Évora, the Medieval Village in the Heart of Wine Country

Évora, the Medieval Village in the Heart of Wine Country

Looking out the train window en route to Évora, grape vines and olive trees increasingly dominate the landscape. The vines are gnarled and planted too close together for machine harvesting, an indication of the age of planting and more traditional methods. Alentejo is a huge agricultural region and produces much of the world’s cork in addition to wine, olives, and other agricultural products. At night, the Alentejo viewed from Évora is a peaceful landscape.

Évora

Évora probably started around 5000 years ago but it was the Roman conquest around 60BC that characterizes the early days of the city. The Romans built a wall around the city and its tiny alleys. Plazas dot the walled city along with some interesting ruins. Although cars drive down the streets wide enough for them, everything moves at a slow pace. It’s not just the streets, it’s the intense heat that sends everyone to the shady side of the street walking through the city.

Évora

In addition to the wall, there are two sites that recall the Romans. There is a Roman temple, which appears in every tourist guide to the city, with good reason. It stands high up, alongside an area for viewing the city. At night, lights make it stand out even more than in the daytime.

Évora

The other Roman site in Évora is the Roman baths inside City Hall. Unlike the temple, the baths are a recent discovery, buried for many years. They were found during excavation under City Hall and are nicely preserved. To see them, it’s necessary to go into City Hall, then they have their own area with a viewing balcony.

Évora

Évora has a chapel of bones, Capela dos Ossos. We’d visited another bone chapel in southern Portugal and had to visit this one as well. The visit was more restricted than the one in Faro, it was difficult to get close to the walls of bones. Given a choice, the one in Faro makes for a better visit but still, there’s nothing like being surrounded by skulls and other bones in a church.

Évora

Another popular tourist attraction that is worth a visit is the Cathedral of Évora. Every village and city in Portugal has at least one church, and every has many, but this one is vast and beautiful. It’s even possible to walk on the roof, high above the city.

Évora

The University of Évora provided some relief from the hordes of tourists at the other sites. It’s an old school, dating back to 1559, with interesting sculpture and art. And in most classrooms, an elevated lecturing box. (Also, university t-shirts for just €8, had to buy one.)

Évora

Of course everywhere inside the walled city feels like a throwback. The architecture is well-preserved. Every building is painted white, often with a yellow accent color and green doors, although other colors appear occasionally. But it’s the odd bridges between buildings, the fountains that appear in squares and even indoors, that catch the eye.

Évora

The buildings occasionally seem like modern art pieces when viewed through the camera.

Évora

And as probably the most memorable experience, a religious procession appeared in the center on Sunday. With horseback riding, drums beating, idols hoisted up, and devoted townspeople alongside, the procession completed the feeling of being completely disconnected from modern times.

Away From the Crowds in Ajuda

Away From the Crowds in Ajuda

Just a mile walk from the Jerónimos Monastery lies the Palácio Nacional de Ajuda, a home for the monarchy built in fits and starts for about 60 years starting at the beginning of the 19th century. It’s now a museum, one that oddly attracts few visitors. On a day when the Jerónimos Monastery, just a mile away, had long lines of tourists standing in sweltering heat, the Palácio had a dozen visitors, mostly Portuguese, despite being spectacular as both architecture and a museum. It’s definitely worth the walk up the hill from the Monastery, or a tram ride if the uphill walk is challenging.

Ajuda

Ajuda, the home of the palace, is a district of Lisbon that is far enough outside that feels both old and suburban simultaneously. It does have multiple bus lines and trams to connect it to the rest of Lisbon but it still has a calm and quiet feel. The streets on weekdays are almost empty. As always, there was interesting street art, this time in a small house in a field that appeared to be occupied by squatters.

Ajuda

Of course there are more “classic” Portugal buildings. Despite the somewhat suburban feel, it is still Lisbon.

Jardín Botánico de Ajuda

Ajuda is also home to the Jardín Botánico de Ajuda, a large garden beautifully laid out with a diverse collection of vegetation. For some reason, there are a number of figures carefully created with tile that stand at one point in the garden.

