Porto, Lisbon, Evora 

November 1999


We checked into the Pao de Acucar Hotel in Porto, where we joined an American couple we'd met in Alaska who would travel with us through Portugal and Morocco. The four of us did a lot of walking through this hilly city, enjoying the magnificent architecture. Blue and white tiles cover many of the buildings, giving the city an Old World charm.

We walked down to the Douro Rio and over the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia to sit in a cafe and sip 20-year-old port. All of the world's port originates in the Douro Valley, and Vila Nova de Gaia is where it is aged. (Ever the economist, Lou thinks that a strong association of vintners acts as a cartel to support the price of port!) For dinner, we returned to the river's edge on the Porto side, for an outstanding seafood stew at the rustic Chez Lapin cafe. The Portuguese wines are very good and very affordable. Chilled house vinho verde ($4 a bottle) was wonderful with the seafood.

During a 45-minute tram ride along the river and Atlantic coastline, we met a young fellow who insisted on taking the four of us home for Sunday tea. His parents sure looked startled. They were snoozing in the living room - rumpled, shoeless and happy - when their son burst in with four American guests!

On our last night in Porto we went to Tipico des Fado - an authentic fado cafe where they sing the blues Portuguese style. (Fado means fate, destiny, doom.) Some think it may have originated in Africa and arrived in Portugal by way of African slaves living in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. In a fado restaurant, the lights dim about 10 p.m. and a black-clad singer appears in the midst of the diners. If a woman, she will always have a deep-fringed black silk scarf flung over one shoulder. The singer is accompanied by two guitarists - one with a regular 6-string guitar, the other with a 12-string Portuguese guitar. Three fado singers alternate, coming out one at a time. At this restaurant, the best singer was a tiny, wrinkled woman of about 70 who sang with her head thrown back and eyes closed. Her quavery voice was tremendously soulful. Later in Lisbon, the true home of fado, we enjoyed it again at the Parreirinha de Alfama restaurant.


Pensao Ninho des Aguias (Eagle's Nest) perches up on a hill next to an old fortified castle. This was our hotel for the four nights we were in Lisbon. It's a funky place with lots of stairs and shared bathrooms. There's nothing noteworthy about it except for the glorious view from our windows. Each morning, we looked out over the city and watched the "rosy fingers of dawn" (thanks, Homer) trace their way across the red-tiled rooftops. Each evening, we returned to see the light-dappled city below us. We loved this hotel! There are many steps from the hotel down the city below - along a jumble of cobblestone alleyways dripping with lines of laundry hung from every window. Laundry seems to be the national pastime in Portugal. (Below is our hotel window.)

Before we left Hawaii, a friend asked us what we would like to be able to say at the end of this period of extensive travel. Lou said he would like to say he had become more spontaneous and  flexible; Joan said she hoped she would learn to "be here now" - rather than off somewhere in her head. So far, we'd done pretty well, but the true test came after we went from two travelers to four. Traveling as a quartet is a lot more complex than traveling as a couple. Both of our friends are strong-minded leaders. Among us, we were two first-borns and two only children. In other words, we were all Indian chiefs and no braves!

One morning in Lisbon, the four of us started out from our hilltop hotel and made several false starts - someone needed to go back to the hotel for film, get a jacket, pick up a map, go to the toilet, etc. By the time we were ready to go, one friend had found something to photograph down a nearby street and her husband was using two cameras down another! We came back together in the middle of our cobblestone lane and began negotiating about what to do next. By now it was nearly noon - and we were still standing in front of our hotel! We thought of the perfect metaphor - the four of us were like a FOUR-HEADED CENTIPEDE. When one head was thinking of what to do next, another was taking a photo, another was hungry and someone (always) needed to pee. We all laughed like crazy at the idea of being an insect conga line! The metaphor broke the tension and we did remarkably well after that. To help move the bug along, one of us played logistical leader each day. We'd all agree on what we wanted to do, then the leader figured out the logistics. Everyone else had to shut up and follow the leader.

The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is loaded with great paintings, but we arrived only an hour before closing time. We sprinted through the galleries to reach the prize: Hieronymus Bosch's triptych "Temptation of St. Anthony." We spent an hour with just this one painting - and what a stupendous painting it is! Surrealistic and feverishly inspired, its eccentric scenes, people and beasts are totally compelling. This is one of the world's masterpieces.

