In Belém, Portugal: A massive monument dedicated to Prince Henry the Navigator and Portuguese overseas expansion

Prince Henry the Navigator holds a multi-masted caravel, a ship that helped explorers increase Portugal’s territory, at the front of the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, Portugal. Kneeling behind him is his brother Prince Fernando (Ferdinand) and behind him navigator Joáo Gonçalves Zarco.


By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the seventh post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See January 16, 2018 for a post about a visit to Taylor’s port wine lodge in Porto; February 18 about the National Tile Museum and making a ceramic tile; June 2, 2017 about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon; July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto; August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal; and September 3 on custard tarts, a Portuguese specialty.

If the Monument to the Discoveries had been commissioned by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator during his lifetime (1394-1460), the towering structure might have been labeled by some as a vanity project.

Whatever the size of Henry’s ego, hundreds of years later, he’s the dominant figure at the head of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos that tops out at almost 185 feet tall (56 meters) and dwarfs everything else along the picturesque waterfront in the Belém section of western Lisbon.

His right hand cradles a multi-masted caravel, the maneuverable, swift ship favored by Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the 15th to 17th centuries. In his left is an unfurled map. His right leg juts forward, as if he’s about to step off the prow and onto the latest piece of land that Portuguese explorers have claimed for their royal house.

The limestone and cement monument, based on an earlier, temporary model, was established in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death. It was conceived years earlier by architect Cottinelli Telmo (1897-1948) and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975), who designed the likenesses of Prince Henry and 32 historical men and women who line both sides of the ramps of a structure that depicts a ship’s prow.

The monument stands nearly 185 feet tall and was established in 1960 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry’s death. This view is from the west side.

Henry, son of King João I of Portugal (1357-1433) and English princess Philippa of Lancaster (1359-1415), was a man of many interests, spanning the fields of politics, religion, economics and science. His foresight was to pay unimaginable dividends for centuries to come. Less charitable descriptions of him might mention greed and religious persecution (the Christian was strongly anti-Muslim).

Bordered by Spain on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west, any ambitions to expand Portugal’s holdings were bound to involve going to sea and claiming far-off territory.

Second from last on the west side is Queen Philippa of Lancaster, mother of Prince Henry. As an English princess, she represented an important alliance when she married into Portuguese royalty. Behind her is her son Prince Pedro (Peter). The figure on the right holding the written document is Luis de Camões, who immortalized Vasco da Gama’s exploits in an epic poem. In front of Camões is painter Nuno Gonçalves.

The monument covers the years from 1418 to 1525, when the voyagers and their ships were pioneering new routes to the known world and beyond. Also immortalized in stone are navigators, artists, writers, religious figures and other royalty.

Navigator Vasco da Gama (circa 1469-1524) is featured in a prominent position — gripping the handle of his sword in his left hand and the second figure behind Henry — on the east ramp (facing the Tagus river [Tejo in Portuguese]). At almost 30 feet tall (9 meters), Henry is the largest of the figures. The others are in the 23-foot (7 meters) range.

By the time de Gama left what is now Belém in 1497, with three caravels and a supply ship, King Manuel I (1469-1521) was on the throne. November found da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, then heading up the east coast of that continent. By May 1498, he had crossed the Indian Ocean and put in at Calicut in southwestern India, thus opening up a trade route for fragrant spices such as curry and cinnamon, and the gold and slaves from Africa.

Directly behind Prince Henry on the east side of the monument is King Afonso V, followed by explorer Vasco da Gama (left hand on sword), explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, who claimed Brazil for Portugal, and Portuguese-born Ferdinand Magellan, who was in service to the Spanish crown.

Also among the explorers on the east ramp is Pedro Álvares Cabral, with his hand over his heart. Cabral, of nobel birth, followed a route to India similar to da Gama’s with a few major differences: His expedition sailed with 13 ships, and it called in first on the east coast of Brazil, where he took possession of the country for his king in April 1500. (He originally named it Island of the True Cross.)

Portugal not only colonized the largest country in South America (it declared its independence in 1822), but gained access to, in addition to other riches, gold mines and sugar cane plantations, and transported slaves from Africa to work them.

In service to the rival Spanish crown after a disagreement with Manuel I, Portuguese-born explorer Ferdinand Magellan (circa 1480-1521) led the expedition that was first to circumnavigate the globe. Fernão de Magalhães (in Portuguese) is also on the east ramp of the monument, right behind Cabral. His route, with five ships and 270 men, went west from Spain in September 1519, down the east coast of South America and in October 1520 into the eponymous Strait of Magellan, the passage between Tierra del Fuego (and its islands) and the mainland.

Less than five months later — March 1521 — they had reached the Philippines. In late April, Magellan and some of the sailors were killed in an island tribal skirmish. Only one ship made it back to Spain, in September 1522, under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano.

Part of the Compass Rose, showing caravels and some 16th century “discoveries.”

On the spacious square leading to the monument is an attractive red-and-black Compass Rose, a gift from South Africa, measuring about 165 feet (50 meters) in diameter. Some sources say the design is composed from inlaid limestone; others say it’s marble.

At the center is a maplike element illustrating the continents, with dates and named caravels showing the explorers’ main 15th- and 16th-century routes. Cobblestones in alternating waves of tan and black surround the Compass Rose.

Past the Compass Rose, heading toward the river, several steps lead to the interior entrance of the monument, where visitors can climb 267 stairs or take an elevator to the viewing platform (included in the entry fee) and a panorama of the Belém area. Exhibits and a film are on a lower level.

Part of the square and the entrance side to the monument, including the sword of Avis on a stylized cross. Technically, this is the back of the monument.

Also from the entrance side, an enormous, multistory sword of Avis centered on a stylized cross. The website says these symbols indicated “the growth of the empire and faith.”

In addition to the monument, there is much to see in Belém, including the Torre de Belém (tower built 1514-20); the very grand and imposing white limestone Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery), home to the tombs of Camões and da Gama, an archaeological museum and a maritime museum; a war memorial; the 16th century Palácio de Belém, the working residence of Portugal’s president; Antiga Confeitaria, famous for its custard tarts (see September 3, 2017 post); and other sights.

Quick reference: Monument to the Discoveries, Avenida Brasilia 1400-038. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays October to February, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. every day March to September; closed January 1, May 1 and December 25. Admission: 5 euros (about $6.15); check website for discounts. No cost if just looking at the exterior Compass Rose and figures on the monument.


In New York City: How one man’s obsession for Native American art led to the creation of two museums

Nearly 160,000 beads went into the creation of this Inuit “amauti” or “tuilli,” a woman’s inner parka from Nunavut, Canada, circa 1890-1925. It’s made from caribou skin, stroud cloth, metal pendants and caribou teeth. Read below for further details.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

It all began with a Navajo deerskin shirt, which George Gustav Heye (1874-1957) acquired in 1897 in Kingston, Arizona, where he was the superintendent on a railroad project.

By the time he died, Heye, who held a degree in electrical engineering, had amassed more than 800,000 indigenous peoples’ objects — perhaps the single largest collection held by a private individual — and co-founded the Museum of the American Indian in New York, which was opened to the public in a new building at 155th Street and Broadway in 1922. The native New Yorker was its director from inception until a year before his death.

Sunka Luta (Red Dog) of the Lakota Oglala tribe, living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in what is now South Dakota, drew 52 images in a leather-bound ledger around 1884. Red Dog was a brother-in-law to Chief Red Cloud and often acted as his spokesman. Eagle feathers were awarded to warriors for courageous deeds such as liberating a horse from an enemy camp.  

Today, about 700 items ranging from basketry, to beaded moccasins and clothing, to carved masks, pottery and more are on display at the National Museum of the American Indian-New York, George Gustav Heye Center, which I toured on a recent Sunday.

These exquisite artifacts, showcasing Native Americans’ masterful command of many disciplines, convey the tribes’ inextricable connection to nature and the land.

