Day 4: Évora

The night before, tired from my long hike up to Silves and back and the wandering around the streets of Évora in the evening, I feel asleep at 8pm, much earlier than is good for my trip. The night before in Lagos I had stayed up till midnight, which had me in sync with Portuguese time, but now I found myself waking up at 3am. After watching some TV I have saved on my laptop, and a last half of a Sex in the City episode that reminded me about how crazy Michelle was, I managed to fall back asleep until 7.

After checking out of my lodgings around 8:30 I walked first towards the Cathedral Sé, a stunning Cathedral under restoration, but for a euro you can walk around in main part of the cathedral. On my way to the Cathedral though I ran across a little bakery, and I had been itching to try a pastry Portugal is famous for, a custard tart. Sadly I didn’t think to take a picture, but imagine a flaky crust bowl filled with flan, then baked until the top layer is slightly crispy like crème brule. Positively delicious. Continuing onto Sé, I had a look around the Cathedral, the architecture was really cool, and there were a number of great paintings. However the lighting was so low, it was hard to make out what the paintings even were of. Enter a good use for a digital flash camera. After wandering around the Cathedral for a bit, it was time to move on, so I headed to the other big attraction of Évora, the Capela dos Ossos.

The Capela dos Ossos is a chapel inside one of the churches of Évora that was discovered in 1958. The chapel is built with walls and pillars lined with bones. There is also a body hanging on one end of the wall, dried and mummified. According to the tour, 3 monks came up with the idea of using bones and skulls of the dead to line the walls in order to try to get across their message that life is fleeting, and in the end after we die all we are is bones. Its an incredibly morbid sight. There are also a couple of poems left by the monks that give that explanation. In one corner there is a small tomb, which apparently holds the bones of the monks that built the chapel. The rest of the bones are from around 1000 anonymous graves. I have to wonder if the message got across to the intended audience, but it strikes me as much as grave desecration.

After leaving the Chapel of Bones, I took a stroll around the very nice park they have in town set against the city walls that circle the center of the city, then moved onto the train station to buy my tickets, arriving just after 10am. I guess once again I misread the train schedule regarding Évora. My initial impression yesterday was that the Alfa left for Évora every couple of hours, but that wasn’t correct, the only train running between Évora and Lisboa is an intercity that arrives 3 times daily. I booked a ticket that leave before 2 and arrives around 4. I’m still tired and sore from the previous day, and taking a slow day has its appeal at the moment. I’ve heard that tomorrow is a big holiday in Portugal, with Évora and Porto being the big hot spots. On my way out of town I could see the trappings of a fair being put up. Tomorrow I think I’ll leave early for Porto trying to catch the 10am Alfa north so I can soak up the festivities, try some of the white port wine that only is found in Porto, and listen to some Fado music. I want to spend more than a day in Lisbon, but I have to be back there anyway for my trip to Madrid, and the overnight train doesn’t leave until 10pm, so my current plan(flexible to change) is to spend tonight in Lisbon, go to Porto tomorrow spending the night there, then to Coimbra for a day on my way back from Porto, then probably a day and night in Sintra, then a day in Lisbon before taking the night train to Spain. I hear a lot about Porto being a great cultural center, and I may decide on a second night if I feel I haven’t experienced everything I want.

So I arrived in Lisboa, and went looking for the hotel I had picked out of my Lonely Planet book, it was located in a neighborhood called Bario Alto… and I’m sure if you know a little Spanish you can guess it wasn’t an easy walk from the metro station. Actually, they used to have a trolley that went up the hill to help people up, but because of construction on a new train station, they had it shut down. Carrying 30 lbs up the hill wasn’t easy either. I was winded about half way up and had to stop to catch my breath while I pretended to be looking at the map in my guide book. After a bit more walking I arrived in the neighborhood, and it wasn’t what I was hoping for, all of the buildings were absolutely covered in graffiti, some all the way to the second flood (don’t ask me how), and they all had heavy bars on the windows. I didn’t feel safe, and decided to ditch that plan and go looking for somewhere else, possibly in the Alfama District. I looked through my book and found a promising Residentia, and went for a look. The place looked beautiful, situated right on a busy pedestrian street no less with many stores and restaurants. Too bad they didn’t have any single rooms open. The man working at the desk suggested a cheaper residential down the street, which had a single room open for 30 euros. I decided to take it, hoping it was as good as the one I was at. The place turned out to be a bit small, but livable, and had a nice view of the pedestrian street below. I only need a place to sleep, not live anyway. I took the room. It turns out though that the owner is a real ass hole. He treats all of the renters poorly, and its not just the American tourists, though he especially seems to despise that I only know a handful of phrases in Portuguese, and seems to expect me to speak fluently, or he gets even more frustrated and makes a fuss.

Anyway, after sorting out my lodging, and I decided to go up to see one of a few major attractions to Lisboa, the Castilo de Sao Jorge which sits on the highest peak in ever so hilly Lisboa. I set out with a map, but no sense of direction, I seem to have lost my nose for north. I immediately get lost among the buildings where I can’t see the castle, and eventually find myself down by the water, a long ways from the metro station I was supposed to go to catch a bus, because apparently I went south and east when I was only a block or so away… I then found a metro station which I took (costs a dollar every time I ride damn it..) and took that to the metro station closest, where I was supposed to catch a bus. However, once I arrived I couldn’t for the life of me find the bus stop, so I decided that since I was somewhat close, and could see the castle, I would just hike in its general direction, and I’d eventually get there. Sure enough a couple blocks in, and I found myself in the grittiest neighborhood yet. Its amazing how poor Portugal is, especially once you get out of the areas that cater to tourists. I quickly made my way up the very steep hill, once again totally out of breath I stop just outside the castle walls, the entrance on the other side.. Luckily I bump into a swiss couple maybe 5 years older than me who speak English, and I tag along with them after I help by taking their picture together. Eventually making it to the entrance I find that a stage is setup and a band is playing Fado music. Its entrancing, I’m certain my parent’s would love it, but there are no CDs for sale. I’m going to Porto though, which is the Fado capital, so I should be able to find something to bring home. The castle is in great condition and is worth seeing in itself, but most amazing of all, it offers a panorama view from way above Lisboa. The view is draw dropping. I find myself taking more pictures than is really necessary, but I just can’t help myself, and I know my camera doesn’t do it justice, it just cannot give the feeling of height, especially with the wind blowing briskly over the walls. After thoroughly exploring the castle I make my way back to my hotel, catching the bus for the trip down. As it turns out you’re supposed to have a prepaid card, I had no idea and just got on and sat down figuring the bus worked like in Japan when you pay at the end. It slowly dawns on me that there isn’t a cash box, and that all of the other riders had paid by swiping cards past an RFID sensor. I decide I have no choice but the Gaijin Smash my way through.. I feel bad, but I’m not sure what else to do, and I figure if I just give the driver the $1.30, he’d pocket it anyway since I’m not in the records, so I decide that when this family with a number of kids at various ages gets off, I’m going to go with them and try to blend in as if I was one of them, which works, but still I feel guilty. I head back to my room and prepare to crash, I’m slightly hungry, but I’ve run out of euros again because the 2 residentials for the last 2 nights were cash only. I don’t feel quite like looking for an ATM until I get to the train station tomorrow, so I think I’m just going to let sleep over come me anyhow. I think I may be catching a head cold too.. my nose has been runny today, and my throat sore. I hope I can fight it off, nothing is worse than a cold while traveling.

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