On our last full day in Portugal (you have to be a little relieved to hear that right?) we awoke to another beautiful day. We did some packing and enjoyed another exceptional breakfast at the Albergaria do Calvario this time including Portuguese French Toast (delicious and hearty) and their own homemade maple syrup (I didn't ask but it was good!). We checked out and got some excellent advice on where to park to see the cathedral on the other side of town.
The cathedral was wonderful. We first took the fast route to the roof and got an exceptional view of Evora and its sights.
|From ground level|
We finally abandoned the roof and walked the perimeter of the cloisters before entering the chapel proper. The chapel is (somewhat) famous for depicting the Mother Mary as pregnant - apparently an gesture meant to appeal to the pagans and attract them to the church.
|The pregnant Mary.|
We left the cathedral and started towards Evora's University which we had been unable to locate the previous day. Visiting the University somehow brought the idea of living in Evora home. To see the students doing ... student things in this exotic (to us) place was really cool.
We entered and walked around a bit exploring. The perimeter of this central courtyard is dotted with doors that lead to modest classrooms. At one we poked our head in and saw (as advertised) the relatively modern and simple classroom space highlighted by a pulpit from which the Jesuit priests used to lecture.
We exited the University and said our good byes to Evora heading now to the Cromelechs dos Almendres. We had received some general directions from the very helpful woman who checked us out at the hotel and we had Rick Steves' guide book to help us find them.
None of this was enough apparently.
We found ourselves driving down a very rural road through orchards of cork trees attended to by peaceful cattle - and then on a very small, very rough and very wrong road wandering through the countryside.
It was peaceful but was not what we were looking for.
We regrouped, re-read Rick Steves and realized our mistake. After another half hour or so we found the spot. It was no less remote than our sojourn with the cattle - we toured the spot completely by ourselves and it was quite magical.
This place is over 7,000 years old. At the end of the day it's just a bunch of stones, it's amazingly moving to realize the history of the place.
As we made our way back to where we had parked the car, we met two bus loads of students on a field trip. Our timing - for once - had been fortuitous.
As we waited for the busses to park (they were literally blocking the small access road), we examined the amazing cork orchard surrounding the area. The combination of the beautiful day, the ordered rows of trees and the foreign (to us) site of harvested cork trunks was quite special. The bark of the trees is harvested to make all those wine stoppers - it takes about nine years for the tree to recover and be ready for harvesting.
At this point we again found ourselves late in the day with several hours of driving ahead of us. I reluctantly pointed the not so mighty Clio at the A2 to make time getting to Estoi. These interstate type roads are in excellent condition and make for fine fast driving but of course it's not so interesting.
It's also expensive as hell! We were on the road for about three hours and when we got off we paid close to 30 euros in tolls.
The TomTom took us straight to Estoi which is a working town in the Algarve about 10 minutes from the Faro airport. We drove straight to the main square where the town church and our hotel (Casa de Estoi) was. The town was very quiet and there was no obvious hotel parking so we parked across from a little store and schlepped our bags towards the hotel.
We tried to enter through the door by the sign on the right of the building and the door wouldn't budge. I pushed. Nothing. I found a button that looked like a buzzer and pushed it. We waited. I finally put my bag down and put my shoulder into it to be sure it wasn't just stuck and the door magically swung open unlocked from within by the hostess of the Casa de Estoi.
Here we ran into the first true language barrier as the young lady who had unlocked the door spoke only sparingly and never in English. Despite this Meg and Oxana (we learned) were able to communicate very effectively. We confirmed that we had reservations, got a tour of the historic building and were shown to our room. We had a short discussion about whether we wanted the room with a terrace and two single beds (yes we do) or the interior room with a queen bed (no thank you).
All without English. This was actually very cool.
The room and indeed the entire hotel was a snapshot in time. It clearly had been an opulent home that was converted into a hotel and we seemed to be the only guests at the time - though others showed up later.
There are certain universal truths throughout the globe and one is fueling your rental car before you return it. We chatted with Oxana (and gestured: I tried to imitate gassing up our little Clio) and she gave us directions to the nearest gas station. We found it - not exactly where we expected - and were ushered through the harsh reality of paying European diesel prices. Our little Clio consumed over 60 euroes of fuel. Ouch!
The good news is that gas stations in Portugal seem to always carry beer and wine so we returned to the hotel and explored the terrace and surrounds settling down to enjoy our Super Bock. As we enjoyed the evening sun and our beer, Oxana and another woman entered the pool area from the street and we were soon chatting with the apparent manager of the hotel.
She apologized for Oxana's lack of English saying that all her friends said she should replace Oxana (who was from Moldavia) with someone who could speak English but "...she is a very good cook". We enthusiastically agreed that she should stick with Oxana and reassured her that we had no trouble checking in despite the language barrier.
We finished our beers and consulted our records to see where we were to eat in Estoi. Meg had found one restaurant in town and we walked the twenty paces or so to find it. There was an ice cream window on the outside and we walked into a small cafe with a bar serving both ice cream and beer. Further inside the building was a large simple dining room. When we asked about dinner, they turned the lights on in the dining room and showed us to our table.
Once again the friendliness of the Portuguese people was on display. We relaxed and watched the Portuguese soap operas on the TV they also turned on for us. The kitchen was at the back of the large dining room so we could monitor the progress of our food as it was being prepared.
It took a while and at a certain point we realized that one of our dishes had been scrapped and they were starting over. When the food came it was delicious and ample. I ordered a special which seemed to be related to the cocido we had enjoyed in Madrid several years ago - a meat and veggie stew - while Meg had bachelhau. We thoroughly enjoyed dinner and thanked the chef as we left.
With that, our last dinner in Portugal, our trip started to officially come to a close. We rested well at the Casa de Estoi and rose to pack and prepare for departure the next morning. I took a nice early morning walk around the square near the hotel. The town was very quiet though punctuated by the occasional whine of a small motorcycle whizzing through town piloted by a man who invariable had a small backpack apparently going to work. Several men were standing waiting for their ride - all with the same small backpack.
I returned to the hotel and poked around for signs of life - and maybe a cup of coffee or breakfast - and found none. However once we finished packing Meg again ventured forth and announced that she found breakfast.
What a find!
We ate outside near the pool and Oxana brought us fresh orange juice - even better than the orange juice I squeezed in Salema as it had more pulp - and fresh from the oven apple tarts which we enjoyed with steaming delicious coffee. It was a great send off!
After breakfast we climbed into the Clio and made our way to the Faro airport and back to our Transavia Boeing 737 to start the long trip home. The road to the airport presented a choice between the airport and the Faro beach (praia in Portuguese); it was a tough choice.
The trip home went well and included the now familiar challenges of flying these days. It included a sprint through Schipol airport where I had to unpack the entire camera bag including every single camera and lens, no time for food until Boston (thank you Jerry Remy's Bar & Grill and Green Monsta IPA!) and a long ride home on the Dartmouth Coach. But all went well and we arrived home safe and sound.
What a great trip!