Anna Belleforte

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Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 3, 2017 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Tomar is a fine city, though alarmingly empty of shoppers on a Saturday. The big draw here is the Convent of Christ set up on the cliff overlooking town. And an amazing structure it is. Having studied the architectural drawings of the early Renaissance draftsman/architect Serlio, I was amazed to see his drawings come to life – nearly to the line. Every fantastical architectural element, from spiralling stairwells and a profusion of niches to coffered ceilings and sculpted rope, it’s jam-packed into there. I think they literally used Serlio’s book as a catalogue. But there’s also something like 5 cloisters (I forgot to count) from different periods spread out over the complex. Most fascinating of all, and I expect why the visitors come – even busloads of only men (how often do you see that?) – is that this was the headquarters of the Knights Templar from the 12th century. All over town the Knights Templar motif can be seen, even meticulously chiselled for the sidewalks (yes, paving again).

European campings

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 2, 2017 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (2)

Relaxing day at the Redondo campground (near Tomar), with a view onto an olive tree lane.  I’ve spent nearly a decade now (!!) camping all over Europe (on holidays – not 10 years straight!) and my favourite places to camp are the ones very close to interesting towns. Here my list of some amazing historic towns I’ve come across - so not the well-known big cities (most of these have ‘city campings’ as well). These are interesting towns, some less known to foreigners, that have campgrounds in or within a walking distance of generally 2 km or less, enough to keep you entertained for a couple of days:

San Giminignano, Tuscany, Italy

Santillana del Mar, north coast Spain

Torun, central Poland

Svendborg, Denmark (via passenger ferry across the water)

Evora and Amarante in Portugal

France is a special category because they have a lot of ‘camping municipals’ – city-owned property so super central:

Bayeaux (of the tapestry), Samur (Loire), Saintes (above Bordeaux), Metz, Dijon, Calvi on Corsica

You can probably find all of these by googling, or get in touch if you’d like the name of the campground. By the way, these will all have bungalows/chalets to rent.

Portuguese windmills

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 31, 2017 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (2)

It’s impossible to take all my mixed media stuff with me on a trip such as this, so I’m gathering ideas and photographing. But I’m discovering it’s not so easy trying to absorb and record while also being completely new to a place, not yet having found bearings. But to find, or be open to finding, these details requires a different mental state than the mental awareness needed for participating in traffic. I find the best angle to photograph things (such as town greenery) seems generally in the middle of the road, but not wanting to end up on the evening news, I have to be quick about these things.

I’ve been trying to stick to the coast, though it’s been very grey and cloudy today so I decided to try my luck in the interior. There I encountered a great deal of trouble with the N-roads. My goodness, they lack continued signage, so you might be able to latch onto a destination for a couple of signs, but then they just stop, and you’ll just have to guess which exit on that roundabout or you’ve driven on for miles and back before you realize there WAS no turn sign. The roads are rich in event posters though. It seems I have just missed a Soup Festival in one town. And the numerous white windmills often have terracotta ‘weights’ spanning between the blades. Anyone know what these are? Will have to check it out later.

EDIT PS – just found out from Carlos at the campismo that these weights are tied to ensure that the windmill always turns the right way with the wind, so they’re balanced against the sails! 

Portuguese paving

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 31, 2017 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (1)

Cascais has a lot of everything. Lots of yachts in the marina and big villas set in the hills. Lots of super-toned and tanned older men jogging in speedos among those big villas. Every kind of fowl running around freely in its municipal park – peacocks and Portuguese tiles do make for nice pictures. Lots of sun, lots of beachy coves and lots of wind. And lots of Irish tourists (I’m thinking it must be school holidays?).

And of course, a lot of decorative Portuguese paving. I imagine it’s hard work, on your knees, chipping all those hand-sized stone squares into shape, then chipping away some more for a triangle to fit just right. But the black and white patterns are beautiful and sometimes create wonderful optical illusions, as though the street is undulating while it’s merely flat or sloping. It’s like a kind of supplementary perspective. If you’ve had enough looking at shop windows, you can look at the pavement and it’ll take you somewhere.


dunes and pines beyond Lisbon

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 29, 2017 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (2)

The area around Evora has a lot of ancient dolmens and apparently the most important megalithic groupings in Iberia, but I’ve opted not to visit. I love the history and appreciate the significance of moving these massive stones into place, but visually (and certainly without sun when no interesting shadows are cast) it’s just a bunch of rocks. (Plus it was raining.) Then I thought, perhaps that’s what some people see when they look at art – just a bunch of paint. It’s only when we hear the story behind the idea or the making that it has a chance of touching us. I recognize I could do more to share my stories, if I could also put it into words.

So onto the coast towards Cascais. I love cities, but I can’t deny that my heart sank and my grip on the wheel tensed as I approached Lisbon. Argh…traffic always raises stress levels. But the campground was a pine oasis. Or perhaps pine prison? I don’t know much about security fencing, but isn’t the barbed wiring angled the wrong way, i.e. keeping the campers from ‘escaping’ rather than keeping intruders out? Well, it’s a pretty nice view for a prison.


Evora aqueduct

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 28, 2017 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (1)

Evora is a lively city, though that might have something to do with Saturday evening and the many, many happy Japanese tourists. To avoid the heat I went later in the day. Also because I was told there’s no bus on Sundays (of COURSE not, the front desk lady’s eyes implied). So I wandered around town and came across a Roman aqueduct that slowly slopes right into town and was fascinated to see that they built homes into the arches. And why not. It set me thinking about a drawing idea that exaggerates this. I could do the whole aqueduct (I have a penchant for long compositions) and as it gets higher, the buildings under its arches get taller…like quirky high-rises clinging onto the legs of the structure.