Since October 1994, this part of the collection has been located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, completed in lower Manhattan in 1907. The Beaux Arts building, covering three city blocks, is a destination in itself, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This padded saddle (not to be confused with a frame saddle) was probably made in Canada around 1880 and belonged to a Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) rider. The soft leather form is stuffed with grass, buffalo or horse hair. Glass-beaded floral and geometric motifs decorate the top. Wool, brass bells and yarn hang from the edges. Tribes such as the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Assiniboine and Dakota also used padded saddles.

Because the museum is a branch of the Smithsonian, admission is free, especially welcome in an extremely pricy city. Its location adjacent to Battery Park is also convenient for those interested in an American history day out: The ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants came into the New World from 1892 to 1954, leaves from the park at the southern tip of Manhattan. (The ferry ticket includes both island stops.)

Heye was also an investment banker for eight years in the early 1900s. When the ups and downs of the financial world no longer held much interest — but had imparted a liberating fortune — he gained further funding from his well-off family and friends and turned his full attention to his voracious, consuming passion.

He enlisted anthropologists on his quest, and sent them on buying trips to far-flung parts of North America, South America and Central America. An enthusiastic amateur — he had no academic training in archaeology, anthropology or curatorial rigor — Heye also took an active role himself, purchasing goods from tribes, dealers and museums.

Beaded floral motifs also adorn both sets of deerskin and cotton thread moccasins. They were worn by members of the Nimi ‘ipuu (Nez Perce) tribe, probably made around 1880 in Idaho, 10 years before it became a state.

After Heye’s death, his museum fell on hard times, including a dubious episode of a former director being charged with giving away or selling artifacts for his own benefit. Among the failed schemes to revive it was an offer of $70 million from billionaire businessman H. Ross Perot to move the priceless collection to Dallas in the mid-1980s.

Finally in 1989, an agreement was reached to transfer stewardship of the artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution and legislation was passed to establish the National Museum of the American Indian, with a purpose-built building to follow on the National Mall adjacent to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

That building opened in 2004, and Heye’s collection forms the foundation for more than 85 percent of its holdings. I visited in 2008 and was wowed by the architecture inside and out, to say nothing of the abundance of engrossing artifacts. (Photographs, paintings and treaty documents are in the collection at the Washington location.)

The permanent exhibit in New York, grouped geographically, is titled “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.”

Much of the explanatory signage is brief, confined to a description of the materials used, the name of the tribe and its region, and the date the object was likely made.

This headdress of blue and red macaw feathers and white heron feathers comes from Brazil.

An eye-catching, diverse array of headdresses opens the exhibit. Among the largest is a horseshoe-shaped frame covered with tightly overlapping blue and red macaw feathers, accented around the perimeter with smaller white heron feathers. From Brazil, circa 1990, it was used during naming and boys’ initiation ceremonies. In an accompanying photograph, it looks cumbersome, the top arching above the back of the wearer’s head, and the bottom edges brushing the upper thighs.

In-depth information accompanies the 10 “focal-point” pieces, enclosed in stand-alone display cases. Accompanying media feature touch-screen images, text and a scholar talking about the details and background of the object.

Eleven stripe-like rifles span the shoulder area of the top half of the Apsáalooke (Crow) warrior’s exploit robe, acquired from Fort Benton, Montana in 1861. The buffalo hide retells six incidents in a warrior’s life. (Please ignore the reflection on the glass from the overhead lights.)

One of the star items tells its own story. The Apsáalooke (Crow) warrior’s exploit robe, one of two known to be in any collection, dates to around 1850 and was secured from Fort Benton, Montana, in 1861. Its elongated figures and weapons illustrate six episodes attesting to the warrior’s bravery in battle, essential for any male aspiring to a tribal leadership role. It measures about 7.4 feet long and about 6.4 feet wide (224 by 193 centimeters).

Made from buffalo hide, pigment, red wool trade cloth, beads, porcupine quills and horsehair, the robe is read from top to bottom and from right to left. Though a Crow garment, it was in possession of a Blackfoot, who may have come by it through the spoils of war, trade or as a gift. The enemy tribes would have visited Fort Benton, a major trading post, to acquire beads, steel knives, copper pots, guns, powder and lead.

Spanning the shoulders on either side of the beadwork are 11 parallel long-barreled guns (they look like stripes), which the warrior took from the enemy. The red triangle on the left side signifies a horse’s head.

Another magnificent garment, noted for its vibrant colors, beadwork and functionality, is an Inuit “amauti” or “tuilli,” a woman’s inner parka from Nunavut, Canada, circa 1890-1925. More specifically, it was acquired near Cape Fullerton, a former whaling station on the west coast of Hudson Bay.

Inuit men were hired as hunting guides and to crew the whaleboats, while the women sewed mitts, parkas, boots and sleeping bags.

Crafted from caribou skin, nearly 160,000 glass beads, stroud cloth, caribou teeth and metal pendants, the wide-shouldered parka would have allowed a mother to carry her baby in a neck-level pouch on the back, and swing the infant around to the front when it was time to nurse, minimizing its exposure to the elements.

Design elements such as the antique metal dividers from the original Cashier’s Office at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House are preserved in the museum store. The newly expanded shop has a wide range of expertly crafted Native American jewelry, rugs, carvings and more. 

These beautiful objects might inspire visitors to start their own collection, beginning with a stop at the museum store. High-quality jewelry, rugs, wood and stone carvings, apparel, pottery and basketry crafted by Native American artists are among the extensive inventory, complemented by a range of books and DVDs.

The shop has just undergone a $2 million renovation, increasing the display space to 3,000 feet. This area was the Cashier’s Office of the U.S. Custom House, back when it was a major revenue collection location. The expansion retained the gate-like antique metal dividers that date to the early 1900s, and the chandeliers and crown molding were also preserved.


The National Museum of the American Indian’s New York branch is located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan.

Quick reference: National Museum of the American Indian-New York, George Gustav Heye Center, 1 Bowling Green, adjacent to northeast corner of Battery Park. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, until 8 p.m. Thursdays. Closed December 25. Admission: Free. Visitors must pass through security screening and metal detector. No storage lockers, no cafe.

Other exhibits: “Manifestipi,” through March 25, 2018; “Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed,” through May 20, 2018; “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound,” through January 6, 2019; “Circle of Dance,” though April 2019.

The third floor is home to the New York branch of the National Archives. It’s open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For those with genealogical ties to New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, this is a good place to start tracing your family history. Access to some records requires an appointment. Check the website for details.

The art of Portuguese tiles: Where skill and imagination intersect with history and culture

Portuguese creativity has come a long way from blue-and-white tiles painted in the Delft style. This three-dimensional celebration of nature was on a side wall near a business in Lisbon.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the sixth post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See January 16, 2018 for a post about a visit to Taylor’s port wine lodge in Porto; June 2, 2017 about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon; July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto; August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal; and September 3 on custard tarts, a Portuguese specialty.

Even if you are in a hurry to make a train connection, or upon arrival just eager to get to your hotel, do not pass up the opportunity to spend a few minutes craning your neck upward to study the illustrations, composed of more than 20,000 tiles, that decorate the mansard-roofed São Bento station in Porto.

At the São Bento train station in Porto, Portugal, more than 20,000 hand-painted tiles make up the scenes depicted all over the walls.

These elaborate hand-painted interior pictures, depicting folk scenes and important events in Portuguese history, are among the most well-known in a country with no shortage of decorative tile work.

One panel tells the story of the Battle of Aljubarrota, a 14th-century face-off between Portugal and Spain, which ended with a victory for John I and the English-backed Portuguese.

Another portrays Henry the Navigator’s (1394-1460) conquest of Ceuta (in Morocco) in 1415, which ushered in the era of Portuguese colonial expansion.

Attention to detail breathes life into this scene in the São Bento train station.

The pastoral ones are more compact and easier to see because they are lower on the walls, some of which have three tiers or more of tile work.

Polished ceramic tiles — and pottery for that matter — are a long-ingrained part of Portugal’s culture. Brightly colored squares can be found adorning the exterior of many buildings, sometimes snaking around balconies and windows while climbing from street level to the roof.

