Im heading for Spain. Well, no, actually Im back home on rainy Vancouver Island, but Im posting as if I'm travelling to Spain, using notes and photos. So here goes.
Our plan: fly to Madrid, spend a few days in Madrid, then head south through Andalusia, west through Portugal, and then, four weeks later, end up in Lisbon.
The worst part of travel is of course flying. At least between books and movies and meals and sleeping and drinking the time on a plane passes quickly, if not forgetfully. Today I watched an HBO show and part of a movie. I couldn't hear most of the dialog. There were three trips through security, each different. The US I think has the most border security layers. Newark security featured a photo-based control which I think I failed as I got extra questioning. Newark airport is terrible, worse than Dulles: no signage, no maintenance, horrible food selection, it looks like a dump. I read a Ben Marcus short story and Rick Steves and then I started an Othello audio book. I popped a calming pill on the last leg, Newark to Madrid. Too snug, too far back in the plane, I started thinking there is no place to land between Newark and Madrid. I started a recent Helen Mirren movie. I fell asleep.
Our flight arrived Madrid an hour early, 9 am. We took the express bus to Atocha station, which is near the apartment and museums. A transit station that's in a great neighborhood.
Next we walked ten blocks to the Apartments Las Letras, on Plaza de Matute. We are there by 11 and check in. A bored young woman sat at the hotel desk. The apartment was disappointing and, we'll discover, will tie for worst with the hotel in Evora. The window opened to a light shaft and the sound of jackhammers. The rooms were run down. The couch looked retro stylish like it was pulled from a '55 Cadillac, but small and hard and uncomfortable. No comfortable place to sit. The bathroom was modern and light though the toilet seat was loose, which we found to be a chronic problem among our choices of accommodations. There was also a sign warning no tp in the toilet. Great location though. Cafes, museums, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, all are just blocks away on pretty car-free or car-controlled streets.
After a rest we walked to a cafe for churros and coffee then explored the nearby squares. Dinner was pizza and pasta at a cafe nearby.
Today's pictures are all about food because today was largely about food though there was also art and murder and mayhem. But I've only pics of food.
We started our first full day in Madrid by getting out of the somewhat depressing apartment to do Rick Steves' Madrid walk. Steves is good at hitting the major sites and sharing his thoughts though as I learn more I don't always agree with some of his choices.
As we approach each site we stop to look around and then read the text. While we'd already seen two, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, as they are just short blocks from the apartment, we revisited them to learn more about their history. And there is a lot of history here, under foot and all around. It's the same story we will hear over and over again, Visigoths, Moors, Christians, battles, inquisition, torture, heathens made to convert, Jews killed, blah, blah, blah, the oh-too-familiar story of humans behaving badly. In fact, the same story is still playing today.
Along the walk we purchased a bag of simple cookies (10€) from the cloistered nuns at the convent of Corpus Christi. You ring a bell, are buzzed in, then wander until you find an old wooden lazy Susan embedded in a wall. No one speaks English - more common in Spain than in Portugal, we will find - but somehow we managed to place an order. The cookies were simple and a bit dry.
Lunch is at a great find, the wonderful but super crowded tapas market Mercado de San Miguel. A gold star to Rick Steves for including this place.
The highlight this afternoon was seeing the room-filling ominous Guernica at the Reina Sofia, one of Madrid's big three museums. It is across the street from Atocha station. While there we also saw a number of works from artists such as Dali, Picasso and Miro.
I know, I was in Madrid and should've been hanging at patisseries, which are everywhere, but instead my desayuno was nuns' cookies chased by a couple of cappuccinos from the little red machine down the hall which made a surprisingly good drink for 0.80€.
Today was spent shopping and walking. We walked through the Corte Ingles at Puerta del Sol. A huge department store, they've a building with nothing but shoes. There was a line of people waiting patiently to enter the Apple store next door. Border security, err, Apple security managed the crowd with calm competence. I think they were only letting beautiful people into the store.
We walked to Atocha station to pick up train tickets for tomorrow's trip to Toledo. On the way back we walked down the street of outdoors stores. Reminded me of the outdoors stores in Vancouver, all grouped around the giant MEC on Broadway. A pair of pants at Barrabas caught my eye...
