My better half, Robin, and I were finally able to dig our passports out of storage and get some travel time to Portugal recently. Some of our best memories were of a trip we did there over 30 years ago, and we were more than ready to update our mental files. It’s a wonderful country with rich history, incredible food, excellent wine, and it will serve as an example for generations to other countries on how to recover from an oppressive dictator.
Robin and I have very similar interests when we travel, and one thing we are going to always do is immerse ourselves in local art, history and culture. To that end, we cherry-picked some well-known and not-so-well-known places for our itinerary. I managed to get some great photos of beautiful architecture, jaw dropping art and some meals that will stay in my mind for a long time. Being a true wood floor guy, I also paid attention to what I was walking on, because not all the artwork is hanging on the wall. (One of my favorite stories was when a docent at Blenheim Place in England called me an “odd fellow,” as she thought I was taking pictures of people’s feet on the tour. My wife had to explain to her that I was much more interested in the wide, thick slabs of gorgeous quartersawn oak flooring and didn’t have a shoe or foot fetish. She still thought I was odd, and few would argue.)
Here are a few of our stops where I kept looking down:
Parque de Serralves: Any time the term “art deco” is in the description of an old home, you’ll get my attention. Art deco is easy on the eyes and doesn’t involve all those crazy-looking gargoyles that some idiot thought would look cute power-puking rainwater out of its mouth. I tire of the Gothic influence and all the hidden components that over tax my aging brain. Give me clean lines, soft curves and handsome arches that tend to show up in art deco, and I’m a happy man. Parque de Serralves certainly checked all my boxes.
Built around 1925 in Porto, the house is embedded in a beautiful park with plenty of outdoor sculptures, crisp landscaping and a treetop walk. Inside, the rooms are large with subtle design elements. The Portuguese are known for their love of tiles and stone, so much of the floors reflected that until I got to the second floor. That’s where someone gave the green light to a wood floor pro, and they did not disappoint. The lines and design complemented the architecture and definitely got peoples attention. The museum has about a million visitors a year, and the wood floors are holding up magnificently:
Palacio da Bolsa: Still in Porto, this building has an interesting history. It was originally part of a convent, but when a fire destroyed that in 1841, the city decided to build a structure to house the Commercial Association and is now referred to as the Stock Exchange Palace. The entrance hall has one of those 30-foot-tall glass ceilinged atriums that has everyone looking like a flock of turkeys when it rains: just standing motionless, mouth open and staring up. Most of the building dates to around 1860, but some interior décor wasn’t finished till around 1900. Aside from the half million visitors every year, the building also serves as a reception place for dignitaries and celebrities.
Like Serralves, you don’t see any wood floors till the second floor, but they are worth the wait. Some of the patterned floors are very much in keeping with designs popular in the late 19th century. There was a significant amount of pine intermingling with other species, and it was very attractive and had a nice distressed look. I was very pleased to see several patches in the wood that reflect my company’s approach to repairing damaged floors with a Dutchman:
The tours save the best for last, and when they throw open the doors to the Arab Room built in 1880, you can’t hear yourself think for the “ooohs and aaaahs” of other tourists. I have no idea what the walls looked like, as I was mesmerized by one of the most incredible examples of marquetry in the floors I’ve ever seen:
And, again, knowing what these floors endure on an annual basis, they looked “mahvelous dahling, absolutely mahvelous.” It never ceases me to amaze me that when wood floors get just a modest amount of attention and care, they can run neck-and-neck with any flooring product on the planet and often look better than the competition.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian: Like most people, I didn’t know Calouste Gulbenkian from Adam’s housecat, but suffice it to say that he was the European equivalent of a John D. Rockefeller with a very low profile. Born into a wealthy Armenian family, he used his business savvy and family oil connections to amass an incredible fortune in the oil industry. He lived all over Europe but ended up feeling more comfortable in Lisbon than anywhere else.
Early on, it became apparent he was a tour de force when it came to collecting decorative arts. He housed his collection in several large buildings until he built a museum to showcase his “stuff” to the world. It’s a very contemporary building, so the wood floors were recent by comparison to the others I had seen. I was cruising along going from room to room when I walked into a hallway and noticed something completely out of place: 6-inch-wide Brazilian cherry floors with some serious crowning issues:
I thought to myself, “Well, this is interesting,” as this is a world-class museum and I didn’t expect to see this kind of damage. I rounded the corner to the main exhibit and the crowning just got worse. Before me lay a couple of thousand square feet of the most-crowned wood floors I’d ever seen. I was totally gob smacked! To make matters even worse, the floors had noticeable separation, and they had stuffed wood filler into the cracks!!! Noooooooo!!!
So on top of the crowning, you had the look of wood filler disintegrating, looking like the mouth of a seven-year-old as their juvenile teeth go their merry way. Where was their wood floor pro when they needed them the most?
The trip was a resounding success. Robin and I got back in our travel stride and pounded the pavement, rode the public buses through old neighborhoods and found as many family-run restaurants as possible. I’m 75 and got a chance to test-run my brand-spanking-new right hip replacement, and its performance exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t as dependent on my trusty hiking stick until I needed it to take down a young gun who saw my gray hair as an easy mark and tried to pick my pocket on a very busy sidewalk in Lisbon one afternoon. He had about 30 pounds on me, but my quick response with the stick had him on the sidewalk bellowing about what the “crazy old man” had done to him in short order. I replied that trying to rob me did tend to bring out the crazy in me, so he had no one to blame but himself. I took advantage of all the attention he was getting from bystanders with his vociferous whining by loudly branding him a “pickpocket and a thief.” Evidently pickpocket and thief translate well, as the shocked crowd began to realize what had just happened. As I turned to leave, a handsome young woman in the crowd presented me with a gleeful smile and said, “For a crazy old man, you did damned good.” I smiled, winked at her and we just went on our way. I felt I had represented traveling streetwise septuagenarians fairly well. Hoo-ah!!!
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