Thursday, May 18, 2006

Europe Travelogue #6 From Evora
Dear Family & Friends,
Today we have been wandering around another old walled city called Evora. This is the best preserved city with authentic old streets and buildings because it wasn't flattened by the big earthquake of 1755. There is a surprisingly intact Roman temple (14 columns still standing) from the first century AD, as well as other Roman ruins which have been found when they were digging under some of the buildings to make repairs. The old city wall has been incorporated into some of the buildings, and several of the towers are 100% intact. One of the churches has an ossuary,
which is a side chapel where they have rather artistically displayed the bones and skulls of 5000 people. They got the bones by digging up graves in the 1700's. Some of the church people thought that the people needed to be reminded to behave themselves because soon they too would be just bones.
I'm sure that Lee would tell you that the biggest pain about these walled cities is driving in them, which we have to do in order to deliver our luggage to the places we stay. The streets are so narrow and then often there are cars parked on them too! Also they are mostly one way and then it is like driving in a maze. Last night after we unloaded, he had to move the car outside the walls to a public parking area and we had to have the maid ride with us to guide us! We have mostly been staying in rooms called Quartos, provided by people who want to make extra money. Here
it is right on a pedestrian street not far from the main square, so it is convenient and inexpensive. Most of our rooms have been costing 30 or 35 Euros. They are very clean, the beds are mostly good, and we usually have a private bathroom, although here we are sharing.
The night before we stayed in a big old home of a lady named Albertina in the town of Mantiegas. It was way up in the mountains of the Serra de Estrellas, and
was quite a scenic drive to get there. Albertina made us feel very welcome and even kissed us goodbye, once on each cheek, as we left the next morning. She had gotten up early to fix coffee for us and served it with fresh rolls and her homemade jam. Yum.
That day we drove to another walled town called Marvao, located very high on a mesa. It had quite an extensive castle which was mostly built by the Moors,who took over beween the 8th and 12th centuries. It is located only 10 km from Spain, so that was another reason it was so heavily fortified. There were earwigs and flies all over the place, which caused us to hurry our visit quite a bit.
I wrote the last travelogue from Porto, and on our last day there we walked across the bridge to the area across the river where all the port wine lodges are located. We enjoyed a picnic along the river front and then did some port tasting at three of the lodges. The best one was Taylor's, both in taste and ambience. They had an informative video and tour and now we know a lot more than we did before about Port.
Mostly we learned that we prefer red wine to Port, even though some of the varieties were pretty good.
The day we left Porto, we drove to the Duoro Valley, where the grapes are grown for the port, and we visited a Quinta. Here we were able to walk around the vineyard while listening to an audio tape telling us about the business, and then we again tasted some ports. The Duoro Valley is truly incredible to see because the banks rise steeply from the river and they are almost entirely covered by terraces where grape vines are planted. All the work of building the terraces and growing the grapes is done by manual labor and requires tremendous amounts of work. They also still harvest the grapes in early fall by hand and then use people to stomp the grapes because they think machines are too tough on the grapes and would crush the seeds and skins. They even bring in musicians and people dance in the vats while stomping the grapes! Our drive that day was through some very beautiful countryside and we were glad it was sunny.
Yesterday, on our way here, we were driving through a region called the Alentejo, and it is here that there are lots of olive and cork trees. The cork trees are really just a species of oak (Quercus suber)and when they get to be about 25 years old, the bark is thick enough for them to harvest by peeling it off, usually only on the main trunk. It takes 9 years for it to regrow enough to be harvested again. The trees live to be about 125 years old. They are a rusty color right after the bark has been peeled off. We also saw a big truck carrying a huge load of the cork
peelings that had been flattened.
We also stopped at Estremoz, one of the marble cities. There are marble quarries here and many of the buildings are made with beautiful marble. Even the cobblestones in the streets and sidewalks, and the curbs are chunks of marble. Of course, there was a castle and wall here too, and we climbed to the top of
the castle keep, one of the only parts that survived when the castle blew up in the 1800's. They were using it for an ammo dump - pretty stupid.
If we can find our way out of town tomorrow, we will head for the south coast and some beach relaxation time as well as more exploring and enjoying the Portugese culture. Sending big hugs to you all.
Love, Mary & Elaine

1 comment:

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Wow - I learn so much from your travelogues . . . I didn't know cork trees are a species of oaks! I've seen a cork tree - when Ken's folks owned a nursing home the previous owners were collectors of "exotic trees" and one of them happened to be a Cork tree. Albertina sounds like my kind of women . . . homemade jam—I'm there!