As schoolchildren, we all learned about the great Portuguese explorers. It was exciting to stand in the place from which Vasco de Gama set sail in 1497 on his journey to discover the route around Africa to India. Da Gama is buried nearby in St. Jerome's Monastery; the Discoverer's Monument (below) commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of King Henry the Navigator.



The last day in Lisbon we caught a bus to colorful, Disney-like Sintra - the Portuguese kings' summer castle for some 500 years; from there we headed to Cabo da Roca - a wind-swept coastline that is the most westerly point in Europe. This barren space high on the cliffs was once considered the end of the earth.


Bidding adeus to Lisbon, we traveled two hours via express bus to Evora to see its megaliths and Roman ruins. The countryside around Lisbon was covered with gray-green olive trees, but the road to Evora was lined with cork oak orchards. Cork trees must be 30 years old before commercial-quality cork can be harvested from them. The cork is stripped off every nine years, from one foot above the ground up into the main branches. A white-washed numeral indicates the year when the bark will again be ready to harvest. The tree bark is light gray; where it has been stripped, the underneath portion is a warm rust color. Portugal supplies 60% of the world's cork; recently developed artificial cork could have serious repercussions for its economy.

The old walled city of Evora has Roman temple ruins dating from the second or early third century. Nearly 2,000 years old, the 14 Corinthian columns are still topped with marble slabs! The ruins have survived relatively intact, apparently because they were walled-up in the Middle Ages to create a small fortress and re-discovered only in the 19th century.

We hired a guide and car for a three-hour drive into the countryside to see the ancient megaliths (huge standing stones.) We looked with wonder on a large oval ring of megaliths adjacent to a smaller circle of them. Monica, our guide, explained that they were erected between 4,000 and 3,000 BCE and used for fertility rites, solar observations and social gatherings. A cromlech called Cromeleque dos Almendros has 95 impressive granite megaliths that stand in rows like crops growing in a field. These ancient stones are well-rounded by the centuries and some are engraved with symbolic markings.

Monica, tapped on the gate of the Escoural Cave and an old man appeared at the door of a hut. He could speak no English, but with his flashlight led us through a narrow opening into a couple of large limestone chambers - revealing a skull and bones, pottery shards, and the paintings of bison, horses and other animals created by Cro-Magnon artists some 15,000 years ago!

The Great Dolman of Zambujeiro is the largest dolman (funeral temple/tomb) in Europe. This group of 7 huge stone slabs sits in a field of wildflowers, protected from the elements by a roof of rusty sheet metal. Almost 20 feet high, the slabs form the sides of a huge chamber. The capstone was broken by granite harvesters in the 1960s, who stopped when they realized what lay beneath. The dolman at that time looked like a mound of earth with only part of the buried capstone visible. (Note the "four-headed centipede" is appropriately hiding under the rocks!)

By now, we were seasoned travelers - or so we thought. However, we hadn't done enough pre-trip planning to realize that getting INTO Evora from Lisbon was a lot simpler than getting OUT of Evora and to a Spanish port in time to catch a ferry to Morocco in time to meet our Moroccan tour group! We were stuck. It looked as if we were going to have to backtrack to Lisbon and catch a plane to Morocco. SIGH. Then Lou lucked onto a great deal. In this small town in the middle of nowhere, he found  a Hertz car rental stand in the middle of a park! It had a car with Spanish license plates that needed to be returned to Spain - so we wouldn't have to pay drop-off charges for taking it only one way. The rental was only $38 plus $20 for gas to drive it all the way to the port of Algeciras on the Spanish coast. Along the way we passed cork orchards and orange groves, fortified villages and stork nests. The next day we boarded a 7 a.m. ferry and crossed the Strait of Gibralter to MOROCCO



GUIDEBOOK:  Portugal (Lonely Planet)

(1999 Prices)

PORTO:  Pao de Acucar Hotel - $40/double, good location, comfortable rooms. Rua do Almada, 262.  (02) 31 02239

LISBON:  Pensao Ninho das Aguias - $35/double, with bath down the hall. Costa do Castelo 74, Lisbon 1100. 21-885-4070.

EVORA:  Residencial Policarpo - $40/ double with bath and breakfast; charming hotel in old walled city. 




Lou and Joan Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net