Dinner was tapas and paella at Taberna el Arco on Huertas 7, about a five minute walk from the apartment. The only complaint I've got with Madrid is the apartment, and fortunately the weather and city are such we have little reason to be there.
Toledo is a Spanish hill town with a long history which of course is not exactly a unique offering in this part of the world. It is beautifully preserved. Being a 30-minute train ride from Atocha Toledo is very popular with day trippers. Rick Steves says stay overnight, and perhaps he is right.
That said, we were glad when the time came to catch the 20:20 back to Madrid. The crowds of selfie-snapping tourists made us feel claustrophobic. I'm not sure there is anything, well maybe the El Grecos, that you can't get in another Spanish city. All that Toledo offers is more tourists per square meter.
Dinner was tacos and pisco sours at the wonderful El Estribito Chil-mex in Madrid, not Toledo.
Our last full day in Madrid. I really like Madrid. I found the historic center where we stayed, the oldest narrowest most touristy area, felt pretty relaxed. Thanks perhaps to some combination of buildings, plazas on almost every corner, few cars, and countless cafes.
Today we walked through wall-to-wall people at the street market, el Rastro, which snakes along several blocks on several streets. Along the way I stopped at Barrabas to buy a pair of pants; I bought them for their warm tan color.
Later, the Prado. The block-long line to get in is worth it, it's a huge beautiful museum, but best to have a strategy. I didn't, still I remember enjoying the opportunity to see works by Velasquez, Bosch, and Goya.
For dinner, delicious little works of art at the tapas restaurant around the corner VI Cool.
Our last morning in Madrid and breakfast is two eighty-cent sweet machine-made cappuccinos plus the last of the nun cookies. Yum. I'm happy to leave this apartment but sad to leave Madrid. Add Madrid to list of return-to's.
As we walked to Atocha station the streets are dead. Too dead. Then we see them. Zombies? No, cops, then officers and soldiers, jeeps and tanks. This is either a parade or a coup.
What an idiot I am, today is Hispanic Day (Da de la Hispanidad) or National Day (Fiesta Nacional de Espaa), a national holiday commemorating the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Americas. They are celebrating finding us.
No time to watch, unfortunately. We've a train to catch. The train to Granada - well, almost to Granada - is fast, as fast as 301 km per hr according to the readout over the door. And of course it's smooth and so much more comfortable than a plane. Just short of Granada, about an hour short if by car, we stopped at a new station in the middle of nowhere where we got off the train and got on a bus for the final one-hour leg. While not as comfortable the bus did have free wifi. The train tracks are being upgraded to handle the high-speed trains and are expected to be done by the end of the year.
Once in Granada, we walk to the hotel, stopping along the way for lunch at a cafe in a cafe-lined square. Looks like Granada is following the pattern set by Madrid, with square after square, cafe after cafe. Life is tough in Spain.
The hotel, Arte Vida Suites & Spa, turned out to be our favorite of the trip. Several pictures are included below. Arte Vida is quiet, roomy, and perfectly placed in the center of town. Our apartment had several rooms with comfortable places to sit, a big bathroom, even a washing machine. Perfect. The friendly lady at the desk even got us tickets for Alhambra.
We walk around town, to Plaza Nueva and then along the rio Darro that runs below the Alhambra. Lots of young people out as this is a university town. Heading back, we hear firecrackers then music then encounter a parade of solemn men and women, then a band, then a religious procession and a float and incense. Probably the same Hispanic Day celebration we saw setting up in Madrid.
Breakfast quickly becomes routine: two cappuccinos, both of which I drink, plus a pastry at Cafe Lisboa on Plaza Nueva where one of the waiters brings to mind Javier Bardem. Afterwards we head to the ticket office to pick up Alhambra tickets, but after a bit of a wait we find they only release Ticketmaster tickets. We'll have to get ours at the gate tomorrow.
Next, we stop by the TI to inquire about transport to Ronda. The TI recommends the train. Good. I'd take a train even if it the bus is cheaper and shorter. So of course now we walk to the train station to purchase tickets.
So far, most people we've encountered in Spain speak some English. In all cases, their English is better than my Spanish, since my Spanish is based on three years in middle school and decades of neglect ever since. A 128-day Duolingo streak hasn't brought it back.
