Evora & Lisbon, Portugal
After crossing back into hilly Portugal we drove to Evora. Vineyards made up most of the scenery, which prompted Danny to pull in at the first wine co-op he spotted in an attempt to try some local wine. They didn't do tastings, although they did sell five litre bottles of wine. As tempting as it was, we didn't buy one. We found a local red wine in an acceptable sized bottle, which we drank later with dinner (it was okay).
Evora was impressively campervan-friendly. The main town was surrounded by city walls, and as we didn't want to drive around the narrow streets inside these walls we stuck to the outside, where there was HEAPS of parking. This was the first town we had come across to have more than one car spot available that was easy to access for vans. We had hundreds of car parks to choose from on all sides of the town. We parked next to some other campervans, thinking that if they could stay there the night then so could we.
After our homemade pizza dinner we gorged on a local fresh cheese from Evora, similar to ricotta but way nicer. So nice that we ate the whole thing. I wonder how much weight we will put on over this year with our frequent indulgences. Danny also made a bottle of rosemary oil from the rosemary he picked in Spain - how awesome is that?
The next morning we were woken up by a loud banging on our window at 7:30 a.m. We opened a door to see an old crazy lady walking among the other campervans, banging on their windows too as she passed. There didn't seem to be any apparent reason for the knocking other than to annoy us. Mission accomplished.
We took a short walk around Evora, although there wasn't much to see. The highlight was the Capela dos Ossos, a small chapel filled with the bones of monks. Similar to the Catacombs in Paris, but smaller in size and located in a chapel. A creepy sign over the entrance read, "We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours". I think I'll keep mine, thanks.
We departed Evora and headed for Lisbon, determined to find a campsite after roughing it for a few days. After finding an address online we were shocked to discover that TomTom knew where it was (a first on continental Europe). We thought this might actually be easy for us. It wasn't. We ended up about 8 km from where we wanted to be (I'm still not exactly sure how that happened) and had to pull out a few manoeuvres to at least head in the general direction of the caravan park. Then all it took was a couple of loops around a large park until we found the entrance, much later than anticipated. On the upside it turned out we picked a pretty fancy caravan park: pool, tennis court, mini golf, restaurant and a travel agent. Plus each site came with it's own water supply, waste disposal, bin, picnic table and chairs. It was the Ritz of caravan parks. Maybe we would be extending our stay in Lisbon.
We saw on the internet that the Portuguese Prime Minister quit today and the country is in a political crisis. This explained the riot squad we saw heading for the city as we drove towards Lisbon. Maybe we wouldn't be extending our stay in Lisbon...
The following day we hit Lisbon (or Lisboa as the Portuguese call it), where we split up to check out the city independently. I headed for Belem, a district about 5 km out from the centre. First stop was a monastery, apparently renowned for it's architecture. The building was decent but the site didn't seem to be well kept. Next I went to see an apparently famous tower ("The picture of Lisbon"), thinking that the structure right across the street from the monastery with people standing at the top would be the right place. When I presented my all-in-one ticket to the guard he looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "This is not the tower. The tower is 10 minutes that way". Only slightly embarrassing. After a 20 minute walk I found the correct tower. I made my way through roughly a thousand school kids and up roughly a thousand steps to reach the top. There were nice views over Belem but I couldn't see much of Lisbon. Really not worth it. Finally I visited Museu Colecçao Berardo, a free contemporary art museum featuring photography, videos, maps and comics. It didn't blow me away.
I (illegally) caught a tram to the city centre, where I tried to visit a market but it was already closed. I walked along the waterfront for a while but most of it was ugly - a lot of construction equipment and large grassy blocks of nothing. I followed the guidebook's recommendations of seeing the cathedral, a massive church, the National Pantheon and the Teatro Romano (which honestly just looked like a pile of rocks). I was also chatted up by a Portuguese man, until I pointed out the wedding ring (it comes in handy sometimes). Definitely a different vibe here to Madrid or Paris. Overall Lisbon seemed run down and in major need of a facelift, but I guess that was part of its charm.
As Lisbon is known as the "city with seven hills", it does offer great views every now and then. From far away the city looked loads more attractive and inviting than it did up close. I also travelled up an elevator in the middle of the city for more fantastic views (after waiting in line for half an hour). I managed to hear some Fado (traditional Portuguese music) on my meanderings, which was a bit like a slower version of flamenco. It wasn't bad but I won't be rushing to buy the CD.