Jardín Botánico de Ajuda

There are peacocks living the in the garden. We saw one male peacock and two females with chicks. The caretaker feeds the peacocks and the chicks. The male was rather reluctant to be photographed and refused to sign a release, so here is a feather he dropped.

Ajuda Palace

And then there is the Palace. There is ongoing work that will result in more museum space and the exterior is currently under renovation. Inside, the palace is a large number of rooms that flow from one to another, all with spectacular (and different) ceilings.

Ajuda Palace

Large chandeliers in each room probably held candles originally.

Chapel at Ajuda Palace

The Palace has its own chapel, no surprise although there is a church that probably dates back to the same era a few blocks away. This chapel is a bit more intimate.

Ajuda Palace

And there’s a music room! This was the first time I had seen a room specifically for music in any of these historical buildings.

Pool room, Ajuda Palace

And a pool room too! This palace was probably fun to visit.

Palace of Ajuda

When the music and pool games end, you can feed your 180 closest friends. The Palace is really worth seeing, especially if you are going to the Monastery or out for the pasteis in Belém. Just walk up the hill!

Setúbal – Beautiful Waterfront City

Setúbal – Beautiful Waterfront City

Traveling to Setúbal is easy from Lisbon, it’s a 45-minute train ride. The train used is a double-decker that has a silky smooth ride. It’s also inexpensive – two round trip tickets cost us €15.

Lisbon from the Ponte 25 de Abril

The train crosses the Ponte 25 de Abril, the bridge in Lisbon that looks like a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. Trains go on the lower level below the cars and is more like a truss bridge, so it’s hard to get a good photo while leaving Lisbon. This is the one shot I was able to take, looking west.

Setúbal

Once in Setúbal, it’s a 15-minute walk to the center of town. Setúbal’s main attractions are the waterfront, a monastery with a museum, the old city, and a big castle on a hill. The monastery turned out to be closed even though the sign said it should be open. Before I moved here, I would find this difficult to understand, but I think the standard explanation, “It’s Portugal,” applies to the inability to enter. We did visit a church which had a delightful courtyard.

Setúbal

And, as always here, the church has the “pain theme.” Not being Catholic, I don’t get it, but I’m sure it was an inspiration to the Marquis de Sade.

Setúbal

The waterfront is beautiful, with a big marina, fishing boats, fish distribution areas, and a lot of restaurants that might be touristic. We didn’t try any. Fish were visible in the water right at the dock, and men were working on boats. Since we were there mid-day, we didn’t see any of the fishing boats. We did see some fishing equipment though.

Setúbal

The old city has narrow streets lined with typical Portuguese architecture. There are numerous small shops on the ground floors and apartments above. Although Setúbal contains buildings that have been abandoned, like much of Portugal, there are far fewer derelict buildings in the city center.

Setúbal

Our initial plan called for eating at the waterfront but hunger took over and before the hangry set in, we found a small place filled with locals. Most tables were long tables with people too busy eating to talk to their neighbors, who probably were the neighbors after they went home. It wasn’t difficult to find out why it was so popular. When we entered, a woman brought us to a case and told us to decide what we wanted to eat. The case contained fresh sardines, a somewhat bigger fish that looked like mackerel, squid, and chocos (cuttlefish), all fresh off the boat. There was a grill in the corner where seafood was cooked. The food was terrific as was the price – for €20, we were served a plate with six grilled sardines, three chocos grilled and served in their ink, sweet potatoes, something resembling bread stuffing, salad, two deserts (walnut gelato), olives and bread, a whole bottle (!) of local white wine, and a bottle of sparkling water. And the people that worked there and spoke English came over and chatted.

Setúbal

Lots of street art can be seen on the, yes, streets. Some of it is quite sophisticated and some of it is very cartoony. We met a woman who was commissioned to paint on a blank wall, she was a day from finishing and took the time to chat with us about the painting, which has a sea-based theme.

Setúbal

Of course some of the graffiti and art on the abandoned buildings is beautiful in its own right.

Setúbal

While we did get to see the urban center and the waterfront, we need to return to visit the monastery, the castle, and the vineyards just a few kilometers outside the city.