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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Município de Elvas

We had to get up early because we had planned a longer excursion. The bus going to Elvas leaves at 9:00 a.m. but we still had to walk from our hotel to the station. The station in Evora, like those in Albufeira are well equipped, with ticketing office and electronic boards and clear terminal numbers etc., so one (esp. tourists) will find its way easily.

Evora is a strategic point with good transportation links to Algarve and lies proximate to Lisbon. You can also go from there to Portalegre, from where you can continue also to the north-eastern mountains and Spain. Have we had more time, we probably even made a side trip to Beja, which was said to be comparable to Evora and Badajoz (Spain). Here are the bus schedules in the Alentejo region.

Going to Elvas, you need to ride the faster "Viagens Rapidas" bus. It's about 1.5 hours away from Evora and costs €6.95 per person. The trip to Elvas has really paid off. We immediately went off at the station near the aquaduct, the "Aqueduto da Amoreira", since it was the main reason for the trip there.What's left of the aquaduct in Evora was nothing compared to the rest of the aquaduct in Elvas which extends about 6 kms long on the plateau accross the valley and to the upper reaches of the town. (*It's currently enlisted to the new world heritage list of the UNESCO on July 2, 2012). The whole area is being maintained and really pleasant to see and walk around.


Elvas received its town charter in 1513, formerly occupied by Moors reoccupied by the christians and become portuguese again in 1226. Oranges that were picked in Elvas were sent to the Spanish Queen Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma thus gave its name to the "Orange War". A good read on this subject is the book written by Martin Page, "First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World.

After our aquaduct-sightseeing, we walked up to the nearby city walls through the gates of "Portas da Esquina". We walked through the streets inside the city walls and further up to the Castelo. But first I had to make a side trip into the market hall and into the water closet. So far the experience in the portuguese toilets were good. Everything were cleaner than what we had in Berlin.


The castle itself was very nice, with a great view of the mountainous range around it, some lemon trees and even barrier-free for handicapables. Even the old military facility was still there to be seen. On our way back, we went through the old town and accross the square. We stopped by at the tourist information because we didn't know where the bus station was. We stopped at another station near the aquaduct when we got there. But the people there were very helpful and told us where to go. We had pretty much the idea where it was located. One can orient himself upon coming out of the city walls. There was the "Lidl" supermarket which can already be seen from up the city walls and the bus station is just right next to it.


We had some time and I was hungry so I told my friend to come with me to the adjacent restaurant which was also recommended by a chinese girl I've asked at the chinese supermarket. It was then very difficult to communicate since no one ever spoke english, or german or even spanish or italian at the restaurant. The waiter didn't even have the desire to try to understand. I've asked something to drink (coffee and coca-cola) at the bar in the same restaurant and got what I wished inspite of no one speaking or understanding english. Take note that coca-cola is pretty standard. Coffee as I have later on learned is espresso there. Anyhow, there were foods at the counter and I've asked the bar girl as well as his colleague, then another friend who was standing there and of course the waiter. I supposed they understood what I said because they seemed to agree by the looks of it. A few minutes has passed and there were other customers who came after and were already served and started eating. Then I asked the waiter again and even demonstrated with my hand making eating gesture? And of course he only said something in portuguese, but judging from the tone that it was unpleasant. It was really a test of my patience. Then came some girls about my age and the waiter of course promptly attended them. I approached the girls and was hoping any of them speaks even a bit of english. Asked them politely to ask the waiter on what happened to my food? Even though I don't speak portuguese, I could sense the waiters rudeness towards me. Then I (still) politely thanked him for his wonderful service, paid for the coffee and coca-cola and went off. I take pride of my ability to deal with any kind of people but this has just ruined my experience of Elvas.


We consoled ourselves by a little detour to the supermarket and bought some bread and soda. Then we are on for the 13:45 bus on the way back to Evora, but first we wanted to make use of our time and visit Vila Viçosa. It cost €3.80 from Elvas and takes about an hour with the bus. We can already see on the way the marble extraction in the villages. In the book says that the region should be visited esp. the municipalities of Estremoz and Borba. Vila Viçosa looks nice even though we didn't have much time to explore because we had to take the last bus at 16:40.


The area around Vila Viçosa was already inhabited by the Celts and the Romans. The region was part of the Visigothic kingdom and was later conquered by the Moors. The kingdom was reclaimed in 1217 and King Afonso III gave the town a charter in 1270. In the early 14th century, King Dionysius I built a castle. In 1461, the region came under the rules of the Bragança dynasty. Their family palace was completed in 1507. As Count João became King João IV, the family moved to Lisbon and used the huge palace in Vila Viçosa only as summer residence.


We went up to the castle, past the church of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. The way was like in some kind of fantasy village, land of plenty. The road was lined with tangerine trees and all were full of ripe fruits. I have read on a book that the these plants originally from Tangier during the ancient times, thus the name tangerine. The entrance fee to the castle is 3€ which includes the hunting museum. They did a good job with the presentation of the artefacts, and from the top, there is a good view of the town. It's only us and some children at the time there. We didn't have much time so we decided a quick tour of the museum but didn't have much time to see the hunting museum.


Then we went down and back to Praça da Republica and tried out a drinking fountain which spewed out a gush of water and made my shirt wet. We stopped briefly under the tangerine trees and sat at the marble benches and then we went to the tourists information office where we were greeted by an elderly lady who was enthusiastic as the man at the museum. There were not many tourists at the time (at least I haven't seen anyone who looks like tourist and maybe that's why they are so friendly) so after a little chit chat, she gave us a town map and directed us to the Paço Ducal de Vila Viçosa. It is a huge palace with equally huge square and equestrian statue. But since we were running out of time, I took a few more photos and then quickly went back to the bus stop going back to Evora.


We arrived in Evora around 17:30 then went to the pizzeria accross the street. They served good pizza.

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