I finally met up with Danny (who had wandered around aimlessly all day) to go on a food tour of Lisbon. We ate chorizo rolls (like it sounds, just a bread roll with long slices of salty chorizo inside); traditional cheese (good); chicken paella (okay); "green" wine (the menu and label actually said green wine, but it was a low alcohol white wine that was slightly carbonated - meh); a classic Portuguese tart (a mini custard tart that are everywhere and are delicious - better than the Australian version); a citrus cupcake (okay); an almond custard tart (good but way too rich); plus a caramelised apple tart with hard meringue on top (extremely sweet). Talk about a sugar overload. To say we were stuffed full was an understatement. We tried to walk off a portion of the calories by visiting a few of the major tourist sites lit up at night. I don't think we even burned off one of our snacks.
Once again we did our own thing the next day. I headed into Lisbon earlyish to see a couple of museums. Both were tiny, not really my sort of art and not worth the money I paid for them. I walked downhill for 4 km back into town, then tried to walk up to the castle to meet Danny but walked up the wrong hill. Great. I eventually found the right hill, walked up then around in circles for 20 minutes before finally locating the correct street to lead me up to the castle. You would think there would be more signs for their main attraction. On the way up I passed a small bar that advertised "100 wines by the glass". My first thought was, "That is exactly the sort of place Danny would go". I must know Danny fairly well because that's exactly where he was, just finishing his massive charcuterie plate and second glass of wine. I had already eaten so I just sampled some bread with olive oil before joining Danny in a glass of wine. We learned that we love the red wines from the Algarve region in southern Portugal, similar to the big, bold, red wines from Australia. We could have stayed there all day.
We managed to tear ourselves away long enough to visit the castle. It wasn't very big but the grounds it was situated on were, with impressive views over Lisbon (I felt like I had seen more views over Lisbon than sights within Lisbon itself). The path around the top of the castle walls offered vantage points in all directions. From here we could see the rain coming in across the city, which was our cue to leave. On our way to the bus stop Danny forgot about the impending rain and stopped at a liquor store to buy two bottles of Madeira. Apparently we didn't have enough alcohol in our van.
For dinner Danny made spaghetti bolognese. I could eat spag bol every night. I think it was the best meal we had eaten so far. We also drank a Spanish cava (not a typical spag bol match) but it was surprisingly good for €1.70 a bottle.
Our last day in Lisbon and Danny felt like having a lazy day, so I headed off on a day trip by myself. I ended up spending four and a half hours on seven different trains and buses I was exhausted by the end.
After catching the bus to the city, I found the right train station on my second attempt (there were two train stations with the same name - ridiculous) and caught the train out to Sintra. It was at the first train station that I discovered that time had jumped forward an hour with daylight savings starting, so I had lost an hour before my jam-packed day had even started. Sintra was described by Lonely Planet as a fairytale town; I completely agreed. Colourful palaces, stereotypical castles, ancient houses, mossy forests - it was incredible. I took the tourist bus around the main sights but I couldn't see much from the road. Most attractions were at the top of a huge mountain and I was well over climbing hills. I had to content myself with the limited bus views.
From Sintra I caught another bus out to Cabo da Roca, continental Europe's most western point. It was just a huge cliff overlooking the Atlantic but it was a beautiful place, with waves crashing on the rocks and several paragliders taking advantage of the sunny weather. There was nothing to do other than walk up and down the coast, which I did for about an hour before heading back to Sintra.
In Sintra I walked around the lower part of the town, which was just as amazing as the parts on top of the hill. I passed more colourful buildings and mansions, a small waterfall and a park full of gigantic, brightly painted animal sculptures. I wished I had more time to explore the area but the day was running away from me. Reluctantly I caught the train and bus back home.
I arrived back at the caravan park to discover that Danny had bought himself a new notebook. My laptop was on its last leg and Danny became so frustrated that he walked over to the nearest computer store to buy a new one. It is about a billion times better than mine and even has a battery life longer than 20 minutes. Now we just needed to figure out how to transfer all the files from my basically non-functional laptop to the runs-at-the-speed-of-light notebook. Danny also managed to download updated TomTom maps for his iPhone, which was a high priority for us as well. Danny really should have more lazy days.
We packed up and left the caravan park by 7 p.m. (another perk of this Ritz caravan park - late check out) and drove down to Setubal. It only took us 15 minutes to find the right road out of Lisbon, which was great by our standards. In Setubal we stopped at the first car park we spotted to set up for the night and ate leftover spag bol for dinner. Have I mentioned how much I love spag bol?