Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My Portugal Adventure Continues: Part III

From my Portugal sketchbook:
Sardines Galore!
Hello, everyone! Here we are at the next stage of my Portugal journey. I had meant to post this entry much earlier, but the recent tragic events in Paris and the rest of the world drove me into retreat-mode. I have been sad.

Paris has always been special for me, as I believe it must be for a lot of people, and my heart and mind are very much with the people of France right now. Which also means I was initially reluctant to write a blog post about European travel. It felt frivolous. Then I was reminded of something a good friend said at our last writer's group meeting: keep traveling. Don't give in to fear. Support the small businesses and people of the world with our tourist dollars and by appreciating all the goodwill travel has to offer. It's a great attitude, and one that encourages me to keep dreaming, keep planning, and keep my suitcase handy. So in that spirit we'll keep going through the wonderful land of Portugal.

One quick aside before we go to the cork forests, though: before leaving home I was so busy with my day-job and all the rest of my life I didn't have the chance to get to an art supply store to buy a Stillman and Birn sketchbook, the brand I took to Taiwan. Instead, I had to dip into my trusty storage container of new, but unused, sketchbooks that I have either bought on impulse because they were on sale, or had been gifted over the years. (I promise this isn't hoarding, just "saving things for a rainy day." And this was the rainy day.)

The one I chose was a 5 1/4" x 8 1/4" Global Art Travelogue Handbook. I had been wanting to try out a horizontal format for awhile, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I used my now-favorite Faber-Castell watercolor pencils, but instead of a waterbrush, I took a travel watercolor brush--it's just like a regular paint brush, but part of the handle comes off so you can tuck the bristle end into it to keep everything a) dry, and b) compact. To be honest, I thought the brush was a little over-priced and I'm still not sure what I think of it. On the other hand, after reading several on-line negative reviews of the Handbook, I have to say I totally disagree with the nay-sayers--it's a nice little book! The paper is good quality, I liked the way it stayed open on a table or my lap even though it was stitch-bound rather than wire-bound, and once I closed it and secured it with the built-in elastic band, any pages that had "curled" while I was painting them returned to their original shape and stayed that way. So, I like Handbooks a lot and recommend them as good travel companions. They come in a variety of sizes, and the one I took was just right for keeping in my purse all day.

So with that covered . . . northwards we go and on to: Arraiolos! Stopping first for Portugal's famed cork trees:

Aren't they sketch-worthy? Too bad I was in a hurry at the time and could only snap a few pics. I was particularly surprised to see some of the trees stripped down to their bright red "naked" trunks (I don't seem to have any photos of them, sorry). Later on I learned that the cork bark must be harvested from the trees at regular intervals to keep them alive. Good excuse to drink more wine--every time you open a bottle you're saving a tree, LOL! I was also surprised to discover how many uses the Portuguese have for cork, from making shoes and handbags, to covers for journals and i-phones, to . . . well, you name it, you can find it made out of cork. (And new cork shoes might make you a much wiser steward of the planet than too many bottles of wine in the long run.)

After viewing various parts of the forest I then saw a sign saying that just up ahead would be an entire maze of prehistoric monoliths. I just HAD to see the monoliths. I mean, they were prehistoric! The only trouble was the signage didn't say exactly where, or how far, so after about ten miles of driving down endless dirt roads searching we gave up and headed back for the toll road and our planned destination of Arraiolos.

We chose Arraiolos for its famous carpets. I had my heart set on something small and pretty for my entryway back home, and as I read to my husband from the guidebook: "Everywhere you look there are people making or selling carpets in this charming town, even from their doorways." Okay. Doorways. Yes, I see them. But they are closed. Charming. Yep. Very pretty town. But the carpets . . . um, where did you say they were?

Unfortunately, and very much like hunting down the monoliths, we couldn't find a single thread or scrap or even a human being. The town was so quiet I couldn't even hear someone vacuuming a carpet! There were NO carpets. But there was a castle:

And a view:

And in that view there was a grocery store. Except when we got down there, it was closed. 

We peered through the windows and saw the owners eating their lunch. It looked delicious, but, they shook their heads: no, you can't come in. Okay. No carpets, no lunch. 

In search of some food, we then found a mega-mall that we were sure would have a restaurant. Hahahahaha. Lots of stereo equipment, garden furniture, and children's bedding, but no food to be had. Certain we would pass out around now, we managed to drive to another beautiful mountain town, Santarem (a city, actually) and there we found a little hole-in-the-wall of a bar where they made us a wonderful feast of Super Bock, boiled egg and salad sandwiches, coffee, and cake. Which meant we now had the strength get to the eastern coastal town of Nazaré and a beautiful modern hilltop hotel for the night. We could see both the swimming pool and the sea from our room:

The next day we explored the village (where everything was wonderfully open!) and I bought one of my few souvenirs: a lacy, embroidered tablecloth. It's not a carpet, but it's sweet and will forever remind me of a happy day. 

