Spain is left behind.
We cross the border along a narrow two-lane road barely noticing the sign announcing the beginning of a different European country.
The hustle and bustle of Spain gradually dies off, and we find ourselves almost alone on the road.
We roll through moderately-idyllic farmland; sometimes we look off to the side and
really can't tell that we aren't somewhere in California.
Occasionally, the images of white-walled villages with a mandatory old castle
remind us that we are in Europe.
Our first planned stop is the town of Évora. Out of reach to Wikipedia
we don't appreciate the fact that the town is more than two thousand years old (maybe, an architect among us does,
but she's busy navigating).
We arrive to Évora via decidedly unglamorous entrance. It takes us a fair while to find a parking spot - but we're only a block away from the Cathedral.
The Sé de Évora
was built between 1280 and 1340 A.D.; the dates looked very familiar - it gave me a bit of a pause to
realize that this is nearly the time span of Mongol occupation of Russia (1240 to 1380 A.D.).
The apostles flank the grand portal of the Cathedral, set in the rose granite face of the building.
We skip the visit to the Cathedral - having seen the inside of a dozen in the recent days (and miss seeing the great, and
very-Portuguese, tiles on the inside walls
We keep on walking to the square in the middle of town, with the remains of a Corinthian temple dating to the first century (Templo Romano de Évora
The square of the temple is at the highest point of town;
after-the-trip "reading up" revealed that most buildings around the square
had something to do with the Inquisition. Remarkably, Évora avoided the widespread destruction due to the earthquake of 1755 -
and Roman temple, Cathedral, and many other buildings are the best-remaining examples of pre-18 century Portugal.
A monument and an abstract sculpture share the glory of the temple; local bums enjoy the place as well.
We explored the city streets for a while, stopping by many tourist-trap boutiques and talking ourselves
out of buying stuff. The latter was rather difficult, given the abundance of very-Portuguese porcelain and things made out of cork -
including hats, shoes, wallets, and whatever one could not possibly imagine being made out of cork.
The handmade copper stills were the biggest threat to our wallets, but we mounted extraordinary resistance.
We could have been walking the streets of Evora forever, especially in the beautiful sunny and cool weather
in stark contrast with the earlier deluge in Cadiz, Jerez, and Sevilla - but we aren't ones to forget about
After our first - and gorgeous - lunch in Portugal right at Praça do Giraldo, we sail on to Lisbon.
Yuri is driving, pestered by volunteered advices from the rest of us on the lane choice, approaching and missed turns,
traffic on collision course, and so on. Navigation tools are next to useless; we circle the same set of blocks a few
times before realizing that we just have to ignore the "No vehicular traffic" sign and proceed to the network of narrow
twisties inching closer to the old castle.
After a while, we find our hotel - but we can't even stop at this place. Retreat and advance on foot.
In the hotel, we are warmly greeted by the concierge; we cycle through Spanish, French, and English before settling on
Russian. The concierge came from a Siberian town of Omsk (A joke on "how life scatters us" comes to mind); he issues us
the room keys, gives some useful advice, and pours us our first Port on the trip.
The hotel is pure glitz and glamour; it is already pitch black outside. Time to head to town - between the buildings
with the proper Portuguese tiled walls. Wherever there is no tiles, the walls are properly painted.
We descend rapidly towards the main pedestrian street and walk towards the main square.
First impression is a little off - there seems to be a couple of guys at each intersection
eyeing your belongings. We may be wrong, but we haven't had this feeling in any places visited earlier.
We see our first Lisbon trolley and boost our morale with beautiful Portuguese pastries.
It is already late. We head back uphill hungry - our dinner hopes are rewarded within a block from the hotel. Yuri orders himself a Caipiroska -
how does he know all these things? In case you wonder, Caipiroska is a form of Caipirinha. I don't know what Caipirinha is, but its -oska cousin
is largely a vodka gimlet. A very refreshing dinner drink.
We make an attempt to visit the castle - but... the castle is closed and ladies are tired.
* * *
I decide to sacrifice half an hour of sleep to seeing (and taking pictures of) Lisbon at sunrise.
Fortunately, sunrise is really late, around 8.
