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PORTUGAL
Fall 2004

Vila do Conde | Guimaraes | Amarante | Porto | Aveiro
Coimbra | Sintra | Cascais | Ericeira | Lisboa

Aveiro

The day started sunny and cool, perfect weather for walking from The Grande Hotel do Porto to the Sao Bento train station. We had opted to take the suburban line to Aveiro, rather than the regular train, for a different experience. Instead of half an hour it would take an hour, but it was worth it. There is a scrolling electronic sign on the platform that updates the on time and customer satisfaction performances of this line.

As we approached to board, a woman was completing the cleaning of the car by shining the metal strips around and under the doors. The design of the train was similar to the metro, wide seats and lots of standing room. Overhead electronic signing indicated the outside temperature, which side to exit, and the next station’s name. The ride was very quiet, pretty along the coast, and right on time. We had left at 10:35 and arrived at 11:35.

Train station - Aveiro, PortugalWe would be staying in Aveiro one night before heading to Coimbra. We stopped to verify the train times. The two men behind the counter spoke English and went out of their way to be as helpful as possible. Not only did they give us the best advice as to which train to take but insisted on drawing us a map indicating the route from the train station to our hotel. Exiting the train station, we were struck by the beauty of the colorful tiles on the exterior of the building. It was an easy ten minute stroll straight down the main boulevard, Avenida Dr. Lourenco Peixinho, to Rua Eng. Ron Hafe where Hotel As Americas is located at #20.

The hotel is comprised of two adjacent buildings in two distinct designs, modern and art nouveau. In the modern part are the marble and glass lobby, lounge, conference rooms and seventy guest rooms, two of which are suites. The older art nouveau section is home to the breakfast room, bar and game room. Our room was modest in size and furnishings. There was a double/queen size bed, desk, two chairs, satellite TV, and A/C., the basic comforts.

Aveiro’s history goes back to 959 when, because of its salt pans it became a sea trading and commercial center. In 1575 storms silted the harbor blocking access to the sea. In the early 1800's a link was once more connected. It took until the 19th century for Aveiro to make a comeback. Today there is lots of industry around the city proper and the Rio de Aveiro and its canals give the city center a unique and quaint character.

We came to Aveiro to not only visit the city but to tour Vista Alegre, the premier creator of Portuguese porcelain, which is located just outside the city center. We had a late afternoon appointment to tour. So first things first, we’d start with lunch, walk the city and finally take a taxi to Vista Alegre.

Turning right from the hotel Linda spotted a sign at #36-c Rua Eng. Von Hafe for a restaurant, Academia de Petiscos which is tucked down a corridor between two buildings. The 5 euro lunch special price on the sign was enticing. Decorated in blue, yellow and white, the restaurant was bright, attractive and clean, as was the waitress who greeted us. The place had been open for just one month. We kept our fingers crossed, but heck, it was just one meal and how wrong could we go at the special price. It turned out to be a real winner! Lunch started with a very nice vegetable soup and terrific dense corn bread and rolls. We chose the carapau, 2 medium size, fresh out of the water beauties, for each of us! They were perfectly grilled with olive oil and garlic, garnished with grilled onions and served with boiled potato and fresh green beans. Oh yes, the 5 euro price included sliced fresh pineapple and mango, coffee and bottled water. Wow!

Canal - Aveiro, Portugal, Going west, Av.Dr. Lourenco Peixinho becomes Rua Viana Do Castelo at the end of which is the central Praca Humberto Delgada which bridges the central canal. On the south side of the canal are the main historic buildings and on the north side is the old quarter bordered by the central canal, Canal de S. Roque and the Canal das Piramides. Here the whitewashed houses of the fishermen are intermingled with restaurants offering their fresh catches, cafes and shops. The colorful boats anchored in the central canal and the art nouveau houses along the banks are reflected in all their beauty in the waters of the canal. It is a picture perfect scene.

Because of its contacts in the Orient, Portugal was one of the first European countries to know about porcelain. Jose Ferreira Pinto Basto, a strong willed entrepreneur founded the Vista Alegre porcelain factory near Aveiro in Quinta da Vista Alegre da Ermida in 1824, giving birth to the porcelain manufacturing industry in Portugal.

Artist painting porcelain statue - Vista Alegre - PortugalThe business has passed through two generations in the same family creating a dynasty of Pinto Basto directors. The workshops, artists and artisans have passed on their crafts from generation to generation maintaining a continuity of creativity and production excellence. Directors and staff have worked together to innovate and improve the process and product.

The factory enjoys a place of honor within the Portuguese porcelain industry. The raw materials used are exclusively national and the manufacturing technique flawless. The paste products are exceptionally white, characterized by fineness, translucence, performance and elegance. Its transparent glaze is bright and homogeneous. After a guided tour of the factory through the entire creative and manufacturing process all of this became "porcelain" clear. It was amazing to see the "secret paste" being transformed to final art pieces. Watching the process from the creation of the designs, to the forming of the moulds, to the artists meticulously painting, to the glazing, etc. was an amazing experience. It is no wonder that it can be said that Vista Alegre porcelain can be found in every Portuguese home. Even in our home here in Toronto, we have had pieces for years!

The Vista Alegre Museum is a testimony to the founding family, a history of design, art and color and a collection of designs made for royalty, dignitaries and major historical events. It was interesting to learn that the logo on the pieces changes every four years when a new company president is chosen. There is also a lovely chapel on the property.

Vista Alegre Museum, PortugalWe came to learn of the amazing culture of this company. The two generations of founding family and staff are in effect one big family. There are homes on the property in which staff lives for a rental fee of one day’s pay per month and when they retire they can live there free of charge. There is a volunteer fire department, day care, doctor and nurse on staff, and an ambulance. Oh, yes, lunch in the cafeteria is 1 euro for any employee. An outside contractor runs the cafeteria and Vista Alegre subsidizes the cost. During the year there are many parties and special occasions for all staff and their families, funded entirely by the company. Vista Alegre is very special in many respects. Tours must be booked in advance, to accommodate the language requirements of the participants.

We did not have to leave our street to eat. Across from the hotel is the Brazilian style (both in menu and environment) Restaurante Galetos Dourados Tel. 234 427 401. While we nibbled on corn bread and olives, the waiter came over with skewers of luscious looking grilled sausages. It was impossible for me to say no to that presentation and I'm glad I didn't. Crisp, firm and juicy inside and wonderfully flavorful. We then shared grilled Brazilian Picanha, thin cut skirt steak with a touch of heat served with salad, fries and rice. It was an okay meal at an okay price.

The buffet breakfast in the morning was quite good with lots of healthy choices. Oranges and an electric juicer were available for self-serve fresh orange juice. The fruit and cereals were abundant and the breads, rolls and cakes were of excellent quality. Homemade sweet tomato and peach jams were special. The meat, cheese and eggs lovers had lots to cheer about. The staff was attentive, cleaning off the tables and attending the buffet as needed. Now if they do a little renovating of the rooms they will earn their four star rating.

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