The morning ended with more sandwiches and more Super Bock on the beach and a view of the fishing boats:

And then we were off to the surf town of Ereceira, of which I will write much sooner than I have these other posts. In the meantime, may you be safe, may you be inspired to go far and wide, and Let There Be Peace on Earth. Thank you for visiting and to my US readers: Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Adventures in Portugal, Part II

From my Portugal sketchbook: Roman Temple of Diana 
ruins in Évora!

Hello, everyone. Anybody signed up for National Novel Writing Month 2015? Me! (Much against my better judgment.) So far, so good--I'm actually enjoying myself, making me wonder what's wrong, LOL. The title of my WIP is The Calling, and I have no idea what it's about, which is fine--writing for the sheer pleasure of writing is really what #Nanowrimo is all about, don't you think?

But before I get back to today's word quota I wanted to take some time to continue sharing my Portugal journey, so here goes:

I ended my last post in the seaside town of Quarteira. From there we headed north and inland to our chosen destination of Évora, billed in our guidebook as a walled medieval World Heritage City and the home to an ancient university. Driving there we went through what our guidebook described as "the golden plains of the Alentejo" (very golden, very desolate, and very beautiful):

passing more castles on our way:

By the time we reached Évora, I couldn't wait to start exploring, the only problem being where to put the car. Spaces were practically non-existent, and nowhere near any hotels. At this point of the trip we didn't even know where the hotels were or where we would stay as we hadn't booked anything in advance. However, after creeping up and down the minuscule winding lanes (never designed for cars) we at last found an approximately 6-inch slot in which to park. Best of all it was right next to the vending machine where you put in lots of money and got a little slip of paper verifying your parking space. Wonderful! 

Next step was lugging our suitcases toward the local posada, a lovely old former convent now turned into a state-run luxury hotel with, naturally, luxury prices. Like, um, really, really expensive. We weren't sure we wanted to spend so much money, so suitcases still in tow, we headed down the cobbled lanes to where we thought there might be some place to stay, and found this adorable little family-run inn:

I loved the old-world charm (as well as the old-world pricing). After unpacking and freshening up (listening to our neighbors' rooster while they worked in the kitchen and watched a Portuguese soap opera--noisy. but homey and real) we went to see the sights and have a late lunch in the square:

(A shot of our outdoor restaurant under the umbrellas. As usual, I don't know who these people are in the foreground--I tend to just take photos without thinking too much about where I am,  and end up with all kinds of strangers tagging along.)

After traipsing down more hidden lanes and admiring the architecture, we thought it was time to go check on our car and possibly put more money in the machine. The parking was free at night, but we wanted to be sure we'd paid enough until the cut-off time. We got to our car, and lo and behold, a parking ticket! Bummer! We couldn't read what it said, but I was able to decipher something about the price being 300-500 Euros which made me want to faint on the spot. The police station was right around the corner so we went there with our paper showing we had paid, the time hadn't run out, so why? What? How could they do this to us?

The police officer we approached was very nice but he didn't speak English and couldn't explain anything other than saying we hadn't paid. But we did! Honestly, officer, we have the proof! He smiled, shrugged, and told us as best he could we'd have to go to the traffic department in the morning. Ugh. 

We then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find where that building would be so we could be there nice and early. We walked, and walked, and walked . . .

No, this wasn't it . . . 

Nor these places either . . .

Nope. Couldn't find it. Eventually we decided to just go back to our hotel and collapse. But after about five minutes inside our room my husband got all antsy and said he wanted to move the car to outside the city walls. On his own. He then promptly disappeared, leaving me to fret and invent terrible scenarios of ending up in the Évora dungeons for non-payment of parking fines. Eventually I got so carried away imagining horrible outcomes I think we were being burned at the stake by the time my husband returned and said the car was safely in a public zone outside the city walls. He thought. 

Doing our best to put it all behind us, I concentrated on the beauty of the evening:

The cathedral view from our window:

Followed by one of our best meals at the luxury hotel for dinner. If we couldn't stay there, we could at least have a wonderful meal:

The chef prepared a special vegetarian leek, cheese, and potato dish for us, complete with a huge selection of breads and olives, Portuguese wine, and of course, a sampling of Port to finish the meal with dessert. Delish! We were the last people to leave, hence the empty tables.

Stepping outside, we came right to this amazing sight: the ruined temple floodlit against the dark sky.

The next day after chocolate croissants, fresh orange juice and lattes for breakfast, we set out to deal with THE TICKET. Within minutes we found the traffic department offices set within a gorgeous eighteenth-century building that could easily have doubled as a museum (probably why we had walked past it a dozen times without realizing what it was), and showed the receptionist our ticket. She didn't speak English, so she sent us to a colleague, and guess what: he laughed and said, "Oh, this is only a warning. You were in a government parking spot. It's okay. Just don't park there in the future. Have a nice day!" Whew. No wonder the police department had been so easy to find--we'd poached one of their own spaces. On that high note we decided to leave town while we could. My husband went to get the car, leaving me to wait with our suitcases and to people-watch outside the cathedral.

The horses were nice, but I was glad when my husband finally drove up and we loaded the car, ready to leave for the next stops: the towns of Santerem and Arraiolos--but I'll save those for my next post. In the meantime, Happy Nanowrimo-ing, and "Have a nice day!"