After a bit of shopping - I've eyes on a pair of shoes that for some reason make me think of Doctor Who - we hike up to the viewpoint at the top of the Alcicyn neightborhood. Supposedly a dicey neighborhood at night, it seems perfectly wonderful on a sunny day. Windy narrow streets, staircases, a residential neighborhood with many sunny gardens and the impressive Alhambra as backdrop.
Dinner at Tagine Elvira. Good and cheap.
After cappuccino and pastry at Cafe Lisboa, we kill the morning until it's time to start walking to the Alhambra. Our tickets are for noon entry and we figure no more than thirty minutes to walk up the hill from the hotel.
The Alhambra requires some planning since tickets are limited. If you know the date you want to visit, morning or afternoon, and the time during this period you want to enter the palaces then buy ahead of time via Ticketmaster.
The Alhambra is big. It combines flower-filled gardens, fountains and pools and troughs of water, Moorish and Christian palaces, and on top of all this, there's also a fort. The whole is a mix of Moorish and Christian architecture set on a hilltop overlooking Granada. It's one pretty spot after another.
I am writing this on November 13 with the grim news from Paris in the background. Hard to focus on light comments to accompany vacation snaps.
So back to Spain, where it is 15 de octubre...
Paul and I had one last breakfast at Cafe Lisboa. Two cappuccinos and a pastry of some kind, always different and always delicious. Paul ordered something more substantial. We checked out of the wonderful hotel and started the walk to the train station.
Along the way we encounter not one, not two, but three demonstrations. Cool. The first, in Isabella square, was small. It's the group holding red stop signs. The second was largest of the three, and it looked like all seniors. I've no idea what they are demonstrating about so I applied google translate to their text, "Por una tributacion justa para las pensiones de los emigrantes retornados" which gave "A fair taxation for pensions of the returnees". Following up with a little searching I think they are calling for a change in the tax applied to foreign pension income and of course I've no opinion on this, I'm just reporting.
The third was a demonstration by Peta. Ha, just kidding, it was the students at one of the local colleges dressed up as some cow/cowboy hybrid. Lots of college students in Granada.
Today we traveled from Granada to Ronda. After walking to the Granada train station we picked up a couple of sandwiches at a cafe and then boarded the train bus. Half way to Ronda, in Antequera, we transferred to the train. Upon arriving in Ronda we bought our tickets for the Sunday train to Algeciris, then we walked across the newer town to the old town.
Upon arrival in Ronda, we walked from the train station towards the center of the city. Not a notable walk, just a gradual uphill through a typical Spanish town. But we shortly hit a large square overlooking the 100-meter-deep El Tajo gorge. The gorge is spanned by an old stone bridge, the Puente Nuevo (or new bridge, curiously). On the other side of the bridge is the original town, the oldest part of the city. That is our destination, as we've rented an apartment on Plaza Duquesa.
Our apartment, at La Colegiata de Ronda, Plaza Duquesa Parcent, 14, is wonderful: roomy, comfortable, and complete with a friendly and helpful proprietor. We had several rooms on the top-floor, open beamed ceilings, kitchen with washing machine, couch, chairs, and beautiful woodwork throughout. The small, deep windows gave geranium-bordered scenes of a tree-filled square. Comfortable and picturesque and located right in the middle of the old town. The apartment is next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Mayor Ronda. Of course it's all rich with history, with many stories of locals fighting off the insurgents down in the valleys below.
After checking in we walked back over the bridge to the newer part of town. I bought some socks and then we checked out the grocery stores. Dinner was delicious tapas at el Lechuguita. 10€ got us 9 tapas plus wine and beer. Their signature dish is a quarter head of lettuce with some secret sauce, and it really was good. We came back later in the week and ordered it again. It's crowded with locals, many stand as the tables and stools are few. We capped off the evening by a walk around town then back to the apartment for wine.
When the first humans settled in Ronda they were drawn to it because it is an easily defensible place. It's almost completely surrounded by rocky cliffs as much as 100 meters high. This was successful, Ronda fended off all attackers, but only until their Achilles heel was discovered, their source of water. Lack of water made Ronda surrender.
Today, of course, Ronda's invaders are tourists. Ronda offers a comfortable combination of touristy and real. The city is clean and well maintained and takes advantage of it's beauty and history. Broad paths track along the cliffs, plus there are paths down to the valley below.
