For some reason our car’s GPS decided to ignore tollways and took us an interesting way to Evora through wooded countryside and then on to the old main road north before branching west across wheat growing country that increasingly looked like the plains of inland Spain, and likewise dotted with small towns and white churches.
Evora is a medieval town on a Roman foundation – a dense and nearly car free network of twisting alleys and cobbled streets. One of its main attractions is the Temple of Diana which is the remains of a Roman temple that almost certainly wasn’t dedicated to Diana.
In theory spectacular, but on the day we visited swathed in scaffolding and plastic for emergency repairs and inaccessible.
It had however inspired some great graffiti
The other major Roman site in Evora is the baths, which is accessible through the council offices. Totally unsignposted, you go into the main council building, through people either waiting for appointments or using the public access computers to file health and social security claims and there it is – the remains of the hot room.
Definitely worth a visit, but be aware that as it’s in the council offices the site’s only accessible during the week when the council building is open to the public, and of course closed on public holidays as well as weekends.
Despite being a world heritage destination Evora is not yet desperately touristy besides the Roman sites, there’s the cathedral – well worth a visit for the rooftop view alone and a few other buildings. If you visit by car the sanest thing to do is park in one of the large free public carparks outside of the walls, and given that the town is ‘a maze of twisty passages, all different’ I’d recommend a phone with Google Maps as a location guide, especially as some of the squares and streets have names different to those in some of the tourist guides.
Outside of Evora there’s also some fairly spectacular megaliths if you like that sort of thing and it’s only a short detour on the way to the main freeway to Lisbon from the north side of the city.
After that it was a simple drive back to Lisbon to return our car, including another battle with a recalcitrant self service petrol pump and then on to a rented apartment.
Not counting our overnight on the way south the last time we’d been in Lisbon was fifteen years ago when it was still low key and desperately untouristy,
Not any more – the Praca do Commercio was a sea of polyester trousers and the streets around it having with tourists and hucksters, including the men, who taking advantage of Portugal’s relaxed drug laws, try and sell you ziplocs of dried nettles on the basis that it’s something stronger.
But for all that Lisbon was relatively cheap, with dinner at an Angolan restaurant costing around the same as we paid in rural Portugal and a beer in a street cafe in the Praca do Rossio costing a bit more but at only EUR2,50 for a glass of Sagres draught, not outrageously so.
Last time we went to the castle. From memory it was either free or a fairly nominal fee. This time we didn’t – the sight of a 500m long queue for tickets put us off. Instead we wandered around, went to take a look at the underwhelming but none the less interesting remains of the Roman theatre – these you can see for free, the museum on the other side of the street charges for entry and has a small collection, but nothing that’s unique or unusual.
We also had a day in Sintra, taking the suburban train from Rossio station. As always, leave early to beat the crowds.
When we got there, there was already a queue of tourists lining up to buy tickets from the manned desk and ignoring the bank of ticket machines. We took one look at the queue and thought ‘bugger that’ and decided to try the machines.
They are of course in Portuguese, but there’s a big British flag in the bottom corner – tap on that and the machine flips into English. Most of the options are about recharging travel cards or buying multi zone tickets, but at the bottom there’s an option for a return ticket to Sintra. Tap that, insert a five euro note, and you’re sorted. No need to stand in line.
Sintra is big and confusing. You can’t do it all, but if you’re a walker you can do a couple of things – we tried the old Royal summer palace, the National Palace, and the Castle of the Moors, walking the whole way up through the villa Sassetti gardens and ignoring the guys spruiking tuk tuk rides to the top who tell you that it’s hard (it is but not that hard – just take water and pace yourself) and it will take an hour – it will but you’re on holiday, not a schedule. The walk is good, with spectacular views back to Lisbon.
And then it was home via Singapore …