On some churches, every exterior inch is covered in tiles. At random locations around Lisbon, contemporary three-dimensional techniques show the range of this eye-catching craft.

The Moors first brought the process to Portugal, as early as the eighth century. Interlocking patterns were generally geometrical, or representations drawn from nature because it was against Islamist tradition to depict the human figure.

New approaches and mass production were introduced in the ensuing centuries, and by the 1700s, the Portuguese had melded these outside influences into a style all their own.

That a museum in Lisbon is dedicated to tiles and their history only underscores the ongoing association with this accessible art.

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), housed in a former convent on Lisbon’s eastern side, takes up the story of tiles in Portugal from the 15th century on.

One section of the 75-foot-long panorama of Lisbon’s waterfront, as it looked around 1740. The panorama was transferred from one of the city’s palaces to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum).

Its can’t-miss attraction in a second-floor gallery is a 75-foot-long (23 meters) panorama of Lisbon’s waterfront as it appeared around 1740. Executed in the blue-and-white Delft style, it’s also a historical document because the look of central Lisbon was much changed following the devastating earthquake of November 1, 1755, which killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 of the 270,000 population.

A red information panel runs along the bottom of the panorama, identifying, where possible, the buildings and includes some historical details.

Elements from the Madre de Deus convent, such as a small cloister, were incorporated into the museum. The tiles featured on its walls date to the 19th century.

Also surviving is the barrel-vaulted church, constructed over three centuries, and featuring not only tile panels but heavily gilted woodwork.

Animals are the theme on the tiles around the museum’s cafeteria.

Tiles of a more whimsical variety can be found in the ground level cafeteria and winter garden area. In that this is a place of food consumption, animals in various stages of curing are on the wall tiles and wrapping the counter fronts, not jumping bunnies, wiggly pigs and flitting birds.

Depending on your level of interest, budget at least an hour to 90 minutes to wander among the exhibits.

With the heavy tile presence, I thought Lisbon might afford another opportunity to make one myself, much as I had done when I visited the Royal Delft porcelain factory in Delft, in the Netherlands (see April 24, 2017 post).

So I started my search on the Museu Nacional do Azulejo website. It appeared that a workshop was offered, but no specifics were given. So I fired off an email … and waited. No response came, so I emailed the staff at my hotel, the Inspira Santa Marta, and asked if it would call and follow up my inquiry. The request was honored but the news wasn’t encouraging: workshops were held for groups of 10 only. (At the Tile Museum, I did see a table laid with blank tiles, brushes and glass bowls of paint, seemingly waiting for artists to descend.)

Then I started to really dig on the Internet. One place, in business since 1741, wanted an outrageous amount of money, charging at the same rate for two people as for a group of 10. The fee was 300 euros per person (about $376), plus VAT (value added tax). But if I was one of 10, the cost dropped to 30 euros (about $37). It also charged an additional fee to ship the tile home. I immediately eliminated that company as a possibility.

More digging, more inquires sent. Finally, I found Loja dos Descobrimentos, a small shop near Praça do Comércio (riverfront square), specializing in hand-painted tiles and workshops. It checked the right boxes: All materials were included as was the firing, we could pick up our tiles 48 hours later and no prepayment was required, just a reservation. Visa and MasterCard (and, of course, cash) accepted.

And it only cost 15 curos (about $19), VAT included.

I booked this for a morning early in our trip,  knowing that when my friend Sylvia and I finished our workshop, we would not be too far from the Tile Museum and would go there afterward.

Endless souvenir possibilities of many shapes and sizes at Loja dos Descobrimentos in Lisbon.

The shop itself was a delight. For the 300 euros the other business wanted, I could have bought a whole lot of tiles, bowls, dishes, vases and other souvenirs.

Josefa, the woman who answered my email, was our instructor, and we two her only pupils that day, sitting at a small rectangular white-topped table.

The basic steps that I had followed in Delft were in play in Lisbon. We selected from a series of stencil patterns and used little charcoal-filled cloth pouches to puff/ transfer the design outline to our tiles.

Josefa showed us how to use the color at full strength or to dilute it for contrast. We also practiced painting on shards before we set to work on our tiles. She was very specific about making long, continuous strokes emphasizing the positive aesthetics of such, rather than a series of short, spiky-looking lines. Some correction of wayward painting is possible, but it’s better to get it right the first time.

Using a charcoal-filled pouch and stencil, I transferred a floral design onto the tile on the left. The one on the right was an example of how to apply the paint and make the brushstrokes. The charcoal outline disappears in the firing process.

We worked deliberately, and spent a bit more than an hour trying to perfect our floral designs. One of the shop’s staff was painting on a vertical easel to our right, with much more speed, precision and skill.

When we finished, we browsed the shop briefly, checked what time we should return on Saturday to pick up our fired tiles, and paid for our workshop and souvenirs. Then we headed for the Tile Museum.

On Saturday morning, there was some question as to where our tiles were. Brief consultation among staff finally located them in a back room, where they were still cooling from the firing process.

Brought to us at the front counter, still warm to the touch, they were encased in bubble wrap, secure for the trip home.

Quick reference: Loja dos Descobrimentos, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 12A-14A (next door to Hotel Riverside Alfama). Phone: (+351) 281 865 563.

Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m Tuesdays-Sundays. Admission: 5 euros (about $6.27, discounts available for 65 and older and students), audio guide included. Rua da Madre de Deus 4.

On a winter’s day, a double helping of English cheddar cheese (Yes, please)

Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones pair nicely with a bowl of soup, or as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

On a rare snowy day in January here in the deep South, when going outside for any length of time was further discouraged by temperatures barely in the 20s and a gusty wind, I headed to the kitchen. I weighed making some of my favorite recipes, but this seemed like an opportunity to try some new ones.

(I’m not a cold-weather wimp — I’ve lived in North Dakota, Connecticut, Michigan, upstate New York and Missouri. Residents of those states know a thing or two about cold and snowy weather.)

I love cheese, particularly extra-sharp cheddar. I build sandwiches around it, eat it out of hand with apple slices, snack on it with crackers, layer it in casseroles, and fold it into savory baked goods. All in moderation, of course, because cheddar has a hefty fat content.

With a 20-ounce block of Coastal rugged mature cheddar, made by Ford Farms in Dorchester, England, in the refrigerator, I decided to build around that ingredient.

And what better food on a blustery day than soup? On an earlier spin through one of my cookbooks, I had marked Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup, and settled on making that.

The roux made from flour and butter (or margarine) helps thicken the soup, as does the addition of heated milk and melting cheddar. When all that is whisked together, then stirred into the vegetable base, the yield is a stick-to-the spoon thick, mildly flavored bowl of comfort.

Because cheese can present one of the hardest cleanup tasks, use an enameled Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, for making the soup. If you don’t own one, then keep a close eye on the soup and the heat level on the stove once you’ve added the milk-cheese mixture. You don’t want it to burn and make a crusty mess.

To accompany the velvety soup, and to have a “utensil” to mop up every little bit of it from the bowl, I made Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones. Hot out of the oven, they reminded me of bumpy, flaky biscuits. The cheddar oozes as the scones bake, giving them that little extra oomph. When cooled, the texture was denser, more like traditional scones.

Light cream-colored Coastal cheddar is aged for up to 15 months. Flakier than some cheddars, it has thin veins of calcium lactate crystals that impart a subtle crunch. The hit of salt is also a nice contrast to the mellow, nutty flavor of the cheese.

The soup can be a main course, balanced with a mixed green salad with red bell peppers, grape tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots and olives. Or any combination of your own liking, of course.

If you’ve had a an outdoorsy day, burning a lot of calories and energy, then there’s no need to feel guilty about this splurge on the cheddar side.


Creamy Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup is stick-to-your ribs comfort food.

Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Serves: 6 to 8

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about two large), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

4 cups water, vegetarian stock or chicken stock

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut in small dice or shredded

Carrot curls for garnish (optional)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven, combine potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onion and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover partway, and reduce heat to medium. Stir every 10 minutes or so. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.