The small, historic old town connects to the newer and larger part of the town via a centuries-old stone Puente Nuevo (new bridge). This bridge was built over the period 1751 to 1793 so it is new only in relation to the other two bridges in town which are far older, the Puente Romano (Roman bridge) and the Puente Viejo (old bridge).
In addition to the cliffs and the bridges, there are attractions such as Moorish baths; Spain's oldest bull fighting ring; and churches and squares and well-priced restaurants. The bull fighting ring is still in use and attractive. Ronda is quite romantic and not without a hint of danger. You can't help think it would all come tumbling down were there an earthquake. But not a bad place to be should there be a zombie apocalypse.
We spent the morning walking around town and then hiked down to the bottom of the gorge. The gorge is the source of the town's safety, it's walls are formidable, but the gorge is its weakness as it is the town's source of water.
By afternoon the weather turned to rain so we pulled out rain gear and walked over to the Museo Joaquin Peinado. Peinado was a contemporary of Picasso and was influenced by him, especially in his cubist work and still lives. Which was great because I love Picasso. The museum is in the light and spare Moctezuma Palace.
Lots of shops with reasonably-priced ceramics. Paul bought a couple of colorful plates, and they survived the trip.
For dinner it was back to our fave, El Lechuguita. We splurged, 15 for 15 tapas plus beer and wine. We were first ones there when they opened, the only customers at all, but it was standing only by the time we left. We followed dinner up with a couple of pastries on the rainy walk back to the apartment.
Today we left Ronda for Tarifa where we'll take a ferry to Tangier. We walked to the train station for the 9:25 to Algeciris. Fortunately the rain had stopped. The train was a local so it makes a number of short stops before its final stop in Algeciras. Once in Algeciris, we cross the street to the bus station to catch the bus to Tarifa.
The bus from Algeciris to Tarifa traveled over windswept hills with expansive views of the Mediterranean and, further out, to Africa. Africa looked close, like Port Angeles from Otter Point. Arriving in Tarifa the bus stopped several blocks from where I expected but the town is so small it really doesn't matter, at least if you are being dropped off. Of course it does matter if you want to catch a bus. One of many times the CityMaps2Go app was helpful.
Tarifa brings to mind Santa Cruz and Valparaiso: tacky buildings mixed in with nice ones, surf shops, lots of kids. But Tarifa also has a well preserved old town with windy narrow streets and buildings in Andalusia white. Tarifa's beach is long and wide and beautiful, kilometers of sand. The winds and waves make it popular with surfers.
Our hotel, Casa Blanco, is one of those that photographs well but in person it's worn and neglected. No good place to sit, check. Loose toilet seat, check. Worn paint, check. And then there was the odd design choice of putting the rain-head shower in the middle of the bathroom. Maybe it sounded cool but it wets everything when you use it. Not sure it's advisable to get design ideas from the RV industry.
But, and it's a big but, the hotel is conveniently located in the old city, next to a cafe lined square and just blocks from the port. And the proprietor is helpful and all to happy to share his opinion though more laid back than I'm accustomed to.
We checked in, changed to shorts as the weather was warm and a little muggy, then walked to the ferry terminal to ask about tickets. Turns out there are two ferries and they run every other hour. About 36 each way for a 35 min ride. We then walked down to the Isla de las Palomas via Calle Alcalde Juan to watch the surfers. The actual tip, the southernnost point in mainland Europe, is closed to the public. Then we returned to town for an afternoon snack of quiche and cappuccino. It started to rain hard so we finished our food then headed back to the hotel.
For dinner we walked to a Mexican restaurant but as there was only one staff member and he looked terribly over worked we left and ended up eating Italian, pizza and pasta.
We started the day by walking the block to the city wall then through a doorway called Puerta de Jerez. In the next block was Cafe Azul where we had good crepes. Today's election was on our minds. Also the ferry ride to Morocco.
It was raining hard when we walked back to our hotel, Casa Blanco, where we checked out.
Well, we didn't completely check out, we left a couple of bags with the hotel. We were only spending a night in Tangier. Not much, no, and probably like judging Mexico from an overnight in Tijuana but at least I'll add Africa and Morocco to my list of visited places.
We caught the 11 am ferry to Tangier. No problem getting on, it's not high season. The ferry is as nice as a BC ferry but zippier looking. It's a catamaran and they look like they are going fast even when they aren't.
