024 - Natal (Christmas) in Portugal

During my stay in northern Spain (Galicia) I went quite frequently to Portugal and once, around Christmas, while driving, I saw from the highway many churches that seemed to be glowing with colourful lights; but it was too late to stop and make an article. Lucky me, next year the churches were lit again, and this time I was prepared.  Let's discover!

The first time I ever saw a church decorated with lights was in 2017. Back then I was with my wife in Portugal around Christmas time. We were driving back home from the cinema (the new Star Wars movie, 2017) and around the town of Anais I thought I saw the town's church well lit with colourful lights. We said we would go back and see more, but actually “later” we returned home to our own country. When we came back (just after New Year), the churches were no longer lit.

Next year, we were still in Spain (by luck) and just as December was starting, we decided to go to Porto to check some movies (they are in Original Version) but also to see if the churches were lit or not. On our way back it was dark outside and… the churches were lit indeed! That night, the atmosphere was pretty clear (from Braga to Valença do Minho (articles 001 to 004)) and I could see pretty far in the distance. While my wife was driving, I had my phone in my hand and I was trying to see where the churches are and then put a pin on that “approximate” location (on Maps.me app). Now don’t imagine that the churches are close to the highway… Some, were far on a hill, so those I would put them in yellow colour (as a maybe, in that place) and churches that were a bit closer I would mark them in green (very likely), especially if it was the only one in the area. Thank God apps have compasses!

Next weekend we left home (Vigo - Spain) and drove back to Braga. Why not Oporto? Well from the highway we saw most churches from Ponte de Lima to Braga so that is the portion that we preferred. It is true that there are many churches around Lisbon but that was way to far… we don’t have a private jet đŸ˜‚

We drove towards Braga and starting from Anais I was double checking that the pins are more or less well marked on the app. We reached Braga and left the highway and entered a suburb area.

024.1 Martim Church. This one was actually an easy one to get to, and I almost did not want to take the photo, since it did not have the rainbow type colours, so it did not look as “authentic” as the other ones. But I liked that there was a graveyard and took the photo!

Also, it so happens that this is the first image taken on a trip with my new 24-70mm f4L Canon Lens. But more on that later.

024.2 Here is Santuario de Nossa Senhora Bom Despacho. To get to this location, in Cervaes, we had to follow a local road, which at times was very, very narrow! Luckily no cars were coming from the opposite direction, but the stress was always there. Also, in some areas the road was “guarded” by lemon and orange trees filled with fruits. So much that a whole bunch were smashed on the asphalt by other cars. If I was the one to have those trees, I would have made so much orange jam and limonade to last a whole year and then some. Maybe the owners were working in the city or in France…

024.3 From up here (where is Santuario de Nossa Senhora Bom Despacho) there is a big parking lot with a scenic view. We see a huge sea of lights (Braga) but also another church (closer to the right side) that has no Christmas lights on it (just some light spots, beaming towards it. I say this just to show that even if you see a church from far, putting a pin on a map may be difficult because there are other churches, without lights). And on the top of the mountain, far on the horizon, I think it is Bom Jesus, the one we visited in articles 003 and 004 Braga.

024.4 As we went further and further back, towards Spain (home), we had to stop at the next location marked on my Maps.me app. To get there, we had to pass through a forest with the same super narrow road. In fact, tree branches would swipe the roof or the sides of the car, so we had to drive close to the centre of the road, and pray no car comes from the other direction. Pitch black and no white markers on the road to reflect the light of our headlights, we were not driving fast either (50km/h at most!). Sometimes a local would drive behind and flash us to move aside, but it was hard because the road was not really made for two cars... After what seemed an eternity, we found the church - Igreja Nova, which is in the town with the same name and I was glad we went to see it. However we could not get much closer so instead we went back to the main road, took out the tripod and took this picture. There was also a cat guarding the entry in the alley. It got us joking about Harry Potter and Professor McGonagall. So yeah we had our first great shot.