After the soup has been cooking about 20 minutes, begin the milk-cheese part. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter or margarine over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk. Lower heat as necessary and do not let the mixture reach a boil. The mixture will thicken as you continue whisking, for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cheddar cheese and continue whisking as it melts. Keep the mixture warm until the soup is ready.

Pour the milk-cheese mix into the vegetables. Stir thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into individual dishes and garnish with carrot curls on top. As it cools, the soup will form a skin on top, so stir before serving.

Refrigerated leftovers will keep 3 to 4 days in a tightly covered container.

Adapted from “One Potato, Two Potato: 300 Recipes from Simple to Elegant — Appetizers, Main Dishes, Side Dishes, and More” by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001, $35)


Lining the baking tray with parchment paper can make cleanup easier because any cheese that melts won’t stick to the paper.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes

Makes: About 40 (1 1/2-inch) scones

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine

1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded or cut in small dice

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (decrease the amount if you want less heat)

3/4 cup (6 ounces) buttermilk, plain yogurt or sour cream

Milk for glaze (optional)

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in butter and cheese. Stir in black pepper. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stir in the buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. The mixture will be very crumbly. It should hold together, but if not, add buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream by the tablespoon as needed.

Gather dough into a ball and turn out onto a well-floured surface or piece of parchment paper.

Pat the mixture into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between squares. They will rise and expand as they bake. Brush top of each square lightly with milk, if desired.

Alternatively, use a 2- or 2 21/2-inch floured biscuit cutter to stamp out scones, or cut dough into larger squares or triangles.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the sheets about halfway through and swapping positions on oven racks, until lightly golden on top. The melting cheese may dribble a bit, and baking on parchment paper will speed the cleanup.

Store for up to a week in an air-tight container.

Nutrition information, per 2-scone serving: 132 calories, 6.4 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 1 gram sugar, 1 gram dietary fiber, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 302 milligrams sodium, 14 grams complex carbohydrates. (These figures apply to the 1 1/2-inch scones.)

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe,

At the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland: Eat, drink, pipe, sleep

Framed by the window behind the silhouette of a bagpipe is the Theatre Royal, directly across the street from the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. The theater is home to the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2017, I visited Scotland for 10 days. This is the third in a series about my wanderings. For a post about Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, see December 15, 2017; for one about the retired Royal Yacht Britannia, see post of January 9, 2018.

“Would you like a wee dram?” the young, dark-haired, blue-eyed woman asked me from behind the bar/check-in area as I arrived at my hotel in Glasgow.

It wasn’t even noon yet. I eyed the small clear plastic glass, not much larger than a thimble, about three-quarters full of a beckoning golden liquid. Behind it on a rectangular silver tray sat a bottle of Glenfiddich whisky. Small bites of crumbly shortbread were scattered on a plate.

A bit startled by the offer, it didn’t take me long to reply: “Yes, thank you.” Down it went, smoothly, with just the right amount of warmth trickling in my throat to stave off a chilly Scottish morning.

The Pipers’ Tryst is not only a very friendly place to stay, it’s a celebration of many things Scottish. Besides the whisky, locally sourced menus offer traditional Scottish favorites, and right next door to the eight-room hotel is the National Piping Centre. The buildings occupy the converted, Italianate-style Old Cowcaddens Church, built in 1872.

The National Piping Centre (left) adjoins the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel. Both occupy a former Italianate-style house of worship, the Old Cowcaddens Church, constructed from cream sandstone and completed in 1872. 

It’s also well-located, about a 10-minute walk to the city center and main train station, and close to the Cowcaddens metro stop. Directly across the street is the Theatre Royal, the oldest theater in Glasgow, and home of the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

I stopped in one day to check the schedule but unfortunately no performance coincided with my stay. Several other music venues are also nearby.

In my modestly furnished room, red-and-tan plaid blankets and matching throw pillows were on the ample bed (some rooms have a green-and-blue color scheme), which was also equipped with a coffee/tea-making station (two two-cookie shortbread packages provided daily). Scottish spring water was in a tall, capped clear glass bottle on a small dressing table. The room was pretty Spartan, but it was enough for my purposes.

The spotless bathroom was larger than I was expecting, and looked like it had been more recently updated than the sleeping area.

Perched on the corner of the tub was a 3 1/2-inch tall rubber duck, jauntily dressed in in his own red-and-black plaid, black tam-o’-shanter, red-and-white epaulets, and with a blowpipe pressed to his beak. Angus made me laugh out loud.

Say hello to Angus, posing here on the bed, but who was more at home on the rim of the bathtub.

Management discouraged “adopting” Angus (i.e. sneaking him home in a suitcase), but for those honest and quickly enamored folks, this little fowl’s “siblings” were available for purchase. (Yes, I bought one.)

Breakfast was included in my booking, and included anything I wanted from the continental buffet and a cooked-to-order entree. The buffet featured freshly baked croissants and pastries, Scottish yogurt, fresh fruit, an assortment of cereals (bran, muesli, cornflakes), butter and jams, juice, coffee, tea and milk.

Several mornings I ordered smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (from free-range Scottish chickens). I was delighted with such a generous portion of slightly salty salmon — three wide, thick slabs of glistening, pink-orange flesh. The salmon was crying out for a jump onto a bagel slathered with cream cheese. I made a mini open sandwich with salmon on toast instead.

Part of the dining area and bar at the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel.

One morning I tried the vegetarian version of the Pipe Major’s breakfast. My plate was loaded with creamy scrambled eggs, sautéed mushroom cap, a round tattie (potato) scone, sautéed potato cubes, grilled tomato half and veggie haggis. Toast was served separately.

Haggis is a well-known Scottish dish, but many people scrunch up their faces when they hear it described: oatmeal, seasonings and sheep or calf’s offal (internal organs) mixed with suet and boiled in an animal’s stomach.

The veggie version was more appetizing. Without the animal component, it resembled a side dish of oats and lentils, had a hint of cinnamon, and salt (they use Hebridean Sea salt or Maldon) and pepper. I liked it.

The Pipe Major’s breakfast includes what I had, but comes with a slice of real haggis, Ayrshire bacon, Stornoway black pudding (pork sausage with dried pig’s blood and suet) and sausage.

The Pipers’ Tryst Restaurant also does a brisk lunch and dinner trade. The menus change with the season, again concentrating on locally sourced vegetables, meat and seafood (see website for details).

In addition to a wine list, Scottish gin and Scottish craft beer and cider, there’s a wide selection of Scottish whiskies.

To tour the Museum of Piping in the National Piping Centre (technically a charity), I waited for a less-than-ideal weather day. In that I didn’t leave the building, that meant I didn’t have to wear a coat or lug an umbrella. Just walk through the small corridor from the Pipers’ Tryst dining area to the marble-floored lobby of the center, which opened in 1996, with its patron, Prince Charles, in attendance.

The bagpipe is quintessential Scotland. Or as the Reverend Patrick MacDonald said in “A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs” (1784): “The great Highland bagpipe is the instrument for war, for marriage, in funeral processions, and for other great occasions, the smaller being that whereon dancing tunes were played.”

In Scotland, many occasions call for a bagpiper, especially when you feel like celebrating.

The museum is home to a small but prestigious collection of piping artifacts, compiled from Scotland’s national museums. Bagpipe tunes played in the background as I spent about an hour reading about bagpipes, looking at old instruments and sheet music, and watching a short film.

Among the most treasured items is the chanter belonging to Iain Dall (Blind John) MacKay (circa 1656-1740), a renowned piper, poet and composer. (The chanter is a long cylinder with finger holes on which the melody is played.) MacKay’s chanter is believed to be the oldest in existence and was handed down through eight generations of MacKays. After a stay in Canada, it joined the museum’s collection in 2010.

The exhibit traces about 300 years of the history of the Highland instrument, mainly in Scotland and Europe, though the idea of drones, an air-filled animal-skin bag and a chanter teaming to make music can be traced to ancient Egypt.

It’s also unclear whether Roman legions brought the instrument to Scotland or if it arrived via occupying tribes from Ireland.