The ferry was about half way across the Mediterranean when it slowed then stopped. We'd encountered a very small boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. The ferry passengers crowded around windows and decks to observe the little boat that looked to be quite full with maybe nine people. The boat was barely visible among the waves. We waited almost an hour until a red Salvamento Maritimo boat arrived to provide assistance. This is a similar red boat to that i'd seen docked in Tarifa.
It was somber almost emotional seeing this tiny boat full of people trying to get to a better place.
And while I was standing there on the deck, thinking about what I was seeing, I thought however the election goes we know everyone in Canada will abide by the results, they'll all work together, and that this stability is something most people on this planet can't take for granted.
After checking into the elegant La Tangerina we explored the neighborhood, known as the Kasbah, as well as the nearby Medina and the square called the Petit Socco. Dinner was lamb tagine at Le Nabab.
We walked around the Kasbah and the medina, both of which are near the hotel. Lots of colorful people and shops: weavers and furniture makers and vegetables and long dresses. It felt a bit Harrison Ford movie.
Song for the day is of course Rock the Casbah by the Clash.
We woke this morning to welcome election news from Canada. We then ate breakfast in La Tangerina's dining room, sharing a table with four French-speaking people. Real French sounds nothing like Duolingo French.
Tangier feels less intimidating today. We walk around the old city, exploring the narrow passageways lined with shops selling a lot of familiar stuff like clothes and food and hardware and services like cutting hair. The same stuff but presented differently, small colorful shops to don't offer any shopping anonymity. Later, we are back on the ferry for Tarifa. A short trip but I am ok with that. The almost empty ferry leaves a half hour late.
A few photos from our hotel and the streets of Tangier.
Back in Tarifa we find our bags already in our room at Casa Blanco. We got a larger more comfortable room but it had the same dumb shower. We snacked at El Gecko (4 hamburgers) and returned later in the day for dinner. Returning is ok if done judiciously. In between we walked the beach and picked up medicine for a cough I'd developed. I found Tarifa charming but I am also aware some don't.
Yesterday's rain left, the weather was blue sky perfect. I was sorry to say goodbye to Tarifa. Morning coffee at a cafe, walk to the beach, then breakfast at, yes, El Gecko, cappuccino and scrambled eggs and bacon. Pack, settle account, then walk to the bus station for 12:30 bus to Seville. I think it was 40 for two.
The bus was largely empty, nice for us if not so nice for the bus company. I listened to an audio book as we headed north. The countryside was hilly and green and windmill covered near water then flat and dry inland. I saw a number of white towns on hilltops, the signature of Andalusia.
The bus from Tarifa took about three hours to get to Seville. Most of the scenery was rolling hillside with the occasional white town. We immediately find Seville attractive as even the bus station is attractive. And from there it's a short walk on Avenue de la Constitucion, a beautiful street, to our apartment. Seville was making a good impression.
Our apartment was rented from Apartamentos Torre de la Plata, located at Calle Santander 15.. It's well located: a block from Avenue de la Constitucion plus not much further to the river, the cathedral and many of the major city sites. In addition to its great location the apartment was spacious and functional with a balcony and washing machine, but it was also a bit characterless and worn.
Dinner was schwarma at one of those cafes that tries really hard to pull you in off the street. It worked this time. And the food was good enough.
We were in Seville (Sevilla in Spain) primarily to rent a car to drive to Marvao but we decided to extend it to a couple nights to get a look at the city I'd heard of (the Barber of Seville) but otherwise had no impression.
Now when I think of Seville I flash on Avenue de la Constitucion, a wide pedestrian street fronted by imposing stone buildings. Turns out, Seville is yet another beautiful Spanish city with the predictably nice walk-able streets and great food and all quite well maintained. Later I read that Seville is famous for hot weather and flamenco dancers but I missed both. On the other hand, we did explore the wonderful old town with narrow windy streets, and intimate square after intimate square.
Our day in Seville started with a healthy breakfast of cappuccino and apple pie. From there we walked to to the other side of the River Guadalquivir, the Triana neighborhood where we bought two small ceramic pieces at 7.50 each. Lunch was at a large tapas market. I'm really growing to appreciate tapas for the variety, serving size, and lack of commitment. And so far they've all been delicious.
