Old Dogs, New Trips

EVORA: FIRST DESTINATION IN PORTUGAL

The view from our window at M’ar De Ar Muralhas. Note the town’s ancient walls in the background.

Our trip to Portugal included three cities — Evora, Porto, and Lisboa. After landing in Lisboa, we did two things.

First, since our US phone service lacks international capabilities, we made an investment for any and all overseas trips — we bought a Vodaphone Mobile Wi-Fi, plus a SIM card good for 35 gigabytes of data! With email and iMessage, we could easily stay in touch for far less than typical international roaming charges.

Biggest plus? Map services wherever we drove or walked. And SIMs are available for many countries, so our interactive maps can be with us nearly anywhere!

Second, we rented a car and headed directly to the tiny town of Evora, the smallest municipality we stayed in on our 10-day trip to Portugal. En route, we spotted many things we expected — olive trees, cork trees, vineyards. But one thing surprised us — what can be best described as lollipop-shaped pines. And they looked well-tended, unlike most pines we’ve seen before.

Then an idea (lolly) popped into my head — could this be where pine nuts are grown? Turns out Portugal’s pine nuts, from those Pinus pinea trees, are rated best in the world.

Our hotel in Evora, M’ar De Ar Muralhas, was a delight, with a charming and comfy bar we visited both nights of our stay, plus a generous and varied breakfast spread. Its grand swimming pool, surrounded by many, many lounge chairs, must be a real draw in the hot summer months. And all set against the walls of the ancient city.

Of the three cities we visited this trip, Evora was the easiest to get a good sense of on foot, because its old town center was so small. Narrow cobblestone streets were nearly everywhere, lined with intricate mosaic sidewalks. And, as in many European cities, Evora’s main attractions are Roman ruins — an impressive aqueduct and the graceful Temple of Diana.

The temple was opposite the National Museum Friar Manuel do Cenaculo, founded in a public library in 1804 and relocated numerous times before eventually landing in the palace of the Archbishop it is named for. It was chock-a-block full of statuary, pottery, figurines, and jewels of long ago. Plus, a stunning exhibit of woodcuts from the present day.

Let’s not forget the wonders of Portuguese food — turns out the national dish is bacala, codfish. John remembers his Italian family soaking the salt-dried bacala in the bathtub for Christmas Eve dinner, in order to get the salt out. In Evora, they also serve it fresh.

We relished dining at café Alentejo, with that same salt cod for me and medium-rare lamb (hard to come by in Europe) for John. We especially enjoyed the banter with our garçom, Francisco, who, like nearly everyone we met on this trip, spoke English.

I wish I were as fluent in languages as our waiters, bartenders, tour guides, and museum staff, to name but a few examples of the warm and helpful people we met. If, perchance, you haven’t gone to Portugal because you worry about the language barrier, pack your bags!

Next time — what we saw between Evora and Porto, our next stop.

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