A Travellerspoint blog

Flowers and old walls

Portalegre

sunny 35 °C

Cool gardens and many fountains surprised us as we wandered from the Castelo De Vide bus stop. The bus had revved up and up past villages perched on hill slopes with centuries of stone walls guarding stock and fruit trees. Despite the arid environment, green was the dominant note. Castelo doVide obviously values public garden space with several shaded areas with old trees, and old men playing backgammon. There was much ceremonial kissing as the elderly met, often with sticks to assist on the cobbled paving. The town has a reputation for its mineral waters and we followed the examples of others, filling our bottles from the fountains. The narrow streets were colourful with flowers in pots alongside doors, in window boxes, spilling over walls. From the castle battlements, we could see the curving streets of the old Jewish quarter and the neater lines of newer homes. There was a quiet buzz of people doing business but a noticeable lack of tourists. We were the only passengers on the bus from Portalegre and locals said business was very slow. A charming little town of white walls and ochre trims.

Marvao, a hilltop castle, is famous for its perch on a peak glaring at the Spaniards only 10 km away. More visitors here but arriving in cars. They missed a great bus trip! Signs warned of deer crossing,tiny stops where one woman waited and no sign of where she lived, animated discussion as we slowed behind two cyclists. The slope just kept going up!! And the day hit 35. Marvao's in good condition for a place occupied by Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians.. Apparently, it was so isolated they tried to encourage settlement with special conditions. Not very successful- 159 today. But it has preserved a lovely tiny town. The view from the tower was worth the climb, 360 degrees over Spain and over to the Serras. My dislike of heights has led me to develop some unusual ways of tackling these steps/ladders/ramps or even roof tops! I proudly stood, or clung, to the tower wall before tottering down to the keep ground. The crag juts up in the court, they just built around the rocks.

Dined on cheeses( cheap!), chorizo, fruit and wine from the local supermarket. Some wild looking salamis. David ate "little stickle backs" yesterday- small whole crunchy fish- and I had some "pig's feet in pastry". Mmmm....

The temperature is heading for high thirties. Calor! Time to move onto cooler north.

Posted by woylie 14:11 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Mighty stones

Evora

A dusty track through cork oaks leads us to a hillside with an extraordinary ring of granite stones (cromlech Os Almendres) It feels familiar because we have all seen images of standing stones somewhere. But I tell you, it feels also pretty amazing to realize how they fit into the landscape in front of us. We were really fortunate to get the last seats on Mario's tour. He is a young archaeologist who gave us an erudite and clear idea of what it meant and what to look for on the stones. I'm still unconvinced about a couple of faint carvings but he was adamant that there were shepherding crooks. He then guided us to a single larger stone menhir which marked a sun position and could once be seen from the circle. The finale was the much later burial mound or dolmen of Zambujeiro which once contained bodies and funeral goods.
Much could be done to both protect and explain these megaliths. We were lucky to have Mario's passionate explanations. A great day out in the very hot countryside, walking amongst the cork oaks. There was even a great pile of newly stripped bark waiting to dry enough for the factory.
Finished with a meal around the corner and a glass of ?the house vinho tinto. So dark a red that I could not see through. Bacalhau croquettes and grilled chicken.

This Alentajo region is always described as cork and vineyard country, and that's what we have seen on our bus going north and east to Portalegre. Rolling land, slowly getting higher as we approach the serras and grey green masses of cork oaks with occasional manicured vineyards. Yellow stubble in paddocks and caramel coloured cattle. Each little village boasts white white walls and often a neighborhood castle or fort on the hilltop. And then the oaks start again.

We have left the lofty splendours of our aristocratic residence in Evora to share an apartment in this smaller town. All the rooms are tiled, with a wide balcony looking over the garden three floors below. There's a crowded plot of fruit trees, tangles of pumpkin and tomatoes and a large lemon verbena. A hen is letting everyone know about her recent success, and somewhere nearby a goat makes a commentary on her state. The family restaurant below is gearing up for the evening. Off for an exploration.

Posted by woylie 08:27 Comments (0)

Layers

Evora

sunny 26 °C

Perched high in a comfortable coach, the Alentajo countryside unrolls as we head to Evora. It's only an hour and a half from Lisbon but quickly becomes rural. Vines and cork oaks, with stripped lower trunks and grey green leaves. Occasional irrigated fields but mostly oaks and stubble, which looks a familiar bleached summer colour.

Our room, reached after two flights of stairs and a terra cotta corridor, has 4 metre high ceilings, two tall windows with shutters, dark wooden furniture and art nouveau styled lighting. Apparently this was an aristocrat's residence built in the mid 1500s. It is now providing us with an air conditioned base to explore Evora.