Dinner was at the tapas market, Mercado Gourmet Lonja Del Barranco, on Calle Arjona. 15 for 3 large tapas and wine. From there we walked along the river back home.
Upon waking in Seville it was time for a cappuccino, a dessert, and a walk to the Europcar office, the one at the train station. We were off to Marvao. We expected to drive through a forest of cork trees to get to a town perched on a hill shared with a castle. Another settlement that exists thanks to its impregnable situation. We rented the cheapest car, a Mini-sized but soggier Opel Adam. It had a slick stop-start and felt rock solid on the highway.
We quickly came to refer to the car as Adam. I drove Adam a half hour of Seville streets followed by an hour of four-lane divided highway followed by a few hours of windy two-lane roads followed by parking at the end of the road, just below the town. Along the way we stopped at a cafe for 1€ espressos and at a rather seedy store for groceries. We saw a lot of what I quickly realized were cork oaks, some showing bright red as if freshly injured skin.
Our hotel, Estalagem de Marvo, was very charming. Everything about it was well executed, the proprietors helpful and friendly, and so it joins Ronda and Granada and Tangier on the list of really nice places to stay. Estalagem de Marvo includes breakfast which is needed since Marvao is so small it doesn't have the patisseries that other cities offer. The hotel's reception room doubles as the town's only grocery store.
After breakfast in the hotel we walked up to the castle that shares the hilltop. At 1.3 entry is a bargain. The Castle grounds are extensive and well maintained and it is all open to unimpeded exploration. The grounds feature a cistern and walkways along the walls and slit windows and expansive views, The stone was slippery in the rain and many of the walkways narrow and lacking in railings. Castles weren't built to code.
The first castle to be built on this site dates to an 8th century Islamic knight, Ibn Marwan. The current Castelo de Marvo dates to the 12th century King Dom Dinis. The castle was remodeled during the 17th century so it has two set of walls. The inner walls are from medieval times, the outer from the "Guerra da Restaurao", the war between Portugal and Spain that began with the Portuguese revolution (1640) and ended with the Treaty of Lisbon (1668). I felt some of this history wandering around inside its walls, looking through slit windows, standing in a cramped stone guard tower, looking down to Marvao and further to the neighboring countryside. A commanding spot indeed.
The afternoon turned to rain so we relaxed by the fire in the hotel.
We were up early as daylight saving time ended in the night. Yesterday's fog was gone. Breakfast was in the hotels comfortable dining room. The friendly husband set out a buffet of coffee, juice, fruit, cheese, ham, bread and a dessert.
We'd a goal for the morning, to reserve a table at the Sever restaurant, which meant we had to walk to the neighboring town of Portagem. The town is in clear view as Marvao is on the hill overlooking it.
We walked to the town wall, passed through an arch, crossed the road then started down a trail past a convent. From here we were soon on the Road to Portalegre. Though we weren't going as far as Portalegre, just to Portagem. As we walked we were largely in the shade, from cork trees, many showing signs of harvest, plus other oaks and pines. The road's stones were laid out in lines and stars. It was tranquil. It also felt well trod.
After about an hour we entered Portagem. Here the Sever river runs constrained by a cement channel. In stark contrast to the stark colors and lines of the modern channel there stands a beautiful old stone bridge. We walked along the river and quickly found the restaurant where we made our reservations.
We hiked back up the hill to Marvao to eat lunch and plan the rest of our day.
In the afternoon we took Adam for a drive to the nearby town of Castelo de Vida. The town promised a castle to check out. After a short drive, maybe 20 minutes, we arrived and parked and walked around. Lunch was at a cafe where we ordered local, mine had duck and rice, Paul had pork, egg, and rice.
Castelo de Vida has tight hilly streets, very small townhouses especially next to the castle, a crumbly castle, and great views. Unfortunately there is no charge for admission to the castle and it shows, it looks completely neglected and like it continues to deteriorate. The only gauntlet you must pass is the man who will not stop talking. He guards the door to the sad archaeology museum in the castle.
We walked the Jewish quarter where we wondered what is the purpose of the water bottles by so many doors. We soon returned to Marvao to relax then we took Adam back down the hill to an excellent local-cuisine dinner in Portagem. We had a chickpea-codfish appetizer and entrees of lamb with coriander sauce and a steak.
We were off to our next-to-last stop, Evora. I'd read that it was an old walled city, medium sized, with a university. I expected Grenada without the mountains.