024.5 From here to the next location, I had quite a few busts, meaning that where I made the pin, there was no “active” church, or the church had just a (huge) decoration on it and no contour made out of lights.

Igreja de Arcozelo (in this image) is also not so easy to get to, and I had the luck to have a few cars passing by.

As a sidestory, in order to take this photo, I used a tripod (as with all images in this article) and a 15 sec exposure time. Me and my wife would listen for when the cars were coming and then take the photo hoping they would arrive on this road.

Because I did not have a ND filter (one of those glass elements that you put in front of the lens, and then the light quantity becomes seriously diminished) I had to close the aperture to the max. In fact, when I was taking this picture (and others in the same spot) I noticed the rays for the first time. Usually the subject at night is worse lit so I have to open the aperture of the lens to let in as much light as possible. Now I did the reverse and I thought my camera broke :)) Later, back home I was researching what this is, and if my Canon L lens is faulty, but no… is normal. More I close the aperture, more these rays are bigger and sharper. So yeah, if you have an ND filter, and you wish to take photos of these churches, consider using it, even if maybe it does not sound normal.

024.6 Igreja Anais. This is the only church we got really close to. Also it is the first church with lights that I saw the previous year, while driving to Braga.

Sidestory: I made a short fantasy novel, and for one of the main characters I made up a name: Anais. Turns out, in reality many have that name and also there is even a town in Portugal with the same name. So I always wanted to go there and at least take a picture with the plate. So when we saw the lights on the church (from the highway), we decided to stop at the return trip. But we were tired, and we forgot and actually they were gone the next time we were in the area. Next year however, this is the same first church (I was always looking when I would see the exit towards Anais on the highway and I would even point it out to my wife, as a meme) that I see with light. But this time is early and we have time to check more. So this is actually how the story of us discovering the lights in Portugal began.

Anais church is supposed to be the last one we visit. In fact we were super tired and with lots of caffeine on us to resist more (we had to reach Vigo in Spain).

024.7 Capela Santo Antonio and the Roman Bridge at Ponte de Lima. Yes we made one more stop, at our favourite and most romantic town in Northern Portugal - Ponte de Lima. This place we visited a bunch of times and it always surprised us with its beauty.

024.8 A beautiful WatchTower in Ponte de Lima. Because the streets were empty, it was easy to find parking close to the river, so we went for a walk.

024.9 Most buildings facing the river were decorated, much like the church. But of course we were among the very few humans walking the street at that hour.

We’ve already shared plenty of side stories in this article so not much is left to say apart from: if you can, you should do a road trip in Portugal with this sole purpose - see and photograph churches on Christmas period.

Getting out of the highway and adventuring on narrow roads, in pitch darkness was a challenge, not because of wild animals but mostly because of locals who insist we drive at 70 or above… The roads are narrow, with plenty of curves and at one point you climb and another you descend and it keeps going like that so visibility is low. Many roads are missing the side markings, or even signals for a sharp turn. GPS helps a bit but not that much, unless it is projected on the windshield (ours is a phone…).

Take a tripod and an ND filter for the camera lenses you intend to use. You can also use the phone camera but you must “master” the controls of the “pro” camera app. There are ND filters also for the phone camera but, your favourite device might have a quite high percentage of Artificial Intelligence so making a photo look as you want will be challenging as the AI will try to make it look as “it” wishes instead. Of course my digital SLR is in the same “boat” of some sort of intelligence who manipulates the photo, and it is true that for the most organic result, we should use film cameras… but those are not for seasonal photographers like myself and I never made photos in darkness like I did on this trip.

Source https://maeemdia.com/2015/12/10/6-lendas-de-natal-para-contar-e-encantar-seus-filhos/

To make the 3D art of this article, I reused Braga Bom Jesus church, but made it a bit different, better I would say. Then I had to watch a few tutorials on how to make the lights glow and also how to make the star rays (but it did not look good at all, so I kept only the glow effect) 

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