Is this the ultimate first world problem? Needing a break from your holiday. Our travelling was getting a bit tiring and we needed a break….. Sounds awful doesn’t it…..
The thing is, we had planned practically nothing before we left and we had realised that at this time of year some of the places we wanted to go can be challenging. Trains, planes and hotels are full, or getting close to it, and we were reminded that even with smartphones, the organisation stuff takes time. Then there is the getting up to see stuff, do stuff or simply move to the next place. I realised that I hadn’t slept later than 8am on any day so far, as I was running or having my days off running to coincide with a move or a trip requiring an early start.
So, as mentioned in my last blog, we decided to find somewhere reasonably interesting, on a train line that had an affordable hotel with aircon, wifi and a pool. The result was the Évora Olive hotel, and it was perfect.
Evora is approx 90mins east of Lisbon, has a population of about 60k and is hugely rich in history.
The Évora Olive hotel is small, new and just inside the walls of the old city. The opening of the outdoor pool, 4 days before we arrived, marked the end of its build, even though it had been open for 2 years and it was the first hotel we of the trip (all Airbnb til then).
I do love the whole Airbnb thing; the sharing economy, meeting the locals, spending the holiday dollar in the community…… blah blah blah. But proper sheets in a proper hotel is proper marvellous. For the first time on the trip our pillows weren’t filled with the insides of slaughtered teddy bears, rather ducks that had been made naked. We had fresh towels every time we decided we didn’t give a stuff about the environment. In 44c, the pool was perfect as were the cold beers and G&Ts. The staff were great, the food was great, the location was great, it was beautifully designed and the bed was huge. The only bad bit was the music by the pool. A mix tape of well known pop songs from big names (U2, Radiohead, the Beatles)…….. done in a reggae style. And it wasn’t even a mix tape: it was a Spotify play list that kept repeating and as they only had the free version, it was interspersed with fast talking ads in Portuguese. I considered throwing the speakers into the pool…….. whilst the noisy French children were in it.
The town is pretty perfect too. It is a UNESCO World Heritage town with medieval wall, wonderfully preserved old white painted buildings along narrow streets, Roman ruins (including a large temple) and great places to eat and drink. Out back of the council office is a well preserved Roman bath, but you can only see it when the council office is open, coz it really is just out the back. There are no tickets, no information, just a door you go though to a wooden platform overlooking the baths. History; it’s bloody everywhere over here.
So mostly, we wandered the streets, enjoyed some free music (performed as past of a festival) and ate and drank well. And tried to keep cool.
Evora and around
My favourite place was a small café in a back street that had a back wall made from the old Roman wall and stayed open late serving great Pasteis de nata and ginja so good that even Mr Creosote would have found space for. A great combination…………. And we went every night
We also found a great place that loved doing things with vegetables (Momentos). Mostly in Portugal, it’s meat and potatoes with a few token veggies, which is not great for J and not too good for a man trying to be a bit healthy as part of marathon training (our ‘5 a day’ invariably come in the form of fermented grapes). This food was a wonderful break from the norm, with tuna for me and fig and goats cheese salad for J. As a bonus, as I had become the restaurants 1000s Facespace follower whilst working out how to book, George the owner/chef treated us to a glass of local bubbles to celebrate. We liked George.
A great highlight was a trip to see some of the Neolithic standing stones south of the town. We were taken there by the very knowledgeable, charming and multi-lingual Mario, owner of Ébora Megalithica (http://www.eboramegalithica.com/index.html) who taught us more about our Neolithic ancestors in 3 hours than we had learnt during the many years we lived in Wiltshire and were surrounded by all manner of ancient sites. It is incredible to be able to touch stones that our forebears has also touched some 12,000 years before and had no doubt been touched by every generation of man since then. I find this is enough to put the hairs up on the back of my neck, in a good way.
We also learned that Portugal has a bit of an issue looking after such priceless treasures. Most of the sites are on private land, and due to the legacy of the ’74 revolution and the memories of forced land acquisition by communists followed by the transfer of ownership back to the original owners after democratic elections, the Government is very unlikely to force compulsory purchase and land owners would rather die than give up land. The result is that there is no real control over the sites, so people hold raves on them, others chip fragments off the irreplaceable carvings and friggin New Age travellers damage them by throwing different liquids on them as part of their made up, magic mushroom generated rituals. It is such a shame that people find it hard to move on from entrenched positions that are now irrelevant……… but then again, I come from a nation that still has violence each year because of an event in 1688 and where many people feel superior to the rest of the world coz we once had an empire……. And won a football match 52 years ago…….
Nativities and Bones
A great activity to keep cool in any country is a visit to the cinema. Invariably they have good aircon. A bonus in Portugal is the population is too small to justify the expense of dubbing, so all films are with the original words and Portuguese subtitles. This not only assists in creating a country where most people speak good English, but also allows the FTs to go and see ‘Mama Mia! Here we go again’. What a great film, even with an intermission half way through…….. what a great feel good movie. Watch it if you can……. stand seeing a increasingly old Piers Brosnan try to sing and dance.
An interesting place to visit in Évora is the Soa Fransisco church. The interesting comes in 2 forms. The first is the collection of nativity scenes, donated by a couple who showed their devotion to the catholic church by collecting 2600 of them. Only the best couple of hundred are on display, and by-Jeff they are funny. I think the curator must have picked them for their humour value, though the serious faces of the more devout visitors suggests others didn’t share than view.
On the other end of the scales is the Chapel of Bones, which is just that. Not just a few bones…. A lot of bones. The whole place is built with bones and skulls. Religion is very, very fucking odd.
See pictures of both below.
Our last night felt really special. Whilst the hotel is technically finished, the rooftop remains under-exploited. It will eventually be an undoubtedly stylish cocktail bar, where beautiful people will jealously guard their roof edge tables, taking IG photos, sipping mojitos and smoking ( because everyone still does here it seems), but now it is just a great area with a few comfortable seats and tables, and the most wonderful view of the old town. J and I had this all to ourselves. We drank wine, had pizza brought up, listened to the bells of the multiple churches chime - all slightly out of sync….. obviously not Swiss – and watched the sun go down behind the ancient skyline as a front brought in some much needed cooler weather……. And we felt very, very fortunate.
It’s a wonderful place, Évora and if you haven’t been, go. Preferably in Autumn or spring when it’s not so bloody hot.
Now we head towards Porto, via Tomar, Obidos and Coimbra.