Evora is southwest of Marvao but since we picked up the car in Spain we had to return it to Spain. If we left it in Portugal we'd incur a 600€ drop off fee, a hell of a fee that I didn't see mentioned in the original quote. So our first leg is to drive to Badajoz. The rainy drive took us back via windy 2-lane roads and a tree-covered countryside. And it was uneventful except for being waved over by a Portuguese policeman on a short stretch of interstate at the Spanish-Portuguese border. Turns out the Opel's Spanish license plates identified me as a possible tourist and therefore a source of information for a tourist opinion survey. My opinion: don't have a cop pull me over for a survey.
Speaking of driving, I encountered many "velocidade controlada signs, typically where there are likely pedestrians. It's a special speed limit sign. Adjacent to the sign is a radar gun. If the radar detects a speeder it triggers a stoplight a short distance ahead. The stoplight turns red in both directions so everyone shares the punishment. Running a red light carries a hefty fine, heftier than a speeding ticket.
Badajoz is a good sized city that is probably not a tourist destination. We dropped off the rental car, walked to the bus station, and then took the bus to Elvas followed by another bus to Evora.
Evora is a town where restaurants close on Monday. Except one, an Italian on the other side of town. It was good and along the way we got a view of the town's old aqueduct.
Our first morning in Evora was rainy. We ate breakfast in the hotel, a meager meal of ham and cheese and coffee americano. We were staying at the Pensao Policarpo, well located and cheap; charming, too, if you don't have your glasses on and don't need hot water.
Evora is said to be a town for the young and the old, university students and retirees, but not much in between. Sort of like Victoria, home of the newly wed and almost dead. On the main square we saw a lot of retirees during the day. A popular morning gathering place is in front of the CME board (Camara Municipal de Evora or municipality of Evora) where obituaries are posted. At night the university students came out, filling the cafes and squares.
The town was first settled by the Romans in the second century BC and it has some Roman ruins and a long aqueduct. So our plan for the day was to check out these sights by doing Rick Steves' city walk. We saw city hall, Roman ruins, the cathedral with bone chapel, and the aqueduct. Lunch was quiche, cappuccino, and pastry at what became our go-to cafe, Restaurante Muralha.
Inside city hall we saw the ruins of a Roman bath, discovered while excavating under the building.
Next to Saint Francis Church is the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), a room that is almost completely covered with human bones. Over the doorway is the inscription We bones in here wait for yours to join us. Three monks created the chapel as a place to meditate on the transience of material things surrounded by reminders of mortality. Creepy and also a bit Halloween.
Saint Francis Church itself is not one of your better looking churches. The outside is nondescript and the inside is garish, with walls of statuary covered with Trumpian gold leaf. Adding to the the effect was the plastic doll-like faces on some of the sculptures. Doesn't help that I'd overdosed on Biblical scenes by this point in the trip.
Tonight's dinner was at Salsa Verde, a vegetarian buffet. It was good though the proprietor's coughing was disconcerting.
Today we skipped the hotel's breakfast and instead went to Restaurante Muralha. We visited the cathedral and climbed to its rooftop for a view of the city. In the afternoon we walked the aqueduct to the edge of town. For dinner we returned to Salsa Verde.
I especially liked Evora in the evening, walking the narrow and windy cobblestone streets, like Marvao's but without the latter's smooth center stones, squeezing to the wall as cars go by, the little shops and cafes and restaurants squeezed in here and there hidden till you are right in front of them.
We ate breakfast at the Pensao Policarpo then walked to the bus terminal for the 12:30 to Lisbon, which was 12.50 per person for the ninety-minute trip. I found Evora a fine town but I was ready to go to Lisbon.
It took about ninety minutes to get from Evora to Lisbon, and once at the bus station the nearest metro was a short walk. We bought a couple of metro cards, loaded them with euros, then headed into the city center.
We came out of the metro to street level and felt that familiar disorientation of popping into the middle of a new place. Your eyes are guided by what they see not what you expect. But the disorientation recedes soon enough, maybe too soon.
The center of Lisbon is the Baixa, which runs between the Paraca do Comercio, a giant square on the waterfront, and the Teatro Nacional, which is adjacent to a couple of large squares. (This is also the area rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1755.) We got off the metro at Baixa-Chiado, near the middle of the middle, and it was just a few minutes walk to our apartment.