I might walk into town today, Sunday, but first this morning I walked to the supermarket, where it appears everyone in Portugal does their groceries on Sunday. Probably because there are no buses to ride.


Vila Nova de Milfontes to Evora

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 27, 2017 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

The ocean-side town of Vila Nova de Milfontes was a treat. It’s clear people here take pride in their town, with all the houses (seemingly) freshly painted and all the streets newly paved with the famous Portuguese paving - the crack-filling sand was still everywhere, turning sandals into roller-skates. Interestingly bright colours are used to outline the bones of the whitewashed houses: windows, doors, plinths and corners in blues, violets and oranges. I am always curious about how and why people decorate their buildings. What made this community do it all this way, and other villages do it by tiling whole facades?

I have to say the van (a Citroen Jumper) is great for cruising on country roads. Travelling at 70-90 km/hour, it’s relaxing and a pleasant way to take in the scenery. Going from Vila Nova de Milfontes to Evora it was all small two-lane roads. You can drive with the windows open. The wildlife is right there on the shoulder (sometimes literally) and you can smell the earth. And unlike on a highway when they’re just a distant jumble, coming up to towns is an event and makes you want to stop. Every town square and church tower is different (they all have lovely Moorish pinnacles). I sensing that I’m a bit of an attraction myself as local bench-sitters tend to watch me as I disembark and walk around photographing, to them, inane details. Apart from anything, I think they really don’t get a lot of people dropping in for a visit here inland.


Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vicente

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 26, 2017 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

I’ve been enjoying the driving. Yesterday the Portuguese N-roads were smooth, shouldered by red dirt, occasional lemon trees and green hills. And I seemed to be the only one on them (which was simultaneously pleasant and disconcerting). I liked the town of Silves with its red stone castle and nesting storks perched high on chimneys and abandoned buildings. There were dozens of huge nests, amazing how they build these on such precarious verticals. Real architects, instinctual, I’d say.

Now I’m at the most south-westerly point of Europe, facing a hazy Atlantic at the edge of cliffs plunging down into the ocean. It really does feel like you are driving to the end of the earth, as the landscape gets balder and the villages scarcer. I saw a few walkers doing it barefoot alongside the road. Isn’t that a new movement? Getting back to nature… though asphalt hardly seems a natural surface on which you’d want to spend time. The haze feels like a sort of permanent blanket in the air, but one that light does penetrate, giving the air an intense, vivid quality. Tourists are being disgorged by the busload. It’s a strange sight to see the dispersion and aimless wandering on rough rocky terrain, before their 5 minutes are up. When you travel alone, your primary occupation tends to be observing things.


heading for the Algarve hinterlands

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 25, 2017 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (2)

After much soul-searching I’ve decided to continue with the trip from Portugal to Holland, or at least to try and see how it goes without my beloved canine companion. Only a week ago I felt he was already eyeing up the passenger’s seat, for when it would be just the two of us. This morning A. flew back and now I’m going to head inland with the camper for the mountains of the Algarve. The last few days have been spent in Albufeira on the southern coast. It’s true what some guidebooks say, Albufeira really has rather sold its soul to tourism. The rocky ochre coastline, the piled up white houses and steep cobbled limestone streets remain picturesque, if you can just look past the hundreds of souvenir shops and misbehaving Brits. Plenty to draw and paint, just requires some editing. Unless, that is, you’re looking to sketch people. Here the whole spectrum of humanity is on display: all body types (with no shame in walking around half naked), all colours (do they not know about protective lotions?) and all ages. Actually inspiring enough to get into character sketching. People watching is always fascinating. My focus is likely to be villages and landscapes, but I’m also here to see if I can make other things work, open myself up to new visual subjects and approaches. A tiny morning sketch:

Amarante, city of Portuguese love

Posted by Anna Belleforte on May 21, 2017 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Having a dog allows you to make connection with others like nothing else can. Even if it’s not direct contact. Tully got so many adoring glances, he lifted so many people’s spirits. Honestly, practically every day I saw a smile grow on a stranger's face as we crossed paths. He had that power (and sometimes I think he knew it). I was merely in his service.

Trying to see some of the advantages of being without dog: I can visit museums. Had a good injection of art in Amarante, mostly modernist paintings in a beautiful old building. I’m a huge fan of Maria Helene Vieira da Silva’s paintings, and had never really looked into her husband’s work (more highly regarded in their lifetime, I believe), and there were a lot of his paintings here. What can I say? I’m still a huge fan of Maria Vieira da Silva’s work. Perhaps it’s because his works shown here were all quite small (and predictable of its time), and Maria painted big and somewhat futuristic. Funny, because I don’t paint big, or even futuristic, myself. But I do paint in angles and lines like her, and I admire her veiled perspectives. We also visited the Mateus Palace. Remember those quirky short oval wine bottles from the 70s/80s? It was that very vineyard. The grounds of the estate were nice. I do love me some geometric topiary. Lots of great picture for future use.

We’re discovering that all streets in Portugal are very steep! None of my muscles are used to this, it’s a real work-out. Amarante, apparently the place where the Portuguese go to pray for love, was another very hilly town. But we are heading further south tomorrow, more to the flatter lands and seaside.