Unfortunately, all the bastards with the great views took it all to themselves. The castle is still
closed, and my clear intentions to sneak past something gated and locked are tracked by a security guard.
Morning photos of Lisbon are fragmented and scattered, until we take our sweet time with the breakfast
and hang around the castle until its 10:30 opening.
Something catches my attention in the window of a toy/souvenir store,
and I have to backtrack to take a look and a photo - that's one hell of a nativity scene if you ask me.
Then there is a dude missing only the Bowler hat to fit the Magritte's painting. I am sure he is aware of his looks.
Finally, the gates of the castle are open, and we are in (with a thousand other people). We can see most of the old town.
The view of town is illustrated with a classic "you are here, and here's what's what" table, but... you can't see through the weeds.
Nearby, the old cast-iron cannons stand guard against elements. I wonder how many tourists with selfie sticks it takes for a cannon
to pivot and dump them off the castle wall.
Peacocks are one of the attractions of the castle. There's a whole flock sitting in the pine tree, and a few wander around and show themselves off.
The city opens up nicely from the castle walls.
Our plans for the castle are exhausted; Jennie comes up with a great idea to hop on the trolley No.28 that is supposed to circle around town,
and head out to a colorful Bairro Alto neighborhood.
We head down to the nearest trolley stop. The first No.28 will not make a loop, so we hop on the second one.
This one won't go the full circle, either, but we only learn of it when we're onboard.
For some fifteen or twenty minutes we enjoy a trolley ride; not that we haven't ridden a trolley, but definitely not on tracks so curvy and steep.
Watching the trolley cars wiggle around traffic is a great entertainment. Riding one outside can get dicey, since occasionally they only
have a few inches to clear from the building walls or parked cars.
Bairro Alto is also served by a different kind of trolley - operating on a slope so steep that the
entire trolley is angled forward.
After gaining about 20 feet in elevation in a block, the ladies express a muted desire for lunch.
Not too many restaurants are open in mid-afternoon,
but we find one and thoroughly enjoy the food.
Normally we don't do foodie photos, but this is an exception.
Thoroughly nourished and slightly sleepy, we amble downhill to the town center. People appear nice, friendly, and relaxed - even the tourists.
The time slowly comes to the moment when we have to leave Lisbon; we fetch our car, and head out of downtown.
We have to grant Jennie her architect's wish to see the new Museum for Art, Architecture, and Technology
The museum is closed; the new building, apparently opened in October of 2016, looks still unfinished.
It is right on the waterfront, and plenty of people enjoy the park nearby or a stroll along the river.
After a walk, we get in the car, and head out to Sintra.
* * *
Our thorough lack of planning occasionally lands us in beautiful places we haven't heard of,
but can rob us of a chance to see some places just as well. We have read about Sintra, but not enough to learn
how to get to the Moorish castle on time before it closes (it was a spirited and entertaining drive up the hill, however).
So we resort to walking around the city center - where rather late, 19-th century, Romantic architecture raised
interest enough to land Sintra on the list of UNESCO Heritage Sites.
The Palácio Nacional de Sintra, a Summer royal residence, with its distinctive conical smokestacks, was also closed for visitors...
Well, at least we tried.
We plan to spend a night in Coimbra. It is still about two hours away; we get in a car, and spend
two hours in the dark, wondering if we ever going to be hit with traffic fines for going about
40km/h over the speed limit. That was mostly in the right lane - the left was fully reserved for
Die Deutschen; universally, the blinding lights rapidly approaching on the left belonged to
the fine products of Ingolstadt, Stuttgart, or Munich.
Our hastily-booked hotel Oslo boasted rooftop views of the famous University - and it delivered.
Unfortunately, our photographic experiments in the dark did not yield anything worth writing home
about, so we had to take the hotel up on its word in the morning.
The dinner at Dom Espeto was marvelous. We have never had such an insanely tasty grilled octopus!
Coimbra has a distinction of the only Portuguese town we visited that had neither a castle nor a Cathedral
at its hilltop - but the University. Established in 1280 or 1290, it ranks as a 13-th oldest continuously
running University in the World.