By the 14th century, bagpipes were widely played in Scotland, gradually gaining in prestige and replacing the harp in popularity. Highland bagpipe players’ reputations grew in status and they secured patronage, especially from clan chieftains.

It took until the early 18th century for bagpipe music to be notated, an invention that first appeared in “Collection of Ancient Martial Music of Caledonia” by Donald MacDonald.

And who can forget the rousing role bagpipes have played over the centuries, accompanying warriors into battle?

If center visitors are so inclined, they can have a go at playing a bagpipe, an option on the “meet the piper” tour. (I visited too late in the season to be able to take advantage of this. The schedule for 2018 isn’t on the website as of this posting.)

Individual lessons are offered, either in person or via Skype, and last 50 minutes. There’s also an e-learning portal featuring lectures and tutoring.

So if you have even a wee interest in bagpipes or a hankering for well-prepared Scottish specialties, get thee to the National Piping Centre and its adjoining restaurant.

Quick reference: The National Piping Centre and the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel, 30-34 McPhater Street, Glasgow, Scotland. Museum of Piping hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Admission: Adults, £4.50 (about $6.36 ); senior citizens, students and younger than 16, £2.50 (about $3.53).

In Sapporo, Japan: Shopping for traditional lacquerware by way of a cultural exchange

I liked the elegance and simplicity of this lacquerware dish that I bought at a department store in Sapporo. Lacquerware comes in a large assortment of shapes and sizes and can be found all over Japan.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photo, except where noted. All rights reserved.

On previous trips to Japan, I had admired lacquerware’s elegance and practicality, and had in mind that I might purchase a nice piece in May 2014 on my fifth visit to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Lacquerware is made by applying multiple layers of sap from the lacquer tree (a relative of poison oak) over a wooden, metal, paper or leather form. The dried sap imparts strength and durability to the piece, which can also be decorated simply or elaborately.

The traditional art, requiring great skill, patience and attention to detail, dates back more than 2,000 years in Japan.

Tea cups, rice bowls, trays, boxes and vases are just a few of the shapes made into lacquerware. When hand-painted designs, mother-of-pearl inlay or gold leaf are added to solid midnight-black backgrounds, the contrast is stunning. The price can be too.

Lacquerware can also be red (vermillion pigment is added to the sap) with black accents and artwork. All are buffed to a high sheen and are silky smooth to the touch. The finished product can differ from region to region, some being known for specific floral or avian motifs and colors.

The pieces are generally lightweight, and if not too large, easily portable, so I knew that if I found something I liked, I would probably be able to tote it home in my backpack.

I had left my shopping for my last day in Sapporo, which turned out to be a good thing, because it was chilly and drizzly, and not conducive to more outdoor sightseeing.

Japanese department stores are wonders to behold. Not only are the goods beautifully displayed on par with a museum exhibit, but they are of excellent quality and workmanship. In my experience, Japanese-made arts and crafts are often produced at the master craftsman level.

The stores can also be entertainment in and of themselves. A man sitting cross-legged on a platform sharpening a series of fierce-looking knives was among the interesting activities I witnessed on this trip.

On the lower floors, all manner of food is sold. Among the delights I’ve sampled are green tea (aka matcha), sake, sushi and mochi (chewy, bean paste-stuffed rice cakes), offered on small trays by smartly uniformed young women (often wearing white gloves).

Busy workers mix/chop/grill ingredients to be sold at the glass-fronted prepared food counters, and for the grab-and-go set, a wide array of compartmentalized bento boxes packed with a mound of white rice, a main (usually seafood, chicken or pork), pickled ginger, and a side vegetable make dining options a breeze (and reasonably priced).

I don’t think I need to elaborate on the fact that seafood is among the freshest for sale anywhere in the world.

I was in Daimaru Sapporo on the seventh floor, where the store brochure told me I’d find Japanese ware and Japanese tableware.

I spotted the lacquerware, which was in a department next to the ceramics and porcelain. The ceramics were of very high quality, with beautiful colors and designs. When I mentally converted the price from yen to dollars, I thought I must be doing it incorrectly because the ceramics seemed so reasonably priced.

I went to the counter to talk to the saleswoman, dressed in a skirt and jacket, to try to figure out if my calculations were faulty. What I wanted to know specifically was if the price for the ceramics was for one piece or the quartet displayed together.

Alas, I hit a roadblock, because my Japanese is nonexistent, other than a few words, and her English was in about the same league.

After much smiling at each other, the saleswoman excused herself, and came back almost immediately with a flip phone in hand.

The woman she called spoke excellent English (many stores have in-house translators). There ensued an animated, three-way conversation — me to the woman on the phone, woman on the phone to the saleswoman, and woman on the phone back to me — about the price.

The total was for four ceramic pieces. They would not be sold individually.

I thanked both women. Arigato is one word I do know. Now that I had an idea of the pricing, I went to study the lacquerware.

After about 30 minutes of considering nearly all the items, I settled on a graduated round dish with a small lip, about 9.5 inches across. In the center was a fan-shaped gold design that reminded me of a ginkgo leaf, encircled in gold. I took the red “chop” on the right to be the artist’s signature.

I showed the saleswoman the piece I wanted to buy, and she bent down to look under the display unit to find a new one in its box.

As she stood up, a look of panic crossed her face. I didn’t know quite how to interpret her expression, but it seemed likely there wasn’t another dish like the one I wanted to buy.

Out came the phone again, the saleswoman brought over the department head, and there ensued a four-way conversation with the translator.

A call was made immediately to other stores in the chain to see if the dish was in stock.

One was found, but logistically, it couldn’t be transported to the branch where I was until the following week. That wouldn’t work because I was leaving Sapporo the next day.

I said arigato to all three women again, and they suggested I have a second look around the lacquerware to see if I liked another piece equally as well.

This was not, I repeat, not, a ploy as it would be in some other countries, to get me to buy something more expensive. In a culture that prizes etiquette and politeness, they were not showing me other items just for the sake of making a sale.

This 15-inch tall lacquered sake bottle (circa 1700-1750) features pine trees, bamboo and family badges. The artist is unknown. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

While there were many pleasing options, I still liked my original selection best.

My solution was to propose buying the display piece, if, after a close examination, I didn’t find any scratches or nicks marring it.

Reconnecting with the very patient woman on the phone, she said this was highly unusual — selling the floor sample — but they would do so, the underlying sentiment seeming to be that they wanted to accommodate me — the customer.

But the transaction would only go forward if the lacquerware’s condition passed muster with the department head.

So, with gloved hands, the department head personally inspected the piece, wiped off all fingerprints and polished it repeatedly with a soft cloth. She placed the dish in a paper sleeve, and tucked it into a very dark green, almost square box.

Also in the box was a rectangular piece of paper with a red stamp that I took to be its provenance and another sheet of paper. Both are totally in Japanese. Tips for the care of lacquerware (keep out of direct sunlight, polish with a few drops of vegetable oil) were, fortunately, in English.

All parties could not have been nicer or more more eager to help while this series of conversations went on for more than an hour.

But wait, there’s more.

At their insistence, I was given a 10 percent discount because the lacquerware had been on display. Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no to that.

Finally, the receipt was hand-written and paperwork filled out so that I could collect the tax refund in cash in-store. Often, the refund has to be pursued at the airport upon departure.

Lacquerware is widely available in Japan, so, yes, I could have purchased something in Nagasaki, where I was before Sapporo, or in Tokyo, where I was headed.

I might have ended up with a different piece of lacquerware, but I’m pretty sure I would have been treated with equal courtesy wherever I was shopping.

At a port wine lodge in Portugal: The science and history behind the country’s signature alcoholic beverage

Long-oared, flat-bottom hulled boats, known as barcos rabelos, bring wine casks from Portugal’s Douro Valley to the port wine lodges at Vila Nova de Gaia on the Rio Douro. The bridge is the Ponte de Dom Luis I, designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the fifth post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See June 2 for a post about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon, July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto, August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal, and September 3 on custard tarts.

