Porto, Lisbon, Evora
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOK: Portugal (Lonely
PORTO: Pao de Acucar Hotel -
$40/double, good location, comfortable rooms. Rua do Almada, 262. (02) 31
LISBON: Pensao Ninho das
Aguias - $35/double, with bath down the hall. Costa do Castelo 74, Lisbon 1100.
EVORA: Residencial Policarpo
- $40/ double with bath and breakfast; charming hotel in old walled city.
and Joan Rose