Today was extremely long, mostly because it involved a lot of driving. We left Lisbon on the early-ish side, around 10:00 and drove east toward the medieval town of Evora, about an hour and a half away. Chris discovered during the drive that just outside Evora there was a site with prehistoric megaliths, and since it was on the way and seemed like it wouldn’t take too much time, we decided to stop and take a look.
“Wouldn’t take too much time,” eh?? How naïve we were. The road to the site, no more than half a mile, was basically a dirt path that was littered with holes. Not just little holes, but also giant pits which rocked our tiny toy car like a ship on stormy seas. We drove under 10 km an hour, which is almost stopped, for 20 minutes before finally making to the site, at which point we realized, too late, that it probably hadn’t been worth the hassle. I will say, however, that the scenery on the drive was gorgeous. The weather was amazing – bright sun; totally clear, blue sky – and the road was flanked on either side by fields full of beautiful wildflowers and cork trees. It made the horrible drive slight, slightly more enjoyable.
After doing what felt like an obligatory lap around the ring of megaliths (and another 20 mile ride on stormy seas), we headed into Evora for lunch. It was boiling hot – over 100 degrees by the car’s estimation, and the walk to the little restaurant was not very pleasant. After the megalith incident, we were dusty, grumpy, and hungry – a lethal combination. But then we entered the restaurant.
First let me say that this restaurant, Botequim da Mouraria, was mentioned in one of the opening sections of our guidebook as one of the places to have “the meal of a lifetime.” I mean, how could we pass that up?! The place is tiny – only a bar with 8 or so stools at it, and we had to wait for someone to leave before we could sit. But goodness, the wait was worth it. The owner/waiter/bartender spoke little English, but with the help of our fellow diners, we ordered cured sheep cheese as a starter and fried whitefish as an entrée to split. Chris also ordered wine (when the owner looked at me to see if I wanted a glass, I shook my head sadly and made the “I’m driving” motion with my hands. He nodded in commiseration, his eyes sad at what I would be missing out on). The cheese was totally unexpected – we anticipated slices, while the owner brought out a crock full of toasted melted amazingness. It was gooey and soft on the inside, but had a lovely cracking toast outside and to top it all off, a pumpkin jam type thing to go on top (there was an adorable exchange where the owner kept trying to tell us it was “pancake” and had to enlist the help of fellow diners to help him find the work “pumpkin.”). We gobbled it up like we’d never eaten before. The whitefish was also perfect – fried just enough to get a crispy exterior while leaving most of the flesh tender and equally flavorful. It reminded me very strongly of my favorite fried fish dish in Thailand – just the fish, fried perfectly, with a little Thai hot sauce to go over it.
While we were eating, we also chatted with our fellow diners, who were very curious about how two Americans who spoke no Portuguese could have stumbled into their local watering hole. They all nodded knowingly when we said “Lonely Planet,” which made me a little sad. I appreciate the knowledge these guidebooks give travelers like me and Chris, but I also mourn a bit the what must feel like a dissolution of privacy for the locals. Anyway, once they found out that Chris was an archaeologist, there were lots of suggestions on where we had to go and what we had to see, regardless of era. The old man next to me even drew us a map, explaining in heavily accented English what we needed to do at each stop.
We thanked everyone profusely before paying our bill and heading back out into the heat. There wasn’t much else to see in Evora – a rather unimpressive Roman temple, but the meal definitely made the stop worth it.
Fast forward three hours to our next stop, Burgau. A tiny town in the Algarve, it sits next to one of the most touristy places in Portugal, Luz. Even now, with the tourist season just starting up, it is FULL of British people. Apparently this whole area is a heaven for British tourists as well as expats. Even our B&B is owned by a British couple, and they employ at least one other Brit. It is very surreal, to be surrounded by so many English speakers in a place you know isn’t English speaking. Regardless, we found a nice place for our anniversary dinner (3 years!! woot!) and had another lovely meal – a mixed antipasto plate for an appetizer, “sticky” spare ribs with “chips” (aka French fries) for me and duck confit for Chris. We split slices of mango tart and raspberry almond tart for dessert before finally collapsing into bed.
If each day of this trip could be filled with meals like today’s, I will definitely be happy! ☺