Pears Watercolor by Victoria Morgan
This world is but a canvas to our imagination - Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stuck in Europe

My daughter and I at Castle of St. George
       My recent summer vacation to Lisbon, Portugal was extended a week. Thanks to Hurricaine Irene's drenching the eastern coast with her wet fury, I ended up getting five extra days in Lisbon.  I can't complain (other than about my bills) because as my son says, there are worse problems to have than being stuck in Europe.  And -- my husband was home to watch over my home (thankfully no damage) and being an ocean away, he couldn't complain about my bills either :).  Even better, Lisbon has gelato, fresh fish, palaces, and bright, sunny Mediterranean weather.  But best of all, the wonderful Castle of St. George hovers above the city, beckoning you up the hill and into its mysterious ruins.

     The castle dates back to the 6th century. It first served as the Moorish royal residence until Portugal's first King, Alfonso Henriques captured it in 1147 with the help of northern crusaders on the way to the holy land.  Dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, it remained the royal residence until it was replaced by another castle.

      Not much remains of the castle except its labyrinth of walls.  A statue of King Alfonso Henriques greets you when you enter through the main gate.  Single file, you can climb the steep steps to traverse the castle walls and get incredible panoramic views of the city and the River Tajus.  I dragged my sister up to the steps and back in time.  She surveyed the ruined remains and wondered what so fascinated me.  And she made me wonder, too.

      Just what is so fascinating about castles?

      I think the stark reminder that home, sweet home in a castle conjures very different meanings than when we think of our own welcoming hearth.  Castles are more than a place of refuge or luxury comfort, but a defensive arsenal.  They were fortified buildings built on hills, not for the scenic view but because it is a strategic position of defense.  Their ramparts were thick, solid stone so they could not be stormed by battering rams.  Parapets, the defensive walls lining the roof have cutouts known as crenels, which provide openings for the archers to fire down upon the enemy and enable projectile missiles to be launched.  Stones and burning oil were dropped on unwelcome intruders.  How cool is that?  Definitely not in Kansas anymore....

       Archaic words like turrets, keeps, porticullis, moats and baileys tumble off our tongue and come alive.  We step into a long lost past and picture the world of kings, queens, and sword wielding armored knights. We remember Camelot, Robinhood and Ivanhoe.  Or better yet, we recall our childhood dreams of being a princess locked in the tower awaiting her prince.

       Okay, so you see why I love writing historical romance.  All roads lead to romance.  Or so they do, in my castles.

        If you're not into castles, there is the fairytale palace in Sintra, or the Monument of Discoveries that is a tribute to Vasco de Gama and Magellan. There is also the 16th century Belem Tower on the Tagus River that provides the first gateway of defense for Lisbon.  Okay, I'm back to defensive fortifications....

        Well, there is always gelato -- rich, creamy and delicious!  I guess I should thank Irene for my extended stay in Portugal.  Being stuck in Europe is a problem I can handle :)


Penelope said...

Getting stuck in Portugal sounds pretty wonderful! I'm jealous! What a great trip....and very romantic.

kmorgan said...

Beautifully shared, Vicki! I could imagine it just as you described. What a magical experience. I believe that "all roads lead to romance" as well ;o)

Dalton Diaz said...

Definitely worse places to get stuck! I have never been to a castle ruin, and it is something I would love to do. I hear there are some that are Bed and Breakfast's! Hmmmm. Quirky trip? One of us has to win the lottery some day!