstairs dance hall and balcony when we visited back in July.


Photo ©Jean Janssen


Photo ©Jean Janssen


Connie and I got lucky on the way back to Houston.  Chapter Presidents Brandy and Kristin served the snacks and drinks.


Service with a (delta) smile.  On the way back to Houston, Chapter Presidents Brandy and Kristin served our snacks and drinks.

It was a wonderful day.  We were headed against traffic on the ride back to Houston and made good time.  In route we enjoyed wine and snacks.  We pulled into the parking lot at 5:28, meeting our 5:30 ETA.  The lenten season was a wonderful time to make this special trip, reminding me of my cultural and religious heritage and celebrating this spiritual season.  Sharing the day with my sisters made it all the more special.  I recommend a trip out to see the Painted Churches of Texas, a spiritual journey of beauty and heritage.



Photo ©Jean Janssen


Photo ©Jean Janssen



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