Eventually, we found the remnants of the city wall, and plenty of places of worship in town, but they were
After a steep climb uphill (I'd hate myself had I do it in a hangover - which would be a likely occasion for a student),
we're at the proper University quad - with a clock tower, grand entrance, a monument to King João III (who permanently established the
University in Coimbra), a Library, and so on.
From there, we decide to head out past the remnants of a Roman aqueduct and towards the Botanical Garden
(Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra), established nearly 250 years ago.
We descend back to the edge of the river Mondego along the steep city streets, in places paved with pretty rough stone.
Once near the river bank, we stroll through a beautiful park; the little Tuilleries last almost all the way
to the railroad station and our hotel. Time to grab the car and head out to our final destination in Portugal.
* * *
Jennie is navigating. Tomorrow is our last day on Iberian peninsula; unsure of what's in the store for us
in the center of the city, she plots our route to first visit Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art and see some architectural oddity in mid-town.
Our visit to the museum is delayed by making a few rounds on one-way streets. Finally, we're in the museum's vast garden. Our path crosses with
that of a bizarre company of students that enjoy the garden a lot more than an excellent Joan Miró exhibition inside.
The garden is great - to the extent of having a full-blown farm in the back, with park benches
spread around the pasture for cattle, horses, sheep, and goats.
Out of the park, and towards the city center.
Jennie The Architect must see Rem Koolhaas-designed Casa da Música - I am too lazy to find a parking spot, so I observe the
bizarre-shaped concrete block with seemingly randomly-placed windows. Jennie comes back and as we circle the roundabout at the square
a couple of times while she explains the concept behind the building design. In all fairness, Casa da Música is just as hard to
imagine being a concert hall as Gehry's Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Considering the time of a day, our next destination is our hotel. I made a reservation in Porto, yet we check into
another hotel a block away, with the name sharing three words out of four. Remarkably, the "other" hotel people do not seem surprised.
Now it's time to head out and paint the town red. Tawny red.
We are on the Ponte Luís I - bridge across Douro river, and enjoy the views of both sides of Porto.
A visit to Porto would not be complete without a cave tour and Port tasting. The cellars are closing for the night all around us, so we hurry up.
The doors of Calem house are open for us, and we're eager to learn how the wine is made and what's the difference between Ruby and Tawny.
We learn many things and quickly forget almost all of them. We do agree that we like Tawny the best.
When we're back on the street, the skies are pitch dark, and we enjoy the night lights of the old town Porto.
We marvel at the collection of Port brands at the left bank of Douro river - they all are here!
Kopke, Calem, Sandeman, Taylor, Offley, Cockburn, Graham's, and others we never heard of.
* * *
Time for a dinner arrives; our hotel staff suggested Taberna Dos Mercadores. It takes us a while to find the door to it
on a narrow street - and the door's closed. But... my hungry wife is undeterred - she keeps banging on the door until
the chef comes out. The chef explains that it is too early and it is time for the staff meal, but we can come an hour
later, provided we finish our meal in less than an hour and a half. Wow... We detour to a riverfront place to sit,
watch the river and people flow, and down a few Caipiroskas.
We're back at the Taberna on the dot. The restaurant is very small - about 8 tables - and the menu is impressive. We settle on
two kinds of fish - turbot and sea bass; as we enjoy our cool white wine, we hear the maître d' turning people away at the door - the
restaurant is double-booked already, with a long waiting list.
The fish arrives lit up in flames, on a large pan, encrusted in salt. The chef carefully brushes off the salt, and fillets the fish
prior to depositing it on our plates. The fish is gorgeous; we had a less-than-exciting brush with turbot before - now our faith
Porto is not very photogenic in the morning. The sun comes up from behind the hill, and it isn't until fairly late that the
streets fill up with light. It doesn't deter me and Jennie from an early rise (8 am, give or take some) and a trek across the river
in hopes for a sunny shot. We aren't alone, and the others are just as disappointed.
The city slowly wakes and cleans itself up.
We have a nice breakfast at the hotel, and head out to town. By the time we all are out on the street, the city is already alive.
We feel like we could walk the streets of Porto forever... Yet, our plane leaves from Madrid tomorrow morning,
and there's some ground to cover.
Mid-afternoon sees us barrelling towards Salamanca, Spain.
So long, beautiful city. We will be back.