The last thing I expected to see on a self-guided tour of a port wine lodge was a freely roaming peahen and her fluffy chicks pecking at the English-style garden lawn outside the tasting room.

Huge casks of aging spirits? Sure, loads of them neatly stacked in cool, dark warehouses at Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman, one of several port wine lodges open to visitors in the Vila Nova de Gaia area south of Porto (also known as Oporto).

An elegant dining room, its white linen-covered tables set with china and crystal, with the added enticement of a panorama over the red-tiled roofs looking north across the Rio Douro? Of course.

Peahen and chicks in residence at Taylor’s.

But the peahen and chicks — and a noisy rooster, too — were certainly surprises. The rooster, particularly, wasn’t shy about wandering through the open doors and around the nearly empty, barrel-motifed tasting room, where my tour ended with a sampling of two of Taylor’s ports, and a chance to consider buying potable souvenirs in the gift shop.

The grape varieties used in Taylor’s port aren’t grown at this city location. Instead, they’re expertly cultivated on steep hillside terraces farther north, in the Douro Valley, where the vines thrive on the climactic conditions.

I didn’t have time to see the valley, easily reachable by boat, car or train, but it’s known to be one of the most scenic areas of Portugal.

The names atop the buildings designate the locations of some of the port wine lodges. 

In Porto, visitors looking south across the Rio Douro can make out single-name signs stretched atop some of the buildings that house port wine lodges. Not just Taylor’s, founded in 1692, but Kopke, Noval, Sandeman and others.

I am not a connoisseur of fortified wine, which is what port is. It’s generally sweet, and usually served at the end of a meal or with dessert. Cheese, nuts and chocolate pair particularly well with port.

The only brand I was conscious of before my trip was Sandeman, which I had seen in local stores. Its bottles have a distinctive logo, a mysterious black-cloaked silhouetted figure in a wide-brimmed hat, in the style of an old Spanish gentleman/horseman. Known as “the Don,” the logo bears a passing resemblance (likely unplanned) to Zorro.

To get to Taylor’s, I hopped onto Porto’s clean and efficient metro, riding Line D (yellow on route maps) across the Ponte de Dom Luis I, a two-level arched bridge completed in 1886. The metro train and pedestrians utilize the top span; vehicular traffic dominates the lower. If the structure brings to mind the Eiffel Tower’s criss-crossing metalwork, that’s no coincidence. Téophile Seyrig, a German student of Frenchman Gustave Eiffel, emulated his teacher’s designs.

I disembarked at the General Torres stop, and wound my way through a warren of steep, twisty streets trying to find the entrance to Taylor’s. Road signage was not particularly helpful, but some locals who were kicking around a soccer ball pointed me in the right direction.

The entrance to Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman’s port wine lodge. The company was founded in 1692.

I decided to visit Taylor’s because of its long history, and because it was among the lodges that didn’t require a reservation.

The self-guided tour can take an hour or more, depending on how many of the short films you watch and how much of the information your read on the mounted displays. Some of the data covers Taylor’s founding, history and its quintas (wine estates), some is about port production and some covers the manufacturing and maintenance of equipment such as oak barrels.

Grape-growing has a lengthy history in Portugal, at least 2,000 years. Roman soldiers are credited with planting the first vines, possibly as early as the second century B.C.

A trading, military and political alliance between England and Portugal was established by treaty in 1386. English merchants (and later Scottish) settled in Portugal (and vice versa), and wine became one of their significant exports.

The largest oak vats at Taylor’s hold up to 20,000 liters of wine. Their size means the port and wood have less contact during aging. The fruitier ports are aged in this size vat.

A commercial spat with France in the 17th century curtailed the importation of its wine to England, thus opening up further opportunity for larger quantities from Portugal. But the long distance between the countries presented a problem.

The idea of fortifying wine by adding brandy at the time of shipment in order to protect it from spoiling on the journey began in 1678. It was not sophisticated, but it worked.

Adding the brandy earlier, before fermentation is finished, revolutionized the process, though it took quite some time — into the 1800s — to be accepted as the industry standard.

Taylor’s still relies on the age-old practices of hand-harvesting the grapes and crushing them by foot. The grapes are picked around mid-September, then sorted and stemmed before being placed in granite tanks.

Some of the same employees who picked the grapes form two facing side-by-side lines and become “treaders,” methodically marching left, right, left, right for two hours at a time, and slowly advancing toward each other as directed by a line commander.

It looks messy — people clad in shorts and Taylor’s T-shirts are thigh-high in grapes and their juice — but in the second phase, the serious work has turned into a party atmosphere. Released from their human chain, the treaders stomp enthusiastically in unencumbered style. (Go to the Taylor’s website to watch a film about this similar to the one that I saw on my tour. Managing director Adrian Bridge does a good job of explaining the process.)

When the treaders are finished, fermentation accelerates. The brandy addition follows, after which time the wine is left alone until spring. Incidentally, this brandy is not to be confused with brown-colored alcoholic beverages such as Calvados or cognac. The brandy used to make port is 77 percent alcohol by volume, clear and colorless, and sometimes called “grape spirit.”

In earlier years, the casked wine was loaded on to flat-bottom hulled boats known as barcos rabelos for the often hair-raising trip from the Douro Valley to the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. Negotiating fast water, rapids and skinny gorges dictated that the man steering with one long oar had to be a master of his craft.

Today, Taylor’s has a modern warehouse in the valley, reducing the amount of wine that is transported downstream. A series of 20th-century-built dams has also tamed the river for the boats that still make the journey.

Once at the lodge, the length of aging and type of receptacle (cask, vat or bottle) determines the final product, which has many variations and can range from fine ruby to classic vintage to 40-year-old tawny. The longer the ports age, the lighter in color they become.

Visitors to Taylor’s tasting room collect their glasses of port wine from the stand at left. The gift shop is behind the arches in the rear of the photo.

In the tasting room, I sampled Taylor’s Chip Dry Port and Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port (2012).

Pale straw-colored Chip Dry Port, introduced in 1934, is a blending of white grapes aged two to three years in oak vats to produce a “sophisticated aperitif.” The yield is a “crisp dry finish” with a “complex nuttiness,” the website says.

Late Bottled Vintage Port spends four to six years in vats, then is transferred to a bottle and is ready to drink. Its “deep red youthful color and intense fruity flavors [are] reminiscent of cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant,” the website says.

After my tour and tasting, I wandered down to the buzzing riverside area, listening to the musical performers and watching the small boats pulling up to the quay. Many were carrying wine casks in the barcos rabelos tradition. Since this was May, it’s entirely possible the casks were en route to the port wine lodges.

With the sun beginning to set, throwing a beautiful shimmer on the river, I walked back over the bridge and climbed hundreds of stairs to return to Porto proper.


In the summer months, guests at Restaurante Barão de Fladgate can dine on the terrace.

Quick reference: Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman, Rua do Choupelo, no. 250, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. Admission: Adults, 12 euros (about $14.70), includes audio tour and tasting; ages 8 and up, 6 euros (about $7.35), kids get grape juice and crackers. Private tours and groups may be booked through the website. Hours: Cellars, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Tasting room and shop, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Closed December 25. Restaurante Barão de Fladgate: 12:30 to 3 p.m. and 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. The website ( is packed with information, enough to satisfy the port wine novice and the expert alike.

In Scotland: 20 years into retirement, Royal Yacht Britannia still shipshape and welcoming visitors at Port of Leith

Queen Elizabeth II entertained guests in the Royal Yacht Britannia’s state drawing room. Sometimes a film would be shown. On occasion, Princess Diana or Princess Margaret would play the baby grand piano (left, out of frame). The style is more comfortable country house than over-the-top opulent.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2017, I visited Scotland for 10 days. This is the second in a series about my wanderings. For a post about Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, see December 15, 2017.

Over its 44-year lifetime, the Royal Yacht Britannia sailed more than 1 million nautical miles around the globe, serving as a river- and ocean-bound ambassador for the British Commonwealth and a floating residence for Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family.