This place has been a human settlement for thousands of years! Today, our local guide, Gertrude, pointed out the remnants of Roman times here, often below street level, the Moorish additions and then the heyday as a royal capital. Evora has some notoriety as the beginning of the Inquisition with lots of royal support, obviously. Buildings are mostly still in the style of their time, white with an ochre edging. Gertrude pointed out the common use of courtyards for horse and cart which explained why there are so many large doors labelled "garagem". We were inexorably dragged into the local ossuary where some troubled monastic souls built a chapel decorated with the bones from locals in the cemetery. I am left considering the very large number of tiny skulls used as an attractive element in the ceiling paintings. Suggests a high perinatal mortality.

Petiscos have been our downfall this afternoon. This is the Portugese version of tapas. Despite the lure of chapels, cathedrals and museums, we sat in Pateo, a pleasant bar, with Rita. She is an Australian traveling by motorbike for 5 months across Europe. So we shared little bowls of things- chunks of spicy pork, chickpeas and mint, tuna and beans, snails, pork ears in garlic and olive oil, roasted capsicum- and lots of Alentejo wines. Not Mateus Rose! Tho we shared some memories of our youth!! The conversation roamed over the Gibb River Road, the dole in Spain, indigenous education, big life decisions and local food.
Siesta time!

Posted by woylie 08:58 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Wandering a bit aimlessly

Lisbon

sunny 30 °C

We bravely went up the hill this morning and discovered a local community garden on the corner, with a shared compost pile. Around the corner was a cheerful shopping strip and the ubiquitous tram 28, already packed to the hangers. We knew this was the easy way home!

Our target was the citadel of Sao Jorge. On the way, we realized we could see our room from the lookout right across the valley! The castle took us a few loops to locate the entrance, but a very cheerful guard directed everyone in their own language- amazingly fluent. It was peaceful despite steady arrivals, with great views right around Lisbon. Remnants of settlements were displayed from 6C BC, through Moorish times to the present. Shaded by cork oaks, carobs, stone pines and a cool breeze from the sea, it was a respite from the heat.
We did get a bit lost in Alfama, looking for a recommended sardine cafe, but a friendly woman guided us there, in voluble French, around some ridiculous twists. But I think it is obligatory to be lost there. Alfama rewards wandering, finding winding stairs and tiny shop fronts.

Then we sought Conserveira de Lisboa, 80year old store supplying tins of fish, all wrapped in traditional labels by the hands of the dignified elderly woman behind a corner table. A modest store front in "the street of the dried fish sellers".
Flagging a little by now, we cheered up after a visit to A Vida Portugesa, which is all high ceilings, subdued dark woodwork, antique fittings and Portugese products from all regions. Very classy.

Posted by woylie 11:18 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Hills and cobblestones

Lisbon

sunny 27 °C

Through the open window, cool morning air brings a faint scent, maybe the white oleander flowers in the small terrace garden below. Small birds cross the valley. On the slope, sun catches white and pinkish walls from buildings angled around the slope of the hill. The castle on top is partly hidden by trees but glowed last night in the sunset. Bells ring the hours from the local convent. It is very quiet here, probably because everyone is too tired from climbing the insane cobbled streets. There are cars around and trams, but the last stretch for most is on foot. Some lanes are mockingly labelled elevandinhas, but that just means steps like a ladder! Though the worst one had a bench ready to catch me, and a great view back down the twisted laneway, graffiti wall art, battered doors and tiled house fronts. One woman was cooking sardines over a small grill in the street and handing over stacked platters to neighbors.

We are staying in a b&b in Graca, with a plain front door opening off a very steep cobbled street. Inside are white walled rooms with timber stairs and a view across the valley. Our host has a charming small garden with pots of herbs, lemon and fig trees, and Lola the dog. We found our way back through the maze of curving lanes to a metro station, and then caught the famous tram 28 (packed with tourists as well as locals) which wound through Alfama and up and down to the sea. Then came the painful climb back up to Graca.
We slept really well in the quiet and cool.

Ahh! Those killer hills! But I rejected Tram 28 and staggered back. Going to have calf muscles like Cadel's! We found three fabulous and different buildings today and saw some amazing art. MUDE houses modern works, from Bauhaus to Schiaparelli. And a wonderfully curated tools collection, gathered into groups according to function eg cut, slice, break, separate.. Or shape, mould, form..
But the best was a designer, Manuel Estrada, whose notebooks and final examples were worth a second visit.
Then we took a tram to Belem and found the old electricity station which was like some brutalist installation. The art was meh but the massive machinery was worth a trip. And coffee by the water watching the ferry cross the river was OK.

As we wandered this afternoon, we found a gallery ( there seem to be dozens) with beautiful brick arched ceilings. Inside was an interesting collection of Art Deco Portugese style, housed in the remains of an old monastery which had survived earthquake and fire. It had been very sensitively included into a new building.

We always start the day with a couple of places in mind, but it is the surprises that are often the best experiences.

Posted by woylie 01:56 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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