The Lisbon Short Stay Apartments Baixa (on Rua dos Sapateiros 158) checks the location box. And as it turned out, it checks a lot of boxes. The friendly receptionist welcomed us in a room that had a Halloween theme laid over the hotel's signature bold theme. We were offered port to drink and pastry to eat while we did the needful. The unconventional decorating scheme flowed down the hallways with wall-length mirrors, big art, and bold color choices. I peeked into another room, it was keep-me-awake highlighter yellow. Our apartment was a small one-bedroom with kitchenette and dinette. A corner unit on the top floor with five windows looking out to the narrow street and adjacent buildings. A bit of construction noise came thru which I remind myself is a good thing, evidence of growth and maintenance. Our room was the one color I wouldn't choose, black. So black you couldn't find the tv hanging on the wall or the clothes in the closet because the closet was all black and lit by a small lamp that cycled through the color wheel as you stood there. Kinda fun, kinda annoying.
We ate Indian for dinner then wandered the narrow streets that run between the castle and the water. Lots of cafes, lots of people out enjoying the beautiful evening in what appears to be an interesting city.
We took the train to Sintra, a town about an hour west of Lisbon. Like Marvao and Ronda, Sintra is centered around a defensible place, the medieval Castelo dos Mouros perched high on a hill with commanding views (or so I've read) of the Atlantic as well as the surrounding countryside. Today Sintra is a popular tourist destination, dotted with charming squares and quirky buildings such as the Castelo, the Pena National Palace and the Sintra National Palace.
After arrival we grabbed lunch then hiked from the town center up to the castle where we explored the ruins, then we hiked to the Pena Palace where we visited what was once the summer home of the royal family. The palace is full of period pieces like furniture, kitchenware, and bath fixtures. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate so the higher-elevation sites, like the castle and palace, were shrouded in clouds. From what I've read, the castle and palace should have amazing views, but I didn't see much of anything but clouds.
After breakfast at cafe Ferrari we hiked up the hill to our east where we spent the morning exploring the remains of Castelo de S. Jorge, the 11th century Moorish castle that overlooks the city and the water. It's pretty well preserved and worth seeing, though not nearly as interesting as Marvao's castle.
From the castle we wandered the streets that lead down to the water then we headed west and explored the Chiado and the Bairro Alto neighborhoods. They offered charming streets with cafes, roasted chestnuts, and street musicians.
Our last day in Lisbon was the anniversary of the great 1755 earthquake that devastated the city and was felt over much of the Iberian peninsula. Seems like wherever you go buildings are dated as to whether they survived the temblor or were rebuilt as a result.
It was a rainy morning. For breakfast we were back at cafe Ferrari then we walked to a ceramics shop. Next we metro'ed to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, which featured live music in addition to art.
The weather improved. Lunch was blackened pork and wine at a neighborhood cafe. Then I walked along the Glria funicular line down to the river, past the wonderful Mercado da Ribeira, then back to the apartment.
Along the way I got a look at the 25th of April bridge. It resembles San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in color but its design more closely matches the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge as it was constructed by the builders responsible for this other Bay-area bridge.
Originally named for Portugal's right-wing dictator, Antonio Salazar, after Portugal's 1974 revolution residents who supported the revolution started calling the bridge the 25th of April bridge to celebrate the change in power in that date. Citizens loyal to Salazar continued to call it the Salazar bridge while those who didn't want their politics known called it "the bridge over the river".
If I'd known of the Mercado da Ribeira we would've eaten there every night. Food, atmosphere, prices, all are very good. I tried Lisbon's signature liquor, Ginja, a cherry liquor. Dinner was salmon on glass noodles with a sweet chili sauce. The salmon tasted soft as butter, barely cooked, cool and delicious. Less than 10.
I've had a great trip and Lisbon is as good as any as a last stop. It's a fine place to visit and I know I've barely scratched the surface. Lisbon reminded me of San Francisco in its hills and crooked streets and streetcars, though it is a city with a lot more history.
I'll say that a good time was had by both of us. Spain and Portugal have a lot to offer and I'd gladly return.
I'm now done with my posts from Spain and Portugal so scroll down to see my last post, dated November first. To see the set of posts in chronological order search Spain-Portugal.