It’s been widely reported that the queen has said the yacht was among the few places where she could be totally relaxed and at ease, even as she carried out her daily, never-to-be neglected monarchial duties.

So it was with much regret that the queen, with Prince Philip and royal family members in attendance, watched as the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned on December 11, 1997, in Portsmouth, England — shortly after its farewell clockwise circumnavigational tour of Britain.

All the clocks were frozen at 15:01 (3:01 p.m.) as the queen was piped ashore for the final time.

With her black-gloved left hand, the queen, wearing a bright red coat and matching hat, wiped away tears trickling down her left cheek, an extremely rare — possibly unprecedented — public show of emotion from Her Majesty. Such was her affection for the Britannia.

Today the yacht is berthed at the Port of Leith, in greater Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s among the most-popular attractions in the city, which I can attest to, having navigated the crowds on a Saturday visit in October.

Much of the furniture, color schemes, silver, artwork and decorative items on display are the 1950s (and later) originals, having been little updated from that decade. While elegant, there isn’t a hint of over-the-top opulence.

The queen and her husband had detail-oriented input when the ship was being built, right down to selecting the particular shade of deep blue for the hull.

An 11-foot scale model of the Britannia made from Lego blocks is in a glass display case at the Visitor Center in Ocean Terminal. At quayside, it was impossible to get a full-length photograph of the yacht.

Access to the ship is via the Visitor Center on the second level at the Ocean Terminal shopping center. Pass the 11-foot scale replica in Lego blocks, and enter a small gallery, whose walls are lined with historical information, photos and memorabilia spanning the yacht’s life.

Stepping aboard is like a mini-journey back in time. Everything is shipshape to royal standard, all polished brass, gleaming glass and highly waxed teak decks, as if expecting the queen and her retinue to arrive at any moment.

When she was in residence, the crew — known affectionately as “Yotties” — always wore rubber-soled shoes so as to quash any noise, and they were to complete their topside chores near the state apartments by 8 a.m. so as not to cross paths with the queen. Should this happen, they were to freeze, stare straight ahead and wait for her to pass. Royal protocol was rarely breached.

Visitors can wander freely over five decks, checking out such locations as the state apartments, state dining room, state drawing room, sun lounge, the wardroom, the petty officer’s mess, the royal deck tea room, the operating theater, the galleys, the engine room and the laundry, the last two being nearly nonstop hives of activity when the yacht was under way.

With more than 240 crew aboard, and the royal family and guests, the laundry was one of the busiest places on the yacht.

A typical day in the steaming-hot laundry would include at least 600 shirts being washed, starched and pressed, in addition to sheets, towels, tablecloths and whatever other linen needed attention.

What’s surprising is that the yacht doesn’t seem very large overall. The state bedrooms that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip occupied were not only small — the word cozy comes to mind — but separate, connected by a door. Each is utilitarian, with a bed, desk and chair, bureau and other furniture.

Part of Queen Elizabeth II’s bedroom on the Britannia.

The yacht was used four times as a honeymoon hotel, first by the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, and Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, next by the queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, and Captain Mark Philips in 1973.

Prince Charles and his bride, Diana, the Princess of Wales, honeymooned around the Mediterranean in 1981. Diana famously visited the crew below decks and joined them in some singing. In 1986,  Prince Andrew and Sarah, the Duchess of York, were the last royal couple off for a post-ceremony cruise.

Eagle-eyed viewers of the Netflix series “The Crown” may think they’re seeing the real Britannia, but this is not the case. The HMS Belfast, berthed on the Thames in London, stood in for her illustrious cousin as a filming location.

The informal sun lounge, where breakfast and afternoon tea were often enjoyed, was said to the the queen’s favorite spot on the Britannia. Board games and a bar area were stored in the bulkheads. The stuffed corgi, sitting on a chair at left, was part of a contest to count how many of the little dogs could be found around the Britannia. Corgis, of course, are the queen’s beloved companions.

Britannia’s keel was laid in June 1952 at the John Brown & Company Shipyard in Clydebank, Glasgow, where the ocean liners Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary were also constructed. (The shipyard closed in 2001.)

The then-unnamed yacht, referred to as No. 691, and one of the last fully riveted ships, measures 125.65 meters (412 feet, 3 inches) in length overall. It was equipped to carry 330 tons of fuel oil, and its range was about 2,000 miles, cruising at 20 knots. Tanks stored 120 tons of fresh water, with additional tanks available to increase fuel and water capacity. (For more statistics, see the website.)

Many thousands attended the launch on April 16, 1953, where Queen Elizabeth II, mindful of continuing post-World War II austerity, christened the Britannia with a smashed bottle of Empire wine — not champagne. The name had been a closely guarded secret, and when it was announced, an audible gasp emanated from the assembled mass, according to press reports.

Though this Britannia ruled the waves for many decades, nowhere on the yacht’s hull is its name proclaimed, now or in the past.

Its crew of commanding officer (usually at least the rank of rear admiral or vice admiral), and 20 officers and 220 yachtsmen were all hand-picked, some serving their entire naval careers — and turning down promotions — aboard the yacht.

Their varied duties could range from polishing the state silverware to a daily dive beneath the hull, a step required to survey the integrity of the structure and to ensure the security of the seabed below.

The crew included a band, 25 members strong, each of whom was proficient not only on a string instrument but in playing a wind instrument also.

The state dining room was the scene of many a banquet, hosting such guests as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and South African President Nelson Mandela. On the walls are gifts from many locales given to the queen during state visits.

Yotties also comprised the wait staff for state banquets, when the queen would play hostess to such luminaries as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, India’s Rajiv Gandhi, U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

On a state visit, five tons of luggage were the usual fare, including, of course, the crown jewels required for such an occasion, and a household staff of 45. A Rolls-Royce went along too.

The queen’s daily schedule would depend on whether the voyage was for a state visit or simply a family outing. Most days she arose by 7:30 a.m. and retired around 11 p.m.

The Britannia is the last of a long line of royal yachts, 83 to be exact, dating to 1660 and the reign of Charles II.

This quayside Yottie statue pays tribute to the tireless efforts of the Britannia crew over many decades. Ellis Norrell, the longest-serving of all the Yotties, from January 1954 to September 1988, was the model.

When the upkeep, about £60 million a year, and needed improvements proved too costly, the decision was made in 1994 by John Major’s Labour government to retire Britannia. A move is afloat to build a new royal yacht at a cost of up to £120 million. Prince Philip is in favor and it has some backing from Cabinet ministers. The idea of funding it by lottery has also been put forth.

Britannia can be rented for special events, so if you’ve ever wanted to be treated like royalty, here’s your chance.

But you’ll have to provide your own tiara.

Quick reference: Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Terminal, second floor, Leith, Scotland. Hours: 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. January-March and November-December, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. April-September, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. October, closed December 25 and January 1. Admission: £16 adults (about $21.75), £14 (about $19) seniors and students with ID, £8.50 (about $11.50) ages 5-17, free younger than 5. Family tickets available. Tickets may be purchased online. Price includes audio tour. Private tours can be arranged but must be pre-booked. Transportation: From the city center, take Lothian bus number 11, 22 and 35, or Skylink 300. Or hop on the Majestic Tour Bus at Waverley Bridge.

Brrrrrr. Two healthful soups to take the chill off an Arctic blast (and help you keep your New Year’s diet resolutions)

Carrot and Parsnip Soup pairs two mild, sweet root vegetables with the stronger spices of ginger, cumin and coriander.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

Cold enough for you? If you’re anywhere in the continental United States or Canada, the answer is probably yes. Even here in the sunny South.

I like soup any time of year, but a bubbling hot pot is particularly welcome these first few days of the new year when the temperature has been below normal — and way below freezing in the upper Midwest, Northeast and northern plains.

Whether warming your hands around a steaming mug and then sipping its contents, or spooning it out of a heaping bowl, there’s no wrong way to eat soup.

The beauty of these two recipes is that they’re simple to make, nutrition- and fiber-rich and contain almost no fat. They’re also very economical, with easy-to-find ingredients.

So if eating a healthier diet and trimming some of those indulgent pounds you might have put on over the holidays are your goals, then get out your favorite knife and cutting board and start dicing.

I’m a latecomer to the delights of parsnips, featured in Carrot and Parsnip Soup below, but I’m fully on the bandwagon now. For those unfamiliar with the root vegetable, they look somewhat like white carrots. Cut off the root and tips ends and peel as you would a carrot.

To my palate, they have a faint cinnamon finish with a sweetness similar to carrots. I usually cook them, but because I like their crunch, I sometimes dice them and toss into a mixed green salad.

Served raw as a sturdy crudité, they hold up to any dip.

The pairing of mushrooms and barley can be found in many international cuisines. This is a thick soup with a lightly chewy element thanks to the barley.

Many recipes call for pearl barley, as does the one below, which means that the bran has been removed and that the grain has been steamed and polished.

As with all the recipes I’ve posted, start with the basics, then make them your own.

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Hands on: 15 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4 to 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced (I prefer Vidalia onions)

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons about 1/4-inch thick

1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into half-moons about 1/4-inch thick

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)

1 cup water

Sour cream or yogurt and chopped chives to garnish (optional)

Saltines (or your favorite crackers) or pita bread for serving (optional)

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until softened. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the carrots, parsnips, cumin, coriander and some salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 1 minute more, stirring often.

Add the stock and water and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

I like to see the vegetable half-moons nestled in the stock in my soup bowl, so I serve it as is. If you prefer smoother vegetables, puree the soup in a blender and return it to the Dutch oven to reheat. Or use an immersion blender for the same result.

Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and chives, if desired.

Adapted from “Hip Kosher: 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks” by Ronnie Fein (Da Capo Press, 2008, $16.95)


Many cuisines around the world feature some version of Mushroom and Barley Soup. This recipe contains soy sauce, one of the more unusual ingredients for this traditional soup.

Mushroom and Barley Soup

Hands on: 20-30 minutes

Total time: 65 to 75 minutes

Serves: 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped (I prefer Vidalia onions)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (use any type of fresh mushroom or a combination adding up to 1 pound)

1 cup pearl barley

3 carrots, cut in 1/4-inch coins

2 ribs celery, diced

6 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup white wine

3 tablespoons snipped fresh dill (optional)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring often, or until onion and mushrooms soften.

Add barley and stir to coat all the grains. Cook, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add carrots, celery, broth, white wine, dill (optional), soy sauce, marjoram, thyme and black pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, or until barley is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Adapted from “Gourmet Grains, Beans, & Rice: Simple, Savory, and Sophisticated Recipes” by Dotty Griffith (Taylor Publishing Company, 1992)

In Pamukkale, Turkey: ‘Cotton castle’ terraces and ancient ruins

Centuries of mineral-rich, cascading waters have left deposits which form these pooled terraces in Pamukkale, Turkey. I don’t think I’ve captured adequately the beauty of the natural formations, so check for more images online.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.

When I used to work in downtown Atlanta, my newspaper colleagues and I would sometimes grab a to-go lunch at a small storefront restaurant that specialized in Mediterranean cuisine such as kebabs, falafel and healthful Greek-style salads.

On one of the walls was a large travel poster-style photograph featuring a swath of impossibly azure sky and a flock of people sitting, or walking through ankle-deep water over white travertines that consumed the lower half of the image.

Think of puddle-topped terraces of differing size and steepness, descending down an icy cliff side, but without the cold, wind or falling precipitation.

I don’t recall any words in big letters on the poster, touting a particular country. I thought it might be Greece, keeping in mind the type of food that was on the menu.

I asked one of the staff what country was represented on the poster.

Turkey, was his reply. More specifically, the location was Pamukkale, in the southwestern part of the country.

That information went into my mental travel file, hopeful that sometime in the future I’d be able to see this gorgeous vista in person.

Fast forward to the fall of 2012: a two-week trip to Turkey was looming. Istanbul, the Cappadocia region and Ephesus were on my itinerary. They’re all easy to get to by air, train or local tourist company transport. (See my February 27 post on staying in a cave hotel in Goreme, in Cappadocia.)

Pamukkale — roughly translated it means “cotton castle” looked doable, but I had no firm routing for getting there, unusual for me.

I’m the sort of independent traveler who does reams of research before I depart, studying flight, train and bus schedules, and maps. I have a pretty solid plan for how I’m going to get from point A to point B, and that rarely includes a rental car.

This prep not only helps with budgeting but also reduces unwanted “surprises.” It’s not foolproof, but it has served me well over decades of international travel.

That is not to say that I’m inflexible. Attractions, activities or even that begging-to-be- explored narrow side street promising interesting shops or restaurants can be easily accommodated.

Sometimes, serendipity steps in too.

From Istanbul, I took a Turkish Airlines flight to Izmir. The train station was conveniently only a short distance across from the airport terminal.

All the carriages were overcrowded. On the one I boarded, I had to sit in the stairwell for the hour journey to Selçuk, the jumping off point for visiting Ephesus.

In under 10 minutes, I walked from the Selçuk train station up a hill to my small hotel. I noted that I passed several travel agencies with advertisements in the window for regional bus service to a variety of attractions. I planned to investigate further after checking in.

A stork’s nest, easily visible from the rooftop terrace of my small hotel in Selçuk. The castle-like structure (background left) is the restored Basilica of St. John in nearby Ephesus.

At an informal orientation session with the proprietor on the rooftop terrace, where we were at eye-level with an impressively sturdy stork’s nest composed of large twigs, I met Frances and Gordon, from Oregon.

As so often happens, we struck up a conversation, exchanging information about where we had been in Turkey — I started in Istanbul, they were headed there next — and other countries we had visited.

When I mentioned that I hoped to get to Pamukkale, they said they were planning to go, had a rental car, and immediately invited me along.

It couldn’t have worked out better.

Pamukkale, in western Anatolia, is roughly a three-hour drive on Route E87, heading east from Selçuk, a distance of about 105 miles (170 kilometers). The road in 2012 was smooth, modern and well-maintained.

From the north entrance of the park, we followed this pretty mosaic pathway that led to the changing area.

We packed our swimming gear, some snacks and drinks and our cameras, of course.

We parked at the north entrance, bought our 20 lira tickets (about $5; price has probably increased) and walked on a mosaic-patterned path a lengthy distance to the changing area.


The amount of water available for a dip varies among the travertines’ levels.

Calcium carbonate-rich water from natural springs cascades down the giant “steps,” leaving icicle-like deposits from one level to the next, sort of like a series of mini petrified waterfalls.

From some angles, the terraces look like rippling waves, frozen before they can roll all the way toward shore.

In certain areas, it is possible to fully submerge in pooled depressions in the terraces, though an actual swim would be less successful.

In our bare feet, we walked gingerly, getting used to the sometimes flat, sometimes uneven surface.

It was not as jagged or slippery as I was expecting, but we still proceeded slowly to lessen any possibility of a mishap. When I bent down to swish my hands in the water, they did not emerge with a slimy or sticky residue.

Late in the season, the water flow lessens, so the cascade was slower than earlier in the year.

Two more attractions make the trip to Pamukkale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, worthwhile: an Antique Pool (separate admission fee) and the neighboring ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, with its roots dating to the second century B.C.

The thermal waters of the Antique Pool have been drawing bathers since the second century B.C.

Frances and Gordon opted for a dip in the therapeutic waters, which hover at about 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius). Bathers can make use of banks of lockers and the changing areas of the facility.

In Roman times, this was a sacred pool, and in some areas, submerged marble columns still exist.

In 2012, preservation work was ongoing at the Roman theater of Hierapolis, which would have been able to seat about 12,000 patrons. Emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus built it in two stages.

Meanwhile, I wandered among the ruins, which include monuments, an extensive necropolis and a monumental arch from the early Christian period. (I didn’t have time for the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum, for which there is a separate admission fee.)

Pamukkale, one of the top destinations in Turkey with more than 1.5 visitors per year, is most crowded in spring